Perhaps no fictional character has stood the test of time like Sherlock Holmes. From his creation by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, he has deduced his way, pipe in hand, through countless radio plays, movies, TV shows, video games, and even a Japanese puppetry. A century later, he still triumphs in the ratings game, whether at the hands of Benedict Cumberbatch on BBC or Robert Downey, Jr in Guy Ritchie’s films. Even Sir Ian McKellan is taking a stab in the upcoming “Mr. Holmes.”
Longtime Portland journalist and co-editor of “Portland Monthly” Zach Dundas happens to be a lifetime Sherlock fan. For his second book, “The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes,” Dundas set out to ask: what is it about this brainy, unlikely hero that continues to capture our imagination?
Dundas will read from the book on Monday, June 8 at 7:30pm at Powell’s City of Books.
Here are several highlights from Dundas’s conversation with “State of Wonder” host April Baer.
On Victorian sex:
Before too many years passed, I discovered that a Sherlock Holmes obsession made an excellent cover for researching lush oddities like the Cremorne Gardens, Victorian London’s open air swinger’s hangout where young bucks mingled with sporting ladies to notorious effect.
On Conan Doyle’s loose relationship with the facts:
He had no hesitation at setting a story in a place where he had never been or knew nothing about. He famously once wrote a story set in New Zealand about a farm, with a very specific description of the geography. If you figured it out in the real world, the farm would be 20 miles out to sea. He just didn’t care about getting the details right. He liked to evoke atmosphere.
On the larger, subtly funny world of Sherlock Holmes:
Conan Doyle incessantly and masterfully — and I think unintentionally — created this sense of virtual reality around Holmes. There are constant references by Watson to other adventures that are either too sensational or too sensitive or just too scary to be revealed to the public. They have these great names like “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” or “The Amateur Mendicant Society.” An all time favorite is “The Affair of the Politician, the Lighthouse, and the Trained Cormorant.”
On the enduring popularity of the Great Detective:
I think there’s just a visceral appeal to the idea of adventure and the idea that you can be sitting in your urban living room and adventure will come to you and you can go out and do anything. That’s what Holmes and Watson do, they sit at Baker Street waiting for clients. When a client arrives, that story can go anywhere.”