Friday, May 22, 2009

Quote of the Day (Arthur Conan Doyle, in the Voice of Sherlock Holmes)

"'You will not apply my precept,' he said, shaking his head. 'How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? We know that he did not come through the door, the window, or the chimney. We also know that he could not have been concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible. When, then, did he come?'"—Sherlock Holmes, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four (1890)

James Cagney never said, “You dirty rat!”, Cary Grant never said, “Judy, Judy, Judy!”, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote, “Elementary, my dear Watson!” The closest the creator of the great Sherlock Holmes came to writing the latter was, simply, “Elementary”; the last couple of the familiar words we know, from what Holmes experts say, might have come from one of the innumerable productions staged over the years by William Gillette.

What that phrase was really driving at, in any case, was the impatience that the lightning-fast Holmes felt with his partner and good pal, the more plodding reader’s stand-in, Dr. John Watson. I think you get maybe an even more vivid sense of this asperity in the quote above.

Doyle, born 150 years ago today, much preferred his historical fiction, such as The White Company, to his more famous creation, the fellow residing at 221B Baker Street. And, in truth, if you want an example of literary craftsmanship in your detective fiction, then look to Raymond Chandler, P.D. James, Peter Robinson, or even someone who started writing toward the end of Doyle’s life, Dorothy L. Sayers.

But it’s indisputable that Doyle created one of the most indelible creations in all of genre fiction. Even today, many a reader or moviegoer, such as myself, thrills to the sound of “Come, Watson, come—the game is afoot.”

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