Friday, July 18, 2014

Returning to an old acquaintance

I was around twelve when I read “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for the first time. I actually snuck to the adult section of the library for it (and, luckily, the librarian knew of my taste for mystery and crime novels and allowed me to check it out, despite my age).

For Christmas that year I wished for a complete collection of all Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories (there was a paperback edition in pink, of all colours, out in Germany at that time). I was lucky to receive it and spent the next six months or so reading my way through it - more than once in some cases. I’ve been in the habit of rereading “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (my favourite Sherlock Holmes novel) very regularly, first in German, later on in English, for years. I might actually have been reading it once a year or more often for a long time. By now, I could probably reproduce most of it. (The only other book I ever got that obsessed over in my life was “Dracula” - in case you want to know.)
I was weaned off Sherlock Holmes later on, preferring the more ‘human’ approach by experience as shown by Agatha Christie’s protagonists for quite a while. I just didn’t have the capacity, by mind and, funnily enough, experience, then to really appreciate the deductive approach. Many more modern authors, some of which I still adore very much, also allowed me to broaden my mind. I kept coming back to Dartmoor, though, to the eerie, glowing dog and the poor Charles Baskerville, scared to death. I liked the more modern approach by Laurie B. King, the novel “The Moor.” I most certainly enjoyed the movie made by the BBC in the early 2000th. I really loved the version they did for “Sherlock.”
Recently, after I had bought my Kindle and started buying e-books from Amazon, I also acquired a full collection of all the Sherlock Holmes stories (plus Doyle’s excellent “Tales of Terror and Mystery”) and had it sitting on my hard drive for quite some time. I read the first two novels in the collection (“A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four”) while I was fighting with the end of one of my own stories, “Lightning and Ice.” Afterwards, I just read on. I’m a fast reader and most of Doyle’s stories are short (he was a master of the short story, but always thought he was destined to write long historical novels, talk about irony). I’ve finished the first collection of short stories (“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”) and I’m hooked now. I remember a few short stories by name and a lot more by plot (I was born this way, I always remember the plot, even if I saw or read something ages ago). Yet, it’s interesting to read the stories again, quite some in English for the first time.

What surprises me, though, is how much my own brain has changed in meantime. I was on Watson’s side as a teenager, when I first read the stories. I was marvelling on Holmes’ deductions, sure nobody else could draw them. By now, however, I see what the story shows me and draw my own conclusions from it. More often than not, even with stories which I don’t remember by plot, I’m right.
I don’t get all the details, of course, since I don’t have all the experience Mr. Holmes has (or Doyle had, living in the time in which his character lived as well). Details about the clothing or behaviour that was not ‘normal’ at that time usually pass me by. Specific details about cigar ash or quirks gained through certain professions are something I can’t process, because I miss the necessary knowledge (but at least I know the earth orbits the sun). Most of Holmes’ clues are pretty mundane, though, and work with the modern world and my experience as well.
It feels as if I’m going to a new place, even though I’m really revisiting. I still admire Holmes for his ability to spot all the little clues and traces, but I rather feel like I'm racing along and keeping up with his thoughts than like I'm waiting for him to reveal them to me alongside Watson, as I have done in the past. It makes the stories something new, interesting, and invigorating for me. If you have ever seen an episode from the first season of “Sherlock,” you’re familiar with the way they made the clues dance over the screen as Holmes found them, putting the audience on the same level with him (they returned to that style in the third season, much to my enjoyment). That’s how reading the stories now feels for me, I spot the clues and my mind, much sharper and more adult now, starts spinning them around, looking at every angle, trying to put them together in a coherent story, a coherent ‘what happened.’

I’m returning to Sherlock Holmes and to his late Victorian world, but it really feels as if I’m going into a completely new world. Have you ever felt the same, in a positive way, after revisiting a novel, story, or movie that was dear to you in your youth?

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