Friday, April 5, 2013

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

You already know the ending
Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become an indelible part of pop culture, having been adapted into many different forms since its original publication in 1886, from plays to movies to comic books. Despite everyone’s familiarity with the story, the readership of the original work has most likely dwindled over the past century, and the question must be asked whether or not it still deserves to be read.

Though it contains some of the elements of a science fiction tale, horror story, or psychological thriller, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is essentially a mystery novel. A lawyer named John Gabriel Utterson attempts to determine the basis of the strange relationship between his friend and client, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the mysterious Mr. Hyde, an individual of questionable moral character who inspires revulsion in all he meets. Jekyll has recently altered his will, leaving all his belongings to Hyde, which leads Utterson to suspect that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll. Upon further investigation, Utterson discovers the incredible and tragic truth.

Of course, anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last century is already privy to the horrible secret which Utterson uncovers. The phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” has become such a common expression in our language, one can’t help but already know the solution to this mystery. It is a testament to Stevenson’s excellent writing that the story of Jekyll and Hyde has transcended its original form and evolved to the level of mythology. One can only imagine the shock and awe that Stevenson’s contemporaries would have experienced when reading this book for the first time. That’s part of the problem for today’s reader: one can only imagine it. While the final two chapters of the book are riveting, everything leading up to that point consists of the rather dull Mr. Utterson striving to solve a riddle that the reader already knows the answer to.

If you are thinking of reading Jekyll and Hyde because you’re looking for the entertainment value one expects from a science fiction or horror story, then you will probably be disappointed. As explained above, the whole book revolves around the big secret, and that cat has already been let out of its bag long ago. If however, you wish to read Jekyll and Hyde because you are a fan of Victorian literature, can appreciate the excellent writing of Stevenson, and wish to gain further insight into the psychological dimensions of his famous dichotomous character, then you may very well enjoy this classic work. It is slow going at first, but one’s anticipation is aptly rewarded by the memorable and moving ending.

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