Was I amazed to learn that there is a new series in which a modern-day woman switches places with the divine Jane Austen and each struggles to handle the other’s life? No, not really, because Jane has become a little mini-literary industry in her own right.
The same holds for the fearless and never-endingly resourceful Sherlock Holmes — he’s spawned over 100 film and TV adaptations (see I’m Gobsmacked) and the 101st, Mr. Holmes, is now playing in movie theaters. Not surprisingly, this latest film is based on a novel called A Trick of the Mind. And consider another book now on the shelves: In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon. In this collection, bestselling authors give their own unique takes on Sherlock and his sidekick, Watson — proving yet again how durable and malleable the two of them are. A sampling:
• In “The Crooked Man,” Michael Connelly’s own creation, detective Harry Bosch, consults a coroner named Art Doyle. The story is a variation on “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” by Conan Doyle.
• In “The Adventure of the Laughing Fisherman,” by Jeffrey Deaver, a bipolar patient with dazzling mental abilities employs his gift for Holmesian deductions to track a killer.
• In “Lost Boys,” Cornelia Funke imagines Sherlock as a young man.
• In “Dunkirk,” John Lescroart gives an elderly, but still sharp Holmes a heroic part to play in World War II.
• In “The Closing,” Leslie Klinger dreams up an inventive variation on one of the most tragic adventures Doyle chronicled.
What is it about Sherlock that’s so endlessly fascinating to writers? How can it be that this character fashioned from smoke and mirrors continues to spawn endless explorations of his powers of detection, personality, and adventures? For one thing, his seemingly limitless intelligence gives writers the freedom to put him in any and all of the most extreme situations they can devise because we readers know he’s got the mental chops to survive whatever an author can dish up.
For another, his personality traits are so well known to us that we instantly recognize them and take pleasure in seeing them play out in stressful and dangerous situations that we wouldn’t want to encounter ourselves, but are delighted to see the peerless detective subjected to. And then, of course, there’s the fun of trying to stay one step ahead of Sherlock as he solves whatever crime or dastardly dilemma is thrown his way.
Any other thoughts on why Sherlock remains so persistently popular? Do you think Conan Doyle had any idea that Sherlock would survive and thrive so mightily?
May we all create such beloved, bedeviled, and enduring characters. Write on!