Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Nor bury, nor wood.

The introduction to "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" is a little different. Remember the start of "A Scandal in Bohemia," when Dr. Watson goes on and on about Irene Adler, a remarkable character we'll meet in that story?  We get very used to all the introductions where Watson goes on and on about Sherlock Holmes later in the series, but Irene was first. Irene was special.

And outside of Sherlock Holmes, we don't get a Watsonian emphasis on anyone other than Irene at the start of a story, as the word limit of these short stories demands such a start means said person needs to be a very important part of that story. Which brings us back to "Norwood Builder."

In the opening to "Norwood Builder," we learn more about Professor Moriarty than any other story outside of "The Final Problem" and The Valley of Fear, both of which directly involved Moriarty's plottings and Holmes dealing with him.

"Petty thefts, wanton assaults, purposeless outrage -- to the man who held the clue, all could be worked into one connected whole."

"The faintest indication." "The smallest trace." Sherlock Holmes speaks of how subtle Moriarty could be in his machinations. That "purposeless outrage" as a tool of the criminal mind is something we're all becoming more aware of now, in 2019, but Moriarty was a century ahead of his time even in that. And while it was Sherlock Holmes who tells us the most about Moriarty in "The Norwood Builder," it is Watson who decided those words needed to be in the beginning of the tale, even though it is completely unrelated to John Hector McFarlane showing up out of the blue.

So why Moriarty? Did Watson just want to use Moriarty's name to gin up interest in a mediocre story to follow? Except "Norwood Builder" isn't exactly a mediocre story. It's a tale of . . .  [Okay, serious question . . . do we even do spoiler alerts at this point? Or do we just decide the freshness date of a given reveal and decide for ourselves? Anyway, back to Norwood.] it's a tale of a man who fakes his own death.

Let's repeat that, since I went off on that tangent: "Norwood Builder," which begins with the rare praise of Moriarty's remarkable abilities, is a tale of a man who fakes his own death.

Professor Moriarty is well known to be dead, thanks to John H. Watson and The Strand Magazine. And, according to Watson, when Holmes brings up London being more interesting with Moriarty around, the British public would much rather Moriarty remain dead.  If a man like Moriarty turned out to have faked his own death, and Sherlock Holmes could remove him from play a second time without the public's knowledge . . . and subsequent mistrust of any fact from Watson, Scotland Yard, or the public press . . . might Holmes not just go ahead and quietly remove the professor a second time?

Curious thing isn't it? Makes one wonder. Needs a little discussion.

Luckily, the Sherlock Holmes Story Society is having its monthly meeting at the North Branch Peoria Library tomorrow night at 6:30, and the story under discussion? "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder."

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