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Book Review: The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes

The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes

By Bill Peschel

Reviewed by Maria

 We all love the Sherlock Holmes stories and yet we will all freely admit that they are often flawed, sometimes unintentionally funny and every no and then too far-fetched to be entirely believable. It’s therefore not surprising that even while the original stories were published, fans and critics produced parodies of the material. I mean, who has not found a grain of truth in the portrayal of Holmes and Watson by Vidar Magnussen (Sherlock Holmes) and Bjarte Tjøstheim in Oklahomo, or adored the charade that is Without a Clue (which, if you don’t know the film, I highly recommend). With the growing fame of the exploits and adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the number of parodies, jokes and critical pieces also grew (the authors of these satirical pieces including Arthur Conan Doyle himself).

Bill Peschel has published an annotated collection of early Sherlock Holmes parodies from Punch magazine, the leading satire magazine of turn of the century Britain. The usually short parodies range from 1890 to 1928 and often poke fun at Arthur Conan Doyle as well as his detective. On roughly 280 pages we can follow the reception of Doyle and Holmes in several alternative versions published in Punch (a cover-illustration was drawn by ACD’s uncle Richard).

The magazine liked Arthur Conan Doyle and his work and the jokes are mostly good humored. Only when he started engaging in the Cottingley Fairy affair and publically defended his belief in supernatural creatures, the magazine became more serious in its criticism.
For example, we get to read R.C. Lehmann’s 17 episodes of The Adventures of Picklock Holmes (and Potson). Here we see a smitten and idiotic Potson describing the genius of his great friend and liar Picklock Holmes, who tends to support his deductions with planted evidence and innocent bystanders who end up in jail due to his genius work.

P.G. Wodehouse has Holmes solve the strange case of a man who was bored to death by boring the suspected murderer (or rather borer) to the brink of a breakdown in “Dudley Jones, Bore Hunter” and “The Prodigal” sees Sherlock Holmes unable to shed his American accent which he acquired during the Great Hiatus.

A great many stories lovingly poke fun at Sherlock Holmes’s deductions and John Watson as his bumbling and entirely dedicated sidekick (which proves that this kind of Watson did not originate in Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of the good doctor, though Bruce was probably not trying make fun of Watson.) Something else, which I found quite interesting, is that the parodies and articles often refer to Holmes as Sherlock. It seems almost too modern, considering that it’s the Sherlocks in the BBC series and Elementary which go by their first names. It’s only one of the aspects which shows that the fans of Sherlock Holmes have always behaved in very similar ways and felt connected to Holmes on a more personal level and a first name basis.

Very amusing indeed is a story which was actually advertisement. Sherlock Holmes solves the mysterious case of a supposedly Egyptian piece of writing which proves to be a simple soaked up message of the best blotting paper out there. I guess the constant close ups of the Microsoft 8 tablets or Lestrade’s constant holding up of coconut water while smoothing in a line about hydration in Elementary are just following a tradition of sorts.

Comics and poems round up the satirical appreciation of ACD by Punch – all of which come with annotations by Bill Peschel. I must admit that quite a few of the footnotes and the introductions helped tremendously to understand the references in the texts. The book is therefore not only highly entertaining, but it offers an insight into the reception of the Holmes stories at the turn of the century. Bill Peschel has managed to give a taste of what it was like back in the days when the Canon stories were in the process of being published and how people reacted to it. Some of the stories in the book were not very funny to me, but I appreciate the weaknesses and eccentricities in the original stories which are pointed out by the parodies.

I loved reading these stories and the commentary that goes with them and once I finished I was left with the profound sense that Sherlock Holmes has been loved tremendously by Victorian and Edwardian readers – and it shows that we love to poke fun at something we love, as many modern cartoons, stories and videos prove.

Bill Peschel kindly provided me with a review copy.

You can find several options to buy The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes on Bill Peschel’s Website.

Maria teaches English Literature at Leipzig University, Germany, published a German introduction to Sherlock Holmes and is a fan of all things Holmes – but especially of the Canon stories and Sherlock BBC.  Contact her at @stuffasdreamsmaria@bakerstreetbabes.com

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