Ales Kolodrubec - on the trail of detective Sherlock Holmes


In today's edition of One on One Jan's guest is Ales Kolodrubec, born in 1955, the founder of the Czech Sherlock Holmes Society. Discussed is not only Mr Kolodrubec's life-long fascination with the great detective, but also the character's impact on Czech literature. This following the 150th anniversary of Holmes' first appearance on the page.

"It was in the 1960s, when I found a copy of "A Study in Scarlet" in my parent's library. It was too much for a boy of my age, so I put Sherlock Holmes away for some time. But, in 1967 I got "The Chemical Stories of Sherlock Holmes" as a Christmas present. They were written by a Polish author named Vaclav Golembovich and those stories were meant for children. It was during the Christmas holidays, I was ill, staying in bed, so I read the whole book. That's probably the beginning and then later I returned to Arthur Conan Doyle's 'original'."

Let me just ask you this - did the Polish author's stories retain Holmes' classic characteristics?

"Yes, yes, definitely."

Would you say for someone of your generation the character of Sherlock Holmes was very popular?

"Well, it was hard to find Sherlock Holmes stories in those years. A Study in Scarlet was published in 1964 by the Prace publishing house. The Hound of the Baskervilles also appeared in the 60s in a children's edition. I thin it was very popular, even so, the whole canon, as we call Conan Doyle's 56 short stories and 4 longer pieces, were only published in the 1970s. In short, it took some time for our readers to be able to get their hands on a modern translation."

I must admit I've only read the earlier stories and I must say I've never really understood what the fuss was all about. I always found them a bit dry, and I never really liked Conan Doyle's habit of leaving readers in the dark - just a bit like Watson - so they never have the chance to solve the crime on their own. I find that a little bit frustrating?

"Yeah, it's possible..."

But, it doesn't bother you...

"No. No."

It is a different century...

"It is, it is. Probably most fans of Conan Doyle love the atmosphere of Victorian England, the gentlemanly courtesy of those days, London's foggy streets - those aspects are important as well."

Of course Sherlock Holmes has had an impact on fiction everywhere: what was his impact on Czech literature?

"The very first translation of the stories into Czech appeared in 1903 - it was The Hound of the Baskervilles. That was the first in the Czech language. There was an impact that followed even in Czech writing - for example Frantisek Lelicek's Ve sluzbach Sherlocka Holmese - In the Services of Sherlock Holmes. That was filmed in 1932 with Vlasta Burian. The role of Sherlock Holmes is minor there but he went on to appear in many more stories and novels..."

It's one thing to be a fan of an author or a set of stories - another to found a 'society' - as you did - in the year 2000...

"Well, my fascination with Sherlock Holmes began in the late 60s. It deepened in the 70s when I began to learn English, and also, in those days, collected small graphic prints, and ordered Ex Libris bookplates to be made for me, based on Sherlockian themes. Together with some articles in English I sent those to the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and started to correspond with Sherlockians in England and in the U.S. I got deeply into the 'Great Game' - but never, never thought I would found a Czech society of my own. However, in March 2000 I met one lady from Czech Radio (the station Vltava) and we started talking and she asked me why I hadn't founded a society here. So, I replied 'I might try'."

What kind of a role does that society serve? I imagine one purpose must be to simply bring together people who love Sherlock Holmes...

"That's true, but not only that - also to promote the books, the character, among readers here."

Does the story 'A Scandal in Bohemia' hold a special place for Czech Sherlockians?

"Definitely, as the name Bohemia is in the title, but also plays an essential part in the story. It was also important that a study of one of our members who investigated an interesting fact in the story. In 'A Scandal in Bohemia' there appears an important letter and Sherlock Holmes discovers that the paper on which it was written comes from Bohemia, from a town called Egria. We found out that until 1904 a paper mill really did exist there - in the town that today is known as Cheb. Nobody knew about that fact - we always just thought it was a mystification on Conan Doyle's part, but the mill really existed. And, of course, we plan on making the news of that study public to Sherlockians soon."

Are there any remaining foundation stones today at the site, or has it disappeared?

"I'm afraid it completely disappeared and today there is some kind of a lake there."

There is a very definite interest in 'objects' connected with Sherlock Holmes, a collector's passion for rare editions - in your case they would be in both English and Czech - as well as the usual artefacts - the pipe, the hat, the magnifying glass. Do you have a collection?

"I do. Among other things I have a nice illustration by Adolf Born, by Mr Jelinek, and several others. But my collection also consists of books, rare books, prints from the beginning of the 20th century and so on."

If Sherlock Holmes had ever come to Bohemia himself, what aspects of Bohemian life do you think he would have approved of?

"Holmes himself was a Bohemian, so I think he would have certainly fallen in love with Czech life. Music was very important at the time, there were a lot of composers, a lot of violin players. He would have gotten a kick out of playing together with them, or at the very least, admired their music."

What does Sherlock Holmes represent for you that you can return to his life again and again?

"Well, I like the whole figure of a typical Victorian gentleman. With his courtesy, and his knowledge, and even his small mistakes. Those make him more true, more human, not black-and-white like some of the characters in crime literature today."


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