Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Book Look Review "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
Monster Fest continues here at BookLook. A classic thriller-chiller is required reading as the wind scrapes branches against your windowpane. Add a flickering fire set against the chilly night air and open a musty tome to complete your October evening! Most of us are familiar with the movie versions of Jekyll and Hyde but have never read the short novel by Robert Louis Stevenson upon which they are based. The famous movies show the general idea of his story of divided self but use additional Hollywood fare to turn this thoughtful tale into popular horror films.
As a young man, author Robert Louis Stevenson had a recurring nightmare in which he lived a double life similar to the character he later created. In his terrible dream he was a respected doctor by day but by night his evil split personality lurked in dark alleys. He produced the story based on his nightmares in just three days and published it as “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in 1886. It was an instant best seller with 40,000 copies sold in the first six months alone. Queen Victoria and other famous British authors and playwrights of the time heralded it as one of the best tales written. Similar to Frankenstein and other early “monster” stories, the villain Mr. Hyde generates both pity and loathing in the reader. The setting is a bit of history combined with the social concerns and comments of the Victorian author.
The story begins as the lawyer Mr. Utterson catches a fleeting glimpse of a dark character unlocking a door and slipping inside late one evening. His reaction is revulsion mixed with curiosity. Who is this cold-hearted malevolent man? Of course we know that it is in fact his friend and client Dr. Jekyll. The lawyer recalls Dr. Jekyll left a will in his keeping, which names Mr. Hyde as the inheritor of his estate. Mr. Utterson suspects there is something amiss in this bequest and tries to convince Dr. Jekyll to confide in him. Of course the doctor refuses and becomes more reclusive and mysterious.
One evening Utterson is summoned by the faithful butler and discovers a terrorized household staff huddled in the kitchen. It seems there is a monster barricaded in the surgery at the back of the house with Dr. Jekyll. For days the butler has tried to get his master to come out, but is told to go away. What is happening behind that door? Only Dr. Jekyll can tell us the rest of the story.
Our imagination fills in the gaps intentionally created by Stevenson. Although we do not live in Victorian times, we share their fears of drug experimentation and the fragility of self control. He knew that we could draw scenes and characters from our own nightmares to make it more frightening. He didn’t know, writing in the time before moving pictures, that we would have an additional vault of movie memories to produce even more chilling visual images in shadowy black and white.