Sunday, 22 February 2015

Aged Holmes stories

"Mr. Holmes"
My current reading ran into a couple of Sherlockian topics. In UK newspapers, it's been hard to miss the story of the discovery of a lost Sherlock Holmes story in a 1903 fundraising booklet, The Book o' the Brig, compiled in aid of a bazaar to raise money for the reconstruction of a Selkirk footbridge destroyed by flooding in 1902. I also just started Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind, which has been filmed as Mr. Holmes.

As to The Book o' the Brig, this concerns the found story "Sherlock Holmes." — DISCOVERING THE BORDER BURGHS, and, BY DEDUCTION, the BRIG BAZAAR, a rather thin parlour tale in which Holmes deduces that Watson is going to Selkirk "in aid of a Bridge". Most of the papers have swallowed without question the opinion of the finder, Selkirk poet and amateur historian (and dowser) Walter Elliot, that it's by Conan Doyle. His evidence is somewhat less than persuasive:
"It’s unsigned, and I’m not a specialist, but the vocabulary seems pretty close to the way Conan Doyle wrote. I’m fairly sure it was written by him," he said about the story.
- Previously unknown Sherlock Holmes story found in the attic of British town, TASS news agency, Feb 21, 2015
The Guardian (A new Sherlock Holmes mystery: is 1,300-word yarn a lost Conan Doyle?) and Radio Times (Lost Sherlock Holmes story discovered – but is it by Arthur Conan Doyle?) at least are more cautious than the general run of newspapers. In the absence of direct attribution, I'm inclined to view the authorship as unproven.

The Sherlockian Mattias Boström goes further down the sceptical route in the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere post Conan Doyle Didn’t Write the Lost Sherlock Holmes Story. Looking at contemporary newspaper accounts in The Southern Reporter, he finds that while Conan Doyle did address the bazaar, none of the associated publicity material mentions his contributing a story. It does seem mightily improbable that if the fundraisers really had a Conan Doyle contribution, they wouldn't have made the most of such a PR scoop. As one commenter to Boström's piece notes, this is a "dog that didn't bark" situation. Boström writes:
The conclusion is that someone local, with at least a minor literary talent, wrote these three interviews. The lost Sherlock Holmes story is definitely a pastiche. Not an especially good one, but an early one, and a good example of how Conan Doyle's creation was used freely by other authors. For that it should be remembered, and nothing else. 
There's a scan, transcript, and a summary of the evidence against, at The Conan Doyle Encyclopedia: Sherlock Holmes: DISCOVERING THE BORDER BURGHS, and, BY DEDUCTION, the BRIG BAZAAR. It includes a video of the finder, Mr Elliot, manhandling the already tattered rare booklet in a way that'll make bibliophiles wince, as he explains what he considers to be "fairly conducive [sic] proof" of the authorship.

Mr. Holmes
poster image from IMDb
Switching to an altogether higher level of literary merit, Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind concerns Sherlock Holmes in 1947, aged 93 and long retired to the Sussex downs and his beekeeping. I've only got as far as the framing scenario, in which Holmes, troubled by failing memory, bad dreams and broodings over an unsolved case, has just returned from travels abroad to India, Australia and post-war Japan. This frames and is interwoven with the two sub-stories: Holmes's own manuscript called The Glass Armonicist, a case account he's writing up after many years, and a segment set on a research visit to Japan.

See A Slight Trick of the Mind for more on the book.

A Slight Trick of the Mind has been filmed as Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellen. It got good reviews at the Berlin Film Festival recently, but apparently it's not due for general cinematic release until summer 2015. Definitely one to look forward to.

- Ray

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