'The Eternal Remix' - the legacy of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

This post discusses the cultural heritage of the novel with a brief analysis of why it has endured.

Start Screen for NES game 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'

I recently posted Hiatus Kaiyote's song, 'Jekyll', on Anthony's Facebook wall – partly because it's a fantastic song but also because it demonstrates how Jekyll and Hyde's legacy still bubbles up in the cracks of popular culture. Hiatus Kaiyote are one of the most exciting new bands out there and it piqued my attention when I saw the title of the song. It's not just our project that is drawing upon the novel for inspiration, Jekyll and Hyde is still influencing new art across many mediums. In our first working meeting last Friday, Anthony gave us a day long lecture on Stevenson, his novel and 19th century London. It was a great privilege to get a half an academic term of lectures in a day, though I must admit processing such an intricate analysis of a novel has taken a good week to digest! It's been years since I felt so studious.

Technology has been a big part of the story's persistence. Mass produced as a text, embraced by the stage and later radio, television, comics, video games and music – undoubtedly as well in other formats I haven't yet thought of – plus our React project... There are over 123 film versions alone. The legacy of the text in popular culture is astounding.

The themes that have seen the story through 127 years of adaptations, re-mixes and mashups are ones that go to the heart of what it means to be human - regardless of creed or culture. To quote Anthony, 'Modern man is not a unified consciousness directed by a single moral purpose but rather the amalgamation of conflicting and often different impulses, both higher and lower, like the book itself'. Amongst many insights, Anthony pointed out that all the characters within the text are inherently reflections of Jekyll/Hyde. Some may have a moral superiority of sorts but even these have a dark side. Allusions to past misdemeanours are made and we can argue about which Victorian depravity was inferred: homosexuality, drug addiction, pedophilia etc, to name but a few examples.

What can be said with certainty is that Stevenson renders with great efficacy how complex and conflicted human beings are. One of my favourite re-tellings is Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman, where Dr. Jekyll withers away quickly enough to be forgotten, leaving a Mr. Hyde whose own duality between murderous brute and selfless hero swings like a pendulum. His fixed monstrous state is still capable of tenderness and love and it is this Hyde who takes centre stage in the comics. For me, this polyphony of Hydes makes the text totally relevant in today's age of humanity 2.0, as it echoes the ever evolving debate of what makes us human.

The novel is also evocative of a fable, in the sense that is has been retold across many generations, in many different guises - yet retains it's core virtues. There are many, many retellings of Cinderella yet they all contain a shared essence or morality. Jekyll is no different, from the daft and mutli-Razzie nominated Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde - a most dubious retelling of a female Hyde taking over the career and life of the stuttering Jekyll archetype (hello 90's Hollywood chauvinist reaction to girl power..) to the Incredible Hulk - one of the most iconic of all comic book creations. The sly Mr. Hyde can be found in the pantomime of the Nutty Professor, Tim Burton's the Nightmare before Christmas, the Who's 1968 album Magic Bus and the Nintendo NES game, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (from what I'm told it's bloody awful).

Perhaps then, it can be said, that the book itself is somewhat of a potion - transforming new cultural identities and environments, revealing familiar shadows in new forms. Our use of biotechnology perhaps anticipates this uneasy balance between the scientific endeavour and our evolving understanding of the human condition.

See Jekyll the video game here: