Where Are All the Young Sherlockians?
Earlier this year I attended a Holmes conference and listened to one young presenter speak about a class assignment. Her parents are very involved in one of the scion societies and she chose Sherlock Holmes as the subject for a verbal introduction in school.
Her introduction stated many of the facts about Holmes’ life and career that those of us who have read and re-read the stories know by heart. But I’m sure this information was quite new to many of her classmates hearing about Sherlock Holmes for the first time, or at least the first time since watching the movie, “Sherlock Holmes” that had recently come out.
As I looked around the conference it occurred to me that each year it was the same people attending these conferences and many, if not most, of the participants are of retirement age or approaching it. Most read the stories when they were young; rather than reading them for the first time as adults. The point I’m trying to make is that very few younger people experience Sherlock Holmes today.
True, the stories are set over 100 years ago, and the world (along with many of our values) has changed considerably since then. And some words have taken on a different meaning or connotation since they were originally written. But overwhelmingly, the stories themselves retain popular themes and present a mystery better than most “made for TV” movies.
I don’t mean to single out Doyle or Sherlock Holmes, because the same can be said for other authors, such as Poe. So why aren’t more young people flocking to Sherlock Holmes and the scion societies?
The problem lies not within our stars, but in ourselves
With apologies to Shakespeare, I believe the problem is not the age of the stories, the era in which they were written, nor their plots. The problem is that READING—which is the basis to communicate the stories—is not being stressed in our educational system the way it previously was. Schools stress different subjects today to reflect what our society has deemed important. While Math skills are still being taught, reading and writing in an age of visual communications have been downplayed. Today’s students are apt to be more interested in a course in film making than in creative writing. Music videos and “podcasts” have replaced short stories and written essays. If you don’t believe this simply look at how many newspapers are going out of business.
Don’t just state a problem and walk away
I say this not to condemn our modern way of life, but rather to point out that our lives have changed and in doing so we should examine if Sherlock Holmes can be COMMUNICATED to a modern society in modern ways. I believe it can and here are a couple of suggestions:
For those who have gotten rid of carrying around physical books and replaced them with E-book readers, iPads, pods, and PDA’s, virtually all of the Canon is available in various e-book formats. Since the stories are now in the public domain, these e-books are available free of charge and can be downloaded via the Internet (regardless of what the bookstores advertise). Try www.gutenberg.org for starters,
There are also various “podcasts” devoted to Sherlock Holmes. A great example can be found by searching iTunes for “The Sherlock Holmes Society of London” in the Podcast section. They present free readings of a few of the stories which can easily be added and downloaded to an IPOD or other device that works with iTunes. This is an easy way of getting started. Try downloading and listening to one of the stories as a sample.
Finally, the stories can be downloaded in MP3 format via the website www.librevox.org free of charge. These stories are also read verbatim from the actual stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please see my Trifling Monograph “Sherlock Holmes in the Electronic Age” for more about these MP3 recordings. Many of Doyle’s other writings are available at Librevox also.
While each of these media preserve the original stories, they offer them in a format we use in our lives today. From here, Sherlock Holmes groups are available on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media websites. But these are issues for another monograph.
Hopefully these suggestions will allow you, or someone you know, to connect with Sherlock Holmes, Victorian England, and their age in our modern times.
By Jim Zych, July 2010
(We in the Camp office look forward to Jim explaining some of the newer social networking systems, and will be interested in his showing us how they might be useful.)