Group Readings of Various Stories Involving Sherlock Holmes, with a Bit of BBC Sherlock Thrown in fo
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There are very few rules here, more like guidelines. Those being that the discussion should have something to do with one of the original stories you are reading, and from there, feel free to talk about other versions you like/dislike or love/hate.
I am really enjoying rereading the stories now that I have just finished watching the three seasons of Sherlock. It is amazing to me how easily these stories translate into the modern world. I think that must say something for the stories themselves.
Anyway, everyone in my house is yammering on about other stuff right now, so I can't think of anything intelligent to say. I'll come back later and hope someone who can concentrate better, or has a quieter house, has contributed to the thread. :)
I am, at this time rereading A Study in Scarlet.
I haven't yet located my two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes, but my regular one-volume Complete Sherlock Holmes is still front and center on my oldest bookcase. It was a gift from my parents when I was in my teens. I've been a fan of SH since I was about twelve.
A Study in Scarlet sounds like the perfect place to start.
I do agree in the sense that Holmes and Watson are "flat" in the original writings, but, there have been so many adaptations and modifications from Jeremy Brett to the most recent Sherlock series, and then the Laurie R. King novels, that I don't see them as flat anymore. Also, I think the roundness which has been introduced has not ruined the stories, either.
Another article I'm reading on Doyle, said that he always began with the solution and worked his way back through the story leaving clues for the reader. It said he was the one who gave the model of that for future mystery writers. In listening to the Sherlock commentaries, both Moffat and Gatiss said that the absolute hardest stuff to come up with were the "detection" bits. The ones where Sherlock looks at someone and deduces a bunch of stuff from that glance. I know a lot of people make the argument that Doyle didn't play fair in the clues, that he didn't let on everything that Sherlock made his deductions from. I'm going to pay particular attention this reading to see whether I agree or not.
Also, I will be honest - crime/mystery novels often follow an extremely clear pattern and sometime in my 20's I had read my fill and switched wholeheartedly to (modern) SF. Bit by bit I have retraced my steps, adding the odd crime/mystery novel to my reading list, once more enjoying the ride.
I have planned to revisit some of the original short stories and am tempted to get some "complete" edition or other, so I'm sure I'll dip back into this thread for some Sherlock talk :)
A Study in Scarlet is a good a starting point as any.
I want to get through all of them during 2014. So, about 180 pages a month.
I have a problem with mysteries where the detective is the only one who can solve it because of specialized (magical thinking) knowledge. But knowing that Sherlock is always going to be this type going into it, I should be okay.
The first story is A Study in Scarlet. I also want to get the next, The Sign of Four, read this month.
I'm familiar with only a few of the retellings - the current BBC Sherlock, of course. House (the one with Hugh Laurie) is said to be based on Sherlock. The one with Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.
Oh, and does anyone remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Data creates Moriarty on the Holodeck?
The game, as Sherlock would say, is afoot!
I think part of the enduring appeal of the characters must be the way their particular flatness lends itself to such a variety of different roundnesses in adaptation and retelling.
I finished A Study in Scarlet tonight. I had forgotten SO much of it! The whole trip back in time to the American west was a big surprise to me.
Interesting how the modern Sherlock writers twisted it up. In the original, the murderer has our sympathy, his revenge is understandable, the victims are not sympathetic at all but more like criminals on the run. The modern one has the murderer being a psychopath, justifying himself in killing relatively innocent people for monetary gain. Yes, he's dying, but that doesn't gain our sympathy. Also, in the original, the whole idea with the pills is very medieval, the idea that "God will make justice prevail in a contest." Very much what the challenges in those times were about. The modern version doesn't have that at all, because the guy is a psychopath, it is simply a rush, like Russian roulette.
I love the modern combining of "Gregson" and "Lestrade" into one man.
A mention here, because women don't often feature in these stories, that Doyle refers to "Neruda" as in Wilhelmine Maria Franziska Neruda, a violinist. I looked her up and found that the violin was not an "approved" instrument for women at that time. She was quite extraordinary, and so must her father have been to allow her to pursue that instead of the piano.
The only clues I found that were not given to the reader were the contents of the telegram from America and the fact that the cab wheels showed that the cabby had not been controlling the cab. I'm not really sure whether they were necessary clues or not, since I already knew it was the cabby. Hard to erase facts from your head and read fresh.
In 2014 not many would use "ejaculated" to mean "exclaimed", just as an example.
Or is it just me?
I also think some historical knowledge is needed to understand what happens, at least if you're not English. I mean, I don't think Swedish people in general, however proficient in the modern variant of the English language, knows what a hackney is.
The only reason I do is because I've read historical romances!
I too did know what a hackney is. I think I learned that when I read Neal Stephenson's Baroque cycle, I think. It jumped out at me as something most people wouldn't know, though.
Some of the other words I knew but not they way they were used in the text so I had to look them up for their previous meaning.
Educational, if nothing else :)
The North American episode was almost jarring. I didn't expect it to be narrated in such a direct and extensive way I guess, the framing as the dying man's confession nearly absent.
This volume is not for reading in bed, though. I've bent my wrists with some pretty heavy hard-cover tomes in the past (for example, Anathem), but this one's bigger than any of them.
I don't like the fact that the stories in this specialized edition are arranged according to some sort of computed chronology instead of in the traditional order of publication. I suppose that makes it more scholarly, but I'm not reading for any academic purpose. Like Holmes, I'm an interested amateur.
That's how good the integration was especially in the first series. As is the confusion between shoulder and leg injury in the novels- where modern Sherlock persuades him it's psychosomatic.
By the time, we hit Chapter 3 or 4, we get this: “Miss Morstan and I stood together, and her hand was in mine. A wondrous subtle thing is love for here were we two who had never seen each other before that day, between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed, and yet now in an hour of trouble our hands instinctively sought for each other...So we stood, hand in hand, like two children, and there was peace in our hearts for all the dark things that surrounded us.” Pure schmaltz
Fortunately before we descend into all that gushy, smoochy stuff, we encounter the murder victim (as well as the suspect preferred by the foolish soul from Scotland Yard) and Sherlock sends Watson to fetch Toby, the remarkable scent-hound who leads them about London in search of the one-legged man. That’s played for a certain amount of humor, no question, but then Holmes is forced to fall back on Wiggins and the rest of the Baker Street Irregulars to dig up a missing launch. (We did meet Wiggins in the third season of BBC Sherlock but I think that was in the third and final episode, wasn’t it?)
So actually there were some parallels with the BBC episode the Sign of Three and this novel.
--The poisoned thorn which becomes the poisoned buckle spike. (Note: in the novel, Holmes asks Watson to speculate on the type of poison, despite the fact that in Study in Scarlet, Watson notes that Holmes has a variable level of knowledge of botany except for poisons where his knowledge is as good as the doctor's.)
-- Sholto locks himself in his hotel bedroom which is somewhat analogous to Sholto locking himself up in his secluded dark gothic house in the book. They (Moffat and Gatliss) did justify Sholto's behavior on the basis of his being seriously burned by an IED in Afghanistan.
-- And then there is that whole play on words (Sign of Three rather than Sign of Four) although I thought the whole preggers joke in the wedding episode was rather labored. (Apologies for the pun. I'm really as bad as Mark Gatliss playing with this.)
These are my jots and notes from reading The Sign of Four
Original: Holmes uses cocaine to get through the dull times, modern, nicotine patches. Explained by creators that nowadays, you couldn't really portray an intelligent person as a drug addict, the modern public wouldn't buy it. Although, I noticed they took this a step further in the last episode of season three.
Original: Holmes examines Watson's pocket watch and is correct on all accounts. This makes Holmes more godlike and authoritative. Modern, a cell phone, and misses the gender of the sibling. This makes Holmes more human for a modern audience.
I do not remember from my original readings the sly humor of Sherlock and Watson, or the romanticism of Watson. Is it that I am more mature, or that the various depictions have brought my attention to them?
The first time I read the Holmes stories, I was much younger and perceived Holmes and Watson as past middle age. Now (due to Sherlock?) I see them as much younger.
Original: The Baker Street Irregulars were waifs, children of the streets. Now, they are adult homeless people, because it would be criminal to know of such homeless children and not get them protected by some agency or other.
I did not catch the connection between the poisonous barb and the skewer of the modern series! Good catch, jillmwo.
I love Sherlock's tribute to Mary at the end of the story, "I think she is one of the most charming young ladies I ever met, and might have been most useful in such work as we have been doing. She has a decided genius that way; witness the way in which she preserved that Agra plan from all the other papers of her father." This certainly leaves the door wide open for the modern take on Mary in Sherlock.
The first time I read the Holmes stories, I was much younger and perceived Holmes and Watson as past middle age. Now (due to Sherlock?) I see them as much younger.
I was in my very wee teens on my original read of these stories and have since not revisited them, not until now. I feel my image of Holmes' age is heavily influenced by the Jeremy Brett version, which I, again, last watched during a time when my perception of "middle aged" or "old" was quite different than it is now, when I'm 47 ;-) Because what really hit me when I read A Study in Scarlet (more on that later, I'm at work right now) was that Sherlock really is described as quite young, possibly in this late 20's, if my memory serves me right.
So, not as old in the stories as my visual (TV) memory will make me think.
Your point about how old these guys are supposed to be is an interesting one. I just went rummaging about (it's time for a coffee break) and found a Sherlock community that suggests that both Holmes and Watson were born sometime in the 1850's. See http://www.sherlockforum.com/forum/topic/904-what-age-are-sherlock-holmes-and-jo... They think Watson might be two or three years older than Holmes. In Study in Scarlet, Watson indicates that he took his medical degree in 1878 and the events of that novel take place in 1881. However in Sign of the Four (again on the authority of this community) there is a reference to Holmes saying that two middle-aged men like Watson and Holmes would have trouble keeping up with Toby as he follows the scent throughout London. Sign of Four is set in 1888.
I'm afraid that my image of Holmes is entirely governed by the old line drawings of him in the published versions, so I have always thought of them as being somewhere in their late 30s to early 40s. Anybody else got a thought as to age? Jeremy Brett was in line with my mental images but Benedict Cumberbatch in real life is younger than 30, isn't he?
Back to work...
His image is so thoroughly identified with my early readings of Holmes that I can't separate them on rereading.
I'll confess, though, that I never really bought the bumbling and oafish, if teddy-bear cuddly, Nigel Bruce rendition of Watson. A foil is one thing, but being made to look good by contrast is not a logical reason to keep an unfit partner tagging along. Freeman's Watson brings much more to the team than Bruce ever did, thanks undoubtedly to the scripts as much as to the actors.
My guess on name changes and other alterations in parallel details would be that they stand for something, some kind of allusion, a sly reference to another story or an inside joke for devotees or possibly an homage, such as to an otherwise invisible contributor to the series. I can easily imagine, for instance, someone's offering some significant support to a production in exchange for having his name incorporated into the script.
I was real young back when I originally read those books and thought everyone older than 25 was stone age-old, antiquated. Meaning someone who was supposed to be 35 just as well had could been 55, in my eyes. Which is how I always pictured Sherlock.
That line (at least for me) largely captures who the BBC Sherlock is -- an entity unlike the canonical Sherlock of the books and short stories. He’s more self aware, he’s more capable of violence, and he’s more obviously nettled by those with whom he comes into conflict. He is also very different from the three other men whose personalities provide the contextual lens for describing Sherlock.
The television show deals with three critical relationships:
Sherlock and Watson (Sherlock contrasts with someone more socially adept than he)
Sherlock and Mycroft (Sherlock contrasts with someone more brilliant and to some extent, more powerful than he)
Sherlock and Moriarty (Sherlock contrasts with someone more unprincipled than he)
The BBC Sherlock is more realistic in terms of human behavior and psychology than the character that originally appeared in ACD’s short stories. The Sherlock of the texts seems colder and less approachable.
Also, after reading it, I am rather disappointed with the direction taken for the ending of the episode with Magnusson. In the original, it was a woman who killed Milverton, she was strong and determined and ruthless. Although they had Mary almost do this, I think it would have been terrific if at the end it had been the woman who had been so humiliated my Magnusson in the beginning.
43 - The writers/producers have said that it is all about the relationship and friendship between Holmes and Watson for them. I don't think other shows have been that. It usually is about Sherlock's brilliance, the crimes or other rabbit-trails and twists. I'm pretty sure this is why I love "Sherlock," because I have always seen the man Watson was meant to be in the stories, and I love seeing Holmes acknowledge this in a show. He certainly did in the original stories.
Also, I like that Sherlock himself is more human in the BBC show, compared to how we're used to see him portrayed. That said I would love for the mysteries and crime solving to have a more prominent role - when all is said and done text-Sherlock is much about the crime solving, with the interactions between the detective and his friend for added depth, and BBC Sherlock has tended to be more and more about a set of wounded men and their struggles, with a lot of added elaborate and sometimes over-construed intrigue and mystery going on behind the scenes.
I enjoy that part too but when I list favourite episodes I still think the first season was the best one. The rest I enjoy because the actors have managed to make their characters believable and I want to know what happens to them, not because of the mystery.
Many of them refer to "the great Detective in London" giving an opinion, which then proves to be wrong and overly complicated! So, I wonder if Doyle was trying to jab Sherlock in a way he wouldn't get into too much trouble with his fans?
Here's one thing I noticed, reading without the image of Nigel Bruce in my mind: Watson does not seem to bumble at all. He doesn't see what Holmes sees, but then neither does anyone else. He's quick enough to understand an explanation, though, and to back Holmes up capably in action--even while falling in love with Mary.
Here's another: in this second tale, Holmes laughs and smiles quite a lot, he's affable enough to interact comfortably with a four-year-old child and charm his mother, he's comfortable dealing with the boys of the street and engaging their loyalty and trust, he can behave sociably when he chooses to (including hosting a small dinner and keeping up a stream of vivacious chatter), and he's described by another character as a "young man." This doesn't sound at all like the character that Basil Rathbone was playing.
And look how many people around the city greet him warmly, with favorable recognition.
On the other hand, a younger, warmer, more personable and less intense Holmes doesn't possess the same mystique. Instead we're suddenly looking at Archie Goodwin. Perhaps the more aloof, austere, and altogether serious Holmes is a product of the short stories that I'm about to begin.
In fact, that's exactly how he's described in the first short story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," which I read today.
But that is not the depiction of him in The Sign of the Four, so he must have evolved a lot in the stories that followed. If we see him as many degrees warmer and more charming than his usual depiction, we are looking at an Archie Goodwin type and not the Holmes of legend.
I felt in The Sign of Four, that much of Holmes' humor and hilarity and whatever he was doing, was put on for the sake of show and distraction. He is perfectly capable of that. I'm sure he knew right away the pit that Watson had fallen in when he met Mary, and how that might change things, and here we are back in a circle to the show. :)
That's another one I'm waiting for in the Sherlock. How many wives does Watson have? During the course of all the novels and short stories I think the argument can be made for up to 6!. We get no details about how or why they change, and I can't remember the details offhand. - but a quick brouse to the Baker street group, resurrected an old thread I'd started about Watson, and hence to Sherlockian.net and there we find:
"It is generally agreed that Watson met Mary Morstan in September of 1888 (The Sign of the Four) and married her several months later, presumably in the Spring of 1889. Watson, in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", and Holmes in "The Stockbroker's Clerk", made comments definitely linking this "wife" with The Sign of the Four. In "The Empty House", Watson mentioned that Holmes had learned of his "own sad bereavement". Since Holmes had ostensibly gone over the Falls in April of 1891 and returned in April of 1894, Mary Morstan must have passed away sometime between those dates. In "The Blanched Soldier", which occurred in 1903, Holmes wrote that "Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife". This "wife" was clearly someone other than Mary Morstan, and so it would appear that Watson was married twice. This seems simple enough.
The real difficulty, however, starts in "The Five Orange Pips" when Watson wrote that his "wife was on a visit to her mother's". Since Mary Morstan stated that her mother was dead in The Sign of the Four, and since Watson recorded that "The Five Orange Pips" occurred in September of 1887 (a full year before he met Mary),then this "wife" could not have been her. To make matters even more complex, Watson also mentioned "The Sign of Four", as part of a dialogue with Holmes, in this same story.
And the crux continues in "A Scandal in Bohemia", where Watson clearly recorded that the case started on March 20, 1888 and again referred to being married. Based upon these two stories, one might argue that Watson had a wife before Mary Morstan, but if this is true, then what became of her?
Or, possibly they don't intend to address it. They did mention in their commentaries that Doyle was horrible at continuity in his writing. Giving the landlady different names, Watson different injuries and apparently women.
I would also say that as of season 3, she's another foil to Sherlock as mentioned up in >43 jillmwo:, or maybe more generally considering the cast as variations on how an "extraordinary" person relates to society- Watson is "normal," Sherlock turns his intelligence to detective work, Magnusson and Moriarty to criminal enterprise (though Moriarty with somewhat more enjoyment, I think- Magnusson seemed much more dispassionate), Mycroft to politics... Mary to assassination and spycraft, though it's still up in the air how much that was her choice, and now to passing as normal, and Adler to sexual manipulation and later... erm, damsel-in-distress-hood because she was playing games way out of her depth?
I apologize if this is derailing since the title specifies BBC Sherlock, but does anyone watch Elementary? I'm curious how the "ladies' man" aspect of Watson is handled with Watson being a woman in that adaptation, or if it's just outright ignored.
I've only watched one or two episodes of Elementary.
I do want to mention, I don't think I would have given Sherlock Holmes more than a respectful nod if I hadn't read the Laurie R. King novels. I had read the Doyle works before, but looked at them as a thing of their times, to be read and dismissed. King made me take note and pay more attention, and now "Sherlock" is making me pay even more attention to the originals.
I finished Scarlet last night. Enjoyed it, didn't love it. That second part of the book had me dumbfounded at first. I remembered the first half pretty well. I must have skimmed the second half or maybe skipped it entirely back in the 80s. Doyle was not terribly kind to the Mormons, was he? I agree Holmes seemed a lot more human than I recall him being in any of the movies I saw in my youth. Yet I'm thankful he was not quite as forgetful and goofy as Robert Downey Jr's Holmes in 'A Game of Shadows.' Which was actually a decent enough movie, if you're not a purist. (I'm not, obviously.) I've fallen head over heels for the Cumberbatch - Freeman series, though.
I second empress8411's comment in #28. If you've never seen The Great Mouse Detective it's worth a view. Holmes' nemesis is Professor Ratigan, voiced by Vincent Price.
I learned that because I was searching for the full text of a thirty-five year old essay written by Charles Moorman on "The Appeal of Sherlock Holmes". Google was sure I didn't really mean Moorman but more likely meant to type in Mormon. As we all know, auto-correct is not universally helpful...
As a side note, while the anti-Mormon streak in Scarlet is pretty clear, I don't think it is much more appalling than the portrayal of convict labor and colonial imperialism in Sign.
However what made me look for that essay in the first place was the following quote from Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century: Watson is not the technologically expert or intellectual equal of Holmes but he is the one who repeatedly reminds Holmes that the victims are people. Thirty-five years ago, Moorman's essay on "The Appeal of Sherlock Holmes" concluded that the appeal lay in "the knowledge that in the end, reason, in the form of Sherlock Holmes, and good in the form of Watson will indeed triumph" The Sherlock series suggests the possibility that the integration of qualities of technological proficiency, cognitive brilliance, information literacy, and concern for fellow humans might actually dwell in one person. Lestrade tells Watson that Holmes is a great man, and I think one day -- if we're very, very lucky -- he might even be a good one." (That's from page 142, but the added emphasis is mine.)
What struck me was that both the BBC Sherlock as well as the US-based television show of Elementary appear to have actually settled on this aspect of the relationship as a focus. In Elementary, John Watson is female (Joan Watson), a healer, while Sherlock Holmes is a dark drug-addicted and abrasive personality whom she is assisting towards recovery. Hence the very sterotypical essence of "Good". Why can't we escape that whole "Angel in the House" thing from the 19th century?
The thing of it is that in the original Holmes, that dichotomy is rather less emphasized. Yes, Sherlock is intellectual reason and Watson is the more human Everyman but the original stories are adventure stories, action tales, and very little is said about Sherlock/Holmes and the place of reason/goodness in resolving crime in Victorian England. (This came to me as I was reading Judith Flanders' book, The Invention of Murder.)
This is particularly clear in hindsight as I think about A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four. Does it resonate with anyone else or am I simply stating the obvious?
Whatever fault we might find with the old original stories, they never sneer at Holmes or condescend to him. He is what he is, and that is never a figure of ridicule or disgust.
Shame on you, BBC.