Hear Sherlock Holmes Stories Read by The Great Christopher Lee

The extend­ed Sher­lock Holmes Uni­verse, as we might call it, has grown so vast in the last cen­tu­ry (as with oth­er fran­chis­es that have uni­vers­es) that it’s pos­si­ble to call one­self a fan with­out ever hav­ing read the source mate­r­i­al. Depend­ing on one’s per­sua­sion, this is either heresy or the inevitable out­come of so much medi­a­tion by Holme­sian high priests, none of whom can resist writ­ing Holmes fan fic­tion of their own. But Sher­lock­ians agree: the true Holmes Canon (yes, it’s cap­i­tal­ized) con­sists of only 60 works — 56 short sto­ries and four nov­els, exclud­ing apoc­rypha. No more, no less. (And they’re in the pub­lic domain!)

The Canon safe­guards Arthur Conan Doyle’s work against the extra-volu­mi­nous flood of pas­tichists, par­o­dists, and imposters appear­ing on the scene since Holmes’ first appear­ance in 1892. (Doyle per­son­al­ly liked Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie’s Holmes par­o­dy, “The Adven­ture of the Two Col­lab­o­ra­tors,” so much he includ­ed it in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy.) The Holmes Canon remains untouch­able for its wit, inge­nu­ity, and the true strange­ness of its detec­tive — a por­trait of per­haps the most emo­tion­al­ly avoidant pro­tag­o­nist in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture when we first meet him:

All emo­tions, and [love] par­tic­u­lar­ly, were abhor­rent to his cold, pre­cise but admirably bal­anced mind. He was, I take it, the most per­fect rea­son­ing and observ­ing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed him­self in a false posi­tion. He nev­er spoke of the soft­er pas­sions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for draw­ing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained rea­son­er to admit such intru­sions into his own del­i­cate and fine­ly adjust­ed tem­pera­ment was to intro­duce a dis­tract­ing fac­tor which might throw a doubt upon all his men­tal results. Grit in a sen­si­tive instru­ment, or a crack in one of his own high-pow­er lens­es, would not be more dis­turb­ing than a strong emo­tion in a nature such as his.

How to make such a cold fish com­pelling? With a host of quirks, an inge­nious mind, a “Bohemi­an soul,” some unsa­vory qual­i­ties, and at least one or two human attach­ments, if you can call them that. Sherlock’s cold, log­i­cal exte­ri­or masks con­sid­er­able pas­sion, inspir­ing fan the­o­ries about an ances­tral rela­tion­ship to Star Trek’s Spock.

But of course, we see Holmes almost entire­ly through the eyes of his side­kick and amanu­en­sis, James Wat­son, who has his bias­es. When Holmes stepped out of the sto­ries and into radio and screen adap­ta­tions, he became his own man, so to speak — or a series of lead­ing men: Basil Rath­bone, John Giel­gud, Ian McK­ellen, Michael Caine, Robert Downey, Jr., Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, and the late Christo­pher Lee, who played not one of Doyle’s char­ac­ters, but four, begin­ning with his role as Sir Hen­ry Baskerville, with Peter Cush­ing as Holmes, in a 1959 adap­ta­tion.

In 1962, Lee took on the role of Holmes him­self in a Ger­man-Ital­ian pro­duc­tion, Sher­lock Holmes and the Dead­ly Neck­lace, an orig­i­nal sto­ry based on Doyle’s work. He played Holmes’ smarter but unmo­ti­vat­ed old­er broth­er, Mycroft, in 1970, then played a much old­er Holmes twice more in the 90s, paus­ing along the way for the role of Arnaud, a char­ac­ter in anoth­er Doyle adap­ta­tion, The Leather Fun­nel, in 1973 and the nar­ra­tor of a 1985 Holmes doc­u­men­tary, The Many Faces of Sher­lock Holmes. In an extra­or­di­nary career, Lee became an icon in the worlds of hor­ror, sci­ence fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, and Sher­lock Holmes, a genre all its own, into which he fit per­fect­ly.

In the videos here, you can hear Lee read four of the last twelve Holmes sto­ries Doyle wrote in the final decade of his life. These were col­lect­ed in 1927 in The Case-Book of Sher­lock Holmes. We begin, at the top, with the very last of the 56 canon­i­cal sto­ries, “The Adven­ture of Shoscombe Old Place.”  Lee may nev­er have played Dr. Wat­son, but we can imag­ine him bring­ing his famil­iar grav­i­tas to that role, too, as he nar­rates in his deep mel­liflu­ous voice. Find links to 7 more sto­ries from Doyle’s last col­lec­tion, read by Lee, on Metafil­ter, and hear him nar­rate The Many Faces of Sher­lock Holmes, just below.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Arthur Conan Doyle Names His 19 Favorite Sher­lock Holmes Sto­ries

Hor­ror Leg­end Christo­pher Lee Reads Bram Stoker’s Drac­u­la

Sher­lock Holmes Is Now in the Pub­lic Domain, Declares US Judge

Read the Lost Sher­lock Holmes Sto­ry That Was Just Dis­cov­ered in an Attic in Scot­land

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Harmon says:

    To list the actors who have played Sher­lock Holmes, and not to include Jere­my Brett, a Holmes rivaled only by Rath­bone, is an unfor­giv­able over­sight.

    It is even worse than pro­vid­ing a link to a 64 hour playlist on Spo­ti­fy that isn’t there.

    We will pass over “James” Wat­son, since that error does appear in the Canon.

  • Stuart says:

    Came here to say this exact­ly! also a minor sin to exclude clive mer­ri­son imo, but i do con­cede that his por­tray­al being audio only does lessen the scope of those aware of him.

    addi­tion­al­ly mild­ly irked that the author posits “when we first meet Holmes,” then excerpts SCAN, after we have known him for two full nov­els. When we actu­al­ly first meet him, he is lit­er­al­ly jump­ing for joy at hav­ing dis­cov­er­ing a way to test for the pres­ence of blood — hard­ly an emo­tion­al ici­cle!

  • Anne says:

    I’m very glad to see these com­ments because I thought the link was slow to load on my iPad. But you can only wait so long. Annoy­ing!

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