Is it too early to talk about "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle?"
Famously called "a Christmas story without slush" by writer Christopher Morley, reading "Blue Carbuncle" is a fine holiday tradition for Sherlockians. But what's fascinating about it is the way it invokes the season without any of the traditional holiday symbols . . . and actually shows us a bit of yuletides gone by. No one is singing of Christmas carols, there is no reference to St. Nick, no manger scene, no holly or mistletoe, no gifts of the magi, no . . . .
Well, there is the bird.
If you want to link "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" to its cousin of fifty years prior, A Christmas Carol, you can look at the prize bird heading toward the family dining table. In "Blue Carbuncle," however, the bird is a goose, and in A Christmas Carol the bird is a turkey. But in either case, the bird is one of the simplest of holiday symbols, the center of the feast, the celebration via feeding the family and friends.
Unlike most Sherlock Holmes stories, which are about making one connection between a criminal and a crime, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" uses its bird to display a whole series of connections between people over the holidays.
Dr. Watson calling on Sherlock Holmes to wish him "the compliments of the season."
Peterson, the doorman, an acquaintance of both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson separately -- a rare thing, like Stamford who first introduced them -- who uses Sherlock Holmes as the neighborhood "lost and found."
Peterson's wife, who kindly cooked up a second Christmas goose for her family, only to discover buried treasure.
Sherlock Holmes, having Peterson buy a fresh goose for someone he hasn't met yet.
Mrs. Hudson, cooking up a completely different bird -- a woodcock -- for Holmes and Watson.
Henry Baker and the Alpha Inn goose club, where the innkeeper saves the patrons pennies to help them make sure they have a holiday bird when they might otherwise come up short.
Holmes and Watson going out for a beer.
Breckinridge the goose merchant, helping his boy Bill put up the shutters once he's sold out for the night, but claiming the ability to sell Holmes five hundred geese the next morning, then later telling James Ryder to go to hell in a very Victorian manner.
James Ryder, who worries over his father and mother, and gets a goose from his sister, Maggie Oakshott, as a Christmas present . . . perhaps the most directly Christmas-ish thing about the entire story, her gift to him.
And all of those relationships come together to create a pleasant little holiday mystery for Sherlock Holmes to solve. No stress, no Scotland Yard, no murders . . . just a chain of holiday-touched humanity who have something sparkly enter their lives during a frost-sparkled season. Did I mention that "Blue Carbuncle" doesn't even have snow in it? But it does have "frosty air."
"A Christmas story without slush," Morley called it. And if you view "slush" as reindeer, snowmen, elves, sleighs . . . and all the other trappings and tag-alongs that have attached themselves to the holiday season like the ever-expanding chores of the wedding industrial complex . . . then "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" can offer you a restful literary oasis this season.
And it's never too early to enjoy a bird (and maybe a beer) with friends, so the tale never really goes out of season in any case. Happy Blue Carbuncling!