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Happy Birthday, Conan Doyle! Your Gifts To Us Are Doing Just Fine, By The Way…


One of the very many very neat things about Sherlock Holmes is a fact that not many properly take into account: he’s a superhero.

Oh, I know — yes, I always like to drag superheroes into nearly every post these days, but please bear with me a sec. I’m not talking about “content” per se; for example, Holmes’ super-human abilities of cognition, memory, and so on. Or the way that these are balanced by a variety of flaws that render him more compelling, even sympathetic on occasion (which is an odd emotion to feel about someone who is gifted far beyond the average reader, but hey, that’s literature for you).

After all, those same sort of character traits are found back in the age of classical heroes… which ties this discussion quite nicely to the ones about Greek mythology and how creators can play with the raw material to make it more appealing for today’s audiences. Because isn’t that what Steven Moffat & Co. have done with their series Sherlock, whose second season bows on Blu-ray and DVD today? A better analogy, actually, may be made to the case of Dickens’ perennial appeal, a topic we also discussed twice, once with media examples demonstrating why he enjoys “longevity” as an author, and once exploring these ideas from a creator’s point-of-view.

Like Dickens’ characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have thrived across a variety of media and genres for so long that… well, I know it sounds like circular reasoning, but part of the reason they have thrived through the present-day is because they have thrived in more than a single niche and for a single audience. In short, I’m gently forwarding a media literacy approach to the topic, one that you can take with young Sherlock fans without asking them to check their fandom at the door. And who knows… maybe you’ll spark some additional reading that you hadn’t expected?

Many middle grades students are already familiar with the source text since Conan Doyle is included in so many lit anthologies that are used in schools. In this respect I’ve often seen “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League” showcased, perhaps because it is just quirky and light enough, doesn’t require a lot of knowledge about the ongoing characters, and, while hardly boring, is not “tainted” by the darker themes present in some of the other stories.

Like many of us, by the time I was 12, I had already read most of these stories — I didn’t need school to introduce them. In fact, I still have the same two-volume “Complete Sherlock Holmes” set to this day… and it was a bit ancient even back then. More interesting in retrospect is that I now realize that the Holmes stories were probably the first pre-twentieth century narratives that I read independently.

The reason I’m pointing out my youthful discovery of Conan Doyle is that the appeal of the Holmes and Watson pairing extends across age demographics. After all, there’s a little something for everyone. Readers can delight in the duo’s crime-solving exploits, the delicious Victorian atmosphere, or perhaps the deeper themes about human nature that are expressed such as the division between heart and head that the team has come to exemplify. Speaking of which… did you happen to catch the series finale of House last night?

Anyway, more about Holmes and Watson tomorrow. Thanks for dropping by.

(artist unknown -- would be happy to give attribution if provided to me)


About Peter Gutierrez


  1. I like the concept of the team with the division of “heart” and “head”. This theme pops up a lot in Buffy as well. Buffy is so much stronger than the Slayers before her precisely because she has a team that surround her. I love that Xander – a male friend – becomes the heart . Willow takes the part of the brain (Well, Willow and Giles). I think this team approach can appeal to many viewers (and readers) because there are more entry points for them to identify with a character in the tale.