|Book Reviewed||Favorite Sherlock Holmes Detective Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | 978-0486412429|
|Grade Level||4 - 7|
The debates about the greatest literary detectives may rage on for centuries to come, but only in regard to who is the second best. There has rarely been any debate about the greatest detective ever depicted in literature. His name? Sherlock Holmes.
This Dover Evergreen Classic contains these unabridged Sherlock Holmes’ stories:
- The Adventure of the Dancing Men
- The Red-Headed League
- A Scandal in Bohemia
- The Final Problem
- Silver Blaze
- The Adventure of the Speckled Band
- The Engineer’s Thumb
- The Crooked Man
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The World of Literature with Mr. Draeger
I Meet Sherlock Holmes
Hello Future Detectives,
Imagine what it is like for me to be climbing a tree in my front yard to extract a frisbee that Seth has thrown, then losing my grip as one foot slips, grasping frantically for branches as I am falling, screaming out in anticipation of the jolt and pain that awaits me, only to land softly on the floor of the forest in the World of Literature. I stand up. I look around. I realize where I am and I begin my three hour journey to that giant tree and as I ascend the steps to its huge trunk the door opens and Iris, barefoot, wearing a plain white blouse and brown loose skirt greets me with the usual:
“I’ve been expecting you.”
“Good,” I say. “Got anything to eat?”
She smiles, hands me a cloth bag and says, “Yes, but you’ll have to eat on the way. We’re going to London.”
“Yes,” she replied, “221B Baker Street.”
“Am I supposed to know someone there?”
“Millions of readers do,” she said. “You are going to meet the greatest detective in this world.”
“Yo . . . yo . . . you mean,” I stammered. “Sherlock Holmes?”
“Who else?” she said matter-of-factly.
London was far and she told me we would be staying the night about halfway. I think I would like this world better if it wasn’t so hard to get everywhere. I’m always walking long distances whenever I come here and it is usually not over easy terrain. After about six hours we arrived at a small cottage. A stout, though not short, gentlemen with an English accent answered the door and invited us in.
“It’s good to see you, Iris,” the man said.
“You too,” she replied. “This is Glen Draeger, he’s a teacher and this,” she said to me, “is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”
“How do you do,” I said. He had a thick mustache, brown hair and an intense expression, as if life was a serious matter to him.
Mr. Doyle invited us to sit down. There were four stuffed chairs situated around a wooden coffee table made from a thick cross section of a large tree. On it was a pot of tea, a bowl of sugar, some cream and three cups. Outside the circle a rock fireplace warmed the room with its flickering flames.
After we sat down I said, “Some of my students are reading . . .”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Mr. Doyle said, “you’re reading my Sherlock Holmes stories. ‘I am rather tired of hearing myself described as the author of Sherlock Holmes.’ That’s not all I wrote,” he said. “I also wrote The Lost World and The White Company. I wrote science fiction stories and horror stories. I wrote long historical novels and I wrote about the Boer War and World War One.”
“Mr. Doyle was a polymath,” Iris said just before she sipped some tea.
“What’s that?” I asked. I’m beginning to think I need to carry a dictionary on these trips.
“A person who has great learning in many fields,” Iris said.
“I was a war correspondent, I ran for political office, I was a great cricket player—”
“You’re so humble, too,” said Iris with a wry smile.
“No, I’m not,” he bellowed. “I’m stubborn and I don’t like criticism because it’s usually wrong. Now where was I? Yes, I was a doctor in the community where I lived, in the military and on a ship.” He stared hard at me, then said, almost as if scolding me, “So you see, I’m not just the author of Sherlock Holmes. Are you going to read any of the other things I wrote?”
“No,” I said. “Just Sherlock Holmes. He’s such a cool detective.”
“Yeah, you know, cool—ah, good—ah, he’s the best.”
“Originally I named him Sherrinford Holmes and then Sherrington Hope. My first choice for Dr. Watson was Ormand Sacker. I wonder how cool Sherlock would have been as Sherrington with his sidekick Dr. Sacker?”
“I can’t really imagine Sherrington Hope and Dr. Sacker being very popular,” I said. There was a long pause.
“I tried to kill him off once,” Mr. Doyle said.
“What?” I asked.
“In one of my stories he dies. That was to be the last one. I was tired of writing about him. People begged me to bring him back. Publishers offered me money, some readers even threatened me. I kept refusing until finally I worked on a play, Sherlock Holmes. After that I wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles and many more stories. People in Britain and America stood in long lines to buy the magazines that had my new Sherlock Holmes stories in them—a lot like how people in your time stand in long lines to see movies.”
Mr. Doyle paused for a long time, lit a pipe, threw some wood on the fire then stood at the mantel as if he were thinking about something.
“I was also a devout spiritualist. I attended seances and believed it was possible to communicate with the dead.”
“You’re not serious?” I asked glancing at Iris who nodded slowly. Of course, it didn’t occur to me until I was writing this down that I was communincating with the dead Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“Yes. Very. I wrote books about it and lost much of my fortune for the cause of spiritualism. I was a friend of Harry Houdini, the great American magician and escape artist, but he was constantly trying to prove me and spiritualism wrong and our friendship ended when he wrote about me in a book. He said he treasured my friendship and thought I had a great mind except in the area of my religious beliefs.” He paused again. “Well,” he said, “I can see that you think Houdini was right. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll be turning in now. Good night.”
After he left the room I asked Iris, “I didn’t know authors lived here too?”
“Oh yes. They come and go. Some of them like to visit their characters or they come to the tree to talk with me. Anyway, we better get to bed. It’s about three hours to London.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859 and died July 7, 1930 at the age of 71. The first Sherlock Holmes story appeared in 1887 and the last in 1927.
After getting a good night of rest and eating scrambled eggs and muffins for breakfast, Iris and I continued our journey in The World of Literature toward London and 221B Baker Street, the lodgings of the incomparable Sherlock Holmes.
“You must remember,” Iris told me, “that the characters in these stories do not know that they are characters in a story. They think they’re real so we will have to present ourselves to Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson as people from their world. Since I am originally from Britain that’s where I’ll say I’m from, but you should tell them that you are from America.”
“How can I get them to talk to me,” I asked her, “if I don’t have some murder for Sherlock to solve?”
Iris mused for a moment then said, “Tell them you are from a paper in America and you wish to do a story about Mr. Holmes.”
It sounded like a good idea. We arrived at 221B Baker Street at about 10 o’clock in the morning. We ascended some steep wooden steps until we stood before the door of the famous Sherlock Holmes. I was afraid to knock. Now that we were there I doubted that my story would fool Holmes but what was I going to say? “Hello. We come from the land of readers”? While I thought about this I heard someone coming up the stairs. I looked over the railing. A man briskly glided up the steps. When he reached the top Iris spoke.
“Sherlock Holmes?” she asked. We both knew it was him. There was no mistake about it. He was more than six feet tall and so thin that he seemed to be taller. He appeared to be almost uninterested in us until I noticed his eyes which did not so much look into me like I might feel meeting a famous psychologist, but looked at me so intently that I felt embarrassed, as if I had tripped in front of a hundred people at a wedding. He had a narrow, hawk-like nose and a square prominent chin. He seemed determined and single-minded. Then I noticed a peculiar smell, something similar to that of a hospital. His hands were stained with something, maybe ink or some kind of chemical.
“I am,” he replied. “May I be of service to you?”
“My name is Glen Draeger and this is Iris Murdoch, my host here in London,” I said. “I’m a journalist from America and I’d like to do a story about you. May I have a few minutes of your time?”
“Certainly,” he said. He opened the door. “Watson? We have visitors.”
We walked through the front door. Before us was the fireplace and in front of that a bear rug with the head intact. To our left in the corner was a small table with beakers, a burner, notebooks and test tubes. Next to that was a writing desk with lots of newspapers on it and on the floor next to that several large notebooks.
“It appears that Dr. Watson is not present. Please sit down. That’s a nice timepiece you have,” he said pointing to my black, digital watch.
“Thank you,” I said. “I have been told that you are a great detective.”
“Who told you such a thing?” he asked. “I’m not known worldwide—yet.”
“An acquaintance—I’m not sure of his name.”
“‘Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I’m a consulting detective, if you understand what that is. Here in London we have lots of Government detectives and lots of private ones. When these fellows are at fault, they come to me, and I manage to put them on the right scent. They lay all the evidence before me, and I am generally able, by the help of my knowledge of the history of crime, to set them straight. There is a strong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of a thousand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can’t unravel the thousand and first.'”
“Is that how you solved the crime involving the hydraulic engineer’s thumb?”
“This is essentially how I solve every crime.”
“You study crime?” I asked.
“Oh yes. My only devotion in the world is to my work. I remember Dr. Watson once became angry with me because—ah, Watson, I was just talking about you.”
Through the door walked a man just under six feet with a mustache. We stood up and introduced ourselves.
Holmes continued. “I was just telling them about your dismay concerning my knowledge of the solar system.”
“Would you believe,” Dr. Watson said to us incredulously, “that this man has no idea about the theories of our solar system? He does not know that the earth circles the sun! It’s appalling in one with such a fine intellect.”
“‘What the deuce is it to me?'” Holmes replied, “‘you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.'”
“The finest solver of crimes the world has ever known is ignorant about even more than that! He knows nothing about literature, philosophy or astronomy. Politics doesn’t interest him. He could not grow a vegetable if his very life depended on it. And yet, at a glance he can tell different soils from one another. ‘After walks [he] has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.’ His knowledge of chemistry is absolutely profound.”
As the two talked I noticed that Holmes seemed to be concentrating, but on what I could not be sure. It did not seem to be the conversation. It was as if his sentences had been memorized so he could think about something else more important to him.
Holmes answered Watson. “‘I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilled workman is very careful indeed to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little rooms have elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.'”
“‘But the Solar System!'” Dr. Watson cried.
“If I knew all about the solar system I might not be able to tell you that Mr. Draeger is not a journalist from America.” Holmes stood by the fireplace and had just lit his pipe. He watched me as if he were waiting to see what I would do, what clues I might give him. You can imagine how unnerving that was having just read how easily he knew everything about Mr. Clay in “The Red-Headed League.”
“How do you know?” asked Watson.
“It’s very simple. He is taking no notes which would be understandable if he had a sharp memory, but he does not, otherwise he would have known who had told him about me. A good journalist—with a poor memory—takes notes, lots of notes. Notice his hands. They are the same. If he was a journalist one would be slightly bigger than the other, his fingers would be calloused from holding a pencil. They are not so.”
I was feeling very uncomfortable and not sure what to do. Holmes and Watson are very capable men. Both possess guns and Holmes is an excellent boxer and swordsman. I was no match for either of them.
“And notice,” Holmes continued, “his watch. Show it to him, Mr. Draeger or whoever you are.” Dr. Watson examined my watch and its digital face.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dr. Watson said.
“Precisely,” said Sherlock Holmes. “I keep up on recent technological innovations by reading journals from both England and America. Nothing like that has been invented to my knowledge. It might be unique, but if Mr. Draeger considered it unusual when I complimented him on it he would have said something about it’s uniqueness—but every manner in the way he responded showed me that he views it as commonplace.”
“Who are they?” asked Dr. Watson.
“I don’t know yet. Look at Mr. Draeger’s clothes. The stitches in his shirt and pants are incredibly uniform. I’ve never seen anything like it. Look at his glasses. May I?” he asked me. I handed my glasses to him. “The first thing,” Holmes continued, “I noticed was the lack of glare. Glass has a distinct glare. These lenses are not glass. What I notice now is that they are incredibly light. It’s some other material—none that I am familiar with.”
“What does it mean?” Watson asked.
“I’m still thinking. Remember, Watson, observation is the key to coming to the right conclusion. Miss Murdoch is another conundrum. She is from England, I’m sure of that, but there is something peculiar about the way she speaks. I’ve studied every dialect in Britain and hers is unique. Mr. Draeger’s speech though clearly American is peculiar in the same way.” Sherlock Holmes stood for a few minutes puffing on his pipe. Dr. Watson was about to say something, but Holmes motioned him not to. “I must think,” he said. “Give me time to think.” After a few minutes he said, “No, his clothes match nothing in my memory. This is most strange, but the conclusion, though it might appear too outlandish, seems to be the only one I can logically accept.”
“What? What is it?” Watson yelled who I noticed had taken out his gun.
“They are not from here.”
“Holmes, you are a great detective, but I could have told you that,” Watson said with exasperation.
“You misunderstand,” said Sherlock Holmes. “They are not from this world. At first I entertained the idea that they were from the future—some kind of time-travel.”
“That is preposterous!” Watson said.
“Quite right. If time travel were possible then we would have already met many, many time travelers, but no time-travelers have ever presented themselves.” Holmes studied Watson carefully as if he knew his next words would test their friendship. “Watson, these two people are from another world.”
“Another world? What do you mean?”
“I mean a completely different reality.”
“You are sure?” Watson asked still pointing the gun in our direction.
“Yes. It was strange that he mentioned, before you came here Watson, a crime I solved involving a hydraulic engineer’s thumb. Do you remember such a crime?”
“There has been no such crime that I have solved. But something about that has set me thinking during this entire conversation . . . I’ve just remembered what it is!” He pulled down a book that contained paper clippings and read: “‘Lost, on the 9th inst., Mr. Jeremiah Hayling, aged twenty-six, a hydraulic engineer.'”
“But Holmes, it is preposterous!”
“It is more than that Watson. The world they come from is the real one. You and I, my dear boy, are fictional characters in a book.”
Watson’s face contorted as if Holmes’ words greatly offended him. “You can’t be serious!”
“Watson, the true test of our devotion to deductive reasoning is our commitment to believe where the facts inevitably lead! Observation, Watson, one must observe. I have done so. Now I draw my conclusions. I have not up to this time in my life believed I was a fictional character. But I do today. So,” Sherlock Holmes said calmly and turning toward me. “Do you like reading about us?”
“Yes, Mr. Holmes, you’re the greatest literary detective ever,” I said a little too exuberantly.
“Fascinating,” Holmes said.
“Fascinating?” Dr. Watson said incredulously. “You must be joking! We’re not real and that’s fascinating?”
“It’s not so bad, Watson. We still have our lives. Nothing will change. It has altered our view of ourselves, but not who we are or what happens here.”
“That is absolutely ridiculous!” Watson yelled.
“On the contrary, Watson, I find the whole thing plausible and extremely interesting.” He turned to us. “So, what have you read about Dr. Watson and me?”
“I just read a story called, ‘The Red-headed League.'”
“Remember that one, Watson?” Holmes asked. “Tell me something that you could only know having read the story, something you could not have found out by any other means. Watson, this will prove my theory and their claims.”
I thought for a moment and then I remembered that Holmes said something to Watson at the end of the story. “Well,” I began, “after you had solved the crime you and Watson were sitting here, in this room, discussing it.”
“That’s an easy thing to guess!” Watson said waving his gun.
“I wasn’t finished,” I replied as nicely as possible. Always be nice to men with guns. “Watson said you had done a great job and you said something about ‘ennui.’ I remember that word because I didn’t know what it meant, so I looked it up. It means ‘to have a feeling of weariness or dissatisfaction.’ I think you said your work saved you from ennui. But then you told Watson a French phrase that Flaubert wrote to George Sand.”
“Ah, Watson, do you remember what I said?”
“I most certainly do!”
“No one else heard me say it. Correct?”
“Correct,” he said grudgingly.
“The only way he could know about it is if he read it in a book.” Holmes looked at Watson and he nodded his head slowly. “What was it?” Sherlock asked me.
I said, in very bad French, “‘L’homme c’est rien—l’oeuvre c’est tout.'”
Then, suddenly, I found myself falling from the tree in my front yard. I grasped for branches, got hold of some but only enough to slow me down. I landed on the ground, on my posterior, with a thud. I felt a sharp, momentary pain in my back, a little dizziness and some confusion. Seth ran over to me, looked up into the tree, then back down at me.
“Daddy!” he said accusingly. “You left the frisbee up there!”
Note: Words and phrases in double quotes come directly from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories or novels about Sherlock Holmes.
Discussion Questions for "The Red-Headed League"
- Where does Sherlock Holmes say we must go “for strange effects and extraordinary combinations”?(28) What does he mean by this?
- Why are people impressed by something until they know how it is done? (pg. 30)
- Do you think Holmes is right when he says, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be”? Why or why not? (pg. 40)
- What do you think Sherlock Holmes means when he says, “It is quite a three pipe problem”?(top of page 41)
- What does Holmes mean when he says, “My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me so”? (pg. 52)
- Why is Holmes able to figure out what is going to happen while Watson is not?
Discussion Questions for "The Engineer's Thumb"
- Why does Holmes have a “weary, heavy-lidded expression”? (pg. 85)
- Mr. Hatherley is suspicious of the offer made to him by Colonel Lysander Stark, yet he still goes. Why do you think he does this?
- Holmes tells the engineer when he asks what he has gained, “Experience. Indirectly it may be of value, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain the reputation of being excellent company for the remainder of your existence.” (pg. 103) What does he mean by this?
- What do you think of Dr. Watson?
- What do you think of Sherlock Holmes?
- How would you describe Sherlock Holmes?
Quotes by Sir Author Conan Doyle
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
—The Sign of Four
My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.
—”The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”
Like all Holmes’s reasoning the thing seemed simplicity itself when it was once explained.
—”The Stock-Broker’s Clerk”
You see, but you do not observe.
—”Scandal in Bohemia”
It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgement.
—A Study in Scarlet
Where there is no imagination there is no horror.
—A Study in Scarlet
Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.
—The Valley of Fear
Quotes about Sir Author Conan Doyle
My contention is that Sherlock Holmes is literature on a humble but not ignoble level, whereas mystery writers most in vogue are not.
—Edmund Wilson, Classics and Commercials
Conan Doyle, a few words on the subject of. Don’t you find as you age in the wood, as we are both doing, that the tragedy of life is that your early heroes lose their glamour?. . . . Now, with Doyle I don’t have this feeling. I still revere his work as much as ever. I used to think it swell, and I still think it swell.
— P. G. Wodehouse, Performing Flea
Additional Reading for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a prolific writer. In addition to Sherlock Holmes he wrote plays, science fiction novels, poetry, pamphlets and works on war and Spiritualism.
- A Study in Scarlet (a novel)
- The Sign of Four (a novel)
- Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (short story collection)
- Memoir of Sherlock Holmes (short story collection)
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes (short story collection)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (a novel)
- The Valley of Fear (a novel)
- His Last Bow (short story collection)
- The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (short story collection)
- The Lost World
- The Poison Belt
- The Land of Mist
- The Disintegration Machine
- When The World Screamed
- The Professor Challenger Stories