Analysis

Thursday 21 August 2014

Curious case of Holmes versus Potter

There's more than a hint of young Sherlock evident in Harry and the Hogwarts wiz kids, writes Declan Lynch

Published 03/01/2010 | 05:00

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Did any of you happen to see the film Young Sherlock Holmes on TV over Christmas? And were you struck by a sense of deja vu? Though I was sure that I had never seen this actual film, directed by Barry Levinson and produced by Steven Spielberg in 1985, still I kept feeling that I had been here before.

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In fact, soon I was convinced that most of the world's population had been here before, because this young Sherlock Holmes was starting to remind me of another very clever young man, who has achieved considerable success in his own right as a detective of outstanding ability and a warrior against the dark arts -- a certain Harry Potter.

I think it was the scene in the dining hall that put me on the scent.

The teenage Holmes, famed for his almost supernatural powers of deduction, and his best friend, the bespectacled Watson, are eating with their fellow pupils in the dining hall of a boarding school which has all the ambiance of Hogwarts.

But didn't all old-fashioned British boarding schools stretching back to Tom Brown's Schooldays have something of a Harry Potter theme?

Perhaps, but statues and gravestones and all sorts of inanimate objects didn't start coming to life for Tom Brown. They did for Harry Potter by dint of his prowess as a wizard, but they also did for young Sherlock -- struck by mysterious darts fired by unseen foes, he and other characters have these violent hallucinations in which they think they are being attacked by the food on their plate or perhaps by a knight bursting out of a stained-glass window.

So there is an echo of actual wizardry, quite apart from the fact that young Holmes and young Potter are "wizards" in the sense of being wildly precocious.

Ah, but saving the world is not all about mere brain-power, as we discover.

Holmes gets help from the stolid but stout-hearted young Watson, and from his other friend, the unflappable Elizabeth. A genius and his best friend who is a regular guy and their female accomplice taking time out from their lessons to do battle against supernatural forces -- ring any bells?

And as we savour this first battle of wits between Holmes and Moriarty, who is masquerading as Rathe, a trusted teacher of fencing, it is almost impossible not to see a parallel between Moriarty and Voldemort, the agent of darkness in the Harry Potter series who is also a master of disguise and apparently indestructible.

Likewise it becomes increasingly clear that the character of Harry Potter could be a perfect amalgam of the characters of young Sherlock and young Watson. Potter has the genius of Holmes, and like Holmes his parents are absent from his extremely adventurous life.

And he gets his innate English decency from the Watson side, not to mention the small matter of his round spectacles and his general physical appearance.

Being one of those vulgar people who has seen the Potter movies without reading the books, I wondered if these apparent similarities had already been noted by about 40 million juveniles who know all the angles. Is it universally acknowledged that Harry Potter is Young Sherlock Holmes with a bit of Wingardium Leviosa thrown in?

So I ventured with my usual trepidation towards the internet machine, typing 'Young Sherlock Holmes -- Harry Potter' into google, and waiting for the usual internet avalanche of knowledge and insight.

In fact, I could find just one major piece on this subject, written in 2005 by a man styling himself Harry Holmes, pithily entitled "a 2,500-word article suggesting a previously overlooked connection between a film released in the Eighties and the most famous books in the world today".

It is a most scholarly piece by a man who has clearly read all the books, and a lot of other books as well, and who identifies so many connections, from the most obvious to the most esoteric, there is little doubt that the makers of the Harry Potter movies were at least influenced by Young Sherlock Holmes.

I pay tribute to this man of mystery Harry Holmes, who reminds us that "as the first person to draw attention to this issue, I would expect to see the site credited if the story appears elsewhere".

Done.

I credit him for the erudition of his piece, and also because I am afraid of almost anyone who writes anything on the internet.

But who thought of Young Sherlock Holmes in the first place, and where is he now?

Well, the writer of Young Sherlock Homes is one Chris Columbus, who was later to achieve renown as the director of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Wingardium Leviosa, indeed.

Sunday Independent

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