How Does Sir Arthur Conan Doyle engage the reader?

April 26, 2013
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How does Sir Arthur Conan Doyle engage the reader?
From analysing the texts written by Doyle, arguably the greatest writer of detective novels, we can see that he has a number of key elements to every story that engages the reader. The first, most noticeable, is that there is a strong central character, in this case it is Sherlock Holmes. The sharp-featured, pipe-smoking, deerstalker-hat-wearing detective is one who likes to look into things into detail using of course his cunning wit that is customary to all good detectives. A format that is so effective in engaging the reader that it is now often seen in many detective novels, movies and comics. Watson talks of Holmes in A Scandal in Bohemia ‘They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoned 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,’ showing that Holmes is a man built on pride, someone confident and believes in his own abilities.
But how is this going to intrigue the reader? Because he is what we need. We as readers feel the need of someone so cunning, so dexterous to relieve us of our current troubles. We as readers love to believe that is someone is above us, someone who can solve problems. Why did Doyle present him as a male character? We need a man to show his authority, but also having a man it is easier to show one major character flaw- relationships. Women, they’re fine, put them in a room for 3 minutes and they’ll come out with handful of friends whom they never really want to talk to, but feel the need to. Men, especially Holmes, have trouble make relationships and throughout the stories we enjoy relating his troubles to ours.
In the case of Sherlock Holmes stories, a credible secondary character is what we all look forward to. Dr Watson, a man of literature but lacks that cutting-edge intelligence and deduction. This can be shown in the beginning of the Scandal in Bohemia where Holmes and Watson have a short discussion of how many steps there are on the stairs. Holmes says ‘You see but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.... you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room... Then how many are there?’ Watson replies ‘How many? I don’t know’. But there is more to Watson than meets the eye. Watson represents a bridge between Holmes and the reader. He narrates exactly the same confusion, the same thoughts that we feel as we are going along the mystery.
What readers also enjoy is that there is a dangerous adversary character with whom the hero is in conflict. Perhaps one of the most noticeable adversaries was Dr Roylott. He intimidates and frightens us which is evident in his appearance, ‘A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion’. Now, Doyle didn’t just randomly put the character in because he felt like it; he had an intention. Everyone finds an old man who they are slightly scared of, because of their intelligence and personality. We, as readers, think of Dr Roylott as someone who can commit a crime. He’s dressed in black, the colour of death; he’s tall and strong, like an undertaker. We as readers are immediately suspicious of him and is this suspicion that leads us reading on, wanting to find out Dr Roylott’s true intentions.
The structure itself is very important to engage the reader. A plot which has a number of twists to surprise the reader at various stages of the narrative is one of the main structural features. Throughout Doyle’s stories we are constantly encountering new and wonderful twists. How does this engage the reader? We as humans, need these twists to make life more exciting. The people that love to read these books the most are those who take part in exciting things the least. Therefore, it is a means of thrilling your own mind, without having to take part in any activity. A means of thrilling yourself that may not be possible in the real world.
Furthermore to engage the reader a mood of suspense is required. In the Hound of the Baskervilles the story Plot itself is the most important element making Suspense by The Story of remarkable fictional hound. Then the words describe the Hound itself and land of Baskerville was effective. In some places also the tone of the narrating the story from Dr Watson was a little makes the air of the story strange. Again, we love to encounter a sudden shock because of what is stated previously and suspense leads us into a state where it is easier for the author to scare us. Although we many not think of it like that, that is why we read books, to become scared.
Lastly, to engage the reader, Doyle has a surprise or an unexpected ending whereby the protagonist solves the problem. It is seen in all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, where Holmes somehow solves the mystery. In the Speckled Band Dr Watson states how Holmes came to his conclusion, ““I had,” said he, “come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson... Then I thought of the whistle. Of course he must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to the victim.” This short passage shows the typical why in which a mystery is solved, using several hints along the way, the main detective can deduce from the obvious and state the culprit. So how is this going to engage the reader? What we as humans aren’t capable of doing is making our lives perfect. We can’t always solve the problem by finding out things by ourselves. We wait until the culprit has confessed, or there is at least some rock-solid evidence. Unlike Holmes, we go by the facts alone, where as the man from Baker Street uses his instinct as well as looking at the evidence. We instantly look up to Holmes as role model, therefore we read own so that we can incorporate his attributes into our everyday lives. We want our lives to be like Holmes’ so that we can solve mysteries. Perhaps that was what Doyle had the intention of doing. He wanted to tell us that we need to believe in our instincts more. Whatever it is, we as the reader certainly couldn’t put the book down.
To further emphasise the role of relationships in such stories. It is evident in a Scandal in Bohemia that Sherlock has an awkward relationship with Irene Adler. He doesn’t want to express it; she knows he can’t show it. Sherlock is constantly in such situations, his exuberant personality and well-known sense of adventure is almost contradictory to his inability to cooperate with the other sex. We as readers especially enjoy this as post-puberty human-beings people experience such problems. We would rather see our hero, who is so perfect in everything he does, experience problems with their love life than for us to actually make a complete fool of ourselves in front of women. It also means that we as men can understand the opposite sex. We know how they feel, if we do something strange. How they feel, after we do something good. How they feel in general.
We are also engrossed in the story as we develop an emotional connection with Watson. He narrates the story so we are constantly hearing his thoughts. Sooner or later you start sharing the same point of view, that sense of confusion and curiosity as to what Holmes is or will do. This means that we, in a way, become a secondary character. We are also trying to find clues like Sherlock, we are also trying to catch thieves like Sherlock, we are trying to ultimately be good like Sherlock. We are co-existent with the story. Sherlock needs us and Watson to find these clues. It also gives us a sense of assurance that we have a superior character to us to rely on if something were to happen. We therefore go along and read the story as we know, without a doubt, that Sherlock will solve the problem but that sense of you solving the mystery alongside him gives you a sense of pride. Making you feel confident and follow Sherlock on many more adventures.
The tone of the story also engages us as a reader. It is a polite yet formal and higher-class use of language. Making you feel that you have to be literate or well educated to read the story. Indeed when you read the story, you yourself feel as educated as Watson or Holmes. The sense of superiority, not to the characters in the book, but to the characters outside in the real world. This in turn makes other’s read more, and therefore you feel the urge to reed on aswell. Nobody likes loosing or being called the weaker being. We as readers are enforced by ourselves, by our inability to lose to other beings, to read the story. The typical human nature is ultimately what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle relies on to engage the reader.

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SkivaThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 24, 2016 at 8:19 pm
I love this! I particularly liked how you stated that we begin to think like Watson. I am a huge fan of anything Sherlock Holmes and am happy that Doyle's brilliance is still being recognized.
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