The Game’s Afoot!

May 22, 2019 by

Sherlock Holmes and the Pulps

Today marks the 160th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the author preferred the historical fiction that he wrote. THE WHITE COMPANY was his favorite among Conan Doyle’s many works. He was extremely prolific.

Conan Doyle began to write while a medical student. His first sale, “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,” was published when he was twenty. However, countless rejections, low word rates, and lack of author credit, were leading nowhere.

Shortly after graduating from medical school, Conan Doyle married Louisa Hawkins. Armed with his wife’s small estate and encouragement, the author continued to write.

While trying to sell an early novel, Conan Doyle began a new one. It featured a character modeled after C. Auguste Dupin — Edgar Allan Poe’s amateur detective — and Dr. Joseph Bell, one of the author’s medical school instructors. Dr. Bell taught that keen observation and logic were paramount in the diagnosis of disease. Following several rejections, Conan Doyle sold “A Study in Scarlet.” It was published in the November 1887 number of BEETON’S CHRISTMAS ANNUAL. A hardbound book followed.

Although preferring to write historical fiction, Conan Doyle began to notice that readers wanted to learn more about his protagonists from “A Study in Scarlet.” After contracting to provide a forty-thousand word novel to LIPPINCOTT’S MONTHLY MAGAZINE, he obliged his readers. “The Sign of the Four” appeared in the February 1890 number of the magazine. It was not long before the author would return with more stories of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Looking for a way to efficiently exploit the growing market of monthly magazines, Conan Doyle decided to offer more of Holmes and Watson. In the summer of 1891, “A Scandal in Bohemia” appeared in THE STRAND MAGAZINE. It would be followed by eleven more tales, one per month for the next year. In writing the stories that became THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, Conan Doyle created the first short story series. In the years to follow, his idea would be imitated across the globe. It resounds to our very day in series television and throughout popular culture.

Please join PulpFest 2019 on Friday, August 16, for “The Game’s Afoot: Sherlock Holmes and the Pulps.” Our presentation will begin at 7:55 in the programming area at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry. It will feature George Vanderburgh, who has published over 600 books, including many volumes of Sherlockian scholarship. His Battered Silicon Dispatch Box has also published many pulp-related volumes and numerous collections of early detective fiction. George also served as the co-editor of Arkham House Publishers until the death of April Derleth.

Joining George will be Garyn G. Roberts, a professor of English and popular culture who has written extensively about the pulps, both professionally and as a fan. Garyn has also edited or co-edited some of the best collections of fiction from the pulps. He is the author/editor of the award-winning THE PRENTICE HALL ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY. In 2013, Garyn was presented with the Munsey Award to honor his many contributions to the pulp community. He was also a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award Finalist for DICK TRACY AND AMERICAN CULTURE in 1994.

Garyn and George will be discussing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creations as well as their vital importance to the evolution of popular culture for over 100 years. Please join them at PulpFest 2019, taking place from Thursday evening, August 15, through Sunday afternoon, August 18, in Mars, Pennsylvania.

(Almost ten years after killing Holmes off at the Reichenbach Falls, Conan Doyle brought his character back in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” The story would appear first in the September 26, 1903 number of COLLIER’S, featuring a cover illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele.)