The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Robert Louis Stevenson

The Master Of Ballantrae

Sunday night, I finished Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae.

I’m a fan of Stevenson—I’ve written before how much I appreciate his work, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of my all-time favorite works of fiction—but I was a little disappointed in this one.

The Master of Ballantrae is a tale of two brothers of noble Scottish birth, and is alsosomewhat of a retelling of the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau, with the rivalry and conflict between the two brothers being the central plot of the story.

Parts of the book read very slowly, but there is a lot to keep the reader interested as well: the setting jumps all over the place, with events unfolding in Scotland, the High Seas, India, and finally colonial America, and as with other Stevenson stories, multiple narrators are used, which helps to give different perspectives on events.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the character of the older brother, The Master of Ballantrae himself, who is the antagonist of the story.

Stevenson thoroughly investigated the nature of evil in the character of Mr. Hyde, but in The Master of Ballantrae, the idea is a little more complex. Speaking of his villain, Stevenson said,“The Master is all I know of the devil,” and indeed, the Master’s intelligence, powers of manipulation and seductive charm resemble greatly the malevolent force described in the Bible, and distinguish him from a Mr. Hyde type of evil.

Unfortunately, for me, all of these good aspects of the book were wasted to some degree by an incredibly disappointing climax.

If you’re a big Robert Louis Stevenson fan, The Master of Ballantrae might be worth reading, but otherwise, skip it—he has much better stuff to offer.

Conflicting Natures

I read a children’s version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when I was about 10 years old, and it is a story that has fascinated me ever since.

Robert Louis Stevenson, of Treasure Island fame, penned the novella in 1885. Stevenson’s body of work was criticized and largely dismissed by modern writers because it was so popular (and therefore perceived to be too commonplace), but in recent years, critics have begun to appreciate him as a man of prodigious artistic talent.

That talent is never more evident than in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which features impressive character development despite being a novella, clever framing, and most importantly, an insightful investigation of the dualistic nature of man.

In the story, Dr. Jekyll is a respected and talented medical doctor who wants to live a good and pure life but is plagued by his own evil desires.

Jekyll’s problem is experienced by all of us to some degree, and is one which the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 7.18-21:

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.

For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.”

In Stevenson’s story, Jekyll recognizes the good and evil natures warring within himself, and, by means of a chemical potion, decides to separate those natures with the hope of purging himself of his evil desires and the guilt that accompanies them.

Jekyll’s potion leads to the creation of Hyde, his despicable and wholly evil alter ego, who ultimately brings about his downfall.

Continuing in Romans 7.24-25 and 8.1-2, Paul points out a different solution to the problem of sin:

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

Sin is dangerous and seductive, and has the power to enslave us. No chemical potion or medical doctor can loosen the bonds of that slavery; only The Great Physician can set us free.

The 1895 photograph above pictures Richard Mansfield, an American actor who was best known for playing the dual roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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