Wednesday, November 25

Apocryphal, dear Watson: Sherlock Holmes investigates again | Culture

Illustration by Alfred Roloff from the originals published in Germany in 1907.
Illustration by Alfred Roloff from the originals published in Germany in 1907.

Borges said that it was not difficult for him to admit that he had achieved “certain valid pages”. However, the Argentine added that those pages were no longer his, because what is good no longer belongs to anyone, but “of language or tradition.” This maxim can be applied to certain literary characters, who have escaped from their creators to become myths with a life of their own, and one of those who have expanded the most beyond the work of the first author is undoubtedly the most famous detective in the world: Sherlock Holmes. The Funambulista publishing house publishes now Sherlock Holmes Secret Files, a compendium of stories published in Germany at the beginning of the last century (with Arthur Conan Doyle still alive), whose rescue from oblivion has its own story behind.

“It all started with a walk through Paris,” explains David Felipe Arranz, writer and journalist. Specifically on the banks of the Seine, in the stalls of the buquinistas that sell old and second-hand books. There Arranz, a inveterate bibliophile, found a book in Spanish that caught his attention. They were anonymous Sherlock Holmes adventures that I was unaware of. Three years ago, pushed by the editor of Funambulista, Max Lacruz, Arranz began to investigate. He discovered that they were a translation from the German, and traced it to Berlin. “I discovered that between January 1907 and June 1911 230 episodes of Detective Sherlock Holmes and his most famous adventures”, Says Arranz. “And they had an overwhelming success.”

The usurer’s daughter, The traitorous Kodak, The enigma of the playhouse Y The queen’s dress. Those are the four stories chosen for the book that now sees the light, Sherlock Holmes secret files, which goes on sale June 3 (the publisher plans to release two more books in early 2021). Arranz has chosen these four “for their great literary quality, and because they are the ones that most closely resemble the originals by Arthur Conan Doyle.” They are agile stories, in which the narrator changes and goes from being Watson (here Holmes even has a new assistant, Harry Taxon), to an omniscient narrator who recounts the detective’s adventures among prostitutes in the Whitechapel neighborhood, mysterious ladies and dangerous trips to Paris. Stories with a lot of crumb that are part of a tradition that extends beyond Doyle’s pen and literature and in which films such as The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), by Billie Wilder, those starring Basil Rathbone or those directed by Guy Ritchie in 2009 and 2011; series like Elementary (2012); or hundreds of novels, one of the most recent Mr. Holmes, by Mitch Cullin, published in 2015.

“The interesting thing is that Doyle knew about these publications, which were enormously successful in Germany and Russia, selling thousands of copies,” says Arranz, also a journalism professor at the Carlos III University of Madrid. And yet he does not report it. I think it was because in a way it benefited him that the Holmes name continued to be a success. Let’s say it was a win to win”. The Lutz Publishing House, which in Germany owned the rights to Sherlock Holmes, did step in and forced the apocryphal series to make some changes, such as removing Holmes’ name from the title. But then he let them keep posting. I think because deep down it benefited everyone ”. The stories are anonymous, but Arranz proposes a theory for the authorship of the stories: the Polish Kurt Matull and the German Matthias Blank. Born in 1872, Matull was a theater librettist and film scriptwriter. For his part, Blank, who used the pseudonym Theo von Blankensee, wrote pulp novels. “They were hired, but they knew that the stories would be published anonymously,” believes Arranz, who only found their names, written in very small print, in a compilation volume of the stories stored in the gigantic Berlin state library. In the rest of the editions and translations they did not appear.

In the strictly literary field, what similarities and differences does Arranz find with Doyle’s originals? “Where Doyle dwells more on descriptions and character development, they are more cinematic. There is a lot of dialogue, they want to make texts very agile. They are more concerned with moving the action forward, ”he explains. But they are good imitators. They know how to catch the essence very well ”. And why make them anonymous? Arranz is convinced that they did not sign them so that, at the beginning of the last century, many of the readers believed, in fact, that Holmes was a real person, and that he was the author of the stories himself. “The ability to dream that can be generated in the reader can dilute the barriers between reality and fiction,” he says. “Holmes is so tangible, so palpable, that why not get carried away and think that these are, indeed, his secret files?”

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