Friday, May 22, 2009

Elementary, My Dear Watson

These are words never uttered by Sherlock Holmes, at least not as written by Arthur Conan Doyle. He did say it onstage and Basil Rathbone said it quite a few times onscreen. Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed by more than 70 actors in over 200 films. Two new ones arrive in theaters this summer.

Today is the birthday of Arthur Conan Doyle who created Sherlock Holmes. He was born in 1859, grew up in Edinburgh and eventually went to medical school there, studying under a remarkable man named Joseph Bell, who had an uncanny gift for presuming things, knowing where people had been from the mud on their trouser cuffs, the habits of the patients he saw from the condition of their hands. He became the model for the great detective.

Doyle was an unsuccessful optometrist when he wrote A Study in Scarlet, which appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887. He was 28. Holmes made Doyle famous and very prosperous indeed. Even so, the author began to resent his invention, and arranged to have Holmes murdered a half dozen Christmases later. The public was outraged. The public was amused and perplexed when Doyle announced in 1916 that he believed in ghosts. In 1920, the 61 year-old novelist told the readers of the Strand Magazine that he believed in fairies. Arthur Conan Doyle appears on pages 94, 124, 214 and 226 in A Book of Ages.

Because he is much more famous than his creator, Sherlock Holmes appears in the book eight times. The last time we see him is at age 49 when he retires to a farm in Sussex to keep bees.

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