Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Back To Work

House guests are fine and dandy, particularly when they do dishes all weekend and strip their bed and gather all their linens before they leave. But it's rough to go long periods of time being pleasant and keeping the house clean rather than checking e-mail, reading, and exercising, which, quite honestly, is how I spend the bulk of my time when I'm on my own.

I came away from my family weekend with a lovely anniversary collectors' edition of Anne of Green Gables, direct from Canuckistan, as well as a couple of new writing magazines that I bought for myself when we were all in a bookstore. Two more publications I'll never have time to read. Because e-mailing, reading, and exercising are so time consuming.

Since I've often written here about Sherlock Holmes, I thought I'd mention that this weekend we visited Gillette Castle, a seriously marvelous place. The castle was built by William Gillette, who originated the character of Sherlock Holmes on stage and is responsible for many of the characteristics the public associates with that character.

While we were there, who shows up but ol' Bill himself in character as S. Holmes. So what we're talking about here is an actor playing an actor playing a character. It was a neat touch.

Thanks to YouTube, you can catch a bit of an audio clip of Gillette as Holmes.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

This May Explain The Fascination With Holmes

For years I've been wondering about and speculating about whether or not kids today are interested in Sherlock Holmes. The author of The Return of Conan at Guys Lit Wire offers a theory.

"Conan the Barbarian in one of those iconic characters--like Sherlock Holmes or Dorothy Gale--that people think they know without bothering to read the actual stories they appeared in."

This has inspired another line of speculation on my part. Perhaps Holmes has become a mere celebrity these days, famous for being famous. Therefore, we don't have to worry about tossing him into a book or movie because people will know about him because...he's famous.

Thanks to Oz and Ends for the link.

Training Report: Don't ask.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Will The Young Read Westerns?

A few weeks ago, I experienced an uncontrollable urge to read some adult books. But when I went to the library, I found myself drawn to titles that had a young slant of one kind or another. I was drawn to Holmes on the Range by Steven Hockensmith because of the Sherlock Holmes connection. Traditionally, Holmes has been connected with young readers, though I'm not at all sure if he's of much interest to them these days.

Holmes on the Range has a marvelous premise. A cowboy is exposed to some Sherlock Holmes stories and becomes so enamored of them that he wants to take up deducing himself. The book has a wry, dry, and earthy wit, many engaging characters, and what appears to be an authentic setting. Is it a book of interest to the young? Well, for older teens and early twenty-somethings, I think it could be.

Otto and Gustav Amlingmeyer are cowboys who drift from one cowpunching job to another. Otto is twenty years old (young character!) and known as Big Red because he's the enormous red-headed brother. (Ho! as one character often says. Red-headed brothers! Red-headed League!) Gustav is twenty-seven and known as Old Red because he's the older red-headed brother. Gustav is a bright guy. More than bright, maybe. But he is totally illiterate. Only his "little" brother, the youngest and only surviving member of their family, learned to read and write. He reads and writes well enough, in fact, to have worked in a feed store as a teenager.

It is young Otto who reads the Sherlock Holmes stories aloud to his brother while they're around campfires or in the bunkhouse. And it is Gustav, whose crazy uncle taught him not to believe in the predestination that many of their German calvinist neighbors still subscribe to, who cannot accept that he will be nothing but a poor, ignorant cowboy. He wants to be more. He wants to be a detective like his hero, Sherlock Holmes. (Who is real in the world of this book, though he doesn't actually appear.) He sets out to find himself a case to solve and find one he does. Solving the case means real life or death for the two brothers, but for Gustav it means spiritual life or death as well.

By the end of the book, the Amlingmeyers, who have had no direction in their lives other than staying together, both have plans for a future. Who am I? What am I going to be? Sounds like a YA-related theme to me.

And, really, in spite of the rather impressive body count by the end of the story, Holmes on the Range is a hopeful book.

Now the book includes what some might call classic western situations and some might call western stereotypes--the European ranch owners, the eastern dudes, the cowpoke who can't speak to women. Whichever attitude you take, Hockensmith does fun things with them. On top of that, the last generation and a half didn't grow up on a steady diet of TV westerns. This may be new, fertile ground for them. Or, having no concept of the Old West in their psyches, they may feel too removed from it to be interested. It could go either way.

Don't hand this book off to some delicate thirteen-year-old looking to move up from Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, by the way. Hockensmith does some wonderful things with similis but a lot of them are built around the business of outhouses. The dead bodies are graphicly described. And some of the characters exhibit the racist attitudes you might expect of the 1890s. By no means are the black cowboys portrayed in a racist way. But there are a few racists among their compadres.

If you want a less adult but equally entertaining western for younger readers, try Sunshine Rider, The First Vegetarian Western by Ric Lynden Hardman. The book was quite buzzworthy back when it was published in 1998. And that was when there were nowhere near as many Internet sites to create buzz.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Stuck on Sherlock

So I finished watching the new Sherlock Holmes television movie I was talking about yesterday. I was watching the final few frames in which Holmes is looking all moody and thoughtful after having attended the wedding of his middle-aged buddy, Watson, to his middle-aged fiance(She appeared to be widowed or divorced as well as a professional woman.), and I thought, How did the Sherlock Holmes stories end up on student reading lists? Who decided these were books for kids?

By no means do I want to suggest that Holmes is inappropriate for kids. My question is, what's the attraction? Everything I know and believe about kids and reading says to me that there's nothing for them at 221 Baker Street. Is the main character a child or teen? Is there a child or teen's voice? Do the themes deal with child or teen issues of separation or identity? Are there child/teen problems that the child/teen reader can resolve while reading the book.

No, no, and no. And no.

So how did Sherlock Holmes become associated with kid reading? I will make a couple of guesses.

First, in the late 19th Century when Arthur Conan Doyle began writing the Holmes books, there wasn't a great deal of children's literature. Children's literature became more popular in the 20th Century when it became possible to mass produce color illustrations and when "specialization" became popular. (You no longer just had doctors, you had specialists; you no longer just had literature, you had specialized literatures). At the time Holmes was created, the various generations tended to read the same things. (By the way, I heard all this at a lecture a few years ago. Unfortunately, I can't remember who gave it.) So late 19th Century young people were exposed to Holmes and probably found him far more readable than, say, the works of Henry James. In that way, Holmes could have become canonized as literature for young people.

Second, young people have traditionally enjoyed reading mysteries. There's a logical reason for this. Up until the late 20th Century, mysteries followed a pattern--social order was disrupted by a crime, the detective solved the crime, social order was restored. (Not so much now, when fictional crimes may be of a particularly horrendous nature and the criminal may avoid justice in some way.) But that restoration of social order was comforting for readers. Young people may particularly appreciate that comfort as more and more of life's problems are being revealed to them.

This would explain why, as a teenager, I read not only Sherlock Holmes but Miss Marple.

I read him as a teenager, but are teenagers reading him now? The British are constantly doing new television versions of Holmes' stories (they also like to keep redoing Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice), so he seems to be part of the public consciousness. But who reads him now?


Monday, October 24, 2005

What's on TV?

In my younger days, I loved mysteries, and I certainly recall reading my share of Sherlock Holmes in my early teen years. And regretting that I wasn't more like him, if memory serves me. I don't think I could always follow his reasoning. (To this day, I can't tell the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning.)

Anyway, last night I taped Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, and I'm halfway through watching it. Rupert Everett makes a wonderful Holmes. And not just because he's good looking. His Holmes is a little kinder and more sensitive than I recall him being but also plenty intense. For those of us who like intensity.

This is a newly written Holmes story, which might upset some purists but doesn't bother me a bit. It's not for the kiddies, what with Holmes toking up in an early scene and a lot of talk of twisted sex crimes. Teenage Holmes fans should be fine with it, though.

Did you like Holes by Louis Sachar? Did you enjoy the movie? Then what about a sitcom!? One is supposed to be in the works. What can they be thinking? Maybe Hogan's Heroes for kids? (Thanks to Kids Lit for the link.)


Tuesday, December 21, 2004


I have avoided reading anything by Diana Wynne Jones because she writes fantasy, and, as I may have stated before, I really don't care for it. However, I had been reading that an animated version of one of her books was making a big splash in Japan so I decided to give it a try.

I am talking about Howl's Moving Castle.

Now, I found the plot hard to follow. The curse the Wizard Howl was worried about was a mystery to me. However, Howl, himself, was marvelous. The book is so worth reading for that one character. The fire demon was a charmer, too, and the spunky girl narrator was, well, spunky. But Howl--what a creation.

I definitely believe that a good character can redeem a book. Anne Shirley is the powerhouse that drives the rather formulaic Anne of Green Gables. Sherlock Holmes is the only reason to read any of the books involving him. And Howl just plain rocks.

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