Elementary Problems in the Sherlock Holmes stories

Friday, 4 January 2013

1. On the Wrong Track 

In the Sherlock Holmes short story The Adventure of the Priory School, whilst investigating a countryside abduction case, Holmes and Watson come across a bicycle track.  

Watson wonders which direction the bicycle was travelling in and Holmes replies that “the direction can be ascertained by the more deeply sunk impression is, of course, the hind wheel, upon which the weight rests.”

Clearly, though, whichever direction you travel in, the back-tire will always pass across and obliterate the mark of the front one. 

2. The Cheating Wife (part one)

In The Sign of Four, Mary Morstan (later Watson’s wife) states: “My father was an officer in an Indian regiment, who sent me home when I was quite a child. My mother was dead, and I had no relative in England…” 

However, in The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips, Dr. Watson begins his narrative by explaining: “My wife was on a visit to her mother’s, and for a few days I was a dweller once more in my old quarters at Baker-street…” 

Visiting her mother, eh? (Watson needs to hire himself a private detective.) 

3.  A Case of Memory Lose

In the story The Valley of Fear Holmes asks Watson the following:  

“You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?”  

Watson responds keenly: “The famous scientific criminal?” 

Later on, in The Final Problem Holmes asks Watson:  

“You have probably never heard of Professor Moriarty?” 

Watson replies: “Never.”  

Well, actually, there was that one time… 

4. The Cheating Wife (part two)

In the opening passage of The Man with the Twisted Lip, Mary Watson refers to her husband as ‘James’. 

His name is John.  

Another slip up there, Mary Watson - you old hoyden.  

5. The Magic Wound Theory 

In the opening to A Study in Scarlet Watson explains: “I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery.” It is from his wound that Sherlock later perceives that he has been in Afghanistan.  (“His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner.”) 

However, in the next story, The Sign of Four, Watson is nursing his wounded leg. Which, ‘aches wearily at the change of the weather.’

After The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor (in which Watson again talks about the Jezail bullet being in the back of his leg), Watson’s wound is never heard of again.  

Perhaps he ran it off? 

6. The Curious Incident of the Dog

In A Study in Scarlet when Holmes and Watson first meet at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and discuss sharing lodgings, they list their failings.

Sherlock mentions his sulking, cocaine addiction and violin playing. Watson mentions that he keeps “a bull pup”.  

Luckily though, Watson has lost the dog before moving into the house in Baker Street - and it’s never mentioned again.   

(If I were Watson, I’d be a bit miffed that Sherlock doesn’t cite 'endlessly putting on shit disguises' as one of his shortcomings...) 

7. The Unempty House

At the end of The Final Problem - in which, Doyle sets about killing Sherlock off - he makes sure the job is done properly by getting Moriarty’s men set ‘afire’ Sherlock’s Baker Street flat.  

However, considerable financial inducement from his publishers later, Doyle brings Sherlock back to life in The Adventure of the Empty House

His flat is magically back too - and with all his stuff still in it. Which is nice.  

8. Whistle Down the Wind

In The Adventure of the Speckled Band the killer summons his pet snake with a whistle.  

This is regularly trotted out as one of Doyle’s biggest mistakes, as snakes have long supposed to be deaf.  

However, whilst it’s true that snakes have no external ear or eardrum, it is now understood that the skin and bones of snakes pick up airborne sound vibrations and transmit them into a functional inner ear. (Though, it is unlikely Doyle knew this.) 

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