Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Important classic literature or pop culture?

Forbes published an article yesterday in that ever-popular genre of "These kids today just aren't the people we were!" that plays well to cranky elder generations. The article hits on geography, history, music, and science, but the bit that perks up the Sherlockian ears is that less that five percent of all college kids know Conan Doyle wrote the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

For some reason, even as a Holmes fan, that doesn't surprise me.

While I know a good many Sherlockians who would put Sherlock Holmes on the same pedestal as all classic literature, it seems like he has always hovered just between that realm and pop culture, like he came along just past the cut-off point for "classic." Perhaps it was the serial nature of his tales, making him a bit too similar to pulp fiction. Or maybe it is just some unknowable quality standard voted upon by a secret cabal of English professors at the oldest of universities that keeps Holmes from being fully vested as "classic."

Given that the average college student is most likely to know Sherlock Holmes from recent big-screen movies, it does give him that quality of a James Bond character. Even seeing a book in a bookstore that features the name on the cover doesn't guarantee that "Arthur Conan Doyle" will also appear on the cover, just as Ian Fleming is not writing the latest Bond books. Sherlock has entered the popular culture, and as Mycroft Holmes once so famously said, "I hear of Sherlock everywhere." We don't, however, hear of Conan Doyle everywhere.

The same article thought it pertinent to mention than more students than ever knew of Batman's butler than in previous surveys. Few would argue the Batman to be anything but pop culture, even though he is getting to that age when some would have first called Holmes "classic." And no one would fault any of that younger generation for not knowing Bob Kane and Bill Finger created Batman. To some of us, that's just as common knowledge as Doyle's creation of Sherlock Holmes.

Knowing the name of the creator of a legend that has been passed along through the hands of storyteller after storyteller is special knowledge, reserved for those who care enough to look back into the past. Sure, you don't have to look hard to find Doyle, but you do have to make the effort to look. Should we be educating every child in America that Conan Doyle wrote the stories? Do we even want to force every child in America to read the stories to broaden their minds Sherlockianly?

No. Sherlock Holmes is a destination best arrived at by those who will appreciate what he has to offer. No one who wants to observe can miss seeing the clues these days. Whether those clues come in a movie, a comic book, a television show, or some non-Doyle novel, the breadcrumbs are being spread far and wide. Those who would benefit from getting back to Doyle's shining source will find and follow them. The rest can content themselves with the occasional movie or TV show and never know what they missed.

And that's just fine.

So let's leave those college kids alone. They're going to take enough heat, without the Doyle thing.

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