17 December 2013

Pastiche or Parody?

by Terence Faherty

First, a little shameless self-promotion.  The new issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, the February number, starts with one story of mine and ends with another, which I consider a career highlight, right up there with being published in Queen for the first time in 1999.  In between those bookend stories, the February issue contains six other tales, including a great one by SleuthSayers alumnus David Dean, "Murder Town."  My contributions are two Sherlock Holmes parodies:  "The Red-Headed League" and "A Case of Identity."  These stories are follow-ups to "A Scandal in Bohemia," which Queen ran last year.  It was my first Holmes parody.

Or do I mean pastiche?  That's the question that occupies me today:  Am I writing parody or pastiche?  Ellery Queen straddles the fence, referring to my stories as parodies here and pastiches there.  Could they be both?  Could parody be a form of pastiche?  That seems reasonable to me, but not to Wikipedia, the all knowing.  It defines pastiche as a "work of visual art, literature, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists.  Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates." 


Mr. Wodehouse and cigar
That last bit seems a little harsh to me.  Surely every parody isn't a mocking one.  Some, at least, could be thought of as affectionate.  The Holmes parodies written by P.G. Wodehouse, the great English humorist, fall into that category, I think.  Wodehouse loved the detective fiction of his day, but he was aware of its shortcomings, especially the stories of the "Great Detective" school, which includes the Holmes tales.  I quoted one of Wodehouse's insights on the dedication page of my first short story collection, The Confessions of Owen Keane:  "A detective is only human.  The less of a detective, the more human he is." 

Back to my own Holmes pastiches/parodies.  I refer to this series of stories in my journal and my filing system as The Notebooks of Dr. John H. Watson.  The conceit is simple enough.  Recently unearthed notebooks have been found to contain first drafts of Watson's immortal Sherlock Holmes stories.  (Yes, I know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually wrote the stories, but Doyle gave the credit to Watson, so I do too.)  And while a given first draft bears a certain resemblance to the famous story of the same name (which I'll refer to as "the Strand version"), each is really quite different.  Holmes is more of a blue-collar, working detective with blue-collar tastes (principally a taste for beer) in Watson's first drafts, and the cases he undertakes are a little more "down-market" as well.  And the solutions are always different.

When I write one of these, I first reread the Strand version looking for a "back door," an alternative way into the story for purposes of reimagining its basic events.  Sometimes the back door is an alternative solution, as it was for the two parodies Queen published this year.  Sometimes it's a famous "problem" with the story, something about it that's bugged generations of Sherlockian scholars.  An example might be the fabulous coronet that a distinguished personage (the Prince of Wales?) pawns in "The Beryl Coronet," a piece of public property that he has no right to pawn.  Resolving that problem can suggest an entirely new take on the tale.  Sometimes the back door is simply an ambivalent title, as in the case of "A Scandal in Bohemia."  Since "Bohemia" can refer to both a geographical region (as it does in the Strand version) and a lifestyle, simply switching the meaning can suggest an entirely different course of events.

The fun for me is trying to make these read as though they might actually be first drafts by including items that Watson can adapt for his final versions, like the plumber's smoke rocket that creates havoc in my "Scandal in Bohemia" and clearly inspires the smoke rocket device that works so well in Watson's "Scandal."  I also enjoy putting in allusions that I hope  Sherlockians will spot and enjoy.  My source for these is often Leslie S. Klinger's wonderful The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.  In his notes for the "The Red-headed League," for example, he tells us that Holmes and Watson's trip on the underground in that story is the only one mentioned in the entire canon.  I explain that in passing (claustrophobia).

Speaking of allusions, I also use a few turns of phrase familiar to lovers of the works of the aforementioned Mr. Wodehouse, like Holmes "getting outside of three pints of bitter (beer) in record time."   These stories are meant to be funny, so I strive for a Wodehousian tone throughout.  I don't think P.G. would mind, and I like to think Sir Arthur wouldn't either.  Because my parodies, defined in Faherty's Collegiate Dictionary as a time-honored subset of pastiche, are nothing if not affectionate.   

7 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Can't wait to read these and I appreciate the peek into your methods.

Dale Andrews said...

Terry --

Congrats on the stories. Two in one issue is virtually unheard of -- also to David. A big day for Tuesday SleuthSayers (the best I could get was a reference in the errata page at the end of the issue!)

I've wrestled with the topic of what is a pastiche and what is a parody myself -- http://www.sleuthsayers.org/search?q=pastiche

Not surprisingly the definition I prefer is one penned originally by Frederic Dannay, writing as Ellery Queen. According to Dannay “a pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.” So, on the continuum, the more tongue in cheek, the likely you are to end up in parody.

David Dean said...

Great piece, Terry, and thanks for the kind words about "Murder Town." I'm glad you liked it.

What an honor, I must say, to have stories frame the issue! A signal triumph, old boy! Your bookends are wonderful and certainly contain the proper reverence. I feel confident the "Great Man" would approve.

Terence Faherty said...

Thanks for the comments, folks.

Dale, I like Dannay's definition and your corollary. Together they seem to sum things up.

David, you should be able to sell the movie rights to "Murder Town." I could see it on the big screen.

Janice Law said...

Congratulations on your stories. The February Issue is really a banner one.

Herschel Cozine said...

TWO stories in one issue? Fantastic! Most of us would settle for two stories...period.

I read and enjoyed the first. In my opinion it is a parody. I recently had a story in Sherlock Homes Magazine #10 which the editor referred to as a parody, and I agree. It poked gentle fun at Holmes. I can't recall seeing much humor in Doyle's stories. Does a parody have to be humorous? I would expect so.

In any event, hearty congratulations. By the way, I enjoyed our (very) brief visit at B'Con.

Terence Faherty said...

Thanks, Janice and Herschel.

Herschel, I enjoyed meeting you at Bouchercon, as well.