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Today marks a very special day: May 22, 2009 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Recent Happenings:
Daniel Stashower, BSI ("Thurston") and Peter Blau, BSI, ASH ("Black Peter") were both on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show to discuss The Hound of the Baskervilles in the lead-up to Conan Doyle's birthday. You can listen to the show by clicking on the link above.

In the news, the Telegraph reminds us that We still believe in Sherlock Holmes, even in the age of DNA; the Scotsman remembers its native son with Elementary, my dear Edinburgh; and Harvard follows up on the Sesquicentennial proceedings with Symposium Studies Doyle's Contributions to Literature.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: a Sesquicentennial Assessment
A major symposium was held from May 7 - May 9, 2009, at which about 125 people gathered from around the world to hold forth on Conan Doyle's life, influence and output. While it was co-sponsored by the Baker Street Irregulars, it was about more than just Sherlock Holmes. Here are some of the highlights.

Dan Stashower talked about the buzz around the new movie, "Sherlock Holmes," coming out later this year (see the trailer here). He suggested some other other movie titles:
  • Last Tonga in Paris
  • My Big Fat Greek Interpreter
  • The Engineer's Thumbelina
  • Reichenbach to the Future

Dr. Giles Constable, former H.C. Lea Professor of Medieval of History at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies, made an interesting observation about Holmes that could equally apply to Conan Doyle. While many people gave credit to each for their prescience in divining the future, Dr. Constable noted: "Foresight is not the ability to predict the future, but a keen understanding of the present."

Tom Francis, BSI ("The Imperial Opera at Warsaw") gave a tour de force on the breadth of Conan Doyle's writing. Tom was introduced by Costa Rossakis, who noted that Tom collects lots of non-Sherlockian Doyle – many of which were bought by his wife Diana. As an aside, Costa said it was entirely appropriate, as Diana was the Greek goddess of the hunt. Tom noted that Sherlock Holmes material only represented only about 10-12% of Doyle's total literary output.
Historical novels
In Conan Doyle's historical work, characters come alive, descriptions are vivid, sense of humor is evident. During the war, the government made sure there was enough paper in supply to keep the White Company in print, to keep up morale.

He still writes well on spiritualism, Tom says. While we may be resentful that this topic took him away from the other areas that we enjoy, spiritualism was a major movement during his time, and Doyle's writing on the topic was detailed and methodical.

Science fiction
An area where Doyle excels: science fiction. "Lot No. 249" & the "Ring of Thoth" inspired "The Mummy". The Lost World was written after he researched fossils, science and paleontology, and the realism of the book was made more real by the inclusion of maps and drawings. This further influenced movies and books such as Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park. When Doyle wrote The Land of Mist, he used Professor Challenger to bring together his interests in science fiction and spiritualism.

Tom read a couple of poems by Doyle – an area that the author doesn't get much credit for but that he was very proficient in.

Dan Posnansky, BSI ("Colonel Hayter") gave a talk titled America, America Here I Come – on Doyle's 1894 tour of the United States. Dan noted that Doyle had a great love of America, best represented in this letter than Conan Doyle wrote in 1894:
"The people are far more loveable than I expected…more affable than our own folk. There never was a country so maligned than this one. We have got to go into partnership with them, or else be overshadowed by them. The center of gravity has shifted and we have got to readjust ourselves."

Eve Mayer, a graduate student at Harvard, compared history with fiction as she covered Conan Doyle's Mormons: A Study in Black, White and Scarlet. She noted the many inconsistencies with fact, but also posited that rather than accidentally misrepresenting the facts, it could have been deliberate on Doyle's part – in fact, it was common in the late 19th century to misconstrue Mormon culture.

Glen Miranker, BSI ("The Origin of Tree Worship") took a long look at Sherlock Holmes in American Popular Culture. How pervasive is it? Glen compared references to Sherlock (8.7 million) and "New Testament" (20.3 million) on Google. There are 8,000 books on or about Sherlock Holmes on Amazon. The Canon has been translated into more than 83 different languages (including Klingon and Pitman Shorthand – "a vital part of running Britain's empire").

The Dramatic Holmes: uncountable stage productions and radio appearances; 150+ TV shows, 130+ appearances on movie screens. Made an appearance in a Harvard club play in 1894 with one character being named as "a disciple of Sherlock Holmes." The ver first film, Sherlock Holmes Baffled, was made in 1900, distributed in 1903.

On the screen, we see Sherlock Holmes portrayed by (among others): William Gillette, Eille Norwood, John Barrymore, Arthur Wontner, Clive Brook, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing. Jeremy Brett are most well known. Others: Maurice Costello, Raymond Massey, Peter Granger, Ronald Howard, Leonard Nimoy, Michael Caine, Robert Hardy, Nicol Williamson, Tom Baker, Robert Stephens, Roger Moore, Charlton Heston, Ian Richardson, Rupert Everett, Robert Downey, Jr., Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, the Three Stooges, Bob Hope, Abbott & Costello, George C. Scott, John Cleese, Brent Spiner animated versions.

On television today, Holmes informs today's detectives. House, CSI, Law & Order Criminal Intent, Monk - even The Simpsons, where Lisa investigated the Mutton Chop murderer as Sherlock Holmes.

In advertising, we see the image of Holmes used for soda, clothing, shoes, head lice, enemas, food, tobacco (including cigarette cards, cigar box labels, cigar bands, pipes, chewing tobacco, etc.), home inspection, gas companies, insurance, detective services, automotive products, games (the Parker Bros card game appeared in 1904 and stayed on the market until 1923), balloon animal modeling, computer games, video games.

Glen concluded that the only areas not yet affected by Sherlock Holmes are NASCAR, rap music and baseball.

We also heard from Andrew Lycett, the biographer of Conan Doyle on a survey of Conan Doyle's Biographers. Leslie Klinger, BSI ("The Abbey Grange") shared the connection between Dr. Watson and his literary agent: Partners in Crime: Arthur Conan Doyle and John H. Watson. And Boston University English professor Charles Rzepka analyzed the Canon for influences of Homer's Odyssey in Holmes-Coming for What-Son. It was a fascinating talk that I was too ensconced in to even take notes.

John Bergquist, BSI ("The King of Scandinavia") ran through the Baker Street Irregulars' publishing history, especially looking at the BSI's International Series and Manuscript Series, the newest volume of which is now available.

Randall Stock, BSI ("South African Securities") did A Sherlock Holmes Census: What's Really Out There?, where he led us through the whereabouts of the manuscripts and Sidney Paget illustrations. If you've never visited Randall's very comprehensive and informative web site, The Best of Sherlock Holmes, you're missing out.

Looking at some of the early enthusiasts who gave Conan Doyle his due and worshipped at the altar of Sherlock Holmes, Steve Rothman, BSI ("The Valley of Fear") reminisced on Christopher Morley: Reading, Reviewing and Reichenbach and Peter X. Accardo, the Houghton Library specialist who put together the symposium, remembered Boston's own H.W. Bell: A Chronology of His Adventures.

Finally, Richard Olken, BSI ("Bob Carruthers") took a page from the Beacon Society with 'Children Yet Unborn' (How We Envy Them!): Teaching Conan Doyle. I understand the Beacon Society has published Richard's paper - you can download the PDF directly here.

If you're remotely interested in more of what went on at the truly fascinating symposium, all of the papers will be published and you can place your order for a hardcover edition. They will also be part of a limited edition box set that comes with a gold-stamped slipcase and includes:
  1. So Painful a Scandal - the manuscript for "The Three Students". This is also available in a standard edition.
  2. Papers at an Exhibition - the proceedings from the symposium
  3. Ever Westward: Arthur Conan Doyle and American Culture - an annotated catalog of the exhibition edited by Peter Accardo.
More information is available on the Baker Street Journal website.

Not a bad way to celebrate 150 years, is it?