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23 July 2010

The Mystery of Edwin Drood Solved?

I am convinced that most traditional Fantasy/Science Fiction genre writers have so many convoluted ideas spawned from fascinating but trivial information they want to share that they either have to write one 1000-page mass market paperback with 1/4" margins and appendices and a glossary of terms or a whole series of such mass market paperbacks.  What fascinating but trivial information?  Exhibit A is Simon R Green's "Secret Histories" series.  The hero's alter ego's name is "Bond, Shaman Bond."  So, let's start with the titles of the books in the series, coined to delight James Bond fans.
Believe me, except for these catchy plays on Ian Fleming's titles, the books are not anything like those classic 007 novels. For one thing, when Fleming left the realm of possibilities, he did not do it tongue in cheek, but rather, gave us the impression that he really wanted the reader to take seriously any premise of science ,history, politics or spycraft he threw out there.

And, I have not read that Shaman Bond drank martinis -- shaken or stirred. (Don't get me started on how gauche and ignorant of James Bond to ask for his martinis shaken).

Instead of the suave double-oh agent who manages to use every gadget and device he is given, seems to have all the time in the world to get to the bottom of a situation usually involving known criminals, and appears to be someone everyone wants as a friend, lover or ally, we get what might be James Bond's alter ego, Edwin Drood, a guy who couldn't escape Duty if he tried (and he's not trying), doesn't abandon a gadget that works simply because he has used it once already and has newer playthings, bores the heck out of his companions with his encyclopedic recall of mysterious creatures like the Loch Ness monster and events like the strange disappearance and reappearance of the USS Eldridge, and seems to be so busy figuring out how to save humanity most of the time, he barely has time to drink water, let alone martinis (which, when done even incorrectly, take more than a minute to make).

All in all, James Bond references are old hat.  It takes the real literati, I am sure, to realize the reference to Edwin Drood.  He disappeared in Charles Dickens's unfinished serial, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Dickens, as you may know, made his bread and butter on writing magazine serials.  They later combined into very long, redundant narratives suitable for binding.  I am not saying Dickens was a bad writer.  In fact, he was a really good writer, great enough to succeed both as a popularly read contemporary writer of his time and to endure in printed bound books carried by high school Advanced English Literature students during the summer months.  I am trying to figure out why Green decided on this name for his character -- Bond's alter ego, if you will.

Through the decades since his death in 1870, it has been a great hobby of Dickens scholars (or Drood scholars) to speculate on how the mystery of Edwin Drood's disappearance should end.  Some argue that the work is complete.  There is nothing more, as Dickens finished it before he died, exactly the way he wanted it, but as a teaser for a sequel.  If that's true, fans of Dickens and of Drood must be quite depressed without a sequel at hand.  Perhaps Green decided to pick up the baton and move forward, although the two Edwin Droods appear quite dissimilar.  Though, if Green can riff off Fleming's Bond, and if Dickens has a character -- John Jasper, who can be so vastly different in appearance and action (pious choirmaster versus frequenter of opium dens?), any kinds of similarities (e.g., they're all British) must weigh as heavily and as lightly as any differences (as far as I can tell, Green's Edwin Drood is not a time traveler and not over 150 years old).

I show the working cover of the a new edition scheduled to come out next month (August 2010).  By this time, it's not the story itself but the author of speculation which would be the draw.  This edition has an introduction by Peter Ackroyd, a highly regarded biographer of such illustrious persons as Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot as well as the cities of London (London: The Biography)and Venice and the River Thames, and novels like The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde.  He also has been writing the introduction for other Dickens reissues appearing monthly by Random House UK, but I will be especially interested in Drood.  Isn't the cover ghastly, though?

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