Last week I wrote about the season four opener of BBC’s Sherlock, which was an improvement on season three and the abysmal Abominable Bride. But the second episode was yet another huge disappointment, so I’m not going to bother with a negative post about it. However, I’m going to talk about the Canonical story it was based on.
It’s no huge surprise that The Lying Detective was based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale, “The Dying Detective.” As far as that goes, The Lying Detective was actually a decent adaptation of the original story. That’s damning with faint praise, however, as I consider “The Dying Detective” to be one of the weakest stories in the Canon.
Appearing in December of 1913, it was the forty-sixth Holmes story to be published. It was one of just eight stories included in His Last Bow.
SPOILERS – I’m going to talk about a story that’s been out there for over one hundred years. And it features the most popular fictional character of all time. If you REALLY don’t want to be tipped off, jump over here and spend fifteen minutes reading it. You have been warned!
Holmes starves himself, looks ghastly, lays in bed, insults Watson, the villain comes over, helpfully confesses, is arrested and Holmes reveals that the was faking it. Yep, that’s the whole thing. Holmes lies in bed for all but a few seconds of the story (he jumps up to lock Watson in the room). No deducing, no finding clues, no nothing. His work in trying to pin a murder on Culverton Smith all happens beforehand.
Season three of BBC’s Sherlockwas an absolute train wreck, destroying what had been a great show. Then The Abominable Bride took the long-awaited Victorian-Era Cumberbatch/Freeman episode and turned it into some stupid psychological modern day shlock involving the dead, giggling Moriarty.
So, season four finally arrived, just shy of three years since season three ended. And you know what? The Six Thatchers wasn’t a disaster. It wasn’t up to the standards of the first two seasons, but it was better than season three.
In a recent interview, Steven Moffat said, “Mark Gatiss and I do not have the delusion that we know better than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That’s how the show works and always will. We reset to the most traditional and famous version of the format.”
And it was exactly when those two thought they knew better than Doyle: when they wrote episodes that alternately pandered to new generation fans and saying ‘look at how smart and clever we are’ (I’m talking about you, season three) that a great show turned to crap. Season three was all about the creators patting themselves on the back and showing how much they didn’t need Doyle to make a Sherlock show. And they lost a huge part of the original fan base in doing so.
Last week I wrote about two Titan Books novels from James Lovegrove. I mentioned that there are two distinct lines of Holmes pastiches from Titan (actually, there are other books that don’t fall in either category, such as Kareem Abdul Jabaar’s Mycroft Holmes novel). The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes started as reprints and added new books into the mix and are generally more traditional stories.
The other features more elements of horror, steampunk and/or the supernatural and George Mann’s two novels are part of this line. He has also edited three anthologies for Titan, including a neat little book called The Associates of Sherlock Holmes.
Associates includes thirteen stories; all focusing on a character found in one of Doyle’s sixty original Holmes tales. It’s a neat idea and there are some interesting and creative stories in the mix. The aforementioned Lovegrove’s “Pure Swank” tells us the real story about Barker, Holmes’ ‘hated rival upon the Surrey shore,’ going back to when he was an Irregular.
Hugo Award winner Tim Pratt’s “Heavy Game of the Pacific Northwest” takes Colonel Sebastian Moran to the state of Washington in 1892 to hunt what seems to be Big Foot. It’s a good hunting story that paints quite a portrait of the amoral Moran.
Ian Edington’s “The Case of the Previous Tenant” brings the best of the official force, Surry’s Inspector Baynes, to London. A Viking sword and some borrowing from “The Devil’s Foot” make for a fun read.
In the early 1900’s, Maurice Leblanc had his French detective, Arsene Lupin, face off with Herlock Sholmes. I think you know who he’s battling – spelling disregarded. 1965’s A Study in Terror sent Holmes after Jack the Ripper on movie screens and in 1988, and Sax Rohmer biographer Clay Van Ash brought Holmes and Fu Manchu together in Ten Years Beyond Baker Street. Crossovers have become more and more popular over the years. James Lovegrove currently has Holmes interacting with the Cthulhu mythos.
I don’t do a lot of book reviews here at The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes because I generally don’t like to reveal spoilers. And it can be tough to talk about the strong points of a book without giving away key elements. But sometimes, especially with older books, that’s part of the price of the post. So, I’ll try to limit revelations in this one, but be warned: There be spoilers here!
Lovegrove, who has written several non-Holmes books, is part of Titan’s stable of new Holmes authors. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is the first of a trilogy, with Sherlock Holmes & The Miskatonic Monstrosities due out in Fall of 2017 and Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea Devils to wrap things up in November of 2018.
The basic premise of the book (yea, the trilogy) is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul.
It is with a certain sense of misgiving that I relate the following tale, which took place during the Christmas season of 1902. I had moved out of our Baker Street lodgings earlier that year, having married only a few months before that most festive of holidays. I now had rooms in Queen Anne Street and was quite busy with my flourishing medical practice. A newly married man, I once again found myself as head of a household, with all of the duties thereof. I saw Holmes infrequently, but had found the time to visit him the day before Christmas. Certain that he would have no plans of any kind, I extended to him an invitation to join my wife and I for Christmas day.
Holmes rebuffed my attempts to have him share in the holiday spirit with us. “Watson, I have no use for the Christmas season. Is it rational to believe a man rose from the dead? And even if it were, do you not see the hypocrisy of it all? For one day, a man will give a beggar a farthing, because it is Christmas. He would pass by that beggar 364 other days and pay him no mind. That is Christmas?”
I could not recall Holmes being so churlish. When we had roomed together, he had not been an avid celebrator of Christmas, but he did accommodate my warm feelings towards the season. Now, left to his own devices, it seemed that his natural contrariness was shining through. I made one last effort to have him spend a pleasant dinner at the Watson household. It was to no avail.
In December of 1893, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle rather unceremoniously tossed Sherlock Holmes off of a ledge at the Reichenbach Falls, stunning (and angering) the great detective’s legion of fans. Doyle, who famously said that Holmes “kept him from better things” (meaning, the more important, much less popular works that Doyle really wanted to write), insisted that he was done with Holmes and that was that.
Of course, from August 1901 through September of 1902, The Strand Magazine serialized the most famous of all the Holmes tales, The Hound of the Baskervilles. But Doyle let fans know that this was a tale from before Reichenbach and the great detective was still D-E-A-D dead.
However, the temptation of big and easy money was too much for the author to resist and he was lured into writing the short stories that made up The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
However, most casual fans do not know that Doyle actually gave Holmes a return appearance in 1896: yes, five years before Watson travelled to Dartmoor with Sir Henry. Read on…
We’re back with more Basil Rathbone again this week. Of course, you read last week’s essay about Sherlock Holmes & the Secret Weapon. This week, it’s a look at The Scarlet Claw, which seems to be considered the best of the Universal films (though it’s not my favorite).
First, let me mention the restorations done for the Rathbone films. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has restored over 700 movies and television shows, including all 14 of the Rathbone/Bruce films. I had bad VHS copies of this series and UCLA did a phenomenal job in restoring them. They are a treat to watch.
They also include commentary tracks – some by Holmes author and expert (and my former editor) David Stuart Davies. These DVDs have become more affordable over the years and I highly recommend purchasing these over cheaper, much lower quality discs. Trust me. I used to run the HolmesOnScreen.com website, you know!
Moving on: We can divide Basil Rathbone’s movie career as Holmes into three phases. The first encompasses the two films from Twentieth Century Fox: The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Both of these were set in Victorian England and Rathbone dons the deerstalker and Inverness cape.
Next are the first three Universal films. In Sherlock Holmes & the Voice of Terror, SH & the Secret Weapon and SH in Washington, the great detective is aiding the war effort. These three are more patriotic spy flicks than typical Holmes fare.
It’s reported that in early 1939, movie mogul Daryl Zanuck was at a party when a friend suggested that someone should make movies out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective stories. Zanuck liked the idea, but wondered aloud who should play Holmes. The friend, writer Gene Markey, replied “Basil Rathbone” without hesitation. He then added that Nigel Bruce would make a perfect Watson.
Shortly thereafter, the duo began filming The Hound of the Baskervilles, followed quickly by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Rathbone’s Hound is still considered the standard, nearly seventy years later. Both, released in 1939, were set in Victorian London, as opposed to the popular Arthur Wontner films of the thirties, which were Edwardian in design.
Surprisingly, Fox decided to pull the plug on the series. Rathbone kept his magnifying glass handy, however, as he and Nigel Bruce were starring as Holmes and Watson in a very popular radio series.
The first three Holmes films at Fox were Word War II thrillers. This isn’t a huge surprise, as the planet was aflame. While the two Fox movies could be seen as reassuring, British escapist fare, a money-focused studio could also look at them as quaint and irrelevant. Holmes fighting evil and bucking up nations entrenched in the good fight made commercial and patriotic sense.
I don’t really do horror. Now, I am a huge Robert R. McCammon fan and of F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack. Of course, I’ve read a fair amount of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stuff (man, that creeps me out). And bits here and there from Robert E. Howard, Les Daniels, Anne Rice and a few others. But overall, I don’t really enjoy the genre, so it’s not an area I have a lot of experience with.
However, I have come across several examples of Holmes in the genre. And it being Halloween, let’s take a quick look at few titles that involve horror or the supernatural. Those two things aren’t always the same, you know.
The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (John Taylor) There was a time when Holmes pastiches were relatively uncommon and, pre-Amazon, you grabbed what you could when you saw them on the shelves. I still remember being excited to buy books from Richard Boyer, L.B. Greenwood and Frank Thomas. Another was a short story collection by John Sherwood, a writer for the BBC. “The Wandering Corpse,” “The Battersea Worm,” “The Paddington Witch,” “The Phantom Organ,” “The Devil’s Tunnel” and “The Horror of Hanging Wood” are all supernatural-tinged stories. The last one remains a favorite of mine and something I wish I’d thought up. Taylor wrote four more Holmes adventures, which were read aloud by Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve not heard them, but every couple of years, around this time, I read a few stories from his book.
Gaslight Anthologies (edited by J.R. Campbell & Charles Prepolec) In 2008, Canadians Campbell and Prepolec put out Gaslight Grimoire, a collection of eleven creepy Holmes tales. It was followed by thirteen more in Gaslight Grotesque, and finished up with another dozen in Gaslight Arcanum. That’s 36 stories of horror and weirdness. You can certainly tell what you’re getting from the covers of the last two books. If you’re a Holmes fan and really like the horror genre, these three anthologies are just what you’re looking for.
It’s well known in Sherlock Holmes circles that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States of America (now THERE was somebody worthy of that office) was a great fan of the world’s first private consulting detective, even having written about Holmes more than once. The third of his three Vice Presidents, and his successor at the Oval Office, was Harry S. Truman. Truman was also a follower of Holmes and like FDR, was granted membership to The Baker Street Irregulars.
Milton F. Perry himself became an Irregular in 1990. As he mentions in this essay, he was the Curator of the Museum at the Harry S. Truman Library from 1958 until 1976. The position gave him enviable access to the former President. Perry wrote the following essay for the December, 1986 Baker Street Journal. Truman’s interest in Holmes is not as well-known and certainly deserves to be publicized. So, as a frightful election day looms, Come, the game is afoot! – Bob
“Mr. President,” I asked, “What did the dog do in the night time?”
Harry S Truman grinned and looked at his glass of bourbon and branch water. “Perry,” he said, “you ought to know better than test an old Holmesian like me, the only honorary member of the Baker Street Irregulars. You know damned well the dog did nothing in the night time!”
This was my introduction to Harry Truman as a Sherlockian, a relationship I was able to develop from time to time during the years I was associated with him as Curator of the Museum at the Harry S Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, from 1958 until 1976. I was fortunate to have been able to discuss many things with him during those years, mostly in the uninterrupted privacy of his office.