Monday, April 22, 2013


 "I am in the middle of the last Holmes story, after which the gentleman vanishes, never never to reappear. I am weary of his name." -- Arthur Conan Doyle in a letter to his mother, April 6, 1893

Spy Hard, the Leslie Nielsen spoof of the James Bond films, was made in 1996. I got around to watching it last week. In the movie, which is sometimes hilarious and sometimes just silly, Andy Griffith plays Rancor, the villain. Rancor may be a comic villain, but he is still the villain, and I imagine that, after decades of being identified so closely with Andy Taylor of Mayberry and Madlock, Griffith relished the opportunity to play against type.

Actors are not alone in disliking typecasting. Most of us probably resent being identified with one thing -- a job we used to hold, the person we are married to, an athletic feat we accomplished way back in high school, etc. -- when there are so many other facets to who we are. I think it is this aversion to being pigeonholed that explains Arthur Conan Doyle's love-hate relationship with his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle wrote much other than his Sherlock Holmes stories during his long writing career. He wrote many kinds of fiction, plays, poetry and a variety of nonfiction works, including histories of both the Boer War and World War I. He considered most of his other work more interesting and more important than the Holmes stories. Yet it was Holmes who brought him the most fame and the most income, and it is the Holmes stories that are most read a century later.

Doyle, despite what he wrote in 1893, did write many more Sherlock Holmes tales, as well as a couple of Holmes plays. He wrote most of these not because he was forced to by his fans or by economic necessity, but because he wanted to.

Reading Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters recently, I noticed that Doyle often protested too much. In his letters, most of them to his mother, Mary Doyle, he would come down firmly on one issue or another, then change his mind a short time later. When rumors began to circulate that he might be offered a knighthood, he insisted repeatedly that he would never accept it. He didn't think it was proper for a writer to accept a title. Yet when the knighthood was actually offered, he did accept it, claiming that not to do so would insult the monarchy. He insisted, however, that he would never use the title, but he did anyway when he campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat in Parliament a short time later.

Doyle probably came to like having a Sir in front of his name, just as he enjoyed the popularity of Sherlock Holmes. He would have appreciated a bit more respect for the other things he accomplished in his life, but in that he was only being human.

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