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This review is from: Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Signet Classical Books) (Mass Market Paperback)
Back in 1992 I was forced to buy this little paperback for a class called Literature of Terror. The class turned out to be pretty lame, but the book remains with me to this day -- battered, dog-eared and beloved. Most college textbooks are nothing more than extortionately priced trash, but this one packs a three-punch combination: three of the Great horror novels of English literature in one binding.
For openers we get Bram Stoker's DRACULA, arguably one of the ten most famous books ever written. Despite being written in the epistolary style -- that is, as a series of letters penned by various characters in the books -- the novel is highly entertaining, especially the opening chapters, which are set in Transylvania and achieve a remarkable atmosphere of brooding intensity. We are so inundated with vampires nowadays -- the BLADE trilogy, the television shows BUFFY and ANGEL, the UNDERWORLD series, not to mention Anne Rice's seemingly endless parade of Lestat novels -- that it is sometimes difficult to remember that Stoker's book, while not the first vampire tale, singlehandedly invented the genre -- not only the immortal Dracula character, but most of the lore that surrounds vampires generally.
Next up is the book everybody knows about but nobody has read, Mary Shelly's FRANKENSTEIN, which if it had been called FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER would have spared everyone of that name a lot of suffering as children ("Frankenstein was the scientist, you bastards, not the frickin' monster!"). Shelly's ornate, very 19th century prose is not easy on the reader, although there are passages which are so beautifully written they
resemble poetry ("I collected bones from charnel houses, and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame") and there more than a few preposterous plot developments and tedious Victorian asides; but as a moral tale about the price of hubris and the desire to play god, it hardly has an equal. In any case, readers will be interested to see that Shelly's monster is not the mute, shovel-headed zombie of the black-and-white films, but an intelligent being whose desire for revenge, rather than the manner of its creation, makes it a monster.
The closer is Robert Louis Stevenson's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, the shortest and, in my opinion, the easiest read of the three novels. Like FRANKENSTEIN, HYDE is a moral tale, rendering a harsh verdict on Victorian hypocrisy and on the human desire to have one's cake and eat it too. Poor Dr. Jekyll is handcuffed by convention; he cannot satisfy his ungentlemanly appetites without ruining the angelic public image he has worked so hard to create. So like an American politician, he spends his days kissing babies and his nights (as Mr. Hyde) chasing babes, only to discover that his nifty little potion has a nasty drawback ("Side effects may include shape-shifting and homicidal mania. Do not take the potion if you are evil, or have a tendency to become evil.") Though he lived in an ornate era, Stevenson resists the urge to gild his story in purple prose or to indulge in the long, often tedious passages which make FRANKENSTEIN so relentlessly gothic. Nor does he allow the novella to bog down as DRACULA does in mid-story. What we get is a tersely written, highly effective bit of genius.
So there you have it. Three horror classics in one softcover edition. It is truly unfortunate, and stupid, that this little gem is out of print, because anyone wanting to take a gander at the foundation stones of all modern horror should start by reading this book.