The Dragnet Solar Pons
August Derleth

   Introduced, Edited and Annotated by Mark Wardecker


  Table of Contents

   Introduction with annotations by Mark Wardecker
   The Adventure of the Black Narcissus (The Dragnet Magazine, February 1929)
   The Adventure of the Missing Tenants (The Dragnet Magazine, June 1929)
   The Adventure of the Broken Chessman (The Dragnet Magazine, September 1929)
   The Adventure of the Late Mr. Faversham (The Dragnet Magazine, December 1929  and Gangster Stories, March 1930)
   The Adventure of the Limping Man (Detective Trails, December 1929).
   Two Black Buttons (The Dragnet Magazine, October 1929)

        Contents of bound volume Solar Pons embossed "August W. Derleth 1930"

   The Adventure of the Red Dwarfs
   The Adventure of Gresham Marshes
   The Adventure of the Black Cardinal (Gangster Stories, March 1930)
   The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle
   The Adventure of the Yarpool Horror
The Adventure of the Muttering Man

   Trade Paper back, 339+ pp.
ISBN 978-1-55246-848-7 @ $25.00

Introduction by Mark Wardecker

It is fitting that this collection should appear during the centennial year of August Derleth’s birth, for Solar Pons was there at the birth of Derleth’s career as a writer. Granted, he had made prior professional sales (his first published story, "Bat’s Belfry," appeared in the May 1926 issue of Weird Tales magazine), but the Pons stories presented to the young writer, for the very first time, with at least the possibility of steady work within his chosen field, and that while he was still a nineteen-year-old college student in his junior year at the University of Wisconsin.

In the essay, "The Beginnings of Solar Pons" (A Praed Street Dossier. Sauk City, WI: Mycroft & Moran, 1968), Derleth recalls writing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1928, a year after the final collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, was published. He simply wanted to know if Doyle intended to write any further adventures featuring Holmes, to which Doyle replied "by means of a terse message scrawled upon [Derleth’s] own letter—that he did not." Derleth immediately wrote back, outlining his intention to continue the saga of the great detective, but like many pastiche writers before and after, balked at the notion of tackling such an iconic character. His solution to this dilemma was both simple and ingenious: he would create a successor to Holmes, a detective who mimicked and reverenced Holmes and yet was distinct, operating within the present, which was, in Derleth’s hands, not so jarringly different from Holmes’ earlier milieu. He created, in Solar Pons, a character that could be almost exactly like Sherlock Holmes, and yet be different enough to make him interesting in his own right and even develop, all the while doing an admirable job of evoking the atmosphere of the original tales and devising consistently clever puzzles for Pons to solve.

Having settled upon this approach, Derleth was able to write the first Solar Pons story, "The Adventure of the Black Narcissus," "in one afternoon and evening." He then submitted the tale to Harold Hersey, a notorious purveyor of pulp stories dedicated to gangsters and organized crime, who had recently begun publishing The Dragnet magazine. Hersey purchased the story for forty dollars and sent a letter to Derleth promising "that he would buy as many more Solar Pons stories as [Derleth] cared to write ... for The Dragnet." The young student cut classes to churn out more tales, several of which were accepted for publication, but that was in October of 1929. The three other Pons stories in this volume were the only ones that made their way into The Dragnet before Hersey abandoned the pulp after the Market crashed. Derleth managed to place two others, "The Adventure of the Limping Man" in the December 1929 issue of Detective Trails and "The Adventure of the Black Cardinal" in the March 1930 issue of Gangster Stories (another publication of Hersey’s), before Pons finally went on hiatus. Interestingly, The Dragnet, after continuing briefly as Detective-Dragnet, evolved into the highly successful and long-running hardboiled pulp, Ten Detective Aces under the stewardship of Hersey’s former partner, Aaron A. Wyn. But Pons’ hiatus, like his famous predecessor’s, was only temporary, and he, too, would be given a chance to evolve.

In the early forties, Ellery Queen (a writing duo comprised of two cousins, Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay) began compiling material for the famous anthology, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1944). Derleth revised and submitted the previously unpublished Pons story, "The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle" and not only was it accepted by Frederic Dannay for the collection but it prompted both Dannay and the well-known writer, critic, and Holmes enthusiast, Vincent Starrett, to urge Derleth to publish an entire collection of Pons tales. Derleth obliged by revising some of the earlier stories, such as "The Adventure of the Black Narcissus," "The Adventure of the Late Mr. Faversham," and "The Adventure of the Sotheby Salesman," and writing some new ones. Finding a publisher for the collection, however, despite the interest of such influential writers as Starrett and Dannay, was to prove more problematic. According to Peter Ruber’s Introduction to The Final Adventures of Solar Pons (Sauk City, WI: Mycroft & Moran, 1998), Arthur Conan Doyle’s two sons had poisoned the well somewhat by threatening publishers with litigation if they should print any unauthorized Holmes books.

Fortunately, Derleth was, by this time, no stranger to publishing— his famous small press, Arkham House, which he founded with Donald Wandrei, had been in operation since 1939. Having created a new imprint, Mycroft & Moran, expressly for the purpose, Derleth published the first collection of Pons stories himself in 1945. The collection was titled "In Re: Sherlock Holmes"—The Adventures of Solar Pons, and like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, it contained twelve stories. This was then followed by a series of story collections, all bearing titles familiar to devotees of Sherlock Holmes: 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). Derleth did not stop there, though, but continued the series with the full-length novel, Mr. Fairlie’s Final Journey (1968), and finally, the posthumous collection, The Chronicles of Solar Pons (1973).

Throughout these collections, the character of Pons and those closely associated with him, such as his friend and amanuensis, Dr. Lyndon Parker, continued to develop and mature. This can be very visibly demonstrated by comparing the version of "The Adventure of the Missing Tenants" available here, which was originally published in 1929, with the version Derleth revised late in his career and published in The Chronicles of Solar Pons in 1973. In fact, Pons proved so flexible that the writer, Basil Copper, was able to successfully continue the series after Derleth’s death, again reinterpreting the character and creating, in effect, a pastiche of a pastiche.

But a pastiche, much like a literary translation, is a sort of commentary; in this case, a commentary on the Sherlock Holmes canon. The changes that occurred during the revision of these texts should be important to Sherlock Holmes scholars not just because they trace Derleth’s development as a writer but because they reflect his interpretation and increasing engagement with Holmes and Watson and, in a broader sense, Derleth’s generation’s interpretation and engagement. In these stories and the notes that accompany them, the reader will find few great revelations, like the confusion over Dr. Parker’s first initial in "The Adventure of the Black Narcissus" (reminiscent of a similar discrepancy relating to Dr. Watson’s first name in "The Man with the Twisted Lip"). What the reader will discover, though, is a shift away from the simpler, more stereotypical portrayal of the master detective and his companion, characteristic of the 1920’s and 1930’s to the greater attention to representing the complexities of the original Holmes stories, indicative of the 1940’s and later, that was ushered in largely by groups of scholarly enthusiasts, like the Baker Street Irregulars. The reader will see Dr. Parker develop from a stereo-typically adoring "assistant" to a more thoughtful and even argumentative companion, allowing him to fulfill Dr. Watson’s role as a sounding board for the detective’s ideas, yet allowing him to remain, at times, distinct from Watson. Similarly, Inspector Jamison transforms from a stereotypical bungler from the Yard to a competent and respected detective, clearly not Pons’ equal, but still able to assist the consulting detective when it counts. Echoes of the original Holmes stories later appear in greater abundance, and elements of the Holmes tales so frequently neglected by imitators, such as humor, also begin to make graceful appearances.

Hopefully, the notes that follow these stories, by indicating differences between the original and revised versions, will help to elucidate and chart these developments. Creating a variorum edition that is readable and not distracting is a daunting task, and it is often difficult to separate the significant from the tedious, for significance is often subjective and challenging to convey in so small a space. Please be assured that these notes have been added in an earnest effort to enhance the reader’s enjoyment of these stories, since in the end, that enjoyment—of Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons, of Dr. Watson and Dr. Parker, and of London fogs and blazing hearths—is what has led us all here in the first place.

As 2009 and the better part of 2010 have come and gone, I would like to offer a few short words of explanation about the delay of this book’s publication. It was while we were actually proofreading the galleys of the book’s first incarnation that the publisher, George Vanderburgh, with the assistance of the Wisconsin Historical Society, located the issue of Detective Trails containing "The Adventure of the Limping Man" and decided we should include both it and the version of "The Adventure of the Black Cardinal" contained in Gangster Stories, which I later located with the assistance of Gary Johnson at the Library of Congress. No sooner had I begun annotating these two stories than George called with a bombshell: while exploring August Derleth’s home, Place of Hawks, he and April Derleth had discovered a bound volume of four typewritten Solar Pons manuscripts. The stories included in this volume were "The Adventure of the Red Dwarfs," "The Adventure of Gresham Marshes," "The Adventure of the Black Cardinal" (which is identical to the version in Gangster Stories, except for the extra paragraph breaks inserted by pulp editors), and "The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle." Since these differ from the versions that appear in the later collections, we eagerly added them to this volume.

But this was not to be the last miraculous discovery. As I was completing the annotations for this group of stories, George called again to announce that he had found three more manuscripts in the basement of the house: "The Adventure of the Yarpool Horror," "The Adventure of the Muttering Man," and yet another version of "The Adventure of Gresham Marshes." Moreover, these manuscripts differed from the ones found in a Madison, Wisconsin, attic that were published in both The ‘Unpublished’ Solar Pons (Shelburne, Ontario: Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 1994) and The Final Adventures of Solar Pons (Sauk City, WI: Mycroft & Moran, 1998). Though we decided, due to space considerations, to only include one version of "The Adventure of Gresham Marshes" in this book, the other two stories have been dutifully added and annotated.

That appears to be the last of the heretofore undiscovered Solar Pons material for now, so we are at last ready to offer you this book. Although I have spent considerably more time on this project than I had anticipated, I enjoyed it immensely and still sincerely hope that, someday, I will have the opportunity to present you with even more.

Mark Wardecker

January 6, 2011

Review by James O'Leary

In 1928, a nineteen year old August Derleth wrote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle asking him if he intended to write any more Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle wrote back that he did not, and Derleth decided that he would and created the character of Solar Pons, "the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street," a consulting detective practising in contemporary London. Pons’ first case, "The Adventure of the Black Narcissus" was accepted by The Dragnet Magazine which promised to print more. The young college student, eager for income, wrote more stories. Three others were published in The Dragnet, but the Stock Market Crash of 1929 brought an end to the magazine. Two other stories found homes in various pulps, but it seemed that Pons’ short career was over. In the early forties, Ellery Queen began compiling The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, Derleth submitted the previously unpublished "The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle." It was accepted and both Frederick Dannay and Vincent Starrett urged Derleth to published a Solar Pons collection. Derleth, at this time already a publisher of Arkham House, rewrote some of those tales and wrote new ones for "In Re: Sherlock Holmes"—The Adventures of Solar Pons under the imprint of Mycroft & Moran. Pons found a home with Sherlockians and many more collections and a novel were published by the time of Derleth’s death. Some of Pons’ cases seem to have come straight from Watson’s unpublished adventures hidden in the vaults of Cox & Co. such as "The Adventure of the Remarkable Worm," "The Trained Cormorant," "Ricoletti of the Club Foot," and "The Late Mr. Faversham," who, stepping into his house to get an umbrella, was never seen again in this world. Pons also inspired his own society, The Praed Street Irregulars, and magazine, the Pontine Dossier, dedicated to Pontine scholarship. Now, The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box has published The Dragnet Solar Pons et al., a collection of those early stories as they appeared originally. Mark Wardecker has exhaustively compared those early stories with their revised versions, showing us the evolution of Pons as a character and Derleth as a writer. Some of the differences are minor, such as deletion or tightening up of dialog or changes in adjectives or clients’ names. Some, such as "The Missing Tenants" and "The Black Cardinal" have major and fascinating changes. The Dragnet Solar Pons belongs on the shelf next to the Pontine Canon of every Ponsian (or should Americans call themselves Solarians?).

Reviewed by James O’Leary