Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holmes Sweet Holmes

by Barbara Early

Can you imagine years studying medicine, opening a practice, and having no patients? Well, were it not for the early medical failings of Dr. Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, we might not have one of the most inspirational fictional detectives ever.

When the Scottish doctor had time on his hands,  he decided to do something profitable with his spare time. He started writing. (Apparently no one warned him that writing isn’t often profitable.) He wrote in a variety of genres--including science fiction--but is best known for  the fifty-six short stories and four novels featuring the genius detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson.

Like many beginning authors, he had difficulty finding a publisher. His first sale, the rights to the novel A Study in Scarlet, netted him just 25 pounds. He found a ready market for his short stories, which appeared regularly in The Strand.

While readers loved the cerebral detective, Conan Doyle wasn’t as impressed, leading the author to kill off his famous protagonist so he could rid himself of the distraction and focus on his more serious historical works. Readers were in an uproar, demanding more Sherlock Holmes, taxing Doyle with the necessity of bringing Holmes back from the dead.

 And Sherlock has been alive and well ever since.

Film and Television Adaptations

Dramatized versions of Sherlock Holmes are not new. In fact, the earliest stage versions were co-written by Doyle himself. IMDB lists 262 motion pictures and television programs that contain a character named Sherlock Holmes , starting in 1900. 

Yes, 1900.

In the 1920s, most Sherlock Holmes short stories were dramatized for the silent screen by actor Eille Norwood, shown here with…no that’s not Dr Watson. That’s Dr. Conan Doyle. 

1939 marked the year Basil Rathbone took up pipe and deerstalker. And he wouldn’t put them down until 15 movies later. This was my first introduction to the character of Sherlock Holmes, via television reruns.

Sherlock has repeatedly resurfaced in many languages and depictions, sometimes serious, or as purists would say, true to canon. Sometimes tongue in cheek or fanciful, as Sherlock has made the rounds to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Saturday Night Live, and The Real Ghostbusters.

Most recently have been the steampunk versions portrayed by Robert Downey Jr, and dueling  modern interpretations by the BBC (Sherlock) and CBS (Elementary).

Flying under the radar are movies and television shows loosely based on Sherlock Holmes. Cerebral, disconnected detectives abound, and many trace their roots directly, or indirectly to Sherlock. (Monk, House, Bones)

While screen portrayals continue, Sherlock has also made a return to the printed book. Authors such as Laurie R. King have reincarnated Sherlock, putting new incarnations of the great detective into settings and plots of their own. King teams a semi-retired Sherlock with a 15 year-old American apprentice in her Mary Russell series (arguably more about Mary Russell than Sherlock), but the results are magical. Unless you’re a purist, in which case they’re tragic. At least that’s how the discussion went when my book club read one of her books. I vote for magical.

Author Linda Barnes, in citing The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as her inspiration in Books to Die For (edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke), said this:

"The detective series conquers fear, and conquers death, with an implicit promise: that the detective will not die. Holmes was, he is, and he will be. He has returned from Reichenbach falls,  come back from the dead, Immortal, he continues to thrive…Other characters may have a story, but Holmes has a life so vivid that he endures forever."

Question: Do you have a favorite Sherlock Holmes? Are you a purist? Or do you enjoy Sherlock in other incarnations?

Barbara Early grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and Scrabble. She holds a degree in Electrical Engineering, but her penchant for the creative caused her to run away screaming from the pocket-protector set. Barbara cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance. Her holiday novella, Gold, Frankincense, and Murder was released in e-book format from White Rose Publishing in December 2011. A three-book cozy series from Berkley (Penguin) is slated to be released starting in spring 2014 under the pen name Beverly Allen.You can learn more about her writing at


  1. I thought there was only one Sherlock and that was Basil Rathbone ( yes, I'm in my fifties and have no trouble watching black and white tv and movies)...

    I never was a devotee to the published series. I guess I wasn't so taken with Basil Rathbone to delve deeper and pick up the books instead. But there was no getting away from the Sherlock/Watson empire. Well, who didn't love Data as Watson?

    I was quite excited about the incarnation from Downey and Law. Well, of course, I don't like to leave the 19th century if I can help it, and the previews looked amazing. Then... I didn't like it. I was very negatively affected by the music score. It was like nails on chalkboard to me.

    well, BBC did not fail me. While Cumberbatch's Sherlock is the most cold, calculating portrayal yet, and the way it's shot leaves your eyes spinning, I was hooked. I've watched them all twice.

    Then comes my dear 'oh Jonnie' and I quit watching after three shows. Someone tell me if it's worth another try. I really can watch something I love, or write, or sleep, rather than watching Elementary just in case JLM takes his shirt off again. oh, wait. I think that does happen in every episode. I am simply not THAT SHALLOW and of course, women in their fifties are well beyond the eye-candy years, right?

    problem is... now when I watch Emma with Romala Garai, I imagine all those tattoos under Mr Knightley's lovely foo foo shirt and jacket.

    oh wait. we were talking about Holmes. I digress.

    I did try the second Sherlock Holmes movie and found it more enjoyable. My whole long trail to the point is that Mr. Doyle penned a gold mine. Like a Dickens or Austen - this was not just a set of characters for himself but for the rest of us to own.

    Those writers could never have imagined what we'd be doing with their memories and their characters 150-200 years later...

  2. Insightful comment, Deb. (And I'm so tired it took me three tries to spell insightful correctly.)

    Probably since I encountered Basil first, everything that's not Basil--including sometimes the books--seems less than genuine.

    I seem to be in the minority liking Elementary. But I view it more of a boy/girl detective show wherein the characters just happen to be named Holmes and Watson.

  3. I loved Jean Luc and Data as Holmes and Watson. I must admit I was looking forward to Elementary but fall in Deb's category with it. My husband likes it though.

    Barb, did you read The Sherlockian? I loved that book and it delved deeply into Doyle killing off Sherlock.

    Fun post. :-)

  4. No, I haven't read the Sherlockian. But I was having fun looking at all the different films and television shows that featured him. I wonder how many of them you can find on Netflix. It might be interesting to find out.

  5. For me, it's the fact Elementary came on the heels of BBC Sherlock which might be on the best shows ever. I don't want to compare.

    Am I right to assume it is still on, then? and doing well?
    You're right Barb. I should just look at it as a detective show. I actually like the fact that Jonny Lee Miller is willing to be all kinds of odd here. That said, he is perfectly welcome to come to my release party if he's still around when that happens...

    I felt like Lucy Liu had such a minor role. Like they say, oh wait, we should put her in this scene. oops.

    I hope to watch the reruns some day. When I'm not watching something historical and romance, its because I am stuck on my British detective shows. Elementary will fit right in.

  6. Deb, I was also disappointed with Lucy Lui's role. I really like her and it's seems she's relegated to very minor role - certainly kess of a role than Monk's assistant.

    Barb, that reminds me, there's a new Monk book in a couple of weeks and a new Julie Hyzy.

  7. Looking forward to Lee Goldberg's next Monk book, just sorry it will be his last. Did you hear they picked someone "new" to continue the series? Hy Conrad, another writer from the show. Glad to hear Monk will live on.

    And I love July Hyzy, too. I picked up a signed copy of her Buffalo West Wing at Bouchercon.

    Now I just need time to read (besides writing and editing and home renovation). I'm working on the latest Rhys Bowen now. It's taking longer to get through a book--NOT the fault of the book. I'm just so physically tired, I fall asleep after just a few minutes of reading.

  8. And Deb--not sure how Elementary is doing. I'm seeing a lot of negative reviews.

    I still have to check out the British version, so I can't compare. I'm just starting to appreciate the BBC appropriately, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

  9. I'm so glad someone will be writing more Monk. I can only hope they will be as giggle-inducing. Honestly no one can make me laugh as hard as Lee Goldberg from Natalie Teeger's point of view. But wouldn't it be fun if Hy Conrad writes one or two from Adrian's point of view?

    I cannot address the BBC Sherlock because I haven't watched it yet.

  10. Barb, I'll side with you and say that I like Elementary. However, I don't like it enough to remember when it's on. I suspect it's on when Nelson has the channels prioritzed so that the vocal contest shows, dance shows, and Arrow, Last Resort and Revolution are either on or being taped.

    Let's just say I'd love to spend the days watching TCM, PBS, and NCIS which I'm missing this year :( but my deal with myself is no tv during the day unless I'm sick.

    Oh wait... achoo... cough...

  11. Suzie-I'm not sure a whole book from Adrian Monk's POV would work. It's been said that Watson makes Sherlock relatable, and the same can be said for Natalie.

    Now, I love first person, but I'm also not sure first person from Natalie's POV always works for Monk, especially now since they have half the cast in New Jersey and the other half in San Francisco. I read Lee Goldberg's short story excerpt from the last one (from Elery Queen magazine) and the POV of Natalie telling the story as related to her by her daughter Julie seemed a little clunky, but probably will only bother writers who are bothered by that kind of thing.

    And as far as rest, that's going to have to wait until after I finish cooking Thanksgiving dinner. (I'm about to move from vegetable prep to baking.)

  12. Anita--

    I love television too. I've been keeping a lot of reality television and reruns running in the background while I do other things. (Right now it's Murder, She Wrote as I cut veggies.)

    One thing I've noticed--it's easy to multitask while watching most American television. Not so with the BBC. I think there's less redundancy--which I like, but I need more undivided time to watch it.

  13. I haven't read every comment, but I have to say, I agree with just about everything Debra said. Only I didn't see Basil Rathbone until after I became kind of obsessed with the canon. In fact the first incarnation I saw was Peter Cook in the spoof of HOUND, but the first one that I saw and actually remembered and liked because I wasn't 8 years old was Robert Stephens in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (I also loved Christopher Lee as Mycroft even if he was thin). I really did not like Downey as Holmes, his performance bugged me, but I was surprised that I liked Law as Watson, and I adore any character played by Stephen Fry, even though I really can't imagine Mycroft parading around naked and behaving like that any more than I could see Sherlock behaving like Downey. But it was Cumberbatch and Freeman in BBC's Sherlock that reignited my adoration for Sherlock Holmes! I love Gatiss as Mycroft, Andrew Scott as Moriarty, and of course Cumberbatch and Freeman. I have lost count of how many times I've watched them all because I bought them on DVD so I could watch whenever I want. And I am still trying to figure out how he survived that fall.

    Oh, and I HATE Elementary with the intensity of a thousand suns. I want to just bitch slap CBS, everyone that works for them. The characterization is so appallingly awful and unrecognizable that once you change Watson's gender, take them out of the Victorian era, make Holmes a man who has sex and acknowledges that it's a biological need (and I know they did the girl Watson and the sexual Holmes just so they can drop in a lot of clumsy, pathetic juvenile attempts at sexual tension that won't make anyone uncomfortable except people who get a rash from how poorly it's done)and then put them in New York of all places, why didn't they just write a whole new series with their own characters? They are just trading on the name, using the tropes and ploys they know are most likely to draw in unthinking viewers, and stealing a great idea (updating it) from writers who are much, much better than they are but trying to make it seem like they aren't really doing that at all. I went on he Elementary Facebook and asked them if they sent their writers to England so they could piss on Doyle's grave in person or did they half ass do that, too.

    So, yeah, I hate Elementary.

    BTW, this is Liv.

  14. Liv again. I also feel like Lucy Lui and Johnny Lee Miller deserve much better than this. I honestly don't know why they agreed to it, they are both good actors, they are just getting really bad writing.

    Suzi, if you have Netflix, I am pretty sure you can still watch BBC's Sherlock on instant streaming, and you should because it is AWESOME!

    I have to agree with Barb about a whole book from Monk's perspective. Also, I don't imagine that Monk breaks his process and thoughts down into small parts that most people could understand in his own mind, so it would come off as blatant exposition or get tedious, they even made jokes about him over explaining on the show once or twice.

  15. Welcome, Liv.

    This is beginning to remind me of the lively discussion we had at my book group when we read Laurie King!

    Yes,I've seen all kinds of complaints about Elementary (which reminds me a little more of Monk than it does of Sherlock Holmes, btw.)It only works for me when I remove

    I take it you're a purist. :) But if I recall, you enjoy House, which was based on--was it Dr. Bell? or Sherlock or Doyle. I don't recall. But then again, it's based on Sherlock, not claiming to be.

  16. Oops, didn't finish that thought. I meant to say, it only works for me when I remove the perception that I'm seeing Sherlock Holmes--which was the selling point. But it's turning into a double edged sword. What might have been a decent show without the connection is being judged wanting by comparison--to the books, BBC version, movie versions, etc.

    I don't know if it's going to make it, and if it does, it will be casual fans who don't have such a strong connection or serious feelings about Sherlock.

  17. Well, I'm glad Liv jumped in to the conversation and I am grinning. I watched an interview with Cumberbatch trying to clear up any misconceptions of his opinion of Elementary. He was gracious. He had nothing bad to say. He.... had nothing bad to say only that he is a good friend of JLM.

    I didn't watch JLM's last U.S. series but I heard it was well-liked and the writing was good. Eli Stone, right? What a shame.

    I agree with Barb that it will survive only with the audience who is not comparing it to other Sherlocks. If it was written as a quirky English faux detective and oh, let's see... something more than what they've done for Lucy Liu... and dropped all pretense of it being a Sherlock, I'd love to watch those two.

    It must be hard to go on with production when you are getting a lot of negative feedback.
    I didn't like where the movies took Holmes either. You'd think I was some expert on it with all my complaints!

    Some day, Barb is going to comment on here again after watching Sherlock. with all that's going on in that show --which is a lot (my mind goes a bit numb) the best part is the relationships. Martin Freeman is by no means less than equal to Holmes, because he is such a complement of characterization. so, is it superior acting or writing or both?

    The end of Season 2 will leave you stunned. But Season 3 is coming! Can't wait to see how they 'fix' that!

  18. I have GOT to find all these BBC shows and start recording them. I still haven't watched Downton Abbey!

    I like Elementary, but, like Barb, I'm not looking at it from a purist Sherlock standpoint. I think I watch it mostly because it's the best thing on after Vampire Diaries, my guilty pleasure. Of course, after an hour of Ian Somerhalder, JLM er, pales in comparison.

    Barb, I had no idea of Doyle's background and publishing history. SO interesting! It really is amazing how some things just take root in the human imagination and keep going, and going, and going. Wouldn't it be lovely to pin down that magic formula?

  19. Liv, I don't have netflix but plan on getting it. I agree, Lucy Lui deserves better. I like her and don't feel like we get enough of her on the show (episodes I saw) and she's far less of assistant than Natalie was to Monk.

    Barb, you met Julie Hyzy? I'm jealous.

    I accidentally posted this on Anita's post from yesterday:

    Eli Stone? That's the same guy? That was a cool show. I didn't get to see many episodes but I liked it.

  20. I love Sherlock in almost all of his many incarnations. Love the BBC Sherlock. Not a fan of Elementary, though not as rabid a Liv! If they hadn't tried to call Jhonny Lee Miller's character Sherlock and Lucy Liu's Watson, it would have been an ok show. But as it is don't care for what they did to the characters.

  21. Deb, I liked the Robert Downey Jr versions too, and I'm so sorry you didn't like the soundtrack. I got both soundtracks and listen to them when I write!

  22. Deb, the nice thing about not having seen Sherlock is that I'll be able to watch it all at once, knowing that it won't be cancelled after one season. Oooh, marathon?

    Deb, you should come. I'll make popcorn. Well, you all should come, but Deb's closer. LOL.

  23. Oh Lisa! It must be an age thing. Sadly... the soundtrack put me on edge like listening to two people bicker. It probably helps you write faster!

    Yes Suzie. JLM was Eli Stone.

    Did I ever tell you how it fascinates me when British speakers (Australians as well) do an American Accent?

    I know... it makes no sense whatsoever but I can't seem to wrap my brain around it.
    Example: Anthony LaPaglia as the NY FBI agent? He sounds pretty darn NY to me.
    Another example is House.

    Another... that cute kid ?Liam? who is in the Last Song with Miley Cyrus. He's Australian, right?

    Okay - I really need to get back to NaNo. but these have been great breaks!

  24. My daughter and I did a Sherlock marathon this summer. There's three shows in the first season and three in the second. Don't miss a second if you want to try and keep up with half of what's going on.

    Thanks Barb. For me it will have to be after November...

  25. Niki--

    Yeah,I wish I had that formula too. Sigh.


    Yes,I met Julie Hyzy briefly. It was a signing, so I could say hello and tell her I enjoyed her books--not like we sat down and had tea. I enjoyed meeting Rhys Bowen too. And Laurie King. And...oh, Bouchercon was great for stalking authors.

  26. Back when we had XM radio, my oldest (homeschooled) kid used to schedule his lunch around the Sherlock Holmes radio shows on one of the old time radio channels. Not sure when they were originally made. No later than the 40's, I think.

    Think I've only seen one or two of the Rathbone Sherlocks. Prefer the Jeremy Brett interpretations.n (Brett was also Freddie Eynsford-Hill in the movie version of My Fair Lady -- and now I'm going to have "On the Street Where You Live" stuck in my head the rest of the day.)

  27. CJ, I haven't seen Brett as Sherlock, but I love My Fair Lady. Sing-along time?

    I have the soundtrack. Maybe some day we can debate the choice of Audrey Hepburn with a lip sinker over Julie Andrews, who did the Broadway version... :)

  28. And as soon as I posted, I figured out that probably should be lip-syncher

  29. i've always loved reading Sherlock Holmes. i'm old enough to remember Basil Rathborne as Holmes and he's it for me. I cannot honestly say I've seen any other series with Holmes, so I cannot compare either.

    I've been wanting to catch Elementary and BBC shows, but right now my TV viewing consists of Blues Clue, Dora the Explorer, Bubble Guppies, and Backyardigans. I record the Voice and my hubby records NCIS for viewing when our toddler is asleep.

    Didn't catch the Downey films, so can't comment there either. All I know is I love the original texts and would read them often if I had the time. I always feel smarter after reading them.

    I'll need to check out the Mary Russell series. I"m not a purist, but then again... I do love Bones, Monk, and House (but House only in small doses - he'd be uber annoying if I knew him in real life).

    I'm always impressed when Brits or Aussies can nail the American "accent". Hugh Jackman is Aussie, correct? (mmmm, hugh...)

  30. ARGH. Deb H brings up the Backyardigans and now I have that song on my brain...

    Speaking of Hugh...
    Christmas Day - Les Miserables is out in theaters.

    I'm going to go peak and see if there is another Downey/Law movie in the works.

  31. Deb, the accents amaze me too. I remember watching some old Avengers episodes with "American" characters--when it wasn't so good. One guy had us in stitches when his accent morphed from Brooklyn to the deep South, and ended up doing a Humphrey Bogart impression.

    But I hear Dick van Dyke's accent in Mary Poppins left much to be desired.

  32. Oh, Deb. You've got Sherlock fever bad. Let us know!

  33. Oh my! I am so late to this party!

    I love the BBC Sherlock best. I watch Elementary but it's not quite the same.

    Fun post, Barb!

  34. Oh, Susanne--never too late to a party. We can keep it going for a while. I have more baking to do anyway.

  35. Wow! We have to get all the way down to CJ's comment before anyone mentions Jeremy Brett? For me, he IS Sherlock Holmes. For the most part (and there are a few glaring exceptions), the series he was in was closest to the original stories, and I think his interpretation of the character was much truer to the original than the others.

    I love Basil Rathbone and am a great fan of movies from the '30s and '40s, but most of his Sherlock movies were NOT Doyle.

    I very much enjoyed the first season of Sherlock (even though it's modernized) and haven't caught up on the second season yet.

    Haven't seen Elementary, though I'm sure JLM is well worth a look.

    Haven't seen the Downey movies either, though I probably will when I get time.

    So, if you're looking for Sherlock Holmes from Doyle's stories, the closest I've ever seen is Jeremy Brett. Check those out.

  36. And another vote for Brett. Looks like I have to get busy netflixing. What an interesting discussion.

  37. Yeah, I think so, too! I have one of the Mary Russel Holmes books, too.

    As usual, I haven't gotten around to reading it.


    I AM going to take a reading break someday. I am.

  38. Liv again.

    Barb, I am a bit of a purist, I didn't even want to watch the BBC version because it was set in modern times at first, but my husband kept talking about it while he was watching it and drew me in. Since I like it as much as I do, I think maybe I am mostly a purist, but can enjoy a very well done version if it differes only slightly. The BBC version, the characters' personalities are both very good and very close and the writing is great.
    Yeah, I did like House, and it did have a lot of shout outs to Sherlock Holmes, like the main character and his best friend's names, House/Holmes- James Wilson/John Watson, and House's home address was 221B, I think it was even on Baker Street. And House's style of diagnosing was very similar to that of Dr. Joseph Bell, the doctor that Doyle based Sherlock Holmes on. There was also a parellel in as far as an addiction to drugs and musical ability and several others. I appreciated that it was based on Sherlock, and had many parallels and in-jokes, but it never claimed to be Sherlock Holmes. I wouldn't have a problem with Elementary if they hadn't put the names of the original characters on it and then completely changed them to the point that they were unrecognizable. I would be more willing/able to overlook just about everything if they had just based it on the canon rather than changed it so drastically.
    I agree with you completely about if the show makes it, who the fan base will be. And I really don't care for what I have seen of the Laurie King works. It does nothing for me at best and annoys me at worst.
    Yes, Barb! I highly recommend a marathon, I just wish I could be there to watch with you! Each episode is 90 minutes, so even though there are only six (aired) episodes, it will take a while to see them all. The unaired pilot is included on the bonus features of the first season DVD set and it's only 60 minutes, but if you're gonna have a marathon, you might as well immerse yourself completely, watch the unaired pilot, the commentary, all the special features... :0).

  39. Liv again.

    Deb, yeah, he and JLM did Frankenstein together, alternating roles. A paper took something he said out of context and made it sound as if he was dissing the new show when he wasn't, but then it would seem a lot of newspapers just don't have much integrity, especially where celebrities are concerned. :) Something that was sort of addressed in Reichenbach Fall.

    I love the way they are both played by Freeman and Cumberbatch! You are right, they are played as more or less equals, their chemistry is just perfect, the writing is very close, in some cases drawn directly from the canon or slightly updated, and the characterization is compelling and the acting is wonderful. The over all work is so good that the areas where they don't match up exactly, I don't really mind. And I'm right there with you, I can't wait till season 3! I want to see how he did it and if any of my theories come even close.

    Suzie, they really could and should have done more with her character, and I really don't like that they changed Watson's gender (which has nothing to do with Lucy) because it feels like they are diluting it and breaking it down to be as palatable and appealing as possible for the dumbest of the population by going with as close to the cliched formula as possible- brilliant male main character + less brilliant, tolerant, inconsequential, eye candy secondary female character to be the love interest, but easily replaceable in early seasons in case the target audience doesn't like her and I find it hateful for so many reasons. In addition to drastically altering someone else's work, they are not doing anything to further female roles on TV, treating the female character as bait to draw in the must-have-romance crowd and to avoid possibly offending the twitchy conservatives who think that any show with two main characters must have some sexual tension, so two male main characters automatically equates to something of a homosexual nature whether it is or not. It's offensive to me on so, SO many levels. They should assume that anyone who would watch because it's Sherlock Holmes would have the intelligence to be able to enjoy a show without the sexual tension aspect. If the only people who will be watching it are going to be the casual, non-Holmes fans, why call the character Sherlock Holmes? And I'll say it again, Lucy deserves so much better.
    Lisa, I agree. I could have liked the show if they had just called the characters something else, but as it is, I hate it and every tiny little detail that they have wrong just jumps out at me. I did like some things about the Downey version, just sadly, not Downey himself. I really could love Jude Law as Watson, which is a little surprising to me since I didn't really care too much for him in anything else I have seen. It bugs slightly that he was a little taller than Downey, but not overly much.

    I liked Jeremy Brett, though I haven't seen too many of the movies or shows he was in. The ones I have seen, I had no trouble at all imagining him as Holmes. I did have a set of audio CD like old radio drama versions of the stories, and I want to say that Brett did the voice of Holmes in them, but I can't be certain. And many of them had elements of two or more of the canon stories combined in them. It was so long ago I can't remember too much about them for certain, not even where I put them. I'm not certain if I still have them or not. I may have loaned them to my mother in law, or they may be in my closet for all I know.

    I really should just get a Blogger account.

  40. I guess we're going to have to do another Sherlock discussion at some point.

    Thanks, everybody.


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