Monday, March 21, 2022

Watson versus the Rugby Superfan

 Studying the chronicles of Sherlock Holmes and digging deep into their details has always involved a certain level of trust. At its most basic level, trusting John Watson as much as Sherlock Holmes did is a part of our Sherlockian DNA. While we might occasional indulge ourselves with flights of headcanon fantasy, the facts are the facts as Watson presented them, even when we have to adjust our point of view to see them as they truly are.

One issue that comes up time and again is trusting Watson's words over that of a client or someone else in the Canon. The first article I ever had published in The Baker Street Journal made that point with Jabez Wilson, and how his skewing of the facts made Watson's dates look off. As I recently looked at the work done with "Missing Three-Quarter" by Sherlockian chronologists. 

Watson tells us that "The Missing Three-Quarter" started on a gloomy February morning. Cyril Overton comes running into Baker Street claiming his friend was going to go missing for the big Cambridge versus Oxford rugby match. Respected Sherlockian scholar Jay Finley Christ (the guy who came up with the abbreviations) wrote that Oxford and Cambridge only ever played rugby against each other in December.

Of those three people, Watson, Overton, and Christ, there's one that I trust least. And his name is Cyril Overton.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson don't know or care about rugby. Holmes doesn't have rugby players in his commonplace books. And when a guy comes in claiming, "I am the skipper of the Rugger team of Cambridge Varsity, and Godfrey Staunton is my best man. Tomorrow we play Oxford," well, even if they think he might be a little crazy, they're probably just going to go, "Okay. Go on . . ."

Lord Mount-James doesn't seem to know or care much about the supposed "rugby star" role that his nephew has been cast in. Dr. Leslie Armstrong only refers to football when Holmes mentions the match that he himself only knows about because Overton told him there was such a thing.

In fact, Cyril Overton's entire story seems like some trumped-up fantasy meant to inspire Sherlock Holmes on just how important it was that the detective find his missing friend -- and in Overton's world, nothing could be seen as more important than an Oxford-Cambridge football game. 

Holmes asks Watson about the whole football game thing late in the adventure, and Watson reads something he found in the evening paper about some "Light Blues" being defeated by the absence of "the crack International, Godfrey Staunton." 

"Personally I am in agreement with Dr. Armstrong, and football does not come within my horizon," Sherlock Holmes replies after hearing that. Holmes has no idea what Watson read him from the paper, and doesn't really care. And the next morning, Watson freaks out when he sees a hypodermic needle in Sherlock Holmes's hand.

What was it Watson said at the beginning of this story?

"Things had indeed been very slow with us, and I had learned to dread such periods of inaction, for I knew by experience that my companion's brain was so abnormally active that it was dangerous to leave it without material upon which to work. For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania which had threatened once to check his remarkable career. Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no longer craved for this artificial stimulus, but I was well aware that the fiend was not dead, but sleeping."

Watson was desperate for Holmes to take any case. Stanley Hopkins sent this missing sports buddy case over because he thought it "was more in your line than in that of the regular police," when a missing person is still a missing person . . . normally. It's almost like Hopkins was dismissing this as a real missing persons case and wanted to give Holmes at least a slight distraction.

And Watson welcomed it. Watson had every motive to play along with Cyril Overton's fantasy February rugby match, and even read some other tripe from the paper and insert Staunton's name just to keep Holmes on the scent. From Watson's point of view this might have well have been the cut-for-time "Case of the Upside Down Room" from Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a case invented purely to keep Holmes away from the needle.

Did Watson have any reason to lie about it being the February doldrums when the case occurred? No. But did he have reason to prop up the validity of a delusional sports fan whose buddy was missing? The evidence is there.

And Cyril Overton, well, how much do we really know about that guy?

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