Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.
A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.
Sherlock Holmes is never far away. I think my addiction started in the 1970s. There was always some copy of Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories on my night stand. Frequently a facsimile of the Strand with Sidney Piaget illustrations. For several years I was a member of The Baker Street Irregulars and received their journal. I have dozens of books dating from this period, various editions of the Conan Doyle stories and novels, the largest being “The Annotated Sherlock Holme;” imitations, pastiche style works; the films of; the art of; a cookbook, Victorian crime; the rivals of; the possibility of new Holmes books seems endless. Some are serious criticism by scholars of the canon; others are best sellers.
I recently watched “The Seven Percent Solution,” (1976) based on the best selling book by Nicholas Meyer. Holmes, in a solid performance by Nicol Williamson, has not had a case to occupy his racing brain. A seven percent solution of cocaine has filled the void but results in all to real and fearful hallucinations. Loyal Doctor Watson (Robert Duvall) with Mycroft’s help leads Holmes to Vienna and Sigmund Freud (Alan Atkin) for a cure. Hyponosis helps. Holmes then involves Watson and Freud in an international kidnapping case, Lola Devereaux (Vanessa Redgrave); and of course a bit of Professor Moriarity (Laurence Olivier). It’s a fast paced twist on elements from Doyle’s writing. Still enjoyable after 40 years.
My most recent Sherlock Holmes read was “The Great Detective: the amazing rise and immortal life of Sherlock Holmes,” by Zach Dundas. As a kid, Dundas read and reread the Holmes stories. He asks, “why has Holmes taken a 125 year grip on popular culture?” Scholarly analysis, pastiche writings, movies, tv, theatre, the arts, comics and advertisements — Holmes’ is everywhere. Dundas even explores more “porn” like blogs on the internet.
He writes about Gillette, Rathbone, Irons, Cumberbach, Downey — each has left an imprint on Sherlock. Illustrator Sidney Paget, for instance, branded Holmes with a deerstalker and Inverness cape. William Gillette added the curve calabash pipe on the NY stage.
Visit London and then visit the Holmes rooms — 221b Baker Street — at the Sherlock Holmes Pub on Northumberland Avenue, near London’s Charing Cross Station. On my last trip to London, I wanted to take the Sherlock Holmes tour but didn’t have the time. The appeal of Sherlock Holmes is in part due to this world Doyle created. The Victorian rooms, detailed, eccentric, mysterious. And the city, London, the mist, rain, Hanson cabs, trains, alley ways, and wharves. We are seduced.
Holmes is not himself without Watson. He is a friend, foil, and sidekick, we see Holmes through Watson’s eyes.
Dundas analysis is rich, sometimes new, but often familiar, a place we’ve been, a place we will visit again.
Last night I was looking for a movie to watch on my I-pad. “Mr. Holmes.” (2015) Why not? Holmes (Ian McKellen) has retired, suffers from dementia, raises bees, travels to Japan to get jelly made from the prickly ash, befriends Roger, the son of his housekeeper, is trying to write a final story. It’s an engaging movie.
As Vincent Starrett wrote “two men of note who never lived so can never die.” The Holmes story continues, grows, and twists. I’m hooked.