Happy 150th birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Published On May 22, 2009 | By Joe Gordon | Books

Today marks the 150th anniversary of one of the more celebrated of my fellow Edinburgh residents, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote adventure fantasies (such as the cracking The Lost World, which was the theme for this year’s major literature campaign in Edinburgh and further afield) and historical novels, but he is, of course, most famous around the entire globe as the creator of the world’s greatest consulting detective, the immortal Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.jpg

(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, borrowed from the Wiki entry)

That I read a lot is not exactly news, but among the many authors I adore there are only a select few who have been continually in my life since I was a boy – Stevenson is one, Poe is another and Doyle too. I’ve been reading and re-reading his Sherlock Holmes tales since I was a schoolboy (and I still love them, can still lose myself in them and I love the fact that right at this minute I’m sitting just a moment or two from where young Conan Doyle would have studied – books and authors don’t only live in words, in some places, like Edinburgh, they’re a part of the actual city itself. Similarly as a boy visiting London it thrilled me to see Baker Street and know it was real, even if Holmes had left by then, retired to keep bees). They’ve become part of our global culture – a pipe and deerstalker are symbol enough to let people know who you are referring to from Britain to Ecaudor.

Sherlock Holmes Strand Magazine Frank Wiles.jpg

(the immortal Holmes on the case in the pages of one of his first homes, The Strand Magazine, illustrated by Frank Wiles)

His creation has inspired countless artists working in other media for over a century – plays, film (almost from the birth of the moving image), television, computer games and comics. As this anniversary rolls around there is another new comics adaptation about to arrive, The Hound of the Baskervilles, adapted by Ian Edginton and Ian Culbard (coming from Self Made Hero who gave us fine adaptations of other literary classics like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde recently) and Guy Ritchie is  working with Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr on a new version of the great detective for the cinema, while most detective fiction right to this day owes a huge debt to Holmes (Doyle may not have been the first to have the ‘scientific method’ detective, Poe beat him to it, but his is the basic model emulated endlessly). Even Grant Morrison’s recent Batman death scene owes more than a nod to Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls and Mr Spock quotes from him proudly.

Sherlock Holmes Hound of the Baskervilles Self Made Hero Edginton Ian Culbard.jpg

(Holmes and Watson in Baker Street in Self Made hero’s upcoming Hound of the Baskervilles adapted by Ian Edginton, art by  Ian Culbard)

Here in Edinburgh a musical instrument maker Steve Burnett has created something extremely special to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of of Conan Doyle, reports the Times: a violin, fashioned from the wood of a sycamore tree which the young Arthur would have played around as a boy in the garden of his home in the Liberton area of the city. The house is now part of a school and when the tree became diseased and had to be taken down after 170 odd years they approached Mr Burnett with a view to preserving some of the wood in an appropriate manner. Since Holmes would often play his beloved violin while musing on a thorny case he decided to create a violin, with three more stringed instruments from the tree’s wood planned to join it  later to create The Conan Doyle Quartet. The violin will make its bow (musical pun intended, sorry) this evening in the Dunedin School which now occupies Doyle’s old home, a lovely idea and a rather beautiful way of marking the anniversary of the creator of one of our most enduring fictional characters. Here’s to Doyle and his creation, a character which even his creator couldn’t kill off and who still draws us in time and time again and who will still be read when the 200th anniversary comes around.

Steve Burnett Sherlock violin.jpg

(Steve Burnett trys the new ‘Sherlock’ violin, pic by and (c) Graham Hamilton/Epicscotland, borrowed from the Times article)

Like this Article? Share it!

About The Author

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk’s chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

One Response to Happy 150th birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  1. Kyt Dotson says:

    I can barely imagine that I missed this date! I pretty much grew up on Sherlock Holmes stories and even subscribed to the reprints of The Strand magazine a year or so ago when they were printing serialized versions of the early Sherlock Holmes stories.

    Also, partially because of Holmes, I have always loved and no play the violin — albeit badly sometimes — although, I cannot say that I can withstand the smell of pipe tobacco fume. While one of my roommates beaus does love the stuff (makes my eyes water.) Still, it reminds me of how Watson would retell that Holmes would lock himself in his study, smoke until the room darkened with pungent, scented smoke and then would sit there, alone, and think deep thoughts.