Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Book Review: "The Five Orange Pips" (Doyle, 1891)

“I think, Watson,” he remarked at last, “that of all our cases we have had none more fantastic than this.”
“Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four.”
“Well, yes. Save, perhaps that.”
--Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, “The Five Orange Pips”

Leigh:  Okay, I'm gonna go ahead and get this out of the way.

 Every time I heard the word "pip" I think of this. So. Yeah.... 

It's really hard to come up with a train of thought to this that doesn't involve oranges...But I'll try! (All I can imagine right now is a KKK member trying to peel an orange and it amuses me.) 

I have to say that I really enjoyed the opening of this one. We are back in the sitting room but instead of going through another situation of Holmes telling someone stuff they should already know about themselves for the audience's sake, we are given little tidbits that help describe Holmes to an audience that might not be familiar with the stories. It's almost like ACD was evolving as an author and honing his skills and trying something new. HMMMM. Watson reminding Holmes that he isn't all-knowing and in fact, kinda sucks when it comes to the Political Science category in Trivial Pursuits amused me. Even Holmes was a bit modest at the beginning of the story was a new side that we haven't really seen. Was he being modest or just humble-bragging?

When listening to this one again (because I totally forgot to read it yesterday so I listened to it at work), I had forgotten most of the plot points except the orange pips. Maybe because I was focussing on the pips too much. Pips pips pips. But I think this is a great example of a unusual mystery and ACD writing what he enjoyed writing about. Did you know that he wrote other books that WEREN'T Sherlock Holmes books? I KNOW! It seems strange but it's true. He was a fan of history and wrote a couple of historical fiction novels. I think this story of the pips does a great job of writing about Sherlock Holmes but still adding in his other interests as well. We get a VERY brief history of the KKK and some history on the American Civil War but we still have odd clues that wrap the mystery and the history together. (After a very short search as to whether or not the KKK actually sent pips to their enemies, I haven't found conclusive evidence. Forgive me for not wanting to search for this further but the KKK's ignorance and stupidity scare me.) 

We also get another example of Holmes wanting to bring bad guys to justice even after the case has, in essence, ended. He still does his best to find out who killed these people and tries to bring them to justice. I think the most telling of Holmes' character is when he said, “No; I shall be my own police. When I have spun the web they may take the flies, but not before.” He doesn't care about the law, he is going to do what he thinks is right and ain't no one gonna stop him! 

So what do you think? Is Holmes growing as a character or was he being slier about his pompousness? And what about those pips? 

Austin: And here I just thought of a certain Dickensian character. Oh Pip!

Oh I always think that Holmes is humblebragging. Even when he's being played by Basil Rathbone I can see the sneaky glint in his eye of knowing how right he is. I like when that's being pushed how he keeps redefining his place in the justice system. He ranks himself above anyone else so nobody challenges him on taking on the criminals himself. The only thing that outranks him is the unknowns, the elements that he can't solve. Then he solves them and takes his rightful place as king of the cerebral mountain.

I am not the least bit surprised that Doyle is interested in history. It's all over his stories, especially "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Sign of Four." It's like he feels he's confined to having a concise plot in mysteries that whenever he has the opportunity for a tangent he takes it. Time was not on his side with his story because I kept waiting to figure out what KKK stood for. It was treated like a Robert Louis Stevenson mark of death, but instead it actually was the Ku Klux Klan. Perhaps as a Brit, this was a crazy new story but as an American who grew up with shaming Indiana textbooks it's a well established embarrassment.

I think this was a very mature story of Doyle's. Maybe not the most exciting--Watson himself brings up stories he thinks are more thrilling--but very intriguing. It's a story that has the enhanced feeling of adventure why still wanting to focus on the details.

Yet here's the question I pose to you. Does the mystery actually add up? We've poked holes in Elementary episodes. Does this one actually work?

Also imagine the song "Island in the Sun" by Weezer. Now imagine they're saying "Pip Pip" throughout the song. Better, right?

Pip! Pip!
Leigh: Or just that other Britishism, Pip Pip Cheerio! 

I think that this mystery might add up if we had more parts to it. Right now, we are left with vague ideas and as much of a mystery as when we started. We don't know why the Colonel was originally targeted, we are just left with the idea that he probably was because he left America with a box of important papers...? And then that these papers are so important that the original band were willing to kill anyone who might get it to them...? What this story needs, I'm sad to say, is another 40 page tangent like we had with A Study in Scarlet. We need a way to get that back story that we just don't have right now. But, with that said, maybe ACD made it that way so that the audience would be left just as confused as when they started? Or, maybe like the first time I had read this, they didn't think twice about it. Like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world will never know. 

I think as a short mystery that was introduced as one that doesn't quite add up, it works. The written word is allowed to have more loose ends than a more physical medium like TV because books inherently ask you to use your imagination. TV just spills it all out on the screen for you. A TV audience is upset when everything isn't wrapped into a nice, neat package with all of the ends tied into nice little bows. Why don't we find out what the papers in the box meant? Maybe we are supposed to think critically and figure it out for ourselves? We are given little hints as to what it might be, but I think we're supposed to try to figure it out for ourselves. We're supposed to do what kids in high school English classes across the country are forced to do and don't see the point in doing it. (But seriously, sometimes the curtains are blue because they're freaking blue!) 

You brought up an interesting point. We are both from Indiana. There are numerous towns that are within shouting distance of my home town that housed at least one KKK Grand Dragon (Why does the KKK have such cool names for their higher ups? It's just not fair.) One of my hometown's claims to fame is that, allegedly, we ran Frederick Douglass out of town and broke his arm when he was doing a speaking tour in the US. Does this story mean something else to us, as Americans, as Hoosiers, than it does to someone from the UK? And is there a way to apologize for other people's ignorance?

Austin: I'm really curious about your thought that it's more lenient for prose to have plot holes than something that was filmed. I don't know if I'm more of a visual learner, but I'm always one to find the problems in movies or TV over a book. I always took it as someone else created the world of film and now as a viewer I can really inspect it. With books, like you said, our imagination fills in the frame. If I reread something, then I have already sculpted the world with my mind so I'm more likely to pick up on something that doesn't make sense. 

The exception is the clue that really sticks out to me. Something I feel the author is trying to bring up and then quickly push aside so I'm sticking with it to be stubborn. Then I spend most of the story in the back in my mind thinking "But what about the twin!"

With Sherlock Holmes stories that doesn't always work because it's so linear and we don't get all of the information. There should never be a dropped clue when it comes to Sherlock. That did happen the first time I watched the first episode of Sherlock where I thought it was really odd Sherlock didn't consider someone a suspect who turned out to be the bad guy. Vagueness!

But anywho, I think this story does mean something to Americans. It's a less exotic story. This isn't a fantastical villainous group from across the world; it's a part of our history that we are ashamed about. We have movies like Mississippi Burning reminding us of how horrible the group was. This story uses that as an informative bit of trivia and that's fine because it was probably effective for that audience. As a midwest American, I was hoping that KKK stood for a different secret society of wrongdoers. Betrayed orange farmers or some ridiculous backstory. But it's silly to judge a story on what it isn't. This was still a strong Sherlock story that isn't talked about too often.

But now here's Leigh Montano with the last word.

Leigh: Pip!
"I don't know where to add this picture but it's of Gladys Knight and the Pips. I tried to find one where the Pips were wearing orange but I gave up after a few minutes. Get it...Orange Pips... HAHHAHAHA! I crack myself up." -- Leigh

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