The existence of fifty-six short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes makes it somewhat difficult to pick one clear favorite, at least for me. I start to talk about The Copper Beaches and its engaging heroine and bizarre mystery; then I think of The Speckled Band and its delightful creep factor. I can’t forget The Three Garridebs for its rare look at Holmes’s sentimental side or A Scandal in Bohemia for Holmes’s most famous defeat. My list of favorites can end up very long indeed.
With only four full-length novels, however, the task of picking a favorite is much easier. I would venture a guess that between A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear, the most common favorite is probably The Hound of the Baskervilles. It is, however, not my pick.
My favorite of the novels, without a doubt, is A Study in Scarlet, in spite of one large narrative section that is generally considered weak. The reason I choose it as my favorite is because of its account of the introductory period of Holmes and Watson’s friendship and partnership. The Holmes of this story is young, eccentric, and sharp-edged, not yet balanced by the influence of the kindly ironic Watson, whose wit comes out right away in his appraisal of his strange flatmate. From the beginning, the reader is introduced to two iconic characters, just as intriguing when they first meet as they are throughout their long association.
Today’s Canon Thursday question is all about the Sherlock Holmes novels. Which is your favorite? Any you dislike? Let me know in the comments.
After reviewing Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Horror for the Baker Street Babes, I have now had the opportunity to review David Ruffle’s follow-up novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Lyme Regis Legacy, also published by MX Publishing. Here is an excerpt: The second Lyme Regis outing by Sherlockian David Ruffle finds Watson again making his way to the coastal town, only to become tangled in a series of murders that mimic the methods of Holmes’s most famous cases. The detective soon joins him in Lyme Regis, and the two enlist Inspector Lestrade’s help as they track down a murderer and solve a case with close ties to The Hound of the Baskervilles. After this novella-length adventure concludes, the book, like Ruffle’s previous title, is rounded out by several short stories
One particularly welcome aspect of the novel is Ruffle’s liberal use of humor, which is sprinkled throughout the main novella and the subsequent stories, some of which are outright parodies. Also of note are the engaging characterizations of Mycroft Holmes and Inspector Lestrade, who are realized in canonical and three-dimensional ways.
The Holmes-verse is loaded with tropes, those trappings that accompany the detective wherever he goes. Some of them are from the stories, such as the pipe and tobacco slipper, others, like the deerstalker hat, were added by Paget, the original illustrator, and still others, like the idea of Watson being genuinely stupid, were added by later adapters.
Somewhat ironically, I chose to write a novel about one of my most-disliked tropes–Irene Adler. Of course, Irene appears in one canon story and warrants mention elsewhere, but the way subsequent writers have characterized her and Holmes’s relationship with her often makes me shake my head. That’s why I chose to write a story of my own, because I was itching to tell Irene’s story the way I thought it should be.
Today’s Canon Thursday question is, what is your most hated Holmes trope? Is it the overuse of the word “Elementary,” the ubiquitous earflap hat, Irene Adler as a master criminal, or a Watson so silly he can hardly tie his own shoes? The possibilities are nearly endless. Let me know what drives you nuts in the comments.
Sherlock Holmes hasn’t ever really stepped out of the spotlight of popular culture since A Study in Scarlet came into being, and a great many people are familiar with the look and manner traditionally associated with the detective, both its canonical and extra-canonical elements.
When it comes to specific stories from the canon, however, it’s obvious that public attention has generally focused on a few favorite tales and largely ignored many others. Stories of which people in general seem widely aware include The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Scandal in Bohemia, as well as The Final Problem and The Empty House.
The general knowledge of Hound, at least in the United States, can be partly attributed to the story’s frequent inclusion in secondary school literature curricula, and Scandal is an obvious choice because of its atypical and quasi-romantic (as close as the detective ever comes) subject matter. People’s actual knowledge of the specific content of these stories is debatable, but many at least know of their existence. Final Problem and Empty House are known even less specifically, but their existence is at least hazily evident to those who know about the death and resurrection of the character.
Other stories this reader has encountered in US culture include The Speckled Band and The Engineer’s Thumb, which seem to have been singled out because of their suspenseful and sensational plotlines.
I’m curious about others’ experiences with canonical stories in popular culture. Which stories do you encounter most frequently outside of a Sherlockian context, and why do you think they’re more popular than others? Has the public’s taste changed over the years, or have preferences remained consistent?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this; let me know in the comments.
When considering the character of Sherlock Holmes, almost as ubiquitous as deductive reasoning and pipe smoking is the presence of the violin, an instrument of which Watson claims Holmes is a master.
To this reader, the most fascinating purpose served by giving Holmes an instrument, especially a hand-held one that is easily produced whenever desired, is that it allowed Conan Doyle to show a side of Holmes not seen during cases.
Very early in the canon, Watson begins to understand Holmes as both a logician and a musician, and throughout the stories, both sides of the detective continue to coexist. The scientific side is at the fore during interactions with criminals and law enforcement, as well as the gathering of clues and reasoning through their implications.
To see the detective as a logical machine, however, is to limit him more than his creator did. Almost from the beginning, Watson also chronicles another side of Holmes, a dreamy, excitable, passionate side that is awakened by music and also produces it. To fail to recall Watson’s vivid descriptions of this state is to lose a large and valuable part of Holmes’s personality.
Sherlock Holmes is a far from one-dimensional character, and his violin is a symbol of the fact that the scientist, however cold he seems at times, also possesses a passionate nature.
The Baker Street Babes, the fabulous ladies with whom I podcast, are offering The Detective and the Woman as a pre-launch release from their bookshop. The release date is April 16th, but if you order from here, you will get it right away and be supporting the podcast as well.
Get it here!
England’s greatest detective and the woman who outsmarted him are thrown together by a criminal plot with implications that stretch across the Atlantic. Their investigation leads them to south Florida, where they meet legendary inventor Thomas Edison and employ disguise, wit, and courage to outsmart a diabolical villain.