Series: Classics retold
If houses are faces, the house you’re standing in front of is the stony face of a stern teacher who knows that the children are up to something but doesn’t know exactly what. Yet behind this face is a household that is happy enough. The house is owned by a doctor, originally from somewhere on the Scottish borders. Dr. Jekyll came here to London some decades ago, after graduating from university. His household is managed by a staunch, rather silent man, the butler Poole, and by a cook and a handful of young servants. They regard him as a good, kind and considerate master and are loyal to him.
Coming around the side of the house you find a yard, partly covered in paving stones and partly cultivated as a vegetable garden. On the far side of the yard is an outhouse, built by the place’s previous owner – a surgeon – as his dissecting room, a surgical theatre in which he used to give practical anatomy lessons to students. Nowadays this little building is called the Cabinet, and Dr. Jekyll often performs his experiments there.
He is doing so tonight. The rest of his household has gone to bed, but a light still burns in the window of the Cabinet. Wiping the greasy fog off the glass with the back of your hand, you can peer through the window to see Dr. Jekyll at work. He is leaning forward intently over his laboratory bench. A lock of his silvery-grey hair, which he wears rather long, has flopped down across his forehead, and he impatiently flicks it away with a toss of his head. In one hand he holds a glass beaker half-filled with a clear, blood-red liquid. In the other is a fold of paper containing a small heap of white powder. Sucking his lower lip in concentration, he slowly and carefully taps a little of the powder into the liquid. For a moment the surface of the liquid froths. As he gently shakes the beaker, the liquid changes, becoming a steely blue.
Cautiously he adds some more of the powder. And then some more. When at last all the powder has been used up, the potion in the beaker is dirty brown like a puddle.
He looks around him furtively, as if he senses you watching him through the window, and then for the first time in many minutes he dares to let out a deep breath. He twirls the beaker a few more times, and stands up. He climbs the few stairs that lead to the door of the Cabinet’s smaller room. You can no longer see him, but through the open door you can watch the flickering candlelight make dancing shadows on the bare wall of the smaller room.
For a moment there is nothing else to see. Then a roar of anguish and despair – a roar you will never be able to forget – splits the silence of the deserted yard. There is a loud crash and the sound of breaking glass.
After a short while, a figure appears in the doorway at the top of the stairs – a small man, clutching at the door frame for support. He is younger than Dr. Jekyll, but he is wearing the doctor’s clothes, which are several sizes too large for him; this should look comical, but it doesn’t. The man’s face, although not ugly, has a look of such malignance and cruelty that the breath catches in your throat. Although the fingers that hold onto the door frame are undoubtedly human, they make you think of a predatory bird’s powerful claws.
Now strength is coming into the man, so he can push himself away from the door and stand upright. You can see the ferocious physical power coiled into the slight figure. It looks as if he is ready at any instant to explode into swift violence.
He raises that hateful face and you see his eyes, which are the worst of all. They are black and hard, and they seem to you like the openings to dark and perilous corridors.
And they are looking straight at you.
What lies behind the door to Dr Jekyll's laboratory? Who is the elusive Mr Hyde? And how are the two connected? Older children will enjoy finding out in this thrilling re-telling of the classic tale of murder, mystery and intrigue. Clearly written in a modern, approachable style to introduce young readers to much-loved classic stories. Includes informative notes on both the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the original text.
Ideal for encouraging young readers to pursue an interest in literature.
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