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July 15, 2015

The Great Mystery of Sherlock Holmes’s Death --- And Resurrection: Post 3

Teen Board member Alison S. has been tackling the classics for a while now, blogging about the literary merits, nuances and modern relevance of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, FRANKENSTEIN, THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.
In this "sub-blog series," though, she's going to dig into one of the great controversies of modern literature --- the fact that Sir Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes only to bring him back seven years later "for no ostensible reason." She's already analyzed THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES --- the first novel in which Holmes mystically reappears --- and BASKERVILLE, a novel in which author John O'Connell delves into Doyle's possible motivation. In her final blog post in the series, below, she takes on Graham Moore's THE SHERLOCKIAN and wraps up her take on the mystery. Read it, now!

Technically speaking, Graham Moore’s THE SHERLOCKIAN doesn’t belong in this blog series. Sure, this novel stars Arthur Conan Doyle as one of its protagonists, but Moore --- that show-off --- can’t content himself with a single plotline. Instead, he alternates between a turn-of-the century whodunit involving Doyle and Bram Stoker and a modern day Holmes convention (yes, those exist) gone horribly, homicidally awry.

As I just mentioned (one, two, three… ) 13 words ago, Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker brave London’s grimiest slums and mailbox pipe bombs (yes, those were a thing back then, too) in the 20th century. In the 21st, however, newly-inducted Baker Street Irregular --- aka the titular “sherlockian”--- Harold and journalist Sarah race to discover Arthur Conan Doyle’s fabled lost diary… and hopefully catch a killer along the way.

Before I plunge into the novel’s astounding degree of historical detail, transportive setting, genius plotline or superb character development, let me point out all the subtle --- some would say frivolous --- details that stole my heart. First of all, Harold and Sarah’s couple name is “Sarold”. Say that a few times and tell me it’s not heart-meltingly adorable. Lots of factors go into naming a novel’s protagonists, and the appeal of the couple name probably doesn’t hold much sway. But I can’t help but smile at Moore’s foresight (assuming the perfection that is “Sarold” didn’t arise from mere serendipity). You might think I’m shallow for saying this, but their squeal-worthy couple name made me all the more eager for Harold and Sarah’s casual flirtation to evolve into something more. Graham Moore, in the incredibly improbable event that you’re reading this, thank you for making “Sarold” happen.

Now, on to some more substantial literary analysis. Being the chronic over-thinker that I am, I classify everything I read as either plot- or character-driven; Moore’s historical-literary-murder mystery-thriller, however, contradicted every criterion in my mental inventory. As an inventive murder mystery, abounding in subtle revelations, taut action scenes and more twists than a basket of curly fries, THE SHERLOCKIAN should qualify as a plot-driven novel… shouldn’t it?

But what about the dynamic, complex characters? Or how Harold’s development as a human being captivated me just as much as developments in the murder? And what about the brilliant parallels between the 20th and 21st century plotlines? Or how each of the modern-day protagonists mirrored either Arthur or Bram? Surely, THE SHERLOCKIAN transcends a clever compilation of clues and red herrings --- it’s also a subtly poignant examination of delusions and safety and guilt and hope. Plus, Arthur and Bram resort to a chapter of investigative cross-dressing. If nothing else, this book’s your one-and-only chance to see two of the 20th-century’s most preeminent novelists in drag.

“Now,” you may be thinking, “that’s all well and good, but what’s Moore’s answer to the Holmes conspiracy? Why did Doyle resurrect him? To put it simply, disillusionment.

As Doyle, the perennial idealist, stumbles through London’s far-from-ideal underbelly, he (reluctantly) confronts the corruption, brutality and injustice that differentiate real life from the romanticized realm of pulp fiction. Holmes’ world might revolve around murder, but never unsolvable murder. Through the rose-colored lens of idealist literature, even the ghastliest killings end in deduced culprits and apprehended criminals --- injustice always resolves into justice.

But real life falls way short of that ideal, and Doyle’s trek through the the darker side of London strips away his sheltered, white, landowning, 20th-century, male perception of the world. There isn’t a light at the end of every tunnel, so to speak, and there isn’t a conviction at the end of every homicide. Chaos doesn’t always resolve into order. Moral lines blur, and when the “good guys” fight the “bad guys”, innocent people can perish in the crossfire. During his descent into London’s dark side, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle trades some of his knightly ideals for rough-and-tumble vigilante justice and a hefty array of emotional baggage.

Moore’s mild-mannered, slightly oafish portrait of Doyle may diverge from O’Connell’s manipulative, quasi-psychopath interpretation, but the two portrayals of Sir Arthur share one striking similarity: both Moore’s and O’Connell’s Doyle know how to shape the world’s opinions through words. Unlike O’Connell’s belligerently persuasive character (some would say caricature), however, Moore’s Doyle would rather manipulate his own opinions than the world’s. Harold even remarks that “after the Great Hiatus, when Holmes returned in those later stories, he was just different. Meaner. Colder.”

But as I was saying (one, two, three… ) 284 words ago, delusions tend to outshine reality. So perhaps we should just resign ourselves to the mystery --- and frustration --- of Sherlock’s quasi-resurrection and appreciate the freedom of not knowing. The secrets lurking in Doyle’s lost diary could, according to Moore, at least, repulse even the most diehard of Sherlockians. As Moore so vaguely --- I mean clearly --- argues, “Don’t bring Sherlock Holmes into the electric light. Leave him in the mysterious and romantic flicker of the gaslamp… Leave him where he belongs, in the last days of [a] bygone century.”

Ironically, I doubt Sherlock’s rise from the dead will ever “rise” from the 20th century. As Arthur (involuntarily) discovers, real-life chaos doesn’t always resolve into understanding, and some real-life secrets elude even the most logical reasoning --- and it looks like Doyle’s lost diary might be one of those secrets. As Bram Stoker forewarns in DRACULA, “the old centuries… have secrets of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill.”

Alison S. is a member of the Teen Board.