A week from today, I'll be giving a lecture at Bainbridge College in Georgia. The title of the talk will be "Sherlock's Secret: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Immortality of Sherlock Holmes." I was invited to do this because the college has a program that takes students to Edinburgh, which is Doyle's birthplace. I'm thrilled to be asked to give the presentation; it's always fun to talk about two of my favorite fellows.
But as I'm pulling this together, it occurred to me that now would be a good time to put the question to other Sherlockians: why do YOU think Holmes has survived so long and is enjoying such a renaissance? Obviously, this is a question without a definitive answer, but when asked, here are the three reasons I give:
1. They're great adventure stories. I don't lock Holmes into the mystery genre; he's not just a brainiac sitting in an armchair, making deductions and gloating about being right. (That's Mycroft's gig!) And many of the tales aren't mysteries in the strictest sense. But they are "ripping good yarns" where all kinds of crazy, exotic, and bloodcurdling things happen. Even a century removed from their creation, they can still get the reader's heart pounding, because Doyle is a masterful storyteller.
2. The Holmes and Watson relationship is one of the greatest 'buddy stories' of all time. I think it resonates with readers because we all know someone very different to ourselves who we still like and admire. Maybe the relationship isn't always an easy one, but in the end we know our lives would be lesser without these people in them. I honestly think this is why, even at the extremes, the relationship of the detective and the doctor 'clicks' with us. It doesn't matter that we're not really finding stolen pearls or battling the Napoleon of crime. In a secret, unconcious place, while reading along we get to be Holmes and Watson because of our own mysterious, complicated, and fulfilling personal relationships. Something in their fiction connects to our reality.
3. It's just such a great concept. While the idea of a detective who uses logical reasoning and advances in science to solve crimes might not be exactly new to our world, think how groundbreaking it was in the late 1800s. And the idea behind all of Sherlock Holmes' cases, the idea that what matters is the mind---not strength, not looks, not social status---is an affirmation of modernity. Sherlock Holmes may live in Victorian London, but he's very much a reflection of our time and place. That's why (I believe) modern translations such as SHERLOCK can work very well. Holmes is an idea as well as a character. Ideas live forever.
These are the big reasons why I believe people are still making Sherlockian TV shows, movies, comic books, etc. It's why Holmes can be a mouse or a futuristic robot or even a wizard, along with being the familiar silhouette in Baker Street. It's a salute to the genius of Doyle, who never really seemed to grasp what a great thing he did. Many authors have created characters that are still read today, but few have created characters that inspire such devotion, spark so many heated debates, and are reimagined for every generation.
I'd love to hear some views from fellow Sherlockians. Why do you think Holmes is immortal? If I use your quote in the talk, I will be sure to give you credit! I'd like to show the young people at Bainbridge College some of the diversity of thought in the Sherlockian world as to why "Here dwell together still two men of note/Who never lived and so can never die."