LONDON, June 16--(U.P.)--Sherlock Holmes, famous story book detective who confounded criminals with test tube and magnifying glass, scorning the while the stupid blunderers of Scotland Yard, died today.
Holmes’ death was announced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose stories of Sherlock have been read by persons of all ages.
Sir Arthur, who latterly has been won from the school of scientific criminology to the occult practices of spiritualism, explained Holmes’ death in the preface to his own “Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.”
“I fear,” wrote Sir Arthur, “that Mr. Sherlock Holmes may become like one of those popular tenors who having outlived their time, still are tempted to make repeated farewell bows before their indulgent audiences. This must cease. He must go the way of all flesh, material or imaginary.”
--Elkhart Daily Truth, 16 June 1927
Eighty years ago today, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried for the second time to kill off his most famous creation. While few people clamored for him to resurrect Holmes a second time, he certainly failed to kill the world’s first consulting detective. Every year, countless new Holmes adventures are published. Most of them are not up to Conan Doyle’s standards, though the adventures penned by Nicholas Meyer and Laurie R. King are, at least to me, worthy of the master.
His first attempt to kill Holmes is better-known than the 1927 death by press release:
“[I]n November 1891 he wrote to his mother: ‘I think of slaying Holmes... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.’ His mother responded saying ‘You may do what you deem fit, but the crowds will not take this lightheartedly.’ In December 1893, he did so in order to dedicate more of his time to more ‘important’ works (namely his historical novels). -Wikipedia article, “Arthur Conan Doyle.”
Of course, his mother was right. Public pressure forced Conan Doyle to bring back Holmes; he did so brilliantly in “The Empty House,” in which we find out how Holmes escaped death at Reichenbach Falls. Which brings me to what I’ll call the Conan Doyle Syndrome: to neglect one’s own best work in favor of “more important” works. Today, few people read Conan Doyle’s historical novels, such as The White Company and Micah Clarke. But as you read this, someone will be discovering the world of 221B Baker Street for the first time. (I had the magical experience of reading some of the stories in the original Strand Magazine--the university library had bound volumes.)
And perhaps I’ve caught a minor case of his syndrome. My best writing so far has been in the form of short historical articles and autobiographical pieces. But I’m still plugging away at the fiction that in my heart of hearts, I consider “more important.” Of course, Conan Doyle was able to write the Holmes canon, the Professor Challenger stories, and a number of historical novels. If only…