Tagged: Arthur Conan Doyle

Dennis O’Neil: Sherlock and Theseus’s Paradox

So there’s this ancient Greek named Theseus who builds a ship. Over time the ship needs repairs and pieces of it have to be replaced and finally everything has been replaced. Not a single splinter of the original craft remains. Which brings us to what is known in some circles as Theseus’s Paradox. We ask: Is the ship our man Theseus ends with the same one that he built years earlier? Please remember that nothing of the original remains.

Want to push this a bit further before we introduce comics characters into the discourse? Okay, I’m a ratty rival of Theseus and I take every piece of what Theseus has built and use it to build my own ship. I add nothing, I simply reuse Theseus’s materials. And now the question becomes: Whose ship is this anyway, mine or Theseus’s? (Never mind that Theseus might be a big, tough Greek able to beat me silly and take the damn ship and not bother with philosophical niceties.)

Marifran and I spent a chunk of the weekend catching up on episodes of Sherlock, the BBC’s excellent reworking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories. In the earliest teleplays the title character is Doyle’s cold, eccentric thinking machine who has no real friends. He describes himself as a “high-functioning sociopath” and, yep, that just about says it.

Gradually, the plot emphasis shifts from Sherlock’s dazzling detective work to Sherlock himself and his private torments. The later stories are about him and not about the puzzles he solves. (Do some of you think I have completely changed the subject? Please – a little faith?) In the final chapter, he has come to admit a deep affection for his companion. Dr. John Watson, has apparently overcome his demons and seems to be a rather pleasant chap. (Full disclosure: a similar transformation occurs in Doyle’s work.)

There have been hundreds – thousands? – of interpretations of Doyle’s creation, including a teevee program, Elementary, the premise of which is virtually identical to that of Sherlock. Are any of them – the television shows, the movies, comics, novels, plays – any of these the real Sherlock? Or only those written by Doyle?

The venerated Steve Ditko created a comics character called The Question that ran as a backup feature in Charlton’s Blue Beetle title, vanished, and returned in his own DC comic that I wrote. Wrote, and completely changed the hero’s personality. It ran for several years – a lot more Question than Steve’s version. So who’s got the real Question, Steve Ditko or me?

Superman, Batman, Swamp Thing, our newly beloved Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the ones I’m forgetting – all underwent changes, sometimes pretty quick changes, and each version has its partisans.

And should we care?

(By the way, I regret any unhappiness I caused Steve by my rejigging his stuff. I don’t think he could have approved of what I did to it. Sorry. And is it good form to end a column with a parenthesis? Well, what kind of question is that?)


Dennis O’Neil: Happy Endings

For a while, my favorite way of paying the bills was by writing Batman stories for DC Comics. But that was over. I’d accepted a job with Marvel, DC’s arch rival, and so the story I was working on would be my final visit to the Batcave. Well, no  problem.  I was a pro and a pro, I probably thought,  keeps emotions away from the workdesk.

As the splendid Alfred Bester said, “Among professionals the job is boss.”  But still…farewell to Batman? Forever? So I wrote a final panel with a final caption that could have ended the Batman saga, which had been going on for decades.  I knew that it wouldn’t, of course.  Editor Julius Schwartz would  employ another writer and Batman would continue with nary a beat missed. But I would know that my Batman, the only one that counted, would have ended his career with that closing caption.

I wonder how Arthur Conan Doyle felt when he sent Sherlock Holmes over Reichenbach Falls to what he apparently believed would be the great detective’s final exit.

Holmes didn’t stay dead and after some seven years at Marvel, neither did my own private Batman. I returned to DC and, power-mad ogre that I am, assumed editorship of the Batman franchise, which at the time consisted of two comic books. No hardcover novels, no megamovies, just two flimsy comic books. (Plus a number of non-bat related titles, but never mind them.)

And why, you might well inquire, if you are still with me, am I blathering on about such ancient (ancientish) history now?

Cast your mind back to last week’s televised Arrow, which you must have watched, the season’s last episode  and what could have been the finale for the whole series. Arrow, whose birth name is Oliver Queen, has just vanquished his supreme enemy and restored peace and tranquility to his city. He has assembled his cadre of  assistants (disciples?) and proclaimed them his successors. His task is done and they are more than capable of dealing with future tasks. We next see him cruising along an open highway in an open-top convertible, the lovely Felicity Smoak by his side, vanishing into what will surely be the happiest of happy endings.

Except that the series has been renewed and will rise again come fall. So what will Oliver (and let’s not forget the lissome Felicity) be up to in the chilly months while their cohorts kick ass and take villainous names? To just have them leave the series forever would be gutsy, but maybe not commercially prudent. Or maybe they can be more or less absent for a bit – we could look in on them occasionally – and eventually find a reason to return to the fray.  Or maybe they’ll never reach their happy-ever-after destination because of an unforeseen crisis that demands their attention.  (Are they carrying cell phones?)

Or maybe – here’s hoping! – those clever scribes in tv land will devise something breathtakingly original  that will leave me sprawled on  the couch, awed.

I’ve got a whole summer to hope that’s what happens.


Emily S. Whitten: The Music of Sherlock Holmes

This past weekend, Sherlock Holmes fans from all over the world gathered in New York City to celebrate Holmes’ birthday at the annual BSI Weekend, hosted in main part by The Baker Street Irregulars, a Sherlockian literary society founded by Christopher Morley in 1934. As a longtime Holmes fan myself, this was my third year attending, and, as before, I had a great time with Sherlockian friends old and new, discussing and honoring the great detective, his faithful chronicler Dr. Watson, and the peripheral cast of characters (including the original BSI, Holmes’ group of street urchin informants) created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


I first attended the BSI Weekend in January 2012 after organizing a Sherlock Holmes Night at The National Press Club and learning in the process about our local Sherlockian scion society, The Red Circle, and the BSI Weekend celebrations. And in honor of the BSI and Sherlock Holmes, today I figured I’d share something I put together while organizing that party – to wit, a little soundtrack of music that Holmes could conceivably have been listening to in the midst of his adventures, based on mentions in the canon of musicians and concerts he enjoyed.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are other fans around who are probably more serious Sherlockian scholars than I, and in fact, before I even realized that the BSI was out there as a Sherlockian society, I was using some of its work as a resource for compiling my little playlist (thank you, Baker Street Journal online archives). However, thanks to a little sleuthing and deduction of my own, despite there being more serious discussions of Holmes and music to be had, I am able to here provide a quick-and-easy list of compositions that are actually available and easily acquirable by anyone via, e.g., iTunes. So if scholarship is all well and good but what you’re really in the mood for is an efficient means of acquiring tunes that Holmes may have enjoyed as he processed clues while you snuggle up with your favorite bit of the canon on a snowy day, I can recommend the list below for your Sherlockian music needs.

  • Violin Concerto No. 7 in e Minor, Op. 38: II. Adagio – Takako Nishizaki, Capella Istropolitana & Libor Pesek
  • Song Without Words – Felix Mendelssohn
  • Sonata in D Major, Op. 1 No. 13 (HWV 371): I. Affetuoso – Andrew Manze & Richard Egarr
  • Sonata in D Major, Op. 1 No. 13 (HWV 371): II. Allegro – Andrew Manze & Richard Egarr
  • Sonata in D Major, Op. 1 No. 13 (HWV 371): III. Larghetto – Andrew Manze & Richard Egarr
  • Sonata in D Major, Op. 1 No. 13 (HWV 371): IV. Allegro – Andrew Manze & Richard Egarr
  • Barcarolle from the Tales of Hoffmann (Act 2) – Jacques Offenbach
  • Airs Ecossais, Op. 34 – Adele Anthony & Akira Eguchi
  • String Quartet in C Major, Op. 29: I. Allegro Moderato – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
  • String Quartet in C Major, Op. 29:II. Adagio molto Espressivo – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
  • String Quartet in C Major, Op. 29:III. Scherzo: Allegro – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
  • String Quartet in C Major, Op. 29:IV. Presto – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
  • Nocturne No. 18 in E, Op. 62, No. 2 – Vladimir Ashkenazy
  • 24 Caprices Op. 1 for Solo Violin: No., 18 in C – Nicolo Paganini
  • Barcarolle in F Sharp Major, Op. 60 – Alwin Bär
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108: I. Allegro – Nikolaj Znaider & Yefim Bronfman
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100: II. Andante Tranquillo – Nikolaj Znaider & Yefim Bronfman
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100: III. Allegretto Grazioso (quasi Andante) – Nikolaj Znaider & Yefim Bronfman

Enjoy! And if you are of a more scholarly bent and are curious as to why these songs were chosen, here are a few of the resources I used in compiling them: Music, Musicians, and Composers in The Canon, The Avant-Garde Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlock Holmes and Music.


Until next time, the game’s afoot – so Servo Lectio!