Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Holmes and a few variants

For your interest (or purist's disgust - delete as appropriate): the trailer of the Guy Ritchie's forthcoming Sherlock Holmes movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. as a Holmes reinvented as a martial artist (a concept not entirely created out of whole cloth, given the "baritsu" - actually Bartitsu - mentioned in the Conan Doyle works). See previous post, Martial heroics, of which the gist is:

A few years back an apparently unconnected curiosity appeared on the Web, reprints fromPearson's Magazine around 1900: The New Art of Self-defence: How a Man May Defend Himself against Every Form of Attack (Part 1 / Part 2) and Self-defence with a Walking Stick. All were by an Edward William Barton-Wright, and described his self-invented mixed martial art, which combined Jujutsu and Judo with various Western techniques such as boxing and stick fighting. This martial art - named "Bartitsu" - was finally solidly connected with the Holmesian "Baritsu" in a 1997 paper ("Further Lessons in Baritsu", Richard Bowen, The Ritual: Review of the Northern Musgraves Sherlock Holmes Society, 1997) and since then, Bartitsu has been solidly researched and developed by groups such as the Bartitsu Society.

I'm sure it won't be the last reinvention of Holmes. During World War 2, the Rathbone-Bruce version cemented an icon in British national consciousness for decades. But now - good through Basil Rathbone himself was - they look creaky for the clumsy incorporation of anti-Nazi themes, their reinforcement of the mistaken stereotype of Holmes constantly wearing a deer-stalker, and the appalling disservice to Dr Watson by Nigel Bruce playing him as a total buffoon. Of more recent adaptations, the Brett/Hardwicke series is the highlight, pairing a competent and thoughtful Watson with a Holmes played by Jeremy Brett with a complexity and nervous energy that to many seemed too animated at first, but rapidly took over as the currently definitive interpretation to UK audiences. It's slightly unfortunate that this made the extremely competent portrayal by Rupert Everett, in The Case of the Silk Stocking, rather wooden in comparison.

In literature, the list of adaptations and interpretations is endless. The format and characterisation of the stories are very easy to imitate, leading to a stream of pastiches that began even in Conan Doyle's time. A recent Times article commemorating the 150th anniversary of Conan Doyle's birth, Sherlaw Kombs and the Odd Impersonators (Andrew Lycett, May 22, 2009) skims a few: from JM Barrie's The Adventure of the Two Collaborators (story and background here):

We were in, our rooms in Baker Street one evening. I was (I remember) by the centre table writing out 'The Adventure of the Man without a Cork Leg' (which had so puzzled the Royal Society and all the other scientific bodies of Europe), and Holmes was amusing himself with a little revolver practice. It was his custom of a summer evening to fire round my head, just shaving my face, until he had made a photograph of me on the opposite wall, and it is a slight proof of his skill that many of these portraits in pistol shots are considered admirable likenesses.

I happened to look out of the window, and perceiving two gentlemen advancing rapidly along Baker Street asked him who they were. He immediately lit his pipe, and, twisting himself on a chair into the figure 8, replied:

'They are two collaborators in comic opera, and their play has not been a triumph.'

I sprang from my chair to the ceiling in amazement, and he then explained:

'My dear Watson, they are obviously men who follow some low calling. That much even you should be able to read in their faces. Those little pieces of blue paper which they fling angrily from them are Durrant's Press Notices. Of these they have obviously hundreds about their person (see how their pockets bulge). They would not dance on them if they were pleasant reading.'

I again sprang to the ceiling (which is much dented), and shouted: 'Amazing! but they may be mere authors.'

'No,' said Holmes, 'for mere authors only get one press notice a week. Only criminals, dramatists and actors get them by the hundred.'

to Robert Barr's The Great Pegram Mystery (featuring "Sherlaw Kombs", this arose from a dispute between Barr and Conan Doyle over the latter's decision to kill off Holmes - see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Canada) and O Henry's The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes. Even Conan Doyle wrote an out-of-canon short, The Field Bazaar, for an Edinburgh University charity event.

The Times piece primarily focuses on what was essentially fan fiction, and follows it through to the present day, with its Holmes/Watson slash fiction, and Sherlock Holmes solidly in the Top 20 at Fanfiction.net. However, this grades into a similar proliferation of published fiction, whether as pastiche, a desire to write serious stories within the mythos, or as extra-mythos interpretations. A fairly mundane further aspect was to get around the copyright (since 2000 no longer an issue in the UK, but still argued-about in the USA: Sherlockian.net). August Derleth's "Solar Pons" is the chief among such examples; I've just been reading The Casebook of Solar Pons, and have to admit that the stories aren't at all bad. See Wikipedia's list, Non-canonical Sherlock Holmes works and the Sherlockian.net Pastiches page for many more homages and clones. I especially recommend (again) one of my favourites, Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald (PDF), a Lovecraftian inversion of the Holmes mythos.

- Ray

No comments:

Post a Comment