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This earlier post is now updated to reflect the recent release of a film, The Lost City of Z, based on Grann’s book of the same name. Both tell the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went into the Amazon in 1925 with his son looking for an ancient lost city. They both disappeared. For decades, explorers and scientists have tried to find evidence of his party and the Lost City of Z. Since then, perhaps another hundred people have died or disappeared searching for Fawcett.

I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z in 2010 and halfway through it I realized what attracted me to it. It takes me back to a book of my youth – The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – which was a novel I loved as a kid.  I probably read the Classics Illustrated Comic version before I actually read the book, as that was the case with many books from Treasure Island to Hamlet.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is much better known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Even if you have never read any of his fiction, you probably know a few of his stories and characters because, according to the Internet Movie Database (love that site) there are at least 215 films based on his writing.

I took out my old comic book version and also my paperback of the novel and rediscovered Doyle’s little introductory verse:

I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.

There was another book titled The Lost World which was Michael Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park, but I have nothing to say about that book. To me, The Lost World is the one published in 1912 and it is the fictional story of an expedition to a place in the Amazon where prehistoric animals still survive. (Hmmm, did Mr. Crichton get inspiration for Jurassic Park from it?)  The book introduced the character Professor Challenger who appears in other books by Doyle.

Exploration and lost worlds captured the fancy of the public and authors in the early part of the 20th century. In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs (who is better known for his Tarzan and science-fiction stories) published The Land that Time Forgot, which was his version of a lost world story. In that  rather ridiculous tale, sailors  from a German U-Boat discover a world of dinosaurs and ape-men in Antarctica.

I read all of them. I didn’t really pay attention back then to the chronology of publication. If I had noted dates, I would have realized that another one of my childhood author heroes, Jules Verne, had introduced the whole prehistoric-animals-in-the-present-day adventure story with his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth which was published back in 1864. Those explorers find a prehistoric world of people and dinosaurs inside the Earth.

By the way, you can read The Lost World as an “e-book” free online at Project Gutenberg – if you can handle reading on a screen. I can’t.

cover

Now, to get back to where this post started, the setting for The Lost World is was probably inspired by reports about British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett’s expedition to Venezuela and Brazil, in a mountain region called Mount Roraima.

The modern-day non-fiction book, The Lost City of Z , tells the tale of Fawcett who launched his final expedition in 1925 into the Amazon.

His goal was to find the fabled lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold.” El Dorado has captured the imaginations of kids, armchair explorers and real anthropologists, adventurers, and scientists for about 400 years – even though there really has never been evidence that it ever existed. That hasn’t stopped hundreds of expeditions from going out looking for it.

Fawcett was financed by the Royal Geographical Society in London.  It humbles me to think that at age 57 he headed out again because he really believed in El Dorado, which he called the City of Z .

He set out with only his 21-year-old son Jack and one of Jack’s friends. He wanted to travel light and fast, eat off the land, and not harass the natives. They vanished in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil.  Subsequent attempts to find Fawcett and the city have failed.

What happened to Fawcett? David Grann thinks he knows. The author is not an adventurer, but he ended up in the jungles of the Amazon to try to find an answer.

Fawcett’s expeditions inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of a lost world. Grann wrote an earlier book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.

I’m not ready for any Amazon adventures, so I’m happy to follow Grann’s digging through Fawcett’s old diaries and logs for clues and doing my own armchair adventuring.

I liked that the book also deals with how in the past 40 years in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover. That’s an area bigger than France. Tribes are being threatened with extinction. Many animals and plants, some we never even knew existed, are also vanishing.

Much has been lost in those jungles.

More Reading
Vanished!: Explorers Forever Lost     

The Lost City

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Ian McKellen in Mr Holmes

Ian McKellen as Mr. Holmes

I read A Slight Trick of the Mind, the seventh novel by Mitch Cullin  that is the basis for a new film out this summer, Mr. Holmes,  starring Ian McKellen and Laura Linney and directed by Bill Condon.

The book is a revisionist account of a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in retirement. I have always enjoyed Sherlock. I read all the books in my youth and have enjoyed most of the films. I saw the film adaptation of Cullin’s novel Tideland. It was directed by the extraordinary Terry Gilliam and stars Jeff Bridges, Janet McTeer, and Jennifer Tilly, but it didn’t do well at the box office. That might be because the story is so odd.  That book is about a girl who is taken away by her father to an isolated farmhouse where she finds herself in a bizarre fantasy world where only her dolls’ heads keep her company. Add into the mix a mentally damaged man and a ghost-like woman and the separation between imagination and reality disappears.

In A Slight Trick of the Mind, it is 1947 and the long-retired Holmes lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse. He is not the man we knew in the stories in which Dr. Watson embellished the man and the cases. He never wears a deerstalker cap (prefers a top hat) and doesn’t smoke a pipe (cigars). He has a housekeeper. She has a young son who idolizes Holmes. He likes to tend to his bees. He writes in his journal.

I can identify with this old Holmes, especially when he confronts his diminishing mental abilities.

People still come to him looking for answers. He decides to revisit a case and it helps him answer his own personal big remaining questions.

trick cvrLike most of us, he is confronting life, love, death and not only his weakening mind but something he never considered in his youth – the limits of the mind.

Maybe some hardcore Arthur Conan Doyle fans reject any updating of alternate versions of Sherlock. I am okay with them. Doyle allowed the detective to retire to Sussex but others have put him back to work.

I liked Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution: A Story of Detection, which is somewhat similar to the Cullin Holmes framework. It has the old detective (at 89) living in Sussex with his bees too. The locals generally know he was once a famous detective, but he has little interest in solving mysteries. The game is afoot once more though when a young mute boy who has escaped from Nazi Germany comes to him. The boy’s companion is an African gray parrot that keeps repeating strings of German numbers. Are they a Nazi code or some Swiss bank account or something far worse?

Laurie R. King has many mysteries on her book list including several in the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series. In this version of Holmes, he is married. In her book, Dreaming Spies (the only one of hers I have read), they travel to India and Japan by boat and solve a mystery along the way. Personally, I found that this was too far away from the Holmes who lives in my mind to be a comfortable read. (A friend who is a fan of the series has told me to try the first in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: or, On the Segregation of the Queen.)

In Nicholas Meyer’s novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, the conceit is that Meyer has “rediscovered” a Sherlock Holmes adventure recorded by Watson. It tells about a collaboration of Holmes and Sigmund Freud in the solution of a conspiracy which will affect the lives of millions of people. The story involves Professor Moriarty and his brother Mycroft Holmes. It reveals (no spoiler) where Sherlock was during that period when we all believed him to be dead.

The title is a reference to Holmes’s addiction to cocaine which was in the original stories (see Conan Doyle’s “The Sign of Four”) because he describes the cocaine he uses as “a seven-per-cent solution.”

You can tell that Meyer loves the characters. In fact, I think he is more fond and respectful of Watson than Conan Doyle is in the last Holmes tales. He has also published a followup, The West End Horror: A Posthumous Memoir of John H. Watson, M.D. and then a third, The Canary Trainer.

Although some of these non-Doyle authors’ tales seem far away from the originals, most of them do use bits and loose ends from the originals. In Canary, we see Sherlock after he has left his therapy with Sigmund Freud and has taken up residence in Paris where he is a pit musician (violin, of course) at the Paris Opera. I rank the three books in quality in the order that they were published.

ian-mckellan-holmes
Back to Cullin.  There are three paths the story travels in A Slight Trick of the Mind.  The first takes place after Holmes’ return from a trip to Japan. He was searching there for a prickly ash bush that he believed gives longevity to add to his beloved royal jelly (the beekeeper in him) that he used in earlier stories.

There is also Holmes in 1947 Japan. He visits Hiroshima, post-atomic bomb which he compares to a hive that has lost its queen. That’s what he tells Roger, the 14 year-old son of his housekeeper who he is teaching beekeeping. This paternal Holmes is not one you expect based on the earlier stories.

The third story path comes from his writing about his infatuation with a married woman many years ago. It is an irrational infatuation that he knows is unlike him.

And it all comes together.

I found this the most interesting of the “new” Holmes books. This Sherlock is minus his Mycroft and John. (“You know, I never did call him Watson—he was John, simply John.”) Both dead.  He has his beekeeping, his writing (journal, articles, letters).

armonica-wikimediaHe is trying to finish his version of the case concerning that mysterious young woman. She played a glass armonica (AKA glass harmonica, bowl organ, or hydrocrystalophone). It’s an unusual musical instrument made of spinning glass disks on a common shaft (lower notes from the larger disks to the left descending in size and rising in tone.

The name comes from harmonia, the Greek word for harmony and the sound comes by means of friction. Is there symbolism there?

Holmes has staying power. I was hardly alone in enjoying the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock that brought him into our time. I haven’t gotten into watching the U.S. television series of a modern-day Holmes,  Elementary, but it has completed 3 seasons.

Have we figured out what it is about Mr. Holmes that appeals to us? Should we try to figure it out?

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Hands off Hello Not all labyrinths are traps Happy to be inside but already missing summer outdoors.  The plant feels the same way. There’s something in the first cold nights when autumn teases winter that seem to require a fire. Still drinking morning tea in the afternoon.  #teaetiquette

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