"Nothing 

could be more

natural than

the sequence

of events..."

 

... and nothing

stranger than 

the result as 

interpreted 

by the BBC... 

 

 

 

 

Not Elementary - and Not Holmes
 By Jey Wann 

Jey Wann is an O4R member and works at the State Library in Salem. See her discussion of skepticism in some of her favorite murder mysteries.

Last summer my significant other, my 15-year-old nephew, and I settled in front of the television for what we thought was to be an enjoyable evening. We were working our way through a pizza, Ben & Jerry's was in the freezer, and there was a two-hour Sherlock Holmes on PBS.

     Nearly an hour into the episode, which was based on The Adventures of the Noble Bachelor, we were still waiting for something to happen. The program had begun with a screaming woman being moved against her will into a carriage. Then Holmes was having nightmares, abusing drugs more than usual, and wondering around in his nightshirt hearing maniacal laughter. He was dreaming of an abandoned castle, red upholstery torn by claws, and a wraith-like hand emerging from a pile of debris. And there was a mysterious woman with a dark veil.

     There was, it's true, a noble bachelor. He was engaged to an American heiress who possessed the uncanny ability to communicate with her fiancee's pet jaguar by staring into its eyes.

     When the heiress disappeared during the couple's wedding breakfast, and there was an actual clue or two, we breathed a sigh of relief. Here, finally, was something to take Holmes out of his stupor. And he quickly deduced that the heiress had actually been married before, thought her husband dead, and only discovered he was still alive when he turned up at the wedding ceremony.

     And lucky for her too, because her noble would-be husband had a history of marrying for money and then doing away with his wives, one of whom had been declared insane and was being held captive in an abandoned chapel on his estate. When Holmes and Watson came to the rescue, the heiress had managed to avoid being eaten by the jaguar by staring into its eyes (although it went on to eat one of the nobleman's servants, who had penchant for going around stabbing people with a trowel); the mysterious, veiled woman had been revealed to be the supposedly-insane wife's sister who was disfigured by the jaguar; and the supposedly-insane wife had pulled the entire chapel down on the head of her noble husband after having spent years rebuilding it while waiting for just this opportunity.

     It was slow-moving, Gothic television. But it was so unlike the Arthur Conan Doyle stories I've read that I got out my Complete Sherlock Holmes and read the story upon which it was based. And I got a big surprise. The BBC production was based on The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor very loosely indeed. In the original story, a British nobleman's new American wife disappears immediately after their wedding, and does turn out to be already married. But there are no mysterious, veiled women; no jaguars to communicate with paranormally; no wives held captive; no servants prowling around with trowels; and Holmes is in fine form from beginning to end.

     Sherlock Holmes is by no means my favorite British detective (I'm a dedicated Peter Wimsey fan) and I understand the necessity of making changes when adapting short stories for television. But why in the world go to such lengths that the original story is almost totally obscured?

     I suspect it reflects a lack of faith in the public's interest in a strictly intellectual puzzle on the part of the producers. The Holmes stories and novels are among the most cerebral of detective fiction. Although some contain scary or macabre bits, the solution always comes from Holmes' excellent powers of observation and deductive abilities, and any supernatural aspects that do appear are neatly explained, like the ghostly dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Perhaps it's easier to introduce the supernatural to hold the audience's attention, but it's a disservice to the original stories.

     At the end of The Noble Bachelor, Holmes remarks to Watson, "Nothing could be more natural than the sequence of events ... and nothing stranger than the result when viewed by Mr. Lestrade, of the Scotland Yard." Substitute " when viewed on television, as interpreted by the BBC" and it sums up my opinion.
 


References

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. 1930.

The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 5th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1985.
 
 


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 2001 Oregonians for Rationality