This is an interesting little article I just discovered on Medium.com: When Arthur Conan Doyle Killed Sherlock Holmes. Now, every Sherlock Holmes fan, I assume, has heard or read the story of how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got so sick of writing the Holmes stories, that he decided to "kill" his creation by having him plunge to his presumed death at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls (in "The Final Problem"). I initially assumed that this article would just be a basic recap of that story. Instead, the author uses Doyle's assumptions about the value of his non-Holmes writing to make a point about how we rate our own work. She writes about something called "the Dunning-Kruger Effect," and shares this quote from Wikipedia:
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is. The bias was first experimentally observed by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University in 1999.
She sums it up thus: "In other words, mediocre people tend to be more confident and overrate their abilities." I'm sure many of us have encountered this tendency in everyday life. It's an interesting point, and relating it to Doyle's decision to kill off his most famous character is an intriguing take on the concept.
A few years ago, I did a series of posts where I discussed the Top 5 actors who, in my opinion, have played Sherlock Holmes the best. A couple weeks ago, I promised to re-think that list. And now I have. This time, I shall present all of my Top 5 in one post, rather than stretching it out into five different posts. I realize many Sherlockians will disagree with this list, but at the moment, it's where I stand. First, here is my original list:
And now I shall revise that list, and explain my reasons for each ranking...
#5. Ronald Howard
I no longer have Basil Rathbone on my Top 5 list, even though he was Sherlock Holmes for many fans for several decades. Having watched the Rathbone/Bruce films, and comparing them to the TV series from the 1950s, I find Ronald Howard's portrayal quite superior to Rathbone's. He's a younger, bouncier Holmes, with much more of a sparkling sense of humor. He may have been just a bit too handsome to play Holmes, but overall, I find what he brought to the role to have been much more impressive than Rathbone's portrayal. Moreover, his Watson, played my Howard Marion Crawford was quite good, one of the earlier performances to buck the Nigel Bruce trend of playing Watson as a bumbler.
#4. Benedict Cumberbatch
My thoughts on Cumberbatch's portrayal of the great detective have changed an awful lot since I originally put him at the top of my list. One of the things that changed my mind on Cumberbatch was Season 4 of Sherlock. It may have happened gradually throughout the series, but by the last episode of Season 4 it became painfully obvious that Cumberbatch's Holmes had become something very different from what it was in the first season of the show. Sure, he and Martin Freeman still make a very good duo, but the show replaced its earlier emphasis on Holmes's deductive abilities with an action hero ethos (Exhibit A: Sherlock and John jumping out of the window of 221B when a grenade explodes). What was originally, for me, a really remarkable reimagining of Sherlock Holmes became a slightly annoying caricature.
#3. Jonny Lee Miller
Now that I've watched much of the first five seasons of Elementary, I can't help but think that the format of the American series has allowed Miller to inhabit the role of Sherlock Holmes much more than most actors have. Meanwhile, I think Miller's portrayal of Holmes has been more consistent overall than Cumberbatch's. And the Holmes/Watson partnership demonstrated my Miller and Lucy Liu (as Joan Watson) has been intriguing. So I've moved Jonny Lee Miller above Benedict Cumberbatch on my new list.
#2. Jeremy Brett
I very nearly put Jeremy Brett at the top of my list, as so many of his performances were so good! However, watching later installments of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series, it is painfully obvious that Brett's portrayal, and the quality of the series overall, were negatively impacted by the actor's numerous health problems. If all that survived of Brett's portrayal of the great detective was that first series of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I believe he would very likely top my list. However, I feel that I have to take into account how the series suffered as Brett became more and more ill. Incidentally, both David Burke and Edward Hardwicke did an admirable job at playing Watson.
#1. Peter Cushing
Not only did my new #1 do an amazing job at portraying Sherlock Holmes in the 1959 Hammer Films production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but Mr. Cushing also nailed the role of Holmes in the TV series he did in 1968. Just looking at the consistent quality of his performance in everything he did as Sherlock Holmes, I'm impressed by his attention to detail, the perfect physicality he brought to the role. He has the piercing glance, as well as the quiet frenzy as he works, that makes him a perfect Holmes to my way of thinking. And Nigel Stock is a top notch Watson, which makes the pair almost perfect.
As I mentioned above, I am quite sure that other Sherlockians will disagree strongly with the ranking above. Give it another few years, and I may end up disagreeing with myself! Still, at this point in 2019, this is where I stand. I'd love to hear readers' comments and feedback.
Last year, Audible.com (an online audiobook service from Amazon) released an audiobook of English actor Stephen Fry reading the entire Sherlock Holmes canon. I'm listening to Fry's reading of A Study in Scarlet right now, and it's really quite marvelous. Fry has been a longtime Holmes aficionado, and he brings a great deal of style (as well as a great deal of humor) to his reading of the canon. For Audible subscribers it's a reasonable price of $14.95. If you're not willing to subscribe to Audible, it will cost you a significantly less reasonable $58.99! (Or is it $82.77? The prices listed on Amazon and Audible are different.) You can hear a sample of Fry's reading on Amazon.com or on Audible.com.
You can view a brief video of Stephen Fry talking about his Audible reading at the link below...
Back around the time I first started Baker Street Babble, I acquired The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, by Leslie Klinger. I think it's a great piece of work, an indispensable reference work for any Holmes fan. It was awhile later that I learned that Klinger had published an earlier series of annotated Sherlock Holmes, entitled The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library. This ten volume series of paperback annotated Holmes, published by Gasogene Books, has what appear to be completely different annotations of the stories and novels from the ones in The New Annotated. I recently purchased one of the volumes from the series: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Although the Introduction and the annotations seem to be top notch, I can't say that the series as a whole is a very good bargain, price-wise. Individual volumes, according to the official site of the series, range between $19.95 and $29.95, for paperback books! A couple of the volumes in the series (the Adventures and Apocrypha) are apparently "sold out." An Amazon search of the Adventures shows copies available between $49.99 and $475 (!); a search for the Apocrypha is even more shocking, as the only available copy is currently a used copy for $865! Needless to say, I shall be acquiring this series quite slowly, depending on where and when I can find volumes at a reasonable price.
The ten volumes of the series are as follows:
As mentioned above, the annotations (at least in Hound) are quite good: they are similar to the annotations in The New Annotated, but at a casual glance, are not the same text, by any means. There is a four page Introduction to the novel (written by Nicholas Meyer), as well as an almost five page Bibliography. I do think the entire series would be worth owning at some point, if I could find reasonably priced copies of each volume. Meanwhile, I would love to hear from anyone who might have the entire series, and see what you think about the reference value of the books, especially compared to The New Annotated.
Recently I stumbled over an interesting PDF on the Internet, that illustrates just how pervasive the character of Sherlock Holmes has been in pop culture. It's rather deceptively titled "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & The World of Sherlock Holmes," but if you can get past the first few pages of poorly formatted illustrations and captions, the author has provided well over a hundred illustrations of Sherlock Holmes comic book covers and screenshots of Sherlock Holmes appearances in various films and TV shows. I was familiar with several of the "crossover" appearances, but there were far more than I had ever encountered personally. Some of the comics are adaptations of canonical stories, while others are more...unique. Such as...
In case you're interested, the PDF I linked to above was created by The Crew of the Barque Lone Star, a Sherlock Holmes literary society in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of TX. If you live in that area, you may want to pay them a visit!
The article from Scientific American linked above is by Maria Konnikova, who wrote a book entitled Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.. The book is based on a series of posts Konnikova did on Scientific American's site that she called "Lessons from Sherlock Holmes." Looks like an interesting series, and perhaps an interesting book. I would guess that the average fan of Holmes is more interested in the detective's ability to tell a person's story from simple observations of details than they are in the actual content of the mysteries in many of the stories. Just a guess, of course. But I think it's true. I think most Holmes fans are familiar with this quote: "You have not observed. And yet you have seen." It's his response to Watson's amazement at his abilities. I think many of us share Watson's amazement, actually. It's part of our enjoyment of the stories. Sherlock makes a series of observations, Watson responds with delight, and we share in that delight as the great detective explains how he arrived at his conclusions.
Just recently, I've acquired a few books that all purport to be "encyclopedias" of Sherlock Holmes. Interestingly enough, two of them have almost the same title: one is Encyclopedia Sherlockiana by Matthew E. Bunson, which has on its cover the subtitle "The Complete A-Z Guide to the World of the Great Detective;" the other is The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana by Jack Tracy, and its subtitle reads, "A Universal Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes and his Biographer John H. Watson, M.D." The third book I acquired has the much more prosaic title of The Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia (by Orlando Park). and it is the smallest of the three books: basically, a fairly brief dictionary of Sherlock Holmes characters and locations. A little too brief to be called an "encyclopedia," I think.
Of the three books, the Bunson Encyclopedia Sherlockiana is the most useful volume. The author includes some very useful information about Sherlock Holmes in film and television, Sherlock Holmes societies, a brief bio of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and all kinds of other information that was pretty up-to-date as of the book's publication date of 1994. The Tracy book with the same name is a bit more concise in its entries, and the layout is a little crowded and harder to read than Bunson's guide. Tracy does not concern himself with film versions or other non-canonical sources. Park's book, as mentioned above, is by far the briefest of the three guides, and is really more of a glossary than an encyclopedia.
As single volume resources, these books are nice additions to a Sherlockian's library, particularly the book by Bunson. It's a little easier to find useful facts in these books than it is to comb through larger, annotated editions of the Holmes canon, such as Klinger's New Annotated, or Baring-Gould's Annotated. I think there may be a few other Sherlock Holmes "reference books" out there. The Alan Barnes book Sherlock Holmes On Screen has been a handy reference to film and TV adaptations that I've used for many years. I would be interested in hearing about other reference books that I haven't discovered yet, so please feel free to share those with me in the Comments section below!
As a Sherlock Holmes reader, I have wondered from time to time just why the character of the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, has become so prominent in so many Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Look at some of the most recent Holmes films and TV shows: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows included Moriarty, both Sherlock and Elementary have featured interesting twists on Moriarty (Andrew Scott's younger, crazy version and Natalie Dormer's female version), and even the recent animated film Sherlock Gnomes included an odd pie mascot version of Moriarty.
And yet, looking at the Holmes canon, it is surprising to see how seldom Moriarty is mentioned. Obviously, he features prominently in "The Final Problem." But the few other stories that mention him limit themselves to exactly that: just a mention. So the status of the Moriarty character, like that of Irene Adler, is quite disproportionate to his actual status in the canon.
A few weeks ago, I attempted to re-watch the final episode of Season 4 of the BBC's Sherlock. I just couldn't stick with it: there were too many gaping plot holes, too many moments where I thought, "No! I cannot accept that!" Sherlock and Watson surviving an explosion, as well as a jump out of a second story window, Sherlock's inability to tell that Eurus was not behind glass after all, and many more ridiculous bits.
So I absolutely have to agree with the position taken in this article from The Guardian: How Sherlock Went from Super Sleuth to the Baker Street Men Behaving Badly. (Yes, it's an unwieldy title for a short article, and the author kind of ends it without an adequate wrap-up, but I agree with the opinion.) It's a shame, too, because when Sherlock first came out, I loved it. Actually, it's one of the main things that induced me to start this blog! But it just kind of went downhill from there. Maybe it would have been better if Sherlock had literally jumped a shark, just like Fonzie from Happy Days! Or maybe not...
Several years ago, when my older daughter was a lot smaller, we watched a mildly humorous children's film adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, entitled Gnomeo and Juliet. I remember, as a five year old, she was entertained, and there were enough tongue-in-cheek Shakespeare references to keep me entertained as well. In March 2018, a sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet was released, this time a spoof on Sherlock Holmes: you guessed it...Sherlock Gnomes. The film is part sequel, involving Gnomeo and Juliet in new adventures, but it is also (of course) a spoof of the Sherlock Holmes mythology. Sherlock (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a garden gnome detective (that is, a detective who happens to be a garden gnome), who is sworn to protect all of London's garden gnomes. He finds himself pitted against his old archenemy, Moriarty: a sort of "Bob's Big Boy" type of pie mascot (don't ask). Sherlock is a kind of self-absorbed character, who doesn't treat his sidekick Watson with the respect he deserves. Their paths cross those of Gnomeo and Juliet, whose family of garden gnomes has been abducted by the evil Moriarty.
Honestly, I found the film pretty entertaining. There were all kinds of goofy nods towards the Sherlock Holmes canon: Doyle's Doll Museum, Wisteria Lodge Florist Shop, a grating with "221B" on it, that type of thing. And of course, the obligatory deerstalker cap, Inverness cape, and magnifying glass. In a little homage to the BBC's Sherlock, perhaps, Mr. Gnomes occasionally retreats into a "mind palace" of sorts, with a different style of animation for those sequences. The voice cast is a panoply of celebrities: James McAvoy (Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Watson), Michael Caine (Lord Redbrick), Maggie Smith (Lady Bluebury), and many more. Even Ozzy Osbourne has a brief role, as a somewhat befuddled ceramic fawn. The animation is done well, and the aforementioned "mind palace" sequences were bizarre and fun. The story is packed with enough action and silly humor to keep children entertained, while there are enough pop culture references sprinkled throughout to keep adults from being completely bored. As a Holmes fan, I found it enjoyable enough, if not particularly brilliant. The film only received a 28% on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and I've seen much worse films with higher scores.
For your entertainment, I've shared the film's trailer below. If you have young children, you could do a lot worse. Oh, and did I mention that most of the soundtrack is made up of Elton John songs?
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.