Evidently, Flower Mound resident is an expert on Sherlock Holmes
No one can say definitively why the stories of Sherlock Holmes have been popular for well over a century. But Don Hobbs has a clue.
“Deep down, everybody would like to be as smart as Sherlock Holmes, that’s what it is,” said Hobbs, 63, a Flower Mound resident who is one the world’s leading Sherlockians, as they’re known.
Hobbs has 12,000 Holmes-related publications in a spare room of his house, with samples of all but two — Kazakh and Sindhi — of the 108 languages into which the detective stories have been translated. His job with a radiology software company allows him to travel the world to speak to fellow Holmes aficionados, including an upcoming speech in Japan.
And he was recently inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, an invitation-only society of 300 Holmes experts worldwide. The organization is named after the band of street urchins who sometimes did surveillance for Holmes.
Hobbs displayed his familiarity with Holmes and the detective’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, as he strolled recently through the Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
“There are only 36 or 37 of these in the world,” he said, tapping the protective glass over an 1886 copy of Beeton’s Christmas Annual, which featured “A Study in Scarlet,” Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story. “He got paid 25 pounds for it. Not bad.”
He recalled that the idea for one of Doyle’s best-known stories grew out of carriage rides with a friend through the Devon countryside, where they discussed the legend of a large hound that terrorized the desolate Dartmoor. Driving the coach was a 17-year-old boy named Harry Baskerville.
“I’ve been to his gravesite,” Hobbs said, of the inspiration for Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
When Hobbs toured the Perot exhibition before it opened last month, the museum staff was understandably nervous.
“We didn’t know if he might be critical, but he wasn’t,” said Krista Villarreal Moore, museum spokeswoman. “He said, ‘I’m like a kid in a candy store.’”
Hobbs’ immersion in Holmes began 30 years ago. He had recently sold his collection of Stephen King’s works, some of which he had bought for 50 cents and sold for $200. He went to Half Price Books and used $250 of a $10,000 profit to buy every Holmes book on the shelves.
“I started with the vacuum cleaner philosophy. I bought everything related to Sherlock Holmes I could find,” he said. “When you have the collector gene, you just want more and more.”
He considers himself more of a collector than a fan.
“I think Doyle was a solid writer; I don’t think he was the greatest writer. He probably was not even the best mystery writer,” Hobbs said.
Doyle’s accomplishment was to create a universally intriguing character in Holmes. And a surprisingly believable one, he said.
“We’ve had visitors tell us that they didn’t realize that Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a real person,” she said.
Hobbs said Doyle eventually became uneasy with the popularity of the stories.
“He considered himself a serious writer and was surprised when Sherlock Holmes took on a life of his own,” Hobbs said. “He tried to kill him off in one story, but the demand was so great, he had to bring him back again.”
Part of the detective’s enduring appeal has been his adaptability. Movies during World War II showed him hunting Nazis; those in the 1970s played up his addiction to cocaine. More recent renditions depict him as an action hero.
He has been played by a variety of celebrated actors, from William Gillette on Broadway in the 19th century to Benedict Cumberbatch in the current PBS Masterpiece Theater series. The most famous performances were Basil Rathbone’s in the mid-20th century.
The Perot’s program notes for the exhibition praise Rathbone’s “sharp, elegant performance,” but the series of 14 movies is not Hobbs’ favorite.
“The first two were pretty good, if you can get over the fact that Watson comes off as a buffoon. After that, RKO Pictures took it over and the movies were just over-the-top,” he said.
Not that Holmes fans are afraid of going over the top.
Hobbs attended an annual birthday party in Moriarty, N.M., for Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty, where the detective’s fans dishonored the villain’s memory by burning a pile of manure imported from all 50 states.
“One of the attractions for me is that I found early on that Sherlockians are among the most interesting people,” he said.
He makes an effort to meet fellow experts whenever he travels, sometimes to the exasperation of his wife, who is — at best — ambivalent about devoting a room in their house to Holmes books.
“My wife is a total non-Sherlockian,” he said. “She once said to me, ‘The world doesn’t revolve around Sherlock Holmes, you know.’ I told her, ‘Yes, it does.’”