The Body-Snatchers / Markheim / Ollala by Robert Louis Stevenson

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories - Robert Louis StevensonIn: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories – Robert Louis Stevenson
Oxford University Press, 2008

So. the short stories in this collection? They didn’t do much for me. Or at least, I found two out of three strangely disappointing. Perhaps it is me, really. I am sure I did not understand what I was meant to gather from these stories. Perhaps it is that these were short stories, a genre I do not always like as I should.

Olalla was the only story I enjoyed reading and that I can see myself coming back to someday. The story is about a soldier who is sent to a house in Spain to recover from his injuries. Here, he meets three strange inhabitants: the mother, the brother and the sister, the latter of whom is called Olalla. The soldier finds himself strangely attracted to Olalla, and rather likes the mother and brother, even if they seem strange – somehow. The story leans on many aspects that I relate to gothic stories: a strange house, the long-death, the threatening aspects of beauty, vampirism. The built up of the story worked for me and I started to feel something for what was happening here.

The same cannot be said exactly for The Body-Snatchers or Markheim. Both stories are less mysteries perhaps and feature more to-the-point brutality. Body-Snatchers is about a man whose job it is to buy bodies for medical research. There is the atmosphere of something respectable (ie. medical studies) that hides something dark: most of the bodies are people who have been murdered in order to be delivered to the dissection rooms.

Markheim is about a person who enters an antique shop and murders the shop owner in order to steal from him. The rest of the story, I think, portrays the thief’s struggle between repulsion and acceptance of the crime.

If I had to sum up my reaction to Markheim and The Body-Snatchers in a diagram, it would look something like this (except that in reality, my appreciation never reached such heights):

The thing is, these stories were alright in build-up. And towards the middle of them I felt I was almost able to grab onto something of the atmosphere and spookiness that I was supposed to feel. But then, the ending. In Body-Snatchers my reaction was: “Huh? What?!” I just didn’t get it. Perhaps it was supposed to make me feel uncomfortable, but all I could think was: this is too illogical. You see, if you want to make me feel spooked, I’d like it to be in a way that is logical somehow. Of course, the mysterious often defies logic, but that does not mean it cannot be portrayed in a manner that makes it seem somewhat real. Here, any conception of what was happening was missing, which made it seem strange rather than mysterious? As for Markheim, the ending was a simple disappointment of “oh, alright” *shrug* “let’s move on to the next story”.

This is not how I am supposed to feel about these stories. Me, who is scared by movies that are meant to be funny, not scary, should not be able to end up thinking “um, ooo-kay”, I should be slightly mystified, a little thrilled, a little – I don’t know.

You see, this has me wondering if I missed some crucial steps in these stories, something that might explain to me what happened. Or is it that Stevenson meant for me to be left with only questions? I like books that make you think, but this one provides no context per se, nothing that makes me able to ponder what I do not “get”. Oh, I understand the idea of two-sidedness of human nature, of society even, portrayed in these stories, but the endings seem to point towards something more (at least I hope they do, or they’d be rather pointless) – Something I’m not able to grasp because there is no context here that enables me to grasp it.

I won’t give up on Stevenson. I’m sure one day I may be persuaded to read Treasure Island. But these stories? I don’t think I can be bothered to pick them up again.

9 responses to “The Body-Snatchers / Markheim / Ollala by Robert Louis Stevenson

  1. I’ve only read Jekyll & Hyde out of Stevenson’s short stories which I thought was brilliant and very dark. But I remember as a kid being enthralled by The Black Arrow (more than Treasure Island). I think I’ve only read the abridged verson so have been meaning to pick up the proper version. Have you read anything else by him?

  2. I sort of have a hit and miss relationship with short stories sometimes, so I can completely understand your reaction to this book. I always have high hopes for short story collections, but more often than not, they end up disappointing me. I am glad to have read your thoughts on this one, even if it wasn’t your favorite collection.

  3. You are not alone. While doing my undergrad, I took a course in “Literary Horror.” At the outset, the professor warned us that many of the texts were indeed very scary. She meant it seriously. Of course, she was speaking to a room full of twenty-year olds (possibly older) which made me wonder… “perhaps she’s right.” Um, no. I was sorely disappointed. I thought I might be missing something. Out of the 8-9 books, only one was truly horrifying: The Monk (by M. Lewis). If you ever get a chance to read it, I guarantee it will give you the creeps. The Oxford edition is awesome.

  4. I was also interested in reading at least one of these Stevenson stories for R.I.P., Iris, so thanks for the warning not to get my hopes up too high. Although there are a lot of short stories I love, your reactions here parallel mine at times because I think there’s not enough time on occasion to get engrossed in a short story the same way you might in a novel.

  5. I had a similar feelings about a short story I recently read and reviewed. To me the action of the protagonist – who could kill two or three people in a day and is only 13 years – was illogical. Yes, people could be bad, wicked whatever but in what context was he doing this? Nothing whatsoever was provided. Yet, another commenter tried comparing it with Lord of the Flies, but in the latter we all know how the story builds up. And this was an award-winning story.

    It’s just like that, certain stories aren’t meant for certain people.

  6. Because I read THE BODY SNATCHERS in a volume of ghost stories, I wasn’t “disappoint” in the end any more than the rest of it. As I said in my post, it didn’t do much for me either. Not sure what it was that didn’t resonate. I hope you get to JEKYLL AND HYDE, though, I’ve just read two reviews and now I wan to reread it.

  7. That’s too bad that you didn’t enjoy these a bit more. I have never read any of Stevenson’s short stories that I recall. One of these days I will have to and see what I think of them.

  8. If you’re going to enjoy Stevenson, you need to understand that he’s interested by evil, pure human evil, and he wants to know what it feels like to be saved from evil acts and evil people. He doesn’t write about anything else. No one else understands the attraction of evil like he does. Try his story, the Beach of Falesa.

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