Throw Back Thursday – Jack Tracy’s Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha

Since I wrote about Peter Haining’s The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, here’s a look at Jack Tracy’s Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha. I wrote this for Mia Stampe’s Holmes book review site.

Tracy_ApocryphaSherlockians like to hold the Canon (Doyle’s Holmes stories) in the same esteem that Christians hold the Bible. So it should come as no surprise that there are some works by Doyle that are comparable to apocrypha. The term refers to early Christian writings not included in the Bible.

Jack Tracy, author of the popular Encyclopedia Sherlockiana, collected some authentic and near-authentic Holmes works that are not part of the Canon. Few books made up of Holmes fiction can justifiably sit on your bookshelf next to Doyle’s short stories and novels about the wisest and finest man Dr. Watson ever knew. This book is one of that rare numbers.

No one who has looked at Tracy’s Encyclopedia can doubt his Sherlockian scholarship. He utilizes his vast knowledge in an efficient and readable way in Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha. Each section begins with info about the writings that follow. Interesting and “must know” details set the stage for the pieces themselves.

For instance, chapter one contains three parodies. Doyle wrote the first for the Edinburgh undergraduate magazine. How Watson Learned the Trick, in which Doyle actually lampoons himself, was composed for Queen Anne’s dollhouse. The Adventure of the Two Collaborators followed upon the disastrous Jane Annie, a play co-written by Doyle and Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie. Four well-written pages tell the reader why and how these three parodies came about. There follows the full text of the stories. The book follows this pattern, and it is an accessible way to present the contents.

Next are two Doyle stories: The Man with the Watches and The Lost Special. Both were published in The Strand in 1898: after The Final Problem and before Holmes’ temporary revival in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Both tales include an unnamed amateur detective who could easily have been Sherlock Holmes. The great Edgar W. Smith argued that these two tales should have been included in the Canon as Holmes adventures. Doyle may have killed off Holmes, but it appears he wasn’t quite through writing about him. Well, or at least writing the same types of tales.

Next is my favorite chapter, William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes. There is a fascinating mini-history about Gillette’s two Holmes plays: Sherlock Holmes; A Drama in Four Acts and The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes. Then we are treated to the full text of both plays. This book is worth the price for the Gillette plays alone!

In a natural progression, Doyle’s two Holmesian plays follow. A half dozen pages tell about the creation of The Speckled Band and The Crown Diamond. The first is a good play and was successful on stage. The second: not quite a keeper.

Hesketh Pearson found the outline for an unwritten Holmes story when he was researching his biography of ACD. That short outline is included in this book. It wouldn’t have been much of a Holmes tale.

The book ends with The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted. Pearson also discovered an entire previously unknown Sherlock Holmes tale in 1942. The Doyle estate (always quick to try and make a buck) surprisingly enough resisted pressure to publish it. Finally, in 1948, they accepted an offer from Cosmopolitan and it was published.

Then the bad news: Arthur Whitaker said that he had written the tale and sent it to Doyle in 1910, hoping it would become a collaboration. Doyle declined and suggested Whitaker rewrite is as non-Holmes tale. Finally, he purchased it for 10 pounds. Doyle set it aside and never used it. Whitaker produced the carbon copy of his typescript, as well as Doyle’s own hand-written letter in which the author had offered to buy the script.

The Doyle Estate refunded some of the money they received for selling the story and Whitaker was paid 150 pounds to be quiet about the affair. He died not long after and the matter was dropped by all parties. Cosmopolitan never admitted the story wasn’t by Doyle, and the Estate had no comments.

Tracy’s book is valuable alone for the fact that it was the first reprinting of Whitaker’s table since a 1949 appearance in Britain’s The Sunday Dispatch over 30 years before.

In short, The Published Apocrypha is almost The Canon and should be nestled close to Baring-Gould’s or Klinger’s Annotated versions of the stories on your Sherlockian (or Holmesian) bookshelf. I thoroughly enjoy my copy.

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