Beware the Dark Side

[Note: This post is part of a series on Science Fiction and Spirituality that had its genesis HERE.]

Yoda: “Yes. A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

Luke: “Vader… Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.[1]

Nearly one hundred years before the above conversation took place on the silver screen, a young Scottish novelist and poet used the genre of science fiction to explore the dark side of the human psyche. His name was Robert Louis Stevenson. The novella in question – Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. [2]

The duality of human nature has found its way into many of our stories;  you’ll find it in fables, doppelgänger literature, devil tales and gothic novels to name but a few. It should come as no surprise then that during the Victorian age of reason, the notion of a scientific solution to the duality of humanity should appear in literature.

In Stevenson’s tale, Dr. Henry Jekyll is troubled by the side of his personality that finds pleasure in the ideas and activities that Victorian society frowns upon. Though the apostle is never quoted, Jekyll’s mood very much echoes the sentiments of Romans 7:22-23 – “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”

Being a scientist, convinced that such proclivities are chemical in nature, Jekyll seeks a potion that will isolate the dark side of his nature and allow the good in him to rule unopposed.  He succeeds, after a fashion, but while he has managed to separate the good from the evil, it is the dark side that takes over his waking hours to the point of deforming Jekyll’s physical appearance as well. The result is the amoral and self-indulgent Mr. Edward Hyde.

The novel actually chronicles the experiences of Jekyll’s good friend & lawyer Gabriel John Utterson after he witnesses the bizarre act of a man trampling over a small girl and then compensating her family with a cheque written by Utterson’s friend Henry Jekyll. The nature of the connection between Hyde and Jekyll continues to elude Utterson as he discovers other tales of Hyde’s immoral behaviour.

The bulk of the novella therefore, centres on Utterson’s efforts to convince Henry that Hyde is a scoundrel and all connections to him should be severed immediately. It is not until the last two chapters, after Hyde’s apparent suicide, that Utterson discovers his good friend Henry and the despicable Hyde are in fact one and the same person. (This suspense generating device of keeping the reveal until the end is a feature of the novel rarely used in the various movie adaptations. As a result the story is often thought of as a horror tale rather than as science-fiction.)

The dilemma facing Henry Jekyll is one that is common to all humanity; we aspire to a level of character that is noble, good and worthy of the admiration of our fellow citizens, and yet there is at the same time a desire for the baser things in life.  We find ourselves overcome by the desire for pleasure, we crave it, seek, lust after it, even when we know that to indulge it will ultimately lessen the quality of our lives. Short term stimulus takes presidence over long-term well-being. It is the very nature of addiction, and we are all subject to it, regardless of class, education, or breeding.

It is also the foundation of every religion in the history of mankind.  The subject of eternity and the afterlife may indeed be prominent in many cases, but the bulk of all sacred writing, be it the Theravada, the Torah and Talmud, the Sruti, the New Testament, or any of a hundred others, is focused on successfully overcoming the struggle between our dual natures.  Religion, indeed spirituality of all forms, seeks to guide us in the everyday struggle to conduct ourselves in a manner that positively impacts our surroundings while not abandoning our own needs. It is variously described as a narrow path, a balance between forces, and a tightrope walk.

The story of Jekyll and Hyde then becomes an expression of the desire to relieve ourselves of the struggle; to ease the burden by taking self-control and personal effort out of the equation and relying on science, specifically a drug, to solve the problem for us. If we could simply remove the temptation, isolate the two natures and give the nobler side unfettered control, the struggle would be over.

But freedom, our hero discovers,  is a two-way street. If good lies unfettered then so too does evil, and as Yoda observed while evil is not stronger it is, “Quicker, easier, more seductive.” The lesson of Stevenson’s story, though I’m not sure he intended it to be, is that there is no short-cut to a moral character and an upright life. It requires that we devote ourselves to a religion, a spirituality of some kind that has its origin outside of ourselves from where we can draw strength to survive the struggle, and hopefully win it.

So we see then that even though science-fiction may rarely quote scripture of invoke God’s help in resolving a plot line, the sci-fi story is quite often a morality play, forcing us to consider life in ways we may not have indulged before, and whenever a person seriously considers the nature of their own existence, the opportunity exists for God to reveal Himself to them. And in this I rejoice.

Totally Aside but an Interesting Little Tidbit Dept: – Not long after the publishing of this story, Stevenson moved to the South Pacific, cruising for a number of years on a yacht named the Casco. During this time he visited the leper colony at Molokai and befriended the famous Father Damien. Such was the relation ship that when a Honolulu Presbyterian minister attacked the character of Father Damien, Stevenson wrote a scathing open letter of rebuke. The name of the object of his displeasure – the Rev. Dr. Hyde.

Until next time – Shalom.


[1] from: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Lucasfilm, 1980

[2] Original title. In modern publications “The” is added to the title to make it grammatically correct, but in the original publication Stevenson was explicit in his desire to omit the definitive article.

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