Saturday, 30 November 2013

Monday, 18 November 2013

Sherlock Holmes, the compassionate detective

            Sherlock Holmes is the most well-known detective in the world, who had been already studied countless times from thousands of aspects. In this writing I would like to deal with one of his characteristics. My thoughts are based on the original stories and the Sherlock Holmes series of Granada Television – the reason for the latter is quite simple: it is my favourite adaptation and it is the most faithful to the Canon.

            First of all the title of my article needs some explanation. Being compassionate means that one feels with those who suffer. „According to Buddhism for a man to be perfect there are two qualities that he should develop equally: compassion on one side and wisdom on the other. Here compassion represents love, charity, kindness, tolerance and such noble qualities on the emotional side, or qualities of the heart, while wisdom would stand for the intellectual side or the qualities of the mind.” (Walpola Rahula: What the Buddha taught)

Being compassionate

            Sherlock is not that emotionless machine what some adaptations create from him. He is truly able to express his emotions and he is solicitous about the life of others. His selflessness is confirmed perfectly by the fact that on several occasions he does not want any payment for his services. The most important thing for him is the truth to be find out and criminals to be punished. And here comes compassion to the picture: who is deeply touched and moved by the suffering of the poor and the downtrodden, that must be a really soulful person. The very reason why I love the Granada series so much is that Jeremy Brett’s Holmes shows a wide variety of emotions, though the sleuth of the novels is even a little more humane. Although I like BBC’s Sherlock, my opinion is that its creators maltreat the character a little bit. The sleuth of modern times is slightly too negative for my taste: he is too arrogant, too condescending, sometimes too rude – though maybe these are for the sake of a future positive change. And of course he has many accomplishments. (It does not belong closely to my topic but I have to mention one thing, which is a direct hit in the series of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, namely the character of Watson. Martin Freeman is as great as the miracle had been who was called Edward Hardwicke. Because of him I excuse Sherlock many things.)

            Sherlock’s sense of justice cannot bear the plight of the deprived. In the novels he often helps ladies who are in danger. He is always polite, respects them and acknowledges their merits. When Doyle wrote the adventures, the life of women, and especially of poor women was unenviable. Women had far less rights than men and many of them were trapped in their marriages. (The writer was the vanguard of the movement to change the laws of divorce, and from 1909 he became the president of the  Divorce Law Reform Union for ten years. He makes Holmes to voice his views.)

            The detective is solicitous about children and animals as well – and this again shows his compassion. He gives tasks to the wastrels, and this way he makes their life a little bit easier. He expresses his opinion in The Copper Beeches as follows: „The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock.” Sometimes he gets the justice in his own hands and lets wrongdoers flee. But he does it only when he thinks the crime and its weight itself is enough punishment for the guilty.


            Though my theme is the compassion of Holmes, I would also like to mention wisdom, what is a feature of his as well. He helps the work of the police with wise advices and he is always ready to give guidance to his clients. He contemplates a lot, which is a must for his profession. He is seen several times sitting in the classical meditation posture (lotus or half-lotus). Meditation has many benefits and it clears the mind – Holmes usually practices it for better concentration and analysis.

            As to end my article I would like to quote something wise from the detective:

„To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to under-estimate oneself is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.” (The Greek Interpreter)

Friday, 1 November 2013

Halloween & Unhappy Birthday, Moriarty!

Halloween & Unhappy Birthday, Moriarty!

Today’s widespread admiration for villains and criminals noticeable in contemporary literature, film as well as in society brought into my focus one earlier Sherlockian society.
Let’s quote from Dr Watson’s notes, as he his own experience with “those injudicious champions who have endeavored to clear his [ie. Moriarty’s] memory”:

It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished…
My hand has been forced, however, by the recent letters in which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother, and I have no choice but to lay the facts before the public exactly as they occurred. I alone know the absolute truth of the matter, and I am satisfied that the time has come when no good purpose is to be served by its suppression…
As to the gang [of Professor Moriarty], it will be within the memory of the public how completely the evidence which Holmes had accumulated exposé their organization, and how heavily the hand of the dead man weighed upon them. Of their terrible chief few details came out during the proceedings, and if I have now been compelled to make a clear statement of his career it is due to those injudicious champions who have endeavored to clear his memory by attacks upon him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.
[Arthur Conan Doyle: The Final Problem]

John Bennett Shaw (1913–1994), renowned American Sherlockian and collector, after retirement moved with his wife Dorothy to Santa Fe, N. M. There he found that there was a town called Moriarty within an hour’s drive from his new home.
He was so excited about it that in 1971 he founded a BSI scion society named after Moriarty and was called “Big Brother”. Definitely not to celebrate this Nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, but – with his own sense of humour – on the contrary.

Let’s read the reminiscence of Peter E. Blau, to whom John introduced me in 1970s:
After John moved from Tulsa to Santa Fe he was pleased to discover the town of Moriarty, N.M., and decided there ought to be a Sherlockian society there. He called the society The Brothers Three of Moriarty, in honor of the three Moriarty brothers, all of them named James (according to Anthony Boucher, who once proposed that it would have been silly for a mother to name only two of her three sons James) . . . and adopted as its emblem a cattle brand showing three Js (the middle of them crooked, representing the evil professor), and he said that the brand was registered officially with the state (as is done where cattle are raised). Moriarty was (and perhaps still is) a small town at the end of a cattle trail from Texas. I note the society’s annual dinners were held in the back room of the Frontier Saloon, on the Thursday before Moriarty’s birthday (Halloween) . . .
John liked to explain that the reason the annual were held on Thursdays was that Kip Gallant, owner of the saloon explained that on Fridays and Saturdays the saloon was full of cowboys, and “If they discovered there are people in the back room who can read or write, they’ll shoot you.”

Peter adds:
John thought about how to memorialize the professor in Moriarty, and said he first thought of a life-size statue of Moriarty, making an obscene gesture, but realized that the locals would just shoot the statue to pieces. John wanted a memorial that couldn't be vandalized, so every year, after the annual dinner, members and guests adjoined to an open lot next to the saloon and rededicated the Moriarty Memorial Manure Pile, on which was deposited manure from horses, mules, donkeys, cows, and (eventually) exotic animals such as geese, camels, and kangaroos, which was donated by far-flung Sherlockian societies . . .
I believe that that society was founded in 1971, and yes, I was a member (it wasn’t difficult to be a member, since John societies always were inclusive rather than exclusive).

John attitude towards Professor Moriarty must be clear to everybody after reading this account.

The society The Brother Three of Moriarty existed approximately until 1997 when was its last event as it lost its sparking plug (as Peter said) after John’s death in 1994. A lapel pin designed of three “Js” was also produced in a small quantity and one should be in the Special Collections of the University of Minnesota.
One of its youngest members was nowadays famous American writer Mitch Cullin born in Santa Fe in 1968. Mitch is the author of a homage to Sherlock Holmes “A Slight Trick of the Mind” (2005) that is going to be filmed in 2014 starring Ianem McKellen as an old detective.

The End

Text by © Aleš Kolodrubec, 2013

"Halloween" is not a traditional Czech holiday. It is accepted by many (as fun), but rejected by many, too. There is also no canonical connection, however this article was written to show one free link.
Logo of The Brother Three of Moriarty society
© heirs, John Bennett Shaw