Follow by email

Friday, 11 February 2011

Kiddified Holmes and the case of the grumpy old man

The Conan Doyle estate must have been watching the James Bond folk who scored a huge success with their series of young Bond books. Of course the fact that the Young Bond books somewhat sully the true legacy of Ian Fleming's creation, is seemingly not as important as raking in the bucks. It's depressing really but the answer to the continued success of any character seems to be reliant on knocking a few decades off and turning him into a teenager, hormones raging. What next Young Mike Hammer? Young Phillip Marlowe? Young Miss Marple? Young Dracula? Wait, I think that last one's already been done.

Death Cloud is the first in a series of books which will centre on the childhood of Sherlock Holmes -

From the press release - "Death Cloud" opens with Mycroft picking up Sherlock from a boys' school that has let out for summer break. Sherlock had been expecting his father, but the elder Holmes has just left for India as part of the British army. Sherlock's mother is too frail for him to live at home, so he is sent to live with an unfriendly aunt and uncle in the remote and sprawling Holmes Manor, staffed with an even less welcoming housekeeper. Being a teenager with nothing to do, Sherlock is destined to find trouble, and he does. Mycroft has hired his brother a tutor by the name of Amyus Crowe, who is American but nevertheless more Sherlockian than Sherlock himself as he counsels his student to "seek out information" and "collect it assiduously." That advice comes in handy when Sherlock, out mushroom collecting with his new teacher, happens upon a dead body. It's Crowe who teaches Sherlock how to deal with a body and who encourages observation as a methodology for solving crime.

Of course there's nothing new in this - it's always gone on (remember Speilberg's kiddie Holmes movie!) but this is the first time such a project's been officially sanctioned and to some it looks like milking rather than protecting the legacy. The claim has been made that author, Andrew Lane creates an authentic teenage Sherlock Holmes, but since Doyle's Sherlock was a fully formed adult character with adult flaws then there is no such thing as an authentic teenage Holmes. It doesn't matter how many other writers pen tales of Sherlock Holmes, and there have been some brilliant examples over the years, for these exist aside from Doyle's canon but these new Young Sherlock books, officially sanctioned by the Doyle estate, will forever be listed alongside the original stories, just in the way many claim the Young Bond series is now part of the 007 canon. The Doyle estate have also sanctioned Anthony Horowitz to write an all new Holmes novel but this work will feature the adult Holmes, set in period and written as if to follow on where Doyle left off. That doesn't trouble my sensibilities as much as transforming Holmes into a geeky kid.

Holmes for grumpy old men
I must admit I'll never read these Young Holmes books, just as I've never read a Young Bond, and maybe I'm too much of a purist on times, but I am a fan of the original canon and this kind of thing always leaves a sour taste in my mouth. All forms of fiction are art to a certain extent and the original author's muse is the real thing, the true artistic vision, while anything else is a cheap imitation. Creating an all new story of an adult Holmes is fine but turning that character into a kid is something else indeed. Are books going the way of the movies? Not so much dumbing down as becoming childish, kiddified?

And yet I contradict myself there because I've read and enjoyed many Sherlock Holmes stories not written by Doyle, most recently Sherlock Holmes and War of the Worlds by Manly and Wade Wellman. I think the thing that troubles me is that these Young Holmes books are being presented and marketed with the stamp of the Doyle estate, as if they have legitimate claim to be a part of the real Holmes canon, as if these are the definitive stories of Holmes before Doyle picked up the pen to chronicle the character's later years.

Still the fact is that the Young Adult book market is booming and there are those that claim these books will lead readers to discover the original stories. This can only be a good thing but what, I wonder, will a reader of this ultra modern prose make of the quaintly written originals?


John Sinclair said...

... i have read and enjoyed all the Young Bond series, but I do not in any way accept them as part of the Bond 'canon' any more than I accept the films, the comic strips or comic books, or come to think of it, the movies. I consider all these spin-offs 'elseworlds' or as DC used to put it, 'imaginary stories'.
But then, as Alan Moore said, 'aren't they all?'

BTW: surely you mean 'Ms. Marple'? Oh God, I can just see it now... just out of Roedean teenage temptress Jane Marple cutting a swathe through the boudoirs and crime scenes of Edwardian England....
Altogether now.. 'The Prime Of Miss Jane Marple..'

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine whether anyone cares if any new Holmes book carries the official stamp of the Doyle estate. There are loads of pastiches and I neither know nor care which are legitmate.It will always be looked at as a diversion.

And with all of Doyle in public domain (unlike Bond) it is a way for the heirs to bilk a bit of money from the undying popularity of the character.

Holmes ranks with Shakespeare for having a solid fan base. So messing with the tradition, changing ages, putting him on Mars with John Carter or in Zurich with Lenin doesn't really amount to much more than a bit of fun.

Dan Luft