How many different versions of Sherlock Holmes can you think of? Just pause for a second and try to count how many you can remember.
You probably got
- the Arthur Conan Doyle originals
- the Robert Downey Jr. films
- the BBC modern version
- the Jeremy Brett TV series
and probably many more (drop them in the comments below) but there are also the other novel adaptations of it.
- the Young Sherlock Holmes series by Andrew Lane
- House of Silk and Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
- even a novel from Moriarty’s perspective called Professor Moriarty: Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman
But just WHY are the stories so popular?
Is it the characters? The mystery? The constantly unresolved sexual tension of almost ALL modern versions?
Conan Doyle’s original characters are simply so incredibly well-written that it makes it so tempting to write them with your own twist (the modern adaptations and ALL of the fanfiction!), but what is it about the characters that make them so appealing?
I think that it is at least in part that Holmes manages to be both a genius but also, as John says in the BBC’s modern version, ‘the most human… human-being’. This combination of the aloof detective with the sudden flashes of deep humanity is what makes Sherlock Holmes the incredible character that he is.
But we absolutely cannot forget his companion, his Boswell, his blogger. Dr John Watson. The wonderfully compelling mysteries are told by Watson in his stories of his best friend, the great detective. It is through Watson that we are shown Holmes’ more human attributes and also, because John often doesn’t understand Sherlock’s leaps of logic, gives Conan Doyle a reason to explain how Holmes reached that point (which is incredibly helpful as a reader and stops me feeling completely out of the loop!).
And to talk about Sherlock Holmes properly, one must also talk about the Napoleon of Crime. The Spider. Professor James Moriarty. Whilst he is only really the villain in one the novels (The Final Problem) he is probably one of the greatest villains in crime fiction. With the incredible cunning and ruthlessness of a master criminal and the extreme intelligence and practicality of a maths professor, he truly is a force to be reckoned with.
He plays more of a role in newer versions of Sherlock Holmes. He is the main villain in the first two series of the BBC’s show Sherlock and Anthony Horowitz wrote a novel titled Moriarty. But perhaps the most notable of the Moriarty-centred novels is Kim Newman’s novel Professor Moriarty Hounds of the D’Urbervilles. This follows the story of Moriarty from before he arrives in Holmes’ world. It is, in contrast to the originals, narrated by Colonel Sebastian Moran, who could be described as Moriarty’s Watson. However, the relationship they have is very different, Moran is Moriarty’s assassin and generally does the dirty work for him but the characters and stories are just as enjoyable.
I think the best part is that Newman makes no real attempt to present them as ‘misunderstood’ or ‘really good at heart’. Both Moriarty and Moran are villains to the core (if villains with at least some morals!) and neither wishes to be anything else. Moran often mentions the joy he gets from crime (specifically murder… he really likes murder) and there is one scene where Moriarty sets up a brutal attack outside their house and the two sit back and enjoy the carnage. However, the characters (Sebastian more than James) are still incredibly likeable and this is a difficult thing to pull off. But pull it off he does!
Honestly, if you like Sherlock Holmes even a little bit (maybe you only watched the BBC version for Benedict Cumberbatch) then please give it a read. You will not be disappointed, I promise!