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Literature / Drood

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Drood is a Historical Fantasy novel by Dan Simmons, featuring Charles Dickens. It's told from the point of view of his friend and fellow author Wilkie Collins and is about the last 5 years of Dickens's life, written as a memoir by Collins to be read 125 years after his death. The name is taken from the title of Dickens's last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Drood is also a mass murderer that inspired Dickens's original tale. Or was he?

This novel provides examples of:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer / Wrong Side of the Tracks: "Undertown", the maze of sewer tunnels and underground rivers where people live in conditions that make the slums of aboveground London look like the Riviera.
  • All Just a Dream: Late in the book, Wilkie Collins successfully lures Charles Dickens to Rochester Cathedral and, after learning how Dickens plans to end The Mystery of Edwin Drood, shoots him dead. Collins then wakes up in his bed, realizing that the meeting and murder were just a dream, and that he still has time to make them a reality.
  • Always Second Best / Driven by Envy / Green-Eyed Monster: Collins hates the fact that Dickens outshines him as a writer and that he (Collins) is considered a junior protege. When he finally admits that Dickens is a better writer than he is, Collins is even more enraged.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: One of the spirits that haunt Wilkie Collins is a tusk-toothed woman with green skin.
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  • Anachronism Stew: Simmons kills off Inspector Field several years before the real Field died. And he has Collins mention "a militia which the Americans called the National Guard", when American state militias were not organized into the National Guard until 1903.
  • Antagonist Title: Drood is the namesake and (apparent) main villain of the book.
  • Arc Words: "Unintelligible."
  • Arranged Marriage: Wilkie forces the woman with whom he's lived as husband and wife for many years into one of these to get her out of his hair. The guy she marries turns out to be horribly abusive. Wilkie doesn't care, although at the end he helps her kill her husband, then he takes her back.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Late in the book, Wilkie buys himself a puppy and takes it on a trip to the abandoned cathedral. Once they get there, he casually snaps the puppy's neck and chucks its corpse into a lime pit, purely to test how long it will take to dissolve.
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  • Big Eater: Wilkie Collins' idea of a light repast is "two types of pate, soup, some sweet lobsters, a bottle of dry champagne, a leg of mutton stuffed with oysters and minced onions, two orders of asparagus, some braised beef, a bit of dressed crab, and a side of eggs". With an appetite like that, it's no wonder the man suffers from gout.
  • Body Horror: Wilkie getting an Egyptian scarab inserted into his body.
  • Call-Forward: Collins assumes that the people 120 years or more hence that will be reading his novel will also still be using laudanum, "unless medical science has come up with a common remedy even more efficacious." Medical science did just that when it invented heroin.
  • Character Narrator: Framed as a confessional story written by Collins just before he died, concealed for at least 120 years.
  • The Chessmaster: Drood. Assuming he exists.
  • Comedy Ghetto: invoked Discussed Trope—Collins notes that in his time tragedy is replacing comedy as the focus of "serious readers".
  • Deadpan Snarker: Collins in a big way.
  • Dear Negative Reader: In-universe example in the final chapter, wherein Collins goes on an angry rant against you, the reader, accusing you of having never read any of his books and of only caring about Dickens and Drood.
  • Death of a Child: In a horrifying scene where Dickens and Collins, looking for Drood in the slums of London, see three dead infant left out by their prostitute mothers to rot.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Hoo boy. Wilkie's views on race, sex, and class are all utterly abhorrent by today's standards. Not to mention the usage of old-fashioned terms like "Chinee," "Moslem," and "Hindoo." Dickens is even more racist than Wilkie, but his views on class are fair for their day.
  • Doppelgänger: Wilkie has one which he calls the Other Wilkie. Or at least he thinks he does. The most bizarre Truth in Television part of the book, as the real Collins actually believed this.
  • Driven to Madness: Wilkie. Possibly.
  • Eagleland: Flavor 2. Wilkie really hates his American reading tour, but then again, Wilkie hates pretty much everyone who is not a wealthy white Brit.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Whatever the spirits are that live in Wilkie's house. One of them eats Wilkie's serving girl. Drood also has elements of this, at least at first.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Not that he was really a face to begin with, but it's not until Wilkie starts plotting to kill Dickens (and actually does kill his simple-minded serving girl) that he can actually be called a heel.
  • Finger in the Mail: Lord Lucan's heart was mailed to Scotland Yard.
  • Functional Addict: Collins, at least at first. Despite a laudanum addiction that escalates to opium and requires daily fixes, he can still write his masterpiece The Moonstone.
  • Futuristic Pyramid: Discussed. Inspector Field claims that if Drood has his way, all of London will be covered by a series of glass pyramids by the dawn of the 20th century.
  • Groin Attack: A detective dispatches a thug this way.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: When a disoriented Wilkie finally finds his way back to the Undertown entrance after getting the scarab implanted into him, he finds Detective Hatchery disemboweled, with his entrails strung up like garlands.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "It was logical that thoughtful, sensitive men should focus their energies and intercourse on other men."
    • A deliberate lampshade, of course, as Wilkie is speaking of his brother, whom Wilkie does not realize is gay.
  • Historical Domain Character: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Charles Fredrick Field, others.
  • Hypno Fool: Done to—well, done to someone.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Wilkie: Tonight I decided to dine relatively lightly and ordered two types of pate, soup, some sweet lobsters, a bottle of dry champagne, a leg of mutton stuffed with oysters and minced onions, two orders of asparagus, some braised beef, a bit of dressed crab, and a side of eggs.
  • It's All About Me: Charles Dickens—in Collins' opinion, at least.
  • Left-Handed Mirror: Wilkie is right-handed, but his doppelganger is left-handed. This becomes apparent when he starts using the doppelganger as an amanuensis; Caroline looks over the notes written by the doppelganger and immediately notices the difference in writing style.
  • Living a Double Life: Wilkie with his two girlfriends, and Dickens' work with Drood.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Drood was supposedly born in Cairo to a local woman and a visiting Englishman. Their marriage was not popular with the city's conservative Muslims, and after the father abandoned the family to go back to England, the mother was stoned to death. Drood would have been killed as well, but his mother's uncle found him and spirited him away to Alexandria where he'd be safe.
  • Mind Screw: What is Drood? What are the spirits in Wilkie's house? What is the other Wilkie? Did anything in the book really happen? Pretty much everything about the book counts.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Collins censors all swear words that appear in the text, such that "damn" is written as "d — ". He stops doing this in the last chapter so he can rant and curse at you, the reader.
  • Obviously Evil: Drood is a pale, horrendously mutilated ghoul of a man who dresses all in black, complete with Ominous Opera Cape. Naturally, he's up to no good.
  • Opium Den: While exploring the bowels of London (in more than one sense), Dickens and Wilkie stumble into two of these. Wilkie spends a fair amount of time in each later on.
  • Secret Relationship: Wilkie maintains two: One with a woman he basically treats as his wife, but refuses to marry because he doesn't want the responsibility, the other with a much younger woman who he keeps away from the other.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When fleshing out his new novel Collins thinks about having his detective character be fixated on a post-retirement life of beekeeping.
    • The parts about Lord Lucan, who was murdered in gory fashion, are fictional, but may be referencing a later and notorious Lord Lucan.
    • The bits about the play The Frozen Deep about the doomed Franklin Expedition are a shout out to Simmons' previous historical fiction novel, The Terror.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Dickens quotes the "Alas, poor Yorick" line from Hamlet. So does Dradles the cryptkeeper, who turns out to be surprisingly literate. Later Dickens quotes the "chimes at midnight" line from Henry IV, Part 2.
  • Sinister Minister: Drood is the head of a cult that worships the ancient Egyptian gods, and is also responsible, directly or otherwise, for hundreds of murders spanning two decades.
  • Sleepwalking: Happens to at least one character, and maybe more.
  • Somewhere, an Equestrian Is Crying: A reference to vomiting horses appears early on...except that horses can't vomit.
  • Sssnake Talk: Drood tends to draw out the letter s in his words due to his deformities.
  • Surprisingly Good English: Collins is shocked when "King Lazaree the Chinee" speaks to him in perfect English.
  • Technology Marches On: Wilkie doesn't like gas lights because they're harsh and inhuman.
  • Third-Person Person: Mr. Dradles, stonemason and cryptkeeper at Rochester Cathedral.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: One likely interpretation is that everything Collins sees and imagines about Drood is the result of his laudanum addiction as well as the effects of Hypno Fool. Agnes' letter to her parents is another clue pointing to this.
  • Transparent Closet: Wilkie's brother Charley is gay. Wilkie doesn't quite get this, although Dickens (whose daughter married Charley) does.
  • Unperson: Collins doesn't just want Dickens to die, he wants him to disappear and be forgotten by history. He plans to accomplish this by luring Dickens to the graveyard at Rochester cathedral, killing him there, dissolving his corpse in a lime pit, and hiding his bones within a cavity in the cathedral’s crypt. Naturally, this doesn't happen.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Wilkie Collins happens to be addicted to laudanum, and, later, opium. Not to mention that Charles Dickens mesmerizes him a few pages in and never gets around to unmesmerizing him.
  • Victorian London: Described from the world of fine gentlemen on down to the slums (and below) in gritty, occasionally squicky detail. Special attention is paid to the overflowing sewers and graveyards that are so overcrowded they have to stuff the corpses in on top of each other. The entire book is clearly very well-researched, and many small details of Victorian life are included along with details of both the Collins and Dickens biographies.
  • Wham Episode: When Wilkie is abducted by Drood, and has the scarab put in his chest.