Friday, April 17, 2009
In 1865, Charles Dickens was on a train going to London; the train was involved in a tragic wreck known as “the Stapleton Railroad Disaster”.
Dickens escaped injury and helped in the rescue of other passengers. He was aided by another; a huge, strange looking man with missing fingers, no eyelids and talked with a hissing lisp. He wore rather formal clothes and a top hat. After things settled down, the man, Edwin Drood disappeared but for some reason, Dickens was never the same after meeting him. His last novel, never completed was titled “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”.
Dan Simmons has used the idea of Drood to create a dark mystery novel narrated by Wilkie Collins a lesser author and friend of Dickens. Collins was an opium addict, a man who was jealous of and extremely critical of Dickens and who speaks very disparaging of him but still, he followed Dickens as he searches for Drood. As he narrates the search he takes the reader through the underbelly of Whitehall, Shadwell and Wapping; the docks, the rats, river stench the awful places where they search for Drood. They went through cemeteries and down through catacombs and a labyrinth of filth and sewage to a strange dock where Dickens went alone with two weird boatmen who took him to an underground city where he met with Drood who is a kind of lord of this, Egyptian like, undertown of thieves, murders, drug addicts and miscreants.
The story is, certainly entertaining and it gives vivid descriptions of how miserable some parts of London were and it is a reminder of Britain’s heinous role in the International Opium Trade but except for references to opium addiction, cemeteries, a couple of names from Dicken”s unfinished novel and that Edwin Drood once lived in Egypt the story portrays Drood as very bad person; a monster,whereas in Dicken’s book he seemed to me a rather mild fellow who had an unhappy romantic encounter and went missing and the “Mystery” is what happened to Edwin; was he killed by his stepfather? Dan Simmon’s novel was much more interesting.
There is a lot of interest in this unfinished novel of Dickens; there have been radio dramas, plays, several movies and a musical.
Right after I read the Simmons book, I found and read “The Last Dickens” by Matthew Pearl which tells a well researched but fictionalized story in considerable detail of Charles Dicken’s last trip to America, his reading tours, his entourage, how the tours were arranged and how the United States publishers vied to get hold of his works and how one publisher, in particular, searched Boston, New York and London for the “lost” final chapters while dangerous evil men and competitors stalked him and tried to kill him. This was a real thriller; I liked it better than “Drood”.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
There is a splendid fellow named Rick Norwood who publishes "Manuscript Press", a monthly collection of comic strips. Gasoline Alley, Flash Gordon, Steve Canyon, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie and even Krazy Kat from the early '30s. For several years I have been getting them and I send them on to Mr. Parker, my Grandson. Lots of fun to read and remember these old classics which include Mandrake the Magician and the classy Modesty Blaise by O'Donnell and Colvin. Interested? contact Rick at