Archive for Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Modernizing Holmes

April 10, 2013

There seems to be a renewed interest in my all-time favorite fictional character: Sherlock Holmes. In the past couple of years, there have been two new movies about the famous British consulting detective in addition to a BBC series and now the CBS series “Elementary.” It is unfortunate that none of the above are really true to the original Sherlock Holmes character and stories.

To a Sherlock Holmes purist like me, making the Dr. Watson character a female goes over the top. In fact, the recent BBC series as well as “Elementary” are both set in the present modern time frame. To me, Sherlock and his trusty buddy, Dr. John Watson, should be left in the Victorian 1880-1900 time period. Now, don’t get me wrong, “Elementary” is a good detective show, but in my opinion, should have different leading characters. I’m having a tough time accepting Dr. Watson as a woman.

The American Heartland Theatre did a great job with a high-energy, comedic version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Surprisingly, it didn’t stray far from the original story.

Trying to modernize Sherlock Holmes is really nothing new – there were movies about the original dynamic detective duo in the 1930s and 1940s. Sherlock Holmes is the best-known British fictional literary character, and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Coyle, is probably the best-known British author after Charles Dickens.

Actually the Homes series started due to the failure of Conan Doyle to succeed as a doctor. He was a graduate from Edinburg University as a medical doctor. He served as medical officer on a whaling ship and returned to England and entered private practice which was a “bad news-good news” situation. The bad news was that his medical practice failed. The good news for millions of fans is that while waiting for patients who never came, he began writing short stories to help pass the time. These stories led him to a career as an author and enduring fame.

In those days before television or radio, the printed word was the only way to get news and in many cases entertainment. Publications often printed weekly short stories to entice readership. The “Strand” Magazine published a number of the Holmes stories over the years. In all, Conan Doyle wrote 56 Holmes short stories and four novels.

He grew tired of Holmes, who was a “consulting detective” not a private detective, and tried to kill him off. The public didn’t agree and the character returned. Conan Doyle was an avid historian and was knighted for his service to his country when he wrote articles in defense of British actions in the Boer War. England was roundly condemned throughout the world and Conan Doyle’s writing presented a case for British conduct in the conflict.

The Holmes character was a genius with knowledge of science and law. He was a skilled boxer and enjoyed playing the violin. Sherlock was a master of deductive reasoning which led him to solving cases. He was a heroin user, although it should be remembered it was legal at that time. A unique contribution to literature was the use of Dr. Watson as both a participant and narrator.

Holmes lived at 221B Baker St., which is now a Sherlock Holmes museum. I have read almost all of the original Holmes stories and a number written by family members, particularly Adrian Conan Doyle, son of Sir Arthur. If any new stories are set in the Victorian era and true to the original characters, I enjoy them.

I would suggest if you enjoy reading some good short stories, check out an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories at the library. You will find them interesting and a good look at life a century-and-a-half ago.

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