January began and ended with Sherlock Holmes.
On New Year’s Day, I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes film. Then, in the mood for more Sherlock Holmes, I read Loren D. Estleman’s Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula for perhaps the tenth time. This was followed by reading some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories; specifically, the first volume of a new edition of the stories illustrated by Batman artist Kelley Jones. This was followed, mid-month, with the discovery of Ellery Queen’s The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes online — and I added the poster of Frederic Dorr Steele’s cover to that long-suppressed anthology to my collection. Finally, January ended with The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds, Titan Books’ reprint of Manly Wade and Wade Wellman’s Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds.
Of course, that might be why I started thinking of mashing Our Town with War of the Worlds over the weekend…
I first read Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds about ten years ago. After five years of looking for the book in used bookstores, I found it on eBay and bought it from a seller in Richmond, British Columbia. I’ll be honest — I didn’t like it, though at the time I wasn’t sure why I didn’t like it. But I think, now, in reading the book in close proximity to some other Holmesiana, I understand now why Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds didn’t work.
It’s not a Sherlock Holmes novel. It is, rather, a novel that has a character named Sherlock Holmes in it. And that is a major difference.
Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds has Holmes find a Crystal Egg, from H.G. Wells’ story, “The Crystal Egg.” He takes this to Professor George Edward Challenger (from The Lost World), and the two of them study the egg, and they discover that it’s a palantir — they can see Mars with it, and they realize that the Martians can see them. This is followed by the landing of the Martian craft, the rise of the Martian walkers, the Martians’ capture of London. Essentially, the novel is little more than a retelling of The War of the Worlds, albeit from the point-of-view of Holmes and Challenger. At no point does Holmes do anything particularly Holmesian. There’s no crime for him to solve. There’s nothing that he can do to stop the Martians. He watches as events unfold. The few moments where Holmes seems to do anything Holmesian — like the final dozen pages of the book — the events come from so far out of left field that it’s mental whiplash.
Contrast this to Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula. This feels like a Sherlock Holmes story. Holmes investigates. Holmes observes. Holmes makes deductions. It feels like an authentic Sherlock Holmes story. Albeit one that is somewhat familiar, since the story intersects with Bram Stoker’s Dracula at several points. Indeed, the book positions itself as the story of Dracula that Bram Stoker didn’t tell. And it’s quite successful at doing that.
I think a good Sherlock Holmes/War of the Worlds story could be told, but it would be more about the aftermath of the Martian invasion. Perhaps plans for the Martian war machines fall into enemy hands, and Holmes has to investigate to save British national security.
Now I’m having a weird flash of Jack Harkness’ War of the Worlds. Assuming War of the Worlds happened in the Doctor Who universe. Which I would like to think it did…
Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula? Good Holmesiana. Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds? Not so good Holmesiana.
And I didn’t even mention what the latter book does with Mrs. Hudson…