Sherlock Holmes lecture examines the detective's cultural staying power


Solve the mystery behind the allure of Sherlock Holmes - the most enduring character from literature, radio and film over the past century - during a special free lunchtime lecture.

Seattle Times arts writer and critic Tom Keogh presents "Dr. Doyle and Mr. Holmes: The Cultural Staying Power of Sherlock Holmes," from noon to 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 17, in the downstairs lecture room at Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Ave.

Keogh will illustrate how the legendary British sleuth remains popular more than 100 years after the character was created in 1887 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and how his captivating use of logic and deduction has spawned a range of similar characters.

Doyle's famous character is constantly being re-invented for modern audiences; to wit: the current series of movies with Robert Downey Jr.; the acclaimed new BBC-TV series "Sherlock;" the "CSI" franchise; and even more lighthearted TV buddy detective shows such as "Psych."

"I think Holmes remains popular because he's a specialist in things that are inscrutable to most people, i.e., strange crimes and seemingly inexplicable events and curious behavior," Keogh said by email last week from Seattle. "Specialists give us comfort because they can see through the haze of seemingly random, non-connected details and discover who, what, where, when, why and how. Also, Holmes is a troubled genius, a misanthrope, an eccentric, with a different and skeptical and dark way of looking at the world. All of this makes for an endlessly fascinating subject."

Even the "Star Trek" character Mr. Spock owes a debt to the denizen of 221B Baker St.

"Spock and Holmes have a lot in common (besides the fact that Leonard Nimoy has played both characters)," Keogh said. "But Holmes has more than logic going for him, or rather his type of logic proceeds from being skeptical about things most of us assume to be true. He proceeds from one supposition to another and another, and as each new supposition supports a developing theory, he eventually comes up with a deduction or induction. But it's a combination of logic and seasoned instinct."

Trekkers also note that in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," Spock claimed an ancestral relationship to Doyle.

Keogh's talk is made possible through a grant from Friends of the Bellingham Public Library that funded five lectures from the Humanities Washington speakers bureau, said Suzanne Carlson-Prandini, who organized the event.

"Who can say no to Sherlock Holmes? I will 'out' myself as a fan," she said. "I became a fan before I was a teen. I remember getting the complete series in my Easter basket. 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' really caught my imagination as a child."

Carlson-Prandini, who's also a fan of the BBC show, said Sherlock Holmes remains a popular subject among library patrons.

"It's amazing how he keeps getting re-invented. There's something about the character that speaks to us even now," she said. "He provides a sensible explanation in the face of uncertainty and fear. I really admired and envied it."

Carlson-Prandini said she expects Keogh's talk will act as a catalyst for conversation. He will discuss Holmes for about 45 minutes, then answer questions for 45 minutes. She said it's OK to bring lunch.

Keogh said his presentation will be too technical for younger children, but certainly could be enjoyed by high-schoolers. Carlson-Prandini said its scholarly subject matter would be worth missing a class or two - call it a field trip.

"I encourage education outside the classroom," she said.

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