Book review: The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide -
The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide
by Daniel Smith
Remember the glory days of literary "companions"? There was William Baring-Gould's (ironically) slim Nero Wolfe of West 35th Street, the Edward Gorey-adorned Mystery!, Ron Miller's A Celebration, and Dilys Winn's delightfully droll Murder Ink. The rise of Wikipedia seemed to put such endeavours 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 summarised - 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 TV 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 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, duelling productions ran in London. Like the rest of the book, the essay is lavishly illustrated with photos, illustrations, lobby cards and programmes. One programme, 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 questions: who was responsible for the worst portrayal of Dr Watson on film? How much of a scientist was Holmes? Newbies and scholars alike will enjoy the discoveries.
Tribune News Service