Blog: Commentary from the den of a pulp super-fan

Harry Dickson, the American Sherlock Holmes

Posted by at 10:00 am Monday, August 25, 2014 in French pulp, Harry Dickson, Pastiche, Review, Sherlock Holmes

Harry Dickson, the American Sherlock HolmesWe’ve looked at Sherlock Holmes and some of the Holmes pastiches that became characters in there own right. Now we look at another of those: Harry Dickson, the American Sherlock Holmes.

Harry Dickson has a someone unusual creation. In Germany, a pulp called “Sherlock Holmes’ Most Famous Cases” started in 1907 with new stories of Sherlock Holmes NOT written by Conan Doyle, but fearing legal issues, it was re-titled “The Secret Files of the King of Detectives” with issue No. 11. The character was still called Sherlock Holmes in the stories, though he was aided by Harry Taxson and not Dr. Watson. This magazine would last some 230 issues, until 1911.

In 1927, there was a Dutch translation of the German series, with the main character now renamed “Harry Dickson, the American Sherlock Holmes”. It’s unclear where the name came from. The Harry Taxson character was renamed Tom Wills, now a young assistant. There was also a separate character named Allan Dickson, the “Australian King of Detectives,” another Holmes pastiche who appeared in 1912 in a handful of stories (interestingly, he was created by Arnould Galopin, creator of Doctor Omega).  Who knows? This series lasted 180 issues until 1935.

In 1928, a Belgium publisher asked author Jean Ray to do translations of the Dutch series into French, for sale in Belgium and France. This series would run from 1929 to 1938, for nearly 180 issues. Ray did not start doing translations until around No. 20, and it wasn’t until a little later he started to make improvements.

Jean Ray quickly tired of translating mediocre stories, and soon started to write his own, using just the book titles and Alfred Roloff‘s covers as inspiration. This apparently started around No. 65. Further, Jean Ray was an author of fantastical works, and had been called the French equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. His most well-known work is probably “Malpurtuis,” and his Harry Dickson stories are thus more fantastical.

Even before Ray got involved, Dickson went up against more fantastical villains than Holmes did. One such was the sinister Professor Flax, later replaced by his daughter, Georgette Cuvelier, The Spider. Ray did not create Flax, but he did create The Spider. Other foes Dickson faces included Gurrhu, an Aztec god living in a hidden temple under London; a tuxedo-wearing avenger called Cric-Croc the Walking Dead; the supervillain Mysteras and his deadly illusions; and many more.

Harry Dickson is supposedly as popular in France as Arsène Lupin and Sherlock Holmes. Many of the Ray-written tales have been reprinted, now crediting him for them. Dickson has also had comic-book versions (one series of which was based on Ray-written stories), but no movie or TV versions as yet.

Harry Dickson: The Heir of DraculaBlack Coat Press has put out three Harry Dickson volumes with more planned, the only ones available in English.

“Harry Dickson: The Heir of Dracula” has three original episodes and a short story. These stories have Dickson go up against a vampire, Count Dragomin, monstrous creatures under London, a possible re-incarnation of Medusa, and a meeting with Dickson’s mentor, detective Mortimer Triggs.

“Harry Dickson vs the Spider” has two original stories which are back-to-back stories with The Spider. There are also 16 new short stories, a few of which appeared in the “Tales of the Shadowmen” volumes (No. 4-9), and the rest new to this volume.

“Harry Dickson: The Werewolf of Rutherford Grange” is more a collection of stories by G.L. Glick than strictly a Harry Dickson collection. It contains the title story from “Tales of the Shadowmen” No. 1 & 2, along with other stories by Glick using other French pulp characters, some also taken from “Tales” and some new. We do, however, get a newly translated Harry Dickson story.

There is also the upcoming “Harry Dickson: The Man in Grey,” which actually doesn’t translate a Harry Dickson story, but an Allan Dickson story!  This is turned into a story of a younger Harry Dickson, the idea being that “Allan” is Dickson’s middle name.

Hopefully we will see more Harry Dickson stories from Black Coat Press. I’ve found Dickson an interesting Holmes pastiche, different from Holmes with some cool villains.