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Crime/Mystery Series: Solar Pons

Pons, Solar, born ca. 1880, in Prague. Son of Asenath Pons, consular official at Prague, and Roberta McIvor Pons; younger brother of Bancroft Stoneham, in His Majesty's Service. Public school education; Oxford summa cum laude, 1889. Unmarried. Member: Savile, Diogenes, Athenaeum, Cliff Dwellers, Lambs. Est. private inquiry practice at 7B Praed Street, 1907. British Intelligence, World War I, II. Monographs: An Inquiry into the Nan-Matal Ruins of Ponape (1905); A Logical Approach to the Science of Racionation (1917); The Chess Problem and the State of the Mind (1919); The Inductive Process( 1921); On the Value of Circumstantial Evidence (1925); An Examination of the Cthulhu Cult and Others (1931). Widely traveled. Residences: New York, Chicago, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Rome, 7B Praed Street, London, W. 2. Telephone: Ambassador 10000.
--"The Beginnings of Solar Pons",
August Derleth

August Derleth's Solar Pons

About the Author

August "Augie" Derleth was a man of parts, and Solar Pons, however delightful and numerous the tales, only a small part of Derleth's output. Here are some useful and interesting Derleth resources:

Derleth, besides his other work, had much to do with weird fantasy (he co-founded the Arkham House publishing firm, its very name taken from the works of H. P. Lovecraft); the British Fantasy Society's annual best-novel award is titled The August Derleth Award.

I do not here include any material on Basil Copper, the writer who continued the Pons tales after Derleth's death, as Derleth was the person who fully created Pons.

About the Character

Besides what Pontine data as may be found at the Derleth sites linked above (not so much, as Pons was not Derleth's chef d'oeuvre), there are some Pons-focussed sites and pages:

(In case you came to this page you are reading from a search engine instead of through its site, I will here repeat the brief remarks on the main mystery/crime page that points here.)

There are, by last count, 6,345,827,434 attempts to emulate or create a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes--that being the estimated population of the world, and has any one ever lived who did not long to write a Sherlock Holmes story? Yet there has been but one real success in that crowd: Solar Pons. Derleth succeeds where so many failed perhaps most of all because he deliberately makes a close copy of Holmes, not an imitation. Pons is not Holmes, he is just very like Holmes. Pons is aware of Holmes: roughly speaking, what Holmes was to Victorian England, Pons is to between-the-wars England; where Holmes reigned from the Second Anglo-Afghan War (whence Watson was just returned) to the dawn of World War I, so Pons stepped in where Holmes bowed out, and reigned from the terminus of World War I (whence Dr. Parker was just returned) to the dawn of World War II.

Pons is, as one reviewer put it, "Sherlock Holmes with a twinkle in his eye." A few of the stories are overtly comedic, but most--including the single novel--are real detective stories handled much as Holmes would have handled matters, though with the occasional nod and bow towards Crowborough. (A fellow named Basil Copper has written several books' worth more Pons stories; I have enjoyed them, but the old firm is the old firm, and that's that.) I am an early member of the Praed Street Irregulars, within which my style, awarded by founder Luther Norris himself, is "The Proper Comma".

Just as there is Sherlockismo, so there is what one might call Ponsismo:

"My name is Athos Humphreys," said our client. "I have a small shop for antiques, old books, and stamps in Hampstead. Other than that I doubt your need to know."

"Save that you are a member of the Masonic order, a bachelor or widower accustomed to living alone, without an assistant at your shop, and with insufficient business to demand your unremitting attendance there," said Pons. "Pray continue, Mr. Humphreys."

The Books

The story of how Solar Pons came to be is interesting, but can be found in introductions to the published volumes. The originals were collected into what one might have thought of as a definitive set in two volumes, but it turns out that the editor, besides arranging the stories in presumed internal chronological order (rather than order of publication), which was harmless and possibly helpful, also undertook to "touch up" the text in supposedly helpful ways; not all Pons enthusiasts find them so. Regrettably, the only alternative, a really definitive anthology, while it exists, is painfully expensive.

That same editor, Basil Copper, also undertook a series of Pons stories (and one Pons novel) on his own; critical opinion on those varies somewhat, but certainly they are not wildly off the mark (in the way that, say, Adrian Conan Doyle's Exploits of Sherlock Holmes was wildly off Holmes's mark). I include those volumes in the lists below, but clearly segregated.

The Derleth Pons books are titled in close parallel to the Holmes books; also like the Holmes books, they are mainly short stories, with but a single Pons novel. There exists also a charming little chapbook containing what purport to be scattered early notes by Pons' amanuensis Dr. Parker from before he began more methodically recording Pons's cases. There was also a posthumous Pons collection of previously unknown manuscripts discovered among Derleth's papers; as a great fan of Pons, let me cautiously put it that those are best viewed only by the dedicated completist (there is often a reason some manuscripts only emerge from trunks in after years).

Solar Pons by August Derleth

The Individual Books

Omnibus Derleth - Pons Editions

  • The Solar Pons Omnibus - two slipcased volumes; see the head notes farther above; expensive, even used.

  • The Original Text Solar Pons Omnibus Edition - two slipcased volumes; the texts in the omnibus above were altered by the editor—this collection follows Derleth's original texts.

  • The Solar Pons Paperbacks - this is basically the original-text omnibus piblished in individual voulmes paralleling the original releases. (Considering that the eight volumes cost $20 each, it seems a better idea to bite the bullet and go for the hardcover set, though the budget-bound could buy the set on, in effect, the installment plan.)

  • The Dragnet Solar Pons et al. - a collection of several Pons stories in variant editions, based on manuscripts found in Derleth's papers and on original magazine versions versus the anthologized versions; it shows the processes of Derleth's growing abilities and conceptions of the character.

Solar Pons by Basil Copper

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