The Angels of Darkness – More on Sherlock Holmes and Mormons (well, Mormons, anyway)

I feel that sufficient time has passed since Geoff pointed out the interesting Mormon bits in the first Sherlock Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet (interestingly, the first time I ever read that story, it was in an abridged version that cut out the Mormon bits.  I didn’t find out about the Mormon chapters until college).  Anyway, There is one other Sherlock Holmes tale featuring Mormons.

Except that there’s no Sherlock Holmes (but Watson is there). And it’s the same tale (sort of).  Read on to find out more:

After A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle still wasn’t aware of how popular Holmes would become.  He also wrote for the stage, and like any good writer, he stole from himself – and thus he wrote a stage play called “The Angels of Darkness.”  This basic plot of the play (which went unpublished until 2001, as Doyle set it aside once he realized that there was something more to this Holmes character than a single novel) follows the Mormon chapters in A Study in Scarlet and few of the plot points from the rest of the book, though the entire setting is America and Sherlock Holmes never appears.

It’s clearly a product of its times.  One character, Splayfoot Dick, is a “negro” who embodies many of the stereotypes of the era (a pidgin-ish dialect and laziness being the most prominent).  The Asian character Ling-tchu doesn’t fare much better; the play starts with a “comic scene” featuring both characters arguing (and the comedy apparently comes from the fact they speak with non-standard dialects).

Watson doesn’t appear until the third act, and then mostly to create some romantic tension.  In this play, he is in love with Lucy.  However, Lucy’s (believed to have died a year earlier) lover Jefferson Hope arrives at her home, near dead after having killed one of the Danites.  Watson must decide whether to treat the man Lucy loves, or let him die.  Of course, Watson does the right thing, but Mr. Hope is killed by one of the remaining Danites (who is then shot in the back by a character named Smee).  Dr. Watson comforts Lucy in the bloody aftermath (the final line of the play is Watson calling Lucy an “angel of light” after another character refers to the Danites as “angels of darkness.”)

The edition of this I have (in The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Leslie S. Klinger) contains a photo with the following caption:  “Dr. Watson (Curtis Armstrong, left), Jefferson Hope, Elias Fortescue Smee, and Lucy Ferrier (The Danite Players) in the premiere performance of Angels of Darkness August 30, 2008, Salt Lake City.”  If anyone saw this or has information (or better yet – a video!) let me know. (All I can find online is a brief reference in this pdf file).

I came across this information because I am writing a chapter on canon and apocrypha in the stories of Sherlock Holmes for Open Court’s Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy (coming out sometime later this year). It’s surprising how many Holmes stories, written by Doyle, exist that aren’t in any editions of the complete works. (But that’s a separate issue and will be dealt with in my essay).

8 thoughts on “The Angels of Darkness – More on Sherlock Holmes and Mormons (well, Mormons, anyway)

  1. Ivan, do Splayfoot Dick and Ling-tchu interact with the Mormons (or are Mormons themselves?), or are they outside of the Mormon world altogether? I’m interested in how authors portrayed race among or near the Mormons.

    Thanks for this. I’d never heard of The Angels of Darkness before.

  2. Ardis:

    There’s not a whole lot of interaction between the “ethnic” characters and the Mormons. They mostly exist in their own world, but they do have some brief interactions with the Mormons. Here are some lines from act one that seem to be the most extensive interaction between Dick and a Mormon elder:

    DICK: Yes , sah. Elder Johnstone, de latter day saint.

    FERRIER: . . . Did he leave any message?

    DICK: No, sah! . . . Not a nice gem’man, Massa Johnstone, atall.

    FERRIER: What’s the matter with him then?

    DICK: He gallop up. ‘Hi, you black heathen! he cry. ‘Where your Massa, heh?’ His face was like one thundercloud. I no dare go near him, sah. He hab one cowhide [whip] in his hand. When I was young I fell into de habit ob being cowhided, now I done gone broke myself of it.

  3. Ivan (and/or Ardis), I would love to know more about how many books of the late 19th century/early 20th century treated the subject of Mormons. I have read all of the Holmes stories I could find, and I am struck with how poor Sir Arthur’s history is. Of course his portrayal of Mormons is ridiculous, but he also does a pretty bad job of portraying Indians (from India). I found the same thing in reading a lot of the Tarzan books recently — Edgar Rice Burroughs does an amazingly poor job with African geography and history. (He wrote a few decades after Doyle started the Holmes books, but they overlapped a bit). Anyway, do you have an idea how many novels dealt with Mormons during this timeframe?

  4. I should add a description of that book for Geoff:
    Nineteenth-century American writers frequently cast the Mormon as a stock villain in such fictional genres as mysteries, westerns, and popular romances. The Mormons were depicted as a violent and perverse people–the “viper on the hearth”–who sought to violate the domestic sphere of the mainstream. While other critics have mined the socio-political sources of anti-Mormonism, Givens is the first to reveal how popular fiction, in its attempt to deal with the sources and nature of this conflict, constructed an image of the Mormon as a religious and social “Other.”


    A review is here:

  5. The rumor is that Burroughs said “What are the two things I know the least about? Africa and Mars. So I’ll write about those.”

    This, I was told, by my SF English Lit professor. Can’t vouch for it. He wasn’t joking when he said it. He acted like he had read Burroughs saying this.

  6. Thanks, Ivan.

    Geoff, I agree that with Ivan Viper is the best place to get an overall view. I have no idea of numbers, but I do know I’m frequently startled to run across yet another “art”work with Mormonism as a them or, more often, a stock villain (either the lecherous polygamist out to get the innocent girl, or the Danite band out to slaughter the innocent traveler) and sometimes both at once. I’ve kept a watch for a client for plays, short stories, and novels that have some element of the Utah war in them, and even something as narrow as that crops up time and time and time again.

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