Monday, January 13, 2020

January Meeting: The Final Problem

2020 kicked off with an all-time high attendance for a regular meeting!  (Good thing we switched to our new venue at the St. Louis Ethical Society, otherwise it would have been standing room only at our old location...)  Fifteen members, old and new, were on hand to discuss "The Final Problem."  One was there for his first meeting, another this was his second, and three folks returned to a meeting for their first time in years.  Adding them to our ongoing list of regulars was a real blessing!

Before we get to the meeting recap, don't forget that you can keep up with the Parallel Case of St. Louis and lots of Sherlockian news on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Since this was our first meeting of the year, we made sure to list off the rest of the 2020 schedule so everyone could plan accordingly:
March 14 - The Hound of the Baskervilles
May 9 - The Empty House
July 11 - The Norwood Builder
September 12 - The Dancing Men
November 14 - The Solitary Cyclist

Holmes in the Heartland is THIS YEAR!  People are registering for our conference, held on July 24-26, and if you haven't yet, why not?  This year's theme is "Arch Enemies" at the Westport Sheraton.  Friday afternoon and evening will be an architectural tour of St. Louis Public Library followed by an open viewing of the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection.  We will then have a casual dinner and have left the rest of the evening empty for socializing. 

Saturday will kick off with a dealer’s room, and when the panel kicks off, you are in for a treat!  Talking about "Arch Enemies" will be Curtis Armstrong as our keynote speaker, and he will be joined by a great panel of featured presenters that includes Ray Betzner, Steve Doyle, Beth Gallego, Elinor Gray, Dr. Minsoo Kang, Kristen Mertz, and the St. Louis Costumer's Guild.  That night, we're hosting a dinner at the hotel that will be followed by a one of a kind trivia game hosted by Brad Keefauver.

But a trip to St. Louis for a weekend with the theme "Arch Enemies" wouldn't be complete without a trip to the historic St. Louis Arch.  So, Sunday will find us touring the newly renovated Arch grounds, history museum, and a trip to the top of this landmark before one last meal together before everyone is on their way.

And speaking of weekends, this weekend is the annual Baker Street Irregulars birthday weekend.  Rob and Jen will be in New York for the festivities.  Rob and Joe talked about some of the upcoming books being released by Wessex Press and BSI Press.  2020 is going to be a good year to add some books to your collections!

The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn have their next meeting on January 17 at Pio’s in St. Charles.  Their story this month will be "The Adventure of the Three Gables."

One of our newer members works for the St. Louis Public Library, and an exciting activity was proposed and met with lots of enthusiasm by everyone in the room.  More news on that to come....

Joe and Elaine gave a report on the new Sherlock Holmes statue in Chester, IL.  It was decided that we would make a group outing down to visit the statue, some other Sherlockian sites, and the Chester Baskerville Society this spring.  A date will be decided on at our March meeting.

Two more people bought their Parallel Case lapel pins.  Have you gotten yours yet?

The Dayton symposium, Holmes, Doyle and Friends, will take place on March 27-29 this year.  A handful of us have been and really recommend the trip.  A good number of Parallel Case members seemed interested in attending.

In adaptation news, Robert Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes 3 is scheduled to be released on December 22, 2021.  It will feature the return of Sebastian Moran reprised by Paul Anderson from Peaky Blinders.  According to, he will have a minor role in the upcoming film, being out for revenge for the death of Professor Moriarity.  The main villain will be US Senator Cornelius Gusest who is planning to steal a stash of American gold.  The female lead will be a character named Sidney Bloom, a US Marshall going undercover as a San Francisco journalist.  Rumors have said that this film will find Holmes and Watson in the American west, and these plot pieces seem to support that theory.

Netflix has a Sherlockian show coming, called "The Irregulars."  Baker Street Wiki describes it this way: The Irregulars is an upcoming television series currently in production for Netflix. It will focus on the Baker Street Irregulars, a gang of street children who in canon helped Sherlock Holmes gather evidence for his cases. However, it will turn this traditional relationship upside-down, portraying the Irregulars as a "gang of troubled delinquent teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for the sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner", while Holmes takes credit for their success. The series will also feature supernatural elements, as the Irregulars realize they are up against a dark forces that threatens not only London but "potentially the entire world."[1]
The series will be written by Oscar-nominated writer Tom Bidwell, who wrote the script for Netflix/BBC One's adaptation of Watership Down. In an interview with the BBC Writer's Room, Bidwell described the series as his "dream project", and said he had been pitching it for ten years.

The Beacon Society is a Sherlockian organization dedicated to helping young people learn about Sherlock Holmes.  If you know any educators, librarians, museum employees, theater companies, etc. that would like to help spread the word about the Great Detective, grants are available to help them with their endeavors.

Tom shared some recent Sherlockian purchases, "The Devil's Due" and "The Case of the Peculiar Protocols."  And Heather told us about an upcoming entry in the Demonicon series that will feature Colonel Moran, "Dead Ringers."

After the usual giveaways, it was time for our discussion on "The Final Problem."

Rob said that the opening for this story was probably the most shocking in the Canon to the first-time reader.  Imagine being a reader in 1893 when this story came out and in the first paragraph you're told that this is the last Sherlock Holmes story! 

Even later on, this story still packed a punch to new readers.  Bill told of when he was teaching at risk high schoolers and used the Canon as his reading material.  The kids were all heartbroken at the end of this story.  But Bill said if they worked really hard on their state testing he would see if it would be possible to resurrect Holmes.

Tom talked about when he was younger and was suffering from pneumonia.  He had a copy of "The Adventures" and "The Memoirs" in his sick room and met Sherlock Holmes for the first time then.  Only after Tom recovered, did he finally find out what happened post-Reichenbach.

Heather had only recently read the entire Canon, and did so with Stephen Fry's audiobook version.  She said she was taken aback at the stark difference in this opening versus every other story before it.  The rest of the stories were Holmes and Watson sitting at Baker Street and a client comes to visit.  This one was a real shock to her as she had become used to the formulaic openings.

Rob acknowledged that FINA isn't a strong story on it's own.  There's plenty of good lines, but no mystery to it.  And after years as a Sherlockian, this story gets buried under all of the mythology, scholarship, conspiracy theories, etc. that surround this tale and Professor Moriarty.  But when he took every word on the page at face value, he saw this as a sad tale where Dr. Watson tells his readers how his best friend died.

Mary disagreed strongly with that opinion.  She said that Holmes was an egotist and he planned out everything in this story to get himself remembered by the public.  She claimed that Moriarty was a complete fabrication by Holmes and Watson bought it,  Heather and Kevin argued with that, but Mary stuck to her guns, saying this was all and elaborate scheme.  She said that if Holmes was such a threat to Moriarty, the professor would have just killed him right there during their meeting at Baker Street.  Tom offered that Moriarty worked like the mafia, he would try and talk you down face-to-face, and if you weren't scared of him, then he would hit you when you weren't expecting it.

When talking about Holmes's visit to Watson at the beginning of this story, Adam pointed out how strange Holmes acted.  He wondered why Holmes would wait to close the blinds if he were so afraid of air guns.  Adam thought that would have been the first thing someone in fear for their life would do.

We talked about the famous "Napoleon of crime" passage and the mythology that has sprung up around Professor Moriarty.  Many non-Sherlockians could tell you that Moriarty was was the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes without ever have reading the stories.  Holmes's description of the man here had a lot to do with the public perception.  Heather said that Moriarty has been built up so much in culture that when she first read this story, she found the original Moriarty to be a disappointment.

In talking about the meeting at Baker Street between Holmes and Moriarty, Joe noted how good the dialogue between these two men is.  It's clear that these two men respect one another's capabilities.  Rob said that he has always found movie and TV adaptations of Moriarty to be disappointing because they don't portray him as he is in the text.  A skinny, little, reptilian old man would be much more menacing if he had a certain air about him.

Tom reiterated his opinion that Moriarty operated like the mafia or drug lords.  He came to Baker Street to be macho and back his opponent down.  Chris thought that the face off between Holmes and Moriarty was very reminiscent of Beckett in "Henry II."

Rob pointed out that all of the dates that Holmes "incommoded" and "hampered" Moriarty fell during the time span when Watson said Holmes was in France.  Did all of these interactions happen there?

Andrew wondered if Moriarty wasn't the highest ranking member in his organization.  What if the professor was actually working for someone else this whole time?

We discussed Ronald Knox's idea that Mycroft was a double agent, working in part for Moriarty.  Srini thought this theory was very far-fetched.

The next day, Watson is supposed to meet Holmes in a train carriage as they escape England for a few days.  Watson only has an Italian priest in the car with him though.  But it turns out to be Sherlock Holmes!  Bill said that if Holmes would have been a woman, Watson would have paid much more attention and never would have been fooled by these disguises.  Rob offered that neither Watson or Moriarty were Catholic, as they would've noticed that Holmes's priest disguise didn't include the rosary he should have had.

Holmes reports to Watson that Moriarty's men had set fire to their Baker Street rooms the night before.  We discussed what the purpose of that would have been.  Tom said it was a show of force, while Adam thought it would have been to destroy Holmes's evidence against Moriarty's organization.

Once they've escaped England, Holmes and Watson spend two days in Brussels and a third in Strasbourg.  The third day was when Moriarty and his entire organization should have been captured by the police.  To Holmes's surprise, he receives a report telling him that Moriarty has escaped.  Of course he has, he's chasing Sherlock Holmes throughout Europe right now!  Mary said that this supported her theory that this was all made up.  Kristen wondered if Holmes actually lured Moriarty out of London on purpose because he didn't have faith in Scotland Yard to apprehend such a cunning devil as Moriarty.  Kevin agreed with this, saying Holmes probably planned on facing Moriarty one-on-one all along.

At this point, Holmes acknowledges that Moriarty is an even more serious threat now than before and tries to convince Watson to escape.  Of course Watson refuses.  Heather noted that Watson may not be too bright in this story, but he is always trustworthy.  Ed cited the many times that Holmes needed someone he could trust and called on Watson.  This may have been the case with bringing him along in the first place.  Rob wondered if after ten days of running around Europe if he ever let his wife know what was going on.

During this time, while going through the Gemmi Pass in the Alps, a large rock came tumbling down towards Holmes and Watson.  Heather noted that this seemed very familiar to that lone brick that fell off a roof close to Holmes's head back in London.  Rob pointed out that this won't be the only time that Holmes has to deal with falling rocks while in Switzerland. 

During their week-long trek through the mountains, Holmes is very happy, saying that the air in London is sweeter because of his presence.  Mary used this as an example of Holmes's egomania.  Kristen said that it was just him showing how much he loved a challenge and could come out on top.  Kevin said that Holmes was just being factual, even if it sounded arrogant.  In "The Greek Interpreter" Holmes even says that modesty is not a virtue.  Rob shared a theory posed years ago by Gordon Speck that Holmes planned an overland escape route in advance after he would meet with Moriarty and used this week in the mountains to acclimate his lungs and muscles for what was to come. 

On May fourth, Holmes and Watson go to visit Reichenbach Falls.  The description of this site truly shows off the author's writing ability.  You can feel the spray of the falls and know how close the trail is when you read this passage.

While on the path, a Swiss lad comes running up with a summons for Watson.  Rob pointed out that Watson seems overly oblivious to the danger that his friend is in throughout this story.  He thinks Moriarty could just be picked up by the police, he doubts that the professor can catch up with them once they're on the train, he leaves Holmes alone on the mountain path.  So many instances where he doesn't grasp what's going on here.  Doug said that maybe these instances are being pointed out as Watson writes his story as an apology letter for the many times that he didn't do something to help his friend when he was in danger.

Watson finds out that the note was a ruse.  It took him one hour to get to the hotel where he was summoned and two hours to get back to the falls.  Tom shared that Baedeker's travel guide said this should have only taken one hour round trip.  Bill thought Watson got lost a lot but didn't put that part in his story.

Once Watson returns what has happened in his absence is clear to see.  Two sets of footprints are seen going towards the cliff, but none come back.  Rob thought that experiencing this realization through Watson's eyes on the page is more powerful than any adaptation he's seen.

Holmes left a note for Watson explaining how things happened.  This note led to quite a debate in our group.  Ed thought that Holmes wrote the note out in advance knowing how things would go, some took the story at face value, and Tom, Kristen and Heather debated how long it would have taken Holmes to write this letter and if Moriarty really would have allowed him to do so.

Once the story ended, we talked about the different theories that have been proposed about FINA.  Mary agreed with the theory that Moriarty was fake.  She argued that Holmes took Watson along as a witness and reporter to spread his story.  Doug pointed out that this story only came to light because of Colonel Moriarty's letters, so Holmes's plan didn't work out so well.  We talked about the idea that Holmes may have killed Moriarty in Baker Street and the whole trip through Europe was a cover up or that maybe Moriarty survived his fall since a body was never found. 

This eventually led to the cultural impact of the death of Sherlock Holmes.  Bill said it would have been a pretty nasty Christmas present for those 1893 readers.  Rob asked if anyone could think of a modern day equivalent of this bombshell story.  Heather offered "The Empire Strikes Back."  Kristen thought maybe "Game of Thrones."  And Adam offered Colonel Blake on "MASH" or Bobby in the shower at the end of that famous episode of "Dallas."  Ed said that something of this magnitude would be impossible to do today due to internet leaks and the fact that most intellectual properties are owned by companies that can replace writers who don't want to continue working on lucrative series.

As usual, it was quite a lively discussion!  And you can plan on another such one at our next meeting on March 14, for the most famous Sherlock Holmes story, "The Hound of the Baskervilles."  Come at once if convenient!