Classic book review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Jekyll and Hyde movie poster

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1886. It is a short novella (about 70 pages) and often found in a book of collected works. The version I bought included Markheim, The Body Snatcher and Olalla.

The basic plot is so well known I won’t detail it here. It is a bit strange how it is revealed through the book, though. Until the final reveal at the end of the novella the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde is obscured – it is suggested that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll for some reason.

Reading the book with the knowledge of the plot from such quality remakes as Looney Toons it is a bit frustrating that Dr Jekyll is so rarely in the plot and Mr Hyde is not sinister so much as unaware of his violence.

The book is supposed to be one of the first theories and novelizations of bipolar disorder, but in this case it is self-inflicted. Dr Jekyll has created a potion which allows his suppressed darker side to come out. This split-personality is not only apparent in his actions but also his appearance. As his transformation to Hyde becomes more frequent this darker version of himself grows in stature and power, until eventually the changes start taking place without this need for the potion.

At this point Jekyll becomes scared that he has lost control and attempts to stop traveling down this path. Unfortunately, Hyde has become too strong and the story ends unhappily for pretty much everyone.

The story is really about the conflict between good and evil in man’s nature. Stevenson seems to be suggesting that a carefree life reveling in sin can be a relief from the stress and strain of a life upholding the law and right behaviour. As Christians we know that life is difficult and that the struggle is not for our own purposes but to fulfill God’s will for us.

The ugly side to Stevenson’s idea of this low behaviour is that it is related to or represented by appearance. Hyde is depicted as short, stocky, hairy with a thick forehead – evil. Jekyll is tall, fair, elegant – good. This seems to be paternalism at best and racism at worst – other nations must be less developed than the English due to their lower appearance, cultures and respect for law and justice.

It was good to read this novella to understand the original, not just the modern translations, but I did feel uncomfortable with some of the concepts and the conclusion of the story seemed to be one chapter short – not everything was tied up neatly and explained.

External link: Wikipedia entry for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Classic book review: The War of the Worlds

H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is a much shorted book that the previous ones I have read. This 183 page novella tells the story of one man’s (and in parts, his brother’s) story after Martians land in Surrey, South Eastern England.

War of the Worlds front jacket

From wikipedia: Herbert George Wells (September 21, 1866 – August 13, 1946), better known as H. G. Wells, was an English writer best known for such science fiction novels as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon and The Island of Doctor Moreau. He [was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and produced works in many different genres, including contemporary novels, history, and social commentary. He was also an outspoken socialist. His later works become increasingly political and didactic, and only his early science fiction novels are widely read today. Both Wells and Jules Verne are sometimes referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction”.

The basic plot is that Mars is dying, so the squid-like Martians invade Earth by means of a giant projectile firing gun which shoots capsules across the void. These cylinders arrive on successive nights working their way from Horsell Common in Woking, through Surrey and across the city of London. At first they are a curiosity, but soon turns violent as the technically advanced and emotionless Martians go about extinguishing life on Earth so they might make it their home.

It is an interesting story and has clearly influenced so much science fiction written or filmed since. These days if you were to create a new story regarding any kind of violent encounter between humans and an extraterrestrial race you would touch on themes from this book, even if you’ve never read it. Although the writing isn’t the most coherent or articulate book you have ever read, or even the science particularly accurate, this story does draw you in and makes you wonder how you would react if a similar situation ever arose.

Statue of an Alien fighting machine in Woking, England

The book and subsequent place in popular culture have created great endearment amongst people, from the residents of Woking who have created the above statue of a Martian fighting machine within their town square, to the residents of New Jersey who were considered victims of Orson Wells famous radio broadcast. Well worth a read to understand so many other alien stories.

One thing I found a struggle was the locations mentioned in the novel are not familiar to me. Chobham, Shepparton, the joining of the Thames and Wey rivers -all perhaps make sense to a Londoner but is all a mystery to me. I would have appreciated a map in the book showing locations so I could better visualise the invasion. Or maybe a Google maps mashup that follows the events in the story.

Classic book review: Bram Stokers Dracula

Edvard Munch - The
Vampire

Abraham “Bram” Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897. Bram Stoker was an Irishman working in a London Theatre, the Lyceum, when he wrote this novel. Apparently he wrote other works, but Dracula is the only one commonly read today.

The novel is in the form of journal entries and letters, telling of the vampire Count Dracula and involving hypnotism and other occult interests. The Count, as Bram Stoker envisioned him, is a white-haired military commander type, with a bushy moustache and bat-like cloak.

I must say I found this a cracking read, much more entertaining and involving than the previous two novels I read, Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book is very suspenseful, being very discrete with what information it reveals and the nature of the dark forces at work.

The blurb on the back of the book includes:

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries in his client’s castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked; strange puncture marks appear on a young womans neck; and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the Count and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing into questions of identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.

As the format of the book contains news articles and diary entries from different characters the plot line is slow to reveal itself, lots of different thoughts and tangents slowly resolving together. Obviously some of Stokers own opinions come through in the opinions of his characters, the place of women and how men value them so, American resourcefulness and English perseverance, superstition and occultism amongst eastern Europeans.

If you come to this book free from too many preconceived ideas from Buffy, Anne Rice or bad black and white movies, you will be taken on a most enjoyable ride.