Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Little Green Men, Also the Many Mysterious Varieties of Edwin Droodism:

Ah, St. Patrick's Day, the day of greeniness and a sudden uptick in sales of Guiness and Baileys. It's also a day where if aliens did invade, and they were, in fact, little green men, a great majority of people wouldn't take much notice. It would be like if werewolves and zombies and vampires and ghosts ever teamed up for a Halloween rampage. Except that would never happen, of course. Everyone knows that demons take Halloween off. It's gotten too commercial.*

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, so far as we know, wasn't about vampires. It chiefly concerned the mystery surrounding the possible murder of a man named Edwin Drood. Charles Dickens died half-way through writing it, though, so there's been a long-running debate as to who actually killed Edwin, and if he was murdered at all. A mock trial was held by the Dickens Fellowship, featuring G.K. Chesterton as judge and George Bernard Shaw as foreman. No definite conclusions were reached. So, it's always possible Dickens had a Sixth Sense-esque twist planned. Edwin Drood was undead all along, sort of thing. Probably not. But the Wall Street Journal has a cool article up about two writers, Dan Simmons and Matthew Pearl, who have somewhat concurrently published two novels exploring Dickens and his unfinished novel.

Dan Simmons, a hardboiled sci-fi horror writer, enters the discussion with Drood. He takes the perspective of Wilkie Collins, a Dickens rivalish contemporary who wrote such books as The Woman in White (which influenced greatly a friend's love and suspicion of mice) and The Moonstone (which some consider the first great detective novel). The two of them are riding a train one night. It crashes. They barely escape with their life. It is on that fateful night, though, while attempting to rescue fellow passengers, that Dickens encounters a phantom named Drood, "who had apparently been traveling in a coffin."** Charlie and Wilkie team-up buddy cop style at this point and follow the, perhaps, undead Drood into the "nightmarish" world of the London underground. These adventures, a la Shakespeare/George Lucas in Love, provide the inspiration for Dickens eventual unfinished novel.

Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow, has titled his Drooish take, The Last Dickens. In it, he takes us to a world just after Dickens death, when pages from Dickens' last novel are being carried along by a clerk who naturally gets run over by an omnibus. The pages are lost. The publisher sets off to England to discover how Dickens intended his novel to end. And as such, the game is afoot.

Kirkus names these books as inhabiting the alternative literary history genre. Which is a fine enough name. I'm just excited to see if Simmons somehow introduces mice into either of his two protagonist's pockets.

Oh, and lastly, there exists a Mystery of Edwin Drood musical named, as with Simmons' novel, Drood. Thought you should know, readers.


*Bad writers imitate, good writers steal. In this case, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

**My vampire theory sounds less crazy now, no?

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