Classic Horror

Classic Horror: The Bottle Imp

Genie in a bottle

Today I am writing to talk to you about The Bottle Imp.

This story, by Robert Louis Stevenson, was published in the New York Herald in 1891 and can normally be found in his collection ‘Island Nights’ Entertainment’.

As you may have guessed from the title this is the story about a genie, though there is another element to it, that being if the person who holds the bottle dies with it in their possession, then their soul is Hellbound.

Summary

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Keawe is a Native Hawaiian and is somewhat cash strapped. At the beginning of the story, he buys a strange unbreakable bottle from an old man who claims the bottle is responsible for his fortune. The old man claims that the imp living inside the bottle will grant Keawe his heart’s desire.

He also outlines some rules, such as the fact that the bottle must be sold for cash, for less than the owner paid for it when they purchased it. It cannot be given or thrown away, should the owner attempt such then the bottle will return by magical means. Should the owner die without selling the bottle in the mentioned way then their soul will be forfeit.

Keawe buys the bottle and instantly tests it, by wishing for his money back and trying to sell the bottle for a profit. Once convinced of the bottles authenticity he wishes for a big fancy house and his wish is granted. However, like these stories often do, this wish is not granted smoothly and Keawe gets the house by having all his family members die and he inherits their fortune. Keawe decides he is happy now and sells the bottle to a friend. Keawe eventually marries a beautiful woman and they fall in love and are married. though on the night of his marriage when he discovers that he has contracted leprosy. He must give up his house and wife, and live in Guadalupe—a remote community for lepers.

He tries to recover the bottle, but his friend has left Hawaii, he does however eventually find it in Honolulu. Keawe buys it back but the person from whom he buys it only paid two cents, which means if Keawe buys it he won’t be able to resell it.

Keawe buys the bottle despite this issue and curses himself, his wife becomes concerned by his low mood and Keawe confides in her. His wife suggests that they sail to Tahiti as they use centimes which is a coin worth the value of 1/5 of a cent. However, the natives will not touch the bottle, Keawe’s wife decides to save her husband and tricks him into selling the bottle to her via an old sailor. On discovering the truth Keawe decides to play the same trick on his wife, however, the sailor he gets to buy the bottle from his wife refuses to sell it to Keawe on account of him probably going to Hell anyway.

Thus, a happy-ish ending.

My thoughts

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I like this story, particularly the ending.

I know horror is supposed to leave the consumer feeling a little uncomfortable but I do like a good happy ending every now and then. I love that Keawe and his wife actually talk about the problem as a couple and both are so very much in love that they try to save each other and eventually succeed. So often in stories, poor communication accounts for the bulk of the drama and I personally find that really boring and manufactured.

The story establishes its stakes right away and sticks to them, not deviating or trying to pile on the drama. It’s moralistic without shoving it down your throat, Keawe’s initial motivation is greed but that becomes supplanted when he and his wife are literally willing to go to Hell for each other and then the edition of the sailor at the end willing to go to Hell for this couple is a remarkably pleasing thing.

I don’t know if I’m just worn down by the pandemic, and people demonstrating time and time again that they won’t suffer the smallest inconvenience to literally save someone else’s life but I really need more stories like this at the moment.

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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