I’m still working on MONSTER number three, my Edgar Allan Poe-inspired novella, but I’m also in that very exciting RESEARCH phase for Candy’s Monster number four — my updated and completely original take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic about what it means to be human: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Stevenson wrote about the dual nature of individuals at a time before Freud, Jung, Skinner and Prozac. His good doctor Jekyll knows that he harbors a dark side — or at least some relatively dark inclinations — and believes that if he can split them off, jettison and contain them in an alternative personality, he can express his darker desires without endangering his good half.
It seems like a completely ridiculous idea, but… it’s tempting. It’s a pseudo-scientific description of a magical transformation that would create a perfect divided soul. Good on one side and Evil on the other. The Good is the human half and the Bad is the MONSTER.
It’s hard not to make fun of Dr. Jekyll’s naïve notion.
But the desires behind it linger. Conflating ANIMAL and MONSTER to express the superiority of humanity is pervasive. People are still arguing about evolution long after the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. The discomfort with the “Animal” nature of humans is not entirely religious, as many people today still want to draw a clear line between animals and humans to protect our special value and place in the universe.
Back in the late 19th century, there was no doubt about the superiority of human nature. Western civilizations mistrusted the wisdom of the east and eastern dismissed the bias of the west, but looking for answers in our commonality with animals wasn’t high on anyone’s agenda.
The 20th century was a renaissance of psychological theories. Not too many of them have survived in practice, but many persist in popular culture and in fiction. No one blames Autism on “cold” mothers anymore, but mommy dearest does take a beating in a lot of movies, TV shows and novels. If you want to be shocked and appalled, get a hold of some old psychology dictionaries (or text books) and you’ll see enough discredited theories and wacky diagnostic criteria to write a dozen horror stories. Scary outcomes with the best of intentions — sounds good and sounds like Dr. Jekyll’s plan!
Neurobiology is moving fast. All sorts of diagnoses that would have been considered psychological in the 20th century and “moral weakness” in 19th are now considered neurological in origin, i.e. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I’m all over the place right now, looking for the threads of theory and science and magic that will knit together into my fourth Monster. Back to my research!