|Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.
Sir Arthur Conan DoyleMessage 1 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Oct 31, 2006
Himadri – I’ve been commissioned with a little task; one of my friends is a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan, and when, in conversation recently, I mentioned the Books Board and your love of Conan Doyle's tales about the ace detective – he urged me to recommend to you here Adrian Conan Doyle’s The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, written in collaboration with John Dickson Carr.
Apparently, in these stories, Arthur Conan Doyle’s youngest son aimed to pick up on the original stories’ many teasing allusions to past cases – and to bring them to life as a new set of fully realised Holmes adventures.
My friend has a first edition of 'The Exploits...' (dated 1954 or thereabouts, I think) on his library shelves – and found the twelve tales to be an interesting treat to add to his enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes’s world. As he doesn’t have a computer himself, he asked me to pass on the details – in case you’d be interested (I think he’s also rather chuffed to find a fellow Holmes fan he can recommend them to – albeit across the ether...and via me!)
Maybe you’ve already come across Adrian Conan Doyle’s strories and read them? Maybe you liked them? Or didn’t rate them very highly? I looked up The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes on Amazon (apparently available again after many years out of print) – and it seems to have received mixed reviews there – though two out of the three reviews are highly enthusiastic and full of praise. My friend (and myself) would be very interested to hear your views (and those of any other Sherlock fans out there too, of course!) if you’ve read them...
Message 2 - posted by TheRejectAmidHair (U1767253) , Oct 31, 2006
Hello Melanie, I’m sure I’m not the only Sherlock Holmes fan round here! Baron Truscott, Gareth and Alvy, I know, are all big fans as well – and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.
I did read The Exploits of Sherlock Homes many years ago, and although they don’t, I think, quite have the magic of the originals, they were very enjoyable nonetheless. Strangely enough, I don’t have a copy of this on my shelves: I should get one, and read through them again.
Of course, Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories aren’t all up to standard either. His last collection – The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes – is pretty disppoiting. While there are still a few good stories in there (“Thor Bridge”, for instance, or “Shoscombe Old Place”) there are also many that are substandard (e.g . “The Creeping Man”, “The Mazarin Stone”) – and at least one (“The Three Garridebs”) which is an uninspired rehash of an older, better story (“The Red-Headed League”). On the whole, the stroies in “Exploits” are far better than these lesser stories from the canon, but they never, as I remember, approach the best of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories.
(Dai has a quiz question he has asked here before: In which story written by Conan Doyle does Holmes say “Elementary, my dear Watson”? The answer is that it is one of the stories in The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, but most Holmesians think only of Arthur rather than of Adrian Conan Doyle.)
I’m pretty sure there’s currently a Penguin edition available of The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes.
Message 3 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Oct 31, 2006
Thanks Himadri! That’s fantastic; just what I was looking for! Thanks for your insight and comments. I’ll print out this thread and pass it on to my friend. He’ll be really interested to know what you’ve said. I hadn’t heard of the Adrian Conan Doyle stories before my friend mentioned them – and I’ve only read a few of the originals, which I really enjoyed in their polished, intriguing way. Though I can never quite help feeling a yearning for a greater emotional push in the writing when I read them (but that’s just to do with my own yen for being swept along Hardyesque style, I suspect!) Though, having said that, I do love more detached styles of writing too – for instance that of Jane Austen; but Conan Doyle skirts different edges of detachment, I think. I’ll have to read more of the Conan Doyles to put my finger on what I mean (or maybe change my mind on greater acquaintance with the stories!) More reading for the TBR pile!
Message 4 - posted by TheRejectAmidHair (U1767253) , Oct 31, 2006
I've often tried to formulate to my own satisfaction just what it is that make the Sherlock Holmes stories so special, but I've never quite managed it. (Admittedly, my attempts usually follow some drunken conversation with a fellow Holmesian...) There is no depth to any of it. The stories are often good, without being spectacularly so. The characters are as memorable as any - Natasha & Pierre, Don Quixote & Sancho Panza - but not even the greatest fan of Holmes & Watson would claim that they are on the same level in literary terms: certainly, they don't have the depth of characterisation we find in the books of Tolstoy or of Cervantes. The prose is good, without being anything to write home about. And so on. And yet, the fact remains ... When I am on Desert Island Discs and I'm asked to choose a book other than the Bible & Shakespeare, I'd have a tough time choosing between War and Peace and The Complete Sherlock Holmes. And I never could work out why.
I think any comparison with authors of the class of Austen or Hardy will merely reveal the lack of any real depth to the Sherlock Holmes stories. And yet, these stories are perfect as they are.
Conan Doyle's other works haven't really lasted the course. His historical novels are barely read any more, and when I re-read the professor Challenger stories lately (I used to love The Lost World as a child) I was rather disappointed: whereas something like Treasure Island or The Prisoner of Zenda is still a great read, The Lost World"seemed rather flat. But the Holmes stories really are something else - but don't ask me why!
Message 5 - posted by Caro (U1691443) , Oct 31, 2006
Himadri, I don't think I have ever read a Sherlock Holme's story (somehow one feels one knows them without having to read them!) but a number of years ago I read Chesterton's Father Brown stories, and think I rather enjoyed them. How do you rate them? My main recollection is that he put a lot of his own thoughts and philosophies into them - but it's quite a few years now since I read them, so I may be wrong about this.
Message 6 - posted by John_Truscott (U1976508) , Nov 1, 2006
I read and enjoyed the Exploits, although none of the cases have stuck in my mind as especially memorable. There is something about Holmes that fascinates and also inspires imitation and pastiche, perhaps more than any other fictional character.
I enjoyed the Professor Challenger stories, although they're not as good as Holmes, also Brigadier Gerard, who seems to have been almost entirely forgotten.
Message 7 - posted by Hyp-hyp-hyp-ia (U1798998) , Nov 1, 2006
I like SH though I've only 3 of the novels. What really appeals to me is that the books are split into two almost equal halves. One halves about SH solving the case, the other the background story to the crime.
I like Homes and Watson but also really enjoy the half without them in it. Would be quite interesting to see a film like this.
BTW anyone seen the SH spoof "Without a Clue" staring Michael Cane and Ben Kingsley. One of my favorite films. Though it’s a spoof I feel it a caring send up (and very funny).
Message 8 - posted by TheRejectAmidHair (U1767253) , Nov 1, 2006
I remember having read a few of the Father Brown stories, and they were very enjoyable. Father Brown may not be quite as memorable a creation as Holmes & Watson, but he is very companionable nonetheless. The only criticism is the religious content: Chesterton was, of course, a Catholic, and he seems intent to push his Catholic agenda into just about everything. I wouldn’t mind that normally, but it does seem to get in the way of a mystery story.
Penguin used to publish a single-volume edition of the Father Brown stories, but it went out of print before I could get round to buying it.
Message 9 - posted by TheRejectAmidHair (U1767253) , Nov 1, 2006
On the whole, I think you get more of the essence of the Sherlock Holmes stories from the short stories rather than from the novels. In the first novel, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes and Watson are introduced, and the characters aren’t quite developed yet: there are many aspects to Holmes’ character here that Conan Doyle later conveniently forgot about. And the second half of this novel, as you say, relates the events leading up to the crime, so Holmes & Watson don’t appear here at all.
The second novel is The Sign of Four, which is terrific stuff: it owes a lot to Wilkie Collins – particularly The Moonstone: we get the treasure plundered from India, the shadowy group trying to retrieve it, the murky, foggy, London streets, etc.
The third novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is the most famous, but is not, I think, the most characteristic of the Holmes stories. For one thing, Holmes is absent for much of the time, and when he does turn up, he frankly doesn’t have too much to do. However, the atmosphere of the grim moors grips the imagination, and the hound itself is one of the great creations of horror fiction.
The last novel, The Valley of Fear, is once again in two parts, with Holmes & Watson disappearing from the second. The second half isn’t bad, although this kind of story has been done too often since then to entirely convince the reader. (Yes, I know – I split an infinitive there!) The first part I think is excellent – one of the finest mysteries Sherlock ever solved.
But once you get to the short stories, you get the best of Holmes & Watson. The first collection, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is top drawer stuff: just about every story in it is a classic, and even the weaker links (e.g. “The Noble Bachelor” or “A Case of Identity”) are pretty darn good. The best of these are classics: “The Man With the Twisted Lip”, “The Speckled Band”, “The Copper Beeches”, “The Red-Headed League”, “The Blue Carbuncle” … stories I haven’t tired of reading & re-reading for over 30 years now.
The standard is maintained in the next two collections – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Thereafter, Conan Doyle wrote the stories at less regular intervals, and the standard became slightly variable. Nonetheless, the collection His Last Bow contains some of my favourite stories: if I were forced at gunpoint to nominate one favourite, it would probably be “The Bruce-Partington Plans”.
The last collection, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, is mainly a disappointment, but even here, there are a few (e.g. “Thor Bridge”) that no self-respecting Holmesian would want to miss out on.
For anyone who wants to get into this wonderful body of work, I’d suggest getting hold of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and taking it from there.
To be continued
Message 11 - posted by John_Truscott (U1976508) , Nov 1, 2006
"Conan Doyle later conveniently forgot about."
Nonsense, it's simply that at that stage Dr Watson hadn't fully acquainted himself with his friend's character.
Message 12 - posted by TheRejectAmidHair (U1767253) , Nov 1, 2006
Oh, of course! - how silly of me! As the Master himself said, once you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And you can't argue with that!
Message 13 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Nov 1, 2006
I've often tried to formulate to my own satisfaction just what it is that make the Sherlock Holmes stories so special, but I've never quite managed it.There is no depth to any of it. The stories are often good, without being spectacularly so. The characters are as memorable as any - Natasha & Pierre, Don Quixote & Sancho Panza - but not even the greatest fan of Holmes & Watson would claim that they are on the same level in literary terms: certainly, they don't have the depth of characterisation we find in the books of Tolstoy or of Cervantes. The prose is good, without being anything to write home about. And so on.
Yes – I think maybe I was skirting around edges a bit myself there...as really that lack of literary depth is what I’ve felt when sampling the Sherlock Holmes stories myself (the only way I can describe it is a feeling of there being a lack of yolk in the egg, so to speak...) – but, I think having always perceived the stories as belonging to the ‘classics’ (as Caro says, they are such a well known part of our culture, even before we’ve read them!) I was expecting that depth – and was suspecting that maybe it was only my uninitiated Sherlock Holmes numpty status that was preventing me from detecting it! It’s actually a bit of a relief to hear you confirm nagging suspicions, Himadri - but, as you say – there *is* definitely something that makes the Holmes stories really special. Don’t ask me why either! They are classics not for literary greatness or depth – but for that certain magic ingredient that ignites the imagination. The mystery of what exactly that magic ingredient is - I suppose is one of those things that we don’t really, in our heart of hearts, want to answer – as that elusive quality *is* the magic and the charm; the magical bubble we don’t want to prod too much with enquiry. Maybe akin to the charm-like quality of remembered tales told to us as children; kept protectively in the safe-keeping of our memories, from a time when our imaginations keened to something very essential in ourselves? Maybe, the Holmes stories simply appeal to one of those essential somethings that a darn good story satisfies in us....
Anyway – thanks all, so far, for your great contributions. I’m finding all this really interesting. And, Himadri: Wow! How could I read your post (message No. 9) – and not feel inspired by your enthusiasm, to go and read every story you mention there right away?! So far, I’ve read about half of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (as my book mark still in its pages from a while back tells me!). After The Golden Bowl, I think it’ll be time for a return to Baker Street!
Message 14 - posted by TheRejectAmidHair (U1767253) , Nov 1, 2006
Oh! - never mind The Golden Bowl - just pick up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and turn to one of those great stories. You'd be spoilt for choice! Read "The Speckled Band" if you haven't read it before: it's terrifying. Or, failing that, try "The Copper Beeches", which takes us into Jane-Eyre-like territory (governess in mysterious house, with something strange up in the attic...) There's no better bedtime reading for those dark winter nights!
Message 15 - posted by Scousedog (U1706613) , Nov 1, 2006
The Sherlock Holmes stories really are great aren't they. Trouble is that like the Ibsen Plays, Rumpole and the MR James short stories they are so good I am reading them at a ridiculously slow rate as I don’t ever want to get to the end of them! So far The Red Headed League has been my favorite.
Message 17 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Nov 2, 2006
Oooh yes - though 'ridiculously slow rate' reading seems to be the enforced outcome of some pesky time-shifting around here nowadays (where do those "spare" moments go? Lost down behind the sofa along with the spare car keys, I suspect, dear Watson...) I can identify so much with deliberately delaying the end of first experiences of these stories, Scousedog! It's ages since I last read a Sherlock Holmes story - and my souvenir bookmark from Kent seems to have been living in the pages of 'The Adventures...' for an inordinately l-o-n-g time! But, with stories like this, I also feel a sense of wanting to eke them out and savour - as treats to enjoy when the time is right.
Himadri - ever one to do as I'm told (...is that hollow laughter I can hear from my hubby in the background??! ) I will indeed use some of these dark, chilly nights to enjoy a good Holmesian yarn - or two, or three... Much as I'm loving The Golden Bowl, it doesn't really lend itself to bleary-eyed bed-time reading! The Holmes stories will come as welcome relief from the complexities of the very different kind of mystery solving Henry James challenges us with!
Message 21 - posted by Eternalcats (U6085651) , Nov 2, 2006
Rejectamidhair, you are allowed to split infinitives and abandon apostrophes if you so wish ... there's this great little book by David Crystal called The Fight for English. You can split infinitives infinitely for your own amusement - it's a made up rule! and apostrophes didn't appear in their current form until after Shakespeare started writing.
Message 24 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Nov 3, 2006
Talking of film/TV adaptations – who is everyone’s favourite screen Sherlock Holmes? Is Basil Rathbone the definitive Holmes for all Sherlock devotees? I must admit to having a real soft spot for Jeremy Brett as Holmes. I loved his sudden, sweeping turns, flashing dagger glances and disdainfully flaring nostrils (and those plummets of mood towards the vulnerability beneath…) However, having watched those series before I’d ever thought about reading the stories, I’m basing my reaction to them on the (very enjoyable) TV experience alone….
Message 25 - posted by TheRejectAmidHair (U1767253) , Nov 3, 2006
Ah - debate still rages as to who was the greatest Holmes. Basil Rathbone had the advantage in that he looked like Holmes (he was the spitting image of the figure of Holmes as frawn by the original illustrator Sidney Paget) , but Nigel Bruce presented Watson as a sort of imbecile,and that’s a million miles away from Conan Doyle’s somewhat more subtle creation. These films do have a chrm of their own, but they have little to do with the Conan Doyle stories.
Peter Cushing played Holmes in the 60s series, and also in the Hammer production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. He was excellent in both, but perhaps a bit too cold and cerebral: one of the features of these stories is that despite the apparent detachment, Holmes & Watson do actually like and respect each other. The Watsons in both instances were excellent – Nigel Stock in the BBC sseries, and Andre Morrell in the Hammer film
The Jeremy Brett series is superbly produced, has great supporting casts, and both his Wastons – Edward Hardwicke and David Burke – are just right. And for many, Brett is *the* Sherlock Holmes. But here, I feel I must dissent. It is certainly a very striking assumption of the role, but this is not the Holmes I imagine when reading the stories. Holmes is, it is true, eccentric, but he was emotionally very reserved: Brett’s often passionate outbursts seem to me out of place. And even worse is that Brett’s Holmes is often rude to his clients, although we are often told in the stories how good Holmes was at putting his clients at ease. I do like the series very much: it comes closer than most to capturing the atmosphere of the stories; and I do realise that I’m in a minority in not caring for Brett’s Holmes. But as I say, this is not te Holmes I picture from the stories.
There have been many other Holmes & Watsons – far too many to list here. But one pairing I can’t resist mentioning is that of Robert Stephens and Colin Blakeley in that marvellous Billy Wilder film, “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”. (Christopher Lee turns up as Mycroft.) This is, admittedly, a spoof, but it’s a very affectionate spoof, and the whole thing is an absolute delight. The script (co-written by Wilder) is wonderfully witty and inventive, and, spoof or not, I’d rank this as my favourite Holmes-Watson film.
( I can’t resist giving a sample from the script – from memory, so I’m possibly not word perfect:
Watson: Do you see that ballerina, Holmes? Twelve men have died because of her. Six committed suicide, four killed each other in duels, and one fell off the balcony of the Vienna State Opera during Act 2 of “Swan Lake”.
Holmes: But that makes eleven.
Watson (triumphantly): Ah – but the one who fell off the balcony fell on top of someone in the stalls…)
Ian Richardson was a very good Holmes in a number of films made for US television networks. But my personal favourite Holmes & Watson pairing is Clive Merrison and Michael Williams on the BBC radio broadcasts: they are absolutely perfect, and, I think, ideals of how these roles should be played. They’ve done all four novels and all fifty-six short stories, and these productions are all available on cassettes and on CD, and are great for car listening on long journeys. (Come on BBC – surely I should get some sort of commission for plugging your products in so shameless a manner?)
Message 26 - posted by Hyp-hyp-hyp-ia (U1798998) , Nov 3, 2006
I like Holmes from the old b&w films, but my missus really disliked Watson being a likeable but bumbling fool.
I also thought Rubert Everet was very good in the BBC special last Christmas/year before.
Message 27 - posted by Eternalcats (U6085651) , Nov 3, 2006
I was a devotee of Basil Rathbone (despite a rather bumbling about sort of Watson) but my favourite is definitely Rupert Everett and his Watson, Ian Hart. It will come easier to me, I think, once I've read a book or two.
Message 28 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Nov 6, 2006
Many thanks again all! Himadri – I really enjoyed all the interesting and entertaining detail in your post! What a rich fountain of connection comes out of the mention of Sherlock Holmes – from film, TV, spoof, pastiche... Love it! Feeling all nostalgic now, I’ve added some of these films/TV series to my DVD rental list! And thanks for the tip about the BBC radio dramas on CD, Himadri. I shall definitely look out for those (the BBC should indeed be paying you commission!).
Oh, and by the way – at the weekend, I was transported from my cosy sofa to the underworld of Victorian London, when at last, I extracted my book mark from the pages of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and followed the intrepid duo on their next two cases; ‘The Blue Carbuncle’ (from the crackling fire of a Christmas-time hearth into icy cold Covent Garden...Perfect reading for this time of year) – and then, into the springtime lanes of Surrey (made sinister by wandering baboon and cheetah(!) – and the distress of a young woman and ferocity of her step-father - in ‘The Speckled Band’. What cracking tales! I thoroughly enjoyed them both. ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’ is next!
Message 31 - posted by Alvy Singer (U1706510) , Nov 7, 2006
For those of you who express an interest in the series I heartily recommend this lovely wee Complete Penguin Boxed Set of the books, in the retro orange Penguin covers, and at a quite wonderful price. I love mine to bits.
Message 32 - posted by Melanie D (U1706889) , Nov 7, 2006
ITV3 screened one of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes dramas last night! I just happened to notice that it was on only an hour before it was due to start! What serendipity! The episode was The Greek Interpreter – with Sherlock, Watson and Mycroft springing into action on a train, as it steamed its fiery way into the night, carrying a merciless gang of murderers from the scene of the crime...
Alvy –That’s a *fantastic* set you recommend there! Another too-good-to-miss offer from the Book People! I do love those original style Penguin covers.
The Auckland community TV station had The Sign of Four (1932) on the other night with Arthur Wontner as Holmes and Ian Hunter as Watson. These black and white films are a novelty compared with the high-tec stuff available now but I enjoy their way of simply telling the story as it is written. And it had a convincing Holmes; very hard to make anything of Watson's role as he is just there to make H look good.
|The Auckland community TV station had The Sign of Four (1932) on the other night with Arthur Wontner as Holmes and Ian Hunter as Watson. These black and white films are a novelty compared with the high-tec stuff available now but I enjoy their way of simply telling the story as it is written. And it had a convincing Holmes; very hard to make anything of Watson's role as he is just there to make H look good.
Doesn't Watson meet his future wife in "The Sign Of The Four"?
Yes Mary Morstan was the daughter of Captain Arthur Morstan who disappeared in London after some years in the Andaman Islands. To say more would give away the plot ( which saves me checking the facts), He did marry again but I am sure someone else will supply that name!
Watson is generally fairl;y reticent about his private life. He did marry Mary Morstan at the end of The Sign of Four, but it appears (Watson is never quite explicit about this) that she dies some time before the story "The Empty House". The chronology of the stories isn't always clear - although there have been anoraks who have carefully worked outthat kind of stuff. It appears that Watson is again presented as married in some stories set after "The Empty House", which could mean that Watson had remarried. Or, more likely, it just means that Conan Doyle was less scrupuplous about chronology than some of his admirers.
|TheRejectAmidHair wrote: |
|The chronology of the stories isn't always clear - although there have been anoraks who have carefully worked out that kind of stuff. It appears that Watson is again presented as married in some stories set after The Empty House, which could mean that Watson had remarried. Or, more likely, it just means that Conan Doyle was less scrupuplous about chronology than some of his admirers. |
As an anorak I want to be believe that John H Watson married not just twice but three times if W S Baring-Gould is to be trusted. Surely the idea that Watson as the complete opposite to the slightly aloof ascetic Holmes - as regards the opposite sex - is an admirable figure standing for fidelity, wholesomeness and loyalty in the late Victorian age?
Long live the Watsons of this, or any, age!