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Holmes puts brilliant mind to work for another generation

Have you ever stopped to consider how dreary the world would be without Sherlock Holmes? Even today, decades after he retired from crime-solving to tend bees in the south of England, his legend continues to thrive in books, on television and in a new motion picture.

Although I haven't yet seen the latest cinematic biography of the private detective, I understand it plays fast and loose with the life of the greatest Brit since Lady Godiva.

The movie trailers show Holmes' diarist, Dr. Watson, as more of an equal than a sidekick; depict all sorts of explosive special effects unimaginable in the Victorian Era; and even have Holmes cavorting with (gasp!) a woman.

We must remember that the movie, though based on real people, takes the poetic license that Hollywood is famous for.

Sherlock Holmes doesn't need embellishment. His real-life story is a good read in itself.

A master of keen observation and deductive reasoning, he solved horrendous crimes after Scotland Yard had failed. As he famously told Watson: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." It sounds so elementary.

After Watson published his first article about his friend in 1887, others took little time latching on to the Holmes mystique. Before the century was over, many writers were publishing parodies of the mighty detective.

Mark Twain wrote A Double Barrelled Detective Story, which featured a Sherlockian character named -- Sherlock Holmes. Imagine the lawsuits if that happened today!

Bret Harte, famous for his stories of the California mining camps, wrote about a detective named Hemlock Jones.

If you can believe the Internet, other writers waxed fictitiously about Picklock Holes (and his friend Potson), Thinlock Bones (and Whatsoname), Warlock Bones (and Goswell), Shylock Homes, Holmlock Shears and Sherlaw Kombs (this last bit of plagiarism sounds like "Sherlock Holmes," if you hold your mouth just so when you say it).

One of my favorite knockoffs was by the short-story genius O. Henry, who wrote stories about Shamrock Jolnes -- "the great New York detective" who boasted "marvelous powers of observation and deduction." Jolnes' partner in crime-solving a century ago, by the way, was named Whatsup.

Years after the demise of Watson, writers still publish yarns about the supposed adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and TV shows (Monk, Psych, The Mentalist, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) feature detectives blessed with Holmesian eyes and brains.

Someone exercising enormous brainpower might be called "Sherlock," in homage to the great man.

Unaffected by all this hero worship, the retired detective spends his time studying bees in Sussex Downs (perhaps you read his "magnum opus," Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, With Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen).

I understand he still accepts mail at 221B Baker St., London NW1 6XE, England. I'm sure he'd like to hear from all of you.



Web posted on Thursday, January 14, 2010













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