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.”

Read More »


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.

Read More »


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.

Read More »


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.”

Read More »


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.

Read More »


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 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.

Read More »


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The First Great Holmes (Gillette)

Monday, October 6th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

I recently wrote about John Barrymore’s film, Sherlock Holmes, which was based on William Gillette’s massively popular play about the great detective.

In 1897 or 1898, Arthur Conan Doyle decided to “revive” Sherlock Holmes, who had gone over the ledge at the Reichenbach Falls in 1893. He wrote the first draft of a play starring the detective.

Gillette_Poster1Since he already had scored a hit with his non-Holmes play, A Tale of Waterloo, Doyle must have figured that the public would ring up the cash register in seeing their favorite detective again: this time on the stage.

Doyle lost interest in the project, but his agent sent the five-act play off to noted Broadway producer and agent Charles Frohman. Frohman, who died aboard the ill-fated Lusitania, felt that the play was not commercial enough as it was and told Doyle that popular American actor William Gillette should revise and then star in it.

The uninterested Doyle gave his permission and Gillette transformed Holmes into more of a melodrama star and less of a stodgy British detective.

Gillette read all of Doyle’s original stories, took four weeks off from his current tour for the popular Secret Service and rewrote the play. That November, a fire in San Francisco’s Baldwin Hotel destroyed all of the scenery and sets of Secret Service; and also the only script of Sherlock Holmes!

It’s Elementary – Gillette asked Doyle if he could marry Holmes for the play. Doyle’s reply via telegram has become famous: “You may marry him, murder him or do anything you like to him.”

Read More »


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: An Index (So Far)

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Index_Holmes

An awesome print by Tom Richmond of Holmes on screen over the years. I own print #7 of 450

Surprisingly, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes has now made it to thirty posts. While I’m sure the dedicated reader types ‘Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ in the search field to call up all the posts in the series, I said to myself (I talk to myself a lot),  ”Bob, there’s got to be an easier way for someone to bask in the entirety of your writings so far.”

And there is! Below is an index with links to all the posts, followed by some topics likely to come.

 

Sherlock Holmes/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – Introduction to the column (rather unoriginal title, eh?)

Lord of Misrule – Christopher Lee as the great detective

The Case of the Short Lived Sherlock – One of my favorite Holmes’, Ian Richardson

Creation to Death and Back – A good intro to Holmes, focusing on Doyle’s love-hate (minus the love) relationship with his most famous creation

Read More »


Future Treasures: Old Venus, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Old Venus-smallA while back, I was lamenting the disappearance of the modern SF anthology, and commenting that very few editors (or publishers, for that matter) have been successful at individual anthologies — let alone the anthology series, like the old Orbit and New Dimensions.

In so saying, I was overlooking the team of George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, who have produced a loose series of top-selling SF and fantasy anthologies over the last few years – including the massive heroic fantasy volume Warriors (2010), the star-crossed love story collection Songs of Love and Death (2010), the massive Jack Vance tribute Songs of the Dying Earth (2010), the urban fantasy-focused Down These Strange Streets (2011), the even massive-er 800-page Dangerous Women (2013), and the just-released Rogues (2014).

My personal favorite was Old Mars, a tribute to “the Golden Age of Science Fiction, an era filled with tales of interplanetary colonization and derring-do” — which, if you’ve read even a handful of posts here at Black Gate, you’ll understand is the kind of thing that makes me very happy. When I blogged about it in January, Gardner sent me this intriguing message:

Glad you enjoyed it… If you liked this one, keep an eye out for Old Venus from the same publisher; same kind of thing, although I think it’s even stronger than Old Mars. Pub date is sometime in 2015.

I was delighted to hear it. Now Bantam has released the cover, and it looks gorgeous — and makes a terrific companion piece to the Old Mars cover. These will look very handsome indeed, back-to-back on my bookshelf.

Old Venus will be published by Bantam Books on March 3, 2015. It is 608 pages, priced at $30 in hardcover and $11.99 for the digital version. No news on who the contributors are — when we learn more, so will you.


The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The “Lost” Holmes Story

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

Wanted_CosmoThere are 60 original Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: 56 short stories and 4 novels (novellas, really). He also wrote two very short Holmes “bits” that are not included in the official Canon, though all acknowledge they are his works.

In August of 1948, the Doyle Estate added a 61st story to the official list when Cosmopolitan proclaimed  “FOUND! The Last Adventure of SHERLOCK HOMES, a hitherto unpublished story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

Included in that issue was “The Man Who Was Wanted,” a long lost Holmes tale from the pen of Doyle himself. Five months later, London’s Sunday Dispatch serialized it in three installments during January of 1949.

Rumors of the story’s discovery had started in 1942 and Hesketh Pearson, the man who found it while working on an authorized biography of Conan Doyle, had printed the beginning of the story and commented on it in Conan Doyle: His Life and Art.

Notable Baker Street Irregulars such as Edgar Smith, Vincent Starrett, and Anthony Boucher raised a hue and cry for the story to be published. For Sherlockians, this was on a par with the discovery of a Homeric account of the first nine years of the Trojan War!

Read More »


  Earlier Entries »

This site © 2014 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.