I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Published as a 'shilling shocker', Robert Louis Stevenson's dark psychological fantasy gave birth to the idea of the split personality. The story of respectable Dr Jekyll's strange association with 'damnable young man' Edward Hyde; the hunt through fog-bound London for a killer; and the final revelation of Hyde's true identity is a chilling exploration of humanity's basest capacity for evil.
I wonder if this story had any influence on Carl Jung’s shadow theory—that we each have a shadow self to embody our negative traits, as Henry Jekyll quite literally does with his alter-ego, Edward Hyde.
Stevenson had surely studied Descartes’ philosophy. René Descartes (and his theory of mind/body duality) has an awful lot to answer for. Our whole Western world view tends towards dividing the world into two camps: us & them, man & nature, church & state, those for us & those against us. And life is so much more complex than that! We know from studies of dementia & Alzheimer’s disease that physical exercise is protective for the brain, an organ which we tend to think of as somehow separate from the rest of our physical body because it is perceived as the home of the mind. But it is a body organ nonetheless and requires the same physical care as the rest of the physical self, to my mind invalidating the mind/body separation.
Jekyll takes this dichotomy to an extreme, becoming two separate people sharing one body. And because life is more complicated than an either/or choice, Jekyll soon loses control of the process, awakening to find that he has degenerated in Hyde without the assistance of the initial potion. Like any drug taker, he soon finds that he requires increased doses to achieve the same end.
Surprising how much is packed into this slim little volume, published as a “shilling shocker.”