BONUS BLOG: The mystery of Olalla
December 9, 2019 § Leave a comment
“Ollala” by Robert Louis Stevenson was by far the most captivating short story I have ever read, leaving me on the edge of my seat throughout the narrative. As seen in the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson has an undeniably powerful way of framing his narratives, leaving the reader completely captivated by its mystery. It ultimately led me to the conclusion that this short story could have inspired many of the supernatural TV shows and movies of our own day.
Stevenson tells the story of an unnamed narrator who is told by his doctor to stay in the Spanish mountains for a few months to heal from his wounds. Residing in a mansion with an unusual family, the narrator first meets a child-like and naïve Felipe, the brother of the beautiful Ollala. He also meets their emotionless mother who spends most of her time sleeping with an inability to produce any thoughts. On the first reading of this short story, one cannot help themselves from thinking that this is a family of vampires, which explains the non-human aspects of the characters. For example, Stevenson focuses a lot on eyes, describing the mother’s eyes as large, golden pupils that seemed almost vacant and also draws attention to Felipe’s “pale face”. The narrator also hears screams of human agony at night, similar to those in Dracula. Not to mention that the narrative takes place in a Gothic, once full of glory mansion that is now devoid of any life.
My suspicions of a vampire-family were seemingly confirmed when the narrator falls for Ollala, the beautiful and intelligent daughter after reading her notes and seeing her at first site. The “love” or perhaps infatuation the two feel seems magnetic as a vampire’s powerful, seductive pull. Additionally, when the narrator cuts himself for Olalla’s attention, the blood dripping seemed to awaken the mother as she grabbed his hand towards her mouth.
At this point in the story, I could not help but draw parallels between what seemed like another typical vampirism story and the infamous television show The Vampire Diaries. In the show, two vampire brothers live in a deserted Gothic mansion and one of them falls in love with a human. The love the female protagonist Elena feels for Stefan is intense, immediate and magnetic, depicted similarly to Stevenson’s descriptions. This love is more like infatuation at first site, an instant connection between two people. Additionally, on the show vampires can use their eyes to “compel” a human and make them do whatever they want. Stefan, like Olalla, is part of an “unusual” race and absolutely detests this. Olalla saves the narrator from her mother’s harmful grasp and urges him to leave. Likewise, Stefan often saves Elena from dangerous vampires around her, telling her to leave him. The “love” story between an “othered creature” and human is extremely common and can be seen in other movies such as Twilight and Warm Bodies.
Nevertheless, unlike this pop-culture television show, Stevenson never directly tells the reader that this family is related to vampirism. It is implied that some sort of “curse” was placed on them, leading to generations of their family losing intelligence. Even after finishing the story one is still puzzled by what curse was placed on the family and why everyone in this town shuns them. Despite the magnetism shared between the narrator and Olalla, she tells him that they cannot be together for she would eventually become like her family, producing corrupted offspring and continuing the curse. Olalla religiously compares her actions to those of Christ, for torturing herself would eventually “bring peace” to her family. The trope of a creature that is “good” even from evil roots has been constantly used in plot-lines. Stefan, is innately good, seeing his vampirism as a curse. Thus, he initially pulls away from Elena for fear that this evilness will destroy the people she loves and her very being.
Stevenson’s deliberate nameless narrator and lack of description of the curse, leaves the reader left wondering what the narrator had just experienced. Did he fall in love or was it mere infatuation? Was anything between Olalla real or just a product of her supernatural being? The mysterious, thought-provoking questions this story evokes coupled with its precedent-setting plot makes this a compelling and definite must-read.