BOOK REVIEW: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

written by David Steffen

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic science fiction/fantasy novel written by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (also well known for writing Treasure Island), first published in 1886.  I’m assuming most people are familiar with at least the basic premise of the story, which is not actually evident until about 2/3 of the way through the novel, but I’m not going to avoid spoiling a 130-year old book whose premise has been spoofed so many times in pop culture.

The point of view character of the book is Gabriel Utterson, a lawyer who investigates strange events surrounding his friend the good Dr. Henry Jekyll and the mysterious and malevolent Edward Hyde.  One strange occurrence happens after another–strange behavior on the part of Dr. Jekyll and the unnatural and immediate revulsion every single person feels in the present of Mr. Hyde.  Utterson and others, such as mutual friend Dr. Lanyon investigate these strange happenings to understand the plight of Mr. Jekyll.

As probably everyone already knows, it turns out that Mr. Hyde is actually an alter-ego for Dr. Jekyll.  Jekyll has a wild side to his personality that he has indulged only in secret–he has found a potion which brings that portion of himself to the surface.  Jekyll himself is a mix of good and evil as all of us are, but Mr. Hyde is pure evil–selfish and malevolent and spiteful.  The story is an exploration of the dual side of human nature and the consequences of giving in to temptation and your darker side.

I really enjoyed the story, once it finally got the real explanation for Jekyll’s strange behavior and we actually find out all the details of his struggle.  There’s a lot of interesting things about the situation, the dual nature and dual motivations.  That part of the book I found consistently riveting and interesting.

Unfortunately, we don’t actually get to find any out any of the details until about 2/3 of the way through the book. Perhaps this was only really really frustrating because I already knew what the secret is and the entire reason I was reading the book in the first place was to find all the details, but I found that first 2/3 of the book insufferably slow.  I don’t think it’s simply a difference in the era’s writing style–I tend to love science fiction/fantasy stories from that era–I didn’t have the same complaint about Frankenstein, Dracula, or War of the Worlds, so in my opinion it was this book specifically that I had problems with the pacing.

If you’re like me, and you read the book primarily to find out the details of the original Jekyll/Hyde relationship after seeing a lifetime of derivative works… just keep that in mind.