Elementary, my dear Watson!

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget (died 1908).

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget

Among the other readings, lately I’m enjoying very much the tales of Sherlock Holmes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Months ago I bought a copy of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” at a low price out of curiousity and soon I became literally hooked. Hence I made the big step and bought a “mammoth”, a compendium of Doyle’s writings about the famous detective, known as “the canon”.

While Doyle’s style isn’t particularly remarkable, his work is really a pleasure to read: mostly it’s made of short self-contained tales, grouped in a single book (e.g. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”, “The Memoirs Sherlock Holmes” etc…), but even the books containing a single story (e.g. “A Study in Scarlet”, “The Sign of Fours” etc…) feels just like a tale, just a little longer than usual.

What makes the plots really catching is the main character: Sherlock Holmes isn’t like any common human, his super-human abilities are the key of his success within the readers. Such a peculiar character, that really impresses itself in the reader’s mind, it’s Doyle’s literary transposition of Professor Joseph Bell: Doyle met him, and his amazing deductive ability applied to medical sciences, at university; most likely Doyle created Sherlock Holmes in order to free himself from an inferiority complex toward Joseph Bell.

It’s pretty remarkable that Doyle’s made up such an hyper-rationale character, because during his life he was pretty attracted by the irrational claims of spiritism. In fact he had a strong conflict with the great Ehrich Weiss, also known as Houdini, about this: Houdini spent a lot of his life to unmask charlatans thanks to his knowledge about trickeries and since he was a good friend with Doyle, the both of them came to a clash about this very particular topic. This literally broke up their friendship, they even came to the point of writing harsh articles on the news papers against each other.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes are incidentally also an interesting portrait of the England and some other countries in the second half of the XIX century; this challenged my immagination quite a bit, there are often several details that are hard to conceive with our current point of view.

NOTE: by the way, the famous saying that’s this post’s title was never said directly by Sherlock Holmes; in the books there are similar expressions but never that exact one, that was introduced by the movies. There are also other stereotypes about Sherlock Holmes that aren’t in the canon, like his typical garments, and details that havn’t made into the movies, like his cocaine addiction.

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