Black mantle clock with white face, black numbers and hands, several clocks behind, 2019.
history pragmatic historian

Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota

I was paging through the University of Minnesota Press’s current holiday book guide and ran across a couple of entries that stopped me cold. Like, I haven’t even looked through the rest of the guide, stopped cold.

Minnesota and the Upper Midwest Holiday Book Guide from the University of Minnesota Press, 2019. Page showing 2 Sherlock Holmes books by Larry Millett.
Minnesota and the Upper Midwest Holiday Book Guide from the University of Minnesota Press, 2019. Page showing 2 Sherlock Holmes books by Larry Millett.

Two books by author Larry Millett, who has written architectural history books, caught my attention. They were “Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma” and “Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders.” Whoa! Two books about Sherlock Holmes set in Minnesota? I had no idea.

I did, however, know that the University of Minnesota has a special collection on the sleuth. It’s only “the world’s largest gathering of material related to Sherlock Holmes and his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.” It includes over 60,000 items. That’s a lot of Sherlock Holmes.

From a page describing how the University amassed this collection, it appears to be a conglomeration of a number of different collections starting with the purchase of James C. Iraldi’s collection. Further research uncovered that funding for the University to purchase this collection came from the McKnight Foundation. That’s interesting. I didn’t know McKnight funded the acquisition of collections. Not sure that it does now, but it obviously did at one time.

So, Minnesota apparently has a thing for Holmes.

I am a Minnesotan and a Sherlock Holmes fan. (Obviously, with the University collection, I’m not the only one.)

What’s not to like about a person who uses their intellect and keen powers of observation to solve difficult murders? Yeah, the guy’s an opium fiend, waaaay too full of himself, and pretty dismissive of his sidekick, Dr. Watson, but other than that …. I mean, if he was too perfect, we’d have to invent flaws for him so we could have an excuse not to hate him for his perfection.

Here’s the thing. Sherlock Holmes is a piece of intellectual property that we are all allowed to invent flaws for or set in locales other than London or write whatever fan fic we want about him and Dr. Watson and Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty.

While so much of the rest of modern day intellectual property is off limits to us due to the insane lengths of today’s copyright laws, Sherlock is not.

Because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories are in the public domain, we are allowed to dig back into Victorian history and explore Sherlock’s life from today’s sensibilities. Or, we can pull him and the other Doyle characters into the current age and reimagine them with cell phones, as has been done with the television series Sherlock. We can use the history of Sherlock Holmes literature to create even more literature and cultural artifacts, which means the University’s collection can keep growing.

Larry Millett has written numerous novels about Sherlock, plopping him down in snowy Minnesota to solve crimes. Makes me wonder if Millett has been influenced or inspired by the University’s giant collection. Or, whether any of his novels have been added to the collection. (Picture me pensively smoking a pipe while I ponder that.)

If you could choose any character or story to expand upon that is still protected by copyright, who or what would you choose?


2 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota”

  1. So far of the three books I’ve read two have had gay characters that are villains (or at as least despicable people portrayed as sexual fiends in the Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders and Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Alliance). Not that gay people cannot be villains, however, when the only times you introduce gay characters are as sexual predators and nothing else, there just might be an issue.

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