Monday, October 5, 2015

The Immortal Detective, Sherlock Holmes

I recently enjoyed The Great Detective, The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes by journalist Zach Dundas.

He writes about the many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes through the years including as a mouse and pig. The great detective is as popular today as he was in the 1800s.

An avid Sherlockian, the author often mentions how so many people treat Sherlock Holmes as a real person, living in a real place.

Of course he, and we know that the stories were fiction, sprung from the mind of Arthur Conan Doyle and that there really wasn’t a 22B Baker Street. However, Dundas often treats the stories as being real as he searches for places mentioned in the mysteries. He definitely seemed to enjoy his research, often taking his family along with him.

Dundas writes about movies and actors who brought the characters to life. There were many more than the ones we are familiar with: Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life was exciting and he often used the methods of observation he had  used by his consulting detective. He was a physician in the Boar War, he sailed on a whaling ship while in college, later was a ship’s physician to Africa, had a medical practice, pursued advanced degrees and he was a writer. 

Most people remember him as a writer, as the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Watson. But he also wrote numerous non-fiction books which he felt were far better than his mysteries.

Sherlock says “my mind rebels at stagnation… I abhor the dull routine of existence,” so did Sir Arthur's mind. He had trouble sitting still.

Even early parodies only increased the popularity of the famous sleuth and his friend, assistant and chronicler Doctor John Watson.

Dundas write “The moral of A Study in Scarlet may be that sometimes we John Watsons of the world just need to let life’s brilliant chaos do its work.”

He writes of Sherlockian sub-cultures, and fan clubs. One of the earliest was started in Baltimore by Rhodes Scholar Christopher Morley. He wrote everything – novels, essays, and poems. By the time he was 36, he’d written more than 20 books. He worked for newspapers, started magazines, staged plays, edited anthologies and later became a radio personality.

He also started The Baker Street Irregulars in 1934. That organization continues today, along with many others. He gives references to other books on Sherlock Holmes, movies, illustrators and fan groups.

Holmes and Watson were fictional characters, but the stories captured the world’s imagination. Sir Arthur's stories are known for their great characters and settings. I had read most of the stories years ago. Today I find no problem with watching an old Sherlock Holmes movie, then moving on to “Elementary” or (my favorite) “Sherlock.”

“The mass media made this discovery in the 19th century...,” Dundas quotes Judith Flanders. “The great discovery is that crime is fun. If it’s not happening to you, it can be wildly entertaining and it sells. Most importantly, it sells.”

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