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tim prasil

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Posts: 6 Member Since: 09/17/13

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Oct 20 13 1:16 PM

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I've been hunting for early occult detectives in 19th- and early 20th-century fiction for quite a while now.  (I hang my pelts at http://timprasil.wordpress.com/a-chronological-bibliography-of-early-occult-detectives/ .)  This morning, I was proofing a post defending Fitz-James O'Brien's Harry Escott character as an occult detective.  I felt I had to defend that claim partly because Escott appeared more than a decade before Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Dr. Hesselius.  You see, Hesselius is the guy who's been named as the very first occult detective for years and years now.

There are two Harry Escott stories:  "The Pot of Tulips" and "What Was It?"  It hit me that they both offer a separate "master plot" for this kind of story.

In "The Pot of Tulips," a ghost essentially urges Escott to help him expose the location of a will.  The ghost acts as the detective's client, in other words, but communication is severely curtailed, so Escott has to use his detective skills to figure out what's what.

In "What Was It?" a malevolent (or very scared) invisible yet physical creature invades our realm.  Escott's job is to conquer/control/eradicate it one way or another.  The supernatural monster, then, becomes not the client but the culprit -- the one that has broken criminal laws by trespassing and causing harm but also natural laws by being here in the first place.  This, I suspect, is the master plot of most occult detective/monster hunter fiction, at least since Carnacki and John Silence.

Any thoughts?  Does this hold up?  Can you think of any other master plots -- or perhaps significant "sub-master plots" that fit under those two?
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miles

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Posts: 153 Member Since:01/22/10

#1 [url]

Oct 21 13 8:48 PM

Tim, who or what organization is considered the authority on such matters?

I suspect that I am very jealous of your library!

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tim prasil

rookie

Posts: 6 Member Since:09/17/13

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Oct 27 13 1:56 PM

Do you mean which organization oversees the licensing of occult detectives -- or validation of master plots?

I'm beginning to suspect that I've been elected to the former, in that my Bibliography very likely shaped the contents of at least one press's collection of occult-detective fiction.  (See my blog for details.)  There are other lists of occult detectives on the Web, but they're usually very informal.  The gang at the pub, shooting the breeze -- and there's certainly nothing wrong with that.  Still, I've tried to be more judicious with mine.

As to who determines master plots . . . well, there, I'm just a guy at the pub.

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miles

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Posts: 153 Member Since:01/22/10

#3 [url]

Oct 27 13 7:55 PM

I've seen other lists, but none as comprehensive as yours. I do enjoy your list, though, and ask the above only in case there was some competing list that disagrees or that there is some arcane source that us pub loving mortals are not privy to. A toast to you for putting it together!

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tim prasil

rookie

Posts: 6 Member Since:09/17/13

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Oct 29 13 11:10 AM

Mostly, my urge to defend Harry Escott (1855) as the first occult detective stems from having read several histories of this character type. With surprising consistency, they start with either Flaxman Low (1898) or with Dr. Hesselius (1869). When I first blogged about Escott, I got a few challenging comments here and there. I've since tried to challenge myself into changing my mind -- but I haven't been successful.

In fact, I now think that Fitz-James O'Brien probably not only came up with fiction's first occult detective -- he also seems to have established the two master plots that subsequent occult detectives would follow. The first is the "supernatural client" plot, and the second is the "supernatural culprit" plot.

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