Dan Simmons: Drood (review)

ImageLet me start of by saying that I absolutely loved this book so if there’s an inappropriate amount of gushing in the following, you have been warned.

I’ve had this on my shelves for a couple of years, just waiting for me to get ready to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. I said in my review of that book that I didn’t recommend it except for die hard Dickens fans and the like – but I was wrong. Everyone should read The Mystery of Edwin Drood just to read this one afterwards since this book makes more sense if you have read Dickens’ novel. If you have read Dickens’, you will get the hints in Drood – in fact, Drood then reads as a introduction to how an author gathers inspiration. Simmons have taken parts from The Mystery of Edwin Drood and then used them in this book in the most clever way. One small example is how in the Dickens novel, there’s a girl nicknamed Pussy and a lawyer who thinks Pussy is a cat. Of course, Simmons then has a cat named Pussy. Dickens has one of the main characters be a opium addict – in Drood (at least) one of Dickens’ best friends is a opium addict and suffers terrible consequences because of it. John Jasper’s secret visit to the crypt is here, we have Deputy and so much more. I love this aspect of it – how you can imagine Dickens living his life and seeing inspiration all around him.

But I digress. I haven’t even started talking about what’s the book about yet. This is the story of the last few years of Charles Dickens’ life and what he did after being in a terrible railway accident in 1865 and till his death in 1870. The story is told by his friend, the author Wilkie Collins. Wilkie experienced firsthand much of what Dickens did and experienced in those last years – and Dickens was busy. Not only with his work but also with various investigations and experiences in the less familiar parts of London, the part where the opium addicts frequent, the parts where the lowest classes fight and struggle for survival each and every day.

Dickens was not an opium-user – but at the railway accident, he met a man, a certain personage named Drood. This Drood hunted the rest of Dickens’ life and as a expert mesmerizer, Drood made Dickens do what he bid. Dickens was extremely fascinated by Drood in the beginning but realized later that Drood was a murderer, a man so versed in the ancient Egyptian beliefs that he was able to resurrect himself and was more an apparition than a man.

Because of Dickens’ connection to Drood, Wilkie is slowly dragged into this as well and experiences first hand a nasty Egyptian ritual involving a scarab. Wilkie becomes a sort of spy into Dickens’ life to inform a private detective, working desperately to catch the sinister Drood.

This is what the book is about. This is the extremely exciting story Wilkie Collins relate to us. Only thing is – Wilkie is not only an opium-user, he also self-medicate with laudanum in extremely high doses, several glasses at a time. So the question becomes – is Wilkie a reliable narrator so we can trust what he tells us about Dickens’ last years or is this rather one man’s descend into opium-induced madness? I’m still not sure.

Or maybe, it’s all something that Dickens invented – a kind of joke that got too far and was primarily fueled by Wilkie’s abuse issues and Dickens’ abilities as a master mesmerizer.

This is also a book about jealousy. There’s no doubt that both in their time and in our time, Dickens is the greater novelist. I haven’t read anything by Wilkie Collins yet so I don’t know if it’s fair but both back then and now, Dickens is the best one in the eyes of the public. And we love to read his books. We love to read about his characters. They are almost real. And Wilkie was – at least according to Simmons – very jealous because of this. And – for most of the book – doesn’t think it’s fair. (I do think that this book also would benefit for having read a couple of Wilkie Collins novels…)

There’s no doubt that Simmons is a master writer. The way he handles all these various possible ways to read the book, all the research he has in this without at any point making it boring or like someone is telling us something because we need to know to understand what’s coming. It’s marvelous. And I have a sneaking suspicion that if you look at how Dickens or Collins tell their stories and then compare it to Simmons, you will find similarities that are not just coincidences.

I love this quote about how Dickens’ write: ‘pulling characters out of the air (often based willy-billy on people in his own life) without a thought as to how they might serve the central purpose, mixing in a plethora of random ideas, having his characters wander off into incidental occurrences and unimportant side-plots having nothing to do with the overriding idea, and often beginning his story in mid-flight /…/’. (p. 264)

My favorite quote though, is one that I’m not sure whether to attribute to Dickens or to Simmons. The aging Dickens, after having lost so many of his family and friends, says at one point: ‘/…/ my heart has become a cemetery.’ (p. 578). I find this such a powerful sentence because it’s true. At some point for most of us, our hearts will become cemeteries because the ones we have loved, are dead. And what a tragedy when you reach that moment. And what a beautiful way to express it.

Now, I of course have to mention the way Simmons see the end of The Mystery of Edwin Drood – told from Dickens’ own lips, although not necessarily something you can trust (like so much else in this novel). But according to this, Edwin Drood is dead, murdered by John Jasper – who turns out to be his brother, and who are suffering so much from opium abuse that he has an alternate consciousness, Jasper Drood. And Jasper Drood is a master mesmerizer. As is Helena Landless and to some extent her brother Neville. But someone has mesmerized John Jasper/Jasper Drood to kill his brother – and who this person is, is never revealed by Simmons. So the mystery is intact…

In it’s way, this is a tribute to Charles Dickens. I haven’t done much research into who Dickens actually was as a person, but it seems that Simmons has and that he has worked hard on this novel to create a fair picture of Dickens. Even though Wilkie is the one telling it, and Wilkie hates Dickens for parts of the book, there’s no doubt who comes of as the most sympathetic. Despite the way Dickens treated his wife, despite his ‘secret’ mistress. But then again, we only have Wilkie’s – not necessarily very reliable – words for this, don’t we?

  • Title: Drood
  • Author: Dan Simmons
  • Publisher: Little,  Brown and Company
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 775 pages
  • Stars:  5 stars out of 5

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood – the 2012 BBC adaption

In honor of the Dickens Bicentenary, BBC created an adaption of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Well, not only an adaption, in fact they had crime writer Gwyneth Hughes finish where Dickens left off. The BBC version comes in two parts – the first part is (mostly) based on Dickens’ own words, the second part is (mostly) based on Gwyneth Hughes’ ideas about how it should all come together in the end.

Before you read one, I must give a warning – there will be spoilers below. Spoilers regarding both the book as well as the tv series. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum but there will be some.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, part 1 (as written by Charles Dickens)

Now, I’ve just finished reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood so my impression of it is very much at the front of my mind and there are differences between my impressions of the characters and the BBC version’s impressions. For instance, I find Edwin Drood to be more of a silly young man, eager for his fun, in the tv series than in the book – also, he doesn’t go to Mr. Grewgious, instead Mr. Grewgious goes to see him after having talked with Rosa, which makes rather a huge difference in the way Rosa and Edwin each see their relationship (but which will make sense after watching episode 2). I find Rosa more resourceful from the beginning than she is in the book and maybe Helena Landless less so. And the Princess Puffer actually gets to confront John Jasper in this version before she warns Edwin.

The opium-induced dreams John Jasper keeps having where he strangles Edwin Drood, is shown from the very start in the tv movie where I don’t believe we’re giving insights into these visions that early in the book. Also, his fondling the silk scarf he wears, is also pointing to him being the guilty part.

For Neville and Edwin’s walk together on that fateful night, they don’t go down by the river as in the book, they go to the cathedral – which actually makes more sense given John Jasper’s late night walk with Durdles. And – very surprising – we get to see the murder of Edwin Drood so there’s no doubt as to who did it – one should think.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, part 2 (as written by Gwyneth Hughes)

So it’s not as much Edwin’s who’s missing in the beginning of part 2 as his body – opening up the mystery if he’s really dead or not. But the ring, the ring which is so important since Jasper John doesn’t know about it’s existence, is found by the young boy, Deputy, and then given to Durdles – hinting strongly that Edwin Drood is in fact dead.

So what we know is that John Jasper, being heavily influenced by opium and alcohol, is the one who strangled Edwin – but maybe he didn’t strangle him enough. In this, Hughes seem to follow the defense in The Case against John Jasper for the Murder of Edwin Drood where no one has any doubts that Jasper had both motive and intent to kill his nephew but where the entire defense rests on the idea that Jasper, because of his opium addiction, didn’t finish the job – even though he thought he did.

But all we have as evidence for the murder of Edwin Drood is the ring found by Deputy and Jasper’s memories – which are muddled, to say the least. This second episode has more twists and turns than I would have ever imagined and it is perfectly wonderful and is definitely one serious attempt to solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It shows us who Dick Datchery is, it tells us what happens to Helena and Neville Landless and who they really are, it solves the murder of Edwin Drood. Although not in the way it is expected. Or at least that I expected.

In Conclusion:

Although there are some discrepancies between the novel and the tv series, these are what you expect. This tv series has done a great job of bringing to life Dickens’ last mystery. My only real complaint is that as I understood it, the first episode should be as it is written by Dickens – and although I accept the minor changes as being necessary when bringing a book to life on the tv screen, I think the ending with it’s changed location and especially with the showing of the murder, is not what Dickens wrote and therefore, should have been left for part 2. If you’re not familiar with the book, I would not be surprised if people would wonder what all the fuss was about since clearly, Dickens has shown the murderer. That’s the only let-down I find in this otherwise excellent first episode.

Parts of episode 2 are also taken from the book, so clearly, it was impossible to sustain a clear divide between the book and what Hughes has written when translating it into this other medium which is a shame since the idea of first showing exactly what Dickens envisioned and then letting someone continue it for him – in his spirit – was an excellent one.

After having watched both episodes, I must say I’m in awe. Hughes has clearly stepped up to the task and has written a finish to this mystery that is so excellent that I was left speechless and just staring at the screen at times. It’s not what I had imagined, my solution was so much simpler, but I think this is more in the spirit of Dickens with twists and turns and long lost relatives and more.

I very much enjoyed watching this mini-series and I recommend it to everyone. BBC does excellent period dramas (my favorite is still Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth) and this is another example, not to be missed.

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Dickens, Drood & Doctor Who

I first learned about The Mystery of Edwin Drood on the Doctor Who episode The Unquiet Dead (written by Mark Gatiss). In this episode, the Tardiff takes The Ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (played by Billie Piper) to Cardiff on December 24th, 1869. This was the show that sparked my interest in this whole Edwin Drood project. It’s been several years since I got the idea to at one point do a Edwin Drood project but I wanted to wait because I wanted to have read a few more of Dickens’ novel before diving into his last. And then the bicentenary came up and it seemed to be the perfect time to do this – and so I am.

In this episode, we find a rather disillusioned Charles Dickens (played by Simon Callow). His imagination has grown stale, he had muddled up his family affairs, and he feels doomed to repeat himself for all eternity, performing A Christmas Carol. A somewhat humble man, concerned with what his legacy will be. But in the audience, there’s something unusual. A dead lady walking, ejecting some kind of blue gaseous substance. Dickens believe it all to be trickery and illusion but of course, the Doctor knows better. And after a while, Dickens comes around too and accepts this brave new world and realize that his rational beliefs are not worth anything, really.

I really like this episode and I’ve watched it several times. I was intrigued by the whole Dickens part of it mostly, but I also like the connection to Torchwood (the servant girl Gwyneth, played by the same actress who play Gwen in Torchwood (Eve Myles)) as well as just the general banter between the Doctor and Rose.

What is particularly interesting in our connection is of course the connection to The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Towards the end of the episode, Dickens go back to London to make amends to his family. He is very much cheered up and is inspired to write about  all the new things he has discovered is out there. He wants to go back and finish Edwin Drood and as he says, ‘Perhaps the killer was not the boy’s uncle. Perhaps the killer was not of this world.’ and changes the title to The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the Blue Elementals.

So this was the Doctor Who take on the Edwin Drood mystery – to have aliens be responsible for Edwin’s death. Of course I don’t think this is a real possibility – I just found it necessary to include this episode in my Drood investigations since this was what started my Drood obsession.

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Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (review)

This was Charles Dickens’ last novel. Of course, he had to choose a murder mystery as his last novel and of course he had to die before completing it, leaving it forever unknown who actually committed the murder – or if there actually was a murder. Now, Dickens wrote his novels in a series of installments and he was influenced by how the public reacted to the stories so it’s not sure that he himself knew how the story would end and who would turn out to be the culprit.

Let’s turn to the story itself. This is the story of Edwin Drood and his fiancé Rosa Bud, nicknamed Rosebud (or more inappropriate: Pussy). Both are orphans and their late fathers decided that it would be the right thing if these two young people were to become married. But even though they like one another well enough, they don’t love each other.

Both Rosa and Edwin has a guardian –  Edwin’s is his uncle John Jasper, and Rosa’s guardian is a laywer called Grewgious who was a friend of her parents. Both Rosa and John Jaspers live in Cloisterham and he’s her music teacher. In the beginning of the novel, the twins Neville and Helena Landless moves to Cloisterham. The twins are orphans as well, and Helena ends up living at the same school as Rosa where they become friends, and Neville moves in with Rev. Crisparkle.

On the twin’s first evening in Cloisterham, they attend a dinner party at Crisparkle’s where they meet Edwin Drood, John Jasper and Rosa. Neville and Edwin get in an argument over how Edwin treats Rosa and Jasper kind of encourages their disagreement. When some time later, Edwin and Neville is attending a dinner at Jasper’s to reconcile, Edwin Drood disappears afterwards while Neville presumably being the last to see him alive.

In the beginning, I didn’t care that much about the book – I felt none of the characters were very likable and I didn’t care all that much about what happened to either of them. But then they all started to grow on me. Timid Rosa Bud, sympathetic Crisparkle,  daring Helena Landless – and especially Grewgious, the lawyer. I love Grewgious! I love how he’s constantly playing himself down and how he cares desperately for Rosa Bud – because of her mother.

This is a hard book to summarize because  it’s only half a novel. The plot has only really just begun when the book ends and normally you would have mentioned most of what has happened up till then in a review but it’s hard to do when only the first half of the book was ever written and you then reveal too much of what’s actually there.

Even though this has a lot of Dickens’ trademark writings – his humor especially – I don’t think this is a book to read, except if you are a Dickens fan who wants to read everything the man wrote or if you are particularly interested in the Edwin Drood mystery. Dickens can write, he can surely write and he’s so funny at times: Mr. Sapsea’s premises are in the High Street, over against the Nuns’ House. They are of about the period of the Nuns’ House, irregularly modernized here and there, as steadily deteriorating generations found, more and more, that they preferred air and light to Fever and the Plague. (location 880-88). I really like how he writes and I recommend the book – if you can stand that you will never know for sure what Dickens envisioned for his characters.

In some ways, it’s the perfect mystery novel. Whenever you read a mystery or crime novel, you’re always attempting to guess who did it. So it is with this novel – but it stays a mystery. The murderer’s identity is never revealed…

Before reading the story, I thought that I would be most annoyed by not knowing who killed Edwin Drood but that’s not true. While I’m very curious to know who killed Drood, I’m just as much curious about what happened to the other characters. Who did Rosa Bud end up with, what about the Landless twins, what about Crisparkle, who is Dick Datchery? I really, really just want to read the rest of the book. And that’s not going to happen. But I’m not the only one obsessing over this book.

My copy of this book has two parts. The first part is the actual novel itself. Then the second part is a trial organized by the Dickens Fellowship and held in 1914, with people like Arthur Waugh (father of Evelyn) and George Bernard Shaw participating. This is The Trial of John Jasper for the Murder of Edwin Drood and it is as much a satire over the state of the British trial system as it is an attempt to solve the mystery of Edwin Drood and while it’s rather fun to read, it doesn’t shed much light on the actual mystery.

I am still very fascinated by the mystery and although I too think, that John Jasper is the guilty one, I also think that in every murder mystery, there’s a person who seem obviously to be the guilty one – and this person never turns out to be the real guilty one. So I don’t know. All I know is that I am not done with Edwin Drood yet.

  • Title: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Publisher: 
  • Year: 1870
  • Pages: e-book (kindle)
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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