Thursday, December 1, 2016

The massively mysterious subject of Mycroft Holmes.

It has been nearly one hundred and twenty-five years since the world first learned of Mycroft Holmes. And after all that time, it's amazing how little we still know of the man . . . a very important man, to both England and his brother. Still, there's been quite a bit written about him, so when Olimpia Petruzzella asked me on Twitter about other monographs, articles, or studies on Mycroft other than my own little contributions on the web, I found it a bit hard to answer within the constraints of tweeting. So let's look at what we've heard about Mycroft over the years . . .

Ron DeWaal's The Universal Sherlock Holmes, which you can find over at the University of Minnesota library site, had about sixty-some pieces about Mycroft listed in the mid-1990s. The first, an interview with Mycroft called "The Resources of Mycroft Holmes" by Charlton Andrews, came along in 1903. This should be an immediate clue to the sort of lengths one goes to in writing about Mycroft . . . given that most of us only have two of Watson's case records to go by for data on the man, some have resorted to, shall we say, more questionable reportage?

That would not be the case with Sherlockian pioneer Ronald Knox, of course, whose "The Mystery of Mycroft" appeared in the 1934 collection Baker Street Studiesedited by H.W. Bell. Knox does a very thorough job of reviewing the available data on Mycroft, raising questions, and making a few measured hypotheses. He notes Mycroft's complete absence, even by mention, in "His Last Bow," which may mean the elder Holmes didn't make it to the first World War in his country's service.

Bruce Kennedy, in his 1969 monograph MYCROFT: A study into the life of the brother of Sherlock Holmes, covers the available Canonical material, raises his own questions, and takes a special interest in just where Mycroft's income was coming from. (Yet leaves finding the answer to "some future scholar.")

"Sherlock to Mycroft" by Owen P. Frisbie in 1955's The Best of the Pips is a little poetic inquiry wondering why the elder Holmes doesn't turn his skills to detection, and poetic tribute is always a good way to address a mystery like Mycroft. No great aid in our understanding of the man, of course. As with the articles, we just get more and more questions when it comes to this guy.

The Baker Street Journal has had its share of Mycroft articles, with a nice little exchange in 1969, when Lyttleton Fox penned a piece called "Mycroft Recomputed" in the March issue, followed by Philip Nathanson's "Mycroft as a Computer: Some Further Input" in the June issue. Fox gets into some odd technical specifications of Mycroft as machine, and Nathanson follows by tying Mycroft's creation to Charles Babbage, positing that Watson also left us clues to discover Mycroft was a machine. T'was a fun time pre-internet, when a Sherlockian had a month or two to advance a discussion by a fellow Sherlockian, as Fox and Nathanson did on Mycroft.

A very comprehensive round-up of Mycroftian writings, if one can find one of the 300 copies, is William S. Dorn's The Many Faces of Mycroft Holmes. Mr. Dorn works his way through all of the previous work on Mycroft with little chapters like "Mycroft as a Double Agent," "Mycroft as a Murderer," and, well, "Mycroft as an . . ." Author, bumbler, consultant, athlete, secret agent, agoraphobe, computer, and computer programmer.

For this post, I think I'll end with the Dorn, as any evening spent wandering through the Sherlockian library always contains a few side-trips that make the process much longer than it should be. The more one reads Sherlockian work on Mycroft Holmes, however, the more one realizes we barely know that man, and that the characterization on BBC Sherlock is actually some of the most considered work on the character since the original tales. There is so much of Mycroft yet to be explored even now, and I think the open minds of our younger enthusiasts these days will open up entirely new windows on him.

(Even if one wants to go with that odd little machine-man theory . . . the tech has come a long way since 1969!)

Looking forward to it!

1 comment:

  1. One book (one sentence, actually) reasons that Mycroft did not make it to WW1 as he went down with the Titanic (going on a mission to prevent the upcoming war)