A Study in Emerald

A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman

“After what seemed like hundred years I looked down at the body, opened like a rabbit on a butcher’s slab, and tried to make sense of what I saw.”

There are various layers of mystery here.  What clues did you use to “make sense” of the story?

9 Responses “A Study in Emerald” →
  1. Do we have to say SPOILER alert?

    On first read, I thought the story was a clever and fun pastiche of Doyle and Lovecraft. There may be more in the mix (besides the allusions in the ads–although the Vlad Tepes one seemed out of place), but I’m not picking up on them.

    The reversals work nicely and I liked the Victorian newspaper layout for this version.

  2. I don’t want to like Neil Gaiman because I am snobby. Also because of dark memories of high school that involve dressing like characters from his Sandman comics without any shame at all. But, when I pick up any anthology of horror writing or sci fi shorts, I always save his stories for last because I love them so much. I really can’t imagine a better Lovecraft tribute or a better Doyle tribute. Dammit, Gaiman! He obeys the rules of both of those worlds in this story and works within the confines of both mythos-es (I don’t know what the plural of “mythos” is.) That balance between and respect for both sets of source material is what makes this story so interesting to me.

    • I remember being berated for liking genre fiction from middle school and into grad school and sometimes being made to think I shouldn’t read the stuff. I haven’t read enough of Gaiman’s work to know, but I’ve found that when work’s good, it’s good.

      I deal with this directly in my AP Lit classes because I have to discuss what is meant by “literary merit.” My students don’t get it. There’s some snobbishness to it. If it’s “literary” and a character flies, it’s “magical realism.” Otherwise, it’s “fantasy” and not of literary merit. This makes sense sometimes, but it’s also kinda lame.

      I like his obvious joy in both mythoi (I think that’s right, anyway) and that’s why I called it a pastiche instead of a parody.

      I need to read more of his work.

  3. Also, Cthulhu monsters are, like, exactly what Sherlock Holmes stories needed.

    • I agree. But the Cthulhu mythos are like my little, nerdy corridor. It’s my Doctor Who, if that makes sense. Re-Animator, Evil Dead, Hellboy, From Beyond, Dagon, etc. all show what a little (or a lotta) Cthulhu can do.

  4. I reread through the piece trying to see what else I could get from the ads. All of them point to a form of renewal/rejuvenation that I think alludes to villain’s attempt to the cleanse the royal family and restore the world to human rule.

    Victor’s Vitae — “Life to the Dead” This could refer to the state of the human race being ruled by the “Old Ones.”

    Jekyll’s Powders — “release the inner you,” “Inner and outer cleanliness,” relieves “constipation of the soul” Again, it refers to restoration and a suppressed presence of greatness of the enslaved human race. Rise!

    V. Tepes — “Exsanguination can be the remedy,” “do not put your health in the hands of amateurs” What is striking about this one is the connection to blood, which also relates to the title “A Study in Emerald.” I also like that it hints at the level of professionalism our villain and his accomplice have in the assassination, so much so that *Spoiler* they get away clean from our great detective.

    Jack’s — “Save you soles,” “Put a Spring in your step” I love the puns in this one and it again alludes to the “cleansing” — Spring, soles. It appears at the end, so I think it can also to relate to our villains’ smart, clean get-away.

    On a random note, I also found that “Albion” is the oldest known name for Great Britain. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albion)

    What else did you guys pick up on in terms of the layout?

    • I’m not sure what all I get from the layout, except atmosphere. The ads are funny, but don’t detract from the story and like the story are full of lit jokes. It’s playful and fun and ultimately designed, like the story, for particular readers.

      It’s interesting to me that a background on the Cthulhu mythos, may not be necessary to enjoy the story. Holmes is fairly ubiquitous so I imagine most readers could handle the story, even though Gaiman plays off of some fine details at certain points. What’s interesting to me there is that the Cthulhu stuff operates here in a similar way that it does more or less in several of the movies I mentioned in an earlier reply. You don’t have to have a knowledge of Lovecraft to get those films. Or at least it seems to me that way at this moment.

      I guess the double-column layout could hint at the doubling and twinning within the story or the mirroring of one universe and another.

      And it seems like the Vlad ad could have been for Count Dracula instead, but maybe that’s just me.


  5. Kelly Coyle

    May 23, 2013

    Really, once you have Doyle and Lovecraft, why not Stoker? Throw a raven and some bells (bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells) in for good measure.

    These sorts of stories are confections, right? The pleasure comes from seeing how the author manages the mash-up, what kinds of references they can work in. If the story happens to be effective, it’s just kind of a bonus. If I were feeling smarter (I have a cold), I think there is something you could say about reader response in such a readerly story.

    OK. What I mean is, the kick of the story (for me, goes without saying, although I said it) is its intertextuality. The fun is crossing the two lines of nerdery and seeing how it works out. I would suggest — I am not even going to try to show it — that this positions the reader in a whole different way than a conventional story.

    So, does a non-literate (non-Sherlock, if such a thing is even possible, non-Cuthulu) reader really “get” the story? I’d say not nearly as much. Or, alternatively, this story really aggressively limits it’s audience.

    It is like watching a Tarantino movie. If there’s, you know, a plot stuck in amongst the Hong Kong/Western/Gangster/Samurai references, bonus!

  6. Ahh, confection. That seems right. I suppose it’s like wine tasting: the more background you have on the subject, the more you may glean from this particular glass or experience.

    Maybe I just like the elements here more, but I feel this story is more successful than the two collections of awful Star Wars stories I read or even Tarantino (although judging by his popularity most people would disagree).

    Even given its status as confection, there is more writerly craft in this story than in the Star Wars collections I suffered through. Those stories felt like I was watching someone make a video with action figures. All surface. Now, I wasn’t expecting Proust or anything, but I still expected, something. This story is written well and fun and that’s good enough.

    Tarantino works the opposite for me. I love the Holmes and Lovecraft details incorporated in this story, but when I see the eye-patch from Thriller or anime or wonderful Morricone from a different movie, I feel kind of annoyed.

    I didn’t say it as well, but I guess I was thinking about how the reader is positioned in this story and in similar works.


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