A worthy companion for Sherlock Holmes fans
Daniel Smith’s thorough and entertaining “The Sherlock Holmes Companion” is a worthy addition to the library of any devoted Sherlock Holmes reader, from the newbie to the serious scholar.
Seattle Times assistant features editor
“The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide”
by Daniel Smith
Arum Press, 224 pp., $27.99
Remember the glory days of literary “companions”? There was William S. Baring-Gould’s (ironically) slim “Nero Wolfe of West 35th Street,” the Edward Gorey-adorned “Mystery! A Celebration,” by Ron Miller and Dilys Winn’s delightfully droll “Murder Ink.” The rise of the wiki on the Internet seemed to put such endeavors in danger. However, the Day of the Companion has returned, with the appearance of British writer and book editor Daniel Smith’s thorough and entertaining “Sherlock Holmes Companion.”
Printed on glossy paper, with a handsomely embossed cover, this companion is true to its word: each Holmes story is summarized — sans spoilers; key inhabitants of the Holmes universe are profiled; and writers and actors who have continued Holmes’ legacy are interviewed, including Mark Gatiss, who co-created the BBC hit “Sherlock” and who also plays Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brainy brother, in the series.
Smith freely acknowledges that The Great Detective had forebears — most of whom had a hard time of it thanks to the lowly status of mystery fiction. In an interesting essay titled “The Literary Lineage,” he notes a sniffy comment from a magazine editor gazing at the first Holmes story: “shilling dreadfuls.” Holmes has stepped off the pages of books, of course, and the piece “Holmes on Stage, Screen and Radio” traces his path.
The first time a character called Holmes appeared on stage was in 1894; by 1901, dueling productions ran in London. Like the rest of the book, the essay is lavishly illustrated with photos, illustrations, lobby cards and programs. One program, from a show called “Sherlock Holmes” at the Duke of York’s Theatre, yields a gem: While well-known star William Gillette gets top billing, another name, far down the list, stands out, too — Charles Chaplin.
Smith addresses other burning questions: Who was responsible for the worst portrayal of Dr. Watson on film? How much of a scientist was Holmes? Did he really smoke a calabash pipe? Newbies and canonical scholars alike will enjoy the discoveries.