Readin', Writin' and RLS

Robert_Louis_Stevenson_portrait_by_Girolamo_NerliWhat image do you  see when you hear the word "Frankenstein"? Chances are, it’s Boris Karloff (avec neck bolts and platform boots) -- not the brooding, sewn-together creature who hides in a woodshed and reads John Milton (in Shelley’s novel). I really hate that.

Movies and other popular media have ruined that gothic story, just as they’ve  ruined  another incredible story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

We know that the title refers to the same character — even people who haven't read the story know that! But 19th century readers didn’t. I envy them. Can you imagine what it was like to get walloped in the head by the surprise ending? Try to put yourself in their minds for a minute and you’ll understand why,

What a truly brilliant twist. Absolutely perfect. And it still holds up after all these years.

That’s because Stevenson is amazing  — in spite of getting treated all the time as a writer of boys' adventure tales.

He knew how to put a good story together, and we were reminded of that fact earlier this week with the news that a lost Stevenson essay (well, part of one) had been found.

Published in issue 39 of The Strand Magazine, the essay  “Books and Reading. No 2. How books have to be written” is sharp, solid, practical. Among his comments:

“In the trash that I have no doubt you generally read, a vast number of people will probably get shot and stabbed and drowned; and you have only a very slight excitement for your money.”

"Such a quantity of twaddling detail would simply bore the reader’s head off.”

Love it. Give yourself a little treat this weekend. Swallow a dose of literary amnesia and read Stevenson’s “Strange Case” if you have it.  It’s not a long book. You'll be done in an afternoon. Marvel at its construction. Then, when you turn to your own manuscript again, I bet you’ll find that you’ve learned something that helps. It's happened for me.

Good luck, my friends.