Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Poetry of Sherlock Holmes

Portland Place by John Joseph Bellman

This post is simply a place to collect poems inspired by or related to Sherlock Holmes which have some artistic merit.

Internet searches are, thus far, revealing much versifying that is mediocre and I should appreciate suggestions for additions from those more knowledgeable than I.

Here are five I feel add to our appreciation of Arthur Conan Doyle's creation.

Vincent Starrett's Sonnet "221b".

Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game's afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.

A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

William B. Schweickert's  "A Long Evening with Holmes".

When the world closes in with its worries and cares
And my problems and headaches are coming in pairs
I just climb in my mind those seventeen stairs
And spend a long evening with Holmes.
The good Doctor greets me and motions me in
Holmes grasps my hand and lays down his violin
Then we sit by the fire and sip a tall gin
When I spend a long evening with Holmes.
And while we're discussing his cases galore
If I'm lucky there comes a loud knock on the door
In stumbles a client, head splattered with gore
When I spend a long evening with Holmes.
Watson binds up the client's poor face
While Holmes soon extracts all the facts of the case
Then off in a hansom to Brixton we race
When I spend a long evening with Holmes. 

The Adventure is solved, Holmes makes it all right
So back to the lodgings by dawn's early light
And a breakfast by Hudson to wind up the night
When I spend a long evening with Holmes.
So the modern rat race can't keep me in a cage
I have a passport to a far better age
As close as my bookcase, as near as a page
I can spend a long evening with Holmes. 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Empire 1902".

  They said that it had feet of clay,
 That its fall was sure and quick.
 In the flames of yesterday
 All the clay was burned to brick.

 When they carved our epitaph
 And marked us doomed beyond recall,
 "We are," we answered, with a laugh,
 "The Empire that declines to fall."
T. S. Eliot's "Macavity"
Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw--
For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime--Macavity's not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there's no on like Macavity,
He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime--Macavity's not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air--
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!

Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square--
But when a crime's discovered, then Macavity's not there!

He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair--
Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

And when the Foreign Office finds a Treaty's gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scap of paper in the hall or on the stair--
But it's useless of investigate--Macavity's not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
"It must have been Macavity!"--but he's a mile away.
You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macacity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibit, or one or two to spare:
And whatever time the deed took place--MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!
Alan Olding's "In Memoriam Moriarty".

Somewhere in the Great Hereafter,
His tall, lank figure clothed in black,
Stands the world's most evil grafter,
Soaking wet, from Reichenbach.

Holmes it was went forth to meet him,
On that narrow Alpine ledge;
Used baritsu to defeat him,
Hurled him o'er the fatal edge.

Into the dreadful cauldron steaming,
Lined with crags and wet with slime,
Down went Moriarty, screaming,
Die! Napoleon of crime.

Air of London may be sweeter,
Cleansed of Moriarty's blot.
Lock up your valuables, Saint Peter,
Or bad old Jim might steal the lot.

Somewhere in the Great Hereafter,
His tall lank figure clothed in black,
Stands the world's most evil grafter,
Soaking wet, from Reichenbach.

 A fun collection of witty, cleverly devised poems by various contributors may be found at "The Unofficial WelcomeHolmes Page" :

5.Jan 2013 added:

On the death of Sherlockian Vincent Starrett, 39 yrs ago today, Jeffrey L. Michelman wrote a 9 stanza poem for the Devon County Chronicle...extract:-

'Even the Master in Sussex
Gathering honey
From the hive
Would I’m sure admit
With Vincent Starrett gone,
It’s no longer 1895.'

(with thanks to Matt Laffey of @always1895 for noting this in his Blog)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1912 (source Life).

10 February,  2013 added:

"To an Undiscerning Critic" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
published in London Opinion, December 28, 1912.

"Have you not learned, my esteemed commentator,
That the created is not the creator?

He, the created, the puppet of fiction,
Would not brook rivals, or stand contradiction.

He, the created, would scoff and would sneer,
Where I , the Creator, would bow and revere."

22 April, 2013 added:

Back to his Native Strand by P.G.Wodehouse.
                    Punch May 27, 1903 (on 'The Return')

[unearthed by WellReadSherlockian, @LeahGuinn]

Oh, Sherlock Holmes lay hidden more than half a dozen years.
He left his loving London in a whirl of doubts and fears.
For we thought a wicked party
Of the name of Moriarty
Had dispatched him (in a manner fit to freeze one).
They grappled on a cliff-top, on a ledge six inches wide;
We deemed his chances flimsy when he vanished o’er the side.
But the very latest news is

That he merely got some bruises.
If there is a man hard to kill, why he’s one.
Oh Sherlock, Sherlock, he’s in town again,
That prince of perspicacity, that monument of brain.
It seems he was not hurt at all
By tumbling down the waterfall.
That sort of thing is fun to Sherlock.
When Sherlock left his native Strand, such groans were seldom heard;
With sobs the Public’s frame was rent: with tears its eye was blurred.
But the optimists reflected

That he might be resurrected:
It formed our only theme of conversation.
We asked each other, would he be? And if so, How and where?
We went about our duties with a less dejected air.
And they say that a suggestion
Of a Parliamentary question
Was received with marked approval by the nation.
And Sherlock, Sherlock, he’s in town again,
Sir Conan has discovered him, and offers to explain.
The explanation may be thin,
But bless you! We don’t care a pin,

If he’ll but give us back our Sherlock.
The burglar groans and lays aside his jemmy, keys, and drill;
The enterprising murderer proceeds to make his will;
The fraud-promoting jobber
Feels convinced that those who rob err;
The felon finds no balm in his employment.
The forger and the swindler start up shrieking in their sleep;
No longer on his mother does the coster gaily leap;
The Mile-End sportsman ceases
To kick passers-by to pieces,
Or does it with diminishing enjoyment.

For Sherlock, Sherlock, he’s in town again,
That prince of perspicacity, that monument of brain.
The world of crime has got the blues,
For Sherlock’s out and after clues,
And everything’s a clue to Sherlock.

~~~ The End ~~~

Two Acrostic Sonnets.

 by Belden Wigglesworth & Bliss Austin 1946...I found these via Google Books in an online extract from Philip A. Shreffler's "Sherlock Holmes by Gaslamp:Highlights from the First Four Decades of the 'Baker Street Journal'. Please click HERE to go to the Google Book page (copyright Fordham Univ Press).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

SHERLOCK - First Editions.

Had I possessed £5 sterling in 1961, a Ist Edition of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was there for the buying.

As it was, ownership was limited to as many minutes as I dared risk examining it (with no chance of purchase) on a Saturday afternoon when I did the rounds of Harrogate's book shops. There were an amazing number and I wandered from one Aladdin's Cave to another.

The internet has a lot to answer for. So many antique and antiquarian book shops have exchanged real premises for virtual shop windows.

This weekly tour was a natural joy to me as I entered my teens -  as simple and free as football and cricket on The Stray or finding conkers, making ice-slides or exploring dis-used railway tunnels.

Hales Bar still exists down by Harrogate's Pump Room and Valley Gardens, its gas-jets glistening on the period bar. But long gone is the  bookshop that used to occupy the floor above. On a top shelf the length of one long wall stood a run of original, leather-bound "Strand" magazines, all in 6 monthly bindings. Priced at £1 each,  your blogger saved his pence and purchased half of 1891 - the first 6 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were mine!

Within were Sidney Paget's illustrations, authentic originals to flesh out my other 'first editions' of Sherlock Holmes. These were not books.

 As soon as my elder brother would take me, I joined the Saturday Morning Pictures Club at The Odeon. With a suppy of melting ice lollies under the seat, we thrilled to Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, suffered with Flash Gordon in the diabolical grasp of Emperor Ming and laughed our socks off at The Bowery Boys, Will Hay and Old Mother Riley.

First encounters etch themselves deep in memory.
I remember the very moment I knew I could read, my first girl-friend, the first single I bought (Lonnie Donegan's Battle of New Orleans - good grief!!)

And, of moment here, indelibly imprinted are those all-too-rare main features on Saturday mornings when the Odeon had managed to secure a Sherlock Holmes. Embodied by Rathbone and Bruce, this was the first time I had seen detective and doctor in the flesh..though not my introduction to the legendary pair.

Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley had, for years, monopolised my experience of the Holmes stories,, on the Home Service.
They were, simply, unmissable. And at a time when so many are being drawn to read or re-read the original stories as a result of the BBC SHERLOCK and current feature films, I can recommend a feast of radio drama that is readily available: The Carleton Hobbs Sherlock Holmes Collection (BBC Audio) (and a further collection in the same series).

Hsving grown up in the 50's and 60's, I am acutely aware of how much more easily you can, these days, watch a film of your choice or listen to a recording. Perhaps I grow old (checks the bottom of his trousers - no, they're not yet rolled)..but I remain sceptical of this facility.

As a Shakespeare specialist, on occasion I regret that the only play of his I ever saw performed on stage before I knew its plot, had read the text or seen a film version, was Macbeth. 

Meanwhile: remember these?

Ah! Those were the days.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

SHERLOCK - The Empire That Declined to Fall

"When they carved our epitaph
 And marked us doomed beyond                                             recall,
'We are,' we answered, with a laugh,
'The Empire that declines to fall.'"

(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's poem, "The Empire 1902")

It is with a heavy hand that I take up my pen to lament the late Jeremy Brett was not able to complete the Canon. Of those unassayed, perhaps the saddest omissions are A Study in Scarlet and His Last Bow, the bookends (as it were) to the chronicles between. Such is life...and it is our good fortune that the BBC SHERLOCK has done justice to the first and Basil Rathbone's Holmes bows out with such dignity in the 1942 House of Terror (though neither production retains the original time period Brett would have inhabited).

 Cumberbatch and Freeman have plenty of precedent for up-dating their characters. Doyle, himself, ages Holmes in the 1917 publication so that, at 60, he no longer stands sentinel over a fog-bound, gas-lit London of hansom cabs.  He is delivered to meet Von Bork in a Ford car, passing the German Mercedes on the way -a telling image both of the new order and the looming threat.

Holmes is out of his time; but time itself is out of joint.

 A desperate plea from the Prime Minister recalls the detective from retirement to duty - an onerous duty involving 2 years undercover, infiltrating the Kaiser's network of spies in Britain.

25 years later, the spirit of Sherlock Holmes is invoked again and the final talismanic sentences of His Last Bow are uttered once more. Rathbone's performance renders the moment near-mythic.Precisely right.

As the author of Sir Nigel and other historical romances close to his heart, Doyle subscribed to the chivalric code. Legend has it that King Arthur but sleeps and will awake to arms whenever Albion is in peril. He would approve of Holmes - in his sense of public duty and in the manner he treats the defeated Von Bork. For, while the German agent vents his spleen until exhausted, Holmes displays a firmness tempered by gentlemanly (knightly?) politeness. This is the British way - the civilised way.

Brett would probably have eclipsed Rathbone in this, for he is the most civilised Holmes I have seen, a dimension signally lacking (as yet?) in Cumberbatch's Sherlock. This is not the same as awareness of class. Brett's creation rightly reflects the nature of late Victorian society. Precisely because of this, Holmes' complete lack of deference to those in authority is the more dramatic. From the owner of Silver Blaze to the Duke of Holderness, from the bank manager in The Red-headed League to The hereditary King of Bohemia, Holmes places truth above rank and gives short shrift to arrogance and stupidity.

He is, in this sense, more than 'the highest court of appeal in detection' - this most serious of jesters maintains an independence that saves nations. Lord Bellinger, the fictional Prime Minister in The Second Stain, achnowledges this. He realises there is more to the lost letter's recovery than meets the eye, but equally that Holmes commands the nation's total trust and gratitude. He does not press him further when Holmes replies, "We also have our diplomatic secrets".

 At root, Sherlock Holmes is a personification...and a beacon...of civilization. These are the qualities we may, with confidence, fall back on in troubled times.

Now it's true there is something of this in Cumberbatch's creation, but he has not yet convinced me that John could readily refer to him as 'the best and wisest man I have ever known'. Or that he can save nations.

This has nothing to do with the modern setting. As with Shakespeare, there are superb up-dated versions and abysmal ones.I have no quarrel with modern settings for period stories. Themes are the flesh and bone of literature: their outward garb is as insignificant as a man's appearance to his inner qualities. The creators and I are having great fun with Sherlock in 21st century London. And I'm happy to stalk with Basil Rathbone in the mid-twentieth. These time zones may co-exist with Victorian London. But it must be observed that the Holmes of that Empire and the London of that Empress are the rock-solid foundations to later 'cloud-capped palaces'.
As early as 1932, Vincent Starrett was writing (in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes):

So they still live for all that love them well;
in a romantic chamber of the heart,
in a nostalgic country of the mind,
where it is always 1895.
A mere 37 years on, but 'All changed, changed utterly' by the East wind of The War to End All Wars. Seven years later Groundhog Day, the Second Coming of tyrannic power. Yet again 'the blood-dimmed tide is loosed' and 'once more into the breech'  the empire strikes back and 'the ceremony of innocence' vanquishes 'Mere anarchy'.

The 'Empire' of Doyle's poem implies more than British imperialism (which was, in any event, already declining, slowly, naturally). Our laugh is the laugh of defiance from the good-natured Innocent, who courteously, but firmly, rejects the invitation to surrender. "Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Hitler?". Dad's Army makes the point far better than I.

It is clear at the close of 'The Reichenbach Fall' that Sherlock declined Moriarty's prompting to fall. He lives to fight another day, but time will tell whether this modern incarnation will 'fight the good fight'  within and beyond his fictional existence. Only thus may Cumberbatch secure a place at the Round Table in the chivalric Order of Great Sherlocks.

The Embankment 1895.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

SHERLOCK - If the Deerstalker Fits Wear It.

First things first. Benedict Cumberbatch's performance in the BBC SHERLOCK is a tour de force that deserves serious consideration.

Even as young Stamford engineers John's introduction to the detective in the Bart's Hospital scene of "A Study in Pink", viewers are as overwhelmed by this force of nature as is the good doctor.

In this blog I shall accentuate the positive but (pace Johnny Mercer) shall not eliminate the negative. I shall mess with Mister-In-Between. This portrayal of Sherlock Holmes deserves balanced criticism. Whatever I proceed to say, this is a Great Holmes in the making.

I shall ignore two matters entirely: the films starring Robert Downey Junior (one new Sherlock at a time, please) and the Sherlock of The Reichenbach Fall which feels a special (and somewhat illusory, even bizarre) case.


You can't hope to be accepted as Superman, Tarzan or James Bond unless the public decides you look like the character. There's a salutory story concerning a hypnotist who failed on multiple occasions to put his lady patient under...until she asked him why on earth he didn't wear a black cloak and fluence her with his hands  and staring eyes (like the stage hypnotists she had seen). Next session he dressed and acted accordingly...she went out like a light.

Apart from the delightful running jokes that handle unfashionable deerstalkers and cigarettes with panache, Cumberbatch's Sherlock deploys his height, long coat, scarf and (above all) stance to project a mythic silhouette as unmistakable as those of Rathbone and Brett.

From the first episode the thrill of the chase is powerfully transmitted. This is a sine qua non and the music score intensifies Sherlock's adrenalin rush when he moves into hyper-drive.

Cumberbatch's Sherlock thinks faster than any Holmes I have encountered and the actor has an enviable facility to speak with un-nerving rapidity. By now we have been trained to accept the novelty of on-screen observations, thoughts and text-messages that amplify Sherlock's lightning intellect as well as ensuring we follow his thought patterns.

Certain traits are already fully developed in the performance: this Sherlock IS palpably observer, scientist and bohemian.

Like Brett, Cumberbatch brings humour to the role - from the wink to John at their introduction to that daring scene of high comedy at the palace. This element has proved crucial thus far: there's comradeship in shared laughter.

This Sherlock achieves gravitas and charisma - the latter, perhaps, more in the eyes of fellow characters than mine. On two series' evidence, I am not as magnetised by every gesture and expression as Rathbone and, especially, Brett could, at the height of their powers, command at will. I am segueing to...

Neglected Traits and Elements.

This is the rudest, most callous Holmes I've seen. John, of course, is officer and gentleman. Brett's Holmes may have been aloof, supercilious and demanding but could never be accused of deliberate ungentlemanly behaviour.

Both Rathbone and Brett proved as masterly as Holmes himself at the art of disguise. I hope we see something of this from Cumberbatch.

 Holmes is highly proficient in certain martial arts - a fertile skill thus far neglected.

Partly because the extensive (and exotic) nature of Sherlock's archive of cases has not been satisfactorily established, it is not easy to take for granted Lestrade's trust in him. Or, more importantly, to accept Sherlock as truly "the highest court of appeal in detection"). One misses Watson's continuing discovery of yet another outre problem solved  or another signal service done, without recognition, to the English and other Crowns. Incidentally, Moriarty suffers from a similar lack of background.

In a previous post I called Sherlock immature. By this I meant two things: this is a character in the making and we have yet to encounter Holmes the philosopher. Doyle's original stories are strewn with examples and thanks are due to the creators of the BBC SHERLOCK for leading so many viewers back to the written narratives. Philosophic reflection provides a morality and overview that underscores Holmes' humanity and illustrates why he chose a life of detection rather than crime. It also serves to enhance the sense that we are watched over by..a good angel. Perhaps age will engender this dimension in Sherlock.

Finally, I would just stress the importance of finding ways of presenting Sherlock as a worthy friend to John, because right now it is merely an irony that he calls him John but is less clearly committed to the doctor than Everyman John is to him.

In my next post I shall look at the benefits and limitations of setting Sherlock Holmes ouside his period.

Meanwhile, here is the Philosopher-Guardian:


                    "What a lovely thing a rose is!"

"What a lovely thing a rose is!”

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

Sherlock Holmes, The Naval Treaty.

To go straight to BBC SHERLOCK Post 5 of 5 please click HERE


Friday, February 3, 2012

SHERLOCK - The One Fixed Point in a Changing Age.

"A whom each development comes as a perpetual surprise, and to whom the future is always a closed book, is, indeed, an ideal helpmate."
(Holmes on Watson in "The Blanched Soldier".)

And, one may add, an ideal representative of the reader resident within the narrative of a detective story. As a rule, the reader knows what Watson knows. First person narrative and blogging are forms of soliloquy - and lies have no currency there. Watson embodies the fiction's truth. He is no Moriarty. Decently, earnestly, sympathetically and humanely he relates the best sense he can make of complexities beyond him. "The one fixed point in a changing age" (Holmes of Watson in "His Last Bow"), it is that quality of stalwart loyalty to "the best and wisest man I have ever known" that makes it easy to like him.

The quartet of great screen Watsons generate affection thus, though differing markedly in other respects.

In this, the 3rd of my posts on the BBC Sherlock I shall look at Martin Freeman's portrayal in the light of the memorable Watsons of Nigel Bruce, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke.

Clearly, Bruce and Freeman are poles apart. An instructive (and amusing) flight of fancy is to let yourself imagine Bruce's Watson coping with Lara Pulver nue. Nuff said.

Bruce has none of the painful introspection of Freeman's John. But..he looks good in monochrome in the mists of Dartmoor or the swirling London fog, hanging onto Rathbone's coat-tails. Great voice, fun to mimic.No depth - just great entertainment.

Jeremy Brett's first Watson, played by David Burke, has a mind and life of his own. This often makes him sceptical of Holmes' powers and even critical of his methods. Here is no bumbling caricature but a decent, engaging, intelligent creation capable of moving us deeply (in "The Final Problem" and, for example, less tragically, in the final scene of "The Resident Patient" where Burke's Watson realises Holmes has suggested the best title for the case.) A delight...and one of many set-pieces between two actors at the height of their powers. One can readily imagine these two setting out to dine together, equals in everything that really matters.

There are rare moments with Burke (and later with Hardwicke) where Brett's Holmes calls him "John". Thus, in a word, is dramatised their unmistakable  mutual respect and affection.

Hardwicke delivers a masterclass in the simplicity of great screen acting in a role made more difficult as time went on by Brett's state of health.
Art begins to imitate life and one senses the stalwart support of actor for actor in the characterisation. Hardwicke is older than Burke. This feels right for the post-Reichenbach Holmes...and the fading Brett.
I take my hat off to him for the actual and imaginative constancy displayed.

In "The Empty House" Hardwicke is initially shown alone, taking on post mortem cases on behalf of the Yard, surviving without his dead friend. Surviving, but we feel the loss in his understated response to mention of Holmes by the police in the case of Ronald Adair. What is a classic reconciliation scene is rendered deeply moving by Hardwicke's performance when the bookseller becomes Sherlock Holmes. We are home from Oz; miracles happen...and the old team set out once more into the London night. These are immortal, legendary moments - The game's afoot...but it's only fun if both Holmes and Watson play.

There is some tribute I feel to Hardwicke's Watson in Martin Freeman's John.But then, I also detect shades of Alan Cox's Watson in the 1985 feature film, "Young Sherlock Holmes". Freeman and Cumberbatch are young for the parts and (in these early series) feel like Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox some years on.

Bur this is Freeman's Watson..and what a Watson!

We probably spend more time with John than any other Watson. In turn, he has more to do with Adler, Moriarty and Mycroft than previous incarnations. Indeed, by the time we face The Reichenbach Fall one might forgivably retitle the series, "John".

I shall be writing about Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock in the next blog but make the point now that John's character is much more developed and complex than  is the detective's at the close of series 2.
There are aspects of Holmes as yet unasssayed I put down to Sherlock's comparative immaturity.

Watson has seen much already, perhaps too much for one man's life. He feels, has felt, too much. This is a riveting creation, graced in the opening and closing scenes of The Reichenbach Fall by some of the best small-screen acting I have ever seen.

For the first time I readily believe in Watson the retired soldier. I understand the need to write. I warm to the need for enduring friendship (as opposed to the premature loss of comrades in arms.) I see (as Sherlock susses) the need for excitement and danger in John - it's all he knows. In psychotherapy and in  private eulogy Freeman is Everyman Bereaved.

Such sincerity, such emotional truth exacts great pressure on the writers of future episodes. Having established such depth directions must be found that do justice to John's existential loneliness.

My next blog will look at how Cumberbatch may develop Sherlock the more readily to seem worthy of this man's friendship than he does (for this viewer) at present.
Meantime, I look forward most of the scene that must reach our screens eventually - when Freeman's John encounters the living Sherlock of Cumberbatch. What a feast in the offing!

Finally for this post - just a few more possibilities to anticipate with relish.

Greater focus on John as a medical practitioner - he is young and, surely, must find gainful employment and a life of his own.  From "A Scandal in Bohemia" onward, Doyle's Watson had a (variably busy) practice.
This worked well as a technique to give Holmes space to travel, work in secret and sustain a certain distance and aloofness from Watson and, hence, the reader.

John as husband - Doyle's Watson marries twice. If the BBC Sherlock is a long term project a Mary Morstan for John is a reasonable development. Think of the fun with " silly Uncle Sherlock" when, inevitably, the kids multiply!

Seriously - I just hope the writers can maintain such a level of writing as to ensure:

                 a) that John may develop credibly, building on the rich characterisation thus far;

                b) that, as a result of a) Martin Freeman continues to be interested in Project Sherlock.

To go straight to BBC SHERLOCK Post 4 please click HERE


Thursday, February 2, 2012

SHERLOCK - Dramatising Legend.

In this second post occasioned by the BBC "Sherlock" I want to begin to address how a third and perhaps subsequent series may develop, bearing in mind the precedents set by series 1 and 2...and Conan Doyle's original stories.

As Holmes' Boswell and Sherlock's Blogger, John Watson is naturally closest to reader and viewer. Our very familiarity with him renders him famous but not in the way of legend.

Conan Doyle's Holmes is sufficiently remote to attain legendary status. Typically, the lion's part of a Doyle adventure will offer the reader relatively little of Holmes. " A Study in Scarlet" being an extreme example.

While this remoteness is more difficult to create in visual media, the Jeremy Brett series dramatised the stories of those who came to Baker Street for help (often employing flashback) to minimise direct experience of Holmes, thereby maintaining a sense of his legendary image. The BBC Sherlock offers more of the detective than I think has ever been presented (except for Brett's two-hander stage version).

Similary, Jim Moriarty, Irene Adler and Mycroft Holmes are thrust so far to the apron of our imagination's stage that they are rendered less remote, endangering their status as figures of legend. I shall return to these.

Aspiring writers need look no further than Shakespeare for masterclasses in the art of dramatising legend. Indeed, it is a major theme of "Antony and Cleopatra". So confident is he by this point in his creative life that he revels like a skilled magician in effortless alternation between images of Cleopatra and Mark Antony as distant legends and as all too human tragic figures. The play begins and ends with descriptions and evocations of golden legend. The intervening acts take us right to the mortal hearts and minds of two lovers.

What Shakespeare teaches above all is the dramatist's awareness and discipline in keeping a character off stage to elevate them to legendary levels. Others may speak of them ( as Enobarbus of Cleopatra on her barge) but we encounter them directly only, as it were, in epiphany.

The Ghost of Hamlet's father is thus presented - the personification of a Golden Age. And I once saw Fortimbras played (appropriately) by the same actor as the Ghost. Fortinbras enjoys minimal stage time in order to lend dramatic credibility to the last scene's image of him as the ideal warrior king...precisely what Old King Hamlet was and what Prince Hamlet becomes only in death.

Conan Doyle's presentation of The Woman, of the secret brother Watson  has never met, of the unseen spider at the centre of his malignant web is as carefully wrought as Shakespeare's figures of legend.

With that preface I now turn to "Sherlock".

Irene Adler.

Of greater import to me than her mutation into dominatrix is the increased exposure (no, not the welcome nakedness of Lara Pulver!) given this character. I suspect from her survival (thanks to Sherlock) she will continue to figure in future series. Entertaining as this may be, our enjoyment of a well-acted, fully fleshed-out character will be at the expense of her legendary status. This is already irretrievable. Further (likely?) relations with Sherlock will transmute the character totally. I don't mind - I can watch Pulver all night.

Mycroft Holmes.

In the Jeremy Brett series, Mycroft appeared (forgivably, given Brett's health) more often than Doyle intended. His shadowy presence in the original stories serves to enhance and rebalance the legend that is Holmes.

In the BBC Sherlock, by choice rather than necesssity, Mycroft is a familiar (if ambiguous) figure. The more so in being played by one of the series' creators. Fortunately, The Reichenbach Fall leaves enough unanswered about Mycroft to sustain his legendary status - if the writers' so choose.

Jim Moriarty.

I am one of the many who rather hope we have not seen the last of a spell-binding creation.

However, in the context of this post's theme, it is clear the familiarity of 'Jim' and character elements reminiscent of Graham Norton and the more psychopathic Bond villains (I'm thinking especially of Klaus Maria Landauer's Largo) are taking Moriarty light years away from Doyle's remote legend.

Doyle, himself, only, I believe, engineered face-to-face encounters of Moriarty and Holmes in "The Final Problem" because they (and  the whole Holmes saga) were to end..for good. In reviving the detective, Doyle had perforce to make do with the second most dangerous man in London, Col. Sebastian Moran, as a replacement adversary. As Holmes himself was wont to remark, crime had become pedestrian now the Professor was gone. It was the invisiblity of Moriarty that secured his legendary status. A re-reading of T.S. Eliot's Macavity poem says all this better than I. (see my Poetry of Sherlock Holmes post)

I enjoyed Jim Moriarty very much in Sherlock; but other Moriarty's have frightened me more. I prefer the encounter Brett endures with Eric Porter at 221b. even to the swimming pool scene in Sherlock. And I admire the way Porter's Moriarty is presented on the railway chase and seen at a distance in the Alpine scenes...a raven-like figure, haunting, relentlessly pursuing out of the blackness from which he has emerged to remove the One who has inconvenienced him once too often. Here is real menace; in Sherlock I am finally presented with a psychopath. Jim Moriarty is the weaker because of this, for psychopaths are no equal for Sherlock Holmes.

But is it Jim?

Cards on the table - it is still possible ( and I hope proves dramatised )  that Jim Moriarty still lives.If the writers can credibly fake Sherlock's suicide, the same may be done with Jim's.

Indeed, if the franchise is to be extended well beyond three series, the writers may need this worthiest of adversaries spinning ever more webs and constructing more illusory Chinese boxes to confound all but Sherlock.

I simply did not believe Moriarty as a psychopath, still less as a suicide. In fact, I found the whole scene on Bart's rooftop impossible to swallow. There is (I trust) a greater game being played.

The possiblities are fascinating. The suicide could turn out to be Jim-look-alike,  psychopathic, out-of-work actor, Richard Brook,  groomed by Moriarty for just this final role of his life.

Even, perhaps (though this may necessitate a change of actor) we have never met James Moriarty...yet. Jim has, from the swimming pool onwards, been Brook, revelling in playing the great Napoleon of Crime...believing at times that he was the shadowy Professor. There would be real genius and cold inhumanity in a Moriarty who used the weak and vulnerable to his own ends. Psychopaths are expendable...and (dramatically speaking) I agree.

My next post will concern John. For the moment I leave the last word to Shakespeare.
If Moriarty is truly dead:
                                                 " the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon."
(Antony and Cleopatra, 4. 15)

To go straight to BBC SHERLOCK Post 3 please click HERE