If you think the Baker Street Irregulars are a group of Ex-Lax test subjects, this may not be the column for you. But if the mention of the group brings a knowing smile, you probably join me in celebrating the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary detective Sherlock Holmes has been thrust back into the forefront of public awareness by the new Robert Downey Jr. movie.
Although Gene Wilder’s character Sigerson Holmes in the 1975 spoof “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother” referred to Sherlock as “Sheer Luck,” Holmes, of course, has been a tremendous influence on “CSI” and other programs featuring forensic science. You can see the influence in the use of fingerprints, the use of ballistics, the use of handwriting, the use of toxicology — but mostly in the fact that after eight years Holmes replaced Dr. Watson with Laurence Fishburne.
I admire Holmes’ eccentricities. In the first Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet,” Holmes revealed that he did not know whether the earth revolved around the sun or vice versa because the information was unimportant to his work, and the mind has a finite capacity for information storage. That certainly seems to be the case with today’s electorate. (“Mmm … government handouts good … of course someday someone will have to, um, do something or another … can’t remember what. … Mmm … government handouts good …”)
Conan Doyle’s successors have presented Holmes at different ages (as a boarding school student in “Young Sherlock Holmes”), in non-British locales (“Sherlock Holmes in New York”), even in futuristic eras (the animated TV series “Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century”). But I can’t imagine Holmes operating effectively in 2010. How long would he get to wear his distinctive deerstalker cap before PETA put a stop to it? (“I say, Watson, that miscreant’s bullet nearly creased my do-rag!”) He would assuredly be required to soothe the Hound of the Baskervilles with a doggie sweater and chew toy.
How long before a 2010 Holmes got busted for profiling suspects? (“I happen to be a member of the Furtive Characters with Distinctive Clay on The Heel of the Left Boot. We are a recognized minority group, and my lawyer will be talking to you in the morning.”)
Holmes aficionados are quick to point out that Holmes never uttered the familiar phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” in any of the canonical four books and 56 short stories by Conan Doyle. Non-aficionados are quick to point out, “Yes, thanks for sharing. But our Trivial Pursuit category happens to be ‘Sports,’ Mr. Observant! And what the heck is a Hail Moriarty pass?”
Conan Doyle allowed his hero to retire to Sussex Downs to take up beekeeping. That seemed to work better than his brief foray into being a standup comedian. (“J’ever notice the tiny scuff mark on the inside of a burglar’s right pinky finger? I mean, what’s up with that?”)
I’m proud to say that Holmes has inspired me to use logic and deduction in my own everyday life. For instance, I know that my paycheck has been directly deposited to my account. I also know that my 401(k) account is fully vested and that my son’s piggy bank is temptingly unguarded. Putting these facts together, I deduce that I can almost afford a jumbo popcorn and drink if I go to see the Sherlock Holmes movie.