Sunday, October 3, 2010

Guess What I'm Reading

In August I was rummaging on the shelves for something to read and stumbled across a book that would define the rest of my summer and a good chunk of my fall. Years ago Jeff had picked up the collected works of Sherlock Holmes. I hadn't paid the books much mind. I'm not much of a mystery reader. But in August, shortly after coming back from Alaska and catching a bit of the Robert Downey Jr. version, I picked up Holmes and was instantly hooked. I started with A Study in Scarlet, his debut, and went on from there. I literally couldn't stop.

I've read all four Sherlock Holmes novels (A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear). I've read every short story that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about his master detective. Lately I've been looking for some background information about the fictional detective and his trusty companion Watson. I'm also seeking out every film version on Holmes that I can get my hands on. I am completely and utterly smitten.

Reading Sherlock Holmes is a bit different from reading other mysteries. With other mysteries there are little clues and hints that lead the reader towards the culprit. Often a reader can figure out the thief or murderer well before the reveal. Not so with Holmes. Since we hear most of the tales through Watson's viewpoint, there are no clues for us to connect. There are no clear suspects for us to follow.

Frederic Steele's Holmes

In fact it was incredibly rare that I could figure the mystery out before Holmes did his final reveal. Instead, most of the time I was just along for the ride. Doyle's stories build over a number of pages, with investigation and discussion, but it is always Sherlock who at the end states the facts, how he came to his conclusion, and apprehends his criminal. Always in the most surprising way possible. We are often left in the dark (like Watson) up until the final moments. It's that bit of surprise in each story that kept me reading. These are not mysteries. These are unexpected tales.

Sidney Paget's Holmes

And Holmes himself is an enigma. Cold, calculating, standoffish, he is the genius who lacks a bit of social tact. He's not ogreish but he is not the most warm and fuzzy character. He's vain and impatient. He's distant to the point of callous. As Watson puts it so beautifully, he's immune to the softer passions. He often uses Watson badly during his adventures but here's the odd part, we still love him. He's just so damn brilliant. Watson on the other hand is not as brilliant but instantly likable. We enjoy his company even if it isn't constantly filled with bits of knowledge and odd deductions. The two play foil against the other. Watson with his general good-naturedness and Holmes with his prickly intelligence.

Downey Jr's Holmes

I'm a little ashamed to say that the first Holmes representation that I've seen was Robert Downey Jr.'s. I was surprised by how many lines the movie took directly from the books. The film was in the spirit of the stories although Downey Jr was a bit more human of a character than Holmes seemed to me. The film was fun and filled with great scenes that fans would easily recognize from the books but the involvement of Irene Adler and Moriarty seemed a bit too much to me. For two characters who play such a small role in the books and stories (Adler one and Moriarty only a couple) they had a large impact on the film. Now I'll have to find Basil Rathbone's version. And continue on with Sherlock Holmes mania. Who knows, I may just read the stories all over again. Yep, they were that good.

4 comments:

Keith said...

It's been a long time since I have read any of the Holmes books. I remember loving The Sign of Four and The League of Redheaded Men, but I couldn't tell you anything about the plots now. Most of it is gone.

Except for little snippets, like Holmes castigating Watson for telling him that there are nine planets, and that he shall endeavor to forget that fact because he wants his mind uncluttered.

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Keith said...

I feel bad for not having congratulated you for your blog. Artsdeco has shown me up.

Cat B said...

@Keith, The Sign of Four might have been my favorite of the novels. I was surprised at how different all of the novels were. The Redheaded Men League is a great one. My favorites were probably The Adventures of the Man with the Twisted Lip, The Bruce Parkington Plans, and for sheer horror The Adventueres of the Devil's Foot. Creepy. But I know what you mean. I probably won't remember the separate plots within a year. Even now I get some of the stories confused.

@JG who's post was up here before. Thanks for the offer. I might have to take you up on it. Annotated Holmes would be interesting. I'd love to learn more about the time and setting these were written in.

@Artsdeco. Thanks for the offer. I'm happy with my wallpaper since it's my own photo.

@Keith (again) ;-) That's hilarious.