Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" (Doyle, 1904)

“The affair seems absurdly trifling, and yet I dare not call nothing trivial when I reflect that some of my most classic cases have had the least promising commencement."

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”

Leigh: First, I need to apologize, dear readers. I have really procrastinated on writing this initial email. Why? Because I've been putting off reading the story, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”. Why? Because it's boring. THERE, I'VE SAID IT! One of the stories from The Return of Sherlock Holmes is boring. Soooo booooring. I tried listening to it through Librivox, I tried reading it myself, I tried osmosis and sat on the book a while (not really but wouldn't that be cool if it could work that way?). But I put it off and put it off and put it off because it is such a boring story.

"But Leigh! There's murder! And a crazy man! And Napoleon! How can it be boring?" Because it's the same story as “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” which I believe we reviewed around this time last year but instead of a carbuncle, it's pearls and instead of a goose it's a bunch of busts of Napoleon. I didn't remember too much from it, just that it was similar and then I started reading it. Once I got to the murder, I remembered that it is the same story.

So Austin. This is a difficult question: Is copying your own work plagiarism or can we excuse Doyle for reusing one of his own stories?

Austin: I didn't find this one to be that boring! Perhaps it was because it had more of an oddity than Blue Carbuncle had. The Adventure of the Six Napoleons wants you to focus on the "Napoleons" but really the interesting bit is the "Six." "Blue Carbuncle" had a treasure hidden in three things, but SIX. That's much better. Basically I see this as a remake because this is a better story. It's goofier which is impressive since it has far fewer geese. I'm okay with an artist remakes his work if he improves upon it. Alfred Hitchcock literally made The Man Who Knew Too Much twice and I'm a bigger fan of the Jimmy Stewart one.

"Honey, hang up. I've already heard this call."

We've reviewed two quasi-adaptations with Basil Rathbone and Monk. So we've had music boxes, pies and now Napoleon busts. I think why this story is adapted so often is because it has such an intriguing MacGuffin that can be easily translated. Once again, I think we have to enjoy the earliness of these stories because now we're evolved to not trust that someone really hates Napoleon. I don't think Lestrade's early claims are that dumb because it fits well with looking at the surface of the absurdity.

The only thing I really had a problem with was the late revelation of the pearl. Yet in a story that is filled with MacGuffins, I suppose it's only fitting to end with another random treasure that works best as a symbol.

I didn't know this until I checked something online, but apparently this will be the last appearance of Inspector Lestrade. As tribute, Leigh, what did you think of this character in the Doyle stories? Worthy companion or an annoying obstacle?

Leigh: I like Lestrade. He is an interesting character and you can tell through the canon that his opinion of Holmes and what Holmes does for Scotland Yard changes. At first he's more harumph-y about the whole thing, perturbed that someone outside the force is doing all the work and doing it better but towards the end of the canon he really changes and shows that he does appreciate all that Holmes does for not just Scotland Yard but London in general. His character evolves and changes like a good character should. There are times in his arc that he is definitely frustrating like in the “Boscombe Valley Mystery” but he grew to want to work with Holmes and not just doing it as a last resort. I didn't know that this was our last canon mystery with him and I am going to miss him. 

"It always feels like a last resort..."

For the rest of the story, "remake" is a nice way of putting it. I don't know, I guess that I'm mostly upset with this one because it was such a letdown. The rest of the book is filled with great and interesting *new* adventures and then we get this one which is a remake of an older story. It just doesn't feel on par with the rest of the book. All of the other stories, I would read them and think, "Wow, this is a great story!" and this one I couldn't get into it. I guess every story can't be great but this one I just felt was just not as good as the rest of them. This is definitely the weakest in the bunch. 

I don't know. I just feel complain-y. Convince me why I shouldn't hate this one as much as I do!

Austin: I have to convince you? Are we battling? Has this blog been a competition the entire time? Shit, I need to rethink my entire strategy. 

I think it's okay that you didn't like this one. Your points are valid; this is very similar. I enjoy the upgrade, for many reasons including the fact that the "Blue Carbuncle" story almost evaporated from my memory. This one lasts simply because the premise is weirder than that one. I know we don't have a whole lot of stories left, but I really hope Doyle has a secret trilogy up his sleeve and tries to one-up this plot point yet again. I hate to theorize, but I would love to see Holmes try to solve a mystery involving 104 porcupines. 

One down, 103 to go!

Meanwhile, I also really liked Lestrade. I hate characters in procedurals who are just there to slow down the protagonist. Lestrade's point of view was always clear and more responsible than Holmes. He trusted him throughout the adventures because it was always worth the time to see another person's point of view. (Doyle has never been one on speeding up plots.) I'm sorry to see him go so soon because I think there's still a lot to explore between these two because Lestrade is so different from Watson. However strong Watson is, he always feels like a sidekick while Lestrade is an independent investigator who serves as a nice venn diagram subject to Holmes.

Anywho, next time we're going to look into an American adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. No, not that one. This one stars Bill Pullman, Ben Stiller and Kim Dickens from Deadwood, LOST, Friday Night Lights and Treme. We swear this exists.

Leigh: Yawn.

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