By Christine Iannicelli
I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. He is one of the most fascinating fictional characters ever to be portrayed in film and television and I never miss an opportunity to relish a new version of the classic detective. Some actors portray him as a socially awkward adventure-seeker (see Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr.), while others focus on his drug addiction and consultant work (see Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary). The most iconic version, I would venture, is Basil Rathbone’s characterization of the pipe-smoking sleuth in fourteen black-and-white films in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Over seventy-five actors have portrayed the legendary detective (setting a Guinness World Record), but if they all share one thing, it is the source material. Therefore, I felt I owed a debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of this character, to read the stories in its entirety. This is no small feat, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and 4 novels starring Sherlock Holmes.
I decided to start with the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which includes 12 short stories describing clients whom Sherlock Holmes had assisted along with his friend Dr. Watson. These cases (with titles such as The Red-Headed League and The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb) include murder, burglary, and even the KKK. In Sherlock’s own words, most of these are not the “sensational trials in which [he has] figured but rather to those incidents which may have been trivial in themselves, but which have given room for those faculties of deduction” which are characteristic of a Sherlock Holmes tale (Adventure of the Copper Beeches, para. 1). It is in these stories that Holmes encourages us to reflect on the logic he uses to solve cases rather than on the crimes themselves. By ignoring the obvious and instead focusing on the intricate details of the case and its players, the answer is almost always unearthed.
My favorite short story in this collection is A Scandal in Bohemia, which tasks Holmes with finding an opera singer named Irene Adler who had in her possession an incriminating photograph of the King of Bohemia (her former lover). Described by Watson as the only woman who had ever outsmarted Sherlock Holmes, the detective’s affections for her have been analyzed and debated since the story was published. He meets her briefly and yet when the King offers a substantial reward for his assistance, Holmes only asks for a photograph of “the woman” in return. Perhaps beneath that cold, calculating exterior beats a kind and gentle heart? After all, we do get glimpses of Sherlock expressing sadness, disappointment, even anger at a client’s plight, and his dedication to each and every case he takes on is admirable.
Holmes’ powers of perception seem implausible until he explains his methods for solving the case. It is then that everything becomes clear. I wish Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have allowed us a glimpse into Sherlock’s mind throughout the investigations instead of making us wait until the end to reveal his thought process. Still, by being forced to experience Sherlock’s brilliance through the eyes of an outsider, we are afforded the opportunity to experience what it would have been like to be the best friend of a complicated and extremely talented man such as Sherlock Holmes.
While the language is old-fashioned, making it difficult for me to read more than two or three short stories at a time, I did enjoy the beautiful prose that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle weaved into his dialogue. His exposition transported me to 1890’s London in an instant! The characters he described nearly jump off the page and beckon you into a world of intrigue, mystery, and mayhem. Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading the source material that has inspired my favorite television show (BBC’s Sherlock) and cannot wait to read the next story!
You can check out the complete Sherlock Holmes collection from the Gabriele Library or read the stories online for free at www.readsherlock.com
“All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognize the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like untamed beasts in a cage” (The Five Orange Pips, para. 3).