Chan & Holmes, two sides of a coin – a comparison and contrast!

“Being from different eras and cultures, any ‘rivalry’ between the two detectives would probably be something akin to soccer (football) and baseball…both are popular across the globe, but are unique in their following!”

— Rush Glick, Webmaster
The Charlie Chan Family Home

The above statement by Mr. Glick is a good analogy and so true. No, it is unfair to compare these two titans of mystery. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his Sherlock Holmes stories in Europe, primarily in the Victorian era, covering the period 1878-1903 with a final case set in 1914. Biggers’ Chan novels were set during the Roaring 20’s and The Great Depression in America: and in Hawaii, while still a U.S. Territory spanning the period 1925-1932. And not just that! These two detectives where very much opposites. Take these two excerpts:

The Sign of Four (1890), Chapter 12: “…But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.” (Sherlock Holmes)

Keeper of the Keys (1932), Chapter VII, “In my investigations of murder I have thought, always, of the human heart. What passions have been at work–hate, greed, envy, jealousy? I study always–people!” (Charlie Chan)

Still! Interestingly enough, while The Saturday Evening Post was serializing Biggers’ six Charlie Chan novels (1925-1932), The Strand Magazine was serializing the last six of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories (1926-1927), which were collected (along with six prior stories) and reissued under the title, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Must be some karma in there somewhere! Check out this comparison of timelines:

Earl Derr Biggers, Charlie Chan, serialized in The Saturday Evening Post:

  • The House Without a Key (1925)
  • The Chinese Parrot (1926)
  • Behind That Curtain (1928)
  • The Black Camel (1929)
  • Charlie Chan Carries On (1930)
  • Keeper of the Keys (1932)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, serialized in The Strand Magazine:

  • The Adventure of the Three Gables (1926)
  • The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier (1926)
  • The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane (1926)
  • The Adventure of the Retired Colourman (1926)
  • The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger (1927)
  • The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place (1927)

I find it intriguing how (though only a few short years) these two authors were writing and publishing their famous mysteries at the same time, and how their lives overlapped:

  • Arthur Conan Doyle: May 22, 1859 – July 7, 1930 (71 yrs)
  • Earl Derr Biggers: Aug 26, 1884 – Apr 5, 1933 (48 yrs)

Two opposites–The yin and the yang, the oriental and the occidental detective both working to champion good over evil at the same time. One can’t help but wonder, did Sir Arthur perhaps read one or more of Earl’s Charlie Chan mysteries? They were ground breakers in American literature at the time, and by then (in all likelihood) across the Atlantic. We’re certain that Biggers read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, even referencing Holmes in a few of the Chan novels.

Biggers introduced the character Inspector Duff, of Scotland Yard, in his third novel “Curtain“; and furthermore, centered his fifth book “Carries on” primarily around Inspector Duff! Perhaps Bigger was satisfying a secret-desire to write a British crime piece and to secure Charlie’s rightful position on par with other sleuths (across the Atlantic) from The Golden Age of Detective fiction? I guess we’ll never know for sure, but I think we can say with confidence…he definitely succeeded!

The boat can ride on the wagon, and the wagon on the boat

Charlie Chan, Keeper of the Keys (1925), Chapter 20

One thought on “Chan & Holmes, two sides of a coin – a comparison and contrast!

  1. Lou, another thought-provoking entry with this comparison of the two greatest detectives and their creators. We know that Charlie Chan’s popularity reached across the Atlantic fairly rapidly, and I would think that Doyle would have, out of curiosity at least, taken a look at Chan’s arrival on the world scene.

    Liked by 1 person

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