thomas carnacki

Well, to start, who is Thomas Carnacki?

Thomas Carnacki was a supernatural detective, in stories written by William Hope Hodgson in the early 20th century. Carnacki himself was not supernatural (or, as he would have said “ab-natural”) — he just investigated “hauntings” (or things which appeared to be hauntings), using very scientific tools (for 1910).

Six of the nine Thomas Carnacki stories were published in a volume called Carnacki, the Ghost Finder, which I have. Also, those six stories were adapted by Big Finish productions in a series of audio adaptations.

But what about the other three stories, which were written (or at least published) later? I think I found a book online once that appeared to have all nine of the stories, but it was somewhere around $40, and I’m not that enthusiastic.

But then I was checking out the TV Tropes* website and I found that it has a Thomas Carnacki page, and that page has this link.

An ebook, free, with all nine stories!

And so, with great excitement, I read the first of the three new (to me) stories, and it was really lousy! Definitely weaker than any of first six. So, I worried that in the time since “The Thing Invisible” Hodgson had lost the thread of the character.

But the last two were very much up to standard, and, in an especially nice touch, the final story was a straight detective story, with no supernatural elements at all. (The other Carnacki stories all involve apparent “hauntings,” though in some cases the causes turn out to be partially, or entirely, human.)

But then I had another Carnacki discovery — one of the stories, and one of the really good ones at that, was adapted for British TV as part of a series called “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.” With Donald Pleasance as Thomas Carnacki. Plus, the series also adapted one of the Lady Molly of Scotland Yard stories.

So, as you probably guessed, I ordered that DVD set.

Later: Well, the DVDs arrived, and the Carnacki episode (“The Horse of the Invisible”) is really good. A couple of aspects don’t really work (it was written to work on the page, where the suspension of disbelief works differently), but the acting is good and Pleasance is wonderful. He adds a lot of personality to Carnacki (who is very dry and reserved in the stories, except when he’s in a panic), but I’m not someone who freaks out when the characters on the screen aren’t identical to the originals. (Hey, I like the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law Sherlock Holmes movies.)

The Lady Molly of Scotland Yard episode is good, too. I liked the little detail that Lady Molly’s office at the Yard was obviously recently a storeroom (there’s a small, handwritten “Female Department” sign on the door, half-covering a sign that says “Stores”). Her superiors need her, but they’re not enthusiastic about it.

* “Tropes,” in this sense, means standard elements used repeatedly in particular types of stories. For example, in a sitcom, “wacky next door neighbor” would be a trope. Or, in mysteries, the “least likely suspect,” or, for that matter, Dr. John Watson himself (the friend, assistant, and biographer).

Two of my favorite tropes are “the noodle incident,” and “lampshading.”

“The Noodle Incident is something from the past that is sometimes referred to but never explained, with the implication that it’s just too ludicrous for words—or perhaps too offensive for depiction—and the reality that any explanation would fall short of audience expectations.”

One example of this is Watson’s (Conan Doyle’s) habit of referring to other, untold, Sherlock Holmes adventures at the beginning of various Holmes stories, such as the case of “the Giant Rat of Sumatra, for which the world is not yet prepared.” Carnacki has some of those also.

I use this also (for example, we know that, when Jan Sleet was in college, she solved several mysteries, which are not reported, at least so far, except as “the surfer case” and “the biker case”).

The Marvel movies have these, too (the mission that Natasha and Clint were on in Budapest, for example).

“Lampshade Hanging (or, more informally, ‘Lampshading’) is the writers’ trick of dealing with any element of the story that threatens the audience’s Willing Suspension of Disbelief, whether a very implausible plot development, or a particularly blatant use of a trope, by calling attention to it and simply moving on.”

There’s a lot of that in the Marvel movies, too. Like when Spider-Man complains (correctly) that Captain America’s shield doesn’t obey the laws of physics, or this scene (one of two good scenes in an otherwise lousy movie), specifically when Clint points out that the movie doesn’t make a lot of sense at that moment.

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