NOTE: This is the eighteenth in a series of 31 reviews of scary short stories and novels. As part of All Hallow’s Read, I will be sharing all the scary stories that I think you should consider giving to someone for Halloween. Because this is a tradition intended for people of all ages, some of these titles will be for children and young adults, while others are meant strictly for adults. Happy Reading.
Horror is about channeling the source of fear and exploiting it. There are three sources that work best. Fear of the “other”. Fear of “Self”. And fear of “technology”. The 19th century brought us three archetypal stories which forever personified these sources. Shelley’s Frankenstein dealt with technology. Stoker brought the immortal “other” in Dracula. Stevenson defined the darkness in every man with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
No matter what the variation, nearly every tale of horror is in some way derivative of these three masterpieces. Out of the three, the one which most fascinated me was the mythical stature of Dracula. Saying the Count frightened me would be a bit much, but I did find the literary world he inhabited mesmerizing. Frankenstein was always a bit too ambitious. Neither he nor the creature he pieces together scare me. I’m not nearly driven enough to relate to the doctor, and the creature is too tragic to be afraid of.
Jekyll and Hyde on the other hand…
I’ve always believed that the concept of good and evil as separate entities was a pointless one. Perhaps that’s why I gravitate towards the music of Ronnie James Dio. (A Dio reference may seem random. Stick with me.) When talking about his music, Ronnie always says that he’s touching on the duality of man. The song Heaven and Hell is about what is inside of us. We are God. We are the Devil. We are capable of creating our own Heaven and Hell. Man’s cruelty does not come from an outside force, it comes from man.
You can make the argument that the same is true of Frankenstein. The creature is a physical manifestation of the perversion of his ambition. The creation destroys his life. It’s quite similar to Jekyll trying to control Hyde. Only, Hyde and Jekyll are quite literally the same person. Hyde is not some being which inhabits Jekyll, or dwells separate from him, he IS Jekyll.
A simple analogy would be alcoholism. People always say you wouldn’t do anything drunk you wouldn’t do sober. That in itself is an over simplification of what happens to the mind when inebriated, but the point still holds: the capacity for great good, or terrible ill, exist inside us all. And at some point…it will come out.
I guess you could say I relate to Jekyll and Hyde. How many times have I struggled to suppress my anger? Not to lash out at those who do me wrong, or just piss me off? How many times have you?
Of course you look at yourself, truckin’ along, doing the best you can, and say, “I’m basically a good person.”?
How easily could all that turn around?
All of a sudden, your best isn’t good enough anymore. You’re not sure if you can go on anymore. That guy at work just keeps giving you shit. That girl still won’t talk to you. Your kids won’t shut the hell up. The bills are never paid. You’re always running late. Its never enough. Nothing is ever enough. It has built up to an insufferable point. All you want is to let it out. How easy would it be to hurt someone just to let it out?
Stevenson tells the story through the eyes of witnesses. To them, Hyde can’t possibly be the same man. He’s taller, broader. He’s vulgar, disgusting. Jekyll is none of those things. We are none of those things. To other people. But when the door is closed. The lights are low. We know our shadow.
It is then, as Ronnie Dio once said, “We’ll know for the first time, if we’re evil, or divine…”
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the scariest of the three because it is the truer. Not based on a true story. A universal, human truth. We are God. We are the Devil. In us is Heaven and Hell.
We know our shadow.
And it knows us.