Thursday, September 26, 2019

Three stew-points in "Three Students"

Y'know, there are, for all of us, a few clunkers on the Canon of Holmes.

When we began our monthly discussion with the Sherlock Holmes Story Society this evening, most of us admitted that "The Adventure of the Three Students" was a tale barely any of us remembered. Personally, I found myself going "Man, this is a lot of fuss over nothing! So, somebody might have seen the test! Spill some ink on it, make and excuse and write a new one! Such trauma over nothing!"

How could we must much interesting discussion from such a little slip of a matter about slips of paper? Well, sometimes you get surprised.

Who knew the doors to Hilton Soames rooms could be so complicated for starters?

"You are aware, Mr. Holmes, that our college doors are double -- a green baize one within and a heavy oak one without."

Now does that mean two doors in the same entry, separated by a small antechamber? Or one door to the outside, and another door on the other side of the room that opens to an inner hall? If they were what we now call "double doors," which are side-by-side, they would not be described as being of two different materials. And does that room design correspond with anything at Oxford or Cambridge, and should we go find out?

Okay, a second point we got into for a good bit: Sherlock's cheapest deduction ever.

Soames says, "The proof was in three long slips. I had left them all together. Now, I found that one of them was lying on the floor, one was on the side-table near the window, and the third was where I left it."

Holmes replies, "The first page on the floor, the second in the window, the third where you left it."

Soames takes this as a minor miracle. "You amaze me. How could you possibly know that?"

BECAUSE YOU JUST TOLD HIM, one of our observant SHSS regulars pointed out. Sherlock Holmes almost repeated what Soames said, word for word. The bit about the third slip is verbatim. So even if Sherlock Holmes purely guessed at the order of the other two, he had a purely fifty percent chance of being right.  In fact, Sherlock Holmes could have just been reiterating what Soames said without having intended to put an order on it, then just accepted Soames's praise and going from there with a "Yeah, that was what I mean all along!"

And then there's the biggest mystery of the mystery: WHY WERE HOLMES AND WATSON THERE TO BEGIN WITH?

"It was in the year '95 that a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great University towns ..."

They're not there on a case, as Holmes is working hard researching old English charters, and he obviously doesn't want to be there. Did Mrs. Hudson kick the boys out? I've heard theories of some romantic away-time, but they definitely aren't on a honeymoon. So what could make Sherlock Holmes spend all that time away from Baker Street and his investigations, and still allow him time for all that research. Unless the research was the thing. Early English charters . . . hmm.

Early Anglo-Saxon charters were land grants and records of privilege. Very important to who had what rights to what in England, something someone that might be of importance to the British government, and ... hmm again ... who had a brother who was "the British government" and might need some discreet charter research? Could it be ... MyyyyyCROFT?

A mission for Mycroft Holmes seems a very possible reason for those weeks away during a very busy year of investigations.

One more thing to ponder from a story that I was sure held the potential for a dull discussion night.

I'm always delighted at the secrets these stories reveal when we start sharing our viewpoints at these library gatherings. My single-view of a story turns quickly into a compound view, like seeing it through a fly's eyes.

Even with "Three Students."

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