Why We Love The Mad Scientist

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a precursor to modern commercial fiction. In its day, it was called a “shilling shocker,” which meant that it was an inexpensive and thrilling read. Stores are saturated with commercial fiction these days because it appeals to the broadest audience and it often appeals to our most basic human desires. The impact of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which has been in continual publication for the past 127 years, is so pervasive upon Western culture that it has become part of our collective cultural mythos. 

It is a story of repression that anyone can relate to. Robert Louis Stevenson was interested in human nature and in the psychology of personalities. As a result of this interest, he explored these themes in his work. In the story, Dr. Jekyll seeks to repress his darker inclinations, and ends up going to the extremes of evil as Mr. Hyde. Specifically, Dr. Jekyll is a repressed character who needs an outlet for his dark side, but on a broader level, anyone who is a member of a society is confined to a specific set of laws, norms, and unwritten rules that can, at times, feel restrictive. Dr. Jekyll was a part of a profession and an era that expected high moral integrity, or at least the appearance of such. The fascination of this story, and the reason it has endured, is because everyone wants to explore what it feels like to cast off the shackles of civilized society, even if it is just vicariously.

Dr. Jekyll is also a classic archetypal “mad scientist” tale: a person uses their knowledge in the wrong way for the wrong reasons and it ends up destroying them. We see this even before The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein when Dr. Frankenstein creates his animate monster and it goes horribly wrong. In fact, even our idea of the “mad scientist” can be attributed to works like these. Stories like this tell us that, when a human possesses unlimited power, their use of that power will inevitably get out of control and wreak havoc. Limitless power is always too much for one flawed person to handle, we are told. History reinforces this idea, as well. We fear what will do with power, while, at the same time, we are fascinated by it and desire its advantages.