Wednesday 25 July 2012

Truths of Sherlock Holmes (Part 2)

One of the first places that novelist Narrelle Harris and I visited on our first visit to London in 1990 was Baker Street, home of the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
The Holmes novels and short stories have remained great favourites of ours over the years, supplemented by the fine TV versions starring, respectively, Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes.
Reflecting on the great detective, we realised the 60 adventures related by Dr John Watson via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle contain recurring life lessons which we would all do well to learn.
In Narrelle’s blog Mortal Words she outlines the first six of these truths, so you might like to visit there first then return to this page. 
For here are our final six Truths of Sherlock Holmes, with some of my London photos and references to stories which you can read via this link to Project Gutenberg. For your pleasure, there's an extra added bonus truth at the end: 

7. It’s a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing gown. 
Goes without saying, even when confronted by Professor James Moriarty.
(See The Final Problem)

8. The days of the great criminal are past.  
Holmes whinges almost constantly that crime has become dull and uninspired. The life lesson we can draw from this is that every job has its tedium and drudgery; there has to be some uneventful time available to update Holmes’ biographical indexes and commonplace book, after all. But hang in there. Something interesting will show up eventually, possibly disguised as a routine task.
(See The Solitary Cyclist and just about every second story in the canon)
9. Holmes already knows everything, so your only hope is to confess the whole story, in a clear narrative structure. 
If you're going to make a confession, make sure it's concise and in neat chronological order, so any nearby friend and colleague of the detective can easily take notes for later publication.
(See The Devils Foot,  The Abbey Grange, The Blue Carbuncle, The Resident Patient and big chunks of A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Valley of Fear)

10. It’s never the gypsies. 
Conan Doyle was always even-handed with his villains, who came from all walks of life. But never, apparently, from gypsy clans. They had enough on their plates, what with being blamed for every instance of horse stealing and petty theft throughout Europe. So much for stereotypes.
(See The Speckled Band; The Priory School; Wisteria Lodge)
11. You can't come up with a solution that ignores some of the facts. 
On several occasions, police detectives (aka Scotland Yard bunglers) devise a theory they think is good enough, even though it leaves some quirky facts unexplained. This always turns out to be a bad idea, when Holmes shows them up by incorporating these facts into the correct solution. The moral is to not put the cart before the horse; let the facts lead you to the correct answer.
(See The Dancing Men, The Six Napoleons)
12. Run a mile from self-confessed “faddy people”. 
Their curious and seemingly harmless fads will inevitably prove to be cover for sinister deeds. Basically, if someone asks you to put on an electric blue dress and sit at a window while he tells you funny jokes, decline. It’s probably not your colour, anyway.
(See The Copper Beeches, The Three Gables)
And a bonus truth to make it a baker’s dozen:
13. As you value your life or your reason, stay away from the moor. 
Even if you do like dogs.
(See The Hound of the Baskervilles)

To delve further into the truths of Sherlock Holmes (for it is a capital mistake to theorise without data):
And for the first six Truths of Sherlock Holmes, click here. Do you have any further Sherlock truths to add? Leave a comment below.


  1. Ah yes Holmes is a brilliantly written collection, and still very relevant and enjoyable. The BBC did a great job with their recent series, though they could have made it longer by not condensing several stories into one episode. Barnes and Noble in the US released a very nice, faux leather bound compendium last year which I am the proud owner of.

  2. It's great that the stories still hold their power - Conan Doyle was brilliant at characteristation IMO. Even better to see they can transcend the 19th century, that there's more to them than hansom cabs and pea-soup fogs.

  3. re: #10 - you can add Silver Blaze to this list. It, yet again, wasn't the gypsies in that one. :-)

    I somehow feel there should be some sort of life lesson in the fact that so often there was no actual crime committed in Holmes's cases.

    Stellar list.

  4. Yes, and occasionally there were cases in which Holmes did very little but listen to someone's story (eg The Veiled Lodger). All good stuff though.

  5. Another truth would be: "never make false clues, they'd be detected anyway." (Examples: A Study in Scarlet (RACHE), The Valley of Fear (the footmark on the window sill), Norwood Builder (the thumb print),.

  6. Good point Hari. Basically that boils down to "Don't imagine for a moment that you can fool Holmes". Particularly applies to that idiot in The Retired Colourman.

    1. "The Retired Colourman" was always a slightly melancholy read for me. Being the last adventure (at least in the edition of "Sherlock Holmes - the complete novels and stories", Bantam classics), I realize that Shoscombe Old Place is the last canonical adventure), it has a kind of finality about it.