Saturday, October 6, 2018

Optimism in the face of failure

Optimism, Sherlock Holmes style:

"There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you."

Two of Holmes's three big trails to follow in The Hound of the Baskervilles have just dead-ended, and he's still at least putting up a good front for Watson. Not much later his third lead goes to nothing, and what is his response?

"I tell you, Watson, this time we have a foeman who is worthy of our steel. I've been checkmated in London. I can only wish you better luck in Devonshire. But I'm not easy in my mind about it."

Sherlock Holmes actually appears beaten, sending Watson out to Dartmoor because he can't go himself, and both he and Watson know that it probably won't go well.

But Sherlock Holmes always knows that the story isn't over. Even in stories that seem to be over, with criminals escaping . . . the story is rarely over until the sea claims another ship, or some other fate seems to overtake the villains.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes is about to change his tactics and go guerrilla on the moors the way his opponent was doing in London. Turnabout, as they say, is fair play.

The London failures are definitely stimulating for Sherlock Holmes. It's only on the toughest cases where he sets Watson out as the feint, as in "Illustrious Client" while Holmes makes his actual move from outside. And it's his initial failure, also as in "Illustrious Client" that shows Sherlock Holmes just how serious, just how out-of-the-ordinary a particular case is. And time to bring in, as Wade Wilson likes to say, "Maximum effort."

"There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you."

Everything going against you is a pretty hard bit to face, and it's easy to lose hope. But somehow, Sherlock Holmes decided to frame that as "stimulating," and find an angle where it did stimulate him, like placing it in a fencing metaphor, where he saw himself as dealing with an opposing swordsman on the field of play. Plainly he enjoyed fencing, and looking at his work that way gave him just a little more energy to continue the investigation against that unknown person he thought of as his opponent.

Some days we have to use all the tools in our toolbox, and Sherlock Holmes is a good one for picking up an item or two of use. Optimism, however you get it, can be one.

1 comment:

  1. This is just what I needed to read right now! I've been feeling frustrated and defeated by a Sherlock Holmes-related writing project I've been grappling with for over a year. Today I was pondering whether I should just give it up and try something else. Now I've decided to see it as a 'stimulating' project and see it through. Thank you for your inspiration!