Guest Post by Author Dan Andriacco
The best writers don’t confuse themselves with their characters.
That’s a lesson I learned from Sherlock Holmes – or, rather, from his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In the last decades of his life, Conan Doyle was a passionate believer in spiritualism. By some accounts, he spent one million pounds of his own money (more than $50 million in today’s dollars) promoting his belief in what he called “The New Revelation.” But one person that he never converted was Sherlock Holmes.
Although he believed in Divine Providence, the rationalist Holmes waxed skeptical when it came to ghostly phenomenon. The Hound of the Baskervilles offers an example. When a character reads the detective an old manuscript about the Hound legend and says, “Do you not find it interesting?” Holmes laconically responds, “To a collector of fairy tales.”
When Conan Doyle later became committed to the spiritualist cause, he apparently realized that it would be out of character for Sherlock Holmes to do the same. In a 1924 story called “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,” Holmes firmly tells his friend Dr. Watson, “This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”
One of the biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle is called The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes. In many ways, that was true. Like Holmes, Conan Doyle had a passion for justice. He also had fair success as an amateur sleuth in real life. But from the beginning Sherlock Holmes was not just Conan Doyle under another name. His opinions sometimes clashed with those of his creator.
In the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes criticizes Edgar Allen Poe’s eccentric detective C. Auguste Dupin as “a very inferior fellow” who was “by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.”
This was far from the view of Conan Doyle, who wrote in his memoirs: “If every man who receives a cheque for a story which owes its inspiration to Poe were to pay a tithe to a monument for the master, he would have a pyramid as big as that of Cheops.”
When an admirer of Poe attacked Conan Doyle in verse in 1912 for this dismissal of the American writer, Conan Doyle separated himself from his character’s attitudes in a poetic response called “To Undiscerning Critic.” He ended with these words:
He, the created, would scoff and would sneer,
Where I, the creator, would bow and revere.
So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle:
The doll and its maker are never identical.
That is good advice – both for readers and for writers.
About the Author
A former journalist and reviewer of mystery books, Dr. Dan Andriacco has been a member of The Tankerville Club, a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, since 1980. His goal in writing mysteries and critical works about the field (including Sherlock Holmes) is to entertain; he strives to be fun and funny, and reviews indicate that he has accomplished this.