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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Unique and Memorable Mycroft Holmes

Those who know Sherlock Holmes and his world only through film, television, and general cultural awareness likely assume that Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and Mycroft Holmes appear in dozens of stories.

They do – but only in film, television, and pastiches; their appearances in the Canon are few. Yet so unique and powerful are these characters that they have captured the imagination of readers and writers from the beginning. It’s hard for pasticheurs, in particular, to avoid these characters, often putting them on center stage to the detriment of Sherlock Holmes.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s current Mycroft series is the latest of at least three on my shelves in which the smarter but lazier Holmes brother is the protagonist.  

The earliest example of Mycroft Holmes pastiche appears in a chapbook called The Resources of Mycroft Holmes: Solver of Historical Mysteries, published by Aspen Press in 1973. It brings together three supposed interviews with Mycroft published in The Bookman in December 1903, a few short weeks after the return of Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”

Note that this was six years before the second canonical story, “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” was published, meaning the author didn’t yet know that “at times [Mycroft] is the British government.”

The titles of Charlton Andrews’s three stories in interview form say it all: “He Repudiates Sherlock,” “He Solves the Mystery of the Shakespearean Authorship,” and “He Solves the Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask.” Clearly, these are to not be taken seriously.

However, the illustrations by Enid Schantz for the chapbook are wonderful, as are Tom Schantz’s afterword and checklist. The afterword summarizes what we know of Mycroft from the Canon, then surveys the speculative literature from W.S. Baring-Gould to (possibly) H.G. Wells. He concludes by saying:

“Mycroft, we hardly knew you – and it’s a pity.”

And with that, I heartily concur.

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