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 “You see but you do not observe.” Holmes to Watson, “A Scandal in Bohemia”

I have had a long-standing love affair-du-Coeur with Sherlock Holmes. I read a bunch of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the Great Detective when I was younger, and a few of them really stuck with me. I’m sure everyone has their favorites.

Well, for some reason or other, maybe it was the recent and latest iteration of Holmes and Watson by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, I felt inspired to go back into Victorian England and delve into the World of Sherlock Holmes once more.

Four novels and fifty-six short stories later, I feel as impressed as ever with Holmes and Watson, and all the crime-solving, mystery-unraveling, clue gathering, disguises, adventures, and explanations. Great stuff!

There is a reason or six why Sherlock Holmes has gripped the imagination of readers, writers and fans since his first appearance on the scene in 1887.

1. The Great Detective Himself

Let’s face it, Holmes is pretty darn fabulous. He’s gifted with intelligence, heightened powers of observation and inference, a scientific and logical mind, the ability to see connections that others don’t see. He’s a master of disguise, chemistry, martial arts and boxing, he’s daring, and he keeps true to his own sense of justice. He does not always win, he does not always find the answer, but if it’s possible, you can be sure he’ll figure out the truth.

Though brilliant, Holmes was not perfect. People have speculated he was manic-depressive, or perhaps had Asperger’s Syndrome. He was high on intellect, and low on emotion—although you could argue it. He was passionate about his crime-solving art—and he had a dry, sarcastic wit which could seriously cut a lesser opponent to shreds. And (nearly) everyone was lesser. He did spend a bit of time addicted to cocaine (when he was bored), which Watson weaned him off of. His chemical experiments, as well as a propensity for shooting off firearms indoors, did not endear him to his landlady Mrs. Hudson. Though she never kicked him out. Hmm, maybe there was something there…? Well, that’s the romance writer in me. Probably been done already, ey?

2. The Crimes—

Watching Holmes unravel the crimes and mysteries is so much fun. The stories cover a wide spectrum. Murder, theft, kidnapping, betrayal, revenge, stolen plans, secrets, espionage, mistaken identity, secret identity, blackmail, fraud—and a few cases which were more mysteries than crime-solving. It’s all about the method! Observation, clues, deductions, inferences, and lots of footwork. He put forensics into action in detective work, sometimes running circles around Scotland Yard, other times working with them at their request, sometimes holding back evidence or explanations if Holmes felt justice was better served that way. The wealth and variety of mystery plots is fantastic.

 3. The Friendship—

Dr. John H. Watson, narrator for most of the stories, chronicler of the tales, is our window into the world of Sherlock Holmes. He is adventurous, brave, loyal, moral, maybe a little stodgy, but a reliable friend—not up to Holmes’ speed, but few would be. Yet they form a strong bond that lasts decades. I don’t know when Watson actually got to practice medicine since he was so ready to drop what he was doing in order to solve crimes, though he did doctor from time to time. He was injured in the Afghan War (odd from today’s standpoint, right? The Watson in the BBC modernization of Sherlock is wounded in the current Afghan war.) Watson does fall in love—something Holmes professes has never happened to him—and marries Mary Morstan from The Sign of the Four. Watson (maybe) even got married again after she (maybe) died—though this woman is never named. No kids—that we know of. Anyway, it’s Watson’s friendship with Holmes, his admiration for his friend’s powers, and his participation in the adventures that invite us into that same bond with the Great Detective. It’s one of the great friendships of literature. Plus Watson is the quintessential sidekick—a prototype for many that came after him.

4. The Nemesis—

Nothing puts the good guys through their paces like a really awesome bad guy. The evil and brilliant Professor Moriarty only figures in a few Holmes’ stories (2 directly), and we hear Holmes mention his struggles against the ‘Napoleon of crime’ in bits and pieces. Quite frankly, Conan Doyle invented Moriarty as a way to send Holmes out in a blaze of Glory. Now Moriarty might have gone over that cliff at Reichenbach Falls, while Holmes (readers find out a decade later, three years in the story world) actually didn’t. Despite his spectacular demise, and like Holmes himself, Moriarty has taken on a life of his own, looming large in the human imagination. Holmes has had many opponents, some worthy of his greatness, others less so, but there is nothing more satisfying than seeing these villains get their comeuppance.

5. The Game—

Well, it has been played by some notable folks, including Dorothy L. Sayers and Christopher Morley. The object is to treat the Holmes ‘canon’ – the 56 short stories and 4 novels – as true. As in, Holmes and Watson really lived, Watson had his stories published through his ‘agent’ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the events, places and people are based on real events, places and people. Reams of writing and terabytes of internet space have been devoted to this—it’s like a smart person’s fan club, yet somewhat crazy. I mean, people in Conan Doyle’s day used to think Holmes was real—somewhat annoying to his creator, who wanted to write Other Things. (Which he did, such as The Lost World and a lot of non-fiction work.) That said, people have had fun with dating the stories, figuring out who the historical characters Watson referred to with slight changes and different names might be, how many wives Watson had, where in Sussex Holmes’ bee farm might be, etc.

6. The Interpretations

Holmes was too large to stay chained to the page, and has had a wide and varied series of incarnations on stage, screen, and, well, in other people’s books. He has inspired interpretations of his character, psychology, romances-or-lack-there-of, parody, comedy, and plenty of etc. If I say Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, you get the picture. As opposed to ‘cannon’ story, the ‘Adventure of the Sussex Vampire’, an actual penned Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story. In movies alone, Sherlock Holmes has inspired portrayals by over 70 actors in over 200 films. Whoa!

  There is plenty of fodder in the originals to expand on. We know little of Holmes’ background and family, though we do meet smarter (though indolent) brother Mycroft. People have made up all sorts of interesting theories of his upbringing. Watson gives us tantalizing glimpses of cases he never expands into stories (The Giant Rat of Sumatra—come on, Watson, we need to know!) We get our picture of Holmes mostly through Watson’s first person eyes—though there are 2 stories narrated by Holmes, and 2 in third person. So writers and storytellers can find a twist outside Watson’s viewpoint and have fun with it. Thus we have Young Sherlock Holmes a movie about Holmes and Watson as a school boys, Nicholas Meyer’s Seven-Percent Solution (referencing Holmes addiction to cocaine and Freud’s talking cure of same), the TV show House contains many moments of homage to Sherlock Holmes, Basil of Baker Street is a children’s book, and a Disney movie (The Great Mouse Detective) featuring Basil the mouse and his adventures, with nemesis Ratigan (Vincent Price voices, quite fabulous), the Mary Russell books starting with The Beekeepers Apprentice, where in a 15-yr-old American woman meets Holmes in retirement and they have many adventures together. And eventually, a romance.

Just a small sampling of the many, many Holmes-related and re-imagined works out there.

Below are some of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories.

A Scandal In Bohemia, The Red-headed League, The Speckled Band, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Copper Beeches, The Norwood Builder, Silver Blaze, The Musgrave Ritual, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Abbey Grange, The Second Stain, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

If you want a list of Sherlock Holmes stories, try a visit to the Diogenes club. http://www.diogenes-club.com/hoysummary.htm , Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherlock_Holmes . And your local library or bookstore—there’s always a classic edition around. Amazon & BN have everything as well.

A fun article on the real-or-not biz.  http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2088/did-sherlock-holmes-really-exist 

http://www.schoolandholmes.com/index.html a list of Holmes related books, not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

http://pbpl.physics.ucla.edu/~yoder/mystery/doywork.html short, short summaries of the short stories

Enjoy! The Game’s Afoot

So, do you have a favorite Sherlock Holmes tale? Love or loathe the Great Detective? Enjoy any particular re-imagination of Holmes & Watson? Who is your favorite Holmes? Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, or Robert Downey Jr., or…? Do tell!

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Horses are amazing creatures. They represent power and speed, usefulness, companionship, and a wild freedom that appeals to humans even today.

Our relationship with Horse goes back to pre-history.

Yes, we used to hunt them for food. But eventually we caught on, hey, these big, strong creatures sure do know how to run. Hmm. How to make that work for us? In exchange for protection, grass, shelter, a good brushing, some oats and the occasional carrot, Horse has been a good friend.

HORSE HISTORY—The Short Version

Horse has figured in human spirituality and mythology for millennia. Featured in many prehistoric cave paintings in France, were they regarded as Spiritual guides? A link to the Other world? A plea for good hunting?

The majority of Horse species developed in North America, and spread to other continents over time. Ironically, horses disappeared from the Americas around 10,000 years ago—and only survived in Eurasia and Africa. Which meant they were reintroduced to our side of the Atlantic by the Europeans.

All domesticated horse species are thought to be bred from the tarpan, or European Wild Horse, extinct since 1919 (and isn’t that a shame.)

When did Horse go from food to friend? Anthropologists think domestication might have first happened in the Asian steppes around 3500 BC. Possibly people kept herds of horses, most likely at first for food & milk. Around 2000 to 1500 BC humans began using Horse for pulling things, carrying things, then for riding.

We have used them in War (until WWI), for Work, as Status, for Trade & Transport, and in Sports. World horse population is estimated to be around 58 million. Today, most horses are kept for recreational purposes. And while there are populations of horses running wild, they are not true ‘wild horses’, they are descended from horses that were domesticated. More feral horse than wild horse.

HORSE TALES

Horses are beauty and strength in motion.  Horse shaped much of our history, and naturally, Horse has figured strongly in our stories, legends and mythology. There is enough horse lore to fill shelves and shelves of books, but I find this Horse myth particularly poetic.

ArabiansAccording to Bedouin legend, Allah created the horse from the four winds. He endowed the animal with SPIRIT from the North, STRENGTH from the South, SPEED from the East, and INTELLIGENCE from the West.

Real horses are pretty outstanding, of course. Below is a (short) list of some Famous Horses:

  • Comanche was General George Custer’s Horse and the sole survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876
  • Alexander the Great’s horse named Bucephalus. The story goes the king (dad) got the horse as a gift, but no one could ride or even handle him. But boy prince Alex tamed the horse and rode him to fame and conquest.
  • Man O'WarFamed race horses: Man O’War, War Admiral, Secretariat, Citation, Dan Patch, Seattle Slew, Sea Biscuit, Affirmed last horse to win the U.S. Triple Crown (1978)
  • Famous TV horses: Trigger was a Golden Palamino stallion and co-star with Roy Rogers in many of his movies and TV show. Silver (Lone Ranger) Mr Ed the talking horse.
  • Traveler was the name of the horse that Mel Gibson rode in “Braveheart”. Also the name of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s horse.
  •  BABIECA: Spanish name meaning “a simpleton; stupid” The white Andalusian  belonging to El Cid. According to legend, Babieca was frail and wild and when El Cid chose her, his godfather named her “Babieca!”  But Babieca grew into a  great warhorse, much beloved by El Cid.

HORSE in Fiction

ShadowfaxSAragorn, Legolas & Gandalf a-horsehort, short list—Horses have been the subject of books, the main characters in books, figured prominently in books, and been allegorical subjects.

Famed Fictional Horses:

  • Black Beauty
  • the Black Stallion
  • Misty of Chincoteague
  • My Friend Flicka
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy has some mighty fine horses, including Bill the pony who found his way home, and ShaWraith Horsedowfax, chief of the Mearas, whom only Gandalf could ride. Of course, there were some mighty bad horses in LOTR—the ringwraith mounts. Ugh! Scary beasts.

BIBLICAL HORSES

Famous Scary Horses: The four horses of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Shivers.

Horses in Legends and Mythology:

Arthurian: Gringolet is Sir Gawain’s horse; possible King Arthur Horses: Llamrei, Hengroen, later French sources call his horse Passelande; Sir Caradoc’s horse: Luagor.

 Medieval Romance:  Bayard: a magic horse from the legends of the chansons de geste (“Songs of Heroic Deeds”). It belonged to the four sons of Aymon, and had the ability to grow larger or smaller as one or more riders mounted it.

EponaEpona is Gallic-Roman goddess of the horse & fertility

The HIPPOI ATHANATOI were the immortal horses of the gods. The majority of these divine steeds were offspring of the four Wind-Gods who themselves were said to draw the chariot of Zeus in the shape of horses.

 Horses have been combined with many other creatures, mythologically speaking—hippalectryon (horse-rooster), hippogriff (horse-griffin, itself a mythological creature), centaur (man-horse)

PegasusPegasus  & other Winged Horses Tianma (Chinese Winged Horse) Tulpar (Central Asian Mythology)

Sea Horses (hippocampi)–Poseidon has a few drawing his charriot

Xanthus and Balios—immortal horses given to Achilles, featured in the Illiad

Horses of Doom: Cheval Mallet—a black horse that would lure the unwary to their doom (French) or Gytrash (England) the Kelpie (Irish, with a watery twist), the Night Mare

Sleipnir, Odin’s eight legged horse (Norse mythology)

Mares of Diomedes—flesh eating horses, one of Hercules’s Labors was to capture them.

Liath Macha  and Dub Sainglend are the two chariot-horses of the hero Cúchulainn in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology.

Enbarr or Embarr (meaning “imagination”) in Irish mythology is Niamh’s horse. He can run across sea and land without touching the ground or water.

UnicornThe Unicorn—legendary one-horned creature, symbol of purity and grace, white, horse-like with a single horn and a goat’s beard, sometimes with a lion’s tale and goat’s cloven hoof. Supposedly has powers of healing, and can only be captured by a virgin.

 Swift WindSwift Wind combo pegasi and unicorn from She-Ra: Princess of Power(1985). Hey, why not?

Awesome websites to explore:

http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/horse/

http://www.horse-races.net/library/links-famous.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Mythological_horses

http://www.20000-names.com/pet_names_horse_names_equine_names.htm

http://www.giladorigami.com/PG_Horses.html some extremely cool origami horses

http://www.artema.com.au/Boyd/ancient_antecedents/bayard.html Bayard legend

http://www.theoi.com/Ther/Hippoi.html

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Any favorite Horse Tales to share? Have a My Little Pony collection? Horrified by pink and purple horses? Always wanted Swift Wind as a friend? Love to ride, love Horse from afar?

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