THE DEEP ONES: "A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman
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Discussion begins March 15.
First published in Shadows Over Baker Street (2003).
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
Shadows Over Baker Street
New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird
The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Love the concept of Royal Families, though the passing mention of half-bloods is perhaps one of the most horrifying aspects of Gaiman's vision. Is there any hint that HPL envisioned miscegenation with Old Ones in his tales?
I read the online PDF, and Koponen's period adverts were appropriately funny as well as bringing some Victorian culture to bear. My fav was either the Spring Heel Jack reference or Jekyll's Powders. I got most of the references, but not V. Tepes (exsanguination). Interesting that the first advert for the Strand Players contributed to the story so directly, whereas the others could easily be done without.
In retrospect it seems so obvious, but I didn't get the switch in protagonists until the end. I've read some Conan Doyle stories, and noticed that the narrator was not named. But vaguely recalled that Watson was an Army surgeon, and thought that accounted for the focus on his service in Afghanistan. Maybe that was telegraphed more specifically than I thought, and just missed it. It all fit together so well, very satisfying, though I noticed after a quick Wiki check on Moriarty that Gaiman has Sebastian Moran sign the narrative as a Major, rather than a Colonel.
I keep a hardcopy of the pdf edition in with my copy of the (second edition) game. I too love the formatting and the mock adverts, even if they weren't part of the story as originally written.
Clearly I need to re-read!
I think of the worship of Old Ones and sacrifice of said worshippers, but not interbreeding. And I assumed the gilled humanoids to be a different species, not the result of interbreeding!
That's "The Shadow over Innsmouth," where "miscegenation" between humans and deep ones is certainly an issue, but whether the deep ones themselves are the result of interbreeding (antediluvian experiments by Cthulhu and his kin, perhaps) is not an issue approached in the story, I think.
I can't remember at what point, on my first reading, I realised the true situation with the paired protagonists and antagonists (the name "Sherry Vernet" is a big clue for anyone who's read the Holmes stories and a little background, however - in one of the stories it's revealed that Holmes is related to "Vernet, the French artist" through his mother and "Sherrinford" was a name Doyle considered for Holmes - later writers giving him an older brother of that name).
By the way, in the book the story's divided into short chapters, and the adverts appear as epigrams at the head of each chapter. I assume that the text is Gaiman's and was always a part of the story. The adverts are not illustrated, however.
First, there was Michael Chabon's short novel The Final Solution, another Holmes story where Holmes is never named. (And we've read Chabon's superlative "God of Dark Laughter" in this group.) Chabon's Holmes tale is also a horror story of a sort, but instead of Gaiman's alternate universe, it is set with grim immobility in our own.
Second, there was Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu. Although I was familiar with Ioan Culianu's scholarly work before reading this biography and study of his unsolved murder, it was reading this book by Ted Anton that introduced me to Culianu's aspirations as a fantasy fiction writer, and the fact that "emerald" was a key motif in his correspondence with his fiancee and occasional co-author Hillary Wiesner. They wrote a murder mystery novel (with abundant esoteric content) called Jocul de smarald (The Emerald Game; alas, no published English edition seems to exist). Culianu was also a Borges fan, especially obsessed with the story "Murder and the Compass," although he must have at some point read "There Are More Things."
"Emerald" is a terrifically over-determined element in the title of this story. It is a perfect chromatic complement of the "Scarlet" in Doyle's original title, and--pursuing the parallel--represents the substitution of the green ichor of the non-human royalty for conventional red blood. But The Emerald Tablet (Tabla Smaragdina) is one of the cornerstone texts of the hermetic tradition, and its "Study" is a shout-out to occultism.
The switch in protagonists worked exactly the same for me on first reading. I'm sure Gaiman constructed it with that aim. The fact that the story first appeared in a collection of Sherlockian Yog-Sothothery meant that readers could reliably be suckered by standing assumptions of Watson as narrator, and Holmes as his hero.
The mark of a successful Yog-Sothothery tale, to be sure.
Clever in construction, effective in first impression but of fading appeal for me.
Agreed, for the most part. I'm not a big fan of pastiche in general, although I actually liked the faux-Victorian presentation of this online story. I like Gaiman's YA novels Coraline and The Graveyard Book very much, but his other non-comics fiction doesn't hold much appeal for me so far.
"Real"? Well, I think this observation touches a nub of genuine interest here: the imagining of a human society where the Old Ones have long held sway, and are publicly understood to be benevolent. (Even privately in some cases, as the healing episode demonstrates.)
Reading it from the other side, we might view this story as a satire highlighting the concealed monstrosity of the actual imperialist monarchies of Europe.
That's the reading I like, a tongue-in-cheek satire or social critique. From that vantage, I take the faux Victorian world Gaiman's built to be a cautionary tale, at least for readers. The arrangement seems benevolent, but we know better. Inevitably, the other shoe will drop. I think the reader is nudged into that reading with the switch in protagonists. Presumably most readers will "know" that Holmes and Watson are in the right, to be sympathised with, and they after all are opposed to this arrangement.
I've read too little Holmesiana to get most of the references to that side. I did wonder about the narrator not being a doctor, but assumed that was a (pointless) difference between the timelines. When "Dynamics of an Asteroid" turned up I first thought Gaiman was going for the Moriarty-was-Holmes angle.
It was pretty funny nevertheless. I very much suspect that satire on monarchism - and a dig at people who romanticize the Victorian era - was intended, but Gaiman isn't heavy-handed about it.
I've played both editions of the boardgame: the 2nd is better.
(Apparently, rule by the Great Old Ones is bad for science - in our 19th century, the speed of light was by no means hypothetical.)