Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Difference Between Holmes & Gandhi

I don't typically offer negative reviews, but after ordering up a small fortune in archival Sherlock Holmes audio recordings earlier this month (as belated Christmas gifts to myself), I have to report that the Dove Audio readings by Ben Kingsley, circa 1992, are not recommendable. I've been listening to Hardwick, Timson and countless old radio performers along with Kingsley. Kingsley's readings surpass computer-generated audio, but not by much. "Monotonous" is the best I can say, after waiting out two of his stories. Kingsley undoubtedly deserved the Academy Award he won for his portrayal of Gandhi (a film I view periodically). But assigning him to read Holmes stories clearly was misguided; he sounds bored, even vindictive toward the producers. ("Why in the world are you forcing me to read these bloody narratives?" he seems to insinuate with each sentence.)

Find Robert Hardy's audio readings of Holmes from the 1980s, if you can—they're head and shoulders above the others, in my opinion. (Well, perhaps they're only a shoulder's nudge above the readings of Hardwick—who, on the small screen, I pronounce the finest "Watson" ever to act the role.) Hardy, Hardwick . . . seek out those, if you wish a truly fulfilling audio presentation of Holmes. As for Kingsley . . . check out the movie Gandhi. He excelled there.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Many Voices of Sherlock Holmes

I discovered this week the wonderful cassette sets of Sherlock Holmes stories recorded by Edward Hardwick during the 1990s, as well as the more recent DVD sets read by David Timson. Inspired, I probed the Internet for other Holmes audio recordings. Two key—and free—resources are available for downloading period productions. Many of you have discovered one or both of them already, no doubt, but for other Holmes aficionados among you, here are the links.

First, revisit Project Gutenberg (, if you haven’t been there in awhile. Numerous audio books, both computer-generated and human-read, are available for downloading. I’ve begun listening to the stories in His Last Bow—read, I believe, by John Telfer and made available through Gutenberg from They are fine narrations. I’m awed that today we can obtain, for free, literary works in audio form of a quality that warranted a healthy retail price 20 years ago, when I began assembling my Holmes audio library. (Ample reason to make a donation to Gutenberg.)

As I write this, I’m listening to “New Year’s Eve Off the Coast of the Scilly Isles,” one of the hundreds of Holmes radio productions from the 1940s. This one, starring John Stanley as Holmes and Alfred Shirley as Watson, I downloaded from the magnificent period radio list of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London ( I never knew this recording existed; ibid for scores of other radio program downloads at the site. I’m familiar with Holmes portrayals by Basil Rathbone and Sir John Gielgud, but never imagined the assortment of other actors who’ve taken up his pipe and cap. If you’re a Holmes buff, the London site should be a required visit.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Dining With a Ghost

A favorite routine during our occasional weekends in the Gatlinburg, TN, vicinity is dinner at the Greenbrier Restaurant. Situated on a small mountain slope on an obscure, winding lane off Highway 321, it’s a woodsy, warm haven—especially in autumn and winter—and the cuisine (most notably trout and prime rib) is outstanding. Not until our latest visit in November did we hear that the restaurant has a special, perpetual guest of honor: Lydia the ghost.

The log cabin was built as a lodge in 1939. During its early years, according to legend, a resident named Lydia returned to the lodge in suicidal despair after being stood up at church on her wedding day. She reportedly hung herself from a rafter above the second-story landing. When the mangled body of her unfaithful betrothed, apparently killed by a cougar, was found in the mountains a few days later, Lydia’s legend took form in the minds of locals. After she’d hung herself, they decided, her vengeful spirit had assumed animal form and tracked down the hapless young man.

That part of the story may seem construed, but the Greenbrier staff vows that Lydia’s ghost frequently is seen on the landing by employees and diners. They report a “small, sad figure wandering around.” Some witnesses haven’t actually seen anything but swear they’ve felt Lydia’s chilling ambience.

More details of the story are at the Web site—but I strongly recommend you investigate in person, if you’re ever in Gatlinburg. If you’re disappointed by the nonappearance of Lydia, you’re hardly likely to be disappointed by the table fare.