Well, it looks like I got caught making a question so tricky that it tricked me, but at least one reader saw through the haze of the alkali plain. It was Jefferson Hope who went through that Baker Street window in A Study in Scarlet, but John Ferrier who converted to a new religion when all other hope was lost in the desert. John Gehan spotted that confluence of characters, and looking back at them made me ponder John Ferrier a little further.
John Ferrier is the only person in the cases of Sherlock Holmes who experiences a religious conversion. One might discount his change of practice, due to the desperate straits he is in when he makes that choice:
"If we take you with us, it can only be as believers in our own creed," a prophet tells Ferrier.
"Guess I'll come with you on any terms," John Ferrier replies. Either he learns a new religion, or he dies . . . a choice very few of us will, hopefully, ever be presented with.
Ferrier doesn't just gain a new religion, he becomes part of a community. When his journey is over, John Ferrier settles into a farm that is equal to any other member of that community. He may have been gay or asexual, as he never took a wife, as much as the rest of the community wished him to. With his wealth and esteem, he surely would have opportunities to find a very desirable partner. Yet he didn't. But that wasn't his turning point.
John Ferrier is told that his faith is being tested when he's asked to force his daughter to marry within the religion, the sort of act an occasional parent still would like to try, to this day. If you take away all the references to a particular faith, his tale does not lose any of its effect. The question of whether it is his faith being tested, or merely his subservience to a power structure, may exist as long as humans do. And even though his daughter's marriage is the breaking point for Ferrier's relationship with the community he lives in, it's not the first time he thought about leaving it.
"I don't care about knuckling under to any man, as these folks do to their darned prophet. I'm a free-born American, and it's all new to me. Guess I'm too old to learn."
John Ferrier was fiesty enough to demonstrate that he was a man who definitely believed in something, but that belief wound up separating him from the community of believers he had spent so much time in. And in that, his tale doesn't even have to be one of religion . . . it could be a fandom at that point. Or a given part of a fandom, which can be as consuming to some as a religion might be to others.
There is a tragedy at the heart of A Study in Scarlet, and John Ferrier is at the heart of that tragedy. He is a man who tries to break free of a community he joined in hope of a future, only to find he had just delayed his fate, and that of his adopted daughter. Their sad tale is merely the spark for an avenger who then inspires a hero . . . said hero being John Watson, who was inspired to write up this case. Watson's writings spawned believers, and a prophet or two. And one of those prophets might have their own John Ferrier, so the cycle continues.
Perhaps that's taking it a bit far, but who knows? In any case, John Ferrier is just one more of the fascinating characters given life along with Sherlock Holmes, and worth a look now and again.