Book Review: ‘Basil of Baker Street’ (1958)

The short: 4/5 ✦. A mouse-centric version of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. Tiny magnifying glass not included.

The long:

If we’ve ever met (and probably even if we haven’t), you probably know my favorite movie of all time is The Great Mouse Detective — not just my favorite animated movie nor my favorite Disney movie, but all-time favorite. (It fills those other categories too, of course.) I’ve loved it ever since I was little (my first dog was named Toby), and it really holds up well today. Last year, when Moana came out, the El Capitan Theatre did film screenings of all of John Musker and Ron Clements’s Disney films, including The Great Mouse Detective, and The BF (wonderful man) got us tickets, and it was so lovely to see it on the big screen and laugh along with other fans (though some people were a little obnoxious . . . ). Besides the fact that it’s perfect, I don’t really know why I love it so much. Could be the British-ness, the mystery aspect, the animation, the voice acting, everything else . . .

Anyway, what most people don’t know is that The Great Mouse Detective was based on a book series, Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus. If that title sounds familiar, that’s because 1) it’s what Dr. Dawson calls Basil in the movie, and 2) it was the original name of the film until some executive meddling took place and changed it to be more . . . adventurey? (It wasn’t a popular choice, and many writers and animators widely derided it then and now.) I admit to never being that curious about reading those books because I knew they weren’t going to be like the movie, and I just loved it so much, I didn’t want anything to taint it. But when I saw this battered copy at the used bookstore, I had to have it, for posterity’s sake if nothing else. And when I saw how small the book was and, flipping through, how simple the prose, I figured it would be a cute supplement to the story I knew.

And I was right! In fact, it’s rather like the original Sherlock Holmes stories to its respective adaptations. Basil of Baker Street is essentially a Sherlock story, made simple for young children and, y’know, featuring mice instead of humans. But Basil is very much like canon Holmes, Dr Dawson is more capable than bumbling, and the case starts off simply and ends threatening the whole (mouse) world. Film!Basil is very much inspired by the movies and TV adaptations that preceded the 1986 movie, with him being rather manic and eccentric. The same goes for Book!Dawson, re: the chubby, rather slow version of Watson. Book!Basil is calm and contemplative, and always a gentleman — er, gentlemouse. (The narration in the book is particularly amusing about what words are “mouse”-oriented, with phrases like “mousewife” for “housewife.”) And when I say the story is simplified for children, I don’t mean that it’s dumbed down; on the contrary, while the words themselves are easy to read, the plot is about two little girls getting kidnapped by a mafia-esque group who want to take over the little mouse town in the cellar of 221b Baker Street, so they can expand their crime ring into London. So, y’know, there’s that.

Speaking of, there’s no mention of Ratigan or his goons in this book. I’m assuming he shows up somewhere in the rest of the series, and I do know he actually is a mouse, not a rat (though a very big one).

All in all, it’s a very cute and interesting little book, and a tidy introduction for kids into the realm of mystery stories. Though, of course, I know from experience that the film version does the job just as well . . .

Header image: Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, published September 1st 1988 by Minstrel

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