Sunday, 28 November 2010
I’ve been reading some late Sherlock Holmes stories. The Lion’s Mane, I started with – published 1926, set in Holmes’ retirement. He lives in a sleepy Sussex village on the South Downs and walking on the beach one day, encounters a dying man. Cue mystery. It’s narrated by Holmes himself – one of only two stories in which this happens. Watson doesn’t feature, just Sherlock. He cuts a depressing figure in my opinion; lonely and fretting.
The strangest thing about it for me, is seeing how Holmes operates outside his usual surroundings. Away from the cut and thrust of London – its crowded streets, clattering cabs, gangs of Baker Street Irregulars – Holmes seems sapped of energy; a man out of place and time. Sherlock Holmes is a city-hero. Imagine Spiderman fighting crime in Lincolnshire. Where’s to swing from? Without skyscrapers, he’s just a man with pointlessly gluey rope in his gloves. And yet it’s interesting to consider how many other writers do this; how, when handling the same characters across an extended series of stories, the creative process seems to result in a desire to shift them entirely, I s’pose to renew and refresh a familiar set of circumstances.
It doesn’t work for me in The Lion’s Mane. Sending Poirot abroad is OK, as long as there are a restricted palette of domestic, enclosed settings that could be anywhere. It’s not a great success when Wodehouse drops Wooster in New York. Some might argue the jury’s out on Deathly Hallows. And – here’s a random but effective illustration – Sex and the City 2 was a critical and commercial disaster because someone thought it might be a good idea to shift the action to the United Arab Emirates. Sex and the City in Abu Dhabi? I’m no connoisseur of the franchise, but even I can see that’s not going to work.
Maybe it’s as simple as this, location is character. Stick Batman in the Mojave desert, and he’s just some big sweaty guy in an imitation leather mankini.