Neil Gaiman’s Tribute to Lovecraft & Sherlock Holmes

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I think a bit of serendipity occurred when I found this work via BookBub.

I had just reread and reviewed Roger Zelazny’s take on mixing the world of Lovecraft and Conan Doyle. Now I had the opportunity to read “A Study In Emerald,” by Neil Gaiman, and see how another master storyteller approaches the same set of characters and intermixes the two very diverse story worlds.

In the preface to the collection, Gaiman (2006) explains that he found this to be a unique challenge because the two styles are very much polar opposites. The character of Sherlock Holmes is logical, scientific, and rational. The focus is on solving mysteries and presenting celebrated solutions. Lovecraft’s works proceed on a different basis. Many of his creations were deeply illogical and maintaining the mysteries helped keep humanity sane. “If I was going to tell a story that combined both elements,” Gaiman (2006, pp. 4-5) writes, “There had to be an interesting way to do it that played fair with both Lovecraft and with the creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

Spoilers Ahead

She was called Victoria, because she had beaten us in battle, seven hundred years before, and she was called Gloriana, because she was glorious, and she was called the Queen, because the human mouth was not shaped to say her true name. She was huge, huger than I had imagined possible, and she squatted in the shadows staring down at us, without moving (Gaiman, 2006, p. 39).

It is the year 1882 and the Old Ones already rule over the earth. They arrived seven hundred years ago and the majority of the people accept their rule without question. However, there is a band of revolutionaries, called Restorationists, who are attempting to free mankind from slavery.

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The story follows the plot and structure of Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlett.” The narrator, who had been wounded in Afghanistan, returned to England to recover. A mutual friend introduced him to another man because they both were in need of lodgings:

“I scream in the night,” I told him.

“I have been told that I snore,” he said. “Also I keep irregular hours, and I often use the mantelpiece for target practice. I will need the sitting room to meet clients. I am selfish, private, and easily bored. Will this be a problem?” (Gaiman, 2006, p. 29).

They find rooms for rent on Baker Street. The many people who visit his new friend intrigue the narrator, but he does not inquire too deeply into his business dealings until Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard arrives. Lestrade has brought a case of national importance to England’s only consulting detective. A member of the Royal Family, the Queen’s nephew Prince Franz, has been murdered and Lestrade’s position on the force is in jeopardy unless the case is solved.

The narrator accompanies his friend on the investigation, which takes them from a formal meeting with Her Royal Highness Queen Victoria to investigating places like madhouses, brothels, gambling pits, and the Drury Lane Theater. Our narrator, and his detective friend are well matched in their advisories as they try to solve the murder. Saying anything further, though, would be too much of a spoiler. I will just add that there is a reason why “A Study in Emerald” won the Hugo Award in 2004 and why Gaiman was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars.

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Each section of the narrative is introduced by different advertisements referencing well-known literary characters like Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll. The way that they tie-into the story is mysterious until a reader finished the work. Then, re-reading the advertisements with the full knowledge of the “end” adds a wonderful level of irony.

“A Study in Emerald” also has the distinction of having been adapted into a board game. Martin Wallace ran a Kickstarter project and developed the game, which is now available for purchase. The game fleshes out the core idea of “A Study In Emerald” by including more historical figures from the late nineteenth century than appear in Gaiman’s work. It can be purchased through the Cool Stuff site.

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Gaiman, N. (2006). “A Study in Emerald.” In Fragile Things. New York, New York: Harper Collins.

3 thoughts on “Neil Gaiman’s Tribute to Lovecraft & Sherlock Holmes

  1. Well, you taught me something new today. I had no idea about this story or the game. Will definitely be checking it out. I’m not the biggest Lovecraft fan, but I adore everything Gaimon, and I just wrote a Sherlock short story, so I’m very excited about this!

    Liked by 1 person

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