Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Study in Scarlet - Graphic Novel

Book Review

A Study in Scarlet - A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel by Conan Doyle, Edginton, Culbard.

This past school year, my daughter needed to pick a book from a list of mystery novels, read it and then analyze it. The analysis including characters, plot, and setting. There were a lot of Agatha Christie novels and a few Sherlock Holmes stories on the list.

My daughter knows that I read a lot and she came to me with questions about how to choose a book. She asked if I had read any Agatha Christie books.

Yes, I have. Just one. Murder on the Orient Express.

It irritated the heck out of me!

I am not fluent in any language except English, despite my various attempts at learning German, Spanish, and French at various points. Murder on the Orient Express contains too many French pieces of dialogue, which Ms. Christie does not translate for the reader. Or even rephrase. I don't want to have to have a French dictionary alongside my novel when I'm reading. And this is usually of limited help, since much of colloquial French relies on idioms. I would have to also have a Colloquial French Dictionary on hand.

I really just want to read the story and understand it.

My daughter registered my irritation, saying "Oh... That's the author that bothered you so much!"

Yes. The famous Agatha Christie.

And I so wanted to like that book.

Luckily, I like Sherlock Holmes stories.

I didn't try reading any Sherlock Holmes stories until a couple of years ago. I was surprised at how much I like them. I was surprised that I had not picked any up before then. I was surprised that I had wasted so much time not reading Sherlock Holmes stories!

I told my daughter that if she was willing to read a Sherlock story that I hadn't yet read, I would read it too and then we could talk about it after we were both done.

She agreed.  She chose A Study in Scarlet, which I hadn't read.

She got it and read it.  I didn't have a copy yet.

I finally got an audio version and started listening to it in the car during my commute.  The first half was easy going.  I enjoyed it.

Then it slowed.  It seemed to start a whole new story.  I couldn't tell if this was actually a second story or what.

I was confused.

Finally, I asked my daughter about it.  Yes, it did seem to be part of the book, but she had lost interest in that section and skimmed it.

There's no skimming an audio book.

I continued to plow forward with it, hoping that it was going to come together and make some sort of sense.  It did.  Finally.

And then I never really got the chance to discuss the story with my daughter.  But I did get the impression that she wasn't overly impressed.

I didn't ask her, but I think it was because of the intervening subplot stuck right in the middle of the book.  And I can agree that it was placed in such an odd way that it detracted from the main plot.  All told, the story was okay, but not as well done as some of the other Sherlock stories.

When I was in the library recently, I was browsing the graphic novel section, looking for a graphic version of The Odyssey.  It wasn't on the shelf, so I ended browsing to see what other classics have been done in graphic format.

Beowulf. The Hobbit. Jane Eyre. War of the Worlds.

I had no idea these classics had been made into graphic novels.

I was excited!  There might be hope yet to get my son interested in the classics through these!

But were they any good?

I had to find out. That's when I spotted A Study in Scarlet. I had read that. Now I could read the graphic version and see how it measured up to the original.

A Study in Scarlet -- A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel

As one might expect, the graphic novel version of the story is much briefer.  I did note that all of the relevant pieces of the story were in place and seemed true to the original story.  Unfortunately, the graphic novel author chose to include a few words that are not immediately obvious without the surrounding context.  This wasn't a problem for me, since I had read the original, full text, but it could be a problem if I was expecting my son to get the entire story without the original.

The pictures were done in typical graphic novel style.  The colors were dark and seemed appropriate to a murder mystery.  I found that I started skipping looking at the pictures in the process of reading.  This is not good, since the speakers are not identified with words.  At some point, I needed to back up and reexamine the people portrayed in the pictures to determine who was speaking.  But this only happened once.

I presume it is difficult to make every character obviously distinct, when physical descriptions are given in the original.  I would expect that the physical depictions would try to adhere to the originals somewhat, but this makes distinguishing separate characters a little more challenging in picture format.  When multiple characters are tall, dark, and handsome, for instance, good luck figuring out who is who in the pictures.

I was curious to see the graphical treatment of the distracting subplot. Was it just as oddly placed? Just as long? Well, yes and no. The graphical version was true to the original story, but was refreshingly shorter and seemed to fit a bit better than the original. Maybe that was just because I already knew how it all fit together.

I recommended this briefer treatment to my daughter, hoping that it would spur her to read it and fill in the gaps of her original reading.  At first she agreed to read this version, but then later when I asked again, she brushed it off.  Since my son was also in the room, I asked if he was interested.

"I dunno know...."

I told him a bit more about it and the context and content.  He seemed somewhat interested.  The graphic novel format was a draw for him.

The next day I found him reading it.  A couple of days later, he finished it.

And how did he like it?

"It was okay. The murder was a bit... uh, bad...."

I was actually relieved that he said this. I wasn't quite sure how he would do with the content.  He did fine. And we talked about it further.

I wasn't actually expecting him to like it. But he read it. I would never have expected him to read the full, original text at this age. But the graphic format peaked his curiosity! Hurray!

There's hope yet!

This was a true representation of the original text, as best as I could tell. This encourages me to try other graphic versions of the classics. I do recommend this for anyone who might find it an interesting way to read classic novels.

Give it a look!

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