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{January 15, 2012}   Keeping Up With Holmes & Watson

There’s been the second in the series of Guy Ritchie’s films starring Downey Jr. & Law, and the second BBC TV series by Gatiss & Moffatt starring Cumberbatch & Freeman. Despite all this fill, I started recently at reading all the old stories. After the 1st one (‘A Study in Scarlet’), I thought I should read the ones that relate to the new BBC series. I’d already seen their version of the short story, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, and the next was the big novel ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, so I got to reading those straight away. It’s really wonderful seeing how they’ve completely reinvented them – if you haven’t read any Conan Doyle, try one of his Holmes short stories. They’re all available for free online here: http://sherlock-holm.es/pdf/a4/1-sided/ . The copyright issues are explained there, but essentially it’s ok to read wherever you are in the world so long as you don’t download the files. How do the officials check things like that anyway?

I thought I’d set myself a challenge:

1) I would read ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ right up until the big revelation scene at the end, and all before I see the TV reinvention on Saturday (today).

2) As I read, I would do my best to deduce (or induce?*) what I could about everything before it is revealed in the story, as I went along.

3) Once I reached the big revelation scene, I’d do my best to induce/deduce what the truth is, so details like who’s the murderer, how did they do it or plan to do it, and how Holmes & Watson would go about catching him.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

I’ll put the ‘Cons’ ahead of the ‘Pros’ so that this blog finishes on accomplishment rather than failure.

Cons

1) There were lots of things that would have been almost impossible for me to get. Either because of the way the story moved forwards (finding things out simply because they’re shown with very little or no indicators beforehand), or because of lack of information. For the most of the story, Holmes is absent. During this time, he collects more information, so when they reunite, Holmes induces the correct conclusions using what Watson confides and what he’s known secretly. Not fair. Then you get the same sort of thing by the writing. At one point, Holmes becomes transfixed by something on the wall. Being a book, we can’t know what it is and what the visually important detail is until it’s spelled out for us. Ah well.

2) There wasn’t really a proper ‘revelation scene’. In most detective stories, the lead keeps relatively schtum about his ideas until right near the end where everyone is gathered into a parlour room and told why each of them isn’t the murderer and the second least likely seeming one is. Not in these novels. There were lots of little revelations along the way, so the scene I stopped at (right before they try to catch him in the act of attempted murder) seemed more like a continuation of what had gone before. It didn’t feel right to stop there. But I did.

3) I didn’t really have any time between getting to that point and seeing the TV version to think it through. Thankfully though, <skip to ‘pro #3’>. Unfortunately this also meant <skip to ‘con’ #5>.

4)  Due to a confusion with names (I get confused when reading quickly with old names and everyone is Mr/Mrs/Miss)and the stark difference in their physical descriptions, I assumed that Mr & Miss Stapleton were married, rather than brother & sister. So I thought that, then later discovered I shouldn’t have thought that, and then later was told that actually my mistaken half induction was actually right.

5) Because the TV version was so different to the book, my reading deadline & specifics weren’t at all necessary. They may as well have been 2 separate stories altogether.

Pros

1) Come on Watson, how could you not tell it was Holmes silouetted against the moon that night? Especially after learning that this mystery 2nd man of the moors was aided by a young boy, who you also didn’t recognise? And it didn’t even cross your mind? My memory’s not great with the little details, but I think it said it’d been 5 years working together, from the start of which Holmes employed local street kids for recon missions, and Watson met this particular one on the day he last saw Holmes. Not sure this should be a ‘Pro’ actually – Officer Dibble could’ve worked it out.

2) Otherwise, I felt very on par with Watson. It was around 50/50 for me to get something before he did & vice-versa, but most of the time I worked it out pretty much as I read that Watson had got it too. Watson definitely wins overall though (despite the above). I’m a cowardly lion and we’d never’ve worked these things out if it weren’t for his ability to go out there and just do stuff. Like tailing the butler when he passed his door. That’s a tiny little thing in comparison to all the dark stuff happening, but no way would I have left my room. Too risky. In my head anyway. Plus, if I’d actually been there, I doubt I’d be able to keep as clear a head to work these things out as he did. I think I may have beaten Holmes at one point too.

3) The TV version was very different to the book, so what I really got was 2 separate exercises in deduction. Also, while I still don’t know the end to the book, I’m sure that the ending to the episode won’t have spoiled anything big for me (besides the murderer’s end… but that’s ok).

4) Kinda half ‘pro’ half ‘con’. I pegged Mr Stapleton as a highly suspicious character very early on when he mentioned his intimate knowledge of the bogs and his enthusiasm for butterfly collecting. People with specialised knowledge are always the most suspicious because it gives them specialised and often hidden power. The butterfly-enthusiasm just added to it because serious enthusiasts have the potential to be seriously motivated. I knew this girl who liked John Barrowman. Tried once to tell her that he’s gay, not bisexual, and she got very scary. And I’m not even sure that she really liked him. Point is, even enthusiasm at a low level can create problems, and enthusiasm at a higher level can create PROBLEMS. Bit of a ‘con’ point because, while I got the right guy, it’s hardly the way you should go about finding a killer is it?

*Spoilers over*

4) Also, while not related to my test, it was just a very, very good book. And a very good TV series too. Go watch it. And when you’ve done that, go watch some new Doctor Who too. And if you’re still up for obeying my suggestions after that, go to Cardiff and go to the Bay on a sunny weather day and compliment all young women you see. If that lady happens to be me, you’ll know because I won’t curtsy.

————–

*Inductive reasoning is really what Holmes advocates most highly, not deductive reasoning. The problem with these words is that they change their meaning somewhat depending on their context. In the context of reasoning, think of them as adjectives applied to ideas;

Inductive reasoning: To induce ideas. This is done by observing all the details, and then using logic create a theory.

Deductive reasoning: The opposite – you start with your theory and then you look for evidence to support it.

Essentially, Holmes uses inductive reasoning to draw conclusions from what he observes. He would then go on to use deductive reasoning together with general probability to find which of his theories is the most likely to be true.

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