Solving ‘A Study in Scarlet’ for children

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” has gone through many modern adaptations, saturating our media.  He’s revived in the animated 1999 to 2001 TV series “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century“; David Shore’s 2004 FOX drama “House, M.D.” (starring Hugh Laurie as the antisocial know-it-all doctor); Guy Ritchie’s action movies (starring Robert Downey Jr.); Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s 2010 BBC TV series “Sherlock” (starring Benedict Cumberbatch); and the 2012 CBS series “Elementary” (starring Johnny Lee Miller).

The latest of the Sherlock Holmes reboots is a reprinting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 detective novel, “A Study in Scarlet” — this time illustrated by Gris Grimly and reprinted by Balzer and Bray, a children’s book division of Harper Collins Publishers. 

"A Study in Scarlet"  By Arthur Conan Doyle Illustrated by Gris Grimly  228 pp. Balzer & Bray. $17.99 U.S. Feb. 17, 2015.

“A Study in Scarlet”
By Arthur Conan Doyle
Illustrated by Gris Grimly
228 pp. Balzer & Bray.
$17.99 U.S.
Feb. 17, 2015.

This 288-page hardcover novel, which will be released on February 17 this month, attempts to make the great British detective accessible to children.

The pages are filled with Grimly’s gothic cartoons. Dr. John H. Watson is a short and stout fellow with a square face and portly body (he looks like a chubbier version of Nick Offerman, sporting Count Olaf’s pinstripe pants) while Grimly’s Holmes is all pointy angles, sporting wispy hair and a tattered brown frock. Holmes isn’t wearing that infamous deerstalker cap Sidney Paget invented in early Sherlock Holmes illustrations, but a pipe is close to his hand.

The two make quite a pair when lounging in their shared 221B Baker Street apartment.

Sherlock’s elongated shadow fills the page, making him seem larger than life. And he is in Dr. Watson’s eyes.

“The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody, when I confess how much this man stimulated my curiosity, and how often I endeavored to break through the reticence which he showed on all that concerned himself,” Doyle writes.

Watson’s charmed by Sherlock’s incredible power of deductions that his “journal” becomes a public record of Sherlock’s adventures. This tale takes the pair all over London as they solve a case that’s baffled Scotland Yard’s finest, Inspector Lestrade and Tobias Gregson.

The case in question is dubbed “A Study in Scarlet” after something Sherlock said after he examines an American murder victim in a suburban London apartment.

“There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, to isolate it, and expose every inch of it,” Sherlock says.

On a wall near the body, the word “rache” (German for “revenge”) is scrawled in blood red letters.

Told in two parts, first half is told in first person through Watson’s perspective; the second half of the novel delves into the backstory behind the mystery.

Watson’s fascination with the world’s only consulting detective is evident from both the text and images. Grimly even illustrates a list of Sherlock’s attributes which includes a profound skill in chemistry; immense knowledge in sensational literature; expertise in boxing, sword fighting, violin and singlestick; and no knowledge of politics, literature, philosophy and astronomy.

“You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin,” Watson says. “I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”

Perhaps they don’t. The adventures of Sherlock Holmes are just stories. But Doyle’s stories have evoked the curiosity and imagination of many — from Shore to Moffat. Nowadays, we see remnants of Holmes in every forensics  drama as crime scene investigators make modern deductions.

While our popular culture is saturated with modern Sherlock Holmeses, Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” is where the mysteries began. Grimly — who’s known for illustrating a graphic novel based on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” — reanimates Doyle’s centuries-old text by adding caricatures of bulbous young Arab children and rat-nosed detectives. One scene looks like it could have emerged from a “Scooby Doo” cartoon. 

This empowers young readers. Grimly knows that classics aren’t as accessible to children as television and films.

I wanted to change that for the young generations to come — to give them a way to read the words and interpret the words and get all the way from page one to page 200 … and not have to rely on the movies,” Grimly tells NPR’s Arun Rath. 

One thing’s for sure: Doyle and Grimly are an elementary combination.

“A Study in Scarlet” was originally written by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1886 and published in 1887. The reprinting, illustrated by Gris Grimly, will be released February 17, 2015. 

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