Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

I just finished reading The Return of Sherlock Holmes, and thought I'd do the same thing I did a few weeks ago with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Namely, I'm going to go story by story and point out descriptions of Holmes that may not gel with the purely mental, 90 lb. weakling Holmes that has often been portrayed in previous movies. Along the way I'll give some review on the stories as well.

"The Empty House"
Sherlock Holmes defeats his nemesis Moriarty thanks to his skill in the Japanese martial art Baritsu. He then climbs a sheer cliff face only to have rocks thrown down at him by another assailant. He half slides and half leaps down the cliff, and then he runs ten miles over the mountains in the dark to escape. Going abroad to hide from his enemies, he spends time with the Dalai Lama in Tibet, stops in at Mecca, and visits the Caliph of Khartoum. Returning to England, he shows himself once again to be a master of disguises, outwits Moriarty’s second-in-command, and wrestles him to the ground. (Again I ask you, is this more like the spindly Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes or the new Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes?)

"The Norwood Builder"
I want to mention this one because it was one of my favorite stories in the book with a great denouement, but it didn’t give me any new descriptions of Sherlock that I didn’t already know beforehand.

"The Dancing Men"
This is the only story I clearly remember from when I read this book in my childhood. I actually copied out the secret code of the dancing men and tried to write secret messages with it. Aside from this, Holmes enjoys yanking Watson’s chain at the beginning of the story, to humorous effect. It is also revealed that Holmes keeps Watson’s checkbook under lock and key, and that he has to ask Holmes when he wants his own money. This has led some to believe that Doyle was hinting at a gambling problem on the part of Watson. In this story Holmes takes on a Chicago mobster

"The Solitary Cyclist"
Holmes gets to put his bareknuckle boxing skills to the test in this story, as he gets into a fight in a pub with a large and angry man.

"The Priory School"
Another great story, but one in which no additional descriptions of Sherlock Holmes are found. I love the snarky way Holmes takes the money in the end.

"Black Peter"
This one was interesting because we learn that, in addition to his lodgings at Baker Street, Holmes keeps up several false identities at addresses throughout London. He makes use of his alter ego, Captain Basil, down at the shipping docks. I was so tickled to learn that the name of Basil in Disney's The Great Mouse Detective was not completely random.

"Charles Augustus Milverton"
Seeing no legal way to stop a blackmailer who wants to ruin a young lady’s life, Holmes and Watson turn criminal and stage a heist in order to rob the safe of the titular villain. Holmes makes use of his special lockpicking kit (as seen in the new movie), much excitement ensues, and Holmes and Watson narrowly avoid being caught. When Inspector Lestrade arrives the next day to ask Holmes to help him apprehend the two men who were seen fleeing Milverton’s house the previous night, he describes one assailant who was clearly seen. Holmes argues that from such a vague description, there would be no way to track the criminals. “Why, it might be a description of Watson!” he laughs.

"The Six Napoleons"
A great mystery in which we see once again Holmes’s flair for the dramatic, as well as his famed riding crop weapon again.

"The Three Students"
A fun little mystery in which we see Holmes in an academic setting doing research for a project. Holmes is happy for a mystery, for, as Watson points out, staying in rented rooms has not agreed with him. “My friend’s temper had not improved since he had been deprived of the congenial surroundings of Baker Street. Without his scrapbooks, his chemicals, and his homely untidiness, he was an uncomfortable man.”

"The Abbey Grange"
This was my absolute favorite story in the book. It is an excellent mystery, and we see Holmes, once again, operating outside the law. “I had rather play tricks with the laws of England than with my own conscience,” he says.

"The Second Stain"
This is certainly the most sensational of the stories. Holmes must immerse himself into international politics in order to prevent a huge European war. We find out in this story that Holmes keeps tabs on several secret agents and spies. Nothing gets past Sherlock Holmes. The last line in this story is the perfect ending to the book.


Erica said…
I hate to crush your hopes that Basil in The Great Mouse Detective was named because of the books, but...well, the author of "Basil of Baker Street" named him after Basil Rathbone. Alas!
(incidentally, I want to read these books)
I was going to point out what Erica said... but on the other hand, Basil of Baker Street is much more like Doyle's action-heroic Holmes than like Basil Rathbone's portrayal.
Rick said…
I know. I'm so crushed that my clever idea turned out to be a coincidence... Or maybe it was a conspiracy and Basil Rathbone was chosen for the role just for his middle name!
Suburbanbanshee said…
Basil Rathbone was an Olympic fencer, who fenced, fought, and did other action stunts in most of his movies (in which he usually played an aristocratic villain).

I love Downey as Holmes, truly I do. And I appreciate his musclebuilding.

But if you set Rathbone up next to Downey, or had them fight each other, Downey would go down. There's just no comparison in raw athleticism; and that athleticism was always implied in Rathbone's Holmes, even though it wasn't much shown. They didn't have to show it, because every moviegoer knew he could have beat the pants off Errol Flynn if the script hadn't stopped him.

It's as if you had Arnold Schwarzenegger play somebody like Nero Wolfe or a sedentary lawyer. Arnold would never have to do a single thing that was strong or violent, and he could wear a fat suit as much as he wanted. But his implied physical presence would color the part anyway.