Sunday, July 12, 2020

Jonas Oldacre: Norwood Builder By Rich Krisciunas

By Rich Krisciunas © 
Delivered to Parallel Case of St. Louis, July 11, 2020

If you had to rank the scoundrels in the Canon
And could choose among men both dead or alive.
Of those who fit the bill as worst in London, 
Jonas Oldacre would be in the top five.

Wicked men like Professor Moriarty, 
Charles A. Milverton and Colonel Moran.
They were all evil and matched wits with Holmes but
None were more dangerous than this Oldacre man. 

He appeared in the case of “The Norwood Builder” 
Where a handsome young lawyer was falsely accused 
Of drafting a will where he’d get all the money 
And ended up in gaol and was hardly amused. 

It’s been three years since Moriarty had his “fall.”
Crime’s down in London. Sherlock’s life has been a bore. 
As our story begins, Holmes has finished breakfast,
His peace is shattered by a beating at his door.

In rushes McFarlane, he’s pale and out of breath, 
Wild-eyed and frantic. Holmes suggests a cigarette
And deduces he’s an asthmatic solicitor
Without help from Siri or the Internet.

Holmes seems gratified that a murder is alleged
And his new client will soon be arrested.
What better way to start the day; with a new case 
And his unique, deductive skills being tested.

In the Telegraph, Holmes read news from Scotland Yard. 
The victim was murdered and then set afire. 
The suspect was linked by his cane at the scene. 
The police are seeking John McFarlane, Esquire. 

McFarlane, of course, protested his innocence;
Said he’d first met the victim and drafted his will. 
Was shocked to be the sole beneficiary. 
Adamantly claimed he had no motive to kill. 

Lestrade said guilt “was definitely established.
If Oldacre’s dead, MacFarlane gets his estate.
Blood’s on his stick. He’s the last to see him alive.
An open and shut case. There’s no room for debate!”

When Lestrade took John Hector into custody, 
Holmes criticized his lack of imagination.
Many more things needed to be examined so
Holmes chose to start his own investigation.                 

Holmes learned that Jonas had a thing for John’s mom
That ended when another guy she married.
Oldacre became an eccentric bachelor
And broken-hearted memories he’d carried.

Holmes returned to Norwood and closely spied the scene;
Crawled the lawn, scoured papers, searching for a clue. 
But when he found checks written to an unknown man
named Cornelius; the Master’s suspicions grew.

McFarlane’s bloody thumbprint turned up on a wall 
And things began to look like all hope was lost.
But, as Lestrade started writing his final report, 
Holmes asked if his “i’s” were dotted and his “t’s crossed. 

“There’s one more witness to question,” suggested Holmes,
“Til the Norwood case could be solved and completed.”
Two bundles of straw and some matches from Watson
Were needed to expose the culprit who cheated.

When the smoke spread and constables shouted “Fire!”
A hidden door opened and a man ran about. 
Oldacre was smiling, everyone was surprised.
The missing man wasn’t dead, there was no doubt.

His ultimate goal was to fake his own death 
And frame the son of the woman who spurned him. 
He schemed to set fire to some bones and his clothes; 
Make it appear as if McFarlane burned him.

Then he’d disappear; take the name of another, 
With McFarlane convicted and hanged by the neck.
But Holmes was the wiser, McFarlane was saved
And Jonas Oldacre’s vile plan had been wrecked. 

That’s it for my in-depth analysis and
I’ll return the book to its place on my shelf, 
Remembering this story as, where Oldacre 
Tried to make a complete ash of himself.  (1)

(1) A tip of the deerstalker to the late Dr. Phillip Franklin Wagley, M.D., “One must conclude that, although Sherlock Holmes could ‘see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the human heart,’ he did not realise how difficult it is for a man to make a complete ash of himself.” “A Lingering Mystery About the Norwood Affair,” 22 BSJ 166 (1972).

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The World View of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes by Kevin Letts

The World View of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes
by Kevin Letts

Sherlock Holmes 3' update: Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return ...

For a class assignment on world views, I wrote the following world view critique on the movie Sherlock Holmes (2009), staring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. This movie mostly shows a spiritualistic existential world view. An existential world view, in a nutshell, is to find meaning in life. For some, it is science. In the case of Holmes and Watson, it is science and fighting crime. A spiritual aspect of this means to believe that there is a spiritual realm without knowing what exactly is out there. 

There are 8 world view questions answered for this essay:

What is truly real? 

What is the nature of external reality? 

What is a human being? 

What happens after death? 

Is it truly possible to know anything or any truth at all? 

What is morality? 

Is history important? 

What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with the world view?

Robert Downey Jr. confirms Sherlock Holmes 3 to start filming this ...

What is prime reality? What is truly real?
The two main protagonists in this movie rely very much on science. In the beginning of the movie, we see a woman who was about to be a victim of a sacrifice. She is under the influence of a drug and Dr. Watson sees this and tells the police that she needs a hospital immediately and not a minister for prayer. We also see Holmes shooting a gun in his rooms while trying to make a sound suppressor for a gun. My point is they are devotees of science. 

Throughout the movie, Holmes talks of wanting facts. A famous quote from the Canon is “Data! Data! Data!  I can't make bricks without clay.” While following a lead, Watson suggests a possible supernatural answer while Holmes replies that he is not opposed to the idea but wishes to have as many facts as he can before jumping to a supernatural conclusion. When Blackwood is reported to rise from the grave, Holmes’s first words are “What are the facts?” Throughout the movie Holmes always relies on solid facts to answer questions. 

At the end of the movie, Holmes not only dismisses the idea of the supernatural but shows conclusively how everything is done through science and not supernatural powers.

Sherlock_Holmes (2009)

What is the nature of external reality?
Much like the answer to question one, scientific law is a big factor to determining what the world is around us. In science, the world is orderly and, using scientific laws, the world around us can be manipulated to a certain extent. Lord Blackwood, using science, has his followers drink their loyalty to him before he attempts to murder all of parliament. It turns out this drink had an antidote that would have kept them immune from the poisonous gas released in parliament. Because Holmes, Watson, and Adler interfered, the plan was foiled.  It was not a failure on Blackwood’s part. His science was accurate and correct, but the protagonists interfered with the procedure. 

Is there a supernatural aspect to the world in this movie? What do the characters believe? Lord Blackwood, before his first hanging (the one he managed to fake), said “Death is only the beginning.” However, he knew he was not going to die. He survived the hanging by an apparatus around his chest and back that took most of the force that would have broken his neck and chocked him and took a drug that slowed his heart beat to the point where it seemed like he was dead. His resurrection, itself, was achieved by breaking the stone that covered his grave and then using an adhesive to glue it back together but then would wash away in the rain so no one would see it. That, plus Holmes showing the world how Blackwood demonstrated his ‘powers’ were nothing more than illusions caused by science gives the idea that there is no supernatural but just the appearance of it. 

Nerd Calendar — November 14, 1891 - Lord Blackwood Fakes His...

What of the main religion of the general populous at the time of this story? It is mostly Christianity. As we see above, it seems that science is the main belief of the protagonists and antagonists. There are priests and religious people in many parts of the movie. How are Christian theists seen in this movie? For the most part, not in a positive light. One example is when Blackwood was waiting for his execution. Outside his jail, there are many people, some in clerical clothing, holding up crosses and signs that has apocalyptic sayings and Scripture verses, mostly from Revelation. They are shouting about the end times and how Blackwood is of the devil. They looked rather unorganized and near riotous. At another point, Holmes laments, after a hotel chambermaid finds him naked and tied to a bed. who screams and runs out apparently offended and thinking Holmes was making a sexual pass at her, “That’s why I find this modern religious fervor so troubling…” because people do not have open minds. Near the end of the movie when Blackwood addresses Parliament and gives members of Parliament one more chance to follow him, there are more religious ‘protesters’ outside holding up crosses and yelling apocalyptically. Blackwood tells the members of Parliament, “Listen to the rabble outside. Listen. Listen to the fear. I will use that as a weapon to control them, and then the world.” Those who hold a Christian theist view are not looked upon well in this movie which may make one believe the protagonists and antagonists really do not believe in the supernatural, but science.  

With that said, however, Watson, during the start of their investigations, tells Holmes about odd things he had seen while he was in the British army that baffled him. He says he knew a man who was able to predict his death down to the number of bullets that killed him and their placement. He says to Holmes, “You have to admit, Holmes, that a supernatural explanation to this case is theoretically possible.” Holmes replies, “Well, agreed, but it is a huge mistake to theorize before one has enough data. Inevitably, one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of twisting theories to suit facts.” Here, we see Holmes and Watson suggesting that there is something more than what is seen, but, before concluding the supernatural, look at the facts, first, and see if there is a scientific, materialistic, reason to what is happening. They do not show atheistic views, per se, but more of an agnostic and spiritual existential worldview in that they believe something, or someone, is out there, but they are not sure what or who. Near the climax of the movie, Holmes goes through the rituals of the Temple and, after finishing, he gives a brief presentation of his conclusions to Watson and Adler. As he starts, he says, “…I may well have reconciled thousands of years of theological disparity, but that’s for another time.” He describes his journey through these rituals as deeper than he has even gone before but has emerged “enlightened.” It appears he, as well as Watson, believes in a spiritual realm and maybe even truths, but he reserves that for another time.

Sherlock Holmes Explanation Scene HD - YouTube

What is a human being?
What is a human being in these movies? As seen above, there is a belief that there is more to a human being than just a fleshy machine that acts on its own with no spirit inside the machine. The supernatural, though faked, is seen as an important factor in this movie and the belief that there is something more to a human than the physical appears to be a possibility if not believed. To Lord Blackwood, the victims of his sacrifices were “five otherwise meaningless creatures called to serve a greater purpose.” They meant nothing to him except a means for him to take over the Temple of the Four Orders, the government of Great Britain, then the world. 

Holmes shows a desire for helping humanity in a couple ways. One, when he visits Blackwood in his cell before execution, Holmes replies to Blackwood’s disregard for his victims by asking if they (scientists) will be allowed to dissect Lord Blackwood’s brain for deformities. Then, he, Blackwood, “would serve a greater purpose.” Holmes shows his value of humanity in general when brought to meet Lord Rotheram (Blackwood’s father) to hire him to stop Blackwood. Holmes says he can choose his clients and for a fee. He says he will stop Blackwood but not for them and not for a fee. He knows Blackwood is a danger to humanity and must be stopped. 

Photo 28 of 32, Sherlock Holmes

Holmes does show that he values some people above others. He, obviously, has affection for Watson but also for Irene Adler (even though he does not trust her). Watson is his best (if not his only) friend. Meanwhile, Holmes shows little concern for people like Lord Rotheram when he reminds Rotheram, rather as a matter of fact, that everyone in Blackwood’s family winds up dead. When Rotheram is found dead a day or two later, Holmes is brought to the scene of the incident and shows no sorrow or remorse for the death. He does not lament that he should have done something to warn him or advise him to keep him alive. He treated it more as a normal crime scene and a puzzle to solve. 

Watson’s view of humanity is that people should be valued. As a doctor, he showed great care for his patients and even some of those who followed Blackwood. While fighting some of Blackwood’s henchmen, he put them in a choke hold or, in some cases, a ‘sleeper’ hold which renders the opponent unconscious but not dead. Each time he does this, he checks his opponent’s pulse to make sure they are still alive. 

Sherlock Holmes (2009) | Morgan on Media

What happens to someone after they die?
In this movie, there is no real discussion of what happens after someone does except for those who follow Blackwood or are convinced he resurrected himself. Neither Holmes nor Watson give any real theories to life after death, heaven, hell, limbo, or becoming one with the universe (like the Star Wars Force). As mentioned above, Lord Blackwood says “death is only the beginning” with confidence because he knew he was not going to die. At the end of the movie, however, when he thought he was going to die; Blackwood cries out to Holmes to save him. Obviously, real death was not the beginning he was looking for and he was scared to die because he does not know what really happens to someone after death. One could argue that the message of life after death is that it is truly unknown or there is nothing after death. At first, the idea of resurrection from the grave seems absurd to Holmes and Watson. After visiting Blackwood’s grave, Watson starts to wonder, but Holmes stays resolute to look for a scientific explanation before looking into the possibility of someone rising from the grave. 

Lord Blackwood - Sherlock Holmes (2009) [x] “ And I? What will I ...

Is it possible to know anything at all?
Again, science is the ultimate way to know if anything is true, has purpose, or not. Holmes repeatedly talks of relying on facts. He wants to know what the facts are and then he forms his theories. Like he told Watson when asked about a supernatural possibility, that he prefers to look at the facts and mold theories around the facts rather the facts around the theories. Then, as referenced above, he emerges enlightened after going through the Temple’s rituals and believes he has reconciled millennia of theological disparity. In existential thinking, an individual must not allow natural law to rule them and make them nothing but a senseless spot in the universe but make something of themselves. The individual must find their own meaning. So, despite the science, they must make their own purpose. They make their own purpose in life. Lord Blackwood says that it is his purpose to take over the world and make the British Empire strong again and to last for millennia. Even with science, he believes it is his purpose to make England strong again and to rule it. 

Like mentioned above, Holmes talks about wanting Blackwood’s brain for research to serve a greater purpose. To him, science and solving crimes is his purpose in life. In this movie, he tries to make a sound suppressor for a gun and, also tries to manipulate flies while playing various chords on his violin and, through musical theory, create order out of chaos. Commentators on both the Holmes of the movie and in the canon have said that solving crime and science are his purposes in life. 

The violin of Sherlock (Robert Downey jr. ) in Sherlock Holmes The ...

What is morality? How do we know what is right and wrong? 
Holmes and Watson believe in justice. They do follow the law and they do believe in following it to a point. However, when all is said and done, they believe in justice more, even if it means breaking the law. Holmes is willing to break and enter to solve the crime and catch a wicked person who has murdered before, is still murdering, and, he comes to find out later, ready to murder hundreds more to become ruler of the world. He does this with Watson as they find the first lab used by Blackwood’s henchmen, then does it again by trying to break into Irene Adler’s hotel room to get her away from harm. Holmes shows he is dedicated to fighting crime on his own terms. He tells the leaders of the Temple of the Four Orders after they offer to hire him that he will stop Blackwood that he chooses his own clients but will stop Blackwood because he knows he is a danger to society and the world. He is not a vigilante. He normally does not go out looking for crimes to be done. He has people come to him, be it clients or the police force. He saves the life of the potential sixth sacrifice in the beginning of the movie because he was hired by the woman’s family, but when Lord Blackwood is reported to rise from the grave, it’s the police that come to him for help. 

Ultimately, he does believe in a right and wrong more than the established law. How do they know? Mostly through what society would consider right and wrong and what Holmes, himself, would see as justice.

Sherlock Holmes Movie - Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler Image ...

What is the meaning of human history?
Looking at this movie, history is important to help solve the crimes occurring now and to prevent crimes in the near future. Like I mentioned above, Holmes looks to a series of rituals used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to determine Blackwood’s plan. The Temple of the Four Orders, they admit, have been in control of governments and kingdoms for millennia and Blackwood uses that in his desire to take over the order, then try to take over the government/empire, then, the world. To Holmes, their beliefs may be mythical, but still important because it is what they believe.

Holmes’s history with Irene Adler, though more recent, is still important to him. He shows he does not trust her. After she asks Holmes why, he responds by asking if she wants to know alphabetically or historically. 

Irene Adler |

What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with existentialism?
Existentialist world views involve people making their own purpose. Much of this is answered in questions 5 and 6. For Holmes and Watson, it is fighting crime and solving cases. It is making scientific discoveries, making England and the world (or their part of it) a safer place. Without a true crime, though, Holmes is bored and starts making experiments that potentially harm himself, Mrs. Hudson, their dog, or even Watson. He wants a case that will engage his mind and make him genuinely think and work to solve it. At one point, before Adler hires him and is notified that Blackwood has risen, he laments to Watson, “There’s nothing of interest for me out there at all.” At one point, Mrs. Hudson is afraid to go into Holmes’s room because he is testing his sound suppressor by shooting bullets into the wall. Watson, trying to comfort her, says he just needs another case to occupy his mind. Though he does not wish to solve petty crimes, he does want to work for justice because if he wanted to use his mind for crime (robbing a bank, committing the perfect murder, etc.) he could but it is obvious he chooses not to.

For Lord Blackwood, his self-proclaimed purpose taking over the world. He says a couple times through the movie that he has been chosen to take over the world and he was born for it. It is the reason he was born.

Robert Downey Jr.: Sherlock Holmes invents the silencer ...

Overall, I would say this movie has a spiritual existential world view. Both antagonists and protagonists both find their own purpose and are dedicated to it. Because Holmes exposes the ‘magick’ of Lord Blackwood to be nothing but illusions, one could argue this is more atheistic, but it is obvious through Holmes’s declaration of enlightenment after reconciling theological disparity and admitting to Watson that a spiritual answer is possible (though unlikely), and no real endorsement of Christian Theism, it would appear that this movie is more spiritualist than theistic in its existential leanings.

Pin on Sherlock Holmes

World Ritchie, Guy, director. Sherlock Holmes. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2009.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

May Meeting: The Empty House

This month found us meeting via Zoom once again, and this time we were joined by friends from out of town!  California, Michigan, and Texas were represented along with our usual Missouri and Illinois participants.  With 23 people in attendance, there was plenty of discussion!

Rob started off by noting that "The Adventure of the Empty House" was published in 1903, presumably in conjunction with Holmes's retirement.

Ronald Adair has been murdered after a big winning with Colonel Moran at his club, playing against Godfrey Milner and Lord Balmoral (who is also mentioned in NOBL and SILV).  Adair had been shot in the head, but he was locked in his second-story room and the door was locked.  Stacey and Randy gave us a good historical context for the card scandal that was cited in this story.

There was a good deal of debate about Adair's name between Randy, Tom, Joe, and Bill because it went back and forth between "Ronald" and "Robert" in the manuscript.

Watson was puzzling over the case and goes to look around outside Adair's house with lots of other gawkers.  A man with colored glasses is sharing his thoughts on the case.  Some commentators thought it was Holmes's rival, Barker from RETI.  Others have posited that it was Moran returning to the scene of the crime.

Watson bumps into an old man and knocks books out of his hands.  Randy talked about these books, saying that no such book is called The Origin of Tree Worship.  The bibliophile follows Watson to his office under the guise of apologizing and offering to sell books to Watson to fill the gap on his shelf.  After Watson turns to look at the shelf, the bookseller turns out to Sherlock Holmes.


Stacey found this whole scene hard to believe, thinking both Holmes and Watson acted oddly.  Beth said that even if Watson had been furious, he wouldn't publish it in The Strand.  Tom figured that there was some strong language used, but Watson wouldn't write that up.  Brad pointed out that so many people point to the BBC Sherlock reaction, but that Watson still had his wife in that show and in the Canon, one of the two most important people in the world was still alive.  Chris argued that her initial reaction would be joy and the annoyance would come in later.  Kristen pointed out that Holmes purposely tricked Watson and thinks Watson punching Holmes was the correct response.

Watson quickly came to and asked "How did you come out of the chasm?" to which Holmes responded, "I never was in it."  Moriarty allowed Holmes to write the note, they walked to the cliff, Moriarty rushed him, and using Baritsu (or Bartitsu), Holmes threw him down the falls, making Moriarty "the first Reichenbach cliff diver" as noted by Bill.

Rob wondered why Watson was able to observe Holmes and Moriarty's footprints, but not the outline that must have been left by Holmes's body as he laid and looked over the cliff.

Holmes decides to fake his death because three other men want him dead.  He climbed the rock wall to hide and watched Watson's "sympathetic and inefficient" search of the scene.  After Watson left, someone started hurling boulders at him.  Rob shared a theory that Moran used his one shot to kill Moriarty, making him the head of the organization, and was left to use boulders to kill Holmes.

Randy asked why didn't he use the rifle to kill Holmes, and Srini, Toby, and Michael all noted that they were single shot rifles.  Toby said she had seen a can rifle like Moran's at an antique shop before, but couldn't justify paying such a high price.  Elaine also said that Moran wouldn't have had a good angle to fire from on top of the cliff.  Andy said it was just because bullets cost money but rocks were free.

Holmes escapes and "did ten miles over the mountains in the darkness" and was in Florence a week later.  He spends two years in Tibet, visited Lhassa, spending some days with the head Lama, passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, and paid a short but interesting visit to Khalifa at Kharoum.  Ed had a great paper on Holmes's visit to Khalifa that was posted on our blog.

Srini kicked off a discussion about the possibility of Holmes visiting Mecca.  Mecca was closed to outsiders at this time.  Elaine said it was because he was in disguise.  Randy joked that he could've used Basil Rathbone's disguise from The Spider Woman.  Ed said that the disguise would have had to have been unbelievably good to pass as a Muslim.  Toby cited a precedent that Sir Richard Burton made it in to Mecca around this time.

Brad pointed out that Holmes's old college friend was living in India and could have influenced Holmes's original set of travels before Mycroft got involved.  Randy cited a paper written by Gordon Speck where it was theorized that Holmes's travels had been planned out months in advance.  Olivia wondered if Holmes was actually in London the whole time and the stories of Holmes's travels were just stories.

Holmes moved on to France, researching coal tar derivatives, came back to London, threw Mrs. Hudson into violent hysterics, and found that Mycroft has preserved his rooms and papers.  Adam wondered why Mrs. Hudson was complicit in keeping those rooms untouched for so long.  Olivia said that money can quiet a lot of questions.  Stacey talked about the mourning process of Victorian times.  Rob cited a paper that Joe had written on Mycroft's role in keeping the rooms and Holmes sneaking back into London to see Watson, but Joe admitted that the paper was so long ago that he didn't remember it!

We spent some time talking about Holmes's sad bereavement.  Rob thought that Holmes's comment about work being the best antidote to sorrow was callous.  Beth wondered if Holmes had read William Blake's comments on sorrow.  And what exactly was the bereavement?  Did Mary die?  Did she have a mental breakdown?  Was it the death of a family member?  Randy argued for Mary's death because there was no more mention about her after that.  Bill suggested that Mary had died in child birth.

Three hours later, Holmes and Watson are in a Hansom cab.  The get out at Cavendish Square and make sure not to be followed.  They eventually arrive at a deserted building.  Bill told everyone about Gray Chandler Briggs's work in locating 221B Baker Street based off his finding the empty house.  It was told in the great book, Dear Starrett, Dear Briggs, which Randy showed off to everyone.  Michael said that Briggs once told Conan Doyle about this, and Doyle claimed to have never been to Baker Street.

Holmes has Watson peek out of the window across to their rooms.  Watson sees an outline of Holmes in the window, a wax bust he had made.

Soon, Moran sneaks into the house while Holmes and Watson wait in the dark.  Rob cited the great prose here.  Such great description of their wait, Moran's look, and his settling in for his shot all in the same paragraph! 

Bill cited an article by Tom Stix saying that Moran was not very bright.  He walked right into an unlocked trap.  He said that maybe the "a" in his last name should have been an "o" instead.  Chris found it hard to believe that such an experienced hunter would be deceived by the outline in the window.  Elaine argued that Watson was fooled by the dummy, so it must not have been that bad.  Srini pointed out that Moran would not have had much time.  He came in, set up, and took the shot.  If the blame should fall on anyone, it should have been his lookout.  Beth cited plenty of times that Holmes would sit immobile. 

Rich said he always worried about Mrs. Hudson's safety when she was moving the wax bust.  Ed and Tom acknowledged that many points in the Canon can be implausible, but they take the assumption that everything in the stories are true and as Sherlockians, they see it as their roles to make those facts fit.  Randy said that he enjoyed looking at different annotated versions of the Canon to see what holes they poke in the stories.

Moran's walking stick is his air gun, he fires and Holmes leaps!  Moran seizes Holmes by the throat and Watson buffaloes him with his pistol.  Lestrade and company are soon there.  Stacey pointed out that in FINA, Holmes was in a game theory match with Moriarty, but she didn't see him follow that train of thought in this adventure.

Holmes introduces "Colonel Sebastian Moran, once of Her Majesty's Indian Army, and the best heavy game shot that our Eastern empire has ever produced."

Moran is arrested for the attempted murder of Sherlock Holmes, but S. Tupper Bigelow pointed out years ago that an attempted murder charge would not hold, as Moran had fired at an inanimate object. 

And anyway, Holmes says that Moran should be arrested for the murder of Ronald Adair and that he should not be mentioned in the case.  Why the hesitancy?  Surely there would be legal complications if Holmes did not appear.  Toby and Kristen thought that it was because Holmes enjoyed the chase, but not all of the red tape associated with the legal process.

Back in Baker Street, Watson admires the wax dummy.  Ed wondered why Holmes didn't have the waxen image made from Madame Tussaud.  Rob pointed out that in Doyle's play The Mazarin Stone, the villain was Colonel Moran and he was fooled by a wax dummy in that story as well. 

Holmes and Watson settle into their old chairs, Holmes in his mouse dressing gown.  This led to a discussion of how to pronounce mouse (like the rodent) and what color it is (grayish-brown).

Watson says he has never heard of Colonel Moran in EMPT, but he was told about him in VALL, just like the confusion around whether or not Watson knew about Moriarty.

Holmes gives Moran's biography to Watson, and Rob wondered if Moriarty met Moran through being his Army coach.  Bill said hat FINA and EMPT are two parts of the same story and he felt that they should be read together as a novella.

Holmes conjectures that Moran killed Adair because he discovered the cheating and was going to call him out.  Holmes also predicts that Moran will hang for murder, but he is still alive when Holmes mentions him again in ILLU.  Adam pointed out that the crime is more of an afterthought because this story is how Sherlock Holmes comes back to London, and not how he is solving this crime, his explanation of the crime is loosely structured.

We finally wrapped up our meeting, and announced that our next one will be for "The Norwood Builder."  Hopefully this one can be in person!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Short but Interesting Visit by Ed Moorman

As we ramp up to this weekend's meeting on "The Adventure of the Empty House," Ed Moorman thought his article on the region of Holmes's travels would be interesting.  It was originally published in The Baker Street Journal in March of 1993, but is just as timely today.

[BSJ. March 1993, V43:1, pp16-18. W.R. Cochran, ed.]

After two years in Tibet, Sherlock Holmes “passed through” Persia, looked in at Mecca, so he reports, and then “paid a short visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum.” It was the results of this “short visit” that Holmes communicated to the Foreign Office.  Persia and Mecca may have been mere way stations on his journey, but there can be no question that Holmes’s “short visit” to the Khalifa was a mission, a specific government mission that eventually figured greatly in the involvement of England in African affairs and, ultimately, world affairs.

England had occupied Egypt since 1882, at the request of the Egyptian government. This occupation helped shore up the ruling faction, and, not so incidentally, discouraged the involvement of other European powers in Egyptian affairs. This occupation kept important trade routes open.

At the time, Khartoum was the capital city of the Sudan and was located just south of Egypt. The city of Khartoum, located on the upper Nile, had been an important export center for slaves. The Sudan was in turmoil, due mainly to a rebel force led by a Muslim mystic known as Ahmad al-Mahdi. Mahdi was, in effect, the Ayatollah Khomeini of his day. He was a fundamentalist Muslim who wanted to conquer the Sudan and reform the Muslim faith. He claimed to be a direct descendant of
the Prophet Mohammed.

By 1884, Mahdi had amassed a large army of fanatical followers. These included the holy men, or fakis, who wanted as did Mahdi to reform Islam, but also included former slave merchants who hoped to reinstitute the slave trade. The fiercest fighters among the followers of Mahdi were so-called Baqqarat Arabs, cattle nomads who merely wanted to depose the Sudanese government. The leader of this fierce group of Baqqarat Arabs was the man called the Khalifa, or “deputy.” The Khalifa was the rebels’ military leader. If Mahdi was an Ayatollah, the Khalifa was a Saddam Hussein.

In 1884, the Mahdiists in large numbers were on the outskirts of Khartoum. To evacuate the Egyptian forces at Khartoum, the Egyptians called on the man who knew the Sudan better than any other Englishman, but who at the same time was the most hated by Mahdi and the Khalifa and their supporters. That man was General Charles George Gordon.

General Gordon eventually became one of England’s greatest heroes because of what was to happen at Khartoum. After Khartoum, all of England admired Gordon. Dr. Watson himself tells us in The Cardboard Box that he had a newly framed portrait of Gordon hanging on the wall at Baker Street.

Who was Gordon? Born in 1833, Gordon became known for “reckless” bravery at Sebastopol in the Crimean War (1853-56). He participated in the occupation of Peking in the “Arrow” war of 1860 and
in the rebellion in Shanghai in 1862. Back in England in 1865, and now known as “Chinese” Gordon, he developed what has been called an unorthodox, mystical brand of Christianity and generated something of a cult following.

In 1873, Gordon was appointed, or actually was hired by the reigning Sudanese government, to be governor of the province of Equatoria. He mapped the entire upper Nile and set up a line of stations.

One of Gordon’s accomplishments as governor from 1873 to 1876 was his crushing of the slave trade. He suppressed a number of rebellions as well. Back in England in the late 1870’s, Gordon had one last campaign ahead of him, and it came at Khartoum in 1884. Gordon got the job of going into Khartoum and rescuing the Egyptian forces threatened by Mahdi and his rebels. Gordon arrived in Khartoum in February 1884. One month later, in March, Mahdi and the Khalifa mounted a siege, and Gordon could not get out of Khartoum.

The English government dragged its feet and sent no reinforcements. Huge protests broke out in London as people demanded action. Finally, months later, a force headed by General Wolseley set sail for Africa. In January of 1885, with the siege already nine months old, Lord Beresford headed an expedition up the Nile to help out. But the waters of the Nile subsided, and the rebel forces led by the Khalifa stormed the city of Khartoum. On 26 January 1885, they massacred General Gordon and all of his forces. Lord Beresford arrived two days late, heard gunfire, and retreated.

The English people reacted with shock and outrage. General Gordon was no longer “Chinese” Gordon. He was “Gordon of Khartoum,” a martyr. And Gordon became Dr. Watson’s greatest hero.

Having taken over the city of Khartoum, Mahdi lived only five more months, died, and the Khalifa ruled the Sudan. This was in 1885. In an account reprinted in The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Smith claims that the Khalifa “held forth embattled until 1888.” That is not true. In fact, the Khalifa lasted far longer. He moved the capital from Khartoum to its twin sister, Omdurman, just across the Nile. From Omdurman he set out, literally, to conquer the world.

Like Saddam Hussein, the Khalifa was fanatically religious, lusted after power, and was totally ignorant of the world outside of his own country. He amassed his forces and marched them off in four different directions: eastward, where they conquered the Ethiopians; westward, where they occupied the desert; southward, where they were driven back by a Belgian force from the Congo; and northward, where they were soundly defeated by an Anglo-Egyptian force under General Grenfell.

The Khalifa abandoned his dreams of world conquest.

From 1889 to 1892, the Khalifa, beaten in war and beset by famine, epidemic, and death, tried to hold on. The crops improved, however, after 1892, and by the time Holmes came for his “short visit” in 1893, things were improving in the Sudan. Edgar Smith claims that the Khalifa was not in Khartoum in 1893, but if he was not, he was a few paces across the bridge in Omdurman. If Holmes says it was Khartoum, it probably was Khartoum.

But why would Holmes, or any Englishman, bother to pay a short visit to the Khalifa? This was definitely not the occasion for a friendly chat. General Gordon was Watson’s hero and had been not merely defeated but actually murdered, massacred by the Khalifa. It has been said that England does not have permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. Still in all, one does not idly sip tea with butchers. One is certain that Holmes told Watson a lot more about this visit than a line which reads almost like “And by the way, Watson, I stopped and had a nice little visit with the chap who murdered your hero, General Gordon.”

So why make the visit? Well, we learn that the French in 1893 came up with an ingenious plan. The French were never much in favor of anything England did, and England’s partnership with Egypt was
particularly troublesome to the French. In 1893, the French started a project under which they would march across Africa to the city of Fashoda, 400 miles south of Khartoum on the Nile. There they would build a dam and obstruct the Nile. England vitally needed a detailed investigation of this matter. It would have been absolutely necessary that someone visit Khartoum to determine whether the Khalifa was willing or able to defend the Nile from this French threat, or whether England and
Egypt would have to provide all of the defense.

When Holmes returned to London in 1894, no one in England outside of the government could have known how important an investigation of the Khalifa in 1893 would have been. But by the time The Adventure of the Empty House was published, in 1903, all of England knew what eventually had happened in the Sudan during the 1890’s.

General Kitchener, later Lord Kitchener, had become commander of the Egyptian forces in 1892. In 1893, he needed intelligence information about the Khalifa which could be provided only by a brave
and perceptive Englishman, totally reliable, an experienced investigator, and a master of disguise. There would have been only one choice.

Kitchener’s request for investigation assistance would have gone to the Foreign Office and from there been relayed by Mycroft to Holmes in Tibet. That is why Persia was only a “pass-through” and Mecca only a “look-in” for Holmes as he proceeded to Khartoum. The British had to find out as soon as possible what lay in store if the French went ahead with their plan to dam the Nile at Fashoda. One pictures Holmes perhaps disguised as an Arab merchant, looking over Khartoum, sipping tea with the Khalifa. This was Holmes single-handedly putting the “Impossible Mission” force to shame.

It would have become apparent to Holmes that the Anglo-Egyptian force would have to stop the French themselves. The Khalifa was too obtuse to realize that his own interests were at stake. One suspects that he may have even been bribed by the French to provide Sudanese labor for the project. Before Kitchener could face down the French, he would have to defeat the Khalifa. This must have been the message Holmes communicated to the Foreign Office.

The French force did not leave for Africa until 1896, under Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand. Two years later, after landing on the West coast of Africa and crossing the continent, they were at Fashoda, ready to build the dam.

But Kitchener, thanks to the intelligence provided by Holmes’s visit with the Khalifa, had known for years what would be necessary, and he could not have been better warned and better prepared. On 2
September 1898, Kitchener and his force of 25,000 men met and soundly defeated the Khalifa and his 60,000 men outside of Omdurman.

Gordon was avenged. Watson must have cheered. The Khalifa fled and was killed a year later.

Kitchener then moved on south, up the Nile, and confronted the French at Fashoda. Both sides prepared for war. If you do not recall ever having read about the heroic battle of Fashoda, it is because the battle never happened. Facing the well-prepared forces of Kitchener, France backed down. The dam project was abandoned. Th French left the Sudan.

Kitchener became a hero, later leading forces in the Boer War in South Africa. By the time of World War I, Kitchener was able to mobilize all of the British forces With his leadership, his ability, and his
face on a million posters proclaiming, “Your Country Needs You.”

So what Holmes called a “short but interesting visit to the Khalifa” helped shape English history well into the twentieth century. If the term “hiatus” implies mere absence, idleness, or inactivity, we must find a better word.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Holmes, Heroic, Hiatus: A Man to Match the Swiss Mountains by Gordon R. Speck

The following is an article written by Gordon Speck for the Camden House Journal in 1985, but it still rings true today.  For anyone who knew Gordon, you'll know what a great Sherlockian scholar he was.  And if you weren't lucky enough to ever read one of Gordon's writings, you are in for a real treat!

Holmes, Heroic, Hiatus: 
A Man to Match the Swiss Mountains 
by Gordon R. Speck

Holmes visits places during the Great Hiatus that read like the itinerary of the travels of Marco Polo, and the reader tends to concentrate on the where of it at the expense of the why and the how. Most of the why and the how is a matter of unverifiable conjecture, but the facts of that earliest and most difficult phase lie incontrovertibly before us. The reason and method of Holmes's madness in doing "ten miles across the mountains in the dark"--his statement to Watson in "The Adventure of the Empty House"--are found in "The Final Problem."

Holmes and Watson, supposedly fleeing the wrath of Moriarty and the remnants of his gang as Scotland Yard draws together its wide-cast net, journey toward Meiringen in the heart of Switzerland, a deliberately chosen destination. Note the pace of their flight: two days in Brussels; one day in Strasbourg, leaving for Geneva the same day they arrived. The "flight" could hardly be called "headlong."

In Strasbourg Holmes receives a telegram from "the London police"--in reply to his query--informing him of Moriarty's escape. Holmes urges Watson to return to London "[b]ecause you will find me a dangerous companion now." The inference is that Holmes did not consider himself in danger until that moment. The telegram, in fact, told Holmes that his preconceived, carefully thought out scheme was proceeding as planned.

Watson refuses to part from Holmes; the two of them leave Strasbourg, and

For a charming week we wandered up the valley of the Rhone, and then, branching off at Leuk, we made our way over the Gemmi Pass, still deep in snow, and so, by way of Interlaken, to Meiringen. It was a lovely trip . . .

     Why such a leisurely "flight"? Several reasons come to mind. First, Holmes must allow Moriarty time to discover his general location and direction of travel so that all three would arrive in the Meiringen area at approximately the same time. Second, he had to acclimate his muscles and lungs to Alpine conditions, partly to prepare for the fight with Moriarty and partly to accommodate his post-fight plan. Third, he needed to learn the tricks of travel in Swiss mountains and to question the natives about shortcuts and byways to various points throughout the country. Watson notes Holmes's special alertness "by his quick glancing eyes and his sharp scrutiny of every face that passed us," and the faithful doctor believes "that he [Holmes] was well convinced . . . . of the danger which was dogging our footsteps." Under the circumstances, Holmes had only to exaggerate his mannerisms and wait for Watson to draw the wrong conclusions, an essential part of his plan.

Not only must Watson convince himself that danger threatens Holmes and that Holmes dies in the Reichenbach cauldron, but he must also convince other people who know both him and Holmes.

Actually Holmes observes the traveling Swiss in minute detail in order to learn ways of getting around in the mountains. In this way Holmes masters the Swiss mountains. For example, a commonplace rock slide occurs as Holmes, Watson, and guide walk along the edge of a lake, but Holmes "raced up on to the ridge, and, standing upon a lofty pinnacle, craned his neck in every direction." Watson assumes that Holmes seeks the dislodger of the rock; Holmes, however, is merely testing his new-found skills and scouting the area.

Watson tells us that Holmes "was never depressed," that he could "never recollect having seen him in such exuberant spirits." Why should he not be? Holmes knows that he is about to rid the world of Moriarty and to take a long, well-deserved holiday. He does not, of course, know that Moran will escape, but his precautions and preparations for the unexpected event--always wise when dealing with Moriarty--serve him well. Although Moran knows that Holmes is not dead, the rest of world does not, and Holmes is free to pursue the secret missions entrusted to him by the Queen (as I have discussed elsewhere).

Despite Holmes's reputation, many have questioned his ability to survive a ten-mile trek through the Swiss mountains in the dark. Once again Watson, although he does not realize it, provides explicit details, allowing us to conclude how and why Holmes managed it--if only we observe those details. Beginning in "The Final Problem" and continuing until his return in "The Adventure of the Empty House," Holmes takes the road "less traveled by, / And that has made all difference."

Saturday, April 11, 2020

March/April Meeting: The Hound of the Baskervilles

After the original date of March's meeting was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we ventured to try our first digital meeting via Zoom.  And it went pretty well!  It allowed a few folks who normally don't travel to St. Louis to join us and we had a solid meeting overall.

Because we wanted to stay focused on the discussion of HOUN while on Zoom, we didn't have any news, announcements, or giveaways.  But Bill and Tom did have some great papers they wanted to share with everyone and you can read them on our blog:  (Bill's paper)  (Tom's paper)

Our story starts with a client leaving his walking stick behind and Watson attempting to model Holmes's methods and deduce information about the client.  He's somewhat successful but not totally, warranting one of the greatest back-handed compliments of the Canon: "It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light.  Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it."

Dr. Mortimer soon arrives at 221B and announces to Holmes that he covets his skull for phrenology.

Rob cited Brad Keefauver's theory about Mortimer bringing his dog to London but not his wife.  Elaine guessed that it was because she was too busy.  Bill pointed out that Holmes could not have seen the dog on the street as he claimed.

We then went into the history of the curse of the Baskervilles and we discussed Heather's theory that Baskerville Hall was tied to the cult of Gozer from Ghostbusters.  Stacey taught us about the Dartmoor legends related to the area and the mist surrounding it.  Tom and Stacey have both been to Dartmoor and talked about how beautiful it seemed on sunny days, but terrifying when the fog rolled in.

Hugo's friends chase after Sir Hugo, who is being chased by a great hound.  His captor had died of fright, just like many people in the Canon do.  The dog "turned its blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them."

Bill said that time with Sir Hugo was like a bad Victorian Spring Break experience.

Randy cited the flashback scene in the Rathbone Hound movie as his favorite version of this part of the story.  Cathy asked what everyone's favorite filmed version of HOUN was.  Kevin cited Jeremy Brett.

Randy and Joe chose Rathbone.

And Elaine said she liked the Hammer version.

Stacey, Christopher, Tom, and Joe talked about Sir Richard Cavell being the basis for Sir Hugo Baskerville.

Christopher talked about the history of the dog used in the Hammer version and how they tried to make a friendly dog look like a terrifying beast.

Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes about Charles Baskerville's death three years ago and the chapter ends with the famous line, "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"  Rob wondered how the original Strand readers dealt with having to wait a whole month for the next chapter after that cliffhanger.

Henry Baskerville arrives and has a few boots missing here and there.  Baskerville and Dr. Mortimer are followed by a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes, which Elaine found to be a nice touch.  Kevin pointed out that Holmes laughed at this and Randy thought that Holmes was impressed with his adversary.  Rob pointed out that if Holmes had caught the cab in chapter 4, the story would have ended right there!

Christopher thought that Watson's description of the Moor is one of the most evocative writing in the whole book and Rob said he has seen it said plenty of times that the moor is it's own character in the story.

Elaine really enjoyed the convict subplot that included lights on the moor, stolen clothing, and family secrets.

Randy and Tom talked about Dartmoor prison's relation to Baskerville Hall and it's future.

Bill found it interesting that Holmes told Watson that he couldn't investigate the walking stick, but he sent him out to help with Henry Baskerville's investigation.  Kevin countered that Watson was sent to report the facts, but not investigate.  Tom agreed that what Watson lacked in investigative skills he made up for in bravery.  Rob argued that the Watson from the Canon has never really been captured in a film or TV adaptation.

As Watson chronicles his time with Baskerville, Sir Henry is becoming more and more interested in his neighbor, Beryl Stapleton.  Bill wondered if anyone else found Beryl Stapleton to be the most interesting character in the entire story.

Rob asked if anyone else found it odd that Stapleton would ask Baskerville to wait three months before courting his sister.  Stacy and Kevin discussed all of the red flags that this request should have raised.

Watson has identified a man on the moor, and has tracked down Laura Lyons.  He is putting pieces together, just very, very slowly.  Stacey said that if Watson had been interested in Beryl Stapleton, he probably would have worked much quicker.  Tom said that Watson had a narrow focus because he knew Holmes was waiting on his reports.  Kevin wondered if this story fell during a time when Watson was married, but Randy and Michael checked Baring-Gould's chronology to say that this story took place in 1888, so he would not have been married.

While Baskerville is sneaking time with Beryl, Watson decides to hunt down the man on the tor, tracking him to a stone hut, leading to another great cliffhanger, ""It is a lovely evening, my dear Watson.  I really think that you will be more comfortable outside than in."

Of course, it's Holmes outside.  Rob found it interesting that Holmes said he wouldn't have been able to recognize Watson's footprint "amid all the footprints of the world" and had to use his cigar ash to identify that it was him.

Holmes gives Watson a ton of information saying that Stapleton is actually married to Beryl, he used to be a schoolmaster in Northern England, had a relationship with Laura Lyons but she does not know the truth about him, Stapleton was the man following Baskerville back in London, and that Beryl sent a warning to Baskerville telling him not to come to Dartmoor.

Bill and Joe debated which version was worse, the Peter Cook or Tom Baker version.  We all agreed that there couldn't be a winner, only losers in that conversation.

Back at Baskerville Hall, Holmes covers up part of Hugo Baskerville's portrait and Watson could quickly see the resemblance to Stapleton.  Rob wondered if Dr. Mortimer was so into atavism, why couldn't he see the resemblance?  Randy said he was only interested in skulls and nothing else.

Holmes and Watson pretend to leave for London and tell Baskerville to go to dinner with Stapleton.  This led to a discussion on whether Holmes was negligent in putting Baskerville at undue risk.  Stacey pointed out that they were all lucky that Stapleton didn't change his method and decide to poison Baskerville at dinner.

After dinner, Baskerville leaves to walk home for the climactic scene with the hound:

A hound it was, and enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen.  Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smoldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flames.  Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.

Tom pointed out that the hound couldn't have actually have had phosphorus on it because phosphorus burns at room temperature.  Michael offered that the hound was so angry because it was a hot dog.

After the Holmes kills the hound, Stapleton has escaped only to be swallowed up by the moor, and Beryl has been found tied up.

Cathy wondered who was with Baskerville when Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade tracked down Stapleton's hiding spot.

Rob questioned why Holmes would make Watson wait a month to hear him hear all of the final details.  Why didn't they talk about it on the train ride back to London?

Elaine quoted Doyle's description of Beryl's hot-blooded temperament, which led to a discussion of anyone with Spanish descent in these stories.

As we wrapped up, Randy quoted the last line from Rathbone's version: "Watson, the needle!"

Tom reinforced everyone's opinion that this story is very, very well written.  Normally, our group finds ourselves kicking around different theories to address plot holes in the short stories, but you can tell that Doyle spent way more than his typical one sitting for this tale.

Next month's meeting will be The Adventure of the Empty House via Zoom again.  RSVP at our Facebook event page or via email to get the link.  Come at once if convenient!