The strange death of a Sherlock Holmes fanatic
January 28, 2020 10:39 PM   Subscribe

 
Fantastic read, thank you for posting this.

There is something telling in the fact that the obsessive Sherlock-fans for the latest BBC adaptation are simply a contemporary mirror of equally obsessive (and abrasive) fans from a century earlier. There's something about the source material that attracts this level of fandom.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:45 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


There's something about the source material that attracts this level of fandom.

Maybe it's that the character is above or beyond ordinary humanity in his intelligence and skills and commitment; it might be appealing to a certain sort of person to identify with that.
posted by thelonius at 6:00 AM on January 29


I have to weigh in here as the author of a well-regarded book that touches on the life of Arthur Conan Doyle. The journalist who wrote this otherwise excellent article, makes the common mistake of dismissing Doyle's historical novels, "Michah Clark" and "The White Company", as stiff, stilted and unreadable.

The truth is, "Michah Clark" and "The White Company" are ripping yarns, beautifully written, and full of vivid characters and incidents. It is not for nothing that they were best sellers in their day.

Reading them, you know you are in the hands of a true craftsman and master of English prose. ("The White Company" is best. After you read it, you will want to read more, and you will find "Michah Clark" quite satisfying.

But there's more. Doyle's non-Sherlock Holmes stories are remarkably varied, imaginative, and entertaining. I would particularly recommend his six "Stories of Pirates" and six "Tales of Blue Water" (as they're described in the Doyle story collection I own). The pirate stories are cold, ironic and realistic - serving as a stern complement to today's fantastic and semi-comedic treatment of the breed.

The stories starring Brigadier Girard - Doyle's follow-up character to Sherlock Holmes, are thoroughly entertaining. Doyle's individual stories of mystery, science fiction and others, completely unfantastic, are never less than professionally written, meaning that they amply repay any time you spend with them.

Mixed among his stories and novels are some truly awful pieces - one can only think they were written only for money, and that by making them so perfectly awful, Doyle was putting as much distance as he could between those and his better works.

Let it not be thought that Doyle was a one-hit wonder with Holmes. If you love Holmes, there is much more to explore.
posted by Modest House at 7:18 AM on January 29 [32 favorites]


Great read. Made my morning!
posted by widdershins at 7:20 AM on January 29


.

for Green. Even if he planned it, he didn't deserve to have his own death become a pastiche. He didn't deserve to have his life become a pastiche, either, even if it seems he freely chose it. Like the American said, it's dangerous when fandom is the one thing you have.

And poor Conan Doyle, too, swallowed up in a way that no author had quite been before. It's often the case that an artist sets their heart on a work that even other artists don't appreciate nearly as much as their more popular work.

I have a lot of unorganized thoughts here about the movement of transformative fandom from male-dominated to female-dominated, but the shenanigans of the original Sherlockians and Doyleans certainly go to show that neither one of them is inherently more dignified than the other. (Nobody so far as I know has seriously tried to kill anybody over Reylo, but I wouldn't sit too close.)

I only just noticed how old this article was. It has since inspired a play of the same name, staged last year, starring Alan Tudyk. I would have loved to have seen that.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:35 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


I found Brigadier Girard men, but there's definitely more to Doyle than Holmes.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:02 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Fascinating story. Thanks, OP.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:20 AM on January 29


It is a bit more complicated, I think, than Conan Doyle losing his larger writing career to Holmes, as most writers never find any of their works getting the kind of attention the Holmes stories did and of the popular writers from that era, few retain any cultural relevance, which Conan Doyle does thanks to the Holmes stories and how they've been picked up by other media.

That's always the case, the "best" writing, by some measures, often fades while allegedly lesser works thrive for capturing something that isn't about quality of writing as much as a root concept that feeds the flame of public imagination, often just the essence of character and situation that finds ease in being communicated to many different satisfying ends for a wide range of audience rather than some greater depth or artistry of a more complete work of its time.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:31 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


The journalist who wrote this otherwise excellent article, makes the common mistake of dismissing Doyle's historical novels, "Michah Clark" and "The White Company", as stiff, stilted and unreadable.

Not a common mistake, more of a commonly held opinion and not without reason, but I'm not going to say they aren't worth reading. The Lost World is probably ACD's most popular non-Holmes novel--it's a fast read and really weird in unexpected ways. Unfortunately, the sequel ups the weirdness and Victorian opinions, and is kind of boring.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:15 AM on January 29


Modest House: "I have to weigh in here as the author of a well-regarded book that touches on the life of Arthur Conan Doyle."

You can't just drop that here and leave without providing a link!
posted by chavenet at 1:53 PM on January 29


I had an alarming five minutes reading the New Yorker article, as ROGER Lancelyn Green was one of the Inklings and the author of some much-loved anthologies of folk tales from my childhood. I was like, eh? I never knew he was murdered? RICHARD Lancelyn Green was his son, born in 1953 and with his life cut short at the age of 51. That ain't right. Poor fellow. It did seem to me the manner of death was more indicative of a private kink gone wrong than a crazed Sherlock Holmes fan murder.

I'm watching Elementary at the moment and that's sent me back to the original - it is indisputable that Conan Doyle was a marvellous popular writer, however much his Victorian attitudes and biases prove distasteful or just plain stupid to a modern reader. And that business with the Cottingley Fairies, talk about a media storm of disingenuous fakery! not calling Conan Doyle a faker here, just a dupe. It was a media thing, a hundred or so years before 'fake news' became a catch phrase. But Doyle was a wonderful storyteller.
posted by glasseyes at 2:22 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I've dabbled just a little in a modern-day fandom in the past few years, and had never encountered one before that. It's fascinating to me to see how much there is in common between the older iteratons of the phenomenon mentioned here and the current online version: The tribalism, and the veering off into a world of its own, where the original work is at once paramount, yet also only a part of the picture, as opinions and priorities and personal projections start to hold powerful sway in people's minds.
posted by penguin pie at 7:48 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


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