The gaslights glimmer through a swirling London fog. Hansom cabs rattle over the cobblestones. A gaunt, ascetic figure with a hawk-like profile, calabash pipe and Inverness traveling cloak hurries through the gloom. "Come, Watson, come!" he gasps. "The game is afoot!"
Okay, that's a cliche-ridden opening for a People magazine article I found in my files from 1974. But it does have its interest. You probably know, even if you didn't experience it yourself, that the early 1970s boom in all things Sherlock was almost as strong as what we're experiencing today.
The People article was part of that. The headline reads "Zounds! The super sleuth is our latest literary hero." Zounds? I think the author confused Sherlock Holmes with the Three Muskateers! Such stories are never perfect, and this one is better than the headline might suggest. Here's another chunk of it:
"Neither the awesome cauldron of Reichenbach Falls nor a sedentary retirement at beekeeping in Sussex Downs could long still the shade of the world's greatest detective. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is not only alive and well in the hearts of his ardent admirers -- he has emerged as the most omnipresent literary figure of 1974.
"Even the faithful but slow-witted Watson (Blogger's note: Ouch!) could deduce a boom in Holmesiana from the evidence. New novels, anthologies, critical studies, and picture books about Sherlock Holmes flowed like the Thames this year. Dutton has printed 250,000 copies of Nicholas Meyer's best-selling Sherlockian novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Doubleday reports a tenfold increase in sales of its edition of 60 collected Holmes tales. The Royal Shakespeare Company's revival of Sherlock Holmes is one of the biggest hits of the new Broadway season. Men's stores have doubled and tripled sales of such items as tweedy deerstalker caps and Inverness capes (which begin at $750 at Manhattan's Hunting World)."
And so on.
In search of an explanation for this phenomenon, People quotes actor John Wood, who potrayed Holmes on stage in London, Washington, and New York. He opined that "it has something to do with despair and world-weariness." The magazine wondered, "Could it be that Holmes's icy certainty offers an antidote to 1974's confusions?"
I think the answer the is "yes," but it's amusing to look back and think of 1974 as a confusing time. We seem to need Holmes in all his surprising incarnations now more than ever.