Thursday, August 30, 2018

Necessary Rationalizations: The Overall Chronology of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (along with the Truth About Mary Russell)

[The following initially appeared in a somewhat different form in
The Watsonian Vol 5, No. 1, 2017]

Not only do I read and collect all the traditional Canonical Holmes adventures that I can find – literally several thousand of them now – I chronologicize them. Along with being a devout Holmesian, I am a Sherlockian Chronologicist – and not just of the pitifully few sixty stories in the original Canon. While some agonize over where to put those stories, I’ve long since settled that question to my own satisfaction and moved on to fitting in all of those other adventures that are in my collection. Since the mid-1970’s, almost as soon as I read my first Canonical story, I’ve also sought out those others that are identified as pastiches, and to me they’re an equally important part of the story of the whole lives of Our Heroes, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson. It’s all like a rope, with The Canon as the wire core, and the pastiches as the many fibrous strands wound around it to provide exponentially more strength than it would have without them.

The first thing that one must remember as I explain my Chronology is that I play The Game with Deadly Seriousness. Holmes and Watson were historical figures, and these events happened. Having made that clear, we can now proceed.

CREATING A CHRONOLOGY OF THE ENTIRE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

I’ve explained in other previous blog entries how I came to create my Chronology. For instance, see “Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper” . . .

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2017/02/sherlock-holmes-versus-jack-ripper.html

. . . and also “Actually, That Wasn’t Watson” . . .

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2017/03/actually-that-wasnt-watson-some-notes.html

I began constructing my Chronology in the mid-1990’s, almost by accident. I looked around one day and observed that I’d been collecting Holmes tales, both Canon and pastiche, since I was a child – buying them, Xeroxing them if I located them in a library, and later printing them off the internet when that came along, gathering them wherever and whenever I could find them . . . but not necessarily reading all of them. I just kept accumulating them. Instead of enjoying each of them like I should have, I was spending my time at 221b Baker Street by continually revisiting the same Canonical stories and a few of my favorite other tales, over and over again. That day, I decided to read everything that I’d accumulated over decades of collecting.

As I did so, I kept a small binder with me, containing useful maps and places to make notes. I began to organize the stories that I was reading by year, and by the time I’d read through all of my collection (what had at that point, anyway), I found that I’d constructed a very rough Chronology of not only The Canon, but all of those additional adventures as well. I was amazed at how well everything seemed to fit together, with Canonical stories providing the main fabric, and all the later threads woven into that Great Holmes Tapestry by those who came after The First Literary Agent, thus serving to augment and improve the bigger picture.

After subsequent re-readings – a never-ending joy over the last twenty-plus years – and numerous revisions of that original Chronology, I now have a living document of over 750 densely packed pages, organized within the framework of The Canon, systematizing and listing every traditional Holmes adventure that I own, each set in the correct time period, and broken down by book, chapter, page, and sometimes even paragraph into year and day and hour.

NECESSARY RATIONALIZATIONS


In the introduction to my book Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins (2015), I explained this concept in greater depth: How all of the traditional Canonical Holmes adventures fit together as a whole, and how the pieces of each were then all pulled out from all the others when published as individual cases. Essentially, when Watson was preparing an isolated investigation for publication, he only selected the necessary threads for that particular narrative, leaving out whatever else was happening at the same time, in order to avoid confusion with other concurrent investigations. When reading a story, there may be a segment that occurs on a certain day that only takes five or ten minutes of conversation. The implication is that the present investigation, the subject of the current story, somehow fills the rest of that day to the exclusion of all else, and there is no explanation at all as to what else actually did happen during the rest of that time. In fact, several other matters were also taking place while the narrated story played out, but instead of complicating that single story chosen for the subject of his latest effort with extraneous information, Watson only related what mattered.

This is the first and most important rationalization that one must make when fitting together the puzzle that makes up all of the thousands of cases handled by Holmes and Watson, and not just the few sixty recorded Canonical cases and the Untold Cases – those about Giant Rats and Abernetty Tragedies – that are teasingly mentioned along the way. If those few were all that Holmes ever did, spread out over a career lasting several decades, one would find it much more difficult to argue the claim that he is the greatest detective of them all, and he himself would have been a very bored individual indeed. If those few cases were all that he ever had to do, it would be no wonder that he would have felt “like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built.”

Many extra-Canonical tales erroneously begin with the statement that Holmes is bored, and hasn’t had a case in days or weeks. When one sees the whole story, opening one’s mind to all of that other evidence besides what came to us by way of The First Literary Agent, it’s obvious that Holmes stayed quite busy, and if anything, he used himself up with that “constant hard work of a most exacting kind” to which Watson referred. Watson, too, stayed very active as well, and for a man of action such as he was, the constant adventure must have been as if an addict were receiving a steady supply of a very satisfying drug.

For the most part, the thousands of adventures that I’ve collected, read, and organized all fit together quite well, and serve to reinforce one another, with very little that needs to be adjusted. I say “adjusted” because, at times, occasional aspects of one story or another do not fit with the bigger picture. Sometimes it’s Watson’s fault, when he is simply incorrect when making a statement, either accidentally or intentionally. This happened in The Canon, so it’s not surprising that it would occur in the extra-Canonical tales as well. (For instance, despite its saying so, “Wisteria Lodge” did not occur in 1892, in the midst of The Great Hiatus.)

Elsewhere, the internal dating inconsistencies in both “The Red-Headed League” and The Sign of the Four must be explained satisfactorily, along with other sticking points that occur in The Canon, such as Watson referring to his recent marriage at the beginning of SCAN, which occurs before SIGN - he doesn’t even meet Mary Morstan until September 1888 during SIGN. And if HOUN really occurs in Autumn 1889, as implied, then how is Watson, who is certainly married to Mary by then, able to get away to Dartmoor for so long? One can’t just blame it upon a slip of The First Literary Agent’s pen.

At times, Watson intentionally obfuscates a name, place, or date – this is no surprise. At other times, various later editors of Watson’s papers, those bringing us new adventures after those Canonical tales initially presented through The First Literary Agent – also make mistakes, or even intentionally change things to promote their own agendas.

Sometimes an editor will simply have a minor error, such as indicating that Watson is still living in Baker Street after 1902 when he’s already moved to Queen Anne Street. Occasionally there are incorrect descriptions of the layout of 221 Baker Street, added when an ignorant editor is padding Watson’s notes without knowing the facts. Mention might be made of Watson being a well-published author in The Strand in the mid-1880’s, before he had ever been published at all, and before The Strand went into business in early 1891.

In each of these cases, my Chronology notes what is Incorrect about these statements in terms of the bigger picture. Some “editors” who have made mistakes with the stories that are chronologicized, either accidental or intentional, might not like it when I point these out, or perhaps when I move their story from a date which is specified in their effort to a completely different date because they have mis-identified the time when it occurred, placing it in a chronological spot in which it simply will not work.

As knowledge of my Chronology has become more widely known, a number of people have contacted me, either asking for me to simply provide it to them free of charge – “Hey, can you send me your Chronology?” – as if I would just do that, or asking that it be placed on-line or published. I do sometimes conduct research within it for various Sherlockians, in order to track down this or that date or story for them, but I don’t simply give the Chronology away. I do think of publishing it someday, but I’m wary of that for a few reasons. First, it’s an ever-improving and ever-changing document, and as soon as I draw a line under it by putting it in a book, it will immediately be out of date. But more importantly is the aforementioned fact that some editors might be peeved when they see something listed as Incorrect.

CORRECTING CONTRADICTIONS WITH THE GREAT HOLMES TAPESTRY

Many stories work fine on their own with only minor notes about incorrect aspects, or even with no annotations at all. Other adventures have bigger issues, in that much greater chunks of the narrative are in direct contradiction to all of that massive body of evidence as accumulated in the thousands of other stories that are in general agreement with one another. In these cases, where editors who have otherwise excellent works have chosen to color outside the lines, extra steps must be taken. One example of this has been previously discussed in my blog entry, "Actually, That Wasn't Watson", explaining the truth about the film Young Sherlock Holmes (1985):

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2017/03/actually-that-wasnt-watson-some-notes.html

Some narratives are very well written and provide important information for the overall biographies of Holmes and Watson, but there are pieces of the whole of those works that simply cannot be accepted as is. In those cases, there is a choice: Throw out the whole baby with all of the bathwater and keep none of it, or keep just the part that is right and get rid of the part that is wrong. This is where rationalization becomes necessary. I always list those inconsistencies when reading a story and Chronologicizing it. Sometimes a part of a story will be so at odds with established Canon that it seems that it cannot be included at all – but I make it work if I can.

There are several examples of this. I refer to a few – The Last Sherlock Holmes Story and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution - in my previously mentioned essays in past blogs. For instance, the first two chapters of Michael Dibdin’s extremely controversial novel The Last Sherlock Holmes Story are perfectly fine, and are a part of Holmes’s massive battle against The Ripper. But the rest of the book is a scurrilous slander against Holmes, obviously so maliciously fictional that it must have been written at some later date, probably by a Moriarty, and awkwardly grafted onto Watson’s original notes in order to irretrievably damage Holmes’s reputation. I include the first two chapters of that book in The Chronology, but recommend that it be read no further.


Another famous tale that provides both the same problem and the same solution is Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, in which the beginning and end of the book are quite opposed to established Canonical Fact.


For The Chronology, I leave out Chapters 1 and 2, as well as parts of Chapters 4 and 17, so that the correct meat of the case, Holmes and Watson’s trip to Vienna and their meeting with Sigmund Freud, is represented, but those parts exonerating Professor Moriarty as a harmless and persecuted old man, as well as the segments incorrectly giving Holmes a damaged history to explain this persecution, are rightly ignored. (No doubt, these portions were also written and appended onto the manuscript by someone trying to rescue the evil Professor’s reputation.) Additionally, the end of the book, implying that The Great Hiatus is false, must be ignored.

There are some others of this necessary rationalization. One is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes by Loren D. Estleman (1979).


One would think that this book would be lumped in and thrown away with so many other completely fictional Holmes stories that have The Master fighting Dracula or ghosts or brain-eating aliens or zombie fungi. But there are many pieces of this story that are actually salvageable for the purposes of my Chronology.

For the most part, this tale can stand unaltered. However, there are certain segments at the end, wherein Dr. Jekyll actually changes physically into Mr. Hyde (as he does in the frankly fictionalized version by Robert Louis Stevenson) that just didn’t happen. In fact, during Holmes’s true investigation, Jekyll does take some sort of personality-altering drug that causes him to indulge in criminal activities and show homicidal personality traits, but there is not a magical physical alteration taking place into a whole different person. I note that someone at a later date altered Watson’s manuscript – First Literary Agent Doyle, perhaps? – in order to make it into a more supernatural tale. If one follows Holmes’s dictum – “No ghosts need apply.” – then anything in a narrative that implies that there is a real ghost or monster can be ascribed to some later editor with a need to alter and spoil the story with such aspects, fulfilling a personal agenda over the truth of the actual events.

Another editor with his own agenda is Peter Tremayne, (a pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis,) who has brought a number of Holmesian adventures to the public’s attention, such as “The Specter of Tullyfane Abbey”, “The Kidnapping of Mycroft Holmes”, “The Affray at the Kildare Street Club”, and “The Siren of Sennen Cove”. But along the way, he has felt the need to alter Watson’s original manuscripts by foisting in heavy-handed and repeated assertions that Holmes, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and nearly everyone involved in the Sherlockian world are Irish, contrary to all accumulated evidence. According to Tremayne, Holmes and Mycroft attended university in Ireland. Mycroft works for the Irish government, etc. The list goes on and on. Apparently it’s very important to Tremayne that Our Heroes be Irish, in spite of all conflicting evidence. The stories are too good just to ignore because of these incorrect additions. Therefore, when reading them and examining them for inclusion in the Chronology, each is annotated with the notation that these Irish assertions are Incorrect.

One of the greatest rationalizations that occurred in order to make some really well-written but fundamentally incorrect works fit within the Sherlockian Chronological Universe relates to those adventures narrated by Mary Russell, brought forth by way of her own literary agent, Laurie R. King.

RATIONALIZING MARY RUSSELL

In 1994, I first read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994) by Laurie R. King, which tells how fifteen-year-old Mary Russell meets the retired Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs.


Although I had a few overall quibbles with the story, I was greatly impressed. The teacher/apprentice father/daughter relationship in the book was masterfully done. This, I thought, is the kind of Sherlock Holmes novel for which I'd been waiting, as well as a truly an enlightening volume of Sherlockian history. But then the next book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995) veered into an uncomfortable (at best) romantic relationship wherein Holmes, by then nearing seventy, and the girl barely out of her teens professed their romantic love for one another before marrying.


I continued to buy the Russell books as they appeared – Always a collector! – but I couldn’t bring myself to read them because of that pesky romance and subsequent Holmes-Russell marriage. Although I do not doubt that Holmes has it in him to have a romantic relationship – I am a Baring-Gould disciple, (a “Baring-Gouldist” if you will,) agreeing with the Irene Adler/Montenegro/Nero Wolfe theories, and also realizing that Holmes was human, after all, no matter how much he tried to suppress his emotions – I do not think that Holmes felt that way about Mary Russell.

I eventually realized how to rationalize away my problems with Mary Russell’s narratives, allowing me to read all the other Russell books with much greater enjoyment. (They are really well-written books!) I shared my theory with some Sherlockian friends, and they agreed that is was quite plausible. In October 2009, I mustered up the courage to pass along my theory to Ms. King in a series of emails. She was gracious, tolerant, and – I think – amused. While she obviously did not agree with me, she did seem to be pleased that someone was playing The Game with her books.

She went on to post my comments on her website on October 28, 2009. (Sadly, after being there for a long time, the page seems to have vanished.) The responses from the friends of Mary Russell about my theory were not nearly as gracious, tolerant, or amused, and not at all surprising either. In fact, many of the comments were immediate, virulent, and scathing. After all, these are the folks who claim that “After 1914, he’s ours.” Russell’s defenders are quite passionate. I should have known better than to poke that particular Beekeeper’s nest.

In 2011, my own first book, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes, was published, relating some of Holmes and Watson’s adventures as discovered in one of Watson’s lost journals. The book’s publication allowed me to take the next step and track down the truth, determining the specifics of Russell’s terrible delusions. The following narrative, “Descent Into Madness”, confirms my initial theory about Mary Russell, serving as something of a patch, allowing other Sherlockians who have not previously been able to enjoy the Russell stories to now do so. For others, it may simply be an amusing aside (in the same way that Rex Stout asserted that “Watson Was a Woman”), while to a few it might even cause some blood-stirring gritting-of-the-teeth.

In 2012, at the time of the publication of the Russell book Garment of Shadows, my good Sherlockian friends Carolyn and (the late and much-missed) Joel Senter put the story up on their Classic Specialties website, where it’s remained ever since.

Not long after, it was reviewed by my friend, noted Sherlockian Roger Johnson, BSI, in “The District Messenger” (No.328, 22 December, 2012), his newsletter at the time for The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Roger stated:

Mr. Marcum recognises the high quality of the popular novels by Laurie King that began with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, but like many of us he rejects the notion that Miss Russell was married to Sherlock Holmes. “Descent into Madness” offers a neat solution to our problem, and it’s a good story in its own right.

http://www.sherlock-holmes.org.uk/pdf/DM328.pdf

Around that same time, Steve Rothman, BSI and editor of The Baker Street Journal, told me that “I am currently reading for review Garment of Shadows and – now and then – your idea creeps into my head.” Another member of the BSI who wishes to remain nameless - after I asked if I could name him - emailed me on December 2, 2012, stating: "I lost patience with Mary Russell quite some time ago . . . I congratulate you on doing something constructive and interesting with the same sentiments!"

So now, after living on the Senter's website Classic Specialties for several years, and having been previously published in The Watsonian, I present in my own blog the truth about Mary Russell: “Descent Into Madness” Hopefully, Ms. King is still feeling gracious, tolerant, and amused that The Game is still being played with her work . . . .


The doctor leaned back in his chair and regarded the old – the very old – man across from him. “Do you wish to see her?”

The old man shook his head and shifted slightly in his seat. The doctor knew that the gentleman was in his mid-eighties, at least, but he sat with the coiled energy and tension of someone in his prime. “I don’t think that would be wise at all, do you?”

“I tend to agree, Mr. Holmes,” said the doctor. “Still, I wanted to make the offer, due to the fact that you have known her for so long.”

“Since 1915,” replied Holmes. “We met when she was still in her teens.”

“1915,” said the doctor. “During the last time that we squabbled with the Jerrys.”

Holmes nodded. It seemed so long ago, those days of “The Great War.” And yet, it also seemed that no time had passed at all. Of course, it had. Poor Watson, gone nearly ten years. And now, in the early summer of 1939, Germany was again pushing Europe toward a war that no one but themselves wanted.

With a shake of his head, Holmes drew his thoughts back to the present, and the bleak room, and the doctor facing him across the wide desk. “Can you tell me what happened to her?”

“Certainly,” said the doctor, glancing at the file before him. “Let’s see. Mary Sue Russell. Born in 1900.” He flipped two or three pages. “When did you lose touch with her?”

“For the most part, in the late nineteen-twenties. It had been obvious for quite a while that her feelings for me had become . . . rather obsessive, and finally I thought that it would be better to sever all relations with her.”

“How did this obsession manifest itself?” asked the doctor, picking up a pen.

The doctor’s action did not go unnoticed by Holmes, but he decided that perfect frankness was the only way to proceed through this distasteful mess. “I first met Mary Russell in the spring of 1915. At that time, she was living with her aunt near my Sussex home. She was still recovering from the car accident that had killed her family. I did not realize at the time how fragile this had left her mental state.

“Recognizing her unique mental talents, I reluctantly agreed to take her on as an apprentice, although I was far too old for such a task at that point, and of course I had reservations about training a female for the type of work in which I was engaged. I had trained several apprentices over the course of my career, but never a woman.

“Even then, I should have suspected something. She always seemed to be especially jealous of my friend, Dr. Watson. She would resent when he would occasionally participate in an investigation, and she sarcastically referred to him as ‘Uncle John’, never failing to point out some error on his part in an effort to elevate her standing with me. Of course, Watson and I saw right through that, but we put up with it in order to encourage her intellectual training.”

“The file states that she went to Oxford,” said the doctor.

“Yes, it was through my influence that she was admitted. I must admit that she had some difficulty settling down to her studies, and that at times she seemed to feel persecuted by the expectations of her teachers. However, she did finish, and she went on to aid me in some of my investigations.”

“I see that she was injured during the course of one of these . . . .”

“That is correct. We had laid a trap for the daughter of one of my old enemies who was manipulating events in order to exact revenge upon me. We were forced to spend quite a bit of time together then, both during the events of the case, and after, during Russell’s recovery. Perhaps the trauma of that wound, coming so soon after the death of her family, contributed somewhat to Russell’s later madness . . . .”

“Possibly,” replied the doctor. “However, it was a number of years between that incident and the lady’s current illness.”

“I suppose,” said Holmes. “Still, I blame myself for not seeing the signs earlier, and also for not distancing myself from her when she first appeared to be showing indications of attraction toward me. I never thought of her as more than a student, or at times, I suppose, as a daughter. Sadly, she became obsessed with the idea that there was a . . . romantic relationship between the two of us.”

“Yes, yes,” said the doctor. “It seems that the condition was repressed for a number of years, but after the recent tragedy, it has burst forth to consume her. She believes with great passion that she . . . that she is your wife.”

“Absurd!” replied Holmes. “I have tried throughout my life to separate emotions from the path of pure ratiocination, and I have failed on numerous occasions – in my old age I can freely admit that I am only a man, after all – but there was only one woman that I ever loved. I . . . even had a son with her.” His gaze lost focus for a second, and then sharpened again. With absolute firmness, he stated, “Russell was not a woman that I ever loved.”

“The patient has mentioned your son in some of her ravings,” stated the doctor. He consulted his notes. “She states that he was an artist whose life was ruined by drug addiction.”

“More evidence of her insanity,” replied Holmes. “My son lives in New York now, working as a consulting detective. He is very successful, and I am quite proud of him. He has never been either an artist or a user of drugs. He was born years before I even met Russell. After his mother, there was no one else. Certainly not . . . .” His voice trailed away.

“Nevertheless,” said the doctor, “she insists with great certainty that you and she were married in the early 1920’s.”

“Russell has always been able to insist upon certain erroneous facts quite adamantly,” said Holmes. “When we first met in 1915, I was sixty-one years old. By the time her obsession began to manifest itself, Russell was arguing that I was, in fact, only in my mid-fifties when we first met. This was in spite of the fact that she was quite aware of my correct age. Of course, she was trying to rationalize away our age difference, in order to make her imagined romantic relationship between the two of us somewhat more plausible.”

“And at what point did you realize her feelings?” asked the doctor.

“Sometime in the early 1920’s, when it became obvious that she was becoming much more possessive. By the end of the decade, her visits had extended to the point where they were becoming intrusive. It was my son who warned me first. While on a visit to my Sussex home, he had seen what I did not. Inexplicably, I had ignored the signs of her irrational feelings. When I finally realized what was happening, I confronted her and forced her to understand that her beliefs about . . . about the two of us were incorrect and would always be so. It was determined that all contact between us should end.”

“And that was your last encounter with her?”

“No, I saw her one more time. Apparently, after our parting, she had moved back to Oxford, and a year or so later, she married, a young scholar of the Talmud. When I next heard from her, in 1930, she was pregnant with her first child. She reached out to me because her aunt, a Mrs. Heregrove, had been murdered, and in her condition, she was not able to investigate. I solved the matter, but had no further dealings with her.”

“Did you know that she had a second child a year or so later?”

“No,” replied Holmes. “I was unaware of any of the other details regarding her past, until I was summoned today. Can you tell me the circumstances of how she ended up here?”

“Certainly,” replied the doctor. “In short, she was traveling with her husband and children in Germany a month or so ago, when they were accosted by Nazi soldiers. Miss Russell, who apparently refused to take her husband’s name, lost her temper and argued with the soldiers. The entire family was arrested and Miss Russell was separated from her husband and children. Three days later, Miss Russell was taken from the prison and transported to the German border, where she was released with no explanation. She tried to re-enter the country, but she was caught and once again expelled.

“She contacted the Foreign Office, who in turn determined that Miss Russell’s husband and children all died on the day of their arrest, supposedly due to an accident in the prison. Miss Russell blamed herself for the death of her family, and also began to tell whoever would listen that she was also responsible for the deaths of her parents and brother when she was in her teens. She then attempted to do an injury to herself. Having no remaining family, her few friends were forced to institutionalize her.

“Since she has been here, she has been having delusions that she and you, Mr. Holmes, were the ones who actually had a romantic relationship, marriage, and children, instead of her actual husband, whom she does not seem to remember. She completely denies the facts of her actual marriage, instead reverting to her earlier fascination and obsession for you.”

“And your prognosis?” asked Holmes.

“Based on the rapid deterioration of her condition since she has been here, I believe that the condition is irreversible.

“I see,” replied Holmes.

The two men sat silently for a moment, Holmes staring into the distance, and the doctor making notes, his pen scratching on the paper. Finally, Holmes pulled his focus back and spoke.

“I would like to set up a fund for her care,” he said.

“I understand,” said the doctor.

“I do not want to resume any contact with her, but I do feel some sort of responsibility for what has happened. Perhaps, if I had simply let her go on her way that day in 1915, her path would have led in a much different direction.”

The doctor nodded. “It will be arranged as you wish,” he said. He gestured toward a stack of journals at the side of his desk. “These are hers,” he said. “They refer to the events of some of the past investigations that the two of you shared. Do you wish to see them?”

Holmes stood, surprising the doctor with the quick energy that the old body displayed. Holmes leaned forward on his cane, as the doctor rose more slowly to his feet, his hand still resting on the stack of journals.

“No,” said Holmes. “I recall perfectly well the details of each of those cases, and it would be . . . unpleasant to see how Russell remembers them. Destroy them, or let Russell read them, for as long as she’s able.”

“Certainly,” said the doctor. “Thank you for coming in today. My secretary will see you out . . . . “

* * *

The nurse unlocked the door and stepped in. The room was harsh and sunny, and the sunlight through the barred windows cast stripes on the bright white tile floor. The woman seated in the chair, looking far older than her nearly-forty years, did not raise her eyes.

“I’ve brought you something, Miss Russell,” said the nurse, brightly. “It’s your notebooks. The ones with your stories in them. Doctor thought that you might enjoy reading them.”

She placed the journals on the table beside Russell. Initially, there was no reaction. Then, Russell’s pale right hand moved and lifted the cover of the topmost journal an inch or so before letting it fall shut. The sleeve of her gown slipped back, revealing a thin red scar, newly healed, running along her inner forearm from wrist to elbow.

“May I – ” Russell said, her voice raspy and dry. “May I,” she said again, “have a pen? I would like to add to these stories.”

The nurse thought for just a second, before replying. “I don’t see any harm in that, Miss Russell,” she said, pulling a pen from the pocket of her starched white apron. “Anything to keep you interested in the world around you, that’s what I think. Just you let us know if you need anything, my dear.”

The nurse turned and left the room. Russell heard the rasp of the lock, and then the slide of the view window at eye level in the door. She felt the nurse’s gaze on her for a moment, before the slide was shut, and she knew that she was again alone.

The journals told the story of her life. All the parts that were important to her, anyway. She knew that if she could just make someone understand, then she would be freed from this place and allowed to return to her husband. That was where she belonged. By the side of her husband, Sherlock Holmes.

She shifted toward the table, and leaned forward. She pulled one of the journals toward her and flipped it open. Starting to read, she remembered the events of long ago. But after only a page or two, she found a sentence that caused her distress. It referred to Sherlock Holmes as her teacher. She fumbled with the pen, awkwardly opening the cap and adjusting it in her hand. It felt odd at first, but her muscles soon remembered the correct way to hold it. She moved her arm and drew a shaky line through the word teacher. Then, with great care and effort, she wrote above it the word husband.

Soon it was easier to write, and before long she had finished altering the first journal. With more purpose, she began on the second, changing the long-ago facts to reflect her present descent into madness, a journey from which she would never return.


©David Marcum 2018 – All Rights Reserved

WORKS REFERENCED
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Nicholas Meyer, 1974
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, Michael Dibdin
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, Loren D. Estleman, 1979
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King, 1994
A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Laurie R. King, 1995
• Various Stories, Peter Tremayne (Pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis)
Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins, David Marcum, 2015
• "Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper" and “November, 1888”, David Marcum, The Watsonian, Fall 2015, Vol.3, No.2
• “Actually, That Wasn’t Watson”, David Marcum, The Watsonian, Fall 2016, Vol.4, No.2


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David Marcum plays The Game with deadly seriousness. He first discovered Sherlock Holmes in 1975 at the age of ten, and since that time, he has collected, read, and chronologicized literally thousands of traditional Holmes pastiches in the form of novels, short stories, radio and television episodes, movies and scripts, comics, fan-fiction, and unpublished manuscripts. He is the author of over sixty Sherlockian pastiches, some published in anthologies and magazines such as The Strand, and others collected in his own books, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes and A Quantity of Debt, and Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins. He has edited over fifty books, including several dozen traditional Sherlockian anthologies, such as the ongoing series The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, which he created in 2015. This collection is now up to 21 volumes, with several more in preparation. He was responsible for bringing back August Derleth’s Solar Pons for a new generation, first with his collection of authorized Pons stories, The Papers of Solar Pons, and then by editing the reissued authorized versions of the original Pons books. He is now doing the same for the adventures of Dr. Thorndyke. He has contributed numerous essays to various publications, and is a member of a number of Sherlockian groups and Scions. He is a licensed Civil Engineer, living in Tennessee with his wife and son. His irregular Sherlockian blog, A Seventeen Step Program, addresses various topics related to his favorite book friends (as his son used to call them when he was small), and can be found at http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/ Since the age of nineteen, he has worn a deerstalker as his regular-and-only hat. In 2013, he and his deerstalker were finally able make his first trip-of-a-lifetime Holmes Pilgrimage to England, with return Pilgrimages in 2015 and 2016, where you may have spotted him. If you ever run into him and his deerstalker out and about, feel free to say hello!

His Amazon Author Page can be found at:

https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B00K1IKA92?_encoding=UTF8&node=283155&offset=0&pageSize=12&searchAlias=stripbooks&sort=author-sidecar-rank&page=1&langFilter=default#formatSelectorHeader

and at MX Publishing:

https://mxpublishing.com/search?type=product&q=marcum&fbclid=IwAR12tH4SUvE9nmEnnuqeI5GC7Tv69-NagPgmAZlxcz0vr2Ihza5_6jP-fXM

6 comments:

  1. David, when I found your, "Descent Into Madness", I was so grateful. I loved the "Beekeepers Apprentice" but also felt very uncomfortable with Mary Russell's developing relationship with Holmes in later books. I also find King's increasing relegation of Holmes to a family dog status to be most distasteful. Your story is such a fantastic way to approach this situation. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks Gretchen! A lot of people have told me that the story is a good way to shift one's perspective and enjoy the stories when they couldn't otherwise. It's been around for quite a while, and I'm glad that it's finally on my own blog.

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  2. David, I hadn't had a chance to read this edition of your blog before. So far as I'm concerned, it's a fitting end for Mary Russell. Ms. King's first book, although admittedly well written, was more than enough for me. I'm always impressed by how neatly you weave disparate threads into "the Great Holmes Tapestry." This dark thread must have been particularly difficult; but the tapestry remains, as ever, seamless. Well done!

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  3. Hi, David,
    A question that keeps coming to my mind about your Great Holmes Tapestry is when you encounter two or more stories which occur at the same time in Holmes's chronology, or purport to deal with the same events via differing explanations/plots, how do you ascertain which takes precedence? I am not referring to stories which contradict the Canon, which obviously are bogus, but what do you do when stories discovered by other authors potentially contradict *each other*? With so much of Holmes's caseload and the day-to-day doings of his daily life and that of Doctor Watson left undocumented in the original casebooks, there can potentially be dozens of amplifications detailing what Holmes was doing during a period left obscure by the original Literary Agent. Several authors have offered varying explanations for those cases only obliquely hinted at by Watson as asides to some of the published cases. How do you decide which are genuine? I ask because if I should happen to discover any such alternative cases myself, I should like a glimmer of insight into your editorial criteria.

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  4. I am currently reading Charles Veley's "The Last Moriarty" which proposes the theory that Holmes had a daughter by a violinist by the name of Rosario whom he met when he was an undergraduate. I have a number of issues with this scenario, not least of all that Mr. Veley has apparently never heard of Irene Adler. Competition for Adler? I won't stand for it. Now, a girl child is no Nero Wolfe, of course, but in itself I find that element far less problematical. That got me to thinking that the better way to Deal with Russell than committing her to a sanitorium is if she were Holmes's daughter rather than his child bride. This does not alleviate the fundamental flaws of the series: the fundamental unlikeability of Russell & the dearth of Sherlock Holmes in a series in which he is supposed to be a co-star. But my proposal *would* do away with those squicky brain-tearing elements of the 46-year age gap in this completely un-Holmesian marital union. Plus it would render Russell's never-ending superiority and cornucopia of improbable skills more understandable if SH is her father. Without genetics to explain her, there is no other excuse for her Mary Sueness.

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