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  • Martyn Rhys Vaughan

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON


RLS (1850-94) is most famous for inventing the Pirate/Buried Treasure genre in “Treasure Island” (1883), and also romantic adventures such as “Kidnapped” (1886), “The Master of Ballantrae” (1889), etc.

But he has an honourable place in the history of F&SF.

Stevenson was a member of a family who were renowned as engineers, particularly in lighthouse construction. However, he was a sickly, artistic child, who suffered from a chronic lung condition. In his later life, he moved to Samoa to escape the cold, wet British climate, where he was well regarded by the Samoans. It was there he died.

Minor examples of his F&SF output include “Thrawn Janet” (1881) and “The Bottle Imp” (1891).

In “Thrawn Janet” the story is of an unidentified black man who can take over other people’s bodies, in particular the unfortunate Janet.

“The Bottle Imp” is more substantial. The tale centres around a bottle which contains the eponymous imp. The bottle will grant any wish but there are two catches: The bottle can only be sold at a lower price than it was purchased and if the owner dies before selling it, he or she will be condemned to Hell for all Eternity. The story ends with the protagonist having to buy the bottle back at one cent—which means he cannot sell it. However, his wife saves him by selling it to a man who is certain he is going to Hell in any case, for a Samoan coin which is less than one cent.

However, RLS’ masterpiece is undoubtedly “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.” RLS wrote the first draft in six days, locked in his study and refusing access to anyone, including his wife and adopted son. What makes the novel SF is the fact that the well-known transformation of mild-mannered Dr Jekyll into the evil Mr Hyde is done, not by invoking Satan, but by a drug, created through Jekyll’s knowledge of pharmacy. Hyde goes about doing whatever he wants, up to and including murder. What made the novel so shocking to its first readers was the suggestion that everyone harbours evil desires and these could be brought into play through materialistic means.

Eventually, of course, Jekyll discovers that Hyde is becoming dominant and no longer requires the drug to bring him into being, giving Jekyll no alternative but to kill himself.

The novel was so popular it has given the phrase “Jekyll & Hyde personality” to the English Language.







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