The Game is Ever Afoot

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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:

 

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The late Jeremy Brett gave a rather sardonic and somewhat loosely wired interpretation of Holmes:

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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.

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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!

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26 Responses to The Game is Ever Afoot

  • Dr. Watson was wont to say when confronted with absolute evil: “Saints preserve us.” a short prayer I have taken for myself, but that prayer has been excised from every story since. This latest which I hope to view says: “God help us”, Thank God. The story with Jeremy Brett as you probably know, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used cocaine, was a teaching film for the use of the drug. Holmes opened his desk drawer, removed a syringe and proceeded to “expand his mind”, before his audience, to which I objected at the library. Doyle probably lost his Catholic Faith after he lost his mind. As the Intellectual Property of Doyle, Sherlock Holmes ought to have been presented as Doyle invented him. As an afterthought, Houdini never did show up at Doyle’s seances.

  • (Spoilers ahead in this comment)

    The first season of Sherlock was great. I’ve actually managed to see the three episodes of the second season (which I believe aired on the BBC in March). Although not as good as the first season, it was still very enjoyable. Sherlock’s version of Moriarty was somewhat annoying, however, and there is more of him in season 2.

    Be warned though: the first episode was a take on a “Scandal in Bohemia” and Irene Adler was a “dominatrix.” There was some nudity involved. It was a good episode despite the BBC’s lasciviousness, though I could see if people would have some objections to the episode.

  • I’ll tune in tonight to check it out as I didn’t see any of the first season. I guess I’m not exactly a purist as I adore the Jeremy Brett version, but I do also appreciate the Basil Rathbone one. The Hollywood movie was unwatchable ~ I ejected the disc from my player in the first 15 minutes.

    I just finished reading Murder in the Vatican and recommen it highly. It was almost like reading Doyle and was such a pleasure to stroll along with Holmes, Watson and Pope Leo!

  • I think part of the appeal of Holmes is that he’s strong, odd, explains how to find hidden knowledge, and is kinda scary if he’s not on your side.

  • I’m a big fan of the new Sherlock, although I’ve only seen the first movie– always annoyed me that the movies had him so inactive. (I know it’s partly a limitation of the old technology, and the sedentary detective thing has its charms, but eh.)

  • Basil Rathbone’s depiction – hands down. Understated, but constant mental activity and wit. Scenery, sounds, and characters beautiful.
    I loved the drapes in the Jeremy Brett version – he was good, but the focus was the modern psych taint which spoiled the detective story. Dr. Watson was OK. Just can’t remake perfection.
    Can’t even watch the later versions.

  • I believe you meant ROBERT Downey Jr.? :-)

    Believe it or not, one of my favorite Holmeses was Nicholas Rowe in “Young Sherlock Holmes,” a 1985 flick that portrayed Holmes and Watson’s meeting as schoolboys and how they solved their first “case”. It was very much outside the Doyle canon and had an over the top plot involving a secret Egyptian cult with Temple of Doom-type rituals, but, I thought Rowe was kinda handsome, and the movie’s explanations for the origins of many of Holmes’ signature habits (like wearing the deerstalker cap) were sorta plausible. If you watch it and haven’t seen it before, be sure you keep watching ALL the way to the end of the credits!

  • I must be doing something wrong – maybe I’ve missed something – the sign of a mispent youth, perhaps? ;-)
    I loved reading Conan-Doyle when I was young – Holmes’ impeccable penetrating logic used to fascinate me. However, that fascination has not persued me in my later life, nor the desire to be a movie buff; I view what I Think I will enjoy, and a modern day Holmes does not interest me.
    Can i still comment here? ;-)

  • Don-
    I like Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock. If I can still be here, I’m sure you’re welcome!

    *random thought*
    Oh, dear… we’ve Sherlock, we’ve got Kipling, but nobody’s done Gilbert and Sullivan. I was recently informed that most folks go “who?”

    I may have to actually do some research and start sharing old Comedic Opera…..

  • “I believe you meant ROBERT Downey Jr.? ”
    Oops! Yes I did Elaine, although the concept of Holmes as a crazed talk show host certainly has possibilities.

  • “Can i still comment here? ”

    Of course Don, we have no heresy trials for those who do not enjoy Holmes! Yet. :)

  • foxfier.
    I’m sure Don McC posted some stuff on Gilbert and Sullivan some time back. In my boyhood days at Sacred Heart College we did the Savoy operas – I loved them then, and still do today. Their commentary on the society of the time is still valid today.

  • I watched the first episode last night, my first viewing of this series. It was pretty good, great acting of course. I’ll probably give it another try next week, but it didn’t grab me.

    I liked the portrayal of Sherlock even though he seemed much too young and like a boy instead of a man. I liked Watson but I didn’t like the portrayal of Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft. Much prefer the Mycroft in the Jeremy Brett version, his humor, intellect and warmth. I also didn’t appreciate the portrayal of The Woman as a dominatrix and the nudity scene. It was a clever use of our current techy world (blogging instead of writing, texting, etc.) but I much prefer being immersed in the times and social mores of the previous century!

  • “I also didn’t appreciate the portrayal of The Woman as a dominatrix and the nudity scene.”

    Neither did I. What passes for sophistication on the BBC is usually simple amoral vulgarity with elegant phrasing. Other than that I enjoyed the episode.

  • Kiwi Don-
    I’d say they’re still relevant because they’re more about human nature that strictly society… might be poe-tay-toe, poe-taw-toe, though.

    Musing about this last night (this morning, but meh) while taking care of the Duchess, and suddenly realized: Batman is Sherlock.
    Line of thought: Sherlock would be a Mary Sue if he were written wrong– even his “big” weakness of not caring about things that aren’t useful (like the number of planets) doesn’t really matter much, because right about what’s of use. He’s smart, comfortably well off, well known in his circles, master of disguise, strong, and although I can’t remember my mental image from just the books, the actors that play him are striking and attractive.
    Much like Superman. Except that he’s darker, more technology based, only superhuman in the sense that he’s honed, a detective….
    Batman came out in Detective comics.
    Dark, striking, disguises himself so well that those who know him won’t recognize him, amazingly honed at his chosen goal— wow.

  • Doyle didn’t promote cocaine! In his first book, cocaine was regarded as the latest high tech, unaddictive wonder drug, because that’s how the medical profession regarded it, and Watson’s uneasiness about it was a sign of his army surgeon days making him not in touch with the latest medical fashions. By the time he wrote his second book, Doyle knew that cocaine was deadly, because half his med school buddies died from experimenting with it. Thereafter, the stories and Watson were resolutely anti-drug, even though Holmes made various lame excuses; and Watson eventually got Holmes off cocaine.

  • I watch the show last night – I think I’ll pass. What I find irritating is the constant British need to bash Americans – the need to feel “superior” in every encounter. What is that all about? You hardly ever see it the other way around. Am I the only one who noticed this?

  • “What I find irritating is the constant British need to bash Americans – the need to feel “superior” in every encounter. What is that all about? You hardly ever see it the other way around. Am I the only one who noticed this?”

    Americans have been noticing that long before 1776. Benjamin Franklin February 27, 1767:
    ” But the Pride of this People cannot bear the Thoughts of it. Every Man in England seems to consider himself as a Piece of a Sovereign over America; seems to jostle himself into the Throne with the King, and talks of our Subjects in the Colonies.”

    http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/essays/disputes-with-america.htm

    When it comes to the BBC you have the traditional upper crust snottiness towards America combined with a fairly left wing view of the World.

  • Thank you, Maureen. I did not know that.
    When the movie began I thought James Bond. The nudity and Holmes’ and Dr. Watson’s focus on the mystery instead of succumbing to lust or distress and disorientation, simply letting the Dominatrix do her thing, and they theirs, was well done. There definitely was something for everybody, nudity, which was handled with some gentility, S&M, violence, even some intrigue and highjinx. Half way through, the number of the plane was 007. 007 was James Bond’s cipher. 007 is the license to kill. (In Ian Fleming’s James Bond films, ”M” his head master, was in the real life counterpart a double spy for the Soviets, which kind of ruined the stories for me.) Wasn’t Coventry where the British decoded Hitler and from where the British were able to send false messages to confound the Madman? The highjinx was captivating, especially the part where Sherlock unearths “The Woman’s” human warmth and affection for him by way of her open irises, and he, Holmes, repaying the compliment by saving her head, was WOW. Always one step ahead. Just like my mother. Dr. Watson’s part was too small and not engaging enough for me. Moriarity’s part was rather, shall I say, dumb, but how does one play an evildoer without being dumb? Perhaps next week? Thank you, Donald, for the cue.

  • Americans have been noticing that long before 1776. Benjamin Franklin February 27, 1767:
    ” But the Pride of this People cannot bear the Thoughts of it. Every Man in England seems to consider himself as a Piece of a Sovereign over America; seems to jostle himself into the Throne with the King, and talks of our Subjects in the Colonies.” That is why God wanted the Chosen People to have no king, the people were sovereigns unto themselves, but they insisted and God let them. Only in America are the people sovereign persons, sovereigns unto themselves. FREEDOM and the British maybe jealous. Pitifully these people think that they need somebody to lord it over to be somebody.

  • Excellent clip of the Pirates of Penzance, Don. :-) The stage setting is very good.

    Siobhan
    “What I find irritating is the constant British need to bash Americans – the need to feel “superior” in every encounter.”

    I wouldn’t worry too much about that – come down here and see how the Kiwis and Aussies bash eachother. Its a sort of “sibling rivalry”, if you will, and its mainly impersonal. Get to meet the people face to face and they’re, mostly, good people.
    When I was a lad, post war, we used to get many migrants from England (or Britain) coming “down to the colonies” to show the colonials how things were done. They copped a lot of stick – more so in Australia than here – but they soon got to know who was teaching who, and either settled in and became one of the “colonials”, or went back to the UK, complete with the big chip on shoulder.
    In my experience though, the vast majority were good people.

  • Don, my beloved great uncle Bill Barry who joined the Royal Army to teach the Limies how to fight, as he said, and served from 1939-45, whenever he would see me when I was a toddler would say, “There’s that dirty Yank!” To which I would respond, “There’s that dirty Newf!” Good natured ribbing among the components of the Anglosphere runs in my veins!

  • Just wanted to thank you. On the basis of this blog post, I went to netflix
    and watched the first season of Sherlock. Loved it.

  • One thing Sherlock Holmes said that makes sense: “I restored the balance in nature” as his reason for being. Every crime, sin, and evil disrupts the balance in nature and tears the fabric of society. Jesus Christ crucified restores the balance in nature.

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