Thursday, March 7, 2019

A Consideration of Children in The World of Sherlock Holmes

[The following essay originally appeared in a slightly different form in "Proceedings of the Pondicherry Lodge" (Vol. 6, Issue 2, December 1, 2018), the journal of The Sherlock Holmes Society of India]

Children in The Canon

Very early in The “Official” Sherlock Holmes Canon, made up of those pitifully few sixty stories that crossed the First Literary Agent’s desk, there is one of the few recorded instances of Holmes’s Canonical interactions with children. Specifically, I’m referring to that famed but ragged bunch known as “The Baker Street Irregulars”.

In Chapter 6 of A Study in Scarlet, Holmes and Watson are having a breakfast discussion about the mysterious business from the previous day – a murdered man found in an abandoned Brixton Road house – when suddenly the conversation is interrupted.

“What on earth is this?” I cried, for at this moment there came the pattering of many steps in the hall and on the stairs, accompanied by audible expressions of disgust upon the part of our landlady.
“It’s the Baker Street division of the detective police force,” said my companion, gravely; and as he spoke there rushed into the room half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged street Arabs that ever I clapped eyes on.
“‘Tention!” cried Holmes, in a sharp tone, and the six dirty little scoundrels stood in a line like so many disreputable statuettes. “In future you shall send up Wiggins alone to report, and the rest of you must wait in the street . . . .

Not a very auspicious introduction. Consider – Watson has experience over three continents, and has recently returned from war in Afghanistan, and still, with that background, he describes these lads as "the dirtiest and most ragged street Arabs that ever [he] clapped eyes on". That is some serious ragged and dirty to be sure.

Over the years, these fellows have fired the imaginations of readers almost as much as Mr. Holmes himself. They are associated with him as much as any of the other unmistakable Holmesian locations or objects: Victorian fog-bound London and 221b Baker Street, the deerstalker, the pipe, and the magnifying glass. Sometimes it’s difficult to recall that they – and specifically Wiggins, described by Holmes as his "dirty little lieutenant" – appear on-screen in only two stories, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, and they are mentioned once more in “The Crooked Man”, when Holmes states that "I have one of my Baker Street boys mounting guard over him who would stick to him like a burr, go where he might". Except for these instances, The Irregulars are ignored in the other fifty-seven adventures.

That isn’t to say that Holmes doesn’t encounter a few children along the way – a few, but not many. Back in The Sign of Four, when he and Watson trace Jonathan Small to Mordecai Smith’s boat landing, they encounter Jack, "a little, curly-headed lad of six". Holmes, recognizing that to get on Mrs. Smith’s good side he should do likewise with the child, initiates a conversation.

“Dear little chap!” said Holmes, strategically. “What a rosy-cheeked young rascal! Now, Jack, is there anything you would like?”
The youth pondered for a moment. “I’d like a shillin’,” said he.
“Nothing you would like better?”
“I’d like two shillin’ better,” the prodigy answered, after some thought.
“Here you are, then! Catch! – A fine child, Mrs. Smith!”

This generosity might simply indicate that Holmes is willing to spend what is needed to get information. But might it also show a certain concern for this young fellow, and by expansion, others like him?

There are only a few other children that are encountered in The Canon. Young Lucy Hebron in “The Yellow Face” is completely charming – but she is only on stage for mere moments.

There's young Cartwright in The Hound of the Baskervilles who is originally tasked with looking for the raw materials of Sir Henry Baskerville's warning note, and then is later called to join Holmes in Dartmoor, bringing him supplies and messages. It's through Cartwright that Watson is able to find Holmes's secret hiding place.

One can't forget the famous "Billy the Page", but - like the many Wiggins-es that we'll encounter (see "The Gower Street Mystery" below) - there must have been more than one Billy. Chronologically we first meet him in The Valley of Fear, which occurs in January 1888. He isn't mentioned Canonically again until "The Problem of Thor Bridge", which takes place in October 1900. "Billy" has a much greater part to play in "The Mazarin Stone". This adventure, which occurs in August 1903, is his last appearance in The Canon, and only the third story in which he is mentioned. But lest one miss him too much, he fortunately appears in a great many tales pulled from Watson's Tin Dispatch Box by latter-day Literary Agents.

The other children that we come across in The Canon are quite a bit more objectionable. For instance, there is the six-year-old Rucastle boy who, in the words of his proud papa, has a positive gift for “killing cockroaches with a slipper! Smack! smack! smack! Three gone before you could wink!" As Violet Hunter goes on to describe him:

I have never met so utterly spoiled and so ill-natured a little creature. He is small for his age, with a head which is quite disproportionately large. His whole life appears to be spent in an alternation between savage fits of passion and gloomy intervals of sulking. Giving pain to any creature weaker than himself seems to be his one idea of amusement, and he shows quite remarkable talent in planning the capture of mice, little birds, and insects.

It’s a toss-up as to who is worse – this little monster, or Jackie Ferguson from “The Sussex Vampire” – warped both physically and mentally, but diabolically clever enough to devise a solution for his twisted jealousy.

But luckily, these few examples, Canonical though they be, are not the whole story. There are a number of other adventures beyond the pitifully few Canonical Sixty that have been discovered by later Literary Agents that do a much better job filling in the gaps regarding the Canonical thin spots concerning Holmes and children.

Introducing Children to The Canon

There are many versions of The Canon that have been prepared for children. These include heavily edited editions that strip out difficult or archaic words, or pick only those stories which have nothing violent that might frighten, warp, twist, or scar the psyche of delicate modern readers. I disagree with this approach. Luckily, I discovered Holmes when I was ten years old in 1975, and it was by way of the uncensored and unedited Canon.

I will admit that my first Holmes book, reluctantly received in a trade with a friend, was an abridged version, but only in the sense that several stories were missing – they had not been edited to eliminate the “scary” parts. My first Holmes book was the 1955 Whitman edition of The Adventures, which contained only eight of the twelve original stories – likely cut for space rather than content. I’ve been told by several other Sherlockians that this was also their first Holmes book, and it’s a sentimental favorite for all of us. Here’s my copy, that very same volume, over forty-years later:

I would advise anyone who is introducing The World of Sherlock Holmes to a Junior Sherlockian to seek out a complete and unabridged edition, rather than something that is simplified in terms of vocabulary or plot, or worse, has had parts cut out because they might be too frightening. Kids don’t need to be shielded in this way, and more importantly, by letting them read a truncated or butchered version of the story as their first exposure is to cheat them mightily of the full effect of encountering these stories for the first time. If they don’t like it, then they don’t, or if it’s too terrifying for them, then they’ll stop, but to start them off on such a wrong foot as letting a damaged abbreviated version into their heads is unforgiveable.

Now, having declared that a child's introduction to Holmes should occur by way of the complete Canon, I now wish to introduce a few of the various extra-Canonical Holmes books that are theoretically for younger readers, but can proudly be included in The Great Holmes Tapestry as full-fledged adventures in their own right.

I can’t pretend to know a great deal about the various authors of these titles, or how they came to write these particular tales, but I can show them and give a little background about how they fit into the bigger picture.

Baker Street Irregulars of All Sorts

Many of the books that fall into the “younger reader” category relate to The Baker Street Irregulars. While there are appearances by The Irregulars – as led by both Wiggins and others – in hundreds in the various traditional Canonical pastiches that have appeared over the years, there are some series that focus more on The Irregulars than on Holmes and Watson. This all began in the mid-1970’s, when the new Holmes Golden Age, started by Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, showed that there were countless adventures of Holmes and Watson waiting to be discovered, and that they didn’t have to cross over the First Literary Agent’s desk to be excellent. One of the earliest of these, and possibly the first to focus more on children in Holmes’s periphery than the usual principals, was Robert Newman’s nine books about Andrew Tillet, Sara Wiggins, and Inspector Wyatt.

Robert Newman (1909–1988) originally wrote for a number of famed U.S. radio dramas, including the Inner Sanctum Mysteries. In the early 1970’s, he turned his attention to writing for children. In The Case of the Baker Street Irregular (1978), young Andrew Tillet becomes involved in one of Holmes’s cases, and along the way meets members of The Baker Street Irregulars. After the first book, Holmes and Watson make no more appearances, but Andrew and his new Irregular friends continue to become involved in various mysteries of their own. While only the first of the books (which were published between 1978 and 1987) has specific Holmesian connections, I include all of them in The Great Holmes Tapestry because they all are a part of Holmes’s World.

The books in this series are:

• The Case of the Baker Street Irregular
• The Case of the Vanishing Corpse
• The Case of the Somerville Secret
• The Case of the Threatened King
• The Case of the Etruscan Treasure
• The Case of the Frightened Fiend
• The Case of the Murdered Players
• The Case of the Indian Curse
• The Case of the Watching Boy

A few years after Newman’s series began, a different kind of Baker Street Irregulars story arrived in England with The Baker Street Boys, an often-forgotten eight-episode BBC show that ran from March to April 1983. Created by Anthony Read (who had worked on the 1965 Douglas Wilmer Holmes television show), the series related four mysteries, each told in four two-part episodes:

• The Adventure of the Disappearing Dispatch Case
• The Ghost of Julian Midwinter
• The Adventure of the Winged Scarab
• The Case of the Captive Clairvoyant

This set of Irregulars – and there were only six of them –were Wiggins, Beaver, Shiner, Sparrow, Queenie, and Rosie.

Holmes is only seen in passing, although Watson is more visible. And of the greatest interest is the presence of famed actor Colin Jeavons, more well-known as the absolutely definitive Inspector Lestrade (a role he would totally own from 1985 to 1992 during the Granada series with Jeremy Brett,) as Professor Moriarty. These episodes are worth tracking down to see that performance.

When The Baker Street Boys premiered, a companion book by Brian Ball was published (shown here with my bootleg DVD copy of the show) containing text versions of “The Captive Clairvoyant” and “The Disappearing Dispatch Case”.

Then, after more than twenty years, series creator Anthony Read began producing new original books, published between 2005 and 2012:

These titles include:

• The Case of the Disappearing Detective
• The Case of the Captive Clairvoyant (from an episode of the original series)
• The Case of the Ranjipur Ruby
• The Case of the Limehouse laundry
• The Case of the Stolen Sparklers
• The Case of the Haunted Horrors
• The Case of the Racehorse Ringer

Another set of Irregulars, this time known as The Baker Street Brigade, were featured in four books by brothers Jake and Luke Thoene. They were led by Danny Wiggins, who – along with his friends Duff and Peachy – became involved in several of Holmes’s mysteries. These tales, The Baker Street Mysteries, published between 1995 and 1998, follow the adventures of three orphans in the late 1880’s. The books were produced by Thomas Nelson, the noted bible publisher, and as might be expected, the lads receive a bit of religious instruction and scripture in each book from the orphanage where they live. These books include:

• The Mystery of the Yellow Hands
• The Giant Rat of Sumatra
• The Jewelled Peacock of Persia
• The Thundering Underground

More recently, in the steps of the Thoenes, another set of brothers have added a new set of young assistants to Holmes’s stable. In Derrick and Brian Belanger’s The MacDougall Twins Mysteries, Emma and Jimmy MacDougall live across the street from 221b Baker Street, and it’s inevitable that they become involved in Holmes’s investigations. Through three adventures (so far) the books provide a unique and entertaining introduction to Holmes by young readers. Both Belangers are knowledgeable Sherlockians who set the stories in the correct time period and make Holmes and Watson heroes. Derrick is a teacher who understands the proper way to construct the stories, and Brian is a noted artist who illustrates them in a style certain to capture young readers’ attentions.

The books, all published in 2015, include:

• The Amazing Airship Adventure
• Attack of the Violet Vampire!
• Curse of the Deadly Dinosaur!

A curious set of stories about a different group of Irregulars was penned by famed British actor Tim Pigott-Smith. In the 1970’s, he played Watson on-stage in nearly five-hundred performances of William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes, and then portrayed a notable version of Holmes in a 1986 radio version of The Valley of Fear. After a life-time of acclaim for his acting, he wrote a three-volume series about The Irregulars, The Baker Street Mysteries, in 2008 and 2009. These books, featuring Billy, Potts, Edie, Sam and Titch, have a somewhat unusual tone, but they are definitely set within the correct Holmesian world.

Titles include:

• The Dragon Tattoo
• The Rose of Africa
• The Shadow of Evil

A set of Irregulars books featuring a different style of art are the amazing set The Baker Street Four with illustrations by David Etien and text by J.B. Djian and Olivier Legrand. It follows the adventures of Billy, Charlie, and Tom in four incredible books that are laid out in a way that must be seen to be fully appreciated:

Another artistic approach is the similarly four-volumed Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars (2011) by Tony Lee and Dan Boultwood. These interrelated graphic novels feature Wiggins, Eliza, Pockets, Chen, Ash, and Tiny as they seek a missing Sherlock Holmes.

As is probably obvious by now, there are many variations on the make-up of The Baker Street Irregulars. In 2006 and 2007, Alex Simmons and Bill McCay wrote two books about their own version, The Raven League. Both of these books are set in 1887, around the events of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. In this case, Holmes’s junior investigators – Owens, Dooley, and Jennie – are led by Archie Wiggins. After years where these two books were the only ones in the series, I’m very intrigued to learn that a third, The Yellow Man, is promised for 2019.

The books in this series (so far) are:

• Sherlock Holmes is Missing!
• Buffalo Bill Wanted!

From 2006 to 2010, husband-and-wife team Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin wrote four books in the series Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, also presented as “Casebooks”. This group – led by a different Wiggins – consisted of Ozzie, Rohan, Elliot, Alfie, and Pilar. Their adventures are recorded in four volumes, and in the introduction to the fourth, there is a definite statement that it would be the last. The series consists of:

• The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas
• The Mystery of the Conjured Man
• In Search of Watson
• The Final Meeting

Young Sherlock Holmes . . . and Young Watson too!

Of course, in addition to all these stories showing Holmes and Watson as adults interacting with children, there a good many others, not written for the younger crowd, that deal with Holmes and Watson as children. Since the mid-1990’s, I’ve assembled and maintained and ever-expanding Chronology of both Canon and pastiche. It covers several thousand stories, collected since I was a boy in the mid-1970’s and all pieced together to make one massive and overall representation of the complete lives of Holmes and Watson, from birth to death. Understandably, there are more narratives of their early days than can be listed here. The most important, of course, is William S. Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1962). Along with it is Michael Hardwick’s The Private Life of Dr. Watson (1983).

There are hundreds of very good fan-fiction tales that fill in the blanks of these years, and some narratives published in books as well, including “The Sect of the Salamander” from Ron Weil’s The Irregular Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (2000), “The Case of Vittoria, the Circus Bell” by Jay Scheckley and “A Ballad of the White Plague” by P.C. Hodgel, both in The Confidential Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1997). Then there’s “The East Thrigby Mystery” in Denis O. Smith’s The Further Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes (2018) and “The Adventure of the Little Tasselled Philpots” in Sherlock Holmes and the Watson Pastiche by Karl Showler (2005).

There are a couple of fan-fictions of note that have Holmes and Watson encounter each other as boys - not becoming fast friends or solving a case together, but rather as passing strangers, with no idea that they will become brothers - not in blood, but in bond. These stories include:

Highly Improbable" (2008) by VHunter07 . . .

. . . and "That One Time They Met" (2014) by FFabeonG:

In 1982, Granada Television brought us a tale of Holmes of schoolboy age, Young Sherlock: The Mystery of the Manor House. Set in 1871, Holmes returns home from school to discover that his family has traveled to the Continent without him. He is taken in by resentful relatives, although he has a friend in the housekeeper, Mrs. Cunliffe, whom he will know years later under a different name. He soon discovers that mysterious neighbors are involved in a plot that threatens the Crown. And there are even hints that these neighbors are associated with someone that Holmes will eventually encounter years later at the Reichenbach Falls. The story is presented over eight episodes, and is very typical of British television for the era. All-in-all, it’s a solid Holmes tale. The series was written by Gerald Frow, who also wrote two companion books (shown here with the DVD boxed set) – one relating the film story, and a sequel, The Adventure at Ferryman’s Creek (1984) that might have been planned as a filmed sequel that was never made.

Another entry revealing new information about Holmes in school during the 1870’s was the film Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). In 1985, I had been a Sherlockian for ten years. I was twenty years old then, halfway through college, and had already been wearing a deerstalker as my only hat for over a year. That December, the film Young Sherlock Holmes was released, and I bought and read the novelization (by Alan Arnold) just days before seeing the film. As always, I defer to the written word over film versions, and this book adds some aspects to the story that aren’t addressed in the film. (Several editions are shown here, including the hardcover novel, the paperback, the children’s version, and the DVD of the film.)

My deerstalker and I went to see it in the theater alone that day in December 1985, as I didn’t want any conversational distractions from my friends. I chose a matinee showing and sat alone in the theatre. I really enjoyed the film, but I was bothered immensely by the fact that it was simply wrong, in that Holmes and Watson did NOT meet as schoolboys in the 1870’s. Acknowledging that as a jumping-off place means that Watson was a liar in A Study in Scarlet. (Even at age twenty, I had no use for Alternate Universe Holmes.)

Over the years, I've had other thoughts about this book and film. For instance, I realized – as have others – that Harry Potter owes a great deal to this film, both by way of J.K. Rowling’s story, and through Chris Columbus, who wrote Young Sherlock Holmes and then directed and produced the first Potter films. Later, I enjoyed it when the Holmes in this film, Nicholas Rowe, played a film-version Holmes in Mr. Holmes (2015).

But most important, I’ve developed a satisfactory understanding as to the true identity of the boy called “Watson” in the film that lets me enjoy it now. (Hint: He isn’t Watson.) My realization about the true name of this lad haunted by hallucinations of threatening cream puffs was first published in The Watsonian (Fall 2016, Vol.4, No. II), and later I put it in my irregular blog as “Actually, That Wasn’t Watson”. It can be found here:

In Bonnie MacBird's Unquiet Spirits (2017), we learn through a flashback of Holmes's time as a student Fettes College. And her previous book, Art in the Blood (2015) features both a boy who is kidnapped - who incidentally provides some insight for Watson into Holmes's background - and another lad who is indispensable toward Holmes's solution.

A book that shows us Holmes as a student is The Case of the Devil's Hoofmarks (1989) by Allen Sharp. It is part of a larger eight-book set, In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes, published by the Cambridge University Press in 1989 and 1990. These volumes have clues inside, such as handwritten diagrams and reproductions of pages from Watson's diaries, and while they don't say so, I have the impression that they were written for younger readers. However, there is nothing childish about them - the stories are absolutely and traditionally Canonical, with nothing simplified, and of the highest quality. The Devil's Hoofmarks relates the story of famous hoofmarks first seen in the Devon snow in 1855, and how they show up again in 1869, at the school where Holmes is a student. Framing this is a larger tale, set in 1895, when Watson attempts to retrace Holmes's footsteps and solve the case from his Baker Street armchair. This book - and the entire series - are highly recommended!

One of my favorite series that examines Holmes as a child – one that’s theoretically written for a younger audience but works well for Sherlockians of all ages – and additionally one that I cannot recommend it highly enough, is Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes series. This is definitely not to be confused with the 1982 Granada television series or the 1985 film of the same name.

Lane’s books relate Holmes’s adventures as a boy in 1860’s, when he is first learning the skills that will make him one of the most famous and recognized figures on the planet. He is accompanied on many of these adventures by young Matty Arnett. For those who have read the all of the Young Sherlock Holmes books, along with a stand-alone story, “Young Sherlock Holmes: Bedlam” (2011), and haven’t gotten enough of Andrew Lane’s excellent series, there is one more related story, contained in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part VIII: Eliminate the Impossible (1892-1905). The story, “The Inexplicable Demise of Matthew Arnatt”, is set thirty years after the original books, and as the title implies, it’s a sad epilogue to the rest of the books.

According to internet citations, further books are possible, and there is a television version in the works. The current books in the series, published from 2010 to 2015 include:

• Death Cloud
• Red Leech
• Black Ice
• Fire Storm
• Snake Bite
• Knife Edge
• Stone Cold
• Night Break

Other Children

While many of the previously mentioned series might give that impression, Holmes’s encounters children aren’t always necessarily with The Irregulars. For instance, the young lady featured in Elizabeth Varadan’s Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, shows cleverness and bravery worthy of Holmes’s friendship, in spite of her young age. This book has been highly lauded, and is even used in some classrooms. Some of the people in this book are also featured in Varadan’s story “Kidnapped”, published in Beyond Watson (2016).

Holmes also meets a couple of other little girls in the unrelated books The Little Girl and Mr. Holmes by Richard L. Kellogg (1985) and Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Snowman by David Ruffle and Rikey Austin (2012). Each is a very slim book, obviously written for younger readers, but still not to be ignored, as they too add another thread to The Great Holmes Tapestry.

In Dr. Ben F. Eller's The Children of Sherlock Holmes (2008) we see Holmes confront the terrible conditions of children in the late Victoria Age while solving a mystery with terrible implications. This book is a reminder just how brutal that period could be . . . .

One of the more prolific pastiche writers was Val Andrews. In addition to the many stories under his own name, he also wrote a few as "Willoughby Lane", including the curious little volume The Adventures of Billy the Page (1986). While Billy is in many many adventures, here he gets a set of his own tales.

Problem Children

There are a few Holmes series for children that are much more problematic. The first tells the adventures of Enola Holmes, as related by Nancy Springer. In the books, Enola is supposed to be Holmes’s younger sister – and I don’t accept that. In my collecting, study, and chronologization of several thousand traditional Canonical stories, there is no evidence that Holmes had a sister, and the assertion that there is one in these six books doesn’t overcome the weight of all those other books. Thus, I believe that Enola is actually a younger cousin who was taken in by the Holmes family at some point. The change from cousin to sister was accomplished by the editor of original documents, Nancy Springer, to satisfy some agenda wherein the child was a sibling rather than someone less close.

This is in line with certain other rationalizations that must be made for various stories to be acceptable within the Big Picture of The Great Holmes Tapestry. Another is the truth that must be accepted about Mary Russell, who was a fifteen-year-old child when Holmes met her in The Beekeeper's Apprentice (1994). I’ve explained how Russell's narratives are unreliable and must be viewed from a shifted viewpoint in order for her stories to be appreciated and included in my blog entry, “Necessary Rationalizations”

It was recently announced that the Enola Holmes books will be made into a film series, and when I watch it, I’ll be rationalizing in the same way – She isn’t a sister. She’s a cousin.

The Enola Holmes books, written between 2006 and 2010, include:

• The Case of the Missing Marquess
• The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
• The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets
• The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
• The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline
• The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye

Another problematic tale is not a book at all, but rather a film, Sherlock Holmes and The Baker Street Irregulars (2007). This entry, with the oddly cast Jonathan Pryce as Holmes, has a plot that needs a bit of manipulating and rationalization to be acceptable – but which can’t be explained here without giving away spoilers.

One series that I haven’t been able to rationalize – or even read to completion – is Shane Peacock’s The Boy Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes an approach to The World of Holmes simply deviates too far into the weeds to be dragged back onto the true path, and this series demonstrates that. I have all of these books, and may try again someday to figure out a way to make them work within the correct Big Picture, but for now, they are simply too Alternate Universe to tolerate.

There were six books in the series, and they came to a definitive conclusion with the final volume:

• Eye of the Crow
• Death in the Air
• Vanishing Girl
• The Secret Fiend
• The Dragon Turn
• Becoming Holmes

Another series that I’ll mention but cannot recommend is The Baker Street Irregulars by Terrance Dicks. These stories, including the one shown here, are misleadingly misnamed, featuring a band of young detectives set in modern times. Except for the tenuous connection suggested by the name of the series, there is nothing Sherlockian about these books.

Other Stories, Other Children

While all of these above-mentioned stories so far have been written for younger readers, there are a number that are traditional Canonical adventures that still include The Irregulars in a unique way and aren’t written for children. As mentioned above, there are so many Post-Canonical tales that have The Irregulars in them, one way or another, that they can’t all be listed here.

However, here are a few:

In 2015, I had the idea for The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, and since then, there have been fifteen massive volumes (so far) of new Holmes stories.:

Editing these volumes led me to editing several other additional anthologies for Belanger Books. Through all these collections of new Holmes adventures, there have been more appearances by The Irregulars than I can list. But some feature much greater examination of a young Holmes, as in “The Tale of the First Adventure” by Derrick Belanger, and some of Wiggins’s background in “The Irregular” by Julie McKuras – both of which are in MX anthologies. In Sherlock Holmes: Before Baker Street, Jayantika Ganguly gives new insight into a young Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes in “The Adventure of the Bloody Roses”.

In the excellent stories by Shane Simmons, narrator Wiggins provides one of the freshest viewpoints of Holmes (and Mycroft) in years – and thankfully Mr. Simmons has promised that he’s writing more of these tales. (The first five listed are in MX anthologies, and the final story is included in Holmes Away From Home):

• The Song of the Mudlark
• The Adventure of the Cat’s Claws
• The Adventure of the Mind’s Eye
• The Adventure of the Old Boys’ Club
• The Adventure of the Ambulatory Cadaver
• The Adventure of the Melting Man

When I issued the initial call for submissions for the first MX anthologies, I received “Blood Brothers”, a very excellent story featuring The Irregulars from author Kim Krisco. He subsequently took it, expanded the idea, and it became a part of a much larger work Irregular Lives – The Untold Story of Sherlock Holmes and The Baker Street Irregulars (2016). This book has a number of stand-alone stories featuring Irregulars such as Wiggins, his sister Tessa, Ugly, Snape, Kate, Archer, and Benjie, during the years when they were children assisting in Holmes’s investigations, framed by a much bigger story set in post-World War I London, in which he encounters the former Irregulars as adults. From this book, Krisco has chronicled the next story in the saga, The Celtic Phoenix (2018), set in 1919, following the continuing adventures of Tessa Wiggins.

Another new series by H.B. Lyle features a grown Wiggins. The first volume is The Irregular (2017). Set in 1909, the story tells how a grown and Holmes-trained Wiggins becomes recruited as an agent of the British government. This was followed by The Red Ribbon (2018). Set one year after the first book, it continues the story of Wiggins in the fledgling Secret Service.

In "The Song of a Want", (contained in Gaslight Gothic, edited by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, 2018) Lyndsay Faye has a tale narrated by an adult Wiggins recalling an adventure with Holmes in his Montague Street days.

Stories featuring Holmes’s interaction with young assistants who later grow up to be famous include Daniel D. Victor’s The Final Page of Baker Street (2014), in which the page, Billy, who serves at 221b Baker Street just after the turn of the century (and before Holmes’s retirement) is none other than a young Raymond Chandler . . . .

. . . and the three-volume set of adventures, Sherlock Holmes and Young Winston, by Mike Hogan, featuring a young Winston Churchill accompanying Holmes and Watson on various investigations in the late 1880’s. These books, published in 2012 to 2013, include:

• The Deadwood Stage
• The Jubilee Plot
• The Giant Moles

Just how many Wiggins-es were there anyway . . . ?

When reading all of the various stories about The Baker Street Irregulars – both those listed here and many others that aren’t – it becomes obvious that Wiggins is most often mentioned as the leader of the group. Even in his two Canonical appearances, this can be confusing, as he is first introduced in January 1881, in A Study in Scarlet, and next in The Sign of Four, set in September 1888. Are we to believe that this is the same person, still running the group seven years later? The answer is no - and the clue to understanding this is revealed by all the different Wiggins-es that are portrayed in the various books discussed above.

The question of whether or not this could be the same Wiggins throughout can be as puzzling as figuring out the location of Watson’s wounds or the number of his wives. Early on, I understood that there were certainly multiple Wiggins-es, each serving for a time before aging-out and being replaced. But that led to my consideration of exactly why there would be such an ongoing relationship between Holmes and this family that would lead to such service.

The answer was revealed in “The Gower Street Murder”, a story in my own book Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins (2015).

This tale relates how Holmes met the first Wiggins in the 1870’s, when he was still living in Montague Street beside the British Museum. At one point, the original first Wiggins’ mother is accused of murder, and Holmes saves her. After that, the family is in his debt, and there is always a Wiggins to lead The Irregulars.

But it goes further than that. The story reveals that Holmes has aided the family over the years – making sure that Mrs. Wiggins had a good job to support her family; that each of the children was educated and fed and kept healthy; and that when they outgrew positions within The Irregulars, Holmes made sure that they had an education or the promise of employment as they entered adulthood. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that the family gladly assisted Holmes for all those years.

This is just a tiny fraction . . . .

As mentioned, Holmes’s various encounters with children, often Irregulars, number more than can be related here, and far overwhelm the very few that are described within The Canon. Reading, studying, and chronologicizing all of these tales – those with Holmes as a child, and also interacting with children, both Irregulars and otherwise – reveals that each of these are important threads in The Great Holmes Tapestry, and to ignore them severely limits a true and total enjoyment of The World of Sherlock Holmes.


  1. Thanks for including Imogene in the cast of children involved in Holmes adventures. It made her very happy. :-) In all seriousness, this was a great post, and I discovered many new titles that I'll want to read. Thanks for such a comprehensive introduction to an expanding world for me!

    1. Thanks Elizabeth - I'm very happy to recommend Imogene's adventures, and look forward to many more!

  2. This is a wonderful essay about the children in the Canon. I have learned so much and have discovered new books to read. I must now find some of these books for my grandchildren. Never too early to teach them about Mr. Holmes.

    1. Marcy: Thank you so much! I agree - it's never too early!

  3. This is so fantastic a piece of extremely well put together information. Thank You so much,