Parodies of Mystery and Crime Fiction

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Types of Parody

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Generic parodies, those spoofing genres defined by sets of conventions and expectations, tend to separate into three categories. The most common category includes straightforward spoofs, or satires, of the sort represented by the film Blazing Saddles. Their humor is broad, obvious, and often bawdy; the audience’s pleasure comes from having its expectations of the genre tweaked, thwarted, contradicted, or grossly exaggerated. This type is by far the most common sort of generic parody.

A second category of parody might be called “parody-plus.” Works of this nature taunt audiences with the expected conventions of the genre, while offering humor that is at once more intellectual and more playful than profane. Moreover, in addition to serving as parodies, the works function much as standard examples of their genres. A good example of this sort of parody can be found in the three Scream films released during the 1990’s. These films play with the conventions of horror films throughout, and the characters frequently make jokes about the expectations audiences bring to the theaters. At the same time, however, the films are also genuinely frightening enough to satisfy fans of the genre.

A third and final sort of generic parody can be called the metafictional parody. Humor in this sort of parody is slight and cerebral. Although generic conventions are often used in playful ways, the works play with the broader conventions and uses of narrative and storytelling in general as much as with those of a specific category or type. An example of this sort of self-conscious, parodistic writing is Stephen King’s best-selling series of seven novels known collectively as The Dark Tower. Those books toy with the conventions of both the Western and horror genres, not to spoof them, but to analyze them and to reflect on how stories are told, what needs narrative fulfills, and how relationships among authors, characters, and readers are structured. Examples of all three types of parodies can be found in the many parodies of mystery and crime fiction.

Sherlock Holmes Parodies

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Although Edgar Allan Poe is traditionally credited with inventing the modern mystery story with “The Case of Marie Rogêt” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” it was Arthur Conan Doyle’s later stories about Sherlock Holmes that popularized the new genre and gave the world a paradigmatic figure of the detective. Holmes skillfully solved crimes through thorough attention to the smallest of details, careful ratiocination, and total objectivity. Beginning with his novel A Study in Scarlet (1887), Doyle adhered in almost all his Holmes stories to a successful formula: In a late Victorian setting realistically depicted by the standards of Doyle’s time, Holmes faces with what seems to be an insoluble crime or inexplicable occurrence. Throughout his ensuing investigation, his sidekick, Dr. Watson, and the police remain baffled because they lack Holmes’s eye for detail or because they succumb to emotions and begin fretting or blustering. Holmes has no such shortcomings and soon solves the mystery to the delight and admiration of all. The formulaic nature of the Holmes mysteries allowed them to be imitated widely—and also parodied, almost from the time Holmes first appeared.

The first parody of Holmes was a series of spoofs written by R. C. Lehmann that began appearing in various magazines and journals in 1893 and were collected into book form in 1901. Lehmann’s titles spoofed Doyle’s original titles by imitating them while sounding dull and uninviting. In 1894, Robert Barr published a story titled “The Great Pegram Mystery,” which has a Holmes-like detective named Sherlaw Kombs stop a Watson-like friend from revealing the details of the Pegram conundrum, explaining that the man should save his breath, as the great detective has just sensed the distant approach of a man who will soon knock on his door and explain the entire matter in a clear and coherent form. During that same year, Allan Ramsey...

(The entire section is 4,323 words.)