Wow. I'd never read this before, and it was not what I was expecting! I mean, I knew the basic story (nice Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that turns him into evil Mr. Hyde), but I had no idea how introspective and philosophical it would get about human nature.
Yes. I'm thirty-three, I've been reading classics since I was a little kid, and I'd never read this novella. In fact, until a few years ago, I thought it was written by H. G. Wells! Which is probably why I thought it would be both more sci-fi and more scary than it is. This is not a scary book. Well, not today. I do like imagining what it must have been like to read this when it was first published. When you didn't know the basic story, and you got to that reveal where Hyde turns into Jekyll before another character's eyes -- how freaky was that?
We're kind of used to the idea now. The normal, nice, helpful guy with the rage monster inside him. I've long thought that the whole idea of the Incredible Hulk draws heavily on this story. Like Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Bruce Banner delves too greedily and too deep into the mysteries of science and medicine. By so doing, he unleashes a beast from within his own self. Like Mr. Hyde, the Hulk acts mostly from his primitive instinct to protect himself. Now, unlike Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Banner can choose to unleash his inner Hulk. And unlike Dr. Banner and his freak gamma ray accident, Dr. Jekyll chose to transform himself into the loathesome Mr. Hyde. He enjoyed it, he deliberately transformed over and over -- at first. And unlike Mr. Hyde, the Hulk isn't a homicidal maniac. But both Dr. Banner and Dr. Jekyll had that monster within themselves all along. Dr. Banner is always angry. Dr. Jekyll has always enjoyed indulging in secret pleasures and vices.
In fact, that's what I find the most interesting about this book: the way it explores the idea of original sin. If you're not familiar with the term, it's the Christian concept that all humans have inherited a sinful nature from their parents. The Bible says, "Surely I am sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5). We all are capable of evil -- we all sin every day. Maybe we can hide it, maybe we can fool ourselves into thinking it doesn't matter. But it's there. Dr. Jekyll created an elixir that could distill his evil nature, make his "better self" disappear while his "worse self" came to the foreground. But that worse self had always been there, it had merely been disguised.
Particularly Good Bits:
The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed, and all emulously hoping to do better still, and laying out the surplus of their gains in coquetry, so that the shop fronts stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen (p. 8).
"If he be Mr. Hyde," he had thought, "I shall be Mr. Seek" (p. 19).
It was a wild, cold seasonable night of March, with a pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her, and a flying wrack of the most diaphanous and lawny texture (p. 48).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for oblique descriptions of sinful behavior and for mildly scary imagery.
This is my seventh book read and reviewed for The Classics Club and my fourth for the Mount TBR Challenge.