In addition to the 50-some-odd stories—and four novels—penned by Sherlock Holmes’ creator, doctor-author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, there have been—over the past 120 years since Doyle started publishing his Holmes stories in periodicals, such as Strand Magazine—a variety of “pastiches”* starring Doyle’s Watson and Holmes team of sleuths.
Much to the joy of this Sherlockian, Titan Books has been publishing new Sherlock Holmes and John Watson stories in these beautifully designed (images above) trade paperbacks since around 2010. Titan also publishes a second series of 20th-century reprints of Sherlock Holmes pastiches: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in newly designed trade paperback editions (images below).
Which brings me to tonight’s read.
A 2011 novel by Guy Adams called Sherlock Holmes The Breath of God. Out of all of the Titan pastiches, I selected this one to read first for four reasons:
- Dr. John Silence
- Thomas Carnacki
- Julian Karswell
- Aleister Crowley
The first three of these men assist Holmes and Watson in the book! This is no small deal—never have all three sleuths appeared together in fiction (to my knowledge)—throw in Sherlock Holmes and it’s like an extra shot of Opium!
Silence, Carnacki, and Karswell are fictional “occult detectives”—psychic doctors, if you will. . . supernatural investigators, demonologists, experts at reading weird languages and esoteric symbols—antiquarian ghostbusters. And they kicked ass in their own sleuthing stories written back in the day by some other very famous authors: Algernon Blackwood (Silence) William Hope Hodgson (Carnacki), and Montague Rhodes (M.R.) James (Karswell). I include some more information on these guys below, under “The Occult Detectives”.
The fourth character, Aleister Crowley may well be the most intriguing occult practitioners and writers and overall “personality” the world has ever produced, up there with the likes of Rasputin and Madame Blavatsky. (See “The Occult Detectives” for more on Crowley.)
This oughtta be a wild carriage ride.
*A pastiche is a work of visual art, literature, theatre, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates (Wikipedia).
The Occult Detectives
Dr. John Silence, “Psychic Doctor”
One of Britain’s most famous writers of supernatural fiction, Algernon Blackwood wrote stories in which the slow accumulation of telling details produced a foreboding atmosphere of almost unendurable tension. Blackwood’s literary renown began in 1908 with the publication of a highly successful collection of stories, John Silence — Physician Extraordinary, featuring a “psychic doctor.”
Dr. John Silence was Algernon Blackwood’s most well-known character, investigating all manner of strange phenomena. The volume shown here contains all five of the John Silence stories from the original 1908 edition plus one additional tale. In “A Psychical Invasion,” Silence is summoned to a house apparently haunted by former tenants. In “Ancient Sorceries,” he encounters a man who tells of strange experiences in a small French town. In “Secret Worship,” a character is rescued from spiritual and perhaps physical death. “The Nemesis of Fire,” “The Camp of the God,” and “A Victim of Higher Space” conclude this collection of spellbinding tales, which will delight any devotee of “weird” literature.
Excerpt, John Silence, Case I “A Psychical Invasion”:
“And what is it makes you think I could be of use in this particular case?” asked Dr. John Silence, looking across somewhat sceptically at the Swedish lady in the chair facing him.
“Your sympathetic heart and your knowledge of occultism——”
“Oh, please—that dreadful word!” he interrupted, holding up a finger with a gesture of impatience.
“Well, then,” she laughed, “your wonderful clairvoyant gift and your trained psychic knowledge of the processes by which a personality may be disintegrated and destroyed—these strange studies you’ve been experimenting with all these years——”
“If it’s only a case of multiple personality I must really cry off,” interrupted the doctor again hastily, a bored expression in his eyes.
“It’s not that; now, please, be serious, for I want your help,” she said; “and if I choose my words poorly you must be patient with my ignorance. The case I know will interest you, and no one else could deal with it so well. In fact, no ordinary professional man could deal with it at all, for I know of no treatment or medicine that can restore a lost sense of humour!”
Read the first five John Silence stories free, here:
Carnacki the “Ghost-Finder”
Thomas Carnacki is a fictional occult detective created by English fantasy writer William Hope Hodgson. Carnacki was the protagonist of a series of six short stories published between 1910 and 1912 in The Idler magazine and The New Magazine.
Since then pastiches have been written by a handful of modern authors that feature new adventures of Carnacki the Ghost-Finder. The original stories were published together in the collection Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder in 1913. A 1948 Arkham House edition of Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder edited by August Derleth included those and three additional stories: “The Haunted Jarvee“—published posthumously in The Premier Magazine in 1929; “The Hog”—published in Weird Tales in 1947; and “The Find”—a previously unpublished story.
Carnacki lives in a bachelor flat in No 472 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea; the stories are told from a first-person perspective by Dodgson, a member of Carnacki’s “strictly limited circle of friends”, much as Holmes’ adventures were told from Watson’s point of view (his other friends are Jessop, Arkwright and Taylor). Whereas the Holmes stories never made use of the supernatural except as a red herring, this is the central theme of the Carnacki stories, though several of the stories have non-supernatural endings.
In addition to the famous fictional detectives of the time (Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Thorndyke).The character of Carnacki was inspired by Dr. Hesselius, a supernaturally inclined scientist who appeared in short stories by the Irish fantasy writer Sheridan Le Fanu, notably the early and influential vampire story “Carmilla”. Carnacki as a character is also reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood’s Dr. John Silence.
The stories are presented using a framework story: Carnacki periodically sends notes of invitation to four friends, asking them to come to dinner and hear his latest tale. One of the men, Dodgson, is the actual narrator of the story, who comprises an extremely minimal part of each Carnacki story. Carnacki forbids discussion of the case in question over dinner. After dinner, Carnacki lights his pipe, everyone settles into their favourite chairs, and he tells the tale without interruption.
Each of Carnacki’s tales tells of an investigation into a haunting, which Carnacki is charged to identify and end. To do so, he employs a variety of scientific methods in his investigations, as well as resorting to more traditional folklore.
He employs technologies such as photography and his own fictional invention, the Electric Pentacle. He is not presumptuous, and always uses evidence to draw his final conclusions; in some stories he decides the haunting is real—in others, it’s some form of quackery.
Read all six Carnacki the Ghost-Finder stories, here…
“Julian” Karswell, Alchemist, Demonologist, Madman?
Any villain inspired by the legendary Alistair Crowly deserves respect. Karswell appeared—by surname only—in a famous short story by the classic English ghost-story writer and Oxford Don, M. R. James. Later, the character appeared as the mysterious Dr. Julian Karswell, magician and cult leader, in the film Night of the Demon, based on James’ story.
When a psychologist famous for debunking the paranormal threatens to expose crimes perpetrated by the cult, Dr. Karswell has no choice but to put a curse on him, which invokes a fire demon to kill the victim. With supernatural powers and demons at his disposal, Karswell (played in the film by Niall MacGinnis) is a formidable villain who transcends his Gothic type thanks to a dose of dry humor and an unsettling politeness, making him look like an anicent.
Excerpt from “Casting the Runes”:
‘And who is Mr Karswell?’ inquired the Secretary’s wife. She had called at his office, and (perhaps unwarrantably) had picked up the last of these three letters, which the typist had just brought in.
‘Why, my dear, just at present Mr Karswell is a very angry man. But I don’t know much about him otherwise, except that he is a person of wealth, his address is Lufford Abbey, Warwickshire, and he’s an alchemist, apparently, and wants to tell us all about it; and that’s about all — except that I don’t want to meet him for the next week or two. Now, if you’re ready to leave this place, I am.’
‘What have you been doing to make him angry?’ asked Mrs Secretary.
‘The usual thing, my dear, the usual thing: he sent in a draft of a paper he wanted to read at the next meeting, and we referred it to Edward Dunning — almost the only man in England who knows about these things — and he said it was perfectly hopeless, so we declined it. So Karswell has been pelting me with letters ever since. The last thing he wanted was the name of the man we referred his nonsense to; you saw my answer to that. But don’t you say anything about it, for goodness’ sake.’
Read the full text of “Casting the Runes” by M. R. James, here…
Aleister Crowley—born Edward Alexander Crowley (1875 – 1947)—was an English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, novelist, and mountaineer. He founded the religion of Thelema, identifying himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the Æon of Horus in the early 20th century. A prolific writer, he published widely over the course of his life.
Crowley gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, being a recreational drug experimenter, bisexual and an individualist social critic. He was denounced in the popular press as “the wickedest man in the world” and a Satanist. Crowley has remained a highly influential figure over Western esotericism and the counterculture, and continues to be considered a prophet in Thelema. He is the subject of various biographies and academic studies.
Read more about Aleister Crowley and his work, here…