Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Canon of Afterlife Sherlock Holmes

It is a rather fascinating thing to me that Arthur Conan Doyle, a man who took great stock in communicating with spirits in the afterlife, was not the one who made contact with Sherlock Holmes after his death at Reichenbach Falls. True, Conan Doyle did come out in the early 1900s, claim Sherlock Holmes was not dead after all, and hand us a contrived account of Holmes reversing his boots to fake his death so new stories could occur. But during that time when Sherlock Holmes surely was dead, from 1893 to 1903, there was another fellow communicating with the dead, and Sherlock Holmes.

This, of course, was American writer John Kendrick Bangs, who, it seems, possessed an enchanted typewriter, capable of being operated by those on the other side of the veil. There were four books in the series of afterlife accounts from Bangs, A Houseboat on the Styx, The Pursuit of the House-boat, The Enchanted Typewriter, and Mr. Munchausen. All are out of copyright and available on Project Gutenberg, and the middle two of the series, published in 1897 and 1899, feature Sherlock Holmes.

And here's the thing: In both those books, Sherlock Holmes tells of a previously unpublished case.

In The Pursuit of the House-Boat, we find "The Brighton Mystery," which Holmes tells to his fellow Shades in chapter seven. And if you think Watson made Sherlockian chronology confusing, Holmes says the case  was "some ten years ago when I first took up ferreting as a profession." He and Watson were spending that summer together in a Brighton hotel at a time when books being sold about him were already stirring autograph-seekers to come after him.

In The Enchanted Typewiter, we get Holmes teasing a full book called Memoirs I Remember written by Holmes himself with twelve new stories. The first is called "WHO THE LADY WAS!" in which Sherlock Holmes returns incognito to living London "by a special dispensation of his Imperial Highness Apollyon" after being dead three years to find the world's largest diamond for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, when an amnesiac woman poses a second puzzle for him. (Shades of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes!) Apparently the afterlife has done Holmes no favors, as "Lion's Mane" or "Blanched Soldier" this is not. (And, c'mon, even those aren't Watson-quality.)

Is there enough in those two appearances to get a real feel for this post-life Sherlock Holmes, for some current author to attempt a full-blown pastiche of Holmes in Hades? Is it even possible to out-do Bangs himself in this case for a fellow American, easier than topping ACD? John Kendrick Bangs was definitely a writer of his times, and maybe not as timeless as other "classic" writers, so a modern take on that curious incarnation of Sherlock Holmes might even be more enjoyable for our fellow moderns.

There is surely some fun to be had there.


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