Brilliance Audio’s new audio edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes is, in fact, that: all four full-length novels, plus more than 40 short stories. Narrator Simon Vance, with whom LJ spoke in its inaugural Behind the Mike piece (LJ 11/15/08), shares his thoughts on voicing an icon. See the review, included in this issue.
How do you go about voicing an iconic character such as Sherlock Holmes, especially since there are so many well-known representations of him already? How influenced were you by other versions? Do you have a favorite Sherlock?
It’s hard not to be influenced by the variety of variations on Sherlock that exist…but, then, why should I be afraid of that? [Sir Arthur Conan] Doyle has provided us with some clues to his character in his writings and anyone who wants to “put flesh on the bone,” so to speak, is going to use those as a foundation. Any good actor is then going to add to that only what appears to be consistent with the stories as a whole. The new incarnations exhibit significant departures from the original, certainly, but the truth is still there, and these departures merely exaggerate certain aspects of his personality. As I narrate, I have an image in my mind made up of what I have “inherited” from those performances (beginning with Basil Rathbone, through Jeremy Brett, and on to today’s examples) but solidly based on what has been given in the books.
As an example, I love the Jeremy Brett years. Currently I’m a big fan of both Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, even though they are very modern. I think my portrayal owes more to Brett.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes is 59 hours long. How long did the narration process take? Did you find differences between being immersed in one project for so long versus working on several different ones in the same span of time?
It looks (consults calendar) as though I started in mid-January and finished in mid-March, so about two months in all —although I did break it up with three other books. So effectively about five to six weeks of studio time. That may answer your second question, in that I didn’t stay immersed. In many ways there really wasn’t the opportunity for “immersion” in the same way there might be if a single book ran that long. Each story introduced new characters and a different circumstance and that was quite refreshing. The characters of Holmes and Watson are so embedded in my psyche that I didn’t have to “ramp up” every time I came back to them after a break, and there was little chance of getting bored even if I spent two weeks solidly in their world.
Were there any minor characters that were especially challenging or particularly fun to narrate?
I couldn’t even begin to name any particular one from the vast array of different characters, the good and the bad, who paraded before my eyes as I read these tales. Unlike, [with] say, Dickens, we don’t get to spend much time with any of these “guests” as they appear and disappear as each story runs its cycle. I think most people are surprised to find that the character of Lestrade only appears in a quarter of the tales—he always seems so prominent when the books are transferred to the screen—and who doesn’t love the idea of the criminal mastermind in Moriarty, though he is more present as an out-of-sight threat than as a fully fleshed-out character? I’m going to cheat on this answer and say that by far and away my favorite character is Dr. John Watson. I’d so love to take a stroll through Hyde Park with the good doctor and maybe stop for tea and a bun somewhere along the way.