Episode 48: Retcon Holmes

I decided to do a bit more research on Sherlock before writing this post and giving my thoughts on “Return of Sherlock Holmes” and found some interesting information along the way. Turns out that the main canon of Holmes literature is divided into four novels and a some collections of stories. Return of SH, which I believed to be the final novel is actually one of these collections and not even the last one. There is also some interesting debate as to whether the stories written by Conan Doyle’s son count as official canon. Even cooler for my research standards is the fact that the short stories were serialized, technically making them episodic narratives, few physical descriptions are given because the original printings included illustrations, most of which have been lost throughout the years (asking whether or not he had an actual funny hat can make sparks fly in the right crowd. But the coolest thing ever is that there was enough fan fiction back then to make Star Trek blush, I just hope it wasn’t of the lemon, slash, yaoi stuff that makes me cringe.

As to the stories itself, the first one is the most important for my literary interests. You see, in the second novel Holmes and Moriarty fell and were both presummed dead much in the same way than in the end of the second movie. Now Doyle apparently had pretty much had his literary fill with the detective and wanted to try some other things but the fans pulled him back in for more. He the wrote another novel which was a prequel to the second one, maybe an inbetweenquel of some sort like Lion King 1 1/2. Fans still wanted more so Doyle had to make one of the greatest retcons in literary history and say Sherlock Holmes was not dead at all. I’m still not sure what to think about the decision of bringing him back in short story serial format rather than in a standard novel, seeing as one is considered to be more serious and with higher literary merit than the other.

Perhaps the weirdest thing is thatbeyond a few paragraphs of Watson basically being scared and stupefied more than usual from Sherlock being alive, there are no other reactions from the other characters. Then again, having every character gasp with exclamation points upon seeing Holmes and have to be handwaved as to the death thing would just be tedious and boring. In case you were wondering, Holmes was able to survive falling to his death by not actualy falling. Using the (we’re not sure if it’s a real martial art or not) style of baritsu he tripped Moriarty and noticed that he could climb up, evade making footprints back and have everyone think that he had died as well to avoid those tedious future assassination attempts on him. Apparently he was bored with the afterlife and just decided to come back one day and get back to his detective work and hanging out with Watson.

As to the dozen or so stories that appear they are all pretty formulaic. Case shows up with a weird detail. An apparently logical solution is presented, Sherlock disagrees, does weird things, says he solved it, gets everyone in a room, explains what actually happened, reveals that when he was dicking around he actually did something amazing to deduce the truth. Guilty party poops itself with astonishing surprise, admits to everything, Holmes does something slightly outside of law’s reach and people rarely get full brunt of the law afterwards. Now I consider myself somewhat of a detedtive after being exposed to way too much Batman but there are some things that just come as a complete surprise as to how Holmes did his thing. One story had him talking to a professor whose grad student research assistant was killed (surprisingly relevant to this day) had him just smoke a bunch of the guy’s cigarrette’s super fast. We then find out Holmes smoked so much because he want to spread enough ash to see if any of the bookcases actually had secret passages, making me just facepalm with shenanigans. Maybe I was reading it wrong, in that perhaps one should stop a bit in between passages and see if you can solve it on your own but with the lack of an enforced interruption, that kind of reader contemplation doen’t really take place. Because the stories were serialized, you could see some narrative redundance in that it’s solving one case after another with no real change ocurring in between installments. Damn now I can’t stop thinking about Holmes in a way that’s not like a bad 1950s comic book.

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