Sherlockian studies have been shifting gears of late, with fan fiction pointing its magnifying lens on the relationships of the Canon. And nowhere is a gear shift more needed than when we look at "The Speckled Band," as Peoria's local Sherlockian study group did this week.
So much of our considerations of that case have been over the way the *BARELY NEEDED SPOILER ALERT* snake doesn't make any sense. It hears whistles. It drinks milk. It climbs a rope. It has an unprecedentedly fast-acting poison. But with that speckled distraction out front, we never really look hard at the fellow behind the snake and how he makes no sense.
Grimesby Roylott is like something out of a comic book or a cartoon. He beats up everybody in the nearby small town. He bends fireplace pokers. And he tries to kill someone completely under his power through an absurdly complicated method that gives them a chance to escape.
I mean, think about it: Why doesn't Grimesby just take a pillow and smother his step-daughter?
The snake scheme is supposedly there because it kills without marks (if no one notices the fang puncture wounds), but that effect isn't all that hard to produce in a murder. Especially for someone who was an experienced medical man, which Grimesby Roylott was.
The isolated manor house he and his victim lived in only had one other occupant, as reported by Roylott's intended victim: "We have a housekeeper now, but she is old and foolish, and I could easily get her out of the way." That's the victim tallking, so a true villain is going to have no probably manipulating that one potential witness.
Grimesby Roylott is one of those fellows portrayed as such a definite villain that we never really try to understand where he came from or why he did the things he did. Why the violent rages? Why the time spent with the gypsies? Why the spare little bedroom furnishings? Why not take up some form of medical practice so far from his criminal record as to render it moot? He is characterized so much like Bluto from the Popeye cartoons that he might as well tie Helen to a railroad track and require Sherlock Holmes to smoke three pipefuls, swell up his biceps, and punch Grimesby into the stratosphere.
It's a pity Roylott didn't make it more heavily into BBC Sherlock so that he could get more exploration and character development in fan fiction, like Sebastian Moran (who wasn't shown in the show, yet is so tied to Moriarty that he benefited greatly). But we have many a Sherlockian decade ahead of us, so who knows? Somebody just might make sense of him one of these days.
Because people are much more interesting than snakes. Holmes and Watson's friend Stamford knew that well, quoting Pope's "The proper study of mankind is man" in his brief time on the Canonical stage. But Stamford is another guy with depths that could be more fully explored, so I'd best not get started on him here . . . Grimesby Roylott, though! What was going on there?