Not too long ago, somebody brought up the subject of Sherlockian Mythbusters, a thing which Steve Doyle and the Illustrious Clients actually did a couple of episode/experiments of, many years ago. Chopping thumbs and letting pistols fly off bridges were the focus then, but the Canon has so many weird little things we'd like to try in real life, just to see how they would work.
I know I'm not the only Sherlockian to get an ancient copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica and start hand-copying it beginning with volume "A," just to see how long it would have taken Jabez Wilson in "The Red-Headed League." And tonight, I came up with another experiment that is actually becoming harder and harder to perform.
In "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," Watson writes of Holmes bringing along an "immense litter of papers." They were the London papers of the day, which Holmes admits had not had very full accounts of the crime they were going to investigate. But there were a lot of newspapers in London in those days, and Holmes rummaged through them, took notes here and there, and then . . . .
"Then he suddenly rolled them all into a gigantic ball and tossed them up onto the rack."
Okay. Now let's re-enact that in our minds.
You can take a few pages from a newspaper and crumple them into a ball, this we know.
And you can take a whole newspaper and roll it into a cylinder, as paperboys have always done to make them ripe for tossing.
But to take all of the London morning papers and roll them into one big ball? Suddenly?
Well, you could start suddenly, but if your desired end product is a ball, you're going to have to work in layers, kind of like paper mache without the paste. (Unless, of course, Holmes's steel poker-bending strength displayed in "The Speckled Band" was also enough to do the crush-bending necessary to ball . . . no, that couldn't . . . could Superman? Would it be a diamond? I dunno.)
I really need a Sherlockian Mythbusters on this one, as I just don't see it working with all the morning papers of London. And we're quickly entering and age when the newspapers won't be available to try -- as it is, we only take the Sunday paper and the good Carter reads the rest on-line. Can we even replicate the newspapers of Victorian London with today's scaled-down-to-save-paper specimens of the sort?
Like so many things in the Canon, that giant ball of papers might just wind up another unseen, unexperienced moment of Victoriana we will never know the delight or chore of. (Oh, how the railway cleaning crew must have loved finding that mass to add to their pile!)
But, as has been on display a lot in America of late, we just don't have the balls that Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson did in those sturdier times. Maybe we should try making some.