Thursday, May 22, 2014

For He's a Jolly Good Fellow

Well, slap me in the teeth with a soldering iron. Not literally, of course, I don't swing that way. But here I am all lazy-arsed after a long day at work and without my even being aware of it I am late, I'm late for a very important date. That date? Today. And what's today? Oh nothing, just Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday.


This dapper OG right here


See that pretty face? That oddly Jude-Law-looking bastard? He was probably still on a treacherous northern voyage at this age, clubbing baby seals to death and trying not to drown under an ice flow in arctic waters. You're probably more familiar with this version:


Behold, the Mustache that Launched a Thousand Fanfics


Here we see a settled man, a married man, a man who had recently given the world the greatest detective figure in the English language, the mold which would influence every crimefighting caper and CSI spinoff for the rest of goddamn time who also, while on vacation to save his wife from a debilitating disease, gave skiing to Switzerland.


Oh don't mind me, just shaping this country's entire tourism trade, tra la la 


This is the man who gave new credence to a literary genre which was regarded as simple fluff, changed the way popular literature was considered by the stiff-shirted Literati and cornered the damn market on detective fiction and bro-code adventures while simultaneously resenting every ground-breaking step he ever took and wondering why no one wanted to read more of his flowery Napoleonic historical fiction.

It isn't hard, I don't think, to explain why I love this man so much. His wit and generosity are well-known, but his badassery is only more recently being talked about (this is a man who basically joined a war while on vacation with his family in Egypt because he got bored.) What is hard to explain, because I don't know that I will ever have the words to do it justice, is how much it gnaws at me that I will never be able to meet him. It's one of those things that socks you in the gut with the immutable truth, unalterable and non-negotiable: he is dead and I will never speak with him, not even once, even though I want to so bad my fucking teeth hurt thinking about it. Ever since I bought the Complete Sherlock Holmes willy-nilly off of Amazon all those years ago and decided the only way to experience it for the first time was to read the first chapter of A Study in Scarlet out loud in a British accent, I have wanted to devour everything this man has ever written. Reading Doyle is something familiar and comfortable and savory, an almost tactile experience. The same sort of visceral relish you get from eating your favorite home-cooked meal. And from the very moment I cracked open that book, from the first sentence read in a murmur to my empty room, it's felt exactly like that; like I'm reading stories written to me, for me by an old friend. 

And it isn't just my intense love of the Holmsian arcana that biases me in Doyle's favor. I have tracked down and consumed a number of different novels and short stories he's written, and I can say now definitively that it is Doyle and his distinctive narrative voice that have beguiled me. I immerse myself in one of his stories and it's like slipping into a warm bubble bath with a plate of exotic morsels to snack and a good bottle of wine on a table next to me. Welcoming, soothing, familiar and indulgent. Doyle created a literary craze that wouldn't look out of place on a 12 year old's twitter feed after a One Direction concert, and this was back in the 1890's. Strangers would gather outside his home in droves, wearing black mourning bands and demanding to know why he had killed their hero, as if he'd shot Holmes in the head himself right in front of them. He had perfected a manner of writing that was accessible to the masses, while elevating them to the level of brilliance shared by his protagonist. He made people feel they were part of the action, in on the joke, one of the boys, as it were. He made them feel they were clever, but most importantly, he made them feel like in the fast-changing days of the late-Victorian period that there was someone out there who could make sense of all the day-to-day chaos, who could reach into the morass and pull out the truth. He made people feel like someone cared. 

And Doyle has done that for me. In some of my darkest moments he has been there to light a fire in the hearth, pull up a big squashy chair, make me some tea, and tell me how everything will be alright in the end. Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I never got to meet you, but I will miss you always.

"Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent"
-Sir  Arthur Conan Doyle