Getting into Gear

Wild West Yorkshire, Friday 8 October 2010

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IT'S TAKEN some time but today I feel that at last I've got into gear with my Sherlock book. One of the delights of research, is the unexpected connections that always turn up. It's similar to when you're drawing - you always find echoes in things that, on the face of it, have no connection at all - like the shape of trees and the shape of clouds when you're drawing a landscape.

handInformation Revolution, 1832

For instance, this is how Leigh Hunt, a poet and writer who influenced the Pre-Raphaelites, conjured up the excitement of the Information Revolution of his day;

'During a wonderful period of the world, the kings of the earth leagued themselves together to destroy all thoughts of mankind.' Hunt describes 'an extraordinary Creature' which comes to life with 'the sound of a million wheels' and 'a great vapour'.

'And ever and anon the vapour boiled, and the wheels went rolling, and the creature threw out of its mouth visible words, that fell into the air by millions, and spoke to the uttermost parts of the earth. And the nations (for it was a loving though a fearful Creature) fed upon its words like the air they breathed: and the Monarchs paused, for they knew their masters.'

James Henry Leigh Hunt ( 1784-1859), quoted in 'The Museum of foreign literature, science and art', Volume 21, by Eliakim Littel, July 1832.

Hunt's sleeping dragon coming to life suggests the possibilities and potential dangers that our generation sees in the Internet and the World Wide Web. His generation must have seen a similar quantum leap in the circulation of information when steam-powered printing presses first sprang into action and worked through the night to produce newspapers, periodicals and leaflets for a mass market.

This has no particular connection with Sherlock except that it was Conan Doyle who was the first to see the potential of a series rather than a serial as a way of generating interest - and huge sales - in a mass-market medium, in his case the weekly Strand Magazine (which, at that time, must have been printed by steam power). He realised that with the traditional serial you got to a stage where new readers wouldn't buy into the continuing story as they'd missed the opening episodes but if you had strong characters you could involve them in a different adventure each week and so attract both your regular audience and new readers alike.

Richard Bell, illustrator

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