Friday, May 22, 2009
Happy 150th Birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!
Few writers have had as much of an impact on me as the literary accomplishments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I became an avid Sherlock Holmes fan as early as Sixth Grade, after being assigned to read "The Norwood Builder" from my English text book. I remember being quite enthusiastic with how the Great Detective exposed and captured the culprit of that story with such clever ease. By the time I discovered The Hound of the Baskervilles, a few years later, I was hooked for good.
I was also lucky enough that a local TV station in my my hometown of Louisville, Ky. had a Sherlock Holmes Theater on Sunday mornings at 11:30. During that time I saw all the cherished Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films, others with Arthur Wontner, Raymond Massey, Clive Brooks, John Barrymore, and even an old newsreel of Sir Arthur himself, talking about writing the Holmes stories and of his personal investigations into the occult. My shelves swelled with Sherlock Holmes books, all four novels and fifty-six short stories, and soon I'd read all of them many times. Still, I couldn't get enough of the Great Detective.
By the mid-1980s, I'd only been a professional writer for a very brief time when I decided to write my own Sherlock Holmes adventure, Scarlet in Gaslight, which by a happy coincidence was published one hundred years--almost to the day--after the Detective's first appearance in print. My graphic novel, strikingly illustrated by Seppo Makinen, went on to sell-out, go through several printings, and merited an Eisner Award nomination. It was a fantastic thing to happen to a young, inexperienced writer and jump-started my career in a way that I never could have imagined possible.
However, there was much more to Conan Doyle than merely Sherlock Holmes. Physician, historian, playwright, poet, scientist, criminologist, patriot, knight, and spiritualist, he lived as full and fascinating a life as one person ever could.
Aside from his famous mysteries, Sir Arthur was also a brilliant pioneer in the field of science fiction, profoundly influencing the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P.Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Philip Jose Farmer, among many others. Conan Doyle's classic The Lost World--featuring the notorious Professor Challenger--is, I think, the greatest book of its kind ever written. (In fact, like the author himself, I actually prefer his Challenger sci-fi adventures over Sherlock Holmes.) Also, his horror stories, such as my favorite, "The Horror of the Heights", are genuinely chilling.
I can say in all humility that I'd be nothing, professionally, without the influence of this ingenious, wise, and remarkably prolific author. Literally speaking, I owe him nearly everything.
In closing, I can think of nothing more appropriate than sharing Conan Doyle's own modest and beautiful sentiment regarding his enduring literary achievements:
I have wrought my simple plan
If I bring one hour's joy
To the boy who's half a man
Or the man who's half a boy.
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle
May 22, 1859 – July 7, 1930