During my junior year at Texas A&M I took a journalism class called “Journalism Theory,” and one of the major themes of the course had to do with the ability of humanity to understand and change its own reality through storytelling. There’s a number of different ways in which our storytelling affects our understanding of the world around us, but one of the examples that has most stuck in my mind was the way everyone knows what the inside of a courtroom looks like. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a real courtroom, but if someone who clearly had too much time on their hands asked me to draw one, I could probably come up with a crude representation of one simply through the movies and TV shows I’ve seen. Admittedly, my drawing of a courtroom would have Jack Nicholson screaming “You can’t handle the truth!” at Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, but unless television has steered my wildly off course, my guess is I could put together a fairly reasonable courtroom without too much trouble.
I guess the same could be said of Sherlock Holmes. Everyone knows the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” — though I’m told that never actually shows up in any of the Sherlock Holmes stories — and I’ve seen the BBC series and the Robert Downey Jr. moves as well — but I’d never actually read one of Doyle’s Sherlock stories until I started THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES with A STUDY IN SCARLET, the first of the Sherlock stories. To be honest, it was more enjoyable a read than I’d expected.
I knew it was initially written not to be an everlasting work of literature but to be widely-read stories for the mass public, but I was still surprised by how readable it was. Much of Dickens’ work was also highly popular in its time as well, but reading his novels take a certain amount of focus on my part. Reading SHERLOCK was far easier, and the story was downright gripping.
I was surprised by the way Doyle seems to love antiheroes in this story. Sherlock himself has not been shown to be a drug user just yet, but even in this introduction to the character we get to see some of his flaws, particularly his pride, though this is really a lesser part of the story. I certainly didn’t expect the story to stop mid-stream and completely change its POV, leaving the foggy streets of London for the American West. It’s through this story that we learn the backstory behind the murder Sherlock has just solved, and I came away from that with total sympathy for the murderer, making him if not an outright hero, than at least an antihero.
Of course, being familiar with the character of Sherlock, I was prepared for the way he solved the crime and the way the clues accumulated in what seemed to be a haphazard way and then were pulled together by Sherlock at the end, but I still have to be impressed with Doyle’s plotting. It was a fun read and I’m looking forward to reading the next story in the collection.