Saturday, October 16, 2021

A young man's hero

 When Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, he was twenty-eight years old.

The author, as we most often picture him, is the walrus-moustached old gentleman, a fellow who seems like he would be perfect company for Nigel Bruce, sitting around chortling in that good old fellow sort of way. The only live-captured video we have of him is as a man much older than thirty, walking wearily down to take a seat, which does much to cement that image.

But that was not the man who created Sherlock Holmes.

The man who created Sherlock Holmes was still in his adult youth, still full of that vision of a human being's unlimited potential. He had yet to be worn down by life, or had the expectations of his fellow man lowered by repeated encounters with the dullards among us. Sherlock Holmes is a hope, a vision, a place in the grandstands where one baseball of a human being is going to make that home run of an ascent.

Sherlock Holmes was a young person's creation.

As November approaches, and many a writer starts thinking about stories to tell, and folk to populate those stories, the characters we create are born of not just our experience, but our visions of what makes a human being. And those visions change over the course of a lifetime. Many a Sherlockian has noted how Sherlock Holmes seemed to change from the early stories to the later, but, in truth, we know that the change was not in Sherlock, but in the hand holding the pen.

Those last investigations of the Casebook all revolve around old folks and their problems. Gone are the newly-engaged and those beginning their careers that we saw in the early stories. And even Sherlock Holmes himself is retired and wandering the cliffs of his seaside home. The world's greatest consulting detective could not have been created by the man writing those stories. No, Sherlock Holmes was a young man's dream of what a detective could be.

And the little arrogances of a young man as well: "Women are never to be entirely trusted, not the best of them," Sherlock Holmes said early on. While that might not have been young Conan Doyle's full belief, that suspicion did come from his head at the moment Holmes spoke it. Sherlock eventually seemed to get over that, though let's not get into that Steve Dixie moment as he later started losing his filters. Age is a mixed bag of changes, no matter who you are.

But once upon a time, a kid named Conan Doyle created a kid named Sherlock Holmes, both youngsters in their twenties. And I suspect that youth was a very necessary part of the alchemical mix to get the famous result. Do younger writers create better pastiches as well? (And does the age of the reader matter as to "better?") One has to wonder.

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