the middle of the 19th century, the man who would create Sherlock
Holmes was born Arthur Ignatius Conan. He sprang from a large
family of artists --- most of whom preferred paint as their medium
over written words, but creativity was in his blood from the
beginning. Full of curiosity as a child, he “soaked up tales
as a sponge absorbs water.” He read voraciously to help
quench his uncommon thirst for knowledge. His characters’
names came from as far back as his school days, where he met a
fellow pupil named Patrick Sherlock and came across an interesting
pair, the Moriarty brothers.
Despite his vivid imagination, Arthur embarked on a career path of
medicine. Fortunately for Sherlock Holmes fans, he discovered that
he was a mediocre doctor but a great writer. Oddly, although a man
of science, his interests took him through phases of dabbling with
the occult, studying hypnotism, playing with the Ouija board and
toying with spiritualism.
“Becoming a spiritualist so soon after creating the
quintessentially rational Sherlock Holmes: that is the central
paradox of Arthur’s life.” It is possible that the
introduction of Dr. John Watson was necessary to balance that out.
Watson is more romantic, more human, more fallible --- sometimes
even to the point of naïvete --- than Holmes. Together, they
round each other out.
More than a mere biography, Andrew Lycett’s book is a
fascinating study in how a character is conceived, groomed and
shaped into someone who readers demand to see more of. Conan Doyle
possessed a very active, inquiring mind, which is well used in his
beloved stories. He lived in a lively time of wondrous authors:
Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard
Kipling, to name a few. So competition was fierce, but Conan
Doyle’s determination carried him through.
At the same time, much was going on in the world around Conan
Doyle, which influenced the direction and tenor of Holmes’s
adventures. Brutal wars were brewing in an age of phenomenal
inventions. Providence helped Conan Doyle survive the battlefront,
the vagaries of travel, the caprice of young adulthood and several
serious illnesses, one that threatened him within a breath of his
life. His legacy came very close to fading before it took
Sherlock Holmes didn’t start out a finished character. Far
from it. He evolved. Starting with the bare bones of the man, he
was fleshed out into a caped consulting detective with a
deerstalker’s cap and a meerschaum pipe through the hands of
illustrators, professors and even actors. His legendary logic
appeared initially and honed itself into a rare and highly
entertaining skill. Soon, it leaked out that Holmes had a drug
habit. And this seemingly asexual man showed a contradictory side
whenever he spoke of the one woman who ever truly captured his
interest: Irene Adler.
Find out where Conan Doyle got his ideas, names, personality
traits, and why he grew to hate Holmes --- enough to try to kill
him. Conan Doyle’s mother saved Holmes once, but Sir Arthur
could only abide him for so long. However, he underestimated
Andrew Lycett had a wealth of information at his disposal, which
has enabled him to present Sherlock Holmes lovers everywhere with
this very comprehensive account of the life and times of the man
who created him.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 7, 2011