Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sherlock Holmes and the Magic of Good Writing

The presence of Watson in the tales of Sherlock Holmes guarantees from the beginning that the appeal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories does not lie in ambiguity or work done by the reader to solve the mystery. Indeed, most of the mysteries relayed are in the post-solution voice of Dr. Watson, with all the twists and turns already untangled before Watson had picked up his pen. Everything's going to get explained. This reality shows just how engaging just plain great writing is. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fully realized characters and vision of England make for addictive reading, and there's a reason that new printings keep rolling out even today.

The highest achievement a writer can attain is a story or a character that endures for generations, and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson certainly fit the bill. Echoes of the pair resound through popular culture in any number of media - consider problem-solving Dr. House and his sidekick Dr. Wilson in House, MD, who owe much to Holmes and Watson not only in character but even in name. Of course, the many movie and TV versions of the duo have shaped their image and character, but their core remains distinctively Doyle's.

The friendship between the two men is intensely real as well, and portraying that kind of relationship realistically has eluded thousands upon thousands of writers. In a certain sense, it's easy to portray romantic relationships because the reader's mind does the legwork for you. There is something universal to the experience of romantic love, and if you're reasonably alert, you can trigger remembrances of those feelings easily. They're so powerful and so appealing that we're always willing to return to them. There are so many kinds of friendships, though, that it takes real talent to create friendships that resonate clearly. Isn't that odd? Still, Doyle pulls it off with grace and aplomb, and creates an enduring pair that is as hilarious as it is lovely.

I would probably recommend an edition of these stories with larger pages so it's a bit slimmer. The copy I have has the virtue of costing less than $7, but is quite dense and thick, making it hard to hold up, particularly towards the beginning and the end of the book. Regardless of the edition, everyone should read these stories - they're as enriching as they are entertaining!

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