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Literature / How the Marquis Got His Coat Back

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A short story by Neil Gaiman, set in the Neverwhere universe.

The Marquis de Carabas sets out to retrieve his coat, which was taken from him during the events of Neverwhere, and along the way encounters several figures from his past.

Tropes used in this work include:

  • Badass Longcoat: The coat in question. The Marquis doesn't feel psychologically armoured without it and is determined to get it back.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Vince wanted to be together with the beautiful Drusilla. He does get to be by her side, but not as a lover. She turns him into an owl, angry at his attempt to infect her with mushroom spores.
  • Best Served Cold: The Marquis wronged the Elephant years ago. In response, the Elephant has spent all the time since then meticulously preparing for the day the Marquis uses up his Soul Jar so he can have his revenge.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Peregrine, twice, much to the Marquis's chagrin.
  • Body Horror: What happens to people infected by the Mushroom. They begin growing small clusters of mushrooms on their skin and their tongues become lichenous. They always have a damp smell hanging over them and seem to be in a sort of eerie trance most of the time. And that's only what is visible on the surface.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: The Elephant thinks it's a good idea to chain the Marquis to a pole in a room filling with water and leave the room.
  • Brainwashing: Some form of this is how the Shepherds get workers.
  • Briar Patching: The Marquis would really like the Shepherd not to steal the letter that's in his shirt pocket and read it. Really.
  • Character Name Alias: The Marquis de Carabas took his name from the tale of Puss in Boots (although if anything it's Puss he models himself on).
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Marquis is accused of being sarcastic all the time, even while screaming.
  • Death of Personality: Anyone who falls under the control of the Mushroom is essentially killed and replaced with a new identity loyal to the Mushroom. The Marquis de Carabas tells the Elephant there's no point in killing the Shepherd that brainwashed them out of revenge since that person is already dead.
  • Exact Words: In exchange for information on who bought his coat, the Marquis de Carabas agrees to deliver a love letter to a noble lady from one of the Mushroom men. The letter is coated in mushroom spores that would've forced her to be with him. The Marquis does deliver the letter and makes sure Lady Drusilla reads it and what was inside, but by the time he does, the spores are long gone. Now the Lady Drusilla owes the Marquis a favor, and she retaliates against the Mushroom man by turning him into an owl.
  • Fate Worse than Death: There are several in the story: the mushroom people lose their free will and become entranced worshippers of the Mushroom. It gets worse for Vince, as he not only is he already in the thralls of the Mushroom but is transformed into an owl by Drusilla, whom he tried to infect with the mushroom spores. Then we have the victims of the Shepherd, who are brainwashed and worked to death. Ironically, the Shepherd is neutralized by becoming one of the Mushroom people.
  • Forced Transformation: Lady Drusilla of the Raven's Court has a habit of turning people who upset her into birds of prey. Poor Vince.
  • Fungus Humongous: The Mushroom.
  • Honorable Elephant: The Elephant of Elephant and Castle. Mostly. He initially comes off as a petty, vengeful tyrant but he does show off some honor at the end when he calls off his grudge against the Marquis.
  • Human Resources: The Shepherd has members of his flock dis-assemble others, down to the tallow and bones. The Marquis and the Elephant temporarily end up on this duty.
  • In Medias Res: The story opens with the Marquis stuck in a death trap, telling himself he wouldn't be in this mess if he still had his coat, then skips back a few hours to show how he got into this mess. The story catches up with the opening scene about a third of the way in.
  • I Owe You My Life: The Marquis excels in arranging this type of bargain. In this story, he rescues the Elephant from the Shepherds, thus inducing the other to forget designs of vengeance on him for a previous indiscretion.
  • Irony: The Shepherd, who hypnotizes passersby into becoming essentially sheeple, suffers the same sort of mental degradation as he becomes part of the Mushroom.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: In the course of explaining how the Marquis lost his coat in the first place, it's mentioned that he was murdered, but got better because he'd hidden his life in a safe place, which is a big plot twist in Neverwhere.
  • Makes Us Even: The Marquis's actions end up saving the Elephant's life. That, coupled with the Marquis revealing who initially hired him to rob the Elephant, makes the Elephant agree to call off his grudge.
  • Mindless Sheep: The Marquis, having been restored to life, is on a quest to find and retrieve his rather stylish and signature coat. His quest takes him to Shepherd's Bush, where he falls under the thrall of the Shepherds. There he and his fellow "sheep" do some sort of unsavory work that is only alluded to in terms of removing hair, separating limbs, and turning the fat to tallow. It's implied that the bodies they're working on their own fellow "sheep". Fortunately, when the Marquis sees that the head Shepherd is wearing his coat, it snaps him out of the spell and he quickly devises a plan to remove the coat and himself from Shepherd's Bush.
  • The Nth Doctor: The BBC Radio adaptation renews the same cast from the production of Neverwhere, but instead of David Harewood, the Marquis is played by Paterson Joseph, who played the part in the TV series. Richard comments on the difference of voice, with the Marquis explaining that having his throat cut must have changed it, then adds a Mythology Gag by commenting that he now sounds like his younger self.
  • Rising Water, Rising Tension: The Marquis begins the story chained to pole in the middle of a room that is slowly filling with water.
  • Sibling Rivalry: The Marquis and his older brother, Peregrine.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Mushroom is always referred to as "the Mushroom", even when it would be more grammatically correct not to.
    Marquis: What are you selling?
    Mushroom Person: The Mushroom. The Mushroom on toast. Raw the Mushroom.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Vince the Mushroom man trades information to the Marquis for delivery of a letter to the girl he likes, a lady of the Raven's Court. The letter is filled with Mushroom spores to infect her so she won't even think of refusing.
  • Symbiotic Possession: The Mushroom gets and keeps its people by means of spores.
  • Was Once a Man: The shepherds of Shepherd's Bush have minions that are sheepdog-men. According to the narration, they used to be completely human.
  • Wild Card: As ever, the Marquis. He personally tells Drusilla what Vince tried to do, and even shows her the letter, mostly so that then she'll owe him a favour.