Short Story #65: The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson

Title:  The Bottle Imp

Author:  Robert Louis Stevenson


The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time edited by Leslie Pockell, Warner Books
While standing outside a house, Keawe witnesses the owner to be sad.  Upon inquiring, he discovers the owner is sad because he owns a bottle which contains a devil who will grant all the wishes that the owner wants.  The problem is that if the owner dies before selling the bottle to someone else, he will be doomed to hell.  Keawe hears this and decides it's worth a try.  So he buys the bottle which the man sells rather cheaply, explaining that every time the bottle is sold it must be sold for less than what it was purchased.  The bottle's price did start high many years ago but slowly from sale to sale, it dropped to $50.  Keawe buys it but is uncertain about it.  His friend convinces him to wish for something grand and Keawe wishes for a beautiful house.  Upon returning to his home island (the story takes place in the Hawaiian islands), he finds that a rich relative has died and left his inheritance to him.  The inheritance becomes enough to purchase the house that he imagined.  After this, he sells the bottle to his friend and continues to live a happy life.  He eventually encounters Kokua, a beautiful woman whom he wishes to marry.  Yet, he discovers that he had an illness that he does not wish to pass onto Kokua so he searches relentlessly for the bottle only to find out that it is now selling for a cent.  He buys it, believing he is buying his eternal damnation.  He wishes himself healed and then, marries Kokua.  Eventually, he tells Kokua about the bottle and she explains that he may not be doomed.  Kokua helps him realize that there are other places in the world where the currency allows for small denominations than a cent.  They eventually find themselves in Tahiti but have very little luck in getting anyone to buy the bottle.  With everyone skeptical of their story, Kokua decides it is her responsibility since Keawe sacrificed his soul on her behalf.  She convinces an old sailor to buy the bottle for 4/5 of a cent and she buys it from him for 3/5 of  cent.  Keawe is elated to be free of the bottle but doesn't realize Kokua has bought it.  He derides her when she looks kindly on the man who bought it from Keawe while he casts judgments about the sailor.  Eventually, he discovers that she has bought it and so he hires out a boatswain to purchase the bottle.  When he catches up with the boatswain afterwards, the boatswain refuses to sell the bottle because he enjoys its power.  When Keawe explains that the owner of it will go to hell, the boatswain laughs and explains he's already going there so he might as well enjoy this life.  


The story was an enjoyable read.  It pales in comparison to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is one of my all-time favorite novellas, but Stevenson's storytelling skills are present.  I certainly did enjoy the dramatic irony as Keawe berates Kokua for thinking of the poor old man who buys the bottle.  In fact, given the dark nature of Jekyll and Hyde in its climax, I was surprised that Keawe and Kokua did not face some equally dreadful end.  Of course, the way the two lovers try to buy the bottle from one another feels a like O'Henry's The Gift of the Magi.  The arrival of the boatswain feels a bit more like a deus ex machina rather than a resolution to the story.  However, the boatswain's claim that he is already predestined for hell anyways is rather an amusing thought.  

Short Story #65 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/2/2014
Source:  The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time edited by Leslie Pockell, Warner Books.  This short story can also be found on this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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