Friday, March 5, 2010

Culture: Sherlock Holmes

Doug Wrigglesworth spoke to the Swansea Historical Society in Toronto, Ontario about Sherlock Holmes on 3-March-2010--note the sticker on his computer

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I can't claim to be all that familiar with Sherlock Holmes. Most of what I know has come from listening to Imagination Theater, a Seattle-based radio show that presents Holmes dramas, many of them newly-written with the permission of the estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle, on a regular basis as part of its weekly hour-long shows.

Some people know a LOT more than I do. It turns out that there are hundreds of Sherlock Holmes societies across the world, populated by people known as Sherlockians. There are thousands of Sherlockian web sites, including a Who's Who where Doug Wrigglesworth, the speaker at the Swansea Historical Society meeting on Wednesday night, could be found.

Wrigglesworth pointed out that a lot of stereotypes about Holmes have no foundation in the actual "canon," the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He's never mentioned to have worn a deerstalker hat, prominently carried a magnifying glass, or have stated, "Elementary, my dear Watson!" Instead, these images have Holmes have come from later illustrations and performances. The image of Holmes with a calabash pipe, for example, came from actor William Gillette wanting to use it because its center of gravity made it easier to wear during performances--and placed the tobacco as far as possible from my lungs. Some things do come from the canon, though. The Sherlock Holmes Society of Canada is known as the Bootmakers of Toronto because label on a boot in the Hound of the Baskervilles was labeled as being from Toronto.

While many Sherlockians join the multitude of societies for the love of the character, the storytelling (especially the interaction with Dr. Watson), or just the social aspect of the clubs, Wrigglesworth pointed out that there is an intellectual aspect to the field. Holmes fundamentally used the scientific method in his investigations, and Sherlockians try to do the same in their attempts to understand Conan Doyle's sometimes inconsistent writings. For example, a medical doctor Sherlockian actually wrote a paper explaining how it was possible that Holmes' war injury could have been both a shoulder and a leg wound, as it is referred to as each in different stories. Perhaps most fundamentally, Holmes profiles suspects, and that kind of scientific technique is increasingly finding favor with police forces around the world.

Wrigglesworth hadn't heard John Patrick Lowry's portrayal of Holmes on Imagination Theater, but he heartily endorses the BBC's radio Holmes--how could it a true Sherlockian say anything else?

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