Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Report: "The Gloria Scott" (Doyle, 1893)

“But why did you say just now that there were very particular reasons why I should study this case?”
“Because it was the first in which I was ever engaged.”
--Watson and Sherlock, “The Gloria Scott”

Leigh: So we have a different sort of story than we normally have. Instead of Watson relaying the story to the audience, Holmes is telling him this story. It's not a mystery that Holmes goes and solves before breakfast and then comes back to tell Watson all about the morning's adventure, it happened before they met. The audience gets to finally hear about Holmes' past! Not a whole lot of details but he went to school and was a bit of a loner and only had one good friend and that he was training to be World's Greatest Detective even while in school. 

"What is this beer pong you chaps are referring to?"

He goes on vay-cay to his friend's family estate and Holmes gets to try out his burgeoning detective skills on his friend's dad. This is when the story starts to pick up. His friend's dad starts to get a bit freaked out and not just because of Holmes but because a friend shows up and all hell breaks loose. Holmes leaves to go be an introvert and work on experiments for the rest of the summer vacation and then gets an urgent letter to come back to his friend's estate and when they get back his dad leaves the rest of the story in a series of diary entries/letters that are read to the audience for the rest of the story. The last half of the story is just reading a letter of what the father had done in a past life. I sum up the story this way to bring up the important question: Can ACD tell a story without a framing device like a letter or diary or long backstory told by a scruffy American?

Austin: Doyle sure does love his in-depth backstories even when it's already in a backstory that is already structurally confusing because he doesn't do a very good job about implying when he's talking to Watson and when he's talking to a character a longtime ago.

That said, I really dug this story. It was so different from anything we've had before and it's presented in such a nonchalant way. "Hey Watson, do you want to hear my origin story?" "What?" "It all began on an English estate because of course it did."

Now in terms of origin stories, this wasn't as lovably hokey as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy developed every single of one of his trademark images in one story. This was a nice puzzle conspiracy story that subtly showed why Sherlock would be driven to continue to pursue such matters. It wasn't because of emotional ties where he must always be plagued by what happened to his friends, but an earnest enthusiasm for figuring out the truth. Plus we had Sherlock report on his own past, which I loved. I can only assume that Watson realized this was gold and quickly started transcribing all of it which is the only way he could have successfully printed this story. (Unless he just paraphrased everything. Still not sure how much I trust Watson as a journalist.)

"I'm sure this won't psychologically affect me for the rest of my days!"

Now, Leigh did you actually like this story or was this another disappointment for you? You are very evasive with your first response.

Leigh: On it's own, I really enjoy this story. I love hearing about babby Sherlock Holmes and seeing that it wasn't just a flash of lightning and boom, he had magical powers. I like that we see that he was developing his abilities and was willing to test them out on anyone even if it made them incredibly uncomfortable and suspicious of Holmes for the rest of the visit. I enjoyed the little glimpse, possibly only glimpse into his past that we see. Holmes is a secretive person and we never really find out much about him (unless you read non-canon biographies which are hit and miss and sometimes Holmes meets the Yeti).

But in the series of stories we've already read as close together as they have been, I'm not as impressed. The story is interesting and neat (foreign lands, boats, bank robberies, this mystery has it all!) but I feel that ACD relies too much on showing us the story instead of telling us, even though he's telling us the story...You know what I mean. And as for mystery, there isn't one. Well there is but it's all unraveled and told to us before we can really stop and think "Oh! There's a mystery in this!" One minute the weird, creepy guy shows up, the next we find out everything we ever wanted to know about this man. But it's not a mystery or at least a "Play at Home" mystery that we usually have. 

"Blue....did you shoot the singing telegram?"

Is this okay? Does the audience always have to play along or is this type of mystery okay? And is the story still good even though it's sorta not?

Austin: Back up, Holmes meets the Yeti?! Further connections between Doctor Who and Sherlock!


I was fine with this one not being a Play at Home because of how the story was told. This was purely from Holmes' point of view. Watson as the narrator often tries to make it seem like the public can join in on the adventure. I'd be willing to bet that Doyle is closer to Holmes in the way he approaches a story. It's almost like they're both copyeditors. Solving a crime isn't about defeating evil, but recognizing something is off and fixing it. The puzzle that Holmes finds is an example of that. Before deciphering the code, it's just a strange message that many would pass off but Sherlock needs reasoning from it. 

In this story, the prose isn't so dense it would be like reading an academic article about a story--thankfully. Sherlock is able to tell a story; we've seen him explain situations to characters and the audience in many stories. So this story is like that but it's so focused on "what's wrong" that it becomes a very cold origin story, which is faithful to the character. Watson would have focused more on different character's emotions through the adventure, especially probing more into whether or not Sherlock was truly comfortable with the lack of friends he had. 

This was a very fun oddity. Much like Dick Whitman flashbacks, I don't want them all the time but when we do get them it's a nice treat.

A note about this week's schedule. Leigh has a personal family conflict so we are delaying our post of Tom Baker's "The Hounds of the Baskerville" until next week. We'll be back in the first half of next week with our review of the story "The Musgrave Ritual" which sounds particularly musky.

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