I was a gifted child, declared the IQ tests I was forced to take in the basement of my elementary school. Starting in first grade, this label took me out of my normal classes once a week and plopped me in that basement, where we learned about hieroglyphics and other smart things. My mother sat at home, reading worriedly about raising gifted children in a book with a black and white cover. She knew far before the school told her, before even my kindergarten teacher raved. She knew when I was reading the television listings in the newspaper at age four, telling her Billy Graham would be on television that evening. It’s become a familial urban legend, with who knows how much basis in fact. Regardless, my love for the written word, those funny little black symbols on a white background, started early in life and grew exponentially as I did.
I read all of the time. I mean, all of the time. At recess. During math (until the teacher found me out). Every time I sat in the car. My poor mother would force me out into the blaring South Dakota sun or blustery South Dakota winter, and I would sneak a novel out under my shirt. I’d then pace around our acreage, nose behind the book, not watching out for snakes or grasshoppers. When Mom frowned, I protested with wide-eyes: I was getting exercise!
I read far above my grade level for my entire elementary career. I read Moby Dick in fifth grade, undoubtedly missing scads of symbolism but recalling enough to pass a computerized test and gain reading points, legal tender at the library store. One year, I bought a porcelain doll for a few hundred of those points, racking them up by reading the largest point books in the library, hence Moby Dick. I loved that doll – her name was Gertrude. She was a symbol.
My favorite books – the ones I read for pleasure instead of point-value – were mysteries. I started out small, with the innumerable adventures of the Boxcar Children. Then came edgier fare and along with it, my first literary love: Frank Hardy, the elder half of the Hardy Boys. Sure, Joe was funny, stockier, a few inches shorter than Frank (I think we’re talking 5’10”), blonde – oh those books are specific in their descriptions. Joe was the daring one. Frank was the opposite: cautious, bright, always getting Joe out of trouble. I would have done fine with Joe as a brother-in-law, but Frank, tall and dark, held my heart. I dreamed of adventures with those boys, racing around in their van, stopping the baddies and arriving at school just in time for first period.
Shortly after I finished most of the Hardy Boys books and was making my way through the more current – and more violent – Hardy Boys Casefiles series (don’t even get me started on the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Supermysteries – twice the pages, twice the drama), I tasted something sweeter and more sophisticated than my lovely bumbling boys. It was like the difference between Hershey’s milk chocolate and the milk chocolate my grandma brought back from Germany – it’s the same stuff in essence, but one just tastes like beauty.
I found the book while at my grandmother’s house in Wisconsin. My father still had some of his childhood books in Opi’s study, in the wall of bookshelves behind my grandfather’s desk. As a child, I was anxious to understand this father I idolized, so I consumed anything of his I could find. So, after kissing my Opi and Omi, kicking the snow off of my shoes, and dropping my suitcase in the room with the stuffed animals, I headed into the study to look at the books, to find something I hadn’t read yet. The ones I brought with me were only so long, and I was often in need of some different fare. There, in the study, among all of the German Bibles and old devotional books, hid the book that made me fall in love again. No Hershey’s milk chocolate for me – this was the real thing.
The book was paperback, dog-eared. Brown cover, a tweed cap, a wooden pipe, a magnifying glass. Those things we associate with him for no other reason than that’s how it is.
The book was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and I was hooked from the first page. I read that book twice, then looked for more. The orange pips, the hound of the Baskervilles, the Red-Headed League. Frightening, suspenseful, insanely intellectual. I had never read anything like it.
The truth is, I had never met a man like Sherlock. Growing up in a kind and supportive Christian home, everyone around me was so nice all the time. Granted, I’ll always be thankful I had that rather than the abuse and pain some people grow up with, but Sherlock was harsh. He was edgy. He said things like they were, regardless of the feelings of those around him. He was fully himself. I didn’t know anyone like him.
I was attracted to his intellect. I’ve always loved men for their brains, and Sherlock’s brains were top-notch. More than that, though, he had a purpose. He had a passion. He knew who he was and he never compromised his own talents for the sake of culture or political correctness. He knew that lives and puzzles depended on him doing what he knew how to do with all of his being. That single-mindedness is something that I continue to wrestle with as I pursue art.
And, of course, Sherlock’s broken. An addict who cannot function in the world of men, he isolates himself from those around him. Both a strength and a weakness, he does not pander to anyone, and because of that, he is often alone. And his abrasiveness makes him all the more fascinating, because you want to believe that he can change, be more – normal. Though, you know he can’t because he would lose his glow.
My love for Sherlock has lay dormant in recent years, my only outlet watching the end of Basil Rathbone’s version when coming across it on the classic movie channel or listfully picking up the book to read a case when waiting for the cookies to be done. Then, a movie came out, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law (who looked nothing like the Watson I’d been picturing). The trailers frightened me – it looked like an action adventure, when the Sherlock I was in love with would have used his head instead. I saw it when it came out, and I told myself, my Sherlock was fine, safe and sound. Guy Ritchie’s was the one on the screen, and he was an easy fellow to stomach – only slightly rude, mostly comical, always with an undergirding of sweetness. Not the same as my fellow.
Then, just recently, the BBC – oh, thank the Lord for the BBC and PBS – released a Sherlock Holmes miniseries. Instead of the Sherlock Holmes I held in my heart, all 18th Century and idolized, this Sherlock was walking around modern-day London, texting and wearing Nicotine patches. Watson was a Vietnam vet with a psychosomatic limp. I was fascinated. This was my Sherlock, but with all of his barriers stripped away. This is what he’d be like in this reality, in my reality.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t like him much.
I knew that to begin with – that’s why I loved him so. He would be everything I could not stand in an individual I met face-to-face: pompous, self-centered, selfish. He would drive me mad. And yet there is that subtle draw that you feel when you are in the presence of someone who is doing precisely what they were meant to do. And to be fully honest, I wish I were like him. I wish I pursued my passions with my entire being. I wish I was able to push away those who held me back, voice my disdain for those who doubted, eliminate from my life those who sought less than everything. I can’t even imagine what kind of writer I’d be, or Christ-follower, or person. I’d probably be annoying and abrasive. Until I figure out how to shed my sweetness in favor of something more Sherlock-like, I’ll remain enthralled by my Sherlock: fully entertaining, amazing, and lovely to me, faults and all.