Foreword – The Memoirs of Solar Pons (Pinnacle)
Luther Norris, 1975
One does not have to be a mystery buff to recognize that in the annals of detective lore none has been so widely imitated (and so widely abused) as the master of them all, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. This growing parade of pastiche detectives includes such outlandish names as Sherlock Abodes, Thinlock Bones, Shamrock Jones, Sheerluck Ohms, Picklock Holmes, and Fu-erh-his (the honorable or obviously dishonorable Chinese interpretation). Anyone worth his deerstalker will, however, probably agree that perhaps the best and most widely read is Solar Pons.
August Derleth once told me that “Pons and Holmes are as alike as two peas in a pod.” This may be true to some extent but it is the difference between Pons and Holmes that commands attention – plus the fact that the Pons stories stand up on their own merit. The very name itself, Solar Pons, shows the desire of the late Wisconsin author to show individuality. Again, the true spirit of the Holmes canon is maintained in the Pontical tales.
Holmes, as we know, is an accomplished violinist, often interrupting an investigation to attend a concert or play his violin. Among the varied “interests” of Solar Pons we fin that he has an “addiction to good music of all kinds” indicating that he is apparently an auditor rather than a true performer or musicologist. Even his friend an associate, Dr. Parker, states that he has occasion to complain about Pons’ “infernal scratching of the violin.”
In Solar Pons we find a widely traveled man with headquarters not only in Praed Street, London, but also in Paris, Vienna, Prague, Rome, Chicago and New York (possibly in a small street of Madison Avenue). Sherlock Holmes, as we know, does most of his sleuthing in England and occasionally in Scotland and France and his headquarters are located only in London. This can probably be explained by the differences in times in which the two famous detectives worked and lived. Holmes is a resident of Victorian England, while Pons does his ferreting in the early twentieth century. Since Pons worked a few decades later than Holmes, he has the advantage of better transportation (if you can believe your local travel agent) and this accounts for his widely distributed residence.
It would also seem that in order to maintain seven offices and travel to and from them Solar Pons, must from sheer necessity, charge higher fees than Holmes. We can assume from the rather grubby appearance of Praed Street in comparison with Baker Street that Pons does not maintain quarters in the high-rent districts of the cities mentioned. Reimbursement for just his expenses as in the case of Holmes, would hardly allow him to make ends meet or pass out a handful of guineas to his Irregulars instead of a shilling as Holmes does.
Another striking difference between the two detectives exists in their attitudes towards their colleagues, Drs. Watson and Parker. While Holmes and Pons both find a source of amusement in their colleagues’ poor attempts at deduction, Pons is at times a little too critical of his old companion, Dr. Parker, whereas Holmes is very understanding. Pons, though, seems to have a keener sense of humor, referring to Holmes (with a twinkle in his eye) as his “illustrious predecessor” and telling Parker that he (Pons) can now retire to Sussex to keep bees since Parker has learned his methods so well. As the Agent, Derleth, like Pons, often displayed a sly sense of humor by passing out calling cards engraved with the detective’s name, London address, and private telephone number.
What August Derleth probably considered when he made comparisons between the two detectives was the very similarity of the stories themselves. A client seeks, the detective helps, the detective examines the scene of the crime, the detective investigates, and finally, the detective exposes the criminal and brings the culprit to book. Ratiocination, eh what! But thought he blueprints (or should I say footprints) are the same, here again Derleth differs from Doyle. Pons has some cases, such as “The Adventure of the Blind Clairaudient,” which contain a note of the supernatural, while Holmes has no cases which are not “down to earth.” The two written in collaboration with Mack Reynolds, “The Adventure of the Snitch in Time” and “The Adventure of the Ball of Nostradamus,” both of which appear in The Science Fictional Sherlock Holmes, are certainly are from being down to earth and provide delightful reading for the green cheese set.
Both Holmes and Pons are authors of many monographs. Those written by Holmes deal, for the most part, with subjects related to his detective work. In the case of Solar Pons, however, we find more varied interests. “An Inquiry into the Nan-Natal Ruins of Ponapae” and “An Examination of the Cthulhu Cult and Others” are two examples, for instance, that show that Pons has more varied interests than Holmes. Holmes, as we know, has little concern for topics not related to his “little problems.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of course, was a frequent visitor to the United States, while August Derleth never set forth in London or England. This no doubt accounts for the Americanisms that occur in the stories, although my old friend, Michael Harrison, did check many of the manuscripts before they appeared in print. Like Doyle, however, Derleth grew weary at times of his role as the agent, thinking that it deterred him from his more serious work. As he once said, “I can promise to do no more.”
Although there are many differences between Pons and Holmes, there are also many similarities which help to show that Pons was born of Holmes. Both of the detectives had friends in the medical profession with whom they share quarters in London and who record their cases; both have brothers who posses the knack of pure deduction even better than they themselves, but because Mycroft Holmes and Bancroft Pons are not energetic enough to investigate for themselves, work for the Crown. Their methods are certainly much the same and they both have their own little band of street urchins who help them carry out their inquiries – Holmes the Baker Street Irregulars and Pons the Praed Street Irregulars.
Until now, The Memoirs of Solar Pons has been the most difficult book in the Pontine Canon to obtain – and the most sought after. Now, for a mere fraction of what the original Mycroft & Moran first edition would cost (if you can find it!), you can enjoy what I consider along with the late Vincent Starrett to be the finest collection of Solar Pons stories ever written. Ah, how I envy the new reader who has yet to meet Solar Pons of Praed Street.
Yes, the game’s always afoot.
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