I have been on a drought in my book choices lately, but the last two have been home runs. My daughter and I decided to read this book together, mostly owing to two things: 1) she had recently memorized a poem by Stevenson and 2) I have wanted to read it for quite some time. We’re all familiar with the ‘idea’ of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But perhaps it helps to take the time to read the book.
I knew nothing of Stevenson, other than his literary works. Then, after reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I read THIS. Stevenson had a Presbyterian pedigree, but he had spurned the covenant of his fathers. That made the book all the more interesting. I won’t try to psychoanalyze the author here, but only offer a few thoughts.
First, if you are familiar with the New Testament, you cannot escape the connection of this book with Romans 7. A quick Google search proved the point by yielding 101,000 results for ‘Romans 7 Dr. Jekyll.’ The inner battle of Dr. Jekyll is eerily reminiscent of the battle of the man of Romans 7. But, in a strange twist, Dr. Jekyll actually desires to be rid of his ‘better self.’ If he could only separate the good man from the bad man then there would be no more battling of the conscience. Through his drugs, the good Dr. become Mr. Hyde, and is wholly free from the tyranny of c0nscience.
Let me make two quick points on the story that I want to jot down for future reference.
First, in regards to the Romans 7 relationship, the ending of the story is quite interesting. Dr. Jekyll essentially ends with ‘O wretched man that I am!’ It holds out no hope. Romans 7, on the other hand, is followed by Romans 8:1-2: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of Christ has set you free, in Christ Jesus, from the law of sin and death.’
I once heard an author I like, N.D. Wilson, describe Flannery O’Connor stories like this: imagine the apostle Paul riding his horse on the way to Damascus. He is then blinded by a great light and knocked off his horse. Thus ends the story. There is no resolution. She doesn’t go on to tell us that he became the great apostle. It is only left for us to infer what happened next. There is a sense in which Dr. Jekyll’s story could have been that. Romans 8:1-2 could have been left hanging following the ‘O wretched man that I am!’ But it’s not… But in my mind it is.
The great hope we have is that we can turn our eyes and our minds away from our wretched selves to the Lord Jesus Christ. The struggle of flesh against Spirit, of the sinful nature against the regenerate heart can be great. It can thoroughly beat you down and make you want to give up. Robert Louis Stevenson captures that psychological element masterfully. But he has no hope to offer in the end. The only way hope could come is if the end would have been left hanging – if Jekyll remained on life support. But he doesn’t.
Second, I want to think for a moment about Dr. Jekyll’s ‘tincture. He is a Dr., and his means of transformation is drugs. I’m sure there are lessons in this. For starters, one recognizes in this story that the line between medicine and magic is very thin. What is a ‘draft’ or a ‘syrup’ for one could be a potion for another. A physiological condition for one could be an enchantment or demon possession for another. It all depends on how the story is told and which view you are inclined to take. The character of Dr. Jekyll alludes to this himself in some ways, calling Mr. Hyde a ‘familiar spirit.’ As one who works in the pharmacy industry, I always try to keep in mind that things aren’t always as mechanical as they seem. You can read another cautionary tale, this time non-fiction, HERE.
The takeaways for me are simple: 1) this story is very instructive for giving insight into parts of Romans 7 (but not Romans 8; we have to get there ourselves), and therefore into the human psyche. 2) It is a cautionary tale for us today about messing with our physiology through chemicals. 3) It is a startling picture of a man left without the grace of God – common (Mr. Hyde) and saving (Dr. Jekyll).