Robert Louis Stevenson is probably best known for Treasure Island (which gave us a fantastic Muppet movie) and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which was a brilliant mystery that’s marred by the twist ending undoubtedly being spoiled before you read it). However, my favorite work of his is a short story, The Bottle Imp.
The Bottle Imp follows Keawe, a Hawaiian (not an American, as it was written before Hawaii became a state, and was still called the Kingdom of Hawaii), who buys a bottle from an old man, who tells him the bottle can grant any desire. There’s a catch, of course. If the bottle is in someone’s possession when that person dies, then that person’s soul will spend eternity in hell. There are also rules surrounding the bottle, such as how exactly it can be sold (it must be sold at a loss, which means inevitably, someone will be stuck with it) and the way the wishes are granted are reminiscent of the Monkey’s Paw. It is an unholy object, after all.
The story is written almost like a fairy tale, and has all these great twists and turns. They even tie in historical events and figures. The best way to describe it would be clever. It’s just a fun, clever story. Not to mention it has a fantastic ending, which probably ranks as one of my favorite ending to a short story ever. If you have the time, you really should check this one out.