Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 at 7:17 am

Theology tells us that man is depraved (Definition: “morally corrupt, wicked”). Every human is born with original sin. Yet despite man’s depravity from birth, the world is not wholly evil – it does not, has not degenerated into utter chaos and anarchy. Why is this?

Theology has an explanation for that as well. Common Grace is the grace of God that is present for all men, whether they believe the gospel or not. Common grace is responsible for all the good that unregenerate sinners do, and for the restraint of evil through means such as conscience or societal constraints.

But what if man’s innate evil were NOT constrained? What if it had free will to do whatever it chooses without fear of conscience or law?

If this were true of the whole world, surely the world would not last long – everyone would murder everyone and, after a brief period of chaos, all humanity would be obliterated (and that’s just speaking of the natural course of unrestrained sin, without discussing God’s judgment upon sin.)

But what if it was just one man who was evil without constraint? What if, indeed, one were able to split himself into two, with one half unrestrained evil and the other half still the restrained recipient of common grace?

This is the premise of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (even if Stevenson chooses not to couch it in such explicitly theological terms.)

Does this surprise you?

It certainly surprised me.

The names “Dr. Jekyll” and “Mr. Hyde” are so well-known, so frequently thrown around to mean simply two separate personalities that I believed this book to be about multiple personality disorder. In fact, I’m almost certain I read something once that described J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smeagol/Gollum character a continuation of the literary fascination with multiple personality disorder typified by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Yet this book is quite emphatically NOT about multiple personality disorder. It’s about unrestrained sin and trying to find a way to avoid the struggle Paul describes in Romans 7:21 “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” Except that Dr. Jekyll wants to find a wholly natural solution to this problem (apart from the supernatural answer God gives to the problem of sin at work in our bodies: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25a ESV)

Discovering that this book was not what I’d expected was an altogether pleasant surprise. Also a pleasant surprise, this is a short book, coming in right around 100 pages, and quite readable. As a result, I highly recommend it to people such as myself – people who are pressed for time but who want to think deeply about the human condition and who desire to be “well-read”.

Rating: 5 stars
Category: Classic fiction
Synopsis: Dr. Jekyll tries to separate his “evil” side from his “good” side, with unexpected results.
Recommendation: Highly recommended

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Reader Comments (4):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    I have this on my to-be-read someday list – not urgent, but I do want to get to it sooner rather than later. I think I originally thought that it was a mad scientist type story, but somewhere recently I learned what you spoke of here, that it’s about someone trying to separate the evil side of himself. It’s interesting that when others deal with this (there was an episode in the original Star Trek series where Kirk was split into his good and bad sides, and I’ve seen a similar plot a couple of other times), they present it as if the good side is weak, and the bad side is strong, and the good side “needs” the bad side to survive, but just has to keep it under control – which is, of course, not at all Biblical. I’m looking forward to how Stevenson presents it. In fat – I may move this book up on the TBR list.

  2. Janet says:

    I saw the old Spencer Tracy/Ingrid Bergman movie version of this years ago, and my was it disturbing — definitely different than the Bugs Bunny version I remembered from childhood cartoons. I’ve never read the book, but reading your review makes me want to.

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