Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: The Bottle Imp

THE BOTTLE IMP: A simple Faustian story, very entertaining nonetheless

The main character of a German legend, Faust, is a successful but dissatisfied scholar. This leads him to decide on calling the Devil for help in indulging himself with the world’s pleasures. As a response, the Devil has made a bargain with him: he would be given access to his powers, but, in exchange, his soul will be eternally damned to hell. This legend has had many renditions, and, perhaps, one of the most known versions of the tale that is not of German origin is The Bottle Imp.

 This book tells the story of Keawe, a Hawaiian who purchases a bottle inhabited by an imp that can grant any wish. Like any Faustian tale, this demonic agency holds the promise of eternal damnation: anyone who dies while in possession of the bottle will burn forever in hell. It means that the purchaser should get rid of the bottle before he passes away. But here’s the catch: the bottle cannot be destroyed, and can only be get rid of by selling it at half the price it has been purchased.

The main conflict of the story arises when Keawe has finally sold the bottle after gaining a palatial home, but finds himself needing it again to ensure the happiness of his newfound love. The bottle’s price, to his shock, is one cent, which means that the next purchaser’s responsibility over it becomes even more complex.

What makes this an interesting read is its ability to present the negative implications of wishing for too much. Sure, there have been happiness and successes in the protagonist’s life because of the bottle imp, but these have been accompanied with even greater feelings of loss and despair. It just shows that happiness and despair is not mutually exclusive -- especially when they are acquired through wicked means.

            The story doesn’t present too much interaction with the imp, and so the dilemmas of the protagonist is given more focus. The reason why I like this kind of storytelling is the fact that it expands Keawe’s reaction to his dilemmas, and not on the imp itself. It gives a huge space for character development; and the imp in the bottle is just there to serve as a catalyst. Even though the imp remains to be a mystery all throughout, it is not mysterious enough to pass as flat and uninspired. It has served as an effective means for Keawe’s character development.

Since this is one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s later works, it is not very surprising that the writing is a step forward in terms of style and presentation of content. The prose and the unfolding of events are just more fluid compared to his other works. The book is just well paced and the story is well executed. It doesn’t dwell on random details. Scarcely a word is wasted. Each word drives the overall story forward, and this makes the book hard to put down. Aside from that, the book has given me a detailed imagery of the Hawaiian setting, which is really impressive considering the space it has in its disposal to form a concrete location. Perhaps the only thing that disappointed me is that it ended too soon. I want more of it! But this is just a personal matter, for I must say that its length suits the story perfectly. It could’ve been too stretched out if it were any longer.

Perhaps this book could even pass as a mature fairy tale, for it has such a cathartic and moral ending. If this story is accompanied by pictures, I’m quite sure that even children would be able to sit on it as their parents tell them the tale -- the tale about the consequences of asking for too much.

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