T'was a beautiful day here in Illinois yesterday, well suited for a drive down to St. Louis to visit the May meeting of the Parallel Cases of St. Louis and talk about "The Speckled Band" this afternoon.
The Parallel Cases are filling up their current meeting room of late, and even though the messed-up traffic slowed down arrival times, it was eventually a full house once again, and a couple hours seemed far too short to draw all the thoughts on "Speckled Band" out of all of those in attendance, but the attempt was definitely made. So many topics . . . .
Hemotoxic snakes versus neurotoxic snakes. Evil doctors. Christmas. Train accidents versus train murders. Marrying for money. Watson's pledge of secrecy. Millennials. (We could have done without that part. Never realized a person could make that into an "M-word" before.) Holmes going off to do research. Door height. Poker bending. So many topics that one could walk out of the meeting and write and entire paper on.
Such wandering discussions on a specific short story are always inspiring, but the thought that came to my mind for the first time as we chewed on that particular adventure was this:
With all the focus we've put on that snake, why are we so sure it was just one snake?
Years passed between the killing of Julia and the attempt on Helen. Would Grimesby Roylott have kept his murder weapon around after taking out Julia? Or would he have disposed of the snake, then years later, go "Here we go again!" and send for a second snake?
And once the idea of two snakes comes to mind, why are we so sure that the snake Holmes beat with his cane and the snake that killed Roylott were the same snake? We've always assumed the snake climbed back up the bell-pull, but in that darkened room and the haste of the moment, Holmes could have knocked the snake down, stomped on it, and headed for screaming Roylott's room before Watson even realized there was a dead snake on the floor. The second, less cooperative snake had decided not to go down the vent in the first place.
Like all horror stories, "The Speckled Band" keeps us light on certain details so we don't lose the spookiness the tale is attempting to generate. Had Watson gone into full train-of-thought detail about his dark vigil, for example, he could have completely ruined the mood. ("'What's that smell?' I thought as 12:04 AM ticked by.") Leaving out the second snake corpse, even if Holmes returned to it later, could have been just such an edit for mood.
Suddenly Stoke Moran becomes a grassy knoll in Dallas with its own "second shooter," but we have always been conspiracy theorists when it comes to the Sherlock Holmes stories, so that's just fine. And an afternoon with the Parallel Cases of St. Louis is just fine as well, especially on a fine May day like we had this weekend.
(Side postscript: A group named "The Parallel Cases of St. Louis" sounds a lot like it should be into alternate universe Sherlock stories, doesn't it? Not saying they need to add that to their agenda, just that if it was forming today, that might have been part of their beginnings. As it was, I suspect they were just paralleling existing Sherlockian groups in St. Louis.)
(Second postscript: For a better and brighter blog post from this same Parallel Cases meeting check out Tassy, the Free Range Sherlockian.)
(Third postscript: For even more on this single two-hour meeting, check out the Parallel Cases blog report -- for a scion meeting, this one got ample coverage!)