Tuesday, March 28, 2006


From Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (1891), collected in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes
"And the murderer?"

"Is a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears thick-soled shooting boots and a grey cloak, smokes Indian cigars, uses a cigar-holder, and carries a blunt penknife in his pocket. There are several other indications, but these may be enough to aid us in our search."
If you've ever read any Holmes stories, you didn't even need me to identify the quotation. No other fictional creation could be so rapid, certain, and detailed, while at the same time suggesting that what he's revealed is only the tip of the iceberg.
"We have got to the deductions and the inferences," said Lestrade, winking at me. "I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies."

"You are right," said Holmes demurely; "you do find it hard to tackle the facts."
Stacey and I have been reading Holmes stories aloud to each other on car trips for seven or eight years now. We don't read one on every trip—too often on winter trips we're leaving work right before sundown—but we've gotten through a fair number. We were reading from three or four Oxford World's Classics editions, but on the publication a year or so ago of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, we decided to start over at the beginning. We've therefore still got a lot of unread stories ahead of us.

Holmes stories are just about perfect for reading aloud in the car. (My coworker Carrie said she had recently suggested to her husband that they read aloud from Macbeth, but that's of necessity a two-person, home-based activity—too many parts to keep track of with a lone voice. And too much blood for a rental car.) The plots clip along, the dialogue is just stilted enough that one person can read each character's dialogue with reasonable conviction, and Holmes's arrogance rears its charming head often enough that the reading doesn't get monotonous, broken as it is by astonished laughter from reader and listener.

And there seem to be just enough stories, too. Just enough stories that, in fifty, sixty, seventy years of marriage, we could run through them again and again—but not so often that they get repetitive. The plots will become more familiar, but we're really reading for Holmes and Watson, and they, like a good marriage itself, should only become more comfortable—and comforting—with repetition. Watson's wife could be speaking to us all when she argues, in response to his worries that he might be too busy to travel on a case with Holmes:
"You have been looking a little pale lately. I think the change would do you good, and you are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes's cases."

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of the Oxford World's Classics editions, the ones we have of Sherlock Holmes stories are free to the first reader of this blog who wants them and posts a comment saying so. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes is such a wonderful book, so lovingly produced, that I'm willing to lug the extra weight around on any trip.