Archive for the ‘Opinion Piece’ Category

Mr. Utterson is the respectable sort of gentlemen lawyer who reserves judgement on his friends.

‘I incline to Cain’s heresy,’ he used to say quaintly. ‘I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.’”

But when his mild-mannered friend-about-town, the beloved Dr. Jekyll, seems to have fallen under an evil man’s influence—one Mr. Edward Hyde—even the reserved lawyer Utterson feels the need to check in. But though Dr. Jekyll assures everyone that all is well with him and Hyde, the lawyer watches his friend’s deterioration and increasing secrecy with grave concern…The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is classic adult horror authored by Robert Louis Stevenson and originally published in 1886.

Everyone probably knows the basic happenings of this famous short story, but my post will take the form more of “discussion” and less of a “review,” so if you want to avoid spoilers about the specifics, you might want to skip the rest. My statute of limitations on spoilers ended at “one century old” Lol You could also go read the story right now (it’s short and free on Kindle!) and come back when you’re finished. Otherwise, read on, reader, at your own peril *evil cackle*

Thoughts (Spoilers Ahead):

We read the “strange case” through the eyes of Mr. Utterson. Slowly, occasionally ponderously, but always in that charming 19th century way, he tells us of a brutal murder committed by Mr. Hyde, who then disappears without a trace. He describes Dr. Jekyll’s subsequent deteriorations and disappearance. And, finally, through heavy use of the “confessional missive” trope so popular during this time, he learns—and we learn—the details of Dr. Jekyll’s demise.

In fact, Dr. Jekyll’s own letter tells the full story. He describes his life as,

nine-tenths a life of effort, virtue and self-control.”

But that remaining 1/10th of “badness” manifests as Mr. Edward Hyde, a degenerate through whom Dr. Jekyll allows his baser instincts to rule and be separate from his “good” self. I say “allows” because he must take a potion to induce his transformation into Hyde…at least, in the beginning. But when he transforms, Mr. Hyde runs wild, spending himself in moral filth. Jekyll feels no fear or disgust in looking at his baser nature, as others do. For,

This, too, was myself.”

At least, he feels that way…in the beginning.

As time wears on and Jekyll finds himself relaxing into and enjoying the freedom of Hyde’s reign, he suddenly begins changing into Hyde—without taking the potion.

Uh oh.

Under this strain of continually impending doom and by the sleeplessness…I became, in my own person, a creature eaten up and emptied by fever, languidly weak both in body and mind, and solely occupied by one thought: the horror of my other self.”

That line contains all the real horror of the situation, to me. He knows what’s coming, and he dreads it, but he can’t stop it anymore. His repeated choice to transform has finally become his chosen status quo. A habit.

Stevenson’s tale is more than a moralistic tale, of course. It’s a psychological discussion about the struggles inherent in human nature. It might even be a metaphor for something specific beyond a “habit of being,” such as a cocaine/opium/laudanum habit (Jekyll takes a potion to become his “bad self,” after all) or some other vice. I’m not familiar enough with Stevenson’s life to know what he might be talking about lol

And of course it’s a horror story. I think the horror comes from the knowledge that Dr. Jekyll’s choice belongs to all of us: this is every man’s and every woman’s choice. We can all choose to free our baser instincts when we think we can get away with it and avoid besmirching our “good” selves. But soon, we lose the choice—soon it comes alive and chooses for us.


Anyway, that’s what I thought. Have you read this one or seen one of the many tv shows, graphic novels or other media based on it? What do you think it’s about?

So, fellow speculative fans and aspiring authors, you may or may not have known that Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn trilogy, The Way of Kings, Elantris and several series for teens and children, is also a professor. He teaches writing classes at BYU.

You also may or may not have known that he made one of those classes available for free on Youtube. I listened to this lecture series and LOVED IT! It’s about 79 videos long. I listened to them constantly, addicted to the very end. Walking, driving, washing dishes–I was listening.

Some of the material is really basic, but it’s always interesting to hear a successful author talk his game. Also, some of the lectures delve into industry insider info and those are definitely worth hearing, if you’re thinking about publishing your work either traditionally or DIY.

BUT WAIT, before you rush off to watch these videos, I have some exciting news. In this recent blog post, Sanderson announced that he is releasing a series of newly recorded and updated videos!!! The videos will be released once a week.

Highly recommended, folks. Here’s the first of the new series:

Aaaand I’m gonna go watch it!


Setting: the Library, 9:30 am. 

Man: “I hated this YA novel. It was, like, about vampires.”

Me: “Vampires? What? That book is about flesh-eating water horses from Celtic mythology.”

Man: “Yeah, but…flesh-eating horses? That’s so…vampiric.”

I had just arrived at the library for a meeting with our Teen Advisory Group when…this happened. The week before, this man had asked me for a good YA novel, so I had recommended The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Naturally, his reaction disappointed me–not just because the strengths of the book were not to his taste, but because he saw the book through the lens of an entirely unrelated book. There’s really no comparison between Twilight and The Scorpio Races, other than their strong settings. How are fleshing-eating water horses ‘vampiric’? Is it just because they eat people? Does this mean were werewolves and sirens and tiger sharks are also ‘vampiric’? This was a well-read man who devours speculative fiction–but he clearly had pre-conceived notions about YA fiction.

I’ve also heard the plot of The Scorpio Races (early 20th century Scottish teenagers race Celtic water horses for prize money) characterized thus: “Oh, that sounds just like The Hunger Games! Teens being in danger and stuff. In an arena.” There’s really no comparison between these two books, either. Really. They’re nothing alike- where one is serious, the other is funny. One is Dystopian; the other is Historical Fantasy. One is written like a screenplay, the other like a modern ballad. For heavens’ sake, one is a trilogy and the other is a standalone!

These are just two examples I’ve experienced of YA stereotyping. It’s trendy for readers (and non-readers), most of whom are unfamiliar with YA fiction and its genre conventions, to see all YA through the lens of Twilight, The Hunger Games or a combination of the two. Granted, there have been some knock-offs, but there was YA before, there is YA after and it’s not all the same.

YA certainly has its tropes–sarcasm, middle-class white girl romances, moral-relativism, insta-love, unlikely paranormal pairings and near-future dystopias with unrealistic “hooks”–but that doesn’t mean all YA is the same.That doesn’t mean the genre is all stereotype and cliche. It DOES mean that there are genre conventions; for example, coming-of-age plots (including romance) and dystopian or fantasy settings. Good and bad YA use the same conventions, but good YA uses them more skillfully. This is true of every genre.

Let’s make sure we reviewers and book-talkers don’t add to the misconception that all YA is a Twilight-Hunger Games remix. I’m guilty of this myself, at times. But I’m determined to be both honest AND kind to this genre. It’s often a gateway for new readers and new writers. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticize it or expect good writing–in fact, I would love to see more far-future sci-fi and morally-complex shadings in the genre. There are excellent veteran writers and readers who also love the genre and are looking for ways to improve the quality. But there are also many out there who just like to feel superior by criticizing what they don’t understand. Let’s set them straight.