The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson
New York, NY: Viking
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not quite as gruesome as the horror stories that I am used to. Anymore, many of my favorite horror stories are full of blood and guts. Organs spill, heads explode, eyeballs are freed from their sockets and grossness abounds. The question is then, in this environment, is the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde still scary?
I must say that I think it is. In its own way this tale is still dark and depraved. Who cares that one of the men in this story pretty much up and dies from seeing something gross? Also, only two people actually die in this story, and one of them is the bad guy. The thing is that this tale’s real darkness comes more from the subject matter. This story is about the evil within all of us, the conscienceless villain that we all wish we could unleash.
Dr. Jekyll is an upright, honest, well-regarded citizen. His friend, Mr. Utterson, is mystified when he learns of Dr. Jekyll’s relationship with a young, somewhat deformed, and detestable Mr. Hyde. After Mr. Hyde tramples a young girl, Dr. Jekyll suspiciously wills all his property away to him. Mr. Utterson gets more than he bargained for when he begins to uncover everything about the mysterious connection between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Stevenson’s story is less guts and gore scary than it is psychologically frightening. He paints a picture of high society. The men are proper and upstanding. They dare not even speak of bad things. Yet at first, Dr. Jekyll clearly enjoys allowing his own evil inner-self free. The characters and scenes are dreary and mysterious. The most frightening parts of the story have nothing to do with murder or assault. The descriptions of Dr. Jekyll’s transformations are the most graphic scenes in the book. So what becomes frightening then is not so much the relationship between the villain and the victim, it’s the implication of the evil that is within everyone. Within everyone is the secret desire to just be evil, to do harm, just because we can. That’s why this story is still as frightening as ever.