Sunday, June 26, 2016

A five pillow problem.

We've seen Sherlock Holmes in a lot of different situations over the years, performing brilliantly in all sorts of ways. But this morning I was considering how sometimes he just sits and thinks, and other times he just comes up with stuff on the fly, and I had to wonder . . .

. . . was Sherlock Holmes better when he was moving or standing still?

With all of the various mental conditions he's been diagnosed with over the years, manic-depressive, addiction, etc., it seemed like the sitting still part might be problematic. Take the business of "The Man with the Twisted Lip" for example:

"I wish I knew how you reached your results," says Watson.

"I reached this one by sitting on five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag," says Holmes.

The implication is that since Watson saw Holmes in that position as he went to sleep, then saw Holmes again there with his tobacco gone when the doctor woke up, that Holmes spent the whole night sitting smoking and somehow that accumulated processing time gave him his answer.

Does that ever work? Sitting up all night cramming data into your head for a test, sure. Sitting up all night working out mathematical problems, of course. Sitting up all night conjuring up prose for a novel, certainly. But just worrying at a situation without any new input, as your faculties get more and more sleep-deprived, even with nicotine helping keep you awake?

One would almost expect Sherlock Holmes to have had better results if "an ounce of shag" took on an Austin-Powers-style interpretation (which does have origins in the late 18th century, according to one source). And . . . well, let's leave Mrs. Neville St. Clair out of this for the moment. And John Watson, who awoke seeming to have slept the whole night through. (Though sleeping with the missing man's missus could potentially have provided some data relevant to the case, but I'm not writing that fanfic. Having listened to "My Dad Wrote a Porno" podcast yesterday, I may have aged out of that field.)

Sitting on pillows all night long evokes either depression or drug abuse, or both, and just doesn't seem a way to solve a case. (And shagging seems like a much happier past-time, but mind out of the porno, Brad!)

Compared to a case like "Silver Blaze," where Watson is accompanying Holmes every step of the way as he gathers his data and has it all worked out by the time they take the train home, "Twisted Lip" seems more like a case Holmes was on his way to failing with than succeeding. But even when Holmes failed, as in "The Five Orange Pips," he had often worked the solution out from the details the client supplied. (That said, he was sitting still as the client supplied the data.)

Sherlock Holmes was all about the data. If he had insufficient data, he would wait to form any theories, even if it frustrated him as it did in "Copper Beeches," when he uttered that well-known protest, "Data! Data! Data! I can't make bricks without clay." And we know his brain was fighting to produce theories about Violet Hunter's situation, as he also muttered about not wanting to see a sister of his in such a situation.

That all-nighter in "The Man with the Twisted Lip" is an oddly vexing bit of Holmes-work, as it seems unproductively non-Holmes in a way, and more of a stereotypic "smart people just sit there and let their brain run until results pop out" sort of thing, without considering the need for input.

What was actually going on with Holmes that night? I'd really like to theorize, but I'm afraid I don't have enough facts at the moment. But I'm certainly not going to sit up all night smoking to try to solve it.

1 comment:

  1. sitting on five pillows ... perhaps it was just relief from hemorrhoids!