For the Love of Sherlock

My connection to the great Sherlock started at an early age when I got my hands on “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”–one of several collections made up from short stories published in The Strand magazine.

I was ten years old at the time, and some of the stories were a little advanced for me to fully appreciate, but I loved the super-smart Holmes, who always managed to unscrew the inscrutable, along with his faithful friend, Dr. John Watson.

They engendered a love of mystery stories in me that has lasted to this day. I especially liked the fact that Holmes was a “scientific detective,” setting him apart from other sleuths, and I was already in love with science and engineering. Perhaps this is why the stories have had such a wide influence, even spilling over to science fiction, from Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Bailey novels all the way to Star Trek’s Spock–truly the epitome of cold logic in the best Holmesian tradition.

Image of ragtag copies of well-read Sherlock Holmes books.

I got most of my books from libraries back then, only supplementing them when I wanted something more adventurous. My limited book shopping was always in used book stores, and for many years I could barely pass one without being lured in (usually “wasting” several hours in the process!), and it was here that I picked up several of the collections and a couple of the novels.

Later, in college, one of my professors who knew of and shared my love of all things Sherlock, to my surprise presented me with a two-volume set of the short stories and novels, complete with reproductions of the original sketches from The Strand! Talk about an amazing gift. I’ve now read them many, many times, and although the books still sit proudly on my bookshelf, they are alas suffering from the love given them over the years.

I was also a big fan of the various movie and TV adaptations of the stories, though they certainly vary in both accuracy and quality.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson
Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

My favorite movie Holmes is definitely Basil Rathbone. He was an amazing actor in many different roles, but the part of Holmes was almost made for him, and he even looked very similar to the drawings from the books. Alas, his Watson was less appealing. Nigel Bruce was a fine actor, but the character was presented as a buffoon, in an unnecessary effort to make Holmes look smarter.

Jeremy Brett and David Burke as Holmes and Watson
Jeremy Brett and David Burke
Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley as Holmes and Watson
Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley

Other movie and TV versions fared less well. From the horrors of Charleton Heston(??) and Roger Moore (also ??) to the modern dumbed-down Cumberbatch “Sherlock series,” and the equally horrific Robert Downey Jr. movies. (Sorry, Robert, I still love you as Iron Man!)

Highlights though include the very well done TV series with Jeremy Brett and David Burke (playing an excellent Watson), the movie “The Seven Percent Solution” (also a great book) with Nicol Williamson as Holmes, and the incredibly fun role-reversal comedy of “Without a Clue” with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, as Holmes and Watson respectively. More recently there was the fantastic Ian McKellen in “Mr. Holmes.”

Good Holmes Gone Bad

It’s interesting too how this early influence spills over into my own writing. While I haven’t written any pure “detective” stories yet, I have a character in several short stories called Maryum Casteneda who is a kind of “scientific detective” working on puzzles of a technical nature. I’m also partial to characters who have to use their intelligence to solve problems, and are in some sense of a “scientific” background, such as space engineer Joe Ballen.

It’s amazing to realize that even now the game is still afoot, and the fascination with Holmes continues, with people still writing books based on the characters. Over fifty actors have portrayed him through the years in film and television and the number easily reaches triple figures if you include stage performances.

So, who are your favorite Holmes and Watson?

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