These days, there are countless “mashups” in fiction, in which two or more disparate genres, characters or series are brought together or into conflict. We’ve seen werewolves versus vampires, such as in the Underworld series of films; we’ve also seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Sherlock Holmes versus Cthulhu, in Shadows Over Baker Street.
Mashups seem to have become exceedingly common in recent years, but it is worth noting that they have been around for quite some time! One that caught my eye in recent months is The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds (to be called FASHWW for brevity), written by Manly Wade Wellman and his son Wade Wellman and released in book form in 1975:
The title pretty much makes it obvious, but nevertheless I will explain the premise of the book: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is present when the “Martians” from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds attack, and he sets himself against them! Is it a titanic battle of mind versus monster? We shall see…
The idea for this mashup came to Wade Wellman after he saw the 1968 movie A Study in Terror, in which Sherlock Holmes matches wits with Jack the Ripper. The battle of the two famous characters led Wellman to wonder how Holmes might react to Wells’ Martian invasion. From this idea grew the kernel of a story; Wade Wellman was primarily a poet, however, so he turned to his father Manly to help him develop the concept further.
Manly Wade Wellman was, in retrospect, the perfect person to write such a story. He had a talent for writing about larger-than-life characters, as his “Silver John” stories and novels demonstrate; also he was no stranger to odd mashups, as his “world’s greatest scientists of history versus evil alien slime” story, Giants From Eternity.
FASHWW was originally printed as a series of magazine short stories and later coalesced into a novel. The complete book consists of five chapters, which detail the actions of Holmes, Watson and others before, during, and after the “Martian” invasion. Another major player in the book is Professor Challenger, the boisterous protagonist of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912). The chapters are:
- The Adventure of the Crystal Egg. In the course of an investigation, Holmes comes across a mysterious crystal object, which seems to allow him to see another world. He calls his friend Professor Challenger to help investigate.
- Sherlock Holmes Versus Mars. As the first cylinders bearing the Martian tripods land, Holmes escapes the first attacks, and later comes back to occupied London to discern the invaders’ motives and strategies.
- George E. Challenger Versus Mars. We next learn about Professor Challenger’s exploits during the beginning of the invasion, as he aids his wife in fleeing the “Martians” and later begins a reconnaissance mission against them.
- The Adventure of the Martian Client. As the war winds down, Holmes and Challenger launch a risky plan to gain the upper hand.
- Venus, Mars, and Baker Street. The war is over; the Martians defeated! Yet there is still intrigue that has emerged from it, both on Earth and on other planets.
The book is utterly charming, and the Wellmans manage to capture the voices of Holmes and Challenger very well. It is worth noting, though, that the story does not feature a titanic battle of wits between the invaders and Holmes, as the title might imply. The Wellmans stay very true to the plot of the original War of the Worlds (which is treated as the “official history” of the invasion), including its denouement. This means that Holmes, Watson and Challenger are all relegated to being relatively minor characters in the story, and most of their time is occupied with observation, conversation, and survival more than direct action against the invaders.
What the story does contain, though, is a view of the “Martian” invasion through the eyes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous characters, including the major events of Wells’ novel. Holmes and Challenger are witness to the first landing of the capsule and the first attack, the harvesting of humans, the valiant attack of the “Thunder Child”, and of course the end of the war.
You may have noticed me putting the word “Martian” in quotation marks! When H.G. Wells wrote The War of the Worlds in 1897, speculation about possible life on Mars was still very popular, even though the scientific evidence already found it unlikely. By the time of FASHWW’s writing in 1968, scientists had conclusively shown that the red planet is a cold, dead planet that could not possibly hold a living Martian civilization.
The Wellmans decided to have a little fun at Wells’ expense! In FASHWW, Holmes and Challenger deduce from the “Martian’s” physiology and technology that they must have come from somewhere outside the solar system. Wade and Manly use this to have some fun at H.G. Wells’ expense, having Holmes and Challenger accusing him of sloppy reasoning! Furthermore, they have Doctor Watson referring to H.G. as “a known radical and atheist, a boon companion of Frank Harris, George Bernard Shaw, and worse.” I have noted previously on this blog that H.G. Wells had radical utopian ideas, so Watson’s accusations are not entirely unreasonable. I wondered at first if the Wellmans had a genuine personal dislike of Wells, but their introduction to the tome speaks of Wells with such reverence that I am convinced they’re really just playing a joke of sorts on him.
So if you’ve ever wondered how Sherlock Holmes would deal with a trifling problem such as a Martian invasion, this is the book for you! As I have noted, though, it is much more low-key than the subject matter would perhaps suggest. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle and fans of H.G. Wells will find something to enjoy in this book.
It’s funny that Wade and Manly’s Watson slams Wells as “a boon companion” of Shaw. In Nicholas Meyer’s The West End Horror, Holmes investigates the murder of a venemous theatre critic and blackmailer, a crime brought to his attention by his friend, fellow-eccentric and Wagner aficionado…George Bernard Shaw!
The West End Horror is the second of three Holmes pastiches by Meyer, the first and most well-known being The Seven Per Cent Solution. All three are solidly entertaining — what I think of as “comfort food” fiction.
The third Holmes novel by Meyer is a mashup. To spoil the central conceit, though not the resolution: Holmes’ adversary during his time in Paris — while the world thought him dead after his confrontation with Moriarty — is none other than the Phantom of the Opera!
Interesting! It turns out there is a whole series of “Further Adventures” in print now, with Holmes clashing with pretty much every conceivable villain.
The second volume of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlement is a wonderful mashup of War of the Worlds with almost EVERYTHING. I highly recommend it. Also if you haven’t read the inspired Lovecraft/Doyle-inspired collection Shadows Over Baker Street, you’re in for a treat, especially Neil Gaiman’s “Study in Emerald.”
Yes, I’ve read both of them — in fact, I mention Shadows Over Baker Street at the beginning of the post! 🙂
Thanks for the suggestions!
Nitpick: I never made it past the second instalment, but at least the first Underworld film was vampire v werewolves, with not a zombie in sight.
Whoops- did I write zombies? I’ll fix it in the morning. Damn zombies are apparently infiltrating my brain.