The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Cover - Standard EbooksThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an 1886 gothic novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson, who is most famous for having written both this work and Treasure Island. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde tells the story of a London lawyer, Mr Utterson, who investigates the strange events that surround his friend Dr Jekyll and the mysterious and foreboding man Mr Hyde.

That plot blurb might have surprised you; it certainly would have surprised me had I encountered it before I had read the novella. The fame of this novella is so great that it has grown a life of its own, with most people knowing the plot twist that occurs at the end of the novel without knowing who the main character of the story is.

The important question then is: is the story worth reading if you already know the ending? I think the answer to that is yes, it’s a great book that deserves its fame. That said, if you don’t yet know the ending, do yourself a favour and read the novella before it can be spoiled, as not knowing will add to your enjoyment of it. I certainly wish I hadn’t known the ending before I read it.

One of the reasons why the novella is so good is the writing style. Despite its age, the writing style is very accessible to modern readers (unlike many novels from the time with their long-winded sentences). This is something I also noticed when I first read Treasure Island (which I also heartily recommend, if you are interested in non-fantastic adventure stories). The writing is admirably clear, and wonderfully evocative, making it a pleasure to read.

Stevenson is also a master of building suspension. At its heart, the novella is a mystery story with strong elements of horror, and the suspense at what is going to happen next, and what the solution to the mystery is, is built wonderfully well throughout the novel. Admittedly, the effect of this is somewhat diminished by you already knowing the ending, but the story is good enough at sweeping you away that it’s often easy to forget that you already know the ending as the suspense rises.

I also really admire the narrative structure of the story. Most of the story is told from Mr Utterson’s point of view, but the denouement of the story is told in the form of stories written by two other characters. Mr Utterson is the perfect vehicle for delivering the suspense of the story, but I admire Stevenson’s realisation that the explanation of the mystery works best when told from somebody else’s point of view. And it really works well.

Another strength of the novella is that, because the novella focuses on the mystery of what is going on instead of explicating the details of what is happening, the story can work as an allegory for a number of wildly different things (which I won’t mention just in case somebody doesn’t yet know the ending). This makes the novella a worthwhile read, as it satisfyingly leaves you thinking about the various ways in which it can be read.

Another way in which the novella is satisfying to think about is its genre placement. Gothic applies to it very well, but in addition to that it seems to me to exist at the exact centre point between fantasy and science fiction, with many readers ardently arguing that it belongs in just one or the other of them. As such, it is a fascinating case study for anyone interested in definitions of fantasy and science fiction.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an expertly crafted, satisfying little story that I would recommend to anyone interested in mysteries with a hint of horror, even if they already know the ending.

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

Gateway CoverGateway is a 1977 science fiction novel by Frederik Pohl that tells the story of Robinette Broadhead, who is both extremely wealthy and in therapy because of the traumas that he faced while on Gateway: an alien spaceship hub with spaceships capable of interstellar travel. This novel was an instant classic when it was first published, winning the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the Nebula Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Rightly so, I think.

For one, what struck me from the beginning is how much of a page-turner it is. The set-up for the novel (a traumatised man in therapy because of the mysterious horrours in his past) works beautifully to make the reader feel like the pages don’t turn fast enough. You simply have to race to the end to find out what happened. This is also because the set-up is combined with absolutely marvellous science fiction concept: there are alien spaceships that are capable of travelling anywhere in the galaxy, but you have no idea where you’ll end up, meaning you’ll come back empty handed, fabulously rich, or dead from a most gruesome death. I loved this concept, making me want to read all the faster.

Continue reading Gateway by Frederik Pohl”

Mopsa the Fairy by Jean Ingelow

Mopsa the Fairy CoverMopsa the Fairy is the 1869 children’s novel by British poet and novelist Jean Ingelow. It tells the story of ten-year-old(-ish) Jack who discovers a nest of fairies and is flown to Fairy Land by an albatross.

It was interesting to me to read this text straight after George MacDonald’s Phantastes (review of which can be found here) as Ingelow was directly influenced by MacDonald, and Mopsa the Fairy, like Phantastes, is a pre-fantastic text about the protagonist stumbling into Fairy Land. Most fascinatingly of all for me personally is, that despite these similarities, I enjoyed Mopsa the Fairy despite not having liked Phantastes. in this review I’ll do my best to tease out why that is.

Continue reading Mopsa the Fairy by Jean Ingelow”

Phantastes by George MacDonald

Phantastes CoverPhantastes is a novel by George MacDonald, first published in 1858. It tells the story of Anodos, a man of 21 years, who finds his way into Fairy Land, and wanders through it in search of his Ideal of beauty.

The novel can be said to be a precursor of the fantasy genre. In many ways it is like a fairy tale (its subtitle is, after all, ‘A Faery Romance’), but it develops that genre towards what we know today as fantasy (fantasy, of course, was not a recognised genre in 1858). The result of this is that it straddles the line between those two genres, but were it to be published today, fantasy is undoubtedly the genre it would be placed in. This can be seen in how it was reprinted in 1970 in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of books as the fourteenth installment. This series was created by Ballantine after the success of The Lord of the Rings and is considered by some to be the series that created the genre of fantasy in book stores. But not only has this book been influential on the creation of the fantasy genre, it also directly influenced many of the most famous writers within that genre. Perhaps most famously, C.S. Lewis cited Phantastes as a book that changed his life.

Continue reading Phantastes by George MacDonald”