In the beginning there was the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes TV Show, starring Ronald Howard (1954-1955). I was six-years-old.
My murder-mystery-loving mom and I watched on our 16” black and white TV. I was fascinated by this genial, gentleman Holmes who shared the tube with my favorite cowboys. To me, he was the Mr. Rogers of Sherlock Holmes. This mysterious place and time, 19th-Century London, England, with its danger, fog, and flickering gaslight captured my young New York imagination. The stories were not the same old plot, all shoot-‘em up’s and chasing bad guys on horseback through the dusty Los Angeles desert. But, a young, astute, and friendly Study in Scarlet-like gentleman who worked out each crime to its solution using only his mind and creative intuition. And with his stalwart friend, the courage to face what may. In the Nifty Fifties, out-of-necessity, girls with imagination learned to transpose gender, and we frequently imagined ourselves as male heroes.
Yet I was young for this to springboard me to the stories. I read Conan Doyle concurrently with Poe, in High School. Not as required reading in a Catholic Girls School! But as contraband concealed beneath the dust jacket of something deemed appropriate for a young lady. Poe taught me to write. Doyle awakened my mind. The nuns taught me the necessity of red-herrings. And the traveling troupe of actors who presented Shakespeare’s plays in the sanctuary of our gym: Sans props, costumes, scenery, only their acting ability, and the Bard. Like Poe and Doyle this generated another explosion in my mind, imagination, and my love for the English language.
When I first read the Sherlock Holmes stories I was awakened through the genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into another world. This world caught my imagination, yet was also filled with crime, horror, poverty and injustice as was mine. Through the mind of Sherlock Holmes it made sense in a way that also acknowledged my intelligence, imagination, and talent. A rarity for girls growing up in 1950s New York during the pre-feminist atomic age.
Conan Doyle’s exceptional ability to create strong, impossible to ignore, characters gave us the uniquely believable Mr. Holmes. He even created the first side-kick as a means to continually build the image of the great detective. Of course, Dr. Watson is a powerful figure in his own right. The idea of carrying their friendship through a series of singular yet distinct stories was also Doyle’s. Every TV, radio, web, book, and game series, whether detective or no, owes a debt of gratitude to him for this format. I recommend to all pastiche writers and authors to read his autobiography Memories and Adventures along with his canon during the writing of your next book. I have found it a loyal and uncommon companion in the writer’s process, every paragraph full of his personality, inspiration, and humour. After all, Holmes was not only inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell and Mr. Oscar Wilde, but from the mind of the man who, as Dr. Bell said, really was Sherlock Holmes.