January 26, 2011

The return of Sherlock Holmes, take two


It seems that Sherlock Holmes is once again set to beat death and, one can assume, any mysteries he may encounter. The first time Holmes presumably entered the after life was in the 1893 tale “The Final Problem” in which author Arthur Conan Doyle had the brilliant detective seemingly fall to his death while engaged in mortal combat with his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. However, while Conan Doyle had planned for the story to be the last for Holmes, the general public felt otherwise, and, after several years of pressure both from the public and publishers, Conan Doyle revived the Holmes in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”  Following this tale, Conan Doyle went on to pen twelve more Holmes stories which culminated in 1903-1904 with the the detective very much alive, happily retired in Sussex Downs, and taking up the hobby of beekeeping. Only one of Doyle’s  56 Holmes stories take place after this retirement, “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” leaving readers to speculate that Holmes presumably spent the rest of his life in a peaceful and uneventful manner.

This is all subject to change according to a Guardian report that says the Conan Doyle Estate has asked that Anthony Horowitz write a new episode of the Holmes saga. Horowitz, for those unfamiliar, has made a name for himself as the author of the incredibly popular Alex Rider children’s series. While he is well known for his work geared toward young adults, the Guardian says that Horowitz’s Holmes novel will be “for adult readers” and that “will retain Conan Doyle’s Victorian setting.”  Horowitz himself as been quoted as saying that he has intended to create “a first-rate mystery for a modern audience while remaining absolutely true to the spirit of the original”.

Sherlock Holmes is hardly the first character to escape the fate of death when his original creator has died. Some may recall that James Bond has just as strongly endured after the death of his original author, Ian Fleming, thanks to the works of Sebastian Faulks, Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, and Charlie Higson.

However, in my opinion, there is something significantly different between these two characters and the way their legacies have been handled that makes me a little preemptively dismissive of Horowitz’s novel. James Bond has long since ceased to be the product of a single individual and has now morphed into something else — a pop culture figure whose existence, and understanding, no longer hinge on the input of his original creator. Bond has been a character that has been shared and used in such a wide variety of ways (movies, books, video games, etc.) that the sheer amount of representations of the character have totally overshadowed Fleming’s original writing. The fact that people argue about James Bond in terms of which actor (Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan) they feel best represents their understanding of the character shows just how far James Bond has been removed from Fleming’s ownership.  On the other hand,  it has always been clear that Sherlock Holmes is the product of, and belongs to, one person — Arthur Conan Doyle, his stories are all that exist of Holmes. Conan Doyle has defined the character in all senses. So for another writer to now take up the mantle, especially after it has been left untouched since Conan Doyle, seems, well, a little odd and unnecessary.

Perhaps this argument comes across as the rantings of one who poorly receives change, but the main concern I have is, is it too much to just let Mr. Holmes enjoy his retirement in peace? Conan Doyle reluctantly dragged the character out of the jaws of death once, does it really need to happen again?

Horowitz’s book will not be released until September, and in the mean time, I look forward to hearing back from others on how they feel about this. And if this proves to be a successful project, what could this mean for some of the other greatest minds of the 19th century? Perhaps we can expect to hear more from Monsieur Dupin in 2012?