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The Body Snatcher

the body snatcherWhile in Scotland recently I picked up a nice older copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s little book, The Body Snatcher.  This is really a short story (originally published in 1881) but was published in a little volume as part of Merriam’s Violet Series in 1895.

This is a fascinating story which seemed in many ways to be a precursor to Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This was further confirmed when I saw that Jekyll and Hyde was published five years after this story. In the name of science the main character was taken in to the work of procuring human bodies for scientific study and teaching. Without the regulations and oversight we take for granted today and with an increasing demand for objects of study for a famous professor, the task of obtaining bodies takes a dark turn. What I found most intriguing was the case study the story provides for how sin entraps an individual, taking you further than you intended to go, and how one’s conscience can be seared. There is a clear progression from hating the sin, giving in, feeling sick over the sin, accepting it and then boasting in it.

The story ends abruptly and, to me, unsatisfactorily. Many loose ends are left. It seems like Stevenson needed to sell a short story, so cut this one off and sold it- as if the story itself, perhaps, grew beyond what he intended for it. It is quite worthwhile reading, but it would have been great for him to have brought the pieces to conclusion. Perhaps this is what led him to take up a similar theme and work it all the way through in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This would make great short reading with any group wanting to probe the realities of the growth and danger of sin.

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