We have The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We have The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. We have many a pastiche collection with a similar name, like The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes. The one collected casebook that we have yet to see, however, is The Failures of Sherlock Holmes, because we enjoy seeing Sherlock Holmes succeed . . . for the most part.
Having three half-written, failed blog posts sitting in my Blogger drafts bin this week (and, apparently thirty-nine undeleted since I started with this system), it seemed like a good moment to consider those times when things just didn't work out for our friend Sherlock.
We can talk about his "Norbury" moment, be it "The Yellow Face" or "The Six Thatchers." One, still enjoyable for the stories of the people he interacts with, the other existing to provide character development. We can also talk about Sherlock's "creator-failure" adventures, like Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stockings or "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs." So many of those still manage to entertain us, like a marksman clown, through just how badly they miss the target.
The failures of Sherlock Holmes all still manage to entertain us for one simple reason: He is so good when he succeeds. He may not succeed all the time, even when he is successful. Prime Sherlock is a very high bar, for both creators and Sherlock himself. The fact that he has reached a pinnacle where a screw-up on his part makes that mistake interesting to us is a great accomplishment indeed. Quite a different thing than me blogging about how I failed to get into a tweetalong . . . which has brought me to another revelation about the failures of Sherlock Holmes.
When it comes to failure, John H. Watson once again proves his vital worth in the phenomenon that is Sherlock Holmes. If Sherlock Holmes was just writing about his own failures, he would run a very great risk as just coming off as a whiner. "Oh, woe is me, I got another client killed when I should have protected them!" Or worse. "Another day of dark despair at Baker Street. Cocaine or morphine this morning after the daily pipeful of tobacco dregs . . ."
Having a friend or co-worker handy who has seen your successes and can, therefore, help you take your failures in stride is a very good thing. Failures suddenly become something to amuse and not another step into the deep valleys of depression. Watson plays such an important part for Sherlock Holmes within the Canon, and outside of the Canon, we ourselves take up that role when it comes to failed Holmes movies, novels, or television. The successes happened before, and they will again.
I really hope we never see a collection entitled The Failures of Sherlock Holmes (though I'm sure I've tempted fate by suggesting such a title here), as Sherlock isn't Sherlock if he doesn't succeed now and then, and succeed grandly at that. But a failure or two does not make him stop being a fascinating character.
And that is something we all need to remember for ourselves now and then.