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Friday, August 3, 2012

The Humorous Mr. Holmes

As a mystery writer who tries to leaven my stories with a healthy dollop of humor, I appreciate other writers who do the same. The Canon is full of humor, much of it from the ironic mouth of Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself.

Exploring that subject at length would require more than a blog post. We would have to discuss Holmes's many sarcastic sallies, usually aimed at Watson and occasionally at Scotland Yard. And we couldn't ignore Watson's display of "a certain pawky humour" in the beginning of The Valley of Fear.

For a quick look at the topic, let's turn to "His Last Bow." I always think of that story on Aug. 2, which was yesterday. In very few Holmes stories is the date so prominent, for it begins (as I'm sure you remember):

"It was nine o'clock at night upon the second of August, the most terrible August in the history of the world." That's an ominous start for a story that is, at its heart, quite serious. But it also contains some great tongue-in-cheek lines:
  • "He seems to have declared war on the King's English as well as on the English King."
  • "Might I trouble you to open the window, for chloroform vapour does not help the palate."
  •  "It would brighten my declining years to see a German cruiser navigating the Solent according to the mine-field plans which I have furnished."
  • "These are the sacrifices one makes for one's country, Watson," said Holmes, pulling at his little tuft (a goatee).
  •  "Though unmusical, German is the most expressive of all languages."
  •  "You are a private individual. You have no warrant for my arrest. The whole proceeding is absolutely illegal and outrageous.""Absolutely," said Holmes. "Kidnapping a German subject." "And stealing his private papers." (Here Holmes proudly adds to the charges against himself!)
  •  "There's an East Wind coming, Watson." "I think not, Holmes. It is very warm." "Good old, Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age."
That last exchange is the beginning of my favorite passage is the Canon. When the average person thinks of humor and Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce most likely comes to mind. I hate to say this, but there's a bit of Nigel Bruce in Watson's response here. And that actor says almost those very words to Basil Rathbone in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.

1 comment:

  1. I love that last line too. Great blog, I enjoy it a lot!