Friday, August 20, 2010
Sherlock Holmes and Me
If you only know me through reading this blog, then you may be surprised to find that about a decade ago I was just as obsessed with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes as I currently am with Conan and sword & sorcery. No, I was MORE obsessed with Holmes. That's why my ringing endorsement of the current BBC Sherlock TV series in the post below carries a good bit of weight. Where Holmes is involved I am a tough audience.
My obsession with Holmes started with a chance viewing of one episode of the Granada television series starring Jeremy Brett as the great detective on PBS's Mystery! The episode was The Problem of Thor Bridge and it really was a fluke that I saw it, having no real interest in Holmes at the time. I think I was flipping channels and happened on it just as it started.
Anyway, there was a line in the show, where Holmes, upon seeing a photograph of a remote plateau in South America, notes that there might be great beasts from another age still roaming such an out of the way place. This was, of course, a reference to Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World, and I wondered if this was a line from Doyle or something the TV writers had added as an in-joke. I didn't own any of the Holmes books so I went to the library and picked up the complete Sherlock Holmes. I looked up The Problem of Thor Bridge and found that the line about dinosaurs was indeed, merely an invention of the television writers. That should have been the end of it, but it wasn't.
See, I hadn't read a Sherlock Holmes story since the third grade, and hey I already had the book for a couple of weeks, right? Right. So I started reading the stories and found I absolutely loved Doyle's stories. That made me start watching the Granada Television episodes (they were being rerun of the A&E cable channel) and seeking out all things Sherlock Holmes. I have an obsessive personality. I know this. But my Holmes mania was perhaps the most obsessive of my obsessions. I read the Doyle stories over and over and scarcely a night went by that I didn't re-watch an episode from the Granada series. Being me I became interested in Doyle as well as Holmes and I tracked down half a dozen Doyle biographies. This led to an interest in the Victorian Age in general and I was soon reading biographies of other imminent Victorians such as Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, and so forth. This would lead to me going further back to Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen. I was already a Charles Dickens fan.
I can't remember now why Holmes seized my imagination. Perhaps I didn't know then, either. Part of it was the sheer fun of Doyle's stories. People who haven't read them think of them as stuffy Victorian detective yarns, but they're much more than that. Some of them are adventure stories with Holmes dashing about London, boxing his way out of trouble, or caught up in a steam launch chase down the Thames. There are villains and heroines and gun fights and last minute rescues from horrible fates. Sure there are also puzzles and clues and mysteries to be solved, but some of the stories have little true mystery to them at all.
I think though, that it was ultimately Holmes' personality that drew me to the character. He too is an obsessive individual, but his obsession is with crime. He thinks of little else and cares for little else. He is a reasoning machine, always a little ahead of everyone else. Someone once referred to Holmes as 'Tarzan for intellectuals' and I think that's a good description. Where Tarzan is superior to other humans in every physical sense, Sherlock Holmes is superior to us in every mental sense. He walks through a world of ignorant, unobservant dolts, puzzled that they can't see the things that are so obvious to him. He is in many ways a precursor of Super heroes like Doc Savage and Batman.
Another thing that didn't hurt was the aforementioned Jeremy Brett's performance as Holmes. Brett and Holmes are linked in my mind, to the point that when I read a Sherlock Holmes story I do see Brett in my mind's eye. He made that big an impression, playing Holmes closer to Doyle's conception of the character than any actor had ever done before.
Anyway, over the next few years I collected over 300 books related to Holmes and/or Conan Doyle. Many of these were pastiches, teaming Holmes with everyone from Alan Quartermain to Dracula to Fu Manchu. Many others were scholarly tomes about Holmes and the Victorian age. A couple were even cookbooks.
Eventually the obsession led to my making four trips to London. The first time was just to walk on Baker Street and visit some of the places mentioned in the Holmes stories. Later trips were better balanced with more tourist-like activities, but there was always some Holmesian stuff involved. London remains my favorite city in the world and I really need to get back there.
Despite what Cliff Biggers or Chris Appel might tell you, I didn't go around in a deerstalker cap, though I do own a couple. Oddly enough I have never written a Holmes pastiche, though I did write several mystery stories with very Conan Doyle style plots. And yes, I have been known to refer to Chris as Watson from time to time. Some other day I'll bore you with my occasional forays into amateur sleuthing.
Anyway, my rediscovery of sword & sorcery about 1999 pushed Holmes to a back burner and there he has remained. But unlike some of my previous obsessions, Sherlock Holmes has never entirely gone away. I still buy most new Holmes pastiches and watch any movies or television shows that deal with Holmes. And as I have pointed out once or twice before, this very blog is named in honor of the great detective who was only interested in cases that possessed "Singular Points of interest."