Sunday, November 29, 2015
The Final Problem
Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Novels and Short Stories, Volume 01 and Volume 02 (Bantam Classics, 2003, ASIN B000QCS8YM; cover uncredited).
I've read the Canon of Stories concerning the adventures of Sherlock Holmes (usually, but not always with his companion, Dr. John Watson) several times over the years: scattered short stories and novels when I was a child, end-to-end in college, end-to-end a few more times since then, most recently end-to-end in an annotated edition (see below).
This was the first time in several years, as I Had A Plan (also see below!). As such, I think my memories of the stories were distorted through the lens of several film and television adaptations of the stories (some more faithful than others!). I had forgotten, for example, that there were several stories written in a third voice (see The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone as an example), as if told directly by Sherlock Holmes himself (see The Adventure of the Lion's Mane as an example) or where Dr. Watson took a very active role in the story (see The Hound of the Baskervilles as an example). In fact, poor Dr. Watson! Forever ruined in our minds, I think, thanks to this depiction of his abilities!
I was even startled to re-discover the appearance of the famous hat and the famous phrase. For some reason I had it in my mind that both were inventions from the various adaptions. No, he didn't wear the hat every story and the phrase only appears once that I can now remember, but it was nice to come across both.
Overall feelings this time through? Doyle is a much better writer of short fiction than long fiction. Of the four novels, I think only The Hound of the Baskervilles really can stand up. The other three have too much exposition and backstory in them, cut all that out (as some adapted versions in other forums have done) and you have a much stronger tale.
Most of the stories are strong on their own and many are classics of the mystery genre. However, you can see when Doyle started to tire of his creation (read about The Final Problem and The Great Hiatus for more about that) and started to recycle or toss things together quickly: the later you go, overall, the weaker the tale. Was he the first to be plagued by a creation that the public loved and that the creator wished to be rid of?
You also can see a bit of careless repetition here and there, either from haste or forgetfulness. Unlike author's of today with computer tools or fans who develop "wikis" and the like, Doyle often re-used the damsel in distress, or (much to my amusement) the mysterious American more than a few times. Mysterious societies and strange ancestors, odd houses and lodgers and more make more than one appearance.
I think we can forgive him, that. For every reappearance of mysterious lodger we have gems like The Red-Headed League, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual, or the dynamic duo of The Final Problem and The Empty House!
Great stuff and these (and more) more than compensate for any "weakness" I noticed on the way through.
Holmes can be found, even today, in new stories. There are adaptions, with the Jeremy Brett version (still) my personal favorite. Holmes is everywhere, in New York, portrayed by Peter Cushing (with Christopher Lee co-starring), Tom Baker (did you know about that one?) and even wildly differently by both Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey, Jr. On the fictional front, there are even more stories, novels about Holmes, novels about Irene Adler and more. My favorites there are those written by film director and occasional novelist Nicholas Meyer (one of which was adapted to film).
Your Mileage May Vary on the pastiches, but it's a great way to get past the original stories (and who knows, maybe there's a Holmes story in you as well!).
Otherwise...I started re-reading the Canon of Stories in 2014, but did not get as far as originally intended.
The plan, as originally laid out, was I was going to read all the stories in this collection straight through. Then I was going to tackle the original annotated collection: William Baring-Gould's massive tome that was my first introduction to the concept of Sherlockian Studies. I had read this through a couple of decades ago.
Baring-Gould did a great job in annotating the Canon, but it seems to have fallen out of favor over the years. Some quibble with his ordering of the stories, some quibble with his scholarship. But it deserves a place as the first effort, if nothing else.
I haven't decided if I'm going to tackle these again. The problem is physical. These are massive volumes (especially if you don't have the two-volume version and only have the utterly astounding SINGLE volume). Not a book you can read in bed, at night; you'd be crushed if it slipped from your grasp! Maybe if I get my posterior in gear and finally clean sufficiently the computer/work/library room and have enough space on the desk to lay these out!
The next part of the plan was to re-read the second attempt at annotating the Canon. This was undertaken by Leslie S. Klinger, initially as paper volumes, now as eBooks (but I recommend purchasing both!): The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Volume 01); The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories: The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (Volume 02); The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels (Volume 03). Klinger has also annotated other works, such as Bram Stoker's Dracula and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He is more than worth seeking out.
I'm definitely tackling the Klinger editions next, hopefully at a more measured pace than I did with the Bantam edition. I think that possibly part of my problem with the last stories was as much that Doyle was wearied of Holmes and I was wearied of the stories. There are some classic stories in the last collection, maybe I will appreciate them more if I pace myself!
Made up of: (2014 reads) Introduction; A Study in Scarlet; The Sign of Four; A Scandal in Bohemia; The Red-Headed League; A Case of Identity; The Boscombe Valley Mystery; The Five Orange Pips; The Man with the Twisted Lip; The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle; The Adventure of the Speckled Band; The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb; The Adventure of the Nobel Bachelor; The Adventure of the Copper Beeches; Silver Blaze; The Yellow Face; The Stock-Broker's Clerk; The "Gloria Scott"; The Musgrave Ritual; The Reigate Puzzle; The Crooked Man; The Resident Patient; The Greek Interpreter; The Naval Treaty; The Final Problem; The Adventure of the Empty House; The Adventure of the Norwood Builder; The Adventure of the Dancing Men; The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist; The Adventure of the Priory School; The Adventure of Black Peter; The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton; The Adventure of the Six Napoleons; (2015 reads) The Adventure of the Three Students; The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez; The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter; The Adventure of the Second Stain; The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel); The Valley of Fear (novel); Preface to His Last Bow; The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge; The Singular Experience of Mr. John Scott Eccles; The Tiger of San Pedro; The Adventure of the Cardboard Box; The Adventure of the Red Circle; The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans; The Adventure of the Dying Detective; The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax; The Adventure of the Devil's Foot; His Last Bow; Preface to The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes; The Adventure of the Illustrious Client; The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier; The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone; The Adventure of the Three Gables; The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire; The Adventure of the Three Garridebs; The Problem of Thor Bridge; The Adventure of the Creeping Man; The Adventure of the Lion's Mane; The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger; The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place; The Adventure of the Retired Colourman (33 stories read in 2014, 30 stories in 2015, collection completed).
Caveat: As you'll see this book was listed as Volume 01 and Volume 02. However, when I purchased it, it was listed only as Volume 01. So, I purchased Volume 02.
However, if you don't study the thumbnail correctly, you'll miss that Volume 01 is actually Volume 01 and Volume 02. The whole enchilada. Everything is there! Don't buy Volume 02, unless you have absolutely been certain you're Volume 01 is Volume 01 and Volume 01 only! (The links provided are to the combined and separate volumes for your purchasing decisions.)