Yesterday, as I have done the past few December 27ths, I re-read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's only Christmastime Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." Only this time it was a little different.
For Christmas, I was given the first two volumes of the new annotated Sherlock Holmes, edited by Leslie S. Klinger. These volumes, hardbound and in a slipcase, are gorgeous. Any self-respecting Holmes fan simply must own a copy of this set.
What I expected was the typical definitions of random pieces of Victorian tidbits that modern readers wouldn't know, starting with the original publication date of January 1892. Moreover, a note describes how Dickens and the Victorians "invented"Christmas as we know it now, while another gives light as to how gems are measured, or how long The Times had been in existence. That kind of detail, along with the illustrations by Sidney Paget or contemporary photos of 1890s London, is a boon to the reader.
What surprised me was the scholarship devoted to figuring out if Holmes's deductions were correct or not. I know all about the gentle fiction that supposes Holmes and Watson were real people. I don't have a problem with that. That's kind of fun, really. It's the need to, I assume, outwit Holmes, or, at least, point out where he erred. I wonder where that need arises? I guess that's the true treasure of this new, annotated anthology: we get, all in one place, a century's worth of criticism.
Part of me wonders if all this nitpicking isn't just a veiled attempt to point out the flaws in Doyle's writing. "Blue Carbuncle" is one of the stories that has an addendum, a separate essay related to the events in the story. This story earns "A Winter's Crop," a complete discussion of whether or not a goose has a crop. Interesting scholarship, to be sure, and worthy of discourse. But, seriously, does the fact about the existence of a goose's crop add or subtract to the reading of the tale? Or whether or not Holmes inferences about the hat hold water? No.
I glanced at the dates of the stories in front and behind "Blue Carbuncle" and noticed that they are a month apart. Thus, Doyle is writing these stories, one per month, from July 1891 to June 1892. He still has a day job as well as a wife and one kid. He didn't have the internet to double-check to see if a goose has a crop. I suspect he wrote these tales in a flash and edited afterwards, if at all. Also, the reading public in the 1890s probably were not the avid geeks many of us are today.
All this is to say that while it is a fun exercise to go back and see if Holmes's reasoning is sound and to point out where it isn't, one should enjoy the story as it is. Give Doyle some slack. He's only a writer. It's not like he was as good as writer as Watson...