Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sherlock Holmes Exhibit at Toronto Reference Library

The interest in Sherlock Holmes seems to be more prevalent than ever these days, fueled by the dueling television shows–the British "Sherlock"  and the American "Elementary".  The Toronto Reference Library celebrates this ongoing interest with a new exhibit in their TD Gallery called "Adventures with Sherlock Holmes", which is filled with artifacts about both the Sherlock Holmes stories, and their author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The exhibit highlights the lasting influence that Sherlock Holmes has had on arts and culture since his inception.  In addition to the afore-mentioned television shows, numerous live and animated movies, plays, ballets, comic strips, and even advertisements have featured this character.  In a 1953 ballet called "The Great Detective", the same dancer played both parts of the arch-enemies Holmes and Professor Moriarty.

The criminal mastermind Moriarty is described as the epitome of evil and the only villain that was an intellectual match for Holmes.  He is so ingrained in the Sherlock Holmes canon  that it is incredible to consider he was instrumental in only one short story, The Final Problem.  Tired of what he considered less important writing, Conan Doyle wanted to kill off his hero and created the ultimate nemesis to accomplish this feat.  In the climax of The Final Problem, both Holmes and Moriarty plunge "to their deaths" down the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.  However public pressure forced Conan Doyle to resurrect Holmes in future stories, explaining that he had survived the fall and faked his death while he dealt with Moriarty's henchmen.  He did not resurrect Moriarty, feeling that it would diminish Holmes' capabilities if his opponent kept escaping and returning.

There are many renderings of Holmes and his trusty side-kick Doctor Watson including late 1800s to early 1900s etchings from both the U.K. and U.S. versions of the magazines or books where the stories were featured.  More recent images from Vanity Fair and other sources showed colourful images of Sherlock.  Sculptural representations of Holmes range from youthful and vigorous to old and craggy.  There were even stained glass windows lit up with scenes of Holmes and Watson at work.

Memorabilia created in the images of Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and Professor Moriarty took all shapes and forms.  Artifacts on display include a chess set, playing cards, mugs, teapots, wine glasses, matchboxes, cigarette cards, and more.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should consider himself extremely flattered. Detective Sexton Blake was just one example of shameless ripoffs on the Holmes character.  There were also numerous spoof books that spanned all genres, such as "The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", "Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper", "Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space, Einstein and Sherlock Holmes, and a few ethnic variations including an Indian novel called "Holmes of the Raj" and Japanese graphic novels.

With respect to the author himself, there were several displays devoted to personal artifacts of Conan Doyle, including a handwritten note where he brags about his golf score, as well as photos and notes depicting his belief in spiritualism.  His second wife was a medium and would hold seances to try to contact Doyle's oldest son who died of pneumonia towards the end of WWI.  There were examples of "spirit writing" where spirits would convey messages to the living by guiding the hand that held the pen.  One photo of Holmes and his wife shows a bright glowing light behind them, similar to what would appear if a camera flash reflected in a pane of glass.  They believed this to be a spirit photo.

This was an insightful exhibit that encourages you to run out and borrow the tomes of Sherlock Holmes from your nearest public library.