Thursday, November 15, 2007

Monsieur poirot

It's been a long time since I wrote about books, huh? Not because I never read - I'm addicted to reading, and am usually about 3 deep, but because I've been busy and writing about books takes time for reflection and analysis. Lately I've been doing a course of Agatha Christie - all the old Miss Marples and Hercule Poirots. It's always amazing to me how prolific some of the old English authors were - Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfeild etc. It's also interesting to note how many of them had a classical education, and how well they wove it into the stories they wrote so that while being erudite, they still appealed to the masses because their style was not erudite and forbidding, but warm and welcoming.

When you compare and contrast Sherlock Holmes with Hercule Poirot, it's almost as if Christie set him up to be an exact opposite. Holmes is tall, with a cadaverously lean face. Poirot has an egg-shaped head and vast moustaches. He leaps to conclusions quickly and gathers clues at the site of the crime. When something happens, he says, "The scent is up", like a foxhound at the hunt, whereas Poirot prefers to sit back in his armchair and use the 'little grey cells'. Holmes is addicted to opium and plays the violin. He is organised but untidy, with the tobacco pouch often in his slipper, whereas Hercule is precise, as tidy as a pin and has a mania for symmetry.

Yet they both share certain characteristics. One of the most humanising things about them is their love for their less cerebral friend - Dr. Watson/ Captain Hastings - both of whom are interchangeable as characters. They both have a touch of vanity, a touch of the conjuror about them - they like dramatic denouements and neither is above bending the law in certain cases. They both believe that "... when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." They both plan to retire to the country, Holmes to do beekeeping and Poirot to grow marrows.

Interestingly, the sidekicks are the same character, under different names. Dr. Watson is straight-forward, gullible and rarely sees what Holmes is driving at. Captain Hastings is straight-forward, gullible and rarely sees what Poirot is driving at. Both have a soft spot for personable young men and pretty women. Both hope their 'hero' gets his comeuppance some day. And both are, thankfully, indefatigable chroniclers of their hero's doings, without which world literature would have been much poorer!

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