Beginning in 1979 with the Tony Award-winning play entitled The Elephant Man, by Bernard Pomerance, interest in the obscure but intriguing figure of Merrick was renewed. An acclaimed film version of his story was released in 1980 that was based not on the play but on Treves’s The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences, which was published with the doctor’s death in 1923, and Ashley Montagu’s The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity (1971). Howell and Ford’s biography, which was written for an adult audience, rode this wave of interest in Merrick’s life. These authors teamed again with a juvenile version of the story, entitled simply The Elephant Man (1983) and illustrated by Robert Geary, and with The Beetle of Aphrodite and Other Medical Mysteries (1985) and Medical Mysteries (1985), continuing their fascination with strange phenomena and diseases.
Merrick’s story is an educational one for young people, as it allows the public to understand the emotional and social needs of the handicapped. By providing details of the economic distress of this young man, the authors bring the reader to appreciate the awareness of modern society in recognizing the responsibilities of caring for the needs of physically disabled people. Howell and Ford make young adults see beyond the deformities of Merrick and into his intelligence and personality. The True History of the Elephant Man serves as a tool for students to gain insight and compassion for those who are physically disabled.