Let's be honest. While a firm believer in each of us keeping their own head-canon to fill in the blank spaces Watson left us, there's particular phrase that I always tend to react unpleasantly toward, and that is "sub-text." The idea that Conan Doyle was laying a separate, under-the-main-text layer of story that only those with the right-colored glasses can see. "Sub-text" is a claim of knowing authorial intent, of presuming to understand a talented mind so well that their hidden constructions are plain.
And I will admit, perhaps I'm just holding a grudge against an ineffective high school teacher or two and their "theme of blood" during some banging on Hemingway or somesuch. But then we come up against the likes of Pope R. Hill, Senior.
A few of us in the Sherlockian chronology game have been vexed in the past month by Mr. Pope Hill. In 1947, Hill published a pamplet called Part One, in which Hill claims to have an unpublished eighty-thousand word manuscript titled Dating Sherlock Holmes, in which he blows previous chronology out of the water by exposing the secret key to Conan Doyle's works. Then in 1952, Hill publishes yet another pamphlet, The Sherlock Holmes Hoax, claiming his unpublished manuscript has grown to one hundred thousand words, and further explaining the theories proven within that mass of unseen text.
His theory is based on three supposed facts:
1. The Canon is full of errors.
2. The chronology of the stories makes no sense.
3. Pope himself had worked out alternate plots for each of the sixty stories from the clues within said stories.
Conan Doyle, therefore, did all of that on purpose, creating a new kind of detective story that offered the reader a second layer of mystery. Serious subtext.
In 1951, Clifton R. Andrew called Pope one of "the authorities in the chronology." Seventy years later, Brian McCuskey surmised that Pope suffered from "the fundamental belief in yourself as Sherlock Holmes," based on how seriously he thought the mathematics professor took his theory of that hidden layer of Doyle's creation. The thing is, Hill seems neither an authority on chronology nor a Sherlock Holmes, as his 1955 article "The Final Problem: An Exemplification of the Substructure Theory" in The Baker Street Journal truly shows.
Pope R. Hill, Sr., was what he truly was: a mathematics professor, with all the Sherlockian baggage that designation entails. His 1955 article, showing the world Doyle's hidden "substructure" beneath "The Final Problem," comes to one very dark conclusion. And that conclusion was that Sherlock Holmes did actually die at Reichenbach Falls. And the professor of math lived.
Pope Hill's subtext, in what he pridefully placed before the Irregulars as a proving point of his unseen hundred thousand words, turns how to be something he has every reason to headcanon just to snuggle into his relationship with the sixty stories of Sherlock Holmes.
I kinda like Pope R. Hill, Sr. He had that quality some call "co-bit-ment," the dedication to committing one's self to a running gag (or "bit") past all sense or logic, which makes it all the funnier to the trickster and all the more puzzling to the observer. (Which then makes it even more amusing to said trickster.)
Whether he's going to prove a worthwhile study for the Sherlockian chronologists among us, however? Well, maybe there's some subtext I can find in his work.