Thursday, March 7, 2013

The greatest adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Wandering through my local Barnes & Noble today, I spotted one of those handsome hardcover reprints that B&N likes to put in the aisles, entitled The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Curious as to just what were Sherlock's greatest adventures, I flipped the book open to the table of contents and quickly found out.

The greatest adventures of our favorite detective are, according to this book's publisher, all of the Sherlock Holmes stories except those found in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. In other words, all of the Holmes stories that are safely out of copyright. Does this make them the greatest?

Well, yes, they kind of are. Sherlockians have always tended to favor the earlier cases, with a few odd dissenters in the mix. If you leave out Casebook, you still get Holmes's first story, his last (chronologically) story, and every important tale in between. New readers of The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are very liable to feel like they didn't miss a thing and there are no other stories.

What makes this particularly interesting is that that peculiar entity called "the Doyle estate," is using those kind of extraneous Casebook stories to claim rights to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson all together, that those last stories are a part of what shaped the characters. Les Klinger, who has filed the famed lawsuit this year, obviously disagrees, and after looking at Greatest Adventures, I realize that there is a definite point to be made.

The stories of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes have always felt a little bit like pastiches that just happened to be written by Conan Doyle. Stuff he had in the closet that didn't make the cut, a tale he withdrew from publication earlier because of its subject matter, and a quick adaptation of a short Sherlock Holmes play he did into a short story. Even looking at it from a "Watson was the author" point of view, I think a case can be made that these were cases published after Watson's death by his agent, and not a part of the true Watson-selected Canon.

Sherlock Holmes's greatest adventures were definitely behind him at the time of Casebook. Personally, I have a great fondness for those quirky final tales, after I was trapped in a Minnesota fishing cabin for a week one summer with naught to do but study the one paperback copy of the book I found on a spinning rack at a local grocery store. I even wrote a pastiche based on what I found inside, entitled "The Sussex Irregular." Little did I know at that time that if I had made my Sussex Irregular a girl, I could have made Laurie King money . . . but of course, since that pastiche actually did owe its existence to Casebook, the Doyle estate might have had cause to come after me, even if Les Klinger winds up winning his case. (Hmm . . . The Casebook of Les Klinger . . . kind of has a ring to it.)

But Holmes versus Moriarty? Holmes versus Irene Adler? Holmes versus the Hound of the Baskervilles? You aren't going to find those in Casebook. Inspector Gregson? Not in Casebook. Mycroft Holmes? Not in Casebook. 221B Baker Street? Not in Casebook.

Really, Holmes's street address is never mentioned. You can write wonderful Sherlock Holmes stories until the horses where cow footprint shoes come home and never touch on Casebook material . . . outside of the names "Sherlock Holmes" and "Dr. Watson." Hmm, there's another test for CBS's Elementary . . . if it's episodes were the stories in Casebook, could the Doyle estate make any kind of claim that the character of Sherlock Holmes was still theirs to control?

Now I'm really rambling. Time to leave Holmes's not-so-greatest adventures to more well-rested minds than mine.


  1. Spot on, as usual, Brad. I must admit, however, that I have enjoyed a few of the Casebook stories. The Doyle estate tie-in is the revelation you've provided me tonight. Thanks!

  2. Yes, I think most of us agree that the stories in "The Casebook" are not usually among te best. I think there are two, however, that are pretty good. One is "The Illustrious Client" which is well done all around (and was the subject of one of my studies, in which I showed that the plot is the same, point by point, as "Dracula" by Bram Stoker).

    The other is "The Problem of Thor Bridge." I submitted answers to a survey a couple of years ago, and one of the questions was "Which of the Holmes stories is the most under-rated?" And I answered "Thor Bridge." In my view, it is as neat puzzle and features real detecting, both intellectual and physical, by Sherlock Holmes.

    In the same survey, however, I rated "The Mazarin Stone" as the worst of all the 60 stories in the canon. I still think so.

    But before you write off all the elements of "The Casebook" as unimportant, there are indeed some things we would not want to lose. The Giant Rat of Sumatra is mentioned in "The Sussex Vampire." In "The Three Garridebs," Holmes refuses a knighthood. In "The Blanched Soldier," Holmes observes that "Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife, the only selfish action which I can recall in our association." How much speculation about Watson's wife/wives has that brought about?

    And, perhaps most of all, for the purposes of this discussion, are the opening lines of "Thor Bridge": "Somewhere in the vaults of the bank of Cox and Co., at Caring Cross, there is a travel-worn and battered tin dispatch box..." (Judging by the number of pastiches we have seen, especially this avalanche of awful print-on-demand junk in the past decade, that box was pretty darn big and crammed just full.) But how many pastiche writers have referenced that comment, and is there a Sherlockian alive who has not been intrigued by it?

    Even so, while I cannot agree with D. Martin Dakin's view (in the classic "Sherlock Holmes Commentary" of 1974) that the entire "Casebook" was fraudulent, I do agree with you Brad that we could have had a pretty rich Sherlockian history without "The Casebook." But, all-in-all, I am still glad to have those stories.