Nudity in fiction can be a theme, or a metaphor, or both. It can be portrayed as liberating, or humiliating, erotic, or merely natural, or some combination of these. For us here at naturistfiction.org, nudity is often a theme, a metaphor, a plot point, a motive, and definitely quite natural, all at once! For many writers who would not necessarily identify themselves as naturists, nudity can take on these facets as well. But it can also be stolen.
Stolen?! Yes, stolen, when some sort of visual art based on the original writing–like an illustration, or a film–covers the nudity up or eliminates it altogether. Some classic examples come to mind: Mowgli in The Jungle Books, or Tarzan, as well as John Carter and the other characters in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels. Film versions and illustrations of these writings almost always cover Mowgli and Tarzan with loincloths (or the Little Mermaid with her shell bra), and eschew any nudity at all in Burroughs’ Barsoom novels. For more on Mowgli’s nudity, read here. (For that matter, much of the nudity in stories from the Bible and from Greco-Roman mythology has been alternately celebrated or “stolen” at different points in the history of the visual arts.) Read on for four more examples of nudity stolen from some of the most popular works of fiction of all time!
(1) In spite of all the textile film versions, we have no reason to believe that Frankenstein’s monster would be clothed when he comes to life. In her original novel, Frankenstein (1818), Mary Shelley doesn’t indicate explicitly that he is naked, but the imagery she gives us is all about the body: “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.” There is at least one film version, Kenneth Branagh’s, that depicts the monster’s (subdued) nudity, with the mad Dr. Frankenstein half-naked as well in the scene of the monster’s awakening.
(2) In what has been called the quintessential American novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain, the two main characters spend a large portion of their time nude on their raft as they travel down the Mississippi, yet this nudity is almost universally “stolen” in the illustrations, cinematic and theatrical versions. Describing his life on the raft with Jim, Huck says: “Soon as it was night, out we shoved: when we got her out to about the middle, we let her alone, and let her float wherever the current wanted her to; then we lit the pipes, and dangled our legs in the water and talked about all kinds of things–we was always naked, day and night, whenever the mosquitoes would let us–the new clothes Buck’s folks made for me was too good to be comfortable, and besides I didn’t go much on clothes, nohow.” Sounds like a naturist idyll! Read here about objections to, as well as praise for, the 2015 nude sculpture of Jim and Huck by American artist Charles Ray.
(3) One of the most universally acclaimed novels of the 20th century, Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude), includes a memorable character who is basically a nudist, although that word is never used. Remedios la Bella (Remedios the Beauty), famous for her “magical realist” ascent to the heavens, is almost always naked. When she has to cover herself at all (living near Colombia’s Caribbean coast) she wears a loose shift that “resolved the problem of dress, without taking away the feeling of being naked, which according to her lights was the only decent way to be when at home.” Although García Márquez famously refused to sell the film rights to the novel, illustrations do exist, but very few depict the character clothes-free. For more on nude Remedios, read here.
(4) And finally, an example from the 21st century, from the most widely read series of novels of all time. Near the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), the final novel in the series, J. K. Rowling writes that as Harry enters into his dream-like state of quasi-death in which he is briefly reunited with Dumbledore in Kings Cross station, he “became conscious that he was naked. Convinced as he was of his total solitude, this did not concern him, but it did intrigue him slightly.” However, in the blockbuster film series, Harry wears a t-shirt and jeans in the scene. It was an unfortunate, though apparently author-approved, change from the text, especially given that by the time the film was made, the actor, Daniel Radcliffe, had already appeared nude on stage in Equus in both London and New York. Nudity – society still gives it the power to scandalize, when it is merely our natural state of attire.
One can argue about the differences between literature and the visual arts, about how the act of writing or reading that characters are nude does not have the same impact as graphically depicting them or seeing them in such manner. But I would argue that stealing the original nudity from these and other classic examples of fiction does long-term harm to our collective understanding, not only of the original artistic visions of these world-class writers, but also of humanity itself. What do you think? Can you name more examples of stolen nudity?