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Wednesday, 5 February 2014

In re – Solar Pons

Today I spent about four hours painting the ceiling of the library. Removing knick-knacks, clocks etc and covering the furniture takes up some time, and then taking down the top shelves of books was also necessary. This gave me the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with a number of books on those same shelves.

Back in 1976 I came across a UK paperback (Futura) of The Adventures of Solar Pons by August Derleth.
I’d heard of Derleth through his fantasy and science fiction writing. Many years before I’d devoured the Sherlock Holmes stories and since Conan Doyle’s demise there’d been a steady stream of so-called new Holmes cases penned by new hands, not least being Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr’s The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (1954).
I was drawn by the Solar Pons cover and wondered if this pastiche could really work. I was completely won over by Derleth’s creation. Sadly, at the time, this seemed to be the only UK version of the Pons adventures. It remained one of my favourite books; later, I picked up three US books (pictured below).

Pons was born about 1880 in Prague. Public school education, Oxford 1899. Unmarried. Member: Savile, Diogenes, Athenaeum, Cliff Dwellers, Lambs. Established private inquiry practice at 7B Praed Street, 1907. British Intelligence, World Wars I and II. Widely travelled. Residences: New York, Chicago, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Rome, 7B Praed Street, London W2. Telephone Ambassador 1000.

As a young man of nineteen attending the University of Wisconsin, and having learned from Conan Doyle that there would be no more Sherlock Holmes stories, Derleth stabbed a finger at a random spot in his calendar and made a note: ‘In re – Sherlock Holmes’. When that date arrived he sat down and wrote 'The Adventure of the Black Narcissus', featuring his pastiche creation Solar Pons. It sold immediately to Dragnet magazine and he went on to pen further adventures. In one day, by missing classes, he penned three pastiches. His impetus came to a sudden halt as the stock market collapse of 1929 swept away many magazines.
That might have been that; however, some ten years later he submitted a Pons tale for a new anthology, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, engineered by Frederic Dannay and Vincent Starrett. At the time, Derleth had only written five tales, not enough for a book collection; so, encouraged by Starrett, Derleth wrote seven more and the first book was published in 1945 – ‘In Re: Sherlock Holmes’ – The Adventures of Solar Pons. Other collections followed:

The Memoirs of Solar Pons (1951),

The Return of Solar Pons (1958),

The Reminiscences of Solar Pons (1961) and

The Casebook of Solar Pons (1965).

The Chronicles of Solar Pons (1973) appeared posthumously, Derleth dying in 1971.

It is perhaps obvious that Derleth chose to echo the Holmes titles in a number of books. The chronicler of Pons’ adventures is Dr Lyndon Parker; they met in mid-1919 or maybe June 1921 (there’s a fascinating chronology at the end of The Reminiscences.

As Vincent Starrett says in his introduction, ‘Solar Pons is not a caricature of Sherlock Holmes. He is, rather, a clever impersonator, with a twinkle in his eye, which tells us that he knows he is not Holmes, and knows that we know it, but that he hopes we will like him anyway for what he symbolizes.’

Enjoy these stories as they were intended, loving pastiches of the Master’s consulting detective. At present these stories are not available on Kindle.

NOTE. Since writing this post, I've learned about a superb site all about Solar Pons. Definitely worth a lengthy browse.



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