A Study in Emerald

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"A Study in Emerald"
Author Neil Gaiman
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Mystery, Horror, Crossover short story
Published in Shadows Over Baker Street (2003)
Fragile Things (2006)
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Publication date 2003

"A Study in Emerald" is a short story written by British fantasy and graphic novel author Neil Gaiman. The story is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche transferred to the Cthulhu Mythos universe of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. It won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. The title is a reference to the Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet. "A Study in Emerald" first appeared in the anthology Shadows Over Baker Street, a collection of stories combining the worlds of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft; it has subsequently been available as part of Gaiman's short story collection Fragile Things, in the collection New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, and is available online. The online version takes the form of a Victorian periodical or newspaper, which includes various advertisements that reference characters such as Vlad Tepes, Victor Frankenstein, Spring Heeled Jack, and Dr. Jekyll.

In the introduction to Fragile Things, Gaiman cites Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe, Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series (which Gaiman helped create), and Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as being the major influences of "A Study in Emerald".

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins with its (as yet) unnamed narrator, a veteran of a bloody war against the 'gods and men of Afghanistan', where he has been brutally tortured and his arm injured, setting the scene for things to come. Seeking lodgings upon his return to England (or 'Albion', as it is referred to throughout the story), he meets and strikes up a friendship with a man who possesses extraordinary insight and deductive skill, and who puts this ability to use in the service of the police as a 'consulting detective'. Early on in their acquaintance, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard arrives at their lodgings in Baker Street with a matter of extreme and delicate urgency regarding a brutal murder in a Whitechapel slum, and the detective is to be hired to solve the case. After investigating the murder scene (where the detective correctly deduces that the victim is a German noble, owing to his inhuman appearance and number of limbs), and puzzling over the word Rache scrawled onto the wall in the victim's blood (in a similar manner to "A Study in Scarlet"), they are henceforth taken to the Palace, where the Queen – one of the creatures who defeated humanity 700 years ago and, along with the other Great Old Ones, has ruled over humanity ever since – consults with them about the affair. As payment for his service, the Queen heals the veteran's withered shoulder with a touch.

The investigation takes the detective and the veteran to a music-hall show, starring a noted actor called Sherry Vernet, a 'tall, languid' man who stars in the three productions, including a historical narrative depicting the war, 700 years ago, between humanity and the Great Old Ones, who now rule the Earth. Posing as a theatrical agent offering to take the show to the New World, the detective meets Vernet and quickly determines that he – along with another man, with a limp and skill with surgical equipment – was present in the room that the German noble died in, and is one of the murderers. Agreeing to meet the detective in his rooms, Vernet seemingly does not suspect a thing; and the detective promptly summons Lestrade, intending to have Vernet arrested. He reveals what he has deduced; that Vernet is a seditionary 'restorationist', an anarchist who believes that the Old Ones are not the benevolent rulers they are portrayed as, but vicious, soul-destroying monsters feeding on madness and death, and that humanity should be master of its own affairs. Having lured the German noble to the Whitechapel rooms, he then turned the noble over to his accomplice – a limping doctor – who actually murdered the prince.

Unfortunately for the detective and Lestrade, Vernet himself possesses considerable deductive skill; having deduced that the detective was not who he claimed to be, he has instead sent a letter to the detective, offering some helpful suggestions for future undercover work and complimenting him on several papers the detective has written, including a paper on The Dynamics of an Asteroid that Vernet (as 'Sigerson') briefly corresponded with the detective over. Aware of the detective's suspicions, Vernet – or 'Rache', as he signs himself off as – confirms them, justifying his actions by the many horrors he has personally seen committed by the Old Ones, and that it is too high a price to pay for the peace humanity lives in under the Old Ones. As Lestrade rushes off to order a search for Rache and his limping doctor accomplice, tentatively identified as a former military surgeon named John Watson, the detective admits that it is unlikely that Rache has even left the city, having probably elected (as the detective would) to hide in the almost lawless depths of the rookery of St Giles until the heat died down, and requests that the veteran burn Rache's letter, dismissing it as seditionary nonsense. But the veteran does not do so, instead containing a copy of the letter and an account of all that occurred within his bank deposit box, not to be opened until everyone involved in the case is dead – a prospect that, with current (unexplained) events occurring in Russia, seems not too far away...

Overview[edit]

The reader, from the beginning of the story, is misled to believe that the detective and his veteran friend, the narrator, are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, by means of what information about them is provided and what concealed, and the fact that their roles in the story are parallel to those of Holmes and Watson in Conan Doyle's original Holmes stories. Indeed, the story strongly mirrors the opening chapters of the original Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, from which it takes its name.

Whilst almost none of the characters are explicitly identified in the text, it is strongly hinted by the twist ending that 'Rache' is Holmes, and the detective and his veteran friend are Professor James Moriarty and Colonel Sebastian Moran (who, in Doyle's original stories, are the criminal mastermind enemy of Sherlock Holmes and his right-hand man and accomplice respectively). The 'Limping Doctor', meanwhile, is identified explicitly as "John (or perhaps James) Watson".

In particular:

  • The 'detective' character has written a paper on 'The Dynamics of an Asteroid', which "Rache" comments on. In the Conan Doyle books, Moriarty is the author of this paper.[1]
  • The narrator signs his name at the end of his story. Although the name is obscured, he possesses the initials 'SM', indicating that he is Sebastian Moran.[2]
  • The narrator, when introduced to Vernet, is called Sebastian.
  • The 'detective' character is described to have a 'thin smile,' a physical characteristic Doyle repeatedly used to describe villainous characters in his stories.
  • The narrator repeatedly mentions what a crack-shot he was before being wounded. In "The Adventure of the Empty House", Moran is described as an expert marksman.[3]
  • Conan Doyle's drafts show he originally intended to call Sherlock Holmes "Sherrinford" (which some Sherlockians consider was actually the name of Sherlock's oldest brother). Holmes' grandmother was a relative of the French artist Vernet. "Sherry Vernet" is therefore an obvious stage name for Sherlock Holmes.
  • In this story, Sherlock is a gifted actor. In the A Scandal in Bohemia, Sherlock is said to be a master of disguise. In the same story Watson laments on how "The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime."
  • "Sigerson" is an alias used by Sherlock Holmes during the period when he is believed to be dead after he escapes Moriarty.

Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is extremely selective about which fields of science he studies, with deep – indeed peerless – insight into matters such as chemistry, botanical poisons, and the soil types encountered in various parts of London, but a studied ignorance about matters less relevant to crime-solving such as basic astronomy. The Holmes of this story, however, has chosen to pursue researches in advanced theoretical physics. The detective reveals to the narrator that his correspondence with Rache involved the latter's "wild theories" concerning “the relationship between mass, energy and the hypothetical speed of light,” which he calls “nonsense of course…but inspired and dangerous nonsense nonetheless.”

While not explicitly stated at the conclusion of the story, based on the date that accompanies the "signature", the recent events in Russia most likely refer to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, i.e. an assassination of an Old One of extreme importance.

Spin-off media[edit]

British game designer Martin Wallace announced a boardgame based on "A Study in Emerald",[4] that was released in October 2013[5]

Awards[edit]

"A Study in Emerald" won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and the 2005 Locus Award for Best Novelette. It was nominated for the 2006 Seiun Award for Translated Short Form.[6]

Footnotes[edit]

External links[edit]