Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Percy Phelps, love him or hate him?

"Because he's exactly the sort of mewling little snot you'd expect to be named Percy Phelps."
-- from "The Adventure of the Navel-Starer" by G.S. Denning

As parodies and revisionary writings continue to grow, it's inevitable that our re-readings of the one true Canon Sherlockian start being affected by same. And that is exactly what has happened with my latest re-read of "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" following a recent reading of the first story/chapter in My Grave Ritual by G.S. Denning and a re-characterization of Percy Phelps much like the quote above.

Not that I was ever quite in love with Percy Phelps. Watson's line, "it seemed rather a piquant thing to us to chevy him about the playground and hit him over the shins with a wicket," is perhaps the most prettily phrased way of explaining bullying ever written, and as we love Watson, Sherlockians tend to show bias in the reading of it. "Well, there must have been something about Percy that deserved that whacking, if Watson went in for it!" 

When Watson refers to Percy having an uncle who was a lord, he calls it "this gaudy relationship" . . . which makes one wonder if Percy liked to brag about it a bit. Just being related to a lord would not seem to be a "gaudy" thing in itself unless one wore it as a badge of honor. So Percy may have been a bit overly proud. But Watson thought Percy was brilliant, too, and who else did Watson know whom he also thought was a bit overly proud sometimes and definitely brilliant?

Yeah, that guy. The guy Watson loved best in his adult life.

And Watson does say he was "intimately associated with Phelps," even with all the shin-whacking. So, at this point, one starts to suspect that John Watson had a "type," and start looking for any other Holmes/Phelps similarities. Or other things.

Percy is still a young man, to Watson's eyes, and Watson, to Percy, is completely changed by his moustache. And on the very eve of being married, Phelps, being of a "sensitive nature" lets the theft of the naval treaty push him into a "brain fever" that seems to completely throw the brakes on any thought of marriage. And what does Phelps do immediately after deciding not to marry right away?

He writes John Watson. Very soon he is coming to spend the night at Baker Street, one of the few ever to rate that honor. He gets a Mrs. Hudson breakfast, and is the only person ever to kiss Sherlock Holmes, even if it is just on the hand. And Sherlock Holmes has some interesting final words for Percy Phelps at the case's end:

"I can only say for certain that Mr. Joseph Harrison is a gentleman to whose mercy I should be extremely unwilling to trust."

At this point, with the police on Harrison's trail and an expect capture possible, why does Percy Phelps need to worry about Harrison's mercy? Would anyone expect a physical attack once the treaty business is definitely done? Or is Holmes talking about Harrison showing mercy by not spreading certain facts about Percy Phelps that might not be public knowledge . . . and something one wouldn't want known in Victorian Britain.

In G.S. Denning's comic rewrite of "Naval Treaty," he creates a Percy Phelps that Watson cannot stand in the slightest. Going back to the original story, however, one starts to wonder if exactly the opposite were true. One doesn't even really need to leave the Doylean Canon to start shipping "Johrcy" if one looks at the case with a modern eye, which I'm sure has been done, even if my sleepy near-midnight brain can't quite remember it. So remind me if you get a chance.

Peoria's Sherlock Holmes Story Society meets tomorrow night at the North Branch library, so we'll see what they have to say.

P.S. I wanted to relate Phelps's "Dr. Ferrier" to a certain Lucy Ferrier that was, in a certain Doylean manuscript, Watson's first love. Curious place for that name to re-appear, eh wot?

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