Robert Louis Stevenson: Will O’ The Mill

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For week 48 of my Deal Me In 2014 project, I drew the Nine of Hearts which corresponded to Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story, “Will O’ The Mill”.   My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  I originally put this story on my list simply because the title had a nice ring to it and I liked saying it.  The story, itself, had a nice ring to it, also.

As a child, Will lives with his adopted parents at a mill – as one might expect from the title. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, he watches travelers of all sort move by the mill to the towns below.  Talking to the travelers, Will has a longing to see what is beyond the hill and river where the mill is located.  In looking at the stars at night, Will longs to see something different.

As his parents die, Will adds an inn to the mill and becomes quite prosperous and well-known to travelers all around.  He becomes engaged to the parson’s daughter; however, realizes that marriage may not be for him.  He opts for friendship over romance.

The interesting aspect of this story is that Will almost goes off to explore the world, but doesn’t.  He almost gets married, but doesn’t.  Does he have any regrets over these “almosts” not being actualities?  Based on my reading, I would have to say “no”.

While this story isn’t really a fantasy, it has one of the best personifications of “Death” that I’ve encountered in a story since The Book Thief.  It’s what will make the story memorable to me.

And last, but not least, Stevenson weaves this story with some wonderfully detailed narrative.  Details of Will’s nature, human nature, and the world’s nature abound:

It is the property of things seen for the first time, or for the first time after long, like the flowers in spring, to reawaken in us the sharp edge of sense and that impression of mystic strangeness which otherwise passes out of life with the coming years; but the sight of a loved face is what renew’s a mans character from the fountain upwards.

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Robert Louis Stevenson: The Merry Men

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In drawing the Ten of Hearts this week for my Deal Me In 2014 project, I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s story “The Merry Men”.  From what I’ve read of Stevenson, I know his stories’ themes can be about both the good and the evil in a human being (e.g., Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).  Ships and the ocean play a prominent role in his more well-known stories (e. g., Treasure Island).  “The Merry Men” join both of these characteristics – and it doesn’t have anything to do with Robin Hood.

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Charles heads to his family home, Aros, off the coast of Scotland, as well as to his Uncle Gordon Darnaway and his cousin Mary.  But he also has another reason for the visit:  to look for buried treasure from the sinking of the ship Espirito Santo.   His initial visit with his relatives finds him hearing the story of another, more recent ship that sank near Aros – the Christ-Anna.  The cause of these ocean tragedies is a rock formation known as “The Merry Men”.  Do these rocks possess some sort of evil that comes from the ocean?  They have had an effect on Charles’ Uncle Gordon.  After reading a Psalm from the Old Testament, Gordon makes a chilling observation:

Maybe Dauvit wasna very weel acquaint wi’ the sea.  But troth, if it wasna the Lord, but the muckle, black deil that made the sea.

The ocean continues to bring Gordon to the brink of insanity when a severe storm crashes yet another ship on “The Merry Men”.  The fascination with which Gordon watches the horror reminds me of King Lear’s descent into madness.  The contrast between the evils of the sea and the very religious names of the ships makes for interesting thoughts on what Stevenson was trying to convey with his story.  I’m not sure the ending gives any firm conclusions to the author’s motives.

While the story is enjoyable enough, I have to continue to recommend Herman Melville for philosophical and theological stories about ships and oceans.  In addition, the thick Scottish accent of Uncle Gordon makes for some slow reading.  But if one is looking for a story that is a little scary, a little adventurous – and fun – this might be the one.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Providence and the Guitar

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Leon Berthelini and his wife, Elvira, sing, play the guitar and act.  They do it as a living – or at least attempt to make a living.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story “Providence and the Guitar” tells the tale of the age-old plight of the starving artist.  Over the last few years, the importance of artists and their ability to earn money has become somewhat of a fascination for me, so this story came as a nice surprise.

Robert Louis Stevenson: The Complete Shorter Fiction

Leon and Elvira, not knowing where their bed will be from night to night, attempt to find lodging at a small inn.  When they are not allowed there, they settle for a park bench.  On a park bench nearby, they meet a young gentleman with a small amount of appreciation for art and music; however, he plans to become a banker – but he isn’t one, yet.  He accompanies his new-found friends through a turnip field to a house and a domestic dispute – between a painter and his wife.  The source of the dispute: money.

No real determinations or rationales are formed as to what artists should or should not do in order to make money.  Leon makes the comment: “Art is Art…It is not water-coloured sketches, nor practising the piano.  It is a life to be lived.”

As the would-be banker leaves his friends he comments:  “They are all mad…all mad – but wonderfully decent.”

I liked the story more than I thought I would.  It seemed rather wordy at the beginning; however, as I read on, it became more and more – well – “wonderfully decent”.

“The Bottle Imp” by Robert Louis Stevenson

The luck of the draw this week gave me Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story, “The Bottle Imp”, another “sell your soul to the devil” story.  It has some similarities to Oscar Wilde’s “The Fisherman and His Soul” which I read a few weeks ago.  Stevenson’s story is not as wordy as Wilde’s but it is longer than most of the short stories I’ve read.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this story takes place in Hawaii.  Between Jack London, Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville, I’ve grown to enjoy stories from the South Seas set in the mid nineteenth century.  Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island is on my agenda sometime in the near future.

The Bottle Imp

The imp in the bottle grants wishes to whoever owns him; however, if the owner of the bottle dies while still in possession of the bottle imp, he spends the afterlife in eternal damnation.  If the owner sells the bottle imp, he must do so at a loss – selling it for less than he paid for it.  If he attempts to gain a profit from the sale, the bottle imp returns to him.

At the beginning of the story, I found these “rules” governing the bottle imp somewhat complicated.  Keawe uses the bottle to build an expensive house, be healed of a dreaded disease and to gain the love of his life, Kokua.  He passes the bottle around to a few friends, but ultimately it ends up back in his hands.  The aspect of the story that I enjoyed the most came as the bottle imp gradually decreased in value – as it would given its rules.   Keawe and Kokua didn’t question what might happen when the value of the bottle imp dropped below the lowest denomination of cash.

The story asks the same question most of these “sell your soul to the devil” stories ask.  What price is one willing to pay for the granting of their deepest desires?  This story, though, ends with a small, but humorous, twist.  This is another story I found in Stories and Poems For Highly Intelligent Children of All Ages collected by Harold Bloom.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: “the horror of my other self”

I loved how Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written even though the premise was familiar to me.  I had to force myself to read it as though I was in the 19th century and had never heard the term Jekyll and Hyde applied to people or had never seen filmed versions of the story.  Trying to read it this way at times required a little more effort than other stories I’ve read, but it was worth it.

The mystery surrounding Dr. Henry Jekyll’s acquaintance, Edward Hyde, unravels slowly in the thoughts of  his lawyer, Mr. Utterson.  It’s this unraveling that Stevenson depicts so well.  The reader is kept in an intense suspense through murder and mayhem.  The last part of the story comes in the form of a letter written by Jekyll explaining his situation from a physical standpoint as well as from a spiritual and mental perspective.  Much of literature will portray the battle of good and evil, but rarely have I read a story where this battle takes place within one individual in such a terrifying manner, as Jekyll writes:

I became, in my own person, a creature eaten up and emptied by one thought:  the horror of my other self.

The wonderful final line poses a question:

Here, then, as I lay down the pen, and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.

Who won the battle?