Time to refresh my creds as Chief Geek of the blog. Season 2 of the series Sherlock is debuting in America on Mystery tonight on most PBS channels at 8:00 PM Central Time. The series is a grand bringing of Sherlock Holmes into the present century. It is wittily written, part send up of the original Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and part homage. The improbably named Benedict Cumberbatch is superb in the title role, playing Holmes as a genius as a detective and a moron in dealing with all of humanity, but for Dr. Watson. Dr. Watson, Martin Freeman, is a British medical officer, fresh from traumatic injuries due to his service in Afghanistan (yes, the more things change, often the more they stay the same), who blogs about Holmes’ exploits as part of his therapy. I highly endorse the series for anyone who likes to either think or laugh.
Sherlock Holmes is a prime example of a literary creation that completely escapes from his creator. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle grew tired of Holmes and attempted to kill him off, only relenting to bringing him back after his “death” at the Reichenbach Falls due to unceasing demands from Holmes’ devoted, if not crazed, fans. Doyle tended to look down his nose at Holmes: “If I had never touched Holmes, who has tended to obscure my higher work, my position in literature would at the present moment be a more commanding one,” he once wrote, which is a hoot since his other writings were the most forgettable drek imaginable. Doyle wrote the last of his Sherlock Holmes stories in 1926 and died in 1930. Since that time not a year has gone by without authors trying their hands at new Holmes stories, and placing Holmes in every setting imaginable including the distant future, outer space, fantasy realms, etc.
The continuing popularity of Holmes is something of a mystery, which is appropriate. It is hard to attribute it to simply love of mystery stories, since most mystery sleuths are dead as soon as their creators shuffle off this vale of tears. Perhaps it is because Holmes, through his powers of observation, can so simply and swiftly glean the truth. What an all important ability to possess! Alas the same could not be said for his creator, Sir Arthur. He deserted Catholicism for spiritualism (seances and that sort of rubbish) which is akin to feasting on a rich mud pie and then developing a fondness for eating actual mud. GK. Chesterton, who drew illustrations for an unpublished, during his lifetime, edition of the Holmes story, upon learning of Doyles’ conversion had this memorable quip: It has long seemed to me that Sir Arthur’s mentality is much more that of Watson than it is of Holmes.
There have been many Holmeses on the screen. Robert Downey, Jr. has played him largely for laughs as the most unlikely of action heroes:
The late Jeremy Brett gave a rather sardonic and somewhat loosely wired interpretation of Holmes:
My gold standard for Holmes will always be that of Basil Rathbone, even with the updating of Holmes during World War II into a then contemporary figure.
Rathbone portrays well the piercing intellect of Holmes and the desire of Holmes to conquer evil. This element in Holmes is often overlooked, but it is there. In The Final Problem, Holmes says to the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty: ‘If I were assured of your eventual destruction I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept my own.’ Perhaps part of Holmes continuing popularity is that his keen intellect is ever on the side of the angels, albeit often grumpily so.
The Holmes phenomenon roles on, and shows no sign of abating. While researching this post I came across the video below for the book Murders in the Vatican where author Ann Margaret Lewis has Pope Leo XIII retaining the services of Holmes. Go here to her website. I will have to purchase the book. So much Holmes, so little time!