Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Another progress report (sort of) and more of me dumping a bunch of the contents of my brain at you.  I’m going to try to reduce the angst level of these updates, though – some of the things recent visitors to the blog are writing about remind me that it the big scheme of things having a bit of trouble writing imaginary stories is not that big a deal.

I’ve also been debating with myself over this favorite authors thing (which is way beyond ‘first world problems’ and into a whole different level of ridiculous) and trying to decide whether or not to include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I’m fairly sure it was my grandmother who introduced me to him, giving me two collections of his stories when we were up for a summer visit because I had already blazed through everything I had brought along to read on the trip and had (probably) adopted Being A Nuisance as a fallback activity.  Anyway I loved the stories, devoured them, and upon reflection reading Conan Doyle by the light of an oil lamp may be the ideal way to experience him.

The thing is that first of all I have never gotten around to reading The Lost World or any of the other Professor Challenger stories, and also if I’m honest, some of his later stuff is clearly not as good as the work for which he is most famous.  On the other hand, if you have created one of the Immortals, I think you get a bit of a pass if ‘The Three Gables’ is kind of alarming and ‘The Creeping Man’ is a bit crap.

By Immortals I mean the relatively short list of characters who get imbedded not just into the imagination of the time they were written but into imaginations from that point onwards.  We keep wanting to read their stories, watch the plays, watch the movies.  We want to tell new stories with the Immortals in them or create our own versions of them.  You know who I mean.  Robin Hood.  Dracula.  Long John Silver.  And Conan Doyle’s Immortal (of course), Sherlock Holmes.

As kind of a side note, this whole Immortals deal seems to have its origins (for me, I know this is hardly an original thought here) with an old Patrick Watson series called The Titans in which Watson would “interview” some great figure from history like Alexander the Great or Thomas Jefferson, ostensibly summoned from the past to have an amiable chat with a Canadian TV personality.  The show didn’t last long because, I imagine, watching Patrick Watson interview some actor in historical dress was a fairly daft spectacle, but even though my social historian training tells me I should have been hostile to the whole premise it was pretty entertaining, and the portrayal of Elizabeth, I confess, has basically continued to be how I have imagined Gloriana ever since.  The Titans also got me thinking about the fictional characters who stay with us just as much, if not more, than the Caesars and Napoleons who we think of as real despite all our reimaginings of them.

Anyway Sherlock Holmes is unquestionably one of those Immortals; reportrayed and and modernized and just reread a century after he first decided it was all right if Watson (John, rather than Patrick) kept a record of their investigations into life’s curiosities.  I was hooked from the start on the genius detective who is brilliant at everything except being a regular human being and his friend without whom he would be a complete mess, as even Holmes occasionally realizes.

After I got through those two volumes my grandmother gave me (the Adventures and the Memoirs, once she had persuaded me that the Memoirs were mysteries and not about Holmes in grade school or whatever) I got a complete collection and devoured the rest of the stories.  It’s a gift I don’t think I recognized the value of at the time, and wish I had been able to properly say thank you for:  thanks for introducing me to an Immortal.

Sometimes it’s fun to wonder which of our stories today will be among the Immortals;  I mean it’s possible that in 100 years people will still be reading Twilight, but give me leave to doubt it.  Harry Potter?  Katniss Everdeen?  Who knows.  These characters of ours sort of flicker and die, sometimes – when I was a kid the Hardy Boys (about whom more in another entry) seemed like an unsinkable franchise but I doubt very many teenagers today would know who the hell they are.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic because there are some Immortals of relatively recent vintage:  James Bond seems to have something about him that endures, and Batman, Superman and Spider-Man seem likely to be appearing at just the right moment for a long time to come.  Will, say, some of Stephen King’s creations stick around as Verne’s and Lovecraft’s have?  Will, indeed, people read William Gibson in 2084?

It’s just hard to tell who the Immortals of this generation of artists might be, just like it’s hard to tell whether this or that event going on around us or this person we just met will turn out have changed The Course of History.  It’s a puzzle we can’t solve, but it’s fun to exercise the brain trying anyway.  I mean, it gives you something to do while you’re trying to bang out another thousand words.

Word Count: 23,169

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