Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry




October 9, 1890.

Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the rueful face behind it, until the comical side of the affair so completely overtopped every other consideration that we both burst out into a roar of laughter.

The Adventure of the Red-Headed League is one of the first Holmes stories that I have read and it also is one of the most memorable. Of the 50-odd short stories, many merge into one another after reading them, but a few are distinctly different.

What makes TRHL quite special is that it shows Holmes and Watson laughing – yup, Holmes does not only show emotion but shares a joke with Watson. Their client does not see the funny side as much of the joke is on him (which is not Holmes’ fault!), but nevertheless it shows that Holmes, too, can be silly.

In fact, we get to know that there are a lot sides to Holmes that his clients do not get to see:

My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally predominated in him.

The most important aspect of this story, however, is the The Red-Headed League. It is almost sad that this enterprising collective is nothing but a … oh, but I won’t spoil this. The underlying mystery must be maintained for anyone who hasn’t read this, yet!

What I will say, tho, is that even though the underlying plot itself has become standard repertoire, it made me laugh to think about how much fun ACD must have had writing this story – which in many ways compares to slapstick comedy.

As my (everso-patient) reading buddy also noted, it is hard to read The Adventure of the Red-Headed League and not think of the Granada/ITV adaptation featuring Jeremy Brett. Although I love ((you have no idea how much!) the Brett adaptations, there are some differences between the adaptations and the original stories – with TRHL, the tv adaptations brought in an aspect that is not present in the book – Moriarty!

I understand why the producers may have thought this would be a good idea. After all, it lends some common purpose to the first series, which we know will end with The Final Problem. Without this common thread (Moriarty), the tv series, like the stories, is just a random collection of unconnected plots. This works as a magazine article (the way stories were published originally), and in theory should work as a tv series (after all Ironside or other series did not need an over-arching plot!) but it made me wonder how much faith the producers had in the first series of adaptations. Did they not think that it would appeal to the public enough to come back to watch another episode?

I don’t know, but if one thing should have been clear from the history of Holmes, it is that the stories hardly ever fail to find an audience!


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