Science Fantasy Friday: Dr. Jekyll and the Fountain of Youth

“Jekyll had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference.”

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
has been adapted a thousand times in a thousand ways, but what if the traditional view of Hyde as an ape-like beast is wrong?

Throughout the book Hyde is visibly younger than the elderly Jekyll. Had the good doctor discovered the fountain of youth?

Alan Moore noted the difference in size between the two personalities, but in his version, the creature grew larger while Jekyll faded away. In the original novel the opposite is true.
Henry “Harry” Jekyll, M.D., D.C.L., L.L.D., F.R.S., etc. was of an “honored age” and his friends are called “old cronies.” Jekyll had “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness.” At a time when life expectancy was 40. His friends talk about the decades they’ve known each other and how they wish they were younger.
“Young Hyde” on the other hand, is called Jekyll’s “protégé.” He was “pale” and “dwarfish” and had “a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice.” He carries a cane because he likes it (not because he needs it) and he will switch from polite and well spoken to violent rage at a moment’s notice. He even decorated his room with a hundred expensive things, none of which he used.

Sounds like a teenager.

Jekyll’s friend J.G. Utterson made the same connection. Thinking of Hyde he was reminded of the adventures he and Jekyll had as young men. “He was wild when he was young; a long while ago to be sure; but in the law of God, there is no statute of limitations.” There seems to be a distinction between the “evils” of Hyde’s youth and the purity of age. Another man is described by a young girl as “an aged and beautiful gentleman with white hair … such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self-content.”

As the novel goes on, all the main characters grow older. Lanyon dies of old age (combined with shock) in a matter of weeks and Jekyll just gets sicker and sicker. “The rosy man had grown pale; his flesh had fallen away; he was visibly balder and older.”

At the same time, Hyde becomes smaller, more disturbing as his skin doesn’t quite match, like a “mask” over his facial muscles, and more and more, he’s described as jumping around and “like a monkey” and “weeping like a woman.” The clothes on Hyde, always described as baggy, become comically huge compared to his small frame.

As Jekyll was getting older, Hyde was getting younger.

Just before he dies, all Hyde can do is give out “a dismal screech.”
According to Jekyll, he was trying to rid himself of evil, but age seems to be the focus of morality. By creating the potion that transforms him into Hyde, he can have a second identity to indulge himself, while remaining pure in his old age. Drinking it, his bones ground together and he felt himself being born again. “I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill-race in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation.”

Jekyll explained that evil was less than good, so it was smaller, but that hardly explained the youth. Similarly he said the evil in Hyde would cause people to instantly hate him, but it’s possible the younger flesh on the unchanged bones could have caused the unnerving effect described by witnesses.

What he did with his younger, stronger self, Jekyll doesn’t say. “The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified; I would scarce use a harder term. But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn toward the monstrous.”

The formula is lost, but Jekyll’s notes are left behind – wonder if his aging friend ever got curious to try it themselves.


  1. Kevin,
    You’re familiar, I suppose, with two sequels to the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde films:
    Columbia’s 1951 “Son of Dr. Jekyll”
    In which Edward (now where did that name come from?) discovers Dr. Lanyon was to blame for the discrediting of his father’s work.

    Allied Artists’ 1957 “Daughter of Dr. Jekyll”
    In which “Janet Smith” (the titular daughter) discovers her guardian, Dr. Lomas, was responsible for the Jekyll family’s misfortunes.

    I haven’t seen Jean Renoir’s “Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier” (1959, aka Experiment in Evil in the UK and USA), but it sounds interesting too.

    • It’s interesting that both sequels remove blame from the good Dr. Jekyll.

      I did mention a few quasi-sequels here: Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde that adds a gender-bending angle for one of the doctor’s decedents, and the use of Hyde in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The League stories take place after the novel and ultimately give a new death for Hyde (and establish that “Hyde Park” is named in his honor).

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