Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Gloria Scott

"I have some papers here," said my friend Sherlock Holmes, as we sat one winter's night on either side of the fire . . .

Definitely not summer again, as Dr. Watson frames the circumstances in which Sherlock Holmes told him about the tragic history of the prison ship Gloria Scott. Not summer for Watson, anyway, but what is there to talk about, when winter's cold has you trapped inside trying to keep warm?


And in "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott," we get to hear of not only Sherlock Holmes in summer, but young Sherlock Holmes on summer break from college. And not only college Sherlock on summer break, but college Sherlock on a summer break hanging out with a close friend who isn't Watson.

That bears repeating: a close friend who isn't Watson.

While our modern TV Sherlocks like to emphasize that Watson is a rare specimen in befriending this odd duck that is Sherlock Holmes, the original tales literally tell a different story. Holmes wasn't much for idle socializing, that is true. He was focussed on the art of detection, and becoming a Sherlock Holmes takes a bit of time and focus. But when circumstances put a decent fellow like Victor Trevor in his life, Sherlock Holmes seems to have had no problem accepting that friendship.

And Sherlock is interested in people, too. The way he speaks of Trevor senior is that of someone he found fascinating, not just as a specimen for observation and deduction, but as a man whose experiences around the world and strength of mind made him well worth talking to.

Sherlock Holmes has the company of his college buddy and his buddy's interesting father, "a small but select library," wild duck hunting, and more of that fishing we have observed him doing elsewhere on a summer case. There is probably more vacation to this case than any other in the sixty stories. And more of Sherlock Holmes just relaxing in the company of fellow human beings.

Victor Trevor, as I said, was a close friend of Sherlock Holmes, a young man who, in different circumstances, might have been John H. Watson, had his father's death and the potential scandal surrounding it not made him want to flee England. Those were different times, and finding you were a convict's son rather than the son of a respected justice of the peace might make one fear being socially outcast enough to take the step prematurely.

Sherlock Holmes and Victor Trevor stayed in touch, as Sherlock reports to Watson that Trevor is doing well after emigrating to Terai. And that's where it gets interesting. Because when, after bringing down Moriarty, Sherlock is forced to leave England and Watson behind for a time, where does he go?

"I travelled for two years in Tibet," he tells Watson later. Two years. And we never exactly hear just why Sherlock Holmes would want to go to Tibet for two years. Sure, a great place to explore, but it's a big world . . . why specifically Tibet?

Perhaps, knowing he had to be away from London for an extended period, Sherlock Holmes headed for his other close friend besides Dr. Watson: Victor Trevor, who now lived in Nepal, right next door to Tibet. One can imagine that, over the years, Trevor's letters weren't just "Hey, Sherlock, I'm doing well out here in Nepal!" There were probably a bit of, "Hey, old buddy, come on out and let's explore Tibet! It'd make a great vacation!" in there, too.

Sherlockian biographers have long conjectured that Holmes used the hiatus to reacquaint himself with Irene Adler, but getting back together with Victor Trevor, Sherlock's first friend with a bull pup, makes a lot more sense.

And in that case, Holmes made his summer vacation last two whole years. Pity Trevor wasn't the writer Watson was, or we might have had a really great tale to add to the Apocrypha.


  1. Ooo, good one! I really like that idea!

    Much more plausible than running off to hang with some woman he knew for about five minutes (grumblegrumble)...