The Sign of Four, my second Sherlock Holmes book after the rather unusual A Study in Scarlet, was finally what I expected (and what the current season...moreThe Sign of Four, my second Sherlock Holmes book after the rather unusual A Study in Scarlet, was finally what I expected (and what the current season of the BBC's Sherlock fails to deliver) and vaguely remembered from two or three short stories I read at school as an early English learner: a solid mystery, somewhat oppressive Victorian atmosphere and of course a fair share of deduction.
The characters in Doyle's work clearly lack depth, but for me it works quite well on the basis of what I call 'The Indiana Jones Principle': a character simply has a strong and charismatic personality based on their sheer presence, quirks and actions without going further than scratching the surface. Holmes is such a protagonist. He's just *there*, and very much so, although we barely learn anything about him, why he is the way he is and so on. It's the mystery the author focuses on, but it wouldn't work as well as it does if the famous detective wasn't such a unique and ambiguous person. Pitch-black depression and cocaine consumption are followed by hyperactive crime solving and joyous dinners with Watson and a Scotland Yard inspector. You never really know what Holmes will do next.
Doyle often creates a creepy, ominous atmosphere which has become the epitome of the Victorian detective novel, and I love it. I'm not exactly fond of gore and explicit violence (though I can deal with it) and very much prefer pleasurable shivers running down my spine.
I didn't care for the romance aspect (isn't it always like that with me?), especially because it had that annoying notion of the infamous, obviously unavoidable 'instalove', but Mary Morstan is a surprisingly likeable and down-to-earth woman, so I won't complain too much.
Doyle once again added a piece of British history, this time set during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Let's just say that his stance on these events is an English one and you have to take it in with a grain of salt. At least he doesn't draw a particularly flattering picture of the British military either, which - to a certain extent - makes up for the underlying racism.
Personal note: I tend to give characters the faces of actors and actresses while reading, either because they match the description, seem to fit the role or have actually played a character before. In this case I constantly jumped back and forth between Robert Stephens (from Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) and Benedict Cumberbatch, which was mildly irritating because they look nothing alike. (less)
As a child, I was never much exposed to fairy tales, only a tiny selection of them. I read (almost) all of them many years later as a part of my cultu...moreAs a child, I was never much exposed to fairy tales, only a tiny selection of them. I read (almost) all of them many years later as a part of my cultural anthropology studies, and we compared them to earlier versions (Charles Perrault and others), which were much more explicit and occasionally had sexual content that doesn't appear in the Grimm versions at all. Originally, fairy tales weren't necessarily aimed at children; often the contrary was the case.
There's still a lot of pretty gruesome violence in those stories with their strictly black & white characters, and often even the good people have to suffer greatly to gain happiness in the end. I really don't like this message, and it often left me with a sour taste in my mouth. While I do think that children should be acquainted with the dark sides of life, torture, cannibalism and the like are in my opinion not the right way. Perhaps the fact that I wrote a term paper about violence and cruelty in fairy tales opened my eyes a bit too wide.
Not all of those tales are like that, though. Some are uplifting, humorous even, and read as an adult, they all do have a certain appeal if you dig a little deeper and explore the roots. (less)