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The Cases of Blue Ploermell
The Cases of Blue Ploermell
The Cases of Blue Ploermell
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The Cases of Blue Ploermell

Автор James Thurber

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In 1923, the young reporter James Thurber was given a half a page in the Sunday Evening Dispatch of Columbus, Ohio, every week to fill with anything he wanted. For most of that year, he turned out book reviews, humorous commentary, jokes, stories, and even literary criticism.

He also wrote a series of 13 short Sherlockian parodies — 10,000 words in all — starring Blue Ploermell, a “psychosocial” detective with a fondness for animal crackers. Aided (and occasionally impeded) by his Chinese manservant, Gong Low, Ploermell investigates cases marked by his cock-eyed deductions, loopy logic, and a knack for leaping to the wrong conclusion.

These juvenilia represents Thurber’s first attempts at learning the craft of humor writing. Looking back at this work years later, he even considered publishing the Ploermell stories.

The Cases of Blue Ploermell, for the first time in a century, collects the 13 stories. Edited and annotated by Bill Peschel, they show Thurber trying his hand at characterization, story structure, ethnic humor, and serial writing in a style rarely seen at any newspaper.

In addition to the annotations, Peschel wrote essays on Thurber’s years in Columbus, Ohio; journalism in the 1920s; the state of Sherlockian parodies; and depictions of Chinese men and women in American popular culture.

Note: The 13 stories are very short, and take up 40 pages of this 200-page book. The rest of the book consists of these essays: “Becoming James Thurber” (39 pages); “Journalism in Thurber’s Time” (4 pages); “Sherlockian Parodies in the 1920s” (8 pages); “The Ancestors of Gong Low” (13 pages); “The Chinese in Popular Culture” (35 pages); movie reviews (19 pages); chronology (9 pages); lists (7 pages).

ИздательPeschel Press
Дата выпуска29 сент. 2021 г.
The Cases of Blue Ploermell
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James Thurber

James Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1894. Famous for his humorous writings and illustrations, he was a staff member of The New Yorker for more than thirty years. He died in 1961.

Читать больше произведений James Thurber

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    The Cases of Blue Ploermell - James Thurber

    In 1923, the young reporter James Thurber was given a half a page in The Columbus Sunday Dispatch of Columbus, Ohio, every week to fill with anything he wanted. For most of that year, he turned out book reviews, humorous commentary, jokes, stories, and literary criticism.

    Among them were a series of very short Sherlockian parodies starring Blue Ploermell that were unlike any seen before. A psychosocial detective with a fondness for animal crackers and the accordion, Ploermell was aided — and occasionally impeded — by his Chinese manservant, Gong Low. Ploermell’s cock-eyed deductions, loopy logic, timidity in the face of danger, and knack for leaping to the wrong conclusion outraged both clients and the police.

    These juvenilia represented Thurber’s attempt to learn the craft of humor writing. The Cases of Blue Ploermell collects the 13 stories for the first time since their publication a century ago. Edited and annotated by Sherlockian and historian Bill Peschel, they show Thurber trying his hand at characterization, story structure, ethnic humor, and serial writing, developing a style that would bring him literary immortality.

    Peschel annotated the stories to describe cultural and historical references, define arcane and unfamiliar words, and provide context drawn from Thurber’s life. He also wrote essays about Thurber’s years in Columbus, Ohio; journalism in the 1920s; the state of Sherlockian parodies; and depictions of Chinese men and women in American popular culture. Finally, there are reviews of Thurber in the movies, a chronology of his life, and a list of his works.

    The Cases of Blue Ploermell shows a young Thurber at the beginning of his career, training his comic sensibility, figuring out what worked and what didn’t, and simply having fun.

    Also From the Peschel Press

    The 223B Casebook Series

    The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes

    Sherlock Holmes Victorian Parodies & Pastiches: 1888-1899

    Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies & Pastiches I: 1900-1904

    Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies & Pastiches II: 1905-1909

    Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies & Pastiches I: 1910-1914

    Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies & Pastiches II: 1915-1919

    Sherlock Holmes Jazz Age Parodies & Pastiches I: 1920-1924

    Sherlock Holmes Jazz Age Parodies & Pastiches II: 1925-1930

    The Cases of Blue Ploermell by James Thurber

    The Best Sherlock Holmes Parodies & Pastiches: 1888-1930

    The Rugeley Poisoner Series

    The Illustrated Life and Career of William Palmer

    The Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer

    The Life and Career of Dr. William Palmer of Rugeley

    Annotated Editions by Agatha Christie

    The Complete, Annotated Man in the Brown Suit

    The Complete, Annotated Secret of Chimneys

    The Complete, Annotated Murder on the Links

    The Complete, Annotated Secret Adversary

    The Complete, Annotated Mysterious Affair at Styles

    Other Books

    The Complete, Annotated Whose Body? By Dorothy L. Sayers

    Sew Your Own Cloth Grocery Bags

    The Dictionary of Flowers and Gems

    Suburban Stockade

    The White Elephant of Panschin

    The Bride from Dairapaska

    Also by Bill Peschel

    Hell’s Casino

    Writers Gone Wild (Penguin)


    James Thurber

    With Notes and Essays by Bill Peschel

    animal crackers ebook.jpgPeschel Press logo 170x170bw

    Peschel Press ~ Hershey, Pa.

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    If you want to learn more about my books, my researches and the media I eat, sign up for the Peschel Press newsletter. You’ll get an intermittent chatty letter about what we’re publishing plus a glimpse behind the scenes at a growing publishing house. Visit PeschelPress.com and look for the sign-up box.

    Table of Contents

    The Blue Ploermell stories were published in The Columbus Sunday Dispatch between February 18 and May 13, 1923. The Case of the Deuce of Clubs and The Return of Haunted House Man were published without titles, which were supplied by the editor of this volume.

    The Mystery of the Murdered Major

    The Great Detective Divulges Some Deductions

    The Engrossing Episode of the Lost Lion

    The Case of the Deuce of Clubs

    The Famous Detective Does Some Daring Deducing

    The Heinous Horror of the Haunted House

    The Return of Haunted House Man

    The Strange Story of the Stolen Sapphire

    Never Crown Our Hero With a Gun

    The Solution of the Stealing of the Sapphire

    The Plot Jells with Remarkable Celerity

    Murder Will Out or Something

    Out of the Well-Known Frying Pan

    The World of James Thurber

    Becoming James Thurber

    Journalism in Thurber’s Time

    Sherlockian Parodies in the 1920s

    The Ancestors of Gong Low

    The Chinese in Popular Culture

    Thurber on Screen

    The Male Animal (1942)

    The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)

    She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952)

    The Battle of the Sexes (1960)

    The War Between Men and Women (1972)

    The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)




    Notable Material About Thurber



    About the Author and Editor


    In January 1923, a 29-year-old James Thurber sat down at his desk at The Columbus Dispatch and began a dream assignment.

    He and a co-worker had lobbied the editors for months to give them space in the Sunday edition to write whatever they wanted, so long as it was amusing and/or informative. They were each given half a page that needed several thousand words to fill.

    Thurber’s section, which he named Credos and Curios, was a hodgepodge of jokes, book reviews, observational humor, opinions, and parodies. It was an opportunity for him to exercise his imagination, try ideas out, and maybe get some recognition.

    Credos and Curios ran for 11 months before it was cancelled. A discouraged Thurber returned to writing features and hard news. He didn’t realize that he had taken the first step toward getting him out of Columbus and into literary fame.

    In the beginning, every writer goes through a period in which their stuff isn’t very good. Most of it never sees the light of day or the darkest print. The works that do, that filled their creators with pride at the time, can inspire regrets long afterwards. Terry Pratchett reprinted his first published short story but added, Aargh! If I stick my fingers in my ears, I can’t hear you reading this. J.R.R. Tolkien wished he could bury his poem Goblin Feet, with its twee lines like O! I hear the tiny horns / Of enchanted leprechauns / And the padded feet of many gnomes a-coming! Even literary authors feel this way. Even literary greats like Thomas Pynchon were not immune from embarrassment: My first reaction, rereading these stories, was oh my God, accompanied by physical symptoms we shouldn’t dwell upon.

    James Thurber didn’t feel that bad about Credos and Curios, but when The Columbus Dispatch sought his blessing to reprint the material after he became famous, he demurred. He read them with alarm, disbelief and some small pleasure, he wrote back. "It was practice and spadework by a man of 28 [sic] who sometimes sounds 19."

    However, he did like The Cases of Blue Ploermell. If he wanted to reprint anything from those times, it would be the adventures of his loopy detective with the Chinese manservant who was clearly the smarter half of the duo. But Blue Ploermell, like Sherlock at the bottom of Reichenbach Falls, stayed buried in his microfilm coffin in the Columbus Public Library. Until 2018, when I published the first story, The Mystery of the Murdered Major, with the newspaper’s permission, in Sherlock Holmes Jazz Age Parodies and Pastiches I: 1920-1924.

    By the time the 223B Casebook series reached its end with the 1925-1930 volume, the passing years had moved the Blue Ploermell stories into the public domain and I decided to publish the complete series. The 13 episodes run to less than 11,000 words, but it gave me the opportunity to investigate Thurber’s life and the material made from them, in the hopes of learning more about the man and his work.

    Critics and readers like to compare Thurber to another great American humorist, Mark Twain. Who is better? I have read much of both men’s work, to the point where I borrowed Twain’s character and voice for The Casebook of Twain and Holmes. With that in mind, I believe ranking the two men is a fruitless and foolish task. Thurber and Twain were funny and wrote vividly. Both had serious dark sides. While they were influenced by what they read, they worked as hard as they could to be themselves in print and succeeded. They were unique and that makes them incomparable.

    Bill Peschel

    Hershey, Pa.

    October 2021

    Cases of blue ploermell logo2.jpg

    The Mystery of the Murdered Major

    animal crackers ebook.jpg

    Blue Ploermell, the famous psycho-scientific detective, sat in his room, or rather in one of them, eating animal crackers. They were his one vice, these little confections in the shape of bears and lions and elephants and dogs and whatnot. The only time the noted mental wizard, with the attractively crossed eyes, ever showed the slightest trace of irascibility was when he ran out of animal crackers. His predilection for them was unaccountable, but charming. It added a kind of atmosphere to the man.

    Gong Low, his Chinese servant, irised into the room, struck a brass gong, and irised out. It meant there was a visitor below. Ploermell indicated by gesturing slightly with a half-devoured buffalo that he would see the visitor. The man who came in was apparently greatly agitated. Ploermell arose, swallowing the rest of the buffalo, and waved the man to a chair.

    Major Preston was killed in his library yesterday afternoon, sir, the visitor said.

    By whom and what for? asked Ploermell without hesitation.

    That’s what I came to ask you, said the visitor, curtly.

    Did Major Preston have any enemies? asked Ploermell, shoving the cracker box across the table where his guest could get at it.

    "What the Dickens are these?" asked the visitor.

    Animal crackers, said Blue Ploermell.

    As far as I know, Major Preston did not have an enemy in the world, said the visitor, examining the little box of crackers.

    "Tut, tut, man, said Ploermell, he must have had an enemy. Do you intimate that some friend killed him? With what was the major struck down?"

    A heavy, blunt instrument.

    Ah, that again! cried Ploermell. "We detectives will some day find that implement. It has caused far too many deaths already."

    He was struck just above the head, said the visitor.

    Ye ─ just above the head? You mean on the hat?

    I mean on the crown of his head, of course, said the guest, irritably, shoving the animal crackers aside without taking any.

    Try those zebras, urged Ploermell. This batch is lovely. Fresh. Just the right sweetness.

    Come, come, sir, said the visitor. I want none of your animal crackers! What do you say about this case?

    Have you read my book on ‘Thuds’? asked Ploermell. In it I discuss thoroughly the various blows which produce death, unconsciousness and coma. There is a chapter which I think you will find enlightening on ‘The Dull, Sickening Thud’ — the very one with which, unless I am mistaken, Colonel Preston felt.

    Major Preston, said the visitor.

    It makes no difference now, said Ploermell. Pray do not catch me up. I have written several chapters somewhere on the military. But let us visit the room in which General-Major Preston was slain.

    * * * * *

    They found the major as the slayer had left him, strewn face down on the floor of his library.

    Turn him over so I can see who he is, said Ploermell.

    There can be no question of that, snapped the visitor. This is the remains of my good friend Major Wolcutt Preston.

    One can never be too sure, said Ploermell, eating a cow. Be still now while I examine the room.

    Finally he discovered, hanging in a corner, a parrot in a cage.

    Ha! said Ploermell, what have we here?

    That’s a parrot, said the visitor.

    Certainly, I know that. But what is he doing here?

    "Major Preston picked her up in the Boer war or some place. Great pet."

    Talk? asked Ploermell.

    Swears, said the visitor.

    Indiscriminately, or when annoyed? asked the detective.

    Now and again, said the visitor. It has a particular aversion to green, especially in neckties.

    With a low cry, Ploermell sprang to Preston and examined his tie.

    Red, he muttered in chagrin.

    Do you suspect the parrot? asked the visitor, with asperity.

    Leave me alone in this room awhile, said Ploermell suddenly, looking from Parrot to Preston and other places — the visitor could not tell just where, on account of Mr. Ploermell’s eyes.

    * * * * *

    Several hours later, the visitor, pacing restlessly up and down outside the room, heard a scuffle, cries, and a metallic click. He burst into the room.

    Ploermell, his clothes awry, was standing above a figure which lay in a big chair. This man was dishevelled and collarless and handcuffed.

    There, said Ploermell, is your murderer.

    You mean Preston’s? asked the visitor.

    Exactly, said the detective. Look. He held up a green necktie and a collar. His. The sleuth felt in his pocket and drew out a rhinoceros. "This man passes this house regularly, wearing this tie. The parrot has seen it day after day and has cursed its wearer terrifically. Finally the man, in a rage, burst in through those French windows and killed Preston, believing him to be the curser.

    Today the man passed by again. The parrot swore at him. Naturally the man thought it was Preston’s ghost and he stopped, staggered, and turned pale. He would have swooned, but I went out and got him.

    The detective sighed. These rhinoceroses, he said, are lovely. You miss a lot.


    The Great Detective Divulges Some Deductions

    animal crackers ebook.jpg

    Blue Ploermell, with his attractive cocked eyes, was running through a hand or two of solitaire when his Chinese servant, Gong Low entered. As was the Oriental’s wont he struck a little brass disc, hanging from the ceiling, with a little striker, to let his master know he was there. Since the Chinaman was of the kind that speaks only when spoken to, he had often stood by Ploermell’s chair for hours before the latter looked up. On one occasion he had come in to announce a waste basket was on fire in the next room, but did not catch the detective’s eye until flames began to dart through the door.

    I-ying king long song, said the Chinaman, as Blue dropped his cards and leaned back in his chair.

    Well, well, said Ploermell, send him in!

    The man who entered was middle-aged, well-dressed, with a curious combination of determined chin and worried eyebrows.

    I — began the newcomer.

    Just a minute, said Ploermell, "tell me nothing. Today I feel in the mood for subtle deduction. I shall tell You what you came for instead of you telling Me."

    But what’s the idea, — I’m perfectly willing and eager to tell you, said the man. Why should you try to guess my troubles?

    Because I like to, — but it isn’t guessing, said the detective. By the way, do you indulge? and he handed him an opened box of animal crackers.

    What’s this? said the newcomer, bending his head to look at it so that the folds of skin in his neck looped over his collar.

    Animal crackers, said Ploermell.

    I never use them, I’m sure, said the man.

    Now, said Ploermell, leaning back in his chair. Oh, — by the way, sit down.

    Thank you, said the man.

    Not there! there’s a box of animal crackers under that cushion! I have to hide them from the Chinaman!

    The visitor took another chair. May I ask what all this is about, the — animal crackers? he questioned.

    I eat them, constantly, said Ploermell. I used to be ashamed of it, — but they’re no different from any other cracker, except they’re better.

    They are very strangely fashioned, said the man.

    Animal crackers, said Ploermell. Now, — your name is George.

    Heh? asked the man.

    I have deduced that your name is George, said Ploermell, biting a horse.

    George? No, no, my dear sir.

    Hm, said Ploermell. Well, it ought to be George. Was it ever George?

    Never. My name is Arthur.

    Uh-m. You shouldn’t have told me, I would have deduced it, said Blue.

    Yes, but I haven’t got all day, said the visitor, rather testily.

    Not any longer you haven’t, said Ploermell. It’s noon now.

    I have come to ask you, said the man, if you will take —

    I will take your case, intercepted the great detective, if it amuses or intrigues me. — But first, — pick up one of these cards. He fanned out all 12 face cards with a backward stroke of his right hand.

    How? asked the man.

    I say pick up one of these cards, — any one, — but be sure it is a card you feel drawn to. And Ploermell inserted a gnu and a fox between his lips.

    I think you are not well, muttered the visitor, but here you are. He picked up the jack of clubs.

    You have come to see me about a man, — a young man or at least a chap in middle years, — not an old fellow, I mean. This man has wronged you, — or you conceive that he has. You wish redress; — for some reason you feel I am the only man who can help you. Your feeling against the man in question is so great as to make you want to bash his head in at times.

    Right, said the newcomer, as Blue ate the legs off a donkey. I have come to see if —

    I will explain how I did it, — not fortune telling, said Ploermell, "I dislike people to believe that I fortune-tell. It is

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