14 June 2010

Chesterton on Sherlock Holmes

In continuing to read the old Sherlock Holmes stories and think about the new Sherlock Holmes movie, I ran across this quote from G.K. Chesterton:

"Then there is the common error of making all the human characters sticks, or stock figures...We cannot even be adequately thrilled by a whole secret society of assassins who have sworn to effect the death of a bore who is obviously better dead. And even in order that the novelist should kill people, it is first necessary that he should make them live. As a matter of fact, we may very well add the general principle that the most intense interest of a good mystery story does not consist in incident at all. The Sherlock Holmes stories are very good working models of a workmanlike type of popular mystery. And the point of such a story is very seldom the story at all. The best part of it is the comedy of the conversations between Holmes and Watson." From "Errors about Detective Stories" by G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton is absolutely right. Reading the Holmes stories, it's the odd-couple humor of Holmes's bizarre eccentricity coupled with Watson's military character that make the stories really fun to read. I think the new movie captured this perfectly. The secret society, the cultic leader, the mysterious circumstances surrounding Lord Blackwood's death are all a backdrop to the real interest of the story, which is that Holmes is upset that his bff is getting married and doesn't want to hang out as much anymore.

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