Basil of Baker Street

Monday, February 15, 2010



Basil of Baker Street
Eve Titus, 1958

I have mixed feelings about this book.  I appreciated it on several levels, just not the level of actually reading the thing.

I know, it's intended for kids.  Small kids.  We should just say it's not one of those kids books that holds up. 

For the unaware, this is the first of 5 books about 'the mouse Sherlock Holmes'.  And yes, these books are the inspiration for Disney's The Great Mouse Detective.  Unlike in the movie, in which the mice seem to lead a parallel but largely separate life from humans, in the book Basil and Dawson actively eavesdrop on Holmes and Watson to learn about detecting.  They even move all their friends into a town they build in the basement of 221B.  This should be cute, but oddly diminishes Basil.  Faced with the example of actual Holmes, he is overawed, and over the course of this book managed to do relatively little.  They follow some obvious footprints, wait for a message from a kidnapper, make some deductions about the messenger, follow him in disguise, and track down the villains.  It's a small story, written for a very young audience.  Basil comes off as competent, but far more average than any Holmes doppelganger ought to.  The "joke" about him painstakingly building a tiny violin, then being totally unable to play it, just made me sad for him.  I felt like he could never live up to his hero.

That said, I do appreciate it on its intended level.  Ms. Titus somewhat adorably dedicates the book as follows:
To Adrian M Conan Doyle
in the humble hope that this book for boys and girls will be a bridge to Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself
and if it was, then fantastic.

According to Wikipedia, this may be the only one in the series not to concern Professor Ratigan.  Too bad for me, although I can't currently imagine the well-meaning Ms Titus crafting a truly evil villain. 

Now I'll try to be fair.  Amazon says ages 4-8, which is younger than I was expecting sight unseen.  For that level, it's fine, but not extraordinary.  The less it harps on Basil's fanatical adoration of Holmes, the better it gets. 

However, I grew up with, and love, The Great Mouse Detective.  I just guess I wasn't missing anything not knowing the source material.


TANGENT:  I think The Great Mouse Detective is a very fun Holmes Pastiche.  Everything is toned down from Doyle, (while being much more active/dark than the Titus book) but there is a lot of violence for a Disney flick.  Incidentally, my love for this movie is also the main reason I am against the current move towards censorship/rating penalty for smoking in kids movies.  The little in-jokes for Holmes fans are fun; Basil's workbench with ash and footprint analysis, the line of actual Holmes dialogue overheard at one point is from a recording of Basil Rathbone...  It says something about me that I thought about TGMD while watching the new Sherlock Holmes movie last fall.  Internal dialogue: well, okay, I guess I can enjoy this scene...it's wacky, but it's not really zanier than The Great Mouse Detective, and it's not fair for me to hold this to a higher standard.  The fact that one is a blockbuster in 2009 and the other a semi-forgotten animated movie from 1986 about mice is immaterial here.  To me, they're both Holmes Pastiches.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

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