Friday, October 30, 2009

'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Tales of Terror'

by Robert Louis Stevenson
Fiction/Classic, 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', 1886; ‘Olalla,’ 1885; ‘The Body Snatcher,’ 1884
Penguin Classics, trade pb, 205 p.
Published as a ‘shilling shocker’, Robert Louis Stevenson’s dark psychological fantasy gave birth to the idea of the split personality. The story of respectable Dr Jekyll’s strange association with ‘damnable young man’ Edward Hyde; the hunt through fog-bound London for a killer; and the final revelation of Hyde’s true identity is a chilling exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil. The other stories in this volume also testify to Stevenson’s inventiveness within the Gothic tradition: ‘Olalla’, a tale of vampirism and tainted family blood, and ‘The Body Snatcher’, a gruesome fictionalization of the exploits of the notorious Burke and Hare. [From the back cover]
For a long time I never had any particular desire to read this, or any of the other horror classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. I’ve never been into reading horror but over the last couple of years I’ve become much more open to it. It all started with the ridiculously addictive Twilight series, and then Colleen Gleason’s Gardella Vampire Chronicles, which surprisingly, to me, I really enjoyed. That led me to finally read Dracula. While it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, I was so glad to have finally read for myself what is often considered the origin of our modern day vampire fascination. After years of dismissing them I now seem to be a fan of vampire novels!

Well, as far as horror classics go, this year was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’s turn. We stumbled upon the BBC TV series of Jekyll in the DVD rental shop so we watched the first couple of episodes and quite enjoyed it. Then preparations for moving this summer and all that entailed prevented us from watching any more and we didn’t get back to it until earlier this month. However, it was enough to make me curious to read the original. As it turned out, I ended up reading the book while we watched the show and that definitely added to my overall enjoyment. The TV series was not a straight re-telling so it was fun to see how they played with the original text, even having the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, showing up at one point.

As for the book itself, it was quite satisfying. Sure, Jekyll and Hyde embodying the dual nature of man is so ingrained in our collective consciousness that the story itself certainly held no surprise, but I enjoyed it all the same for the language and Stevenson’s storytelling. How much more fun it must’ve been though to read it back when it first came out in 1886, without any spoilers!

The two other tales included in this volume were also suitably spooky and atmospheric. The vampire tale, Olalla, is very gothic, set in an isolated house in the mountains in Spain. And ‘The Body Snatcher’ was a perfect R.I.P. tale with plenty of grave robbing and murder.

Again, I’m so glad to have finally read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as well as the two additional stories. I suppose I’ll be reading Frankenstein too now. Maybe for next year’s R.I.P. Challenge. In the meantime, I’m now quite intrigued to read Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, about Dr Jekyll’s maid. I guess I can no longer say that I don’t read horror!

Read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde online (courtesy of Project Gutenberg)

Buy this book at:  Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | BookDepository.co.uk | BookDepository.com

My Rating: 4/5
(#51 for 2009, R.I.P. IV Challenge)

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8 comments:

  1. I read this last year and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

    Horror is not my scene but as for Frankenstein - the book is nothing like any Frankenstein film I've seen. It's not at all scary, and has interesting ideas on what it is to be human.

    And I bought a copy of Dracula this year but just haven't plucked up enough courage to start reading it yet. Who knows that may not be too scary either.

    You've reminded me I have Mary Reilly too - unread of course!

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  2. I'm spooked! Check out my Halloween list at Halloween Reads.

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  3. I too was surprised when I finally read "Dracula" and found out how much I enjoyed it. I really liked "Mary Reilly" (hated the movie) which took me back to a reread of the Stevenson tale (great story!), but then I like just about everything Valerie Martin has written.

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  4. Sounds like the perfect read for this year!

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  5. I wish I had the edition with the two extra stories! They sound great too. I'm glad you enjoyed this! It surprised me too to realize how much I enjoyed classic horror.

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  6. I've got to find "Jekyll" at my video store! Looks like great fun.

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  7. I don't like horror but somehow when I read this I didn't find it horrifying. It was YEARS ago, so I think I should revisit it! Thanks for the review.

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  8. BooksPlease - I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed it too. Yes, I think I'm definitely going to have to finally read Frankenstein as well. I'm still not into purely frightening, or gory, but I do enjoy the ones that delve into human nature.

    bookbirddog - I'll have to check out some of those titles.

    Teresa - I can't remember now if I've read anything by Valerie Martin yet or not. I'm thinking that I haven't although I'm pretty sure I have a couple in my huge TBR.

    Kelly - The perfect kind of read for this time of year as well. :)

    Nymeth - I'm really glad the Penguin edition had the extra stories. Maybe you can find them online?

    Gavin - We thought James Nesbitt did a great job. I hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to watch it.

    Rebecca - I think the fact that we already know the basic story probably helps to make it less horrific. I imagine it was quite a terrifying concept when it first came out though. But it's also not like modern horror stories that seem to set out just to shock.

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