It is amazing how certain literacy characters transcend all ages. Without ever having read any of Arthur Conan Doyle’s books I would hazard a guess that the majority of people on a street would be able to provide you with a pretty good profile of Holmes and Watson. Of course the recent TV series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch will have boosted the numbers but in general I think Sherlock Holmes is a character people know regardless of whether they have read the books or watch one of the numerous TV and film adaptations. Like Peter Rabbit, Paddington Bear, Sweeny Todd, Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh and Mr Darcy to name but a few Sherlock Holmes has seeped into our minds and popular culture.
My earliest memory of Sherlock Holmes is a radio drama adaptation. I think I was about 11 years old, we were on summer holiday in France, camping, and each night dad would turn on the BBC World Service and my brother I would listen engrossed from our sleeping bags. The story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Not the best night time story when all you have to protect you from wild animals is a canvas tent but I loved every moment of it and was really gutted when it came to an end and they followed it up with The Queen and I. No offence Sue Townsend but it just didn’t cut the mustard.
My second memory of Sherlock Holmes is Jeremy Brett. I say memory, I don’t actually remember watching the TV programme but like the name in general Jeremy Brett’s performance of Holmes has seeped into my mind and is his face that comes to mind when I think of the great detective.
Inspired by the reinvention of Sherlock Holmes by the BBC and the fact that my boyfriend rather handily has the box set of books I have gone back to the beginning, to the return of Watson from Afghanistan, to the move into Baker Street, to the birth of Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective. So far I’ve read the first two A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them both, finding them absolute page turners and far more accessible than I ever thought Arthur Conan Doyle would be. Why I thought they’d be hard going books, I’ve no idea but it was definitely an opinion I had formed. But what has struck me most when reading the books is just how perfectly matched every adaptation of Holmes I have seen or heard has been. I can only think it is the excellent development of the character within the books which sees directors not feeling the need to stray. Even without implicitly showing him to be a drug user those that have taken on the role have been able to show the escapist in him, finding ways to give him the space within his own mind he so greatly needs.
Reading the books I feel like I am joining old friends, already knowing the rise and fall of the friendship between Holmes and Watson. The best thing about this journey is that whilst I know the characters I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the vast majority of the stories. I know who his arch nemesis will become but I don’t know the order of his crime solving nor if I’m completely honest do I remember the full story of The House of the Baskervilles. Never before have I so closely connected with characters on a first introduction. The power of Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters to become infamous in their own right, outside of the stories they are found within, is a testament to his writing and probably to some of the great actors who have been honoured to play him, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Tom Baker, Robert Downey Jnr and of course Benedict Cumberbatch.
I thoroughly look forward to continuing my journey through the tales and adventures.