The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Watson’s Christmas Trick

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Watson_Chair2I opened the door to our rooms at 221 B Baker Street and entered, careful not to jostle the package I carried. I was immediately engulfed in the warmth of the crackling fire that blazed in our hearth. Sherlock Holmes  was in his favorite chair, looking half asleep. Opening his eyes, he turned his head and greeted me lazily.

“Ah, Watson, you have finished your rounds and holiday shopping and returned too late for Mrs. Hudson’s evening repast. However, I am sure she can be prevailed upon to provide you with some cold meats.”

Here, he stopped, and before I could reply, changed his tack entirely. “But I see that you stopped at your club, where I am sure you supped.”

You can imagine my astonishment, dear reader, to hear this. I had not uttered a word since entering the room, and I saw no way that he could know that I had indeed dined at the club. I was surprised that he hadn’t given the name of the former army colleague who had joined me.

“Holmes, this is outrageous! How could you possibly have deduced that in the few seconds I have been in this room?”

He airily waved a hand of dismissal. “Please, it is obvious.” The look on my face must have shown I was not convinced, so he continued.” Your boots have that dark sheen that is unique to the elderly boot man at your establishment. There are at least three other distinctive marks that tell me as much, but the boots alone were enough to deduce it. It is the merest child’s play. Pray, remove your coat, light your pipe and make yourself comfortable.”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Frank Thomas and Holmes

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Thomas_SwordIn the nineteen fifties, thousands of American boys thrilled to the television adventures of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Frankie Thomas, Jr, offspring of acting parents, had been in the business for two decades when he starred in the adaptation of a popular comic strip.

It was a hit, spawning comics, books, a radio show, toys, et al. As with all shows, it ran its course and came to an end. Thomas went on to become one of America’s foremost bridge experts. That’s the card game, not the things that span waterways. His Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective, was a popular book on the subject (as was its sequel).

When I started branching out beyond Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, I think that Thomas was the very first Holmes pastiche writer that I read.

Keep in mind that around 1980, pastiches were relatively uncommon. You bought Holmes books at actual bookstores: no Amazon. Indie-press Holmes stories were rather rare and hard to find. There wasn’t a self-publishing industry to speak of. So, avid Holmes fans gobbled up paperbacks by L.B. Greenwood, Richard Boyer, and Frank Thomas. Yep: same guy.

In 1979, Sherlock Holmes and the Golden Bird came out, followed the next year by Sherlock Holmes and the Sacred Sword.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Science Fictional Solar Pons

Monday, December 8th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

OffTrail_SnitchA few weeks ago, I wrote about the best of all Holmes pastiches, August Derleth’s Solar Pons. I mentioned that Pons had a more open-minded view towards the supernatural. This was certainly reflected in four stories that Derleth co-authored with noted science fiction writer Mack Reynolds.

Just last week, John O’Neill wrote a post about Anthony Boucher. As he mentioned, Boucher, along with J. Francis McComas, was the founder of the seminal Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

In January of 1953, they wrote to Derleth. Reynolds had submitted “The Adventure of the Snitch in Time,” a pastiche in which Sherlock Holmes receives a visitor from an alternate time-space continuum. The editors loved the idea, but, “Unhappily, Mack did not in any sense of the word recreate Holmes, Watson, or Baker Street! Outside of the plot idea, the story was, to be wholly frank, lousy!”

Also, to avoid trouble from those pesky Doyle brothers, none of the characters were named: wholly unsatisfactory.

So, the two editors wrote to Reynolds, suggesting that they have Derleth rework it into a Solar Pons story. Reynolds loved the idea, sending back, “I’d appreciate it if you’d give Augie Derleth first chance at it. It was after reading his Solar Pons stories that I got the idea for Snitch. Besides that, I’m an admirer of the old Seigneur of Sauk City and it would be a privilege to have a story appear under a collaborative by-line…”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes for Christmas

Monday, December 1st, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

HolmesXmas_HolidaysOf the sixty Sherlock Holmes tales penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, only one is set during the holiday season. “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” takes place two days after Christmas and involves a worn bowler hat and a goose worth more dead than alive.

That story doesn’t actually have a whole lot to do with Christmas; it just happens to occur shortly afterwards. However, there are a few books in my Holmes library that definitely qualify as Christmas adventures.

One of my favorite anthologies is 1996’s Holmes for the Holidays, which includes fourteen Christmas-themed adventures. Any Holmes anthology is likely to be a mixed bag. However, I consider this to be among the better of the multiple-author collections on my Holmes bookshelf.

Loren D. Estleman’s (author of Holmes pastiches featuring Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde) “The Adventure of the Three Ghosts” is a sequel to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Texan Bill Crider (give his Dan Rhodes mysteries a whirl) also continues the Scrooge story with “The Adventure of the Christmas Ghosts.”

William DeAndrea’s “The Adventure of the Christmas Tree” is a neat piece of Christmas-themed espionage. While Anne Perry’s “The Watch Night Bell” is one of my favorite Holmes holiday stories.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons

Monday, November 17th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pons_ReturnPinnacleThere have been a few posts here recently about fan fiction. That concept has been taken to its furthest extreme with the character of Sherlock Holmes. Amateur and professional writers have been penning tales about Holmes for about a century.

Parodies are stories that poke fun at Holmes. Many, such as this one I wrote (page 10), utilize Holmes himself and are clearly tongue in cheek. Others use “new” characters, such as Robert Fish’s Schlock Holmes and his Bagel Street Saga.

But the more serious Holmes tales, those that attempt to portray Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective to varying levels, are called pastiches. Just about the earliest ‘serious’ attempt at a Holmes copy was by Vincent Starrett, who wrote “The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet” in 1920.

The Doyle sons (whom I wrote about here) didn’t like pastiches and they’re relatively uncommon during the first half of the twentieth century as they protected their copyright. The Doyle Estate has been fighting over the copyright right up to this month!

Richard Lancelyn Green’s The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collects many of the early pastiches, including several from the nineteen forties. There are thousands of pastiches out there now. Search “Sherlock Holmes” or “Sherlock Holmes anthologies” at Amazon and you’ll get a list too big to go through. A future post will talk about some of my favorite pastiches, such as Frank Thomas’s Sherlock Holmes & the Sacred Sword and Michael Hardwick’s Prisoner of the Devil.

But this post is about the detective that Starrett called “The best substitute for Sherlock Holmes known”: Solar Pons. In 1928, August Derleth, a college freshman at the University Wisconsin, wrote to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, asking if there were to be any more Holmes tales. Receiving an emphatic reply of “no” scrawled on his own letter, Derleth made a note on his calendar: “In re: Sherlock Holmes.”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The List of 7 by Mark Frost

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

List_fullcoverMark Frost made the news not too long ago with the announcement that he and David Lynch will be making a new Twin Peaks series for Showtime. Yay! Twin Peaks came to an abrupt end in 1991: just after its second season. Frost apparently wasn’t one to let grass grow under his feet, as only two years later, The List of 7 hit bookshelves.

John O’Neill wrote about (mostly the cover…) this book last year.

Frost is absolutely a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Not only is the novel’s protagonist none other than Arthur Conan Doyle and bits of his life are scattered throughout, but there are Holmes-isms aplenty. Thus, this book is a type of pastiche, though darker than any straight Holmes tale I’ve read.

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The Solar Pons – Fu Manchu Connection

Friday, October 24th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

200px-OTSolarPonsOmnibusExpoloits_of_solar_ponsMy colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street.

Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

“The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward, who has been abducted by his archenemy, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor.

Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Ellery Queen’s Misadventures of SH

Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Misadventures_CoverYou’ve probably heard the name ‘Ellery Queen,’ but you may not know that it’s actually the name for joint efforts by cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee. They were important players in the mystery field for decades, with Dannay being a notable Sherlockian.

In 1943, Dannay planned The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, an anthology of parodies and pastiches. Unlike today, Holmes anthologies were unheard of back then. Due in large part, as we’ll see, to the management of the Doyle Estate by Sir Arthur Conan’s sons, Adrian and Dennis.

The book, by Ellery Queen, was unveiled at a Baker Street Irregulars gathering in 1944. I gave a taste what dealing with Doyle’s two sons could be like in my post on “The Man Who Was Wanted.” There’s more of the same in this tale.

Adrian heard about the collection and went off in his usual rage, telegramming his brother Denis (also a wastrel) in Spain. Denis cabled the Estate’s law firm and instructed them to demand that Queen and the publishers, Little, Brown and Company, stop publication and withdraw all copies. They were also to be sued for damages.

To quote Denis’s cable to the lawyers: “It is obviously a flagrant example of that very sort of piracy, striking at the very roots of the literary value of the property which my father left to his family, against which we have fought together in the past…books which will completely devaluate and ruin the whole value of the Holmes property, including films, radio and stage.”

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The Fantasy Roots of Fan Fiction

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Conan of the Isles-smallMy fifteen year-old daughter is a voracious reader. I thought I read a lot, but I’m not even in her league. She reads fairy tales, a great deal of YA fantasy, and a smattering of horror. Just a few days ago, she asked me where to find Stephen King in our library. I wonder if that means she’s finally going to stop re-reading The Hunger Games.

But mostly what she reads is fan fiction. I mean, a ton of fan fiction. She reads it online on her Kindle, curled up on her bed. Walking Dead fanfic, Buffy fanfic, Harry Potter fanfic, Fairy Tail fanfic… I know all this because every time she reads something she really likes, she comes bounding downstairs to breathlessly relate the details. Having trouble communicating with your teenage daughter? Here’s a tip: shut the hell up and listen when you’re drying dishes, or trapped with her on a long road trip. I think I can name every character on The Walking Dead, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an episode.

Anyway, the point is, my daughter treats fanfic with the same respect and enthusiasm as published fiction. It’s fully legitimate to her. There’s also a certain sense of ownership — her friends read fan fiction, but she doesn’t know any adult who does, so there’s a generational divide. Fanfic belongs to her generation, the way Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars belonged to mine. Part of her love for fan fiction stems from the fact that her generation is the first to really discover it.

Except it’s not, of course. Not really. Yes, the explosive growth in the fan fiction community is relatively new, but the phenomenon is not. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and it all stems from a comment Fletcher Vredenburgh made in his review of Lin Carter’s Kellory the Warlock:

Most of his fiction, rarely more than pastiches of his favorite authors (Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft, and Dent), never garnered enough attention to be republished…  Most of the time, he was trying to create fun, quick reads that were recreations of his favorite writers. In a way, he was writing fan fiction; it’s just that he got his published.

I think this is fairly astute. I think Lin Carter might be more appreciated today if he were reassessed for what he truly was: an imaginative and extremely prolific fanfic writer. The same is true of many other writers, in fact, who are long out of print and in danger of being forgotten, including L. Sprague de Camp, Andrew J. Offutt, August Derleth, and even folks like Karl Edward Wagner.

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Vintage Treasures: Down to a Sunless Sea by Lin Carter

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Lin Carter Down to a Sunless Sea-smallWe’re big fans of Lin Carter here at Black Gate. He was one of the most influential figures in 20th Century fantasy, chiefly as the editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy (BAF) line of paperback reprints, the six volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories, and the groundbreaking Flashing Swords! sword & sorcery anthologies. He was also one of the hardest working professionals in the genre. Carter edited a BAF volume every single month between May 1969 and April 1974 (65 total), and in the same time period produced over a dozen novels and numerous short stories.

Although his own fiction output was prodigious, Carter is remembered today chiefly as an editor rather than a writer. In his fond review of Carter’s 1984 novel Kellory the Warlock back in March, Fletcher Vredenburgh gave us a blunt assessment of his skill as a writer:

Poor Lin Carter: perhaps the greatest champion heroic fantasy ever had, an editor with few equals, one of the most knowledgeable fan boys in the world, but a poor writer. I think he would have liked his stories and novels to be remembered more fondly than they are. I believe Kellory the Warlock proves he had the potential to have been a better writer…

Most of his fiction, rarely more than pastiches of his favorite authors (Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft, and Dent), never garnered enough attention to be republished… Carter was no master stylist and it can get a little irritating. Most of the time, he was trying to create fun, quick reads that were recreations of his favorite writers. In a way, he was writing fan fiction; it’s just that he got his published.

Personally, I’ve always been curious about Carter’s Mars novels, since they seem to be more fondly remembered today than much of his other fiction. I’ve always assumed they were Burroughs pastiches, but the Author’s Note to the final volume, Down to a Sunless Sea, makes it clear that they were actually inspired by the Queen of sword-and-planet fiction, the great Leigh Brackett herself.

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