It's not just happenstance that I've been throwing myself so wholeheartedly into making a tournament of champions out of About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best on this weekend in particular. The book has been out for a little while now. So why pick it up and focus so intently on it now?
Because in stress-filled times, a Sherlockian will turn to Sherlock Holmes. For diversion, yes. But not just to wander into some Victorian fantasy land and ride hansom cabs around our mind-London. No, because Sherlock Holmes is a torch in dark places. He represents something. He reminds us of who we are and who we should be when we're at our best.
When I laid About Sixty down earlier this morning, I had just finished "The Final Problem." The darkest moment in any good Sherlock Holmes story cycle, whether it's The Complete Sherlock Holmes or BBC Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes dies.
I've said before that I really like the order Christopher Redmond used for the essays in About Sixty, and it is never more true than following the devastation of "Final Problem." In order of the tales' publication, which is how the essays are presented here, we don't bounce back from "Final" with the resurrection of "Empty House." No, we follow up Holmes's death with The Hound of the Baskervilles, a novel that memorializes Sherlock Holmes to readers who still thought him dead.
Anastasia Klimchynskaya (whom I immediately love because she has a "K" last name more complex than "Keefauver") comes to About Sixty with the thing that gives The Hound of the Baskervilles its greatest power: Reason versus the irrational. Science versus the supernatural. Facts versus legends.
Anastasia let Hound make short work of Professor Moriarty and "Final Problem," almost with a casual wave of the hand. Moriarty isn't Sherlock's true arch-nemesis, as they both spring from the same well. Both are men of intelligence and logic, they can finish each other's sentences. Their aims are different, just like America's Republican and Democratican parties, but also like the politicians of those parties, they're really working the same side. Put Moriarty on the moor where the hound from hell reigns and he is going to de-mythologize that bastard just like Sherlock.
Sherlock Holmes is not just Sherlock Holmes, as Anastasia points out, he represents so much that rose up in Victorian culture. Newspapers, books, encyclopaedias. The mail system. The railroad system. Mankind using his head to better himself, rather than gathering around a hearthfire telling stories of the demon-dogs that might be running around in the dark.
Now, as newspapers fail and people start huddling around their Facebook feeds like it was the cottage hearthfire, the thing Holmes goes up against in The Hound of the Baskervilles faces America on a cultural level. False beliefs. A lack of examined evidence. A dog with phosphorous on its face that so many people across the countryside think is something much more powerful than it is.
"The Final Problem" may have killed Sherlock Holmes, but The Hound of the Baskervilles is where he truly rises, like Obiwan Kenobi, more powerful than he ever was before. Not as a man, but as a true inspiration for generations to come.
Perhaps Anastasia Klimchynskaya and The Hound of the Baskervilles got lucky that the About Sixty Battle Royale happened to come about this weekend, and perhaps this was always the strongest message we get from any Sherlock Holmes story. I'm not even to the halfway mark yet, and once again am looking at the contender who looks like they'll take it all. But we have been there before, haven't we.
(And not to be overly political here, folks, but be your best Sherlock this week. We sure as shooting need some rationality right now.)