The Strange Case of Robert Louis Stevenson
A Long Overdue Update
Let me first offer my apologies for what has become the longest writing hiatus I’ve taken since starting the Raven’s Writing Desk last year, unfortunately, work commitments were followed by seasonal busyness and seasonal busyness was chased up with a lengthy period of illness. I’m feeling much better now—I say whilst coughing—but I should also explain a fourth, more exciting, reason for my absence, a long-term project I’m hoping to release late this year/early next year.
For some background, I released an article earlier this year called Revisiting Dracula, which I expected to be of little interest to most people, but which I felt passionate enough to risk spending time on, due to the significant place of Christianity and prayer in particular throughout the book. I was not prepared for the fact that it would end up being my third most-read article of all time, and that the first-prize winner would be another article in that same series, the Total Depravity of Pride & Prejudice. As I’m sure many other writers will attest to, you never really know what is going to do well, and what will flop, I’ve spent weeks on articles in the past only to scrape by with no more than a few dozen views, but this surprise was a welcome one, and one I hope to continue to work on.
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Before I read Dracula, I’d read a shorter work by Robert Louis Stevenson, not with the intention of writing about it, but simply out of curiosity. I knew from experience that classics rarely reflect the pop culture versions and references they later inspired, and at only 160-odd pages, I thought it would be worth picking up. What I found was a far cry from what I’d come to expect from the story—most notably because of comic references like the League of Extraordinary Gentleman or the Banner/Hulk storylines from Marvel Comics/Films—and rather, I was faced with the story of a man who, knowing his sinfulness, wanted to both give in to his most base desires whilst keeping his purity and thereby attain righteousness. This complex character, seen mostly through the eyes of others, presents the reader with human depravity and asks us to examine ourselves too, and so once the final scene plays out, and we find out what would become of this man, we’re forced to ask ourselves similar questions.
Now that’s a story I think every Christian could do with reading.
Here’s the thing though, it wasn’t written by a Christian, in fact, quite the opposite. Arthur Ransome says of Stevenson in his biography, “when [Stevenson] fled from Calvinism he ran to a distance, and, like many another young man, made faces at it and called himself anathiest.” This is light language when compared with the distance of Stevenson's flight, a flight he boarded with a married woman and a host of other indecencies. The lives of both Stevenson and Jekyll encapsulate what Paul quotes from the Psalms, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12. What seems equally clear, however, is that whilst Jekyll eventually find redemption through grace, Stevenson would not. Going so far as to write faith into reality and acknowledge its power, but forego trusting in it himself, a reminder to us that mere acknowledgement is not the same as saving faith, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” James 2:19
So that leads us to where I am now. I have an awful lot of love for both the book and the concepts explored within, and whilst I hope you do pick up Dracula and Pride & Prejudice, the truth is that they are not easy first reads, and for many who simply want to read a book through the eyes of faith for the first time, these could be difficult starting points. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde stands apart from this group as it’s not only short but it’s also poignant.
I wanted to do more than simply write an article though. I think there’s an opportunity for this book to help train readers on what to look out for when reading books with Christian themes, especially classic works of fiction like this one. I decided to take some time to work on a piece of longer-form content, complete with a short biography of Stevenson, which I hope will help contextualise the book further for the reader, as well as closing questions at the end of each chapter. This Christian Reader’s Version of the book will be available as a free eBook, with a possibility of an audio version should there be interest:
This will be available right here at the Raven’s Writing Desk, although I’d be happy to post it elsewhere too if that would be more helpful/accessible. As always, if this does well and I get good feedback, I will try and produce more of this kind of content, so if that’s something you’d love, please do share this article. Thanks so much to all of you who do share my articles with others, I know it’s become somewhat cliche now, but liking and sharing really does mean a lot and helps others find my writing.
With that said, I will keep you all updated in the week to come.
Grace and Peace,
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