Raffles (Lord Lister)

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Raffles and Lord Lister are the names of a popular fictional gentleman thief, who first appeared in a German pulp magazine entitled "Lord Lister, genannt Raffles, der Meisterdieb" published in 1908. The series was continued after a few issues as "Lord Lister, genannt Raffles, der große Unbekannte." The series became very popular and was translated, as well as continued in a number of countries and achieved such a popularity that Raffles was used in an Italian series as an opponent for Nick Carter, as Carter's European equivalent, a context in which he has been described as Europe's greatest pulp hero. Unlike Nick Carter, Lord Lister was never thoroughly updated. The Dutch series was the last surviving one, ending in 1968.

Countries in which Raffles was published

Germany

In Germany the original series published by Verlag Gustav Müller & Co in Berlin, trying to cash in on the popularity of A.J. Raffles with a similar character, ran for 110 weekly issues and ended with the marriage of Lord Lister in 1910. Issues were still sold into the first years of the First World War. The series has been republished incompletely during the interbellum.

Denmark

Denmark produced more than 144 Lord Lister stories.

France

In France the real name of Lord Lister was changed to John C. Sinclair. Copyright reasons involving A.J. Raffles have been used as an explanation for that. For some reason this version seems to be the "authentic" version to Wold Newton Universe researchers, rather than the original German or the longest lasting Dutch version.

Italy

Argentine

Brazil

Russia

Turkey

Indonesia

Malaysia

Cheritera Kechurian Lima Million Ringgit written by Muhammad bin Muhammad Said is considered the first Malaysian detective novel and features as foil for Nick Carter the famous heroic English thief John C. Sinclair (see France), as well as his arch enemy Baxter.

Low Countries

Publication of the original German series in a biweekly Dutch translation started in 1910 (Source: Lord Listerklub). The original series was followed by 16 issues (or 15, the Lord Listerklub lists #119 as "never seen yet") by an unknown author, in which many of the stories were situated in the Netherlands. Starting with #127 the stories were written by Felix Hageman as an uncredited author. Starting with #514 more or less updated and renamed reprints of Dutch and German stories appeared in the series, mixed with new stories. The last new stories were published in the early 30's.

In 1938 a certain P. Sonnega wrote rather positively about Raffles in an article titled Die Detectiveroman (That Detective Novel)appearing in De Groene Amsterdammer of 15 January 1938, in which he, after making clear that one could be both an intellectual and a Lord Lister fan, described Raffles as a fascinating figure in evening costume wearing a cape with a red silk lining. This infuriated Felix Hageman and after having kept his identity as Lord Lister author a secret for almost a quarter of a century, as he was not very proud about this part of his penmanship, he made his identity public in a reaction to De Groene Amsterdammer to strengthen his claim that Lord Lister would never wear a cape with a red lining, but would as a gentleman always wear a cape with a white silk lining.

The Second World War meant a publication stop for the series. Publication was resumed in 1946. In 1954 the publication of different versions for Flanders and the Netherlands was started. The differences between the national versions was however limited to the price (different currencies) and the # of the issue (Belgium started with #3000, while the Dutch series had that issue as #2228). A similar jump in numbers to indicate a new series had been made after the war as well, when over 600 issue #'s were skipped to start the new series with # 2001.

The last Lord Lister "Het Kostbare Parelsnoer" appeared at the end of 1967 as #3687 in Belgium and in January 1968 as #2915 in the Netherlands.

The Character Lord Lister

Raffles was a Victorian gentleman and a born member of nobility. In the first issue of the original German series it is discovered that the notorious thief John C. Raffles is really Lord Edward Lister, this becomes public knowledge. A number of different, somewhat conflicting origin stories exist to explain why a genuine Lord would become a thief, involving having been robbed from his inheritance, poverty in childhood, boredom or overindulgence in charity. With his secret identity exposed Raffles is forced to create and maintain a large number of false ones, of which the main one is Lord William Aberdeen. Depending on the origin story this title could be genuine, the name and identity are false.

The character, though originally a sort of a hero villain, grew more and more into a heroic character, a thief, certainly, but a thief like Robin Hood, embodiment of the ideals of the nobility, protecting the weak, punishing and reforming the bad guys (by theft), supporting the poor and often curing the ill. Raffles is a medical doctor, a chemist, an engineer and an inventor. That combination results in his most remarkable ability: Raffles can by means of his medical/chemical knowledge really change colour and texture of his hair and his skin and the colour of his eyes. He used this ability almost exclusively for his own disguises, combined with normal master of disguise tricks. As a result of this his true age is always somewhat unclear. As a very handsome and muscular man he cannot disguise himself as a female person convincingly, unlike his companions, be it that Henderson seems always a remarkably tall and muscular lady. Raffles cannot be hypnotised by normal means, but can hypnotise people himself. Raffles speaks quite some languages, including Dutch, French, Russian and Hungarian. Considering less exceptional abilities, they can be simply summarized by stating that, but for eating with chopsticks, Raffles can do everything.

For a Victorian gentleman, Lord Lister is refreshingly free from racist views, the stories are not. A WW I-induced dislike towards Germans is present in Hageman's version of the character. Scenes in which topless ladies occur are sometimes noticeable, but those scenes are rather free from from erotic implications, as they tend to involve Raffles as a doctor or a detective discovering something clearly of great importance. As such the series was seen as one of the better pulps, not unfit for children.

His arch-enemy is the rather incompetent inspector Baxter (Scotland Yard), whose more competent assistant is an admirer of Raffles.

Sidekicks to Raffles are the giant James Henderson, his driver and servant, and Charles Brand, his secretary, financial manager and friend. Henderson is is very strong, he lifts 800 kg with ease and a good hand to hand fighter. Charles Brand however is the best shot and the fastest runner of the three, as well as the only one who can disguise himself convincingly as a girl or a woman. Relations between the three are warm, but Lord Lister is the master.

Raffleses compared

Both Lord Lister and A.J. Raffles are gentleman thieves called Raffles, as such it cannot be doubted that Lord Lister has been created to exploit the market for "Raffles" like stories, not unlike the later creation of Batman as a reaction to the success of Superman. Nevertheless the characters are very different: for starters both are gentleman thieves, but the meaning of gentleman is widely different, where in the case of A.J. the word merely means a man of some civilization, the German Raffles is a true gentleman as a born member of nobility, both in his real identity as Lord Lister and in his secret identity as Lord Aberdeen. In spite of being a thief, Lord Lister behaves further mostly like an ideal of nobility, defending the defenceless, supporting the poor, healing the ill and never refusing a sporting challenge, using theft as an instrument. As such J.C. Raffles is much more an uncritical defender of (pseudo-)Victorian society, targeting frauds, thieves, fences and other asocials than the more cynical A.J., who is less rich and less of a polyglot and a mater of disguise as well. On the other hand, A.J. Raffles is a real Raffles, the Raffles so to say, using his own name, where J.C.Raffles is just a nom de guerre of Edward Lister, who is a Raffles, a gentleman thief so to say. A.J. Raffles is an ageing, more literary character meeting death, while Lord Lister was much more of a typical pulp hero, whose adventures where published for six decades in his own series of pulp magazines, such a character had to be "immortal", at least for the run of its series.

References: Danish: http://www.sherlockiana.net/ego/penny%20dreadfuls%20mm/lord%20lister/lord%20lister.htm

Dutch (articles about pulp in general and Raffles): http://home.wanadoo.nl/dberents/pulpliteratuur.htm

(Lord Lister Klub, a Dutch language pulp literature group) http://www.lordlister.com/

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