Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sherlock and the Phantom

I would like to start off this post by proclaiming two things.

1) For all those who are anticipating my next review of the Sixth Doctor's tenure, "Attack of the Cybermen," that will be along shortly as will the rest of that review series.

2) I have to say that the real reason for writing this analysis today is because I have lately been watching the videos on the YouTube channel, "Phantom Reviews." The Phantom Reviewer's videos are fantastic and very enjoyable for a mild-mannered phantom fan such as myself. So, if by happenstance you end up reading this blog Mr. Reviewer, I just wanted to say thanks for creating such enjoyable reviews.

Now that we've cleared that up, let;s begin the post proper...

Erik, the Phantom of the Opera, a musical genius who hides his countenance behind a mask, was created by French reporter and novelist Gaston Leroux in 1911. Since then, the Phantom has grown immensely - he has become more than the antagonist of a rather disjointed melodramatic mystery. Due to the enduring appeal of both Sherlock Holmes and the Phantom, it seems very likely that novelists would throw the two characters together. Yet, the pairing of the detective and the Opera Ghost has only occurred three times. It's unusual when you compare this to the fact that the list of stories where Holmes has met Count Dracula is almost as long as your arm (if not longer).

To be perfectly frank, I have not read the very first book which paired Holmes and the Phantom. Published in 1993, "The Canary Trainer" was the third of three pastiches written by Nicholas Meyer (following "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" and "The West End Horror" respectively). Nevertheless, the reviews that I have read of Meyer's novel are not the best. Set during the Great Hiatus, Holmes has taken up the position as a violinist at the Paris Opera House and reunites with Irene Adler to defeat the Phantom haunting the populaire. Again, I can make no formal opinion on this particular novel, however I can give you my opinions on the next two books.

Published the following year in 1994, "Angel of the Opera," became the second novel to feature Holmes and the Phantom. Sam Siciliano's novel is not exactly the epitome of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. The main problems is how the author decided that he wanted to disregard Arthur Conan Doyle's canon and create his own interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. From the outset, we don't have Holmes working alongside Dr. Watson since apparently the two men have had something of a falling out (a pretty bad one if Watson decided to kill Holmes off in his writing). And so, Holmes goes off to assist his cousin, Dr. Henry Vernier. Soon, Holmes receives an offer from the mangers from the Paris Opera House to help get rid of the ghost which seems to haunt the theater.

The presentation of Holmes is mixed throughout this book. When he's not living up the standards of Doyle's original character, he is bossing people around and acting as though he is far superior to everyone. Now, let's just stop and analyze that for a moment shall we? Sherlock Holmes was never exactly presented as a nice, charming, likable guy, but this seems to be going just a bit far. I mean, a Sherlock Holmes novel where Holmes is pretty much insulting the majority of the book's main characters is disappointing. But, I should move on. For the most part, the characters of Gaston Leroux's novel aren't exactly treated wonderfully either. The Phantom is done in an okay manner and Siciliano presents Erik, the Phantom as being a self-loathing, depressed wanna-be Don Juan.

Well, it's about time that we actually look at a good pastiche. "Rendezvous at the Popualaire" was the third novel to feature Holmes and the Phantom. Published in 2011, this book decided not to put Holmes in the Gaston Leroux novel, but inserted the detective in the plot of the beloved musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Authoress, Kate Workman actually manages to weave a taught, enjoyable story which I easily read in two sittings. She also manages to create more than just a Phantom vs. Holmes book because the first few chapters deal with Sherlock Holmes who has come to a great crossroads in his life. Without fear of spoilers, I can tell you that Holmes is badly injured during a stand-off with Professor Moriarty and retires from the detective trade, until he is enticed into taking on the Opera Ghost case.

While perhaps not strictly adhering to Doyle's canon, the presentations of Holmes and Watson (yes Dr. Watson is actually in this one) is well done - albeit perhaps too humane. Nonetheless, there are some wonderful set pieces in the story including the tense opening and later on in the story Holmes actually sword duels with the Phantom. The following year, Workman released a sequel to her novel this time entitled, "I Will Find the Answer" found Holmes and Watson reuniting with the Phantom to investigate a doctor by the name of Henry Jekyll and the mysterious Mr. Hyde.

Without a doubt, in crossover pastiches like this, there is going to be something compromised with the character of Sherlock Holmes to make the story line make sense. However, when writing a story in the style of another author's fidelity to their work is imperative. While these two books outlined above are by no means perfect, they do have their enjoyable moments and I do recommend them to fans of Sherlock Holmes and the Phantom. However, be warned - you must enter these novels with the knowledge that liberties have had to be made.

Coming Soon: Those creative liberties I mentioned above? When do they go too far? Check back to "The Consulting Detective" in the near future as I examine The Good, the Bad and the Just Plain Ugly: An Analysis of Creative Liberties Taken Too Far. It promises to be most interesting...

3 comments:

  1. There's an absolutely terrific reference to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in Kim Newman's THE HOUND OF THE D'URBERVILLES. I reviewed it on my blog and liked it very much (with the exception of one poorly-plotted story). It's a book that likes to make references to all sorts of famous novels. We get a glimpse of Caspar Gutman before he showed up in THE MALTESE FALCON, for instance, and we find out that Professor Moriarty played a large role in setting up the events of that novel. Bianca Castafiore of the Tintin comic books appears at one point. Arsene Lupin, Thomas Carnacki, A. J. Raffles-- all make appearances. And here's my absolute favourite joke of the lot:

    "Lot of rum doings in Kingstead Cemetery. The real Thomas Carnacki has a whole evening’s worth of spook anecdotes about the place. The management have had to double the night guard since the Van Helsing scandal broke in the Westminster Gazette. An old Dutch crank was arrested for repeatedly breaking in, vandalising the tombs and desecrating the corpses. Especially young, relatively fresh lady corpses. No accounting for taste, but – really? – is there nothing foreigners won’t sink to?"

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    1. And before I forget, I liked Meyer's SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION very much. It tries to give a new, fresh spin on the Holmes series and it does so successfully. It sort of stumbles in the third act when it decides it should, after all, be a mystery, but it's not too bad and at the very least it's readable.

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    2. "The Hound of the D'Urbervilles" is one of those books which is standing on my shelf just waiting to be read. It sounds as though the humour which is present in the book is great, so I look forward to finally getting the time to read it.

      I agree with your thoughts about "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution." It was a highly enjoyable pastiche, but does sort of fall apart towards the end. The style of writing is brilliant and Meyer excellently captures Doyle's style. However, after such an enjoyable tour-de-force, "The West End Horror" was certainly not up to par, and from what I've seen, "The Canary Trainer" doesn't live up the previous expectations.

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