September 28, 2014
I think the number of pages of Sherlock Holmes pastiches I’ve read equals or surpasses the volume of “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” I have on my shelves. And I’m certain I’ve barely scratched the surface of the short stories, novels, comic books, etc. featuring Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. I’ll be able to skip three of the stories in the anthology of Holmes stories I’m currently reading since I read them already in another anthology I own. Has anyone ever performed a count of non-Canon Sherlock Holmes stories? I imagine the tally would be obsolete by the time it was completed. And the number is even larger if we include anonymous appearances by the great detective, e.g., Roger Zelazny’s “A Night in the Lonesome October.”
It is a rare and wonderful feat for a character to outlive its creator. Few characters capture the imagination of large enough swathes of the reading public to inspire new adventures after the original author dies.
I’m not referring to retelling of legends. King Arthur and Robin Hood don’t count. I’m discussing only an author’s original creation. Mary Shelley pulled it off. Monsters seem popular with the reading public. In addition to Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula is the subject of frequent new stories. Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego Mr. Hyde also make the occasional appearance.
More contemporary examples include Robert E. Howard’s barbarian, Conan, and Ian Fleming’s dapper assassin, James Bond. Both have featured in multiple novels written by multiple authors after their originators died. Of course their name recognition is probably the result more of film fame than from the written word.
Movies seem an inevitable fruit of these characters’ popularity. Movie watchers vastly outnumber readers and thus the fame of the character outstrips that of the creator. Poll a hundred filmgoers after a showing of the latest 007 outing, ‘who wrote James Bond,’ and I imagine fewer than ten could correctly name Fleming as the author. How many who’ve watched Winnie-the-Pooh in any of a dozen movies or tv cartoons have ever read any A.A. Milne? Or how many have seen an Alice in Wonderland film but have read neither “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” nor “Through the Looking-Glass?” What would Charles Lutwidge Dodgson think if he could have known that not only would his pen name prove more memorable than his own, but that Alice would eclipse the fame of both?
My guess is he’d be rather pleased.