Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was exceedingly more interesting than I’d expected. My only knowledge of the story was that Dr. Jekyll drinks a potion and turns into a monster, Mr. Hyde. I’d actually had the two confused, imagining the one with the name Jekyll as the evil one. I think the only real image I had was from the Tweety Bird cartoons.
Robert Louis Stevenson (who also wrote Treasure Island) did a wonderful job of keeping the plot confusing, and building a true mystery. I came into the book already knowing the story, or the punch line, and I was still made to believe that Jekyll and Hyde were two different people.
His writing style is a lot like Lovecraft, in the sense that he sets a mood of terror among an air of mystery. Similar to Lovecraft, he has many characters “confessing” to “images of horror.” This is my favorite type of horror novel – the kind that haunts you with possibilities, rather than spelling it out in graphic detail.
Lloyd Obsourne, Stevenson’s stepson, recalls, “I remember the first reading as if it were yesterday. Louis came downstairs in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud; and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days.” (wikipedia)
The best part of this book is learning exactly what Mr. Hyde was. He was the representation of evil in all of us. Dr. Jekyll was obsessed with the duality of man, realizing that if he had good in him, he had to have evil as well. He concocted a potion that brought out Mr. Hyde – a much smaller, twisted and knotted version of himself. Since Dr. Jekyll was primarily a good man, his normal body was sturdy and thriving; since he was only partially evil, Mr. Hyde was childlike in stature, and underdeveloped, almost deformed.
This quickly changed. As Mr. Hyde committed all of the atrocities that Dr. Jekyll secretly longed for, the balance of his good/evil began to shift, and Mr. Hyde started to take over the body by will alone – whether the doctor drank the potion or not. His body grew bigger and stronger, and sometimes the doctor would go to sleep as himself, and wake up in the gnarled body of Mr. Hyde.
This is an interesting concept, especially for the time (1886), that human nature is comprised of both good and evil, and that we should allow for both, or else one might surge and suffocate the other. It’s about balance, and accepting both the virtuous and the depraved parts of ourselves. Even when Dr. Jekyll was living his “good” side, before Mr. Hyde’s appearance, he felt tortured and out of place, like he was living a lie. How many of us haven’t felt that way at times?