I realize I must bore you with my Sherlock Holmes posts. But what can I do? This is what I spend much of my free time with these days. And what occupies my mind naturally ends up here. There is more to expect on this topic in this blog as the Bollywood film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy still hasn’t released. However, there is no dearth of Sherlock Holmes works to keep myself busy meanwhile. Here is my attempt to explain my “Sherlock Holmes fix” and provide some more food for thought for the fans of the fictional detective here.
As a viewer with, what I think, a very specific taste in cinema, I tend to go through phases of intense like and then disinterest in films. I suppose the more films one experiences, the more difficult it becomes to be impressed by them. When I see an excellent film, I become obsessed with it for several days, rethinking the scenes, performances and dialogues. But I always get over it, moving on to the next great film to briefly occupy my mind. The kind of dedication that I seem to have developed for all Sherlock Holmes productions, however, is really unprecedented. I don’t know if it’s the many interesting works made on the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, or the depth of the characters and the uniqueness of their worldview that makes me keep going back to them. I actually fear seeing new films and series so as not to be disappointed by what I’m about to see. Sherlock Holmes is truly a difficult act to follow. The mentally stimulating wit provided by these works appear to be unmatched by anything else I’ve encountered.
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes
Productions on Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are a sea of resources. There are so many, all waiting to be experienced, compared and contrasted with everything else we’ve seen or heard on the famous characters before. Those who have had the good luck to be acquainted with the stories, films and TV series from a young age are certainly several steps ahead. For me, it has been a journey traveling backwards starting with BBC’s Sherlock, the Hollywood films starring Robert Downey Jr., Granada Television’s series starring Jeremy Brett and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes directed by Billy Wilder. I also watch the American series Elementary although defining it as Sherlock Holmes is a bit of a stretch. I tried to watch the 1939 film, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Basil Rathbone, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. The characterization of Dr. Watson couldn’t be more off. I’ve recently watched the first episode of a new TV show called Arthur & George which is based on the real life of Arthur Conan Doyle. Apparently, the man himself was very similar to Sherlock Holmes! So I think this will be another addition to my regular Sherlock Holmes fix.
I have read some of the original stories. I admit that I’m not much of a reader. I find it easier to watch rather than read fiction. I do want to read the originals because every single production out there is based off of them. I even gave audio books a try, the entire collection is available, read by Sir Derek Jacobi. But unfortunately it puts me to sleep very effectively.
Something interesting I’ve discovered however, is the short stories about a fictional Detective named Dupin, by Edgar Allen Poe. I had read before that Doyle was inspired by Poe’s Dupin. After reading the first few Dupin stories, I’m convinced of it. The similarities between the two fictional detectives are unmistakable. Here are a few examples – listen to how the storyteller, Dupin’s friend and roommate, and one who accompanies him on his adventures, describes the character in The Murders in The Rue Morgue:
“I was deeply interested in the family history he told me. I was surprised, too, at how much and how widely he had read; more important, the force of his busy mind was like a bright light in my soul. I felt that the friendship of such a man would be for me riches without price. I therefore told him of my feelings toward him, and he agreed to come and live with me. He would have, I thought, the joy of using my many fine books. And I would have the pleasure of having someone with me, for I was not happy alone. We passed the days reading, writing and talking. But Dupin was a lover of the night, and at night, often with only the light of the stars to show us the way, we walked the streets of Paris, sometimes talking, sometimes quiet, always thinking. I soon noticed a special reasoning power he had, an unusual reasoning power. Using it gave him great pleasure. He told me once, with a soft and quiet laugh, that most men have windows over their hearts; through these he could see into their souls. Then, he surprised me by telling what he knew about my own soul; and I found that he knew things about me that I had thought only I could possibly know. His manner at these moments was cold and distant. His eyes looked empty and far away, and his voice became high and nervous. At such times it seemed to me that I saw not just Dupin, but two Dupins — one who coldly put things together, and another who just as coldly took them apart.” (The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Part One, pg 1-2)
“Dupin had been talking not to me, it seemed, but to himself. His cold eyes seemed to see only what was in his own mind. Now he stopped and looked straight at me. His eyes were now hard and bright. And I understood that using his unusual reasoning power to find the answer to those bloody murders was giving Dupin great pleasure!” (The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Part Four, pg 17)
Sound familiar? Edgar Allen Poe is believed to be the inventor of detective stories, his Dupin character becoming the inspiration for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and possibly also inspiration for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. I’m sure Doyle would not disagree as he mentions Poe’s Dupin in his first ever story to feature Sherlock Holmes – A Study In Scarlet, where Dr. John Watson remarks:
“It is simple enough as you explain it,” I said, smiling. “You remind me of Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”
Poe deserves much recognition for conceptualizing the characters and also for forming the basis of detective literature. There is also no doubt however that the type of reasoning that Dupin had described in his stories were elaborated and explained more thoroughly by Arthur Conan Doyle. For much of the world, the introduction to the concept of deductive reasoning occurred through Doyle’s stories. The way he imagined a detective with unique reasoning skills and his companion determined the image we all have come to accept.
After going through the various productions on Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, I have noticed that each work is an interpretation of what Doyle wrote and not quite as I had imagined. Granada Television’s series starring Jeremy Brett must be one of the closest to the original content. I do find the episodes a little too serious and sad at times however. I think most of us have envisioned the original stories with a little more humor and entertainment, not unlike BBC’s Sherlock. Even though this is a modernized version of the stories, I find it closer to expectation in terms of the emotions and moods presented. Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes seems to be a combination of Jeremy Brett’s portrayal and Robert Stephens’ portrayal from the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The creators of BBC’s Sherlock have mentioned several times that they were immensely influenced by this film. It does become evident when one sees the film, Benedict even resembles Robert Stephens in appearance. I think he also picked up some nuances from Brett’s performance.
Robert Stephens (right) as Sherlock Holmes
It’s actually nice that all of these works are slightly different and unique because it just makes everything far more interesting. Just as Doyle took Poe’s Dupin and worked on it, we see various filmmakers present their unique opinion and take on their favorite fictional detective. The productions I’ve mentioned here are merely the well known ones in the Western hemisphere. Sherlock Holmes isn’t only a Western cultural icon, absolutely not. There are works based on Doyle’s stories in many countries around the world. For example, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy (also called, the Indian Sherlock Holmes), is based on the stories by Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, who was influenced by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. There are bound to be many more because it’s unlikely that a world that hasn’t tired of Sherlock Holmes in 128 years, will be so any time soon.
I’ll leave you with my favorite Sherlock Holmes quotes. I will add to these as I discover more.
“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.”
— A Case of Identity, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
“Crime is common. Logic is rare.”
–The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
“I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.”
— The Greek Interpreter, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”
-Valley of Fear
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
They don’t exist in the original works but there are also excellent writing and quotes in BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’ Elementary. There are shortcoming to both of these shows but that’s a post for another day. They do deserve to be recognized for creative writing that’s not too far off from what Doyle might have imagined. Here are a few:
“Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side…. I took your pulse. Elevated. Your pupils dilated. I imagine John Watson thinks love’s a mystery to me, but the chemistry is incredibly simple and very destructive. When we first met, you told me that a disguise is always a self-portrait, how true of you, the combination to your safe – your measurements. But this, this is far more intimate. This is your heart, and you should never let it rule your head. You could have chosen any random number and walked out of here today with everything you worked for. But you just couldn’t resist it, could you? I’ve always assumed that love is a dangerous disadvantage. Thank you for the final proof.”
— Sherlock, Season 2 Episode 1, A Scandal in Belgravia
“Intuitions are not to be ignored John. They represent data processed too fast for the conscious mind to comprehend.”
–Sherlock, Season 4 Episode 1, The Six Thatchers
“An honest politician is rare, a marriage worth the bother is rare, THIS is the only orchid of its kind in existence.”
— Elementary, Season 3 Episode 10, Seed Money