Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sunday: Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald”
October 2, 2011, 10:00 pm
Filed under: Story Sundays | Tags: , , , , ,

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

I wrote about Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald” a few weeks ago for the Fragile Things readalong I was doing (one of so many things I’ve abandoned in favor of Getting Stuff Done [deciding what clothes I want to wear in Albania and which I want to abandon in the Peace Corps office, trying to use all my food in the three and a half weeks I have left in Macedonia, blowing my nose about once every two minutes]), but please don’t tell me that I am laming out or being lazy by posting about the story again so soon. I mean, I am kind of being lazy, but we all know…that I am…and we can move past that.

The main reason I’m writing about “A Study in Emerald” again so soon is that Gaiman made the story available as a pdf through his website. When I read the story it was on the kindle, so it wasn’t until after finishing that I realized I could have read it in this wonderful newspaper layout Gaiman uses for the pdf.

A little about the story (possibly ripped straight from my earlier Gaiman post):

Gaiman’s narrator is a recently returned veteran from a war in Afghanistan, badly injured in his shoulder, seeking someone with whom he can share lodgings. He ends up with a “consulting detective” of remarkable skill, eventually accompanying the detective on one of the cases he’s helping with. Gaiman is able to infuse this slightly off-kilter version of the world, in which England is renamed Albion and the blood of the gods is physically evident in royalty (who 700 years ago defeated humanity, and have ruled over them since, with the gods being Lovecraftian sorts of creatures), with a Sherlock Holmesian devotion to deductive reasoning. The narrator and the detective seek the murderer of a German royal visiting Albion. I am not sure how Gaiman manages it, but this story is clever and weird and somehow does bring together aspects of Sherlock Holmes with this alternate world. And though the narrator repeatedly proclaims that he is no writer and is merely doing the best he can with the story, his voice is in a perfect place between the narrator unschooled in writing and the professional author, as when he looks back on his earlier self while headed to the palace to see the Queen:

I put a hand in my pocket, pulled out a handful of coins – brown and silver, black and copper-green. I stared at the portrait stamped on each of them of our Queen, and felt both patriotic pride and stark dread. I told myself I had once been a military man and a stranger to fear, and I could remember when this had been the plain truth. For a moment I remembered a time when I had been a crack-shot – even, I liked to think, something of a marksman – but my right hand shook as if it were palsied, and the coins jingled and chinked, and I felt only regret.

At end, when we learn that the villians of this story are Holmes and Watson, that we’ve been reading about and sympathizing with the “bad guys” of Conan Doyle’s writing…well, from a lesser writer this might have seemed like a cheap and easy twist. From Gaiman it is perfect, a surprising way of looking at these characters who are such a part of our culture. I can’t help wondering what my reading of the story would have been if I were more familiar with Sherlock Holmes stories, or even with Lovecraft – if being more familiar with the characters would have made this reimagining of them even more fun.

Read “A Study in Emerald” online


Be sure to visit Shivanee at Novel Niche and read her Story Sunday post. If you’d like to join in and begin posting your own Story Sunday feature, email story.sundays@gmail.com for information.


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Oh wow, I love that! I just read it in its boring old format in the book. Sorry to hear you’ve dropped out, but I don’t think I blame you – I’m finding the collection as a whole a bit underwhelming (though I do love this story).

Comment by Jennifer Maurer

I feel kind of pathetic…I mean, you’re heading back to school and still reading it. When I started the collection I think I expected everything to be like “Snow, Glass, Apples” in terms of quality/plain being amazing, and apart from this story none have reached that level. Definitely plan on finishing the collection, but for now I have a bunch of other books I’d rather read…ie all the ones I have to return to the peace corps library in three weeks.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

You’re not pathetic! You’re reading other stuff too – I’m barely managing a story a day. And yes, it would be much more satisfying for everything to be as appealing as “Snow, Glass Apples,” but it’s not not, which is unfortunate. Ah well.

Comment by Jennifer Maurer

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