Pastiche

In the NYT Book Review on Sunday (November 1st), a review by James Parker of The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories (edited by Otto Penzler) and Mycroft Holmes (by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse). Here I’m focused on the Sherlockian pastiches in the Penzler anthology.

Parker begins:

Shadrach Voles, Upchuck Gnomes, Rockhard Scones and Blowback Foams: None of these great made-up detectives appear in Otto Penzler’s giant compendium of fake Sherlock Holmes stories, or Sherlock-Holmes-stories-written-by-persons-other-than-Sir-Arthur-Conan-Doyle. You will, however, be able to find stories about Sherlaw Kombs, and Solar Pons, and Picklock Holes, and Shamrock Jolnes, and Warlock Bones and (my own pick of the pseudo-Holmeses) Hemlock Jones, who in Bret Harte’s “The Stolen Cigar-Case” almost destroys the ardently worshipful Watson-like narrator with the sheer puissance of his intellect.

Mikel Jaso’s delightful illustration for the review, paying homage to Holmes’s pipe, René Magritte, and the creations of the Sherlockians:

(#1)

Parker continues on Bret Harte’s creation:

On Hemlock Jones’s shelves are glass jars containing “pavement and road sweepings” and “fluff from omnibus and road-car seats.” When he thinks, his head shrinks, “so much reduced in size by his mental compression that his hat tipped back from his forehead and literally hung on his massive ears.” Jones’s diamond-­encrusted cigar case, a present from the Turkish ambassador, has gone missing. There can be only one culprit: the narrator himself! Jones lays out the case, deduction by damning deduction. “So overpowering was his penetration,” declares the narrator in a fit of purest proto-Kafka, “that although I knew myself innocent, I licked my lips with avidity to hear the further details of this lucid exposition of my crime.”

We in 2015, we the entertained, who live in a fun house of Sherlocks — Cumberbatch Sherlock, Downey Jr. Sherlock, Jonny Lee Miller Sherlock, etc. — need no convincing of the imaginative vitality of Sherlock Holmes. But the fact that Bret Harte, revered and shaggy forebear, of whose stories Conan Doyle felt his own early efforts to be but “feeble echoes,” could come out in 1900 with such a spot-on and beautifully modern satire of a Sherlock Holmes story tells us something of the immediacy with which Holmes franchised himself into popular consciousness.

Then to pastiche (which in its purest form celebrates its target) and parody (which in its purest form mocks its target), and to the hard fact that the line between the two is not as clear as many would like to think — especially because most such works are “parodiche”, taking both an affectionate and a critical view of their targets. Parker:

A pastiche is a form of literary criticism, as a tribute band is a form of rock criticism. There were things I didn’t understand about Bon Jovi, for example, until I saw, in a bar in Boston, a band called Jovi. (I just Googled them, incidentally. Now they’re called Bon Jersey.) So in Penzler’s Big Book we find the various parodists and imitators zooming in on key elements: Stephen Leacock, in 1916, lampooning the “inexorable chain of logic” that leads Holmes to an absurd conclusion, and John Lutz, in 1987, describing a Holmes who in the absence of a good case “becomes zombielike in his withdrawal into boredom.” It’s all, properly defined, fan fiction, some of the fans (Stephen King, H.R.F. Keating) being quite distinguished, others less so — long-forgotten bookmen lowering themselves into the Holmesian atmosphere as into a hot bath, with many a grunt and sigh of luxury. Kingsley Amis puts on a good performance in “The Darkwater Hall Mystery” — although because he’s writing for Playboy he has Watson go to bed with a servant called Dolores, “raven hair, creamy skin and deep brown eyes.” I loved Neil Gaiman’s elegiac and dreamlike “The Case of Death and Honey,” which really breaks up the mood. Anthony Burgess’s contribution to the genre, “Murder to Music,” is rather too elaborate in its formalities, but it does give us a Holmes of thrilling and merciless aestheticism: “If Sarasate, before my eyes and in this very room, strangled you to death, Watson, for your musical insensitivity, . . . I should be constrained to close my eyes to the act, . . . deposit your body in the gutter of Baker Street and remain silent while the police pursued their investigations. So much is the great artist above the moral principles that oppress lesser men.”

Lovely.

Now to the illustration in #1 and its artist. The illustration is a take-off on Magritte’s celebrated Surrealist painting of 1928 La Trahison des Images (The Betrayal / Treachery of Images), with its inscription Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

(I’ve posted here on parodies of Magritte, including Trahison. And then on Zippy cartoons on Magritte, specifically on Trahison in a posting of 3/11/15, where a Zippy carries the self-referentiality of the painting to new heights.)

On the artist Jaso. He has a website here (Mikel Jaso: Graphic Artist), where he supplies this minimal biographical information:

Mikel Jaso is an artist, graphic designer and illustrator based in Barcelona. He teaches at IDEP Barcelona’s illustration postgraduate program. His work has appeared in both individual and group exhibitions in Barcelona, New York City and Mexico City

and a large collection of his illustrations, which are a pleasure to view — clean lines, great sense of humor. Two examples:

(#2)

Sert + Miró I: Bookmark inspired by the work of the architect Josep Lluis Sert and the artist Joan Miró. Client: Fundació Miró.

(#3)

The Fish Pepper: Cover illustration. Client: The Art of Eating magazine.

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