Ian Rankin, a celebrated and most perspicacious admirer of R.L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, has now written a foreword to a re-issue of the text, extracted in the Guardian. Jekyll/Hyde enthusiasts will find much to celebrate in Rankin's piece - in particular, perhaps, his stress on the story's 'complex narrative', which is much more tricksy than the umpteen film versions that doggedly take Jekyll's point of view from inside his laboratory as he struggles to perfect his 'transcendental medicine'. Whereas in Stevenson, as Rankin points out, "Jekyll himself figures only as a friend of the other characters and narrators – right up until the revelation provided by his "confession". We start the book in the company of two gentlemen called Utterson and Enfield..."
Can readers who encountered the films before the original take the same pleasure, the proper pleasure, in the story's unfolding? "Sadly," Rankin writes, "we'll never know the thrill experienced by this explosive book's original audience. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a work of suspense, but we all know the twist these days, don't we?" All I can say is that while still a schoolboy I'd seen about a zillion adaptations of Jekyll without having savoured the ur-text, but only once I had Stevenson did everything become clear, gloriously so. The best film of Stevenson is actually the Stephen Frears/Christopher Hampton version of Valerie Martin's hommage/rewrite Mary Reilly, but it was a picture that thrill-seeking audiences didn't warm up to. It looks better every year, but - like its inspiration.