Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sherlock Holmes: So He Smoked?

The Hillsboro Library is changing its Mystery Genre stickers because someone complained they had Sherlock Holmes smoking a pipe. That's completely insane. He's a classic character from an era when smoking was a social norm.

First appearing in print in 1887, Sherlock Holmes has become the embodiment of the classic detective. The archetypal pairing of an independent investigating sleuth and loyal intelligent companion has inspired numerous other fictional duos including Poirot & Hastings, Wolfe & Goodwin, Mason & Drake, and Spenser & Hawk among others.

In addition to his effects on the genres of mysteries and crime fiction, Doyle’s stories also changed the real world of criminology. When Holmes was first published, it was generally assumed that crime was solely the endeavor of the lower social classes. Suspects were depicted, by news artists, as having low brows and less evolved ape like expressions. It wasn’t until Doyle wrote his Holmes stories, some of which depict the nobility committing crimes, that police began acknowledging the concept of criminal behavior emanating from all social tiers. This new way of thinking directly lead to the recovery of the Crown Jewels, which had been stolen by a member of the Royal Family as a gift to his gay lover. Stories of the master detective also inspired the real world adoption of forensic techniques including, but not limited to, the analysis of tobacco residue, blood, hair, and fingerprints.

The total influence of Sherlock Holmes on our world is incalculable, yet his image can no longer represent mystery fiction because he smoked. Because he smoked? What?!? Yes, smoking’s a bad habit and we don’t want to influence our kids to take it up. There’s a difference between acknowledging a classic character with a bad habit, which by the way was perfectly acceptable at the time, and giving out free smokes on the playground. Hell, many classically iconic characters smoked including Matt Dillon, Joe Friday, and Santa Clause, yes Santa Clause. Plus, let’s not forget major historical figures who lit up including FDR, General Patton, and Queen Elizabeth among others. Are we going to expunge such people from our collective memory? How about, just for a change of pace, teaching our kids they can acknowledge, even celebrate, such characters & historical figures even though they had a bad habit which shouldn’t be emulated?

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