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Robert Louis Stevenson's classical tale of the "werewolf",
This review is from: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Penguin Popular Classics) (Paperback)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is assured a place in the history of horror fiction because it the literary classic that represents the archetype of the werewolf (the human with the monster hiding inside). Along with Mary Wollstonecraft's "Frankenstein" (the Thing Without a Name) and Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (the Vampire) Robert Louis Stevenson's novella is part of the gothic foundation of the modern horror story (there is really not a single ghost store of equal standing, although "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James comes close). All have in common the fact that they promise to tell a story that might best be left untold, which, of course, is exactly the sort of story we want to hear.
Given that Stevenson was writing when the genre of horror fiction was not recognized as such, it is surprising that "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is cast in the form of a mystery novel. Stevenson invites his readers to try and get ahead of the story, to put the clues together and come to the conclusion. Today it is nearly impossible to pick up this story and not know the "secret," but if you think back to the late 19th-century when this story was written you can get a sense for how Stevenson used the biases and limitations of his readers to his advantage in keeping them from what we might consider to be an obvious conclusion.
More importantly, Stevenson is writing several decades before the writings of Sigmund Freud revolutionized the whole idea of human psychology. Yet we can certainly find evidence of the conscious and subconscious mind of which Freud would write. Stevenson reinforces this metaphor with the block of buildings that divides this particular part of London, with one side representing the civilized world of a respected physician and the other side the squalor of the world inhabited by an inhuman creature who gives in to his every earthly desire. The novella also speaks to the topic of evolution, with Hyde being described as "ape-like," reinforcing the idea that our most human attributes remove us ever further from the category of mere animal.
Of the three classic horror novels, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is the most accessible. Not only because of its shorter length, but also because its evil is more realistic, even in terms of our imagination. We might be unable to reanimate the dead or to become the walking dead, but we can certainly relate to the idea of unleashing the beast buried with us. Even if we could not, we can recognize the "werewolf" in the real world in the form of serial killers who try to show a civilized face to us in public. This is not to say that the novella is simplistic, for Stevenson offers a sophisticated narrative. If this is one of those literary you have never read because you already know the story, then you should take out an evening to sit down and finally get around to reading it.