Thursday, December 4, 2014

Doyle, Stoker, and Lovecraft

For a book geek, the 11/25 episode of Coast to Coast AM was about as good as it gets.

It featured a writer and scholar whom I'm sorry was hitherto unknown to me. His name is Leslie S. Klinger and the majority of his scholarly work has been focused on authors Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.P. Lovecraft. Specifically, he has concentrated his writing on the primary fictional characters of those first two writers, those of course being Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. I am also happy to see an annotated guide to Neil Gaiman's Sandman series on Klinger's CV, but I digress...

While the C2C appearance was mainly spent around the mythos of Lovecraft, with its strange, horrific, undead beings, wanions, and the insignificance of humanity, I found myself most interested in the literary trifecta as a whole. Their obvious commonality is that they inhabit the milieu of the 19th Century.

I know, I know. Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s and the 1930s, but his books had an empathic sense of the Victorian era. There was a feel of antiquity about it (eldritch, as Lovecraft himself might say). It could have fit in quite nicely with the works of Stoker and Doyle and indeed there are writers who have tried to do just that in the latter case with the short story anthology, Shadows Over Baker Street.

Yes, all of these works have horror and the occult in common. They also, particularly in the cases of Dracula and the Sherlock Holmes cycles, show the shift in thinking that occurred throughout the 19th Century. There was an appeal to reason. There was an attitude, one started alllll the way back in the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, gaining momentum. This, simply stated, is that humans can better themselves through the application of reason. We can understand our world and we can understand ourselves. That's when we can begin to make changes.

Although Dracula is a supernatural antagonist, the main characters oppose him through the use of what was then considered cutting-edge technology, such as microscopes and telegraphs. And Sherlock Holmes is all about reason. He uses his extraordinary mind and powers of deduction to solve crimes. As Klinger pointed out in the interview, the character of Holmes demonstrated to those of the Victorian Era that one could make sense of the violence and chaos of London (e.g. Jack the Ripper). It didn't just "happen." One could discern patterns and make predictions based upon the occurrences. Holmes had his own dealings that were occult in overtone, primarily "The Hound of the Baskervilles." In that mentioned case, it was Holmes' slavish adherence to intellect in the face of fear and superstition that won out the day, determining that the threat was actually quite mundane in nature.

Chalk another one up for Occam's Razor.

While I suppose it could be said that most any writer, whether consciously or not, reflects the philosophies of their own era of history, these case studies presented by Leslie Klinger interest me especially. Maybe it's because I grew up on them to a degree. Maybe it's because of how they represent a literary "appeal to reason." Maybe, then again, it's because I love mixing things up.

That's right. Couldn't you just see a horror/fantasy book that mashes up Dracula, Holmes, and the Cthulhu Mythos? I'm sure somebody out there has already done it and I would have to do a tremendous amount of research on the 19th Century. Can you imagine Dracula vs. Sherlock Holmes? Dracula is really a thrall to Cthulhu? I'm positive somebody must have don it, but...damn.

I'll think about it.

What follows is a video from 2011 of Leslie Klinger interviewing Neil Gaiman at World Fantasy Con.

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