Apocrypha dear Watson: Sherlock Holmes investigates again | Culture

Alfred Roloff's illustration of the originals published in Germany in 1907.
Alfred Roloff’s illustration of the originals published in Germany in 1907.

Borges said that it was easy for him to recognize 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 the most expanded beyond the work of the first author is undoubtedly the most famous detective in the world: Sherlock Holmes. The Funambulista publisher 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.

“It all started with a walk in Paris,” explains David Felipe Arranz, writer and journalist. Specifically, on the banks of the Seine, at the buccaneer stalls selling old and second-hand books. There Arranz, a heavy bibliophile, found a book in Spanish that caught his attention. They were anonymous adventures of Sherlock Holmes that I did not know. Three years ago, pushed by the editor of Funambulista, Max Lacruz, Arranz began to investigate. He discovered that they were a translation from German, and he tracked down 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 that they were overwhelmingly successful.”

The daughter of the usurer, The treacherous Kodak, The riddle of the playhouse and 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 on 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 most similar to the originals by Arthur Conan Doyle.” They are agile stories, in which the narrator changes and goes from being Watson (here Holmes has even a new assistant, Harry Taxon), to an omniscient narrator who tells the adventures of the detective among prostitutes from 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 Sherlock Holmes’s private life (1970), by Billie Wilder, starring Basil Rathbone or 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 extremely successful in Germany and in Russia, selling thousands of copies,” says Arranz, also a journalism professor at the Carlos III University of Madrid. “And yet he does not denounce it. I think it was in some way beneficial to him that the name Holmes was still a success. Let’s say it was a win to win” Lutz Publishing, which in Germany owned the rights to Sherlock Holmes, did step in and force the apocryphal series to make some changes, such as removing Holmes’ name from the title. “But then he let them continue publishing. I think that basically 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 screenwriter. For his part, Blank, who used the pseudonym Theo von Blankensee, wrote pulp novels. “They were hired, but they knew 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 character descriptions and development, they are more cinematic. There is a lot of dialogue, they want to make very agile texts. They are more concerned with moving 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 were not signed so that, at the beginning of the last century, many of the readers believed, in fact, that Holmes was a real character, and that he was the author of the stories. “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, why not get carried away and think that these are, really, his secret files?”

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