Monday, September 2, 2013

Hound, Chapter One, Youth and Observation..

The rooms at Baker Street. It just isn't a proper Sherlock Homes adventure unless thing start out there, and The Hound of the Baskervilles is a very proper Holmes outing, indeed.

Sherlock Holmes is sitting at the breakfast table, Watson stands on the hearth rug behind him. It's just like every other time I've visited The Hound, but there's an amazing thing that seems to have occurred since my last visit:  Both Holmes and Watson look younger than before.

Okay, I think, its a Cumberbatch side effect, but then I open up the big facsimile edition of the original Strand prints that I brought along in my messenger bag and look at the Sidney Paget art of Sherlock Holmes on page 450. THAT Holmes is looking younger, too. Flip a page to another picture with both Holmes and Watson in it. Look up at the Holmes and Watson I'm seeing in The Hound.

They are younger. Both of them. The universe has shifted slightly since I was here last. Thank Doyle that Elementary wasn't more affecting or I might be looking at a Watson who was showing the effects of estrogen tablets or somesuch. But there's that moustache, same as always, never mentioned in the text of this particular tale (it comes up in "Naval Treaty"), but still hanging on for dear life.

Stereotypes would have us thinking of Holmes as all tea and pipes, but this morning Sherlock Holmes is as much a coffee and cigarettes guy as any L.A. private eye from the forties. He's even blowing smoke rings. Mrs. Hudson, though not present, has her presence felt in the mirror-like cleanliness of that coffee pot, the instrument through which Sherlock starts playing the clever boy.

Pay close attention to the exchange between Holmes and Watson as they both make observations about the walking stick left in the room. This is the moment when some modern views of Holmes would take him to be snarkily mockinging poor Watson, but if you actually read it, Sherlock Holmes is being as sweet as pie. Watson laughs at him in that "You are so full of shit!" way that friends do.

And funnier still is that Sherlock Holmes is not one hundred percent right on his own attempts to read data on the stick's owner from characteristics of it. He displays a huge blind spot in his entire chain of deductions by not even considering the possibility of marriage entering the picture. Even though Holmes disdains any sort of bias in his analyses, we can see he definitely has one, and it's one he himself admits to on other occasions: he's thrown off when women enter the picture. But that is all a part of being male, so we have to forgive him that. You know Watson has to, and it's hard to see him as a victim in this morning's exchange at all.

On my original visit to The Hound of the Baskervilles, I had some suspicions that James Mortimer, who we meet now, might be the theorized-yet-unproven third Holmes brother, the eldest Holmes who inherited the country squire role while Sherlock and Mycroft came down to London. But upon this trip I realize that Sherlock's total ignorance of the marriage makes that highly unlikely.

Mortimer is a fascinating fellow to watch, as unlike Holmes's usual client who comes in and gets impressed by the observations of the consulting detective, Mortimer walks in after the deductions have been made, unravels some of them, and then puts Holmes off his game by making his own observations about Sherlock's skull. Following this by tweaking Holmes a bit with reference to Alphonse Bertillon, James Mortimer proves to be one of the more interesting fellows to walk into Baker Street to the fan of Sherlock Holmes himself. So like Holmes in some ways, yet so different.

For now, though, I can't help but just stare at Watson's moustache. I wish he'd have just looked in the mirror-like coffee pot at some point and described what he thought it looked like to us, because I certainly can't decide what he's going for with it. All the staring seems to make Watson uncomfortable though, so I think I'll wander on to chapter two.


  1. In regard to your theory that Mortimer is Holmes's brother--if Holmes wishes to keep his relationship with Mortimer a secret, it only makes sense that he would purposely leave out mention of the marriage. In your book The Armchair Baskerville Tour, you point out that Mortimer and Holmes "seem to go almost out of their way to demonstrate that they are complete and total strangers." That kind of charade would be better supported with a minor deductive miss like the marriage, and Holmes would know that. (In addition, there is a certain dry humour and brotherly ribbing in the confirmed bachelor Sherlock Holmes's comment, "Dear, dear, that's bad!" when brother Mortimer mentions his marriage.) There! I hope I have sufficiently helped twist the facts to suit your theory? :-)

  2. "It's just like every other time I've visited The Hound, but there's an amazing thing that seems to have occurred since my last visit: Both Holmes and Watson look younger than before."

    It's wonderful, isn't it? That was one thing I never could get around when I first read some of the stories - those guys were so old. And Watson was rotund and stupid. Without a doubt I must have seen some movie adaptation that influenced my perception even if I couldn't remember it and it was entirely subconscious, because it's nowhere in the stories.

    Now that I can imagine "dangerous young men doing risky things" I get far more pleasure out of reading the tales. I don't know why that is because I'm not young anymore either, but imagining some elderly guys stumbling around on the moor never did it for me.

    So, that is one thing - and an important thing for me - that the BBC adaptation has achieved: it has rejuvenated Holmes and Watson and made them opponents to be taken very serious. Not that I'm a criminal planning a big coup, but I would have thought nothing of crossing Holmes & Watson in their incarnations before 'Sherlock'. Now I would be far more careful. ;-D

  3. You had me till you couldn't resist the 'Elementary' dig.
    Thanks for the short tour.

  4. Just remember that a 20 year old back in 1895 looked 40 (so the older actors never bothered me)...

    Look at any picture of a young person back in the day and tell me I'm wrong. Seniors in college in the early part of the 20th century look elderly by today's standards.

    Of course, when the average life expectancy is 50, then 25 is middle aged...

  5. Life expectancy in 1890 was 46.8 in the U.S. and presumably was comparable in the U.K. But remember that life expectancy is calculated from birth, and much of the increase since then is the statistical effect (one is tempted to say illusion) of vastly lower infant mortality rates combined with lower fertility rates. If you managed to survive to puberty in 1895, you had a very good chance of living into your 70s.