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Spotlight on Sherlock

Robert Downey Jr. may be putting the name Sherlock Holmes on a lot of lips these days. But a devoted group of Holmes fans have been keeping the famous detective’s flame alive since for over 70 years.

In 1934, Doubleday editor named Christopher Morley founded the Baker Street Irregulars, which is devoted to all things Sherlock – lectures, performances and no small amount of pipe-smoking – and its annual dinner brings enthusiasts from all over the country in for a whirlwind weekend of activities. On a recent afternoon in Chelsea, Holmes fans gathered to commemorate William Gillette, the American actor who helped make Holmes a popular culture icon, through his stage play Sherlock Holmes, which debuted in 1899. A comic skit based on the Holmes stories got the weekend–long gathering off to a light-hearted start. You can see excerpts of the skit in the video, below.

Holmes and creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have inspired many other writers. WNYC’s Studio 360 devoted a whole program to the many manifestations of Sherlock Holmes in popular culture.

We talked to three Sherlockian authors about their work; what makes Holmes and his world so attractive; and which story they would recommend as a starting point.

Lyndsay Faye’s  well-received first novel Dust and Shadow places Holmes and chronicler Dr. Watson in the path of Jack the Ripper. She said it was a challenge to mix the Ripper’s dark milieu with Conan Doyle’s more benign London.

Lesley S. Klinger is the author of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes and was technical advisor on the Ritchie film. He thinks the film is a great method of sending people back to the source material.

Best-selling author Laurie R. King was thought to have committed the ultimate sacrilege with her first two novels The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994) and A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995), introducing feisty Mary Russell, first as Sherlock Holmes’ assistant, and then—horrors!—as his wife. But the provocative series now has a large following that is drawn to her imaginative extension of Holmes’ life. King says she’s able to allow the character to grow and change in ways that Conan Doyle couldn’t.