Thursday, July 28, 2022

Thursday night at the "Beech"

 We can never get our innocence back once gone. We can never read anything again for the first time. But what we can do is listen to those with fresher reactions than our own, and let them remind us of what it was like before our minds became all-spoilers. Tonight was our monthly discussion group at the local library, and once again I got to delight in listening to local fans of Sherlock Holmes bring the freshness back to me, this time with "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches."

You see, I'd forgotten what a gothic horror show "Copper Beeches" truly is.

The weird coil of hair matching Violet Hunter's own. The perception of an unidentified moving figure on the other side of a door. The creepy comedian, his shade of a wife, and their fledgling sociopath of a son. After decades upon decades of loving "Copper Beeches," everything in the story is an old friend, however creepy it started out. Silly Jephro. That wacky kid. And ol' chompy doggie. Just well-loved road signs en route to an elopement and Watson just being disappointed Violet Hunter didn't find a place in their lives!

And if I'm not seeing the dark side of "Copper Beeches" as much as I should any more, consider how dark Sherlock Holmes is taking it in the story itself.

"You know, Watson, that is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and the impunity with which crime may be committed there."

Now think about that line in context. Sherlock Holmes is on his way to Copper Beeches to see what is going on with all the weird stuff Violent Hunter told and wrote about. And he also says this:

"I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them."

Seven explanations. And only one of them was "hiding a daughter from a previous marriage from the man who was coming to elope with her." The other six? Probably not nearly so happy, given what Holmes just said about the impunity of crime in those isolated houses like Copper Beeches.

I was always curious to know what Holmes's seven separate explanations were, but given what he just said about the isolation and potential for horror? Do we really want to know just how dark Holmes's mind was turning in coming up with what might have been awaiting at that place?

Personally, I like to put this story in 1889, which is earlier than many chronologists do, and even 1889 comes after the terrible autumn of Jack the Ripper. If Holmes's mind wasn't Ripper-dark before Jack came to town, it surely was after. And he'd already seen one country house with snakes in the air vents and lurking orangutans and jungle cats, as well as one with a great murderous dog and a heir who liked to cocoon his wife to a post. (Suddenly Watson's responding to "He's gone for the dog!" with "I have my revolver!" seems very natural -- the hound of the Baskervilles business wasn't all that long before.)

In a way, it's a shame the title of this story is just based on some trees next to the house in question and not something more ominous that reminds us what horror lurks within. "The Adventure of the Hair That Was Mine But Not Mine" or "The Figure Beyond the Door," something like that.

Still, a good library discussion group night brings it all back, and tonight did just that.

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