On Conan Doyle, by Michael Dirda
As someone who has read a fair amount of works by Arthur Conan Doyle , I consider myself at least a mild fan of his writing. This work is written by someone who is enough of a fan to have been invited to the Baker Street Irregulars, which apparently believe that it was a different Doyle who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories as the rest of his body of work. This book covers mainly the short stories and novels of Sherlock Holmes and neither his poetry nor very much on his writings in defense of Spiritualism, except his fiction along those lines. This book is written by someone who first started reading Sherlock Holmes and other related tales as a kid and as a result feels particularly passionate about such works. The author seems to think that one cannot be a passionate reader of works that one readers later in life, but he appears to extrapolate his own experience and make it a universal law, and that is a common human flaw, unfortunately. This is a worthwhile book to read, but mainly if you are the sort of person who likes reading chatty and somewhat rambling discussions about one author by another author.
This is a short work of about 200 short pages, and it is written without a great deal of structure. The book consists of rambling tangents that are given titles but which tend to run together fairly easily. Consider this a set of monologues on the influence and importance of Arthur Conan Doyle and his literary creations. Many of these are highly entertaining, as some of them discuss Conan Doyle’s own ideas about his writings and which writings he thought were the best, and others discuss the context of his works in terms of inspiring other writers as well as inspiring groups and societies which carry on remembering the writings he made. Of particular interest to note are the ways that other writers have been inspired by Doyle’s works. For example, one of the stories included, “A Case For Langdale Pike,” includes a great deal of humorous literary references for the reader who is well-read and elegantly mixes fact and fiction. Overall, this book shows the fun of being a fan of a writer and talking with other people who are fans of writer, building a community out of the beloved works one has read and enjoyed.
This book has a clear and pretty narrow area of interest for those who are fans of the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle. Specifically, this book is primarily for those who are fans of Sherlock Holmes and appreciate that there are real-life societies of fans devoted to the series even now. To a lesser extent, the author focuses on the short stories that influenced or echoed the Sherlock Holmes stories as well as other science-fiction related stories. The writings of Sherlock Holmes in defense of faeries is barely discussed, and his poetry, which is actually pretty decent, is entirely ignored. This is a book that does not seek to expand the understanding of Conan Doyle’s writing beyond what is currently most popular, except to mention that he preferred his longer historical epics and rather sold his shorter stories a bit short. Like many writers, he most valued what he spent the most time and effort on and not what was the most popular to the general public. The fact that the author is a fanboy of Conan Doyle and not a literary scholar greatly influences this approach. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fanboy (or fangirl), there is much you will appreciate here.
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