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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sherlock’s Legacy Lives On

Written by Jon Williams

News emerged last week from the Toronto International Film Festival that Sir Ian McKellan, the renowned British actor who has played such legendary characters from Shakespeare and Charles Dickens throughout the course of his storied career, and who is known these days for his portrayals of Gandalf and Magneto, is set to take on yet another larger-than-life role: famed detective Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes, one of the great literary characters of all time, first appeared in the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet. The character went on to star in another novel (The Sign of Four) and a number of short stories (collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) before Doyle killed him off in “The Final Problem,” published in 1893.

For most characters, that would have been the end of the line, but not so for Holmes. Public outcry over his death (including from the author’s own mother) led Doyle to bring the intrepid sleuth back for another adventure in 1902’s The Hound of the Baskervilles before resurrecting him for good in 1903’s “The Adventure of the Empty House.” That and twelve other Sherlock stories were collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905). The fourth and final novel, The Valley of Fear, wasn’t published until 1915; it tells of a Holmes adventure set before “The Final Problem.” Two more story collections followed: His Last Bow (1917), and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1927).

Doyle passed away in 1930, but to the delight of detective fiction fans everywhere, his greatest creation did not follow him into the grave. There are any number of tales from other authors detailing the further adventures of Mr. Holmes. A number of them are collected in The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which includes stories by such names as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Dust and Shadow by Lindsay Faye pits Holmes against Jack the Ripper, while The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz was the first non-Doyle Holmes novel to be authorized by the late author’s estate. There’s also the Young Sherlock Holmes series for young adults by Andrew Lane, detailing the youthful exploits that shaped the detective’s experience.

In fact, Sherlock film featuring McKellan will be adapted from another of these later tales. A Slight Trick of the Mind, a 2005 novel by American author Mitch Cullin, features Holmes in his twilight years, struggling to solve a mystery from his past through the mist of his own failing memory.

As this upcoming film serves to remind us, the Holmes tradition is not strictly a literary one, but a dramatic one as well. The most visible current example is the series of films (the first in 2009, the sequel in 2011; a third is currently in the early stages of development) starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and his faithful companion Dr. Watson, but it is not the only one. The CBS television series Elementary updates Holmes’s setting to modern-day New York City, while the BBC series Sherlock (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson) does the same in London.

As the Guinness Book of World Records lists Holmes as the most portrayed fictional character, there are literally hundreds of other films and TV shows available. Basil Rathbone is perhaps the most famous (and certainly the most prolific) Sherlock, but the famed detective has also been played by such actors as Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Charlton Heston, and Christopher Plummer, just to name a few.

Clearly, Sherlock Holmes has proved to have staying power, capturing the imagination of readers and viewers for over 125 years. In addition to the multitude of titles listed here, be sure to SmartBrowse the character’s name on our homepage to explore even more audiobooks and DVDs you can offer your Holmes-hungry patrons.

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