Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Jekyll and Hyde

Two people who are in fact one person, reflecting the polarized Good and Evil in the human psyche. In Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Jekyll is a respectable doctor who "becomes" the loathsome Hyde at night. The book – and the nightmare which started it – was probably inspired by the play Deacon Brodie, or The Double Life: A Melodrama, Founded on Facts (1880; rev 1888), which Stevenson wrote with W E Henley (1849-1903); this tells of William Brodie (1741-1788), publicly a respectable Edinburgh councillor and privately a thief and rakehell. Deacon Brodie is purely mundane; in Jekyll and Hyde, however, Stevenson so intensifies the translation from Jekyll to Hyde that it can be read as a literal and tragic Metamorphosis from one state of Bondage to another; though not quite. Because the transition is drug-induced and described in just-possible physiological terms, the J&H figure is not a satisfactory Underlier for fantasy heroes caught in circular hells of metamorphosis. What J&H do represent is the Double, and with preternatural vividness. Hyde "hides" inside the corruptible external Jekyll; it is a vision of astonishing intimacy, like a very haunting dream. Probably for Stevenson, and certainly for many of his readers, the double represents an unclean and compulsive vision of transgressive union of the self to the undersoul, a marriage which proved exceedingly nightmarish for Victorian readers (partly from a misreading of Darwin, partly perhaps from the cultural guilt consequent upon the distension of an empire which sought to control much of the non-white world).

Later readers may perceive J&H in terms of the Gaslight Romance. This is to miss the driven, horrific salience of the true story. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.