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Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Sophistry of Studying Sherlock Holmes

It was mere coincidence that I stumbled upon a volume of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" at a used booksale this summer. (I didn't know a new movie was imminent.) Delighted by the story, I bought another book, then secured an enormous annotated volume from the library to continue my enjoyable Sherlock Holmes journey.

While I continue to love the stories -- you can't go wrong with pleasantly written Victorian-era London stuff -- I was shocked to discover the puzzling and comical plethora of footnotes that accompany this big volume. This particular one draws from a wide range of Holmes-philes, most of whom seem delusional in their seeming assumption that Holmes is a real person. And no exaggeration, the amount of copy devoted to footnotes literally exceeds the writing itself.

Never has the pedantic rambling of so-called scholars seemed so ridiculous to me. While the notes sometimes share interesting nuggets -- mainly those that explain the time period in context -- many of them involve conjecture relating to Holmes' real life, and a bizarre analysis of his choices, and related inconsistencies, as if he were real. It's like a collection of nerd notes on Star Trek episodes.

Most humorous is the off-handed manner in which Arthur Conan Doyle probably wrote these stories. It's no secret he found them somewhat beneath him, and had to be paid exorbitant amounts of money to write more and more. (He even killed Holmes off at one point so he could stop having to write the things.)

Reading the enormous number of fatuous footnotes -- I opened to one at random just now that applauds Holmes' ability to determine hair color by moonlight, and challenges readers to do the same -- I find it rather pathetic. As a writer, I know that all those inconsistencies and truth-stretches were simply the result of Doyle wanting to finish his pages so he could get off to his favorite bar, or some Fleet Street floozy he was frequenting. He never gave those stories a fraction of the unwarranted attention these pedantic fools continue to offer it.

That all said, I'm not sure it was even worth this space to point that out ... But it's been a week since my last entry, so ...


  1. Fleet Street Floozy? I don't think you are allowed to say that until you're sixty.

  2. Now, you see, I was just going to applaud the use of the very same (and curse myself for not thinking of it as a nom de plume)

  3. Having once been a Fleet Street Floozy, I can say that Conan Doyle never visited my house of ill-repute...