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When a figure like Sherlock Holmes has been around for over a century, there are bound to be misconceptions that creep into public thinking. We blame this not on carelessness or laziness but rather on the overwhelming popularity of the great detective.
The image of Holmes clad in deerstalker and Inverness cape, clenching a Meerschaum pipe in his teeth is the universal, if cliched, image of a detective. But was it true?
We were recently reminded of a number of classic myths about Sherlock Holmes, thanks to a contest being sponsored by The Baker Street Journal (also a sponsor of our program): it has long been rumored that men wore black armbands throughout the city of London after reading “The Final Problem” in the Strand Magazine. And only anecdotal evidence has been referenced whenever this supposed fact is brought up. The BSJ is offering a free year’s subscription to anyone who can definitively prove that such mourning attire was worn in response to the death of Sherlock Holmes.
That got us to thinking: what other Sherlockian myths are there? And are we guilty of propagating any of them ourselves? Join us for a quick game show-style question and answer session on the topic, as well as a reading of your comments from our last show and some recent news from the world of Sherlock Holmes.
Click here for the full version of the original post, including some superb Sherlockian Mythbuster videos.
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One of our favorite scenes, which we used as a source to sample for our podcast intro:
The Red Headed League
“Oh, sorry Holmes.”
“No, no, you couldn’t have come at a better time.”
“I was afraid you were engaged.”
“I am, very much so. Dr. Watson shares my love of all that is bizarre, but outside the routine of everyday existence.”
Holmes, did you just jump over the fu*** couch? And now Lady’s and Gentleman notice for whom he did this…
WATSON! COME BACK, WATSON!
When we recently came across an entry from Now I Know, a free daily newsletter that promises “you’ll learn something new every day,” (click through to subscribe) it was almost as if it had been written for us. So we did what was only natural: we reached out to the editor and asked if we might share the original post here. He gracefully agreed.
But before we delve into the details behind this rather interesting bit of trivia, let’s explore the Canonical mention (CAUTION: there may be spoilers ahead if you haven’t yet read The Sign of Four).
The mystery begins with Holmes and Watson being visited by Mary Morstan, whose father served in the army in India at Fort Agra. Major Morstan disappeared 10 years prior, leaving behind his luggage and some curiosities from the Andaman Islands. Since that time, Ms. Mortan received pearls annually and has been invited to discover the origin of the same by Thaddeus Sholto, son of Maj. John Sholto, who served with Morstan. Upon arrival at Pondicherry Lodge, the group learned that Bartholomew Sholto is dead, having himself been hit with a poisoned thorn. All that remained were child-like footprints and a stick with a stone head tied to it like a hammer.
Holmes pieced the elements together: small footprints, strange weapons, individuals who have been in India for some time. He concluded that the perpetrator must have come from the Andaman Islands:
This is the first volume of a gazetteer which is now being published. It may be looked upon as the very latest authority. What have we here? `Andaman Islands, situated 340 miles to the north of Sumatra, in the Bay of Bengal.’ Hum! hum! What’s all this? Moist climate, coral reefs, sharks, Port Blair, convict barracks, Rutland Island, cottonwoods - Ah, here we are! `The aborigines of the Andaman Islands may perhaps claim the distinction of being the smallest race upon this earth, though some anthropologists prefer the Bushmen of Africa, the Digger Indians of America, and the Terra del Fuegians. The average height is rather below four feet, although many full-grown adults may be found who are very much smaller than this. They are a fierce, morose, and intractable people, though capable of forming most devoted friendships when their confidence has once been gained.’ Mark that, Watson. Now, then, listen to this. `They are naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small, fierce eyes, and distorted features. Their feet and hands, however, are remarkably small. So intractable and fierce are they that all the efforts of the British officials have failed to win them over in any degree. They have always been a terror to shipwrecked crews, braining the survivors with their stone-headed clubs, or shooting them with their poisoned arrows. These massacres are invariably concluded by a cannibal feast.’ Nice, amiable people, Watson! If this fellow had been left to his own unaided devices this affair might have taken an even more ghastly turn. I fancy that, even as it is, Jonathan Small would give a good deal not to have employed him.
There we have the setup. Now without further ado, here’s “The Most Isolated People in the World” from Now I Know:
The part of the Indian Ocean encapsulated by the eastern shore of India and the shores of Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma) is called the Bay of Bengal (map). The eastern edge of the Bay of Bengal is defined as a set of islands called the Andaman Islands, an archipelago, most of which are under control of India. North Sentinel Island, a small dot of land, is part of the Andaman Islands. North Sentinel Island is set just west of the larger islands in the group, as seen as the red area in the map at the top. (For further context, the island is flagged on the map here – be sure to zoom in.)
Between 50 and 400 people are estimated to live on North Sentinel Island. These people, known as the Sentinelese, are perhaps the most isolated people in the world and are believed to be pre-Neolithic — literally, technologically in the Stone Age. By and large, the Sentinelese have gone uncontacted by outsiders for centuries if not millennia — in part because the Sentinelese do not take kindly to visitors.
In 1967, Indian authorities began their first meaningful attempt to engage the Sentinelese by leaving coconuts as gifts on the island’s shores. While some progress was made over the course of a few decades, the quality and quantity of contact was minimal at best. Seven years later, anthropologist Trilokinath Pandit and a film crew attempted to woo the Sentinelese into friendly contact with gifts, such as fruit, a pig, some toys, and pots and pans. The result was not positive: a film director was shot in the thigh with an arrow. In the 1990s, India cut off its permission for these anthropological endeavors, citing risks seen in contacting other uncontacted tribes as well as the fear of introducing diseases from mainland India to the Sentinelese people, whose physiologies almost certainly would be ill prepared to recover from.
More recent events strongly buttresses that this decision to cut off hopes of contact is just fine with the Sentinelese. In 2006, a pair of fishermen were plying their trade, illegally, off North Sentinel Island’s shore. Sentinelese archers killed the fishermen. When a helicopter came to recover the bodies, the helicopter too was met with a hail of arrows, and retreated before fulfilling its mission.
What do we know about the Sentinelese? Understandably, very little. They live in huts and are hunter-gatherers, employing the use of javelins, bows and arrows, and harpoons. They speak a language unique to them (also called, by outsiders, “Sentinelese”) which we have no way of translating. The Sentinelese appear to use pig skulls as ornaments of some sort, and have employed the use of red dye in both clothing and what is best guessed to be decoration.
And that, unfortunately, is all we may ever learn. As India has given up almost all hope of making further contact with the Sentinelese, these people are considered autonomous and, in a very real sense, the most isolated people on the planet. It seems like a matter of time before they and their culture die off, becoming a historical footnote. On the other hand, the Sentinelese are resilient — some estimate that they have lived on North Sentinel Island for 60,000 years, and in any event, the Sentinelese somehow survived the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 (which probably hit the island).
Could Tonga have been part of the Sentinelese people? Given his rather irascible personality, it doesn’t sound like a stretch. The blowpipe would seem to equate with the archers and the hammer-like weapon is clearly Neolithic in nature.
And when one considers that he was “a fine boatman” according to Johnathan Small, it’s not unlikely that he left Sentinel Island and made his way to some of the other Andaman Islands where he took ill. It was there that Small nursed him back to health and was able to attain a degree of loyalty from the islander, whom Small said was “as venomous as a young snake.”
While we may never know with certainty which of the Andaman Islands Tonga called home, our preference is for Sentinel Island, home of the most isolated people in the world.
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Remembering the words of Vincent Starrett as we struggle with the news from Boston this week. “Here, though the world explode, these two survive, / And it is always eighteen ninety-five.”
We’re fortunate to share an interest that keeps us grounded in what seemed like a more genteel and serene age. But the work of our Sherlockian forbears reminds us that every generation has its challenges - challenges that afford us the escapism that good storytelling can provide.
We thought we’d stir up the discussions a bit and try to get to the bottom of a couple of controversies that have been roiling the world of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts (we’re careful to say neither “fans” nor “devotees” at this juncture).
The first item of interest that grabbed our attention in early 2013 was the so-called “Free Sherlock” movement. Summed up, this is basically an issue that is being brought to court via a case titled Klinger vs. Conan Doyle Estate, in which Leslie Klinger, BSI (“The Abbey Grange”) is contesting the Conan Doyle Estate’s claim that any new content that contains Sherlock Holmes must pay a royalty or license fee to the Estate. Burt and Scott parse through some of the non-technical/legal aspects of the case and discuss what’s at stake.
Speaking of being at stake, the other item on the docket is the debate as to what in fact constitutes a Sherlockian of good standing? That is, can one have arrived at the doorstep of 221B Baker Street via the BBC series (or Granada, or Universal, etc.) or must one have been schooled only in the printed literature and dress the part of a 1940s joiner? It’s quite a debate - one that was taken up vehemently by The Baker Street Babes earlier this year, after the “Elite Devotee Redux” was published in recently resurrected Saturday Review of Literature. We offer our own humble observations on the matter.
For those who wish to subscribe to the publication and read all of the very interesting articles therein, you may procure a copy by sending $5 postpaid to Donald K. Pollock, 521 College Avenue, Niagara Falls, NY 14305. An image of the cover and inside cover can be seen below.
The Editor’s Gas-Lamp: We purposefully revisited the same Gas-Lamp (Vol. 3, No. 2, OS) that we shared on Episode 15, because Edgar Smith’s “Who is a Baker Street Irregular?” seemed to strike the same chord some 65 years later.
Your thoughts on the show? Leave a comment below, send us an email, call us at (774) 221-READ (7323). Connect with us on The Sherlock Holmes Community on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
And above all, please let our sponsors know that you heard us mumble their hallowed names on the show: Wessex Press and The Baker Street Journal.
Saw vs. Sherlock Holmes
Let’s see how he gets out of *this* one!