Perhaps the thing authors thrive on most is possibilities. As much as I hate unfinished work, I’ve been reading a book alight with possibilities, that has captured so many imaginations, and certainly captured mine.
As a lifelong Dickens fan, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It’s his unfinished novel, about half done, that isn’t his best and isn’t his worst, but in so many ways has gone right up to the top three on my list of best things he’s written.
The story begins in an opium den, which really, is the recipe for an awesome story right there. There’s not a lot of mystery as to who actually commits the murder (which takes FOREVER to materialize), as Dickens has never been prided in his subtlety at ALL. On top of that, several people who knew where the story was going and had been given various amounts of privileged information all agree that the title character was murdered by his uncle.
That’s so not even a spoiler. If you couldn’t figure that out within the first couple installments (ten chapters or so), I don’t even know what to make of you.
The village of Cloisterham is a very closed community, with people with their very particular behaviors and habits. Quite naturally, the suspect is suspected easily because he’s got a checkered past and he apparently appears “un-English”. Mr. Sapsea, the person who coins that term in this work, reminds me of one of my favorite characters in all of Dickens – Mr. Podsnap from Our Mutual Friend, my favorite Dickens novel.
Based on clues in the novel, and based on conversations had with people like the illustrator and relatives, we know a bit more than just who the killer is (which is totally not even a secret to the reader by the end of the novel). We have a good inkling where the body is (again, once you know who the killer is, not even a surprise), who’s going to end up with the dear Miss Rosa Bud (slightly less obvious), and there are very few mysteries remaining. Although, may I say, some really fabulous characters are fleshed out or introduced toward the middle of the book – that is to say, the end of the book as we have it.
The one mystery – around which many adaptations can focus in trying to finish the story – that remains is whom Mr. Datchery is, a gentleman who shows up in Cloisterham toward the end of the story with the intention of moving there, possibly to investigated the as-yet unsolved year-old murder/disappearance of Edwin Drood. I mean, there are all kinds of possibilities, like a police officer or actor who has taken interest in the tale. We’ve gotten such suggestions as these. It even popped into my head while reading that it might be Drood himself in disguise – not killed, but somehow altered from the ordeal as to be unrecognizable.
That was a silly idea, naturally, but it occurred nonetheless.
SPOILER ALERT (kind of?)
I mean, since it’s unfinished, I use the term spoiler loosely. HOWEVER, I think that to me the most reasonable explanation for whom Mr. Datchery is (since we have a list of people whom he cannot be), given Drood’s actual death (which is pretty certain), and ruling out the impossible, is that Mr. Datchery is actually one Mr. Bazzard. He works for Mr. Grewgious, the guardian of Rosa, and writes plays. Or rather, has written a play that still hasn’t been picked up. We haven’t actually seen him yet, so we don’t know what he looks like. Many theatre writers have some acting experience, and as he wrote a tragedy, the tale would interest him. He would know it from the papers, and he certainly would have heard something about the death of Rosa’s once-fiance from his employer.
Of course, the biggest problem with this is the idea that he would be able to “live” in Cloisterham for the rest of his life and yet still work and live in London, spending time at work and with his writer set. That’s a puzzle, to be sure.
Still, the beauty of this being an unfinished story is that we can imagine it to work out however we want. From my teacher/writer eye, I see possibilities not only for writing an ending myself, but for assigning this as a shorter Dickens novel, challenging students to write an ending in the style of Dickens, making it all work out sensibly. Could be fun, and useful.