Sunday, August 27, 2006

Imitation of Holmes

At long last, there is now a web site devoted entirely to the detective, Solar Pons (I’m not counting a previously existing page which contained nothing more than a bibliography and disappeared years ago), and for the first time since the Pontine Dossier ceased publication in 1978, there is also newsletter available. Bob Byrne is the one to thank for both of these gifts, and his brilliant, new Pons site can be found here:

His newsletter, The Solar Pons Gazette, is also freely available as a PDF file from this site.

For the uninitiated, Solar Pons is a fictional character, created by August Derleth and based entirely upon the most famous detective of all, Sherlock Holmes. While still a freshman in college, Derleth wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle and asked if he intended to write any more Sherlock Holmes stories. When Doyle replied that he did not plan to pen any new adventures for Holmes, Derleth decided to take a crack at it himself, and it is at that point that he encountered a unique dilemma. Since Doyle’s death, many writers have created new mysteries for Holmes and Watson to solve. These are referred to as pastiches, and they greatly outnumber the 60 stories Doyle, himself, composed. However, when August Derleth sat down to write his first pastiche, Doyle was still very much alive and to write a mystery using Holmes would have been in very bad taste and quite likely illegal. He solved this problem by creating a detective who was almost exactly like Holmes, but still somewhat unique. Holmes has his Watson; Pons has Dr. Parker. Holmes lives on Baker St.; Pons on Praed St. We last see Holmes at the dawn of WWI; Pons’ adventures do not begin until after the Great War. Holmes often steeples his fingers while listening to clients; Pons tugs at his earlobe (ala Sax Rohmer’s Nayland Smith, sworn enemy of the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu). Holmes plays the violin; Pons plays it, but very badly. Finally, Pons admires Holmes and acknowledges his greatness. Though, like all pastiche writers, he is often pilloried by Holmes fans for not being clever enough or fully evoking the atmosphere of the original stories, Derleth’s ability to conjure the spirit of the original tales and yet provide the reader with something novel is truly amazing. Interestingly enough, after Derleth died in 1971, another writer, Basil Copper began producing even more Solar Pons stories, pastiches of a pastiche. But enough from me--please check out the above site for more background or buy some of the story collections. Regrettably, most are out of print but can readily be found on Ebay, Abebooks, and Alibris.

*The above woodcut was created by Frank Utpatel and can be found in Derleth’s A Praed Street Dossier. Sauk City, WI: Mycroft and Moran. 1968. 49.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Age of Airships

Despite the dog-in-the-manger attitude of some publishers, there has been a wonderful proliferation of freely available pulp fiction downloads. One of my personal favorites is the often overlooked Pulpgen site which provides PDF scans of hundreds of stories from dozens of pulp magazines:

Unfortunately, there is one title that, and this is probably attributable to its rarity, seems to completely elude not only open access sites, such as the above, but also the publishers of pulp reprints. From April 1929 to July 1929, Ramer Reviews published the now almost mythical Zeppelin Stories.

Like Train Stories and Submarine Stories, Zeppelin Stories was the product of a trend toward narrowing the focus of pulp titles to the point of utter absurdity. Because of its scarcity, I have never actually read an issue, but evidently most of the stories involved air warfare, spies, and of course Zeppelins (and, given the above cover, the occasional gorilla). With only 4 published issues, this title has become the holy grail of pulp collecting.

The odd thing about this title is that, though it’s impossible to find reprints or downloads of any of the stories it contained, a couple of recent titles have harkened back to it. For many years, pulp fans used to joke that the ultimate in silly cross-genre pulps would be something like Spicy Zeppelin Stories. In 1989, Chicago’s Tattered Pages Press supplied a punch-line to this joke by actually publishing a collection of stories under that title (fortunately, no one has ever attempted a Spicy Submarine Stories). Even more recently, in 2004, Wheatland Press published the story anthology, All Star Zeppelin Stories (ISBN 0972054774). It’s still on my list, but I have yet to get around to purchasing it. One book I have purchased and love dearly is The Zeppelin Reader: Stories, Poems, and Songs from the Age of Airships, edited by Robert Hedin and published by U of Iowa P in 1994 (ISBN 0877456291).

Nevertheless, there is still a void that desperately needs to be filled. Surely there is a collector out there who could take out a digital camera and make some PDF’s of the original Zeppelin Stories available online. Perhaps Girasol, Adventure House, or Wildside Press could be compelled to attempt some reprints. Hell, if I had access to the stories, I would type them up in ASCII by hand. The time has surely come.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Say, Man, Back Again"

After a bit of reflection (i.e. drinking), I've decided to continue with posting to this blog. It began as an assignment for one of my MLIS courses, and I'm going to keep a few of these mandatory posts, not because I want to preserve some kind of historical record, but simply because I can't bring myself to delete any comments left by my friends: Megan, Justin, Bill, and Stefanie. From here on, although library and information science is a fascinating and stimulating subject over which I'm sure countless individuals pour with palm-sweating avidity, I'm going to risk alienating this audience in order to indulge some of my own oh-so-popular interests, such as classical studies, English and French lit., pulp fiction (please have a look at the tags to the left), and music (I'd love it someone could identify where the above title came from). I can't promise that I'll post to this page every day, but at least once a week I'll try to throw up something that may be mildly interesting or of some utility.

For instance, this week I'd like to highlight the efforts of my friend Chris Francese of Dickinson College. Recently Chris began putting together some Podcasts that feature him discussing a Latin poem and then reading it aloud, in hopes that it will help students with their pronunciation and scansion (or merely to indulge his own odd interests). Here's where these can be found:

Hopefully, someone out there will appreciate this, and if anyone does, please let me know. Until next time.