Favorite Author – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I discovered the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was in high school through the British series starring Jeremy Brett as the Great Detective. That sent me to the original short stories and four novels. I don’t think the novels are as good as the short stories. I still enjoy reading the short stories and recently introduced children’s versions of them to my kids.
Back in high school, one thing that intrigued me about Sherlock Holmes was that the character had taken on a life of his own. So many different people had written about him or performed as the character that I found it interesting to read about Holmes as Doyle originally conceived him.
The details Doyle dropped about Holmes – his pipe smoking, love of the violin, eccentric personal habits – made him seem all the more real. As I have grown older, I have developed an appreciation for the Good Doctor, John Watson. He’s the kind of friend all of us want or would like to be – loyal, patient, ready at a moment’s notice for adventure. Because Watson tells almost all the stories, he also makes Holmes, as another writer pointed out, much more approachable.
I personally love all the stories Watson hints at but never describes in full. At the beginning of the story “The Golden Prince-nez”, Watson writes about:
“the repulsive story of the red leech and the terrible death of Crosby the banker. Here also I find an account of the Addleton tragedy and the singular contents of the ancient British barrow. The famous Smith-Mortimer succession case come also within this period, and so does the tracking and arrest of Huret, the Boulevard assassin”.
Doyle dropped many such teasers in the introductions to his short stories but nothing tops the one in “The Sussex Vampire”. Holmes says, “Matilda Briggs . . . was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, for which the world is not yet prepared.”
Did Doyle add those hints to make another layer of reality, as if Holmes was so busy that Watson couldn’t possibly relate all their adventures and readers could imagine him at work in between stories? Or did Doyle just enjoying toying with his readers? He couldn’t foresee what those hints would generate: hundreds of short stories and books as writers use those few clues to flesh out complete adventures. I have read two explanations for “the giant rat of Sumatra”, one pure science fiction, the other more like an adventure. Doyle couldn’t have left better inspiration for future writers.