Sherlock Holmes: The “Novels”

Four Sherlock Holmes novels were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle between 1887 & 1914. Of course he also wrote 56 short stories featuring Holmes, but we’ll do a little something with those in the future. For now let’s examine the novels.

 

 

 

 

 

A Study in Scarlet

scarletI am a sucker for origin stories, and Scarlet is the genesis of the Holmes-Watson friendship. It lays the foundation for everything we know about Sherlock Holmes…his physical features, his unique personality, his keen knowledge of certain subjects (and lack of familiarity with others), & the whole idea of deductive reasoning as it applies to crime solving specifically and assessing people & situations in general. Oh, and it also gives us the very first case that Holmes & Watson ever worked on together as well as Dr. Watson’s first foray into chronicling their adventures. That mystery involves a double murder in which the catalyst is…of course…a woman. The middle section of the story takes us back to Salt Lake City a couple of decades earlier and promotes some rather harsh ideas about the Mormon religion. We must not overlook the success of A Study in Scarlet in stimulating the public appetite for Sherlock Holmes. He is a literary icon a century later in part because Scarlet provided such a great beginning.

 

 

The Sign of the Four

fourThree years after A Study in Scarlet and a year before the first of the short stories was published came this little gem. The story revolves around the mysterious death of a British Army officer and the disappearance of the treasure that he had absconded with from India. There is much more exposition about Holmes’ methods, philosophy, & attitudes, and a latter section of the tale features a thrilling boat chase down the celebrated River Thames. The client who initially hires Holmes is Mary Morstan, who quickly falls for Dr. Watson and would go on to become his wife…one of them anyway. The opening & closing scenes of The Sign of the Four allude to Sherlock Holmes’ disturbing cocaine habit, one of the few controversial aspects of the canon, especially thru the prism of modern sensibilities.

 

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles

hound2In 1893, after two novels and 24 short stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes. However, the public clamored for more of the world’s greatest detective and in 1901 Doyle relented with this novel, set before Holmes’ alleged death at Reichenbach Falls in a battle with his archenemy Moriarty. It tells a tale of the mysterious death of a wealthy aristocrat in the south of England, possibly at the paws of a fabled demonic dog that is part of an old family legend. A new heir is set to inherit the family estate and all that comes with it, but strange things are afoot and the young gentleman’s life may also be in danger. Dr. Watson accompanies Sir Henry Baskerville to his new digs and Sherlock Holmes is actually MIA for a big chunk of the story, but eventually he arrives on the scene to unravel the mystery. The eight year break must have treated Doyle well because the writing here is stupendous. Hound is set in October and the author effectively fashions the mood of a dreary, dank, foreboding autumn. Doyle makes one want to stay far far away from a British moor. There are several interesting characters and the mystery is more nuanced than most other Holmes stories. Hound was so well received that Doyle went on to write 32 more short stories and an additional novel.

 

 

The Valley of Fear

vfThe final Sherlock Holmes novel was written in 1914. Holmes & Watson are dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of an English country gentleman who turns out not to be quite so dead. As with A Study in Scarlet, a big chunk of The Valley of Fear is a flashback story that takes us back two decades when the protagonist was an alleged violent hooligan in America and part of a secret society modeled after the real life Molly Maguires. However, he was actually an agent of the famed Pinkerton Agency sent to infiltrate the society and bring them to justice. Unfortunately justice isn’t always perfect and one of the society’s more ferocious members only gets a few years in prison, thereafter chasing our hero all over the globe, ending up in England. Valley is notable for its extensive exposition about Professor Moriarty, a character that has risen to the high honor of being thought of as Holmes’ archenemy despite only being alluded to in a handful of the canon’s stories. In this instance Moriarty’s assistance is apparently sought by evildoers in hunting down the protagonist. At first it looks like the good guys have won, but by the end we learn the tragic news that the malevolent Professor has gotten the job done, much to the chagrin of Sherlock Holmes. The mystery is well-conceived, with unpredictable twists & turns that keep the pages turning, but the flashback section that is devoid of our favorite detective, his trusty sidekick, or any of the ambiance of Victorian England doesn’t feel like a Holmes story at all.

 

 

 

The Best??

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles. I rather enjoy all four Holmes novels. A Study in Scarlet is a fantastic origin story. The Sign of the Four is exhilarating and well-written but a flashback sequence to another time & place sort of kills the momentum. The Valley of Fear is unpredictable & fresh, yet a flashback sequence that once again takes us out of Victorian England into another decade of the past in America where Holmes, Watson, etc. are nowhere to be found weakens the story to a degree. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a beautifully written, intricately woven mystery. It is true that most of the action takes place away from 221B Baker St. and that Holmes is absent for a chunk of the story, but Watson is ever-present and if a Holmes story must be located somewhere other than foggy old London then the lonely, dank, sinister moor on which the Baskerville estate rests is a worthy substitute. Hound is probably the most popular Sherlock Holmes story, and has been adapted many times on film. However, one cannot get the full effect any other way than by reading Conan Doyle’s beautifully evocative prose. I suggest reading Hound in the autumn just before Halloween, not only because that is the timeframe of the novel itself, but because it evokes a mood impeccably aligned with the season.

Superfluous 7 – Fictional Characters With Whom I’d Like To Hang Out

Awhile back I read a book called The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived. It wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be when I made the impulse purchase, skewing a bit too much toward the analytical and academic instead of the lighthearted and interesting. The authors made a point of emphasizing that their list was based on influence and not popularity. Many of the conclusions reached were curious, some in a good way and some in a real head scratching sort of way. Rosie the Riveter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Barbie (the doll) made their list. The Marlboro Man was #1. Meanwhile, Fonzie and Rocky Balboa are nowhere to be found. So I decided to make my own, much shorter list. My criteria isn’t based on popularity or influence. The question I asked myself was simply “Who would it be cool to hang out with??” Now let me be very clear…I am not simply talking about meeting them or doing an interview. I am talking about spending a weekend or maybe a summer with a person, becoming involved in their daily life. Michael Corleone is an awesome character, but really…who wants to become part of the mafia with all the guns and blood?? Shakespeare created many memorable characters, but a lot of them are unstable and end up dead. I love Forrest Gump, but I think he may get on my nerves after awhile. So I thought about who it would be fun to converse with and learn from, or just have a good time with. It was difficult to narrow down to seven, but the mission was accomplished. Who would you enjoy chillin’ with if you had the opportunity and the line between fiction and reality was not only blurred but eliminated?? Don’t hesitate to let me know…after you enjoy…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Spasticsville, Kansas…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Fictional Characters With Whom I’d Like To Hang Out:

 

 

7 The Duke Boys

I am a child of the 80’s, and every Friday night from 1979-1985 I could not wait for The Dukes of Hazzard to come on television. It is only now, 25 years later, that I can truly appreciate the show (and I mean that sincerely). Was the acting great and the writing superb?? No. But no one ever got killed, and the crimes committed were pretty benign. Hazzard County seems like it would be a cool little town in which to live, as long as one doesn’t get on the bad side of Boss Hogg & Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane…and even then they are actually rather tame as far as villains go. Now I am resisting the urge to write about what I would do if given the chance to spend some quality time with Daisy, instead taking the high road and choosing to chillax with Bo & Luke. Did they have jobs?? What did they do all day other than run the roads in the General Lee and occasionally throw back a cold one at The Boar’s Nest?? I suppose they helped Uncle Jesse by doing most of the heavy lifting on the farm, but that’s okay…a little elbow grease and sweat never hurt anyone. I’m not much of a fast driver, but I could handle being a passenger as the guys race around evading the law. I imagine it’d get the ol’ blood pumping, especially when a washed out bridge forces one of those cool jumps. I could grip the roll bar and yell “Yeeeee-haaaaaa”. Mostly I can just see myself enjoying the slow pace, the good people, and the relative innocence of a place like Hazzard and learning the essence of being a cool country boy from The Dukes. And yes…I’d probably hit on Daisy.

 

 

6 Bilbo Baggins

There is a reason I specifically chose Bilbo Baggins. His nephew Frodo is a character we get to know much more in depth, as he is the main protagonist in all the Lord of the Rings books/movies. In contrast, Bilbo is the focus in only one shorter book, The Hobbit. But Frodo’s adventure is so long, grueling, and dangerous that it doesn’t seem like it’d be much fun to be in his proximity. As a matter of fact, because of that damn Ring (The One to rule them all) Frodo’s life and the lives of everyone around him becomes way too scary. Bilbo’s adventure in The Hobbit is not without peril, but it is much shorter and less fraught with life-in-the-balance moments. However, if I were to hang out with Bilbo it would not be in the midst of an adventure at all. I would want to hang out in The Shire with he and the other hobbits. The Shire is a quiet, idyllic land where the hobbits enjoy simple things like eating, drinking, smoking, and being social. The hobbits enjoy gardening and live off the fat of the land. It is a simple place and they are simple folk, which I like. Bilbo is a good storyteller and definitely has some stories to tell, plus he is pals with the wizard Gandalf, so one never knows when he might pop in.

 

 

5 Batman/Bruce Wayne

Batman is the ultimate example of bi-polar disorder. How cool would it be to hang out with him?? During the day one could enjoy the lavish lifestyle of billionaire Bruce Wayne, and at night get a taste of adventure as The Dark Night trolls the seedy underbelly of Gotham City exacting vigilante justice. I would LOVE to ride shotgun in The Batmobile and of course chill in the ultimate man cave, The Bat Cave. I am not much for physicality, but it’d be intriguing to try to outwit villains like The Riddler, Catwoman, and The Penguin. While Batman doesn’t seem like much of a conversationalist his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is charming and charismatic. And since I would know his secret we could have rather fascinating discussions. Trying to get inside the head of a man who was emotionally scarred as a child by seeing his parents gunned down and who uses that trauma as a reason to dress up like a bat and fight crime…well call me crazy, but that sounds like fun.

 

 

4 Sheriff Andy Taylor

It has long been my opinion that the happiest place on Earth is not Disney World, but rather the town of Mayberry. I am too young to have caught The Andy Griffith Show when it first aired in the 60’s, but forty years after it was cancelled generations of people like me are still invited into the lives of Andy, Opie, Barney, and Aunt Bea thanks to reruns. And while Barney Fife is one of the funniest characters in television history and we all love Opie because we have literally seen Ron Howard grow from a small boy to an Oscar winning director and a grandfather, for me the heart & soul of the show and the town is Sheriff Andy. It may seem like a trite cliché, but Andy Taylor is a good man. He is kind, wise, understanding, and tough. He’s a great Dad, a good friend, and good at his job. I have reached a point in my life where I see that running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to impress people and achieve what the world defines as success is akin to a cat chasing its tale…an exercise in futility. Faith, family, and friendship are the most important things in life. I think a man like Sheriff Taylor understands that, and I would enjoy immensely the opportunity to sit on the front porch sipping some iced tea, picking a little on the ol’ guitar, and shooting the breeze with him.

 

 

3 Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This was a tough call. Thanks to my good friend The Owl I am a Trekkie, and the Star Trek Universe is polluted with memorable characters. I love Bones McCoy, but I really can’t see myself voluntarily spending time with a doctor. Scotty is cool, but I am not an engineer either. Spock is interesting, but really…would he even understand the concept of chillaxing?? ‘Tis not very logical afterall. Captain Kirk is awesome, but a little too intense and adventurous for my tastes. I like to keep things low key. Captain Picard is more my speed. He is less of a swashbuckler and more of an intellectual, an educated man with eclectic interests in classical music, literature, archaeology, fencing, and physics. Picard is the type of guy one could probably sit and listen to for hours, even if he is so smart that the majority of what he is saying goes way above your head. Captain Kirk would be fun to party with and you’d definitely want him on your side in a fight, but Picard is someone to learn from and gain insight about the world.

 

 

2 Santa Claus

Oh come on…who wouldn’t want to hang out with Santa Claus?? And I am not just talking about on Christmas Eve as he makes his journey around the globe delivering presents and eating cookies. I want to spend all year with Old Saint Nick. How does he know when we are sleeping and when we are awake?? How does he know whether we’ve been bad or good?? How does he know exactly what every child wants for Christmas?? Precisely when does he check The List twice and how much time does that take?? Who compiles The List in the first place?? What kind of set up does The North Pole have as far as manufacturing all the latest gadgets kids want these days?? Most of us are selfish and not the least bit concerned about the needs of others, so why is Santa so different?? Why is he so giving and what lead him down this career path?? What is the economic situation for him personally and professionally since he just gives presents away?? Does he get a cut of the profits from stores like WalMart, Sears, Amazon.com, and Best Buy?? What is the deal with the elves?? These are things I need to know people!!

 

 

1 Sherlock Holmes

I have been a huge Sherlockian since junior high school. I have read each of the 56 short stories and 4 novels countless times and enjoy them tremendously. I think maybe the coolest job in history was Watson’s. I would love love love to be Watson, hanging out with Holmes and then writing about all his adventures. I realize that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle makes Victorian London seem far more awesome than it probably was in reality, but that’s okay. Doyle’s London is an odd mix of quaint, mysterious, dangerous, and romantic. Holmes wouldn’t need to flip through endless channels of mind numbing idiocy even if the technology were available to him. He’s got plenty to keep him busy. If he’s not out solving some of the oddest crimes ever conceived he is conducting chemistry experiments in his living room, writing an academic treatise on various types of soil or poisons, or playing his violin. One would never get bored hanging out with Sherlock Holmes, except during those times of languid inactivity when he takes to shooting up cocaine. That’d be when I’d have to leave and visit someone else on the list. At any rate, spending time at 221B Baker Street would encompass meeting all sorts of strange people, trudging through the streets of London at all hours of the day & night in search of answers, and most of all learning at the feet of quite possibly the smartest man in history.

 

 

 

Hall of Influence – Class 2

The time has come to add to the hallowed chamber that is The Hall of Influence. Today we will be inducting three new members from diverse fields…sports, literature, and music. Though these areas of interest may not measure high on the scale of significance in the big picture that is our universe, I am sure most will concede that they do add immeasurable joy, pleasure, and interest to most of our lives to some degree.

 

Let us first venture onto the football field. Anyone who meets me knows within 10 minutes that I am a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan and have been for over 30 years. I began to be interested in and understand football at a very young age, even before I started school. Living in the state of West Virginia there are no professional sports teams because there just isn’t the population or economic base to support such a venture. However, I am fortunate to live within a couple of hours of the city of Pittsburgh, and I just happened to be born right as the heretofore hapless Steelers were morphing from a team that had never been very competitive to one that would ultimately come to be thought of as NFL royalty, one of the most successful franchises in team sports. They were the first team to ever win 4 Super Bowls, winning back to back titles twice within a 6 year period from 1974-1980 and have won two more since that time. When contemplating just who should represent the Steelers in The Hall of Influence many names ran through my mind. Terry Bradshaw was the quintessential franchise quarterback and led the team to all four of those 1970’s titles. Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert were the leaders of the most infamous defense in football, The Steel Curtain. Lynn Swann was poetry in motion and one of the most acrobatic wide receivers ever to catch a football. Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were the leaders of a hard-nosed, smash mouth rushing attack that defined Steeler football. Less heralded players like center Mike Webster, safety Donnie Shell, and wide receiver John Stallworth embodied the blue collar attitude of a city and a team. All of these men were guided by the stoic, quiet, firm hand of head coach Chuck Noll. However, my choice to represent the Pittsburgh Steelers and my undying love for them is the family that has owned and operated the team since its inception in 1933, the Rooney family. The patriarch was Art Rooney Sr., The Chief, who used his winnings from time spent at the horse track to start a brand new NFL franchise. The Chief was a driving force in the growth of the league as a whole, and helmed the ship as the Steelers became a powerhouse team. He was aided by his son Dan, who worked alongside his father beginning in the late 1960’s. Dan ran the organization’s daily operations from the late 1970’s until 2003, when he handed over the job to his son Art Rooney II. In a world where many teams seem so unstable…changing coaches, owners, and even cities at the drop of a hat…The Rooney Family has been steady and consistent. Their long term leadership has been a major reason why the Steelers have been among the elite for such a long time, and that success has provided me with countless hours of happiness and entertainment.

 

One of the other ways I entertain myself is reading. I love a good book. My all time favorite literary series is The Sherlock Holmes canon, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I intend to go into a more detailed analysis of the books and my enjoyment of them in a piece for The Bookshelf section of The Manofesto, so I will keep my comments short for now. Suffice to say that Sherlock Holmes is one of the most endearing characters in all of literature, and he cannot really be separated from his creator Doyle. Therefore I have chosen to initiate both sides of the same coin into the Hall of Influence. I cannot thank them enough for all the times they have magically transported me to Victorian England and allowed me to forget about my problems for awhile. I would encourage any bookworm who enjoys a good mystery to give Holmes a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Our third and final inductee today is from the world of music. In my mind he is the ultimate musical performer…classic, timeless, the standard to which all others need to be compared. I am speaking of Ol’ Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board, The Voice…..Frank Sinatra. I tend to have rather eclectic musical tastes. I like everything from hard rock to blues to 80’s pop to big band. Amongst the crowd of pretenders to the throne…Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson…only one man clearly stands above the rest. I am not saying those performers and many many others are not talented and deserving of their accolades, just that in my universe they are all a bit overrated. No one can ever legitimately call Mr. Sinatra that, not even close. During a career that spanned nearly 60 years, he had numerous #1 songs and albums, won 11 Grammys, and tried his hand at acting and won an Academy Award. Somewhere along the line Sinatra segued from a top selling singer to a legendary cultural icon. I was first introduced to Sinatra during my youth by my father. Like most youngsters I wanted to be cool and hip and thought Dad was just an old fogey, so I didn’t pay too much attention to his music. But as I grew older and began to have more of an appreciation for quality and excellence and became less concerned with fitting in with the crowd I began to develop an appreciation for various musical genres, including swing, jazz, and “crooners”. There’s no one that embodies all of those better than Frank Sinatra. With it being almost a foregone conclusion that all great (and even not so great) bands will eventually reunite for a big money tour and knowing that no musician ever really retires, it makes me sad to know that I will never have the opportunity to see Sinatra in concert because…well, he’s dead. But the music lives on. So while others waste their time gushing over the latest MTV/American Idol wannabe and embrace what is clearly a lower standard of musical mediocrity played on the radio these days, I will happily be listening to my Sinatra CDs and appreciating the greatest singer to ever live. For his many contributions to music and culture Frank Sinatra is a well deserving member of The Hall of Influence.