This post features three of my favourite authors, albeit in a less than laudatory fashion.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 stories featuring the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. They were so wildly popular that a century-and-a-quarter later his creation is the most adapted character in literary history as well as the most played character in cinematic history. Even today Sherlock Holmes receives mail by name at his famous address, 221B Baker Street, as though he were an actual person!
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
An example of Doyle's success in creating a analytical mastermind with unmatched deductive powers is the passage where the fictional Sherlock Holmes deduces Dr. Watson's professional and service background:
Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly Afghanistan.
Pure genius !
Unfortunately the coldly analytical first-and-only 'consulting detective' could not decipher the impossibility of a name like Mahomet Singh in 'The Sign of the Four' (1890).
In 1907, Rudyard Kipling became the first English-language recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The prize citation said: 'In consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.'
Of his childhood in India Kipling wrote that '…one spoke 'English', haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in'.
Of his return to India at the age of seventeen years, '…my English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength'
Ironically for a man who vaunted his connection with India, his writings were considered paeans to Victorian empire-building in his lifetime, and later discredited as imperialistic propaganda with racial overtones. Case in point :
'The White Man's Burden' (1899)
Take up the White Man's burden-
Send forth the best ye breed-
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild-
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
In 1890, our self-confessed thinker-in-the-vernacular titled a famous poem 'Gunga Din'.
'Tho' I've belted you and flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!'
Gunga Din, indeed.
Messrs. Doyle and Kipling may be forgiven for their lapses made over a century ago, but what of our next storyteller?
Jeffrey Archer has topped the bestseller lists around the world, with hundreds of millions of books sold in a hundred countries and some novels nearing a hundred reprints (Kane & Abel). He has also authored six collections of short stories, three plays, three volumes of his prison diaries, and a religious tome. He is the only writer ever to have been a number one bestseller in fiction, short story and non-fiction categories.
In a short story titled 'The Commissioner' in 'Cat O'Nine Tales' (2006), one vital character is a Deputy Commissioner of Mumbai Police with the mutually exclusive name of Anil Khan.
Maybe these grandees felt that even a wee bit of research on 'sullen peoples' was not worth their time or effort.
Their standoffishness is the reason why the legacy of the British, unlike that of earlier rulers, was not assimilated into the Indian narrative. Unsurprisingly their rule sired the bastard Hinglish in contrast to the incomparably symbiotic Urdu.
Coming back to the intro, nominal gaffe's notwithstanding, all three are favourite authors, with the best piece of writing being Rudyard Kipling's four stanzas of advice to his son:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And – which is more – you'll be a Man, my son!
~ Rudyard Kipling
I have kippled, and enjoyed it immensely !
Update: A pivotal character in Star Trek is called Khan Noonien Singh. WTF, Gene!