Conan Doyle on the high seas
Conan Doyle as a young doctor in Southsea, Portsmouth, in 1882 when he wrote "The Captain of the Pole-Star." | Photo courtesy of John Lellenberg
Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure
Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower
2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29
Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 W. Madison St., Forest Park
www.centuriesandsleuths.com or (708) 771-7243
Updated: September 26, 2012 3:32PM
If you’re thinking about using Sherlock Holmes in a new movie, TV show or book, you’d better talk first with Jon Lellenberg.
Lellenberg, who splits his time between homes in Evanston and Vermont, is the American representative for the literary estate of Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the world’s most famous fictional detective in 1886.
Lellenberg (who speaks Saturday at Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park) works with Doyle’s heirs to make sure that any new adaptations stay true to the spirit of the original Holmes stories.
“We want Sherlock Holmes to be Sherlock Holmes,” he says — but that doesn’t mean the stories can’t be moved to modern-day New York, as they are in the new CBS series “Elementary.” That’s OK, Lellenberg says. And so is the idea of turning his companion, Dr. Watson, into a woman; Lucy Liu plays the character in the new TV show.
“The one thing the estate is concerned about is that whatever milieu, genre or time period he’s in, that Sherlock Holmes act like Sherlock Holmes,” Lellenberg says.
Lellenberg has also written or edited five books about Doyle. On Saturday, Lellenberg and co-editor Daniel Stashower, who lives in Washington, will talk about their latest book, Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure (University of Chicago Press, $35).
In these journals, Doyle records events during a voyage he took as a ship’s surgeon on a whaling vessel in 1880. A 20-year-old medical student at the time, Doyle quickly found himself traveling amid the ice floes of the Arctic seas — and frequently falling into the chilly water. London’s Daily Mail said the newly published diaries are “probably one of the most exciting literary finds of recent years.”
Those diaries were locked away from public view for more than a century, along with many of Doyle’s other papers.
“All of the family papers had been locked away in a lawyer’s vault in London because of litigation in the family,” Lellenberg says.
Doyle’s last surviving child, Jean Conan Doyle, who died in 1997, was determined in her final days to resolve that litigation and unlock her father’s unpublished letters and journals, Lellenberg says. And Dangerous Work is the latest result of those efforts.
Lellenberg says these early personal writings by Doyle show him developing his talents as an observer of human behavior.
“He was very struck by the first mate, who was illiterate but an extremely proficient seaman with leadership capabilities,” Lellenberg says. “It was also the first time one of (Doyle’s) patients died. He was unable, on a whaling vessel, to treat the man successfully. That had to be a serious impact.”
But more than anything, Doyle’s impulsive decision to take the trip showed his yearning for adventure, which he never surrendered throughout his life.
“He was in love with adventure of all kinds, and this was his first personal experience with it and one he was very proud of,” Lellenberg says. ~.