At the moment I’m listening to the first presidential debate of the campaign season, coming live from Denver. I thought I might use this week’s note to discuss the relationship between the library profession and the political process. But I’ve changed my mind. Politics can wait for another week (although I just heard Governor Romney proposing to end government support for public broadcasting—not a very smart proposition to my way of thinking; but I digress). It occurred to me that I’ve said very little in these first posts about Sherlock Holmes, someone intimately connected with my current work as curator of the world’s largest collection of Sherlockiana. And since the first episode of a new television series appeared last week dealing specifically with Holmes—“Elementary” on CBS—its seems that there’s no better time than now to bring the world’s most famous consulting detective to the fore. Here Holmes trumps politics.
I’ll say it right near the top: I enjoyed the pilot episode of “Elementary.” I’m intrigued with the casting of Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Watson; I think there’s enormous potential in this pairing. I’ll be very interested to see how the characters are developed over the course of the series. (And remember, in 1941 mystery writer Rex Stout proposed a theory that Watson was a woman at a gathering of the Baker Street Irregulars so the idea is not a new one.) I enjoy the creative work of writers and directors (and all the other folks associated with putting together a series such as this) and the attempt to place Holmes and Watson in the present. I would say the same for the BBC production, “Sherlock,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I’m actually more inclined to “Sherlock” and think that CBS stole a good idea, but that’s secondary to my joy of “the more the merrier” and that both of these programs will, I hope, drive people back to the original 56 short stories and four novels. And I hope these shows will also cause folks—especially students and faculty—to discover our amazing collections. Although I understand their position, I cannot join the traditionalists who object to any attempt to introduce the Sherlockian characters into a modern setting. They’re happy to see Holmes and Watson stay in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I'm happy with them there, too, but also enjoy their company on the 21st century streets of London and New York.
I should also note here that I did not grow up a Sherlockian. I watched the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films on Saturday afternoons and read the stories as a kid. But, as I’ve said elsewhere, I was not a reader in my younger days. It was not until I entered college that I became hooked on books. And even then Holmes was not on my radar. It was not until PBS broadcast the new Holmes series featuring Jeremy Brett in the 1980s and ‘90s that I was drawn back into the fold. Since that time I’ve re-read and enjoyed all the stories, used them in classes, and taken pleasure in many of the parodies and pastiches. I’m sure that many among the true believers still do not consider me a Sherlockian. And they may, to some extent, be correct. My life is defined by more than Holmes. Even when I applied for my present position it was not the Holmes Collections that drew me to Minnesota; it was the spectacular collection of Swedish-Americana assembled by the late Swedish journalist Tell G. Dahllöf. But the local Holmes friends got their hooks into me early, shortly after I started at Minnesota fifteen years ago. And I’m glad they did. Since then I’ve been in marvelous company, surrounded by a group of very interesting and stimulating people, together drawn to the inventive mind of Sir Arthur and his creation. It is, in the end, elementary. And as for the debate...my lips are sealed.