Title: The Bottle Imp
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
In: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and Other Strange Tales (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Classics, Easy reading, Tricksters
Format: Short story
Publisher: Kingsford Editions
5th sentence, 74th page: It was long ere slumber came to them, and, if either dozed off, it would be to wake and find the other silently weeping in the dark, or, perhaps, to wake alone, the other having fled from the house and the neighbourhood of that bottle, to pace under the bananas in the little garden, or to wander on the beach by moonlight.
Offering an engrossing spin on a time-honored theme–the risky business of making a pact with the devil–this short story is a radiant jewel. It recounts the mercurial lot of Keawe, a Hawaiian who purchases a bottle inhabited by an imp capable of granting any wish. Yet this enticing object holds a dark curse: anyone who dies with it in his possession will burn forever in hell. And here’s the rub: one can sell the bottle only for less than its purchase price. Keawe rids himself of the bottle after acquiring a palatial home. But when he needs it again to ensure his happiness with a newfound love, its cost is, chillingly, one cent, and the responsibility of ownership becomes a good deal more complex.
Going into this I thought it was going to be a typical imp / magic bottle story. Well, as typical as those tales can be. I was expecting the huge reward, the huge price, the huge regret at the end. Having recently discovered Robert Louis Stevenson I had quite low expectations, so I was so happily surprised when I realised that they were way too low, and this was a much better story than expected.
On the surface, The Bottle Imp is mostly about consequences. Every action has a reaction, and all of the choices we make have a consequence. Or at least, that’s the general gist. Karma, really. Each of the people who have bought the bottle gained the wealth (monetary or otherwise) that they wanted, but it came at an unforeseeable cost. The trail left shows that when people don’t work for the good things in life, it’s not as appreciated or loved.
However, underneath this story is one of a husband and wife and their unconditional love. Each is willing to sacrifice their soul to save the other and although it means an afterlife in purgatory, and a horrifying future ahead, they willingly take on the burden for each other. It’s when this message is imparted that the true “happily ever after” really comes to light.
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