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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Compliments of the Season!

The Blue Carbuncle Christmas goose ornament on our tree

"I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season."
-- "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"

Undoubtedly the most famous comment on this tale comes from Christopher Morley, who called it "a Christmas story without slush."

In fact, the phrase so often been repeated that hardly anybody seems to have noticed that it is patently untrue. In reality, there is plenty of slush in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”

To start with there’s Henry Baker, the poor old sot trying to make points with his long-suffering wife at Christmas by buying her a goose. That plan looks doomed when he loses the goose. But after Holmes restores a reasonable facsimile, we can have every hope that H.B.’s home-life took a turn for the better.

But the major slush comes at the end of the story. Holmes, adopting a stern manner that belies his actions, gives the villain a get-out-jail-free card when he cries, “Get out!” He explains his actions to Watson by saying, “I suppose that I am committing a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul . . . Besides, it is the season of forgiveness.”

If that’s not slush, I don’t know what is!

Morley is on firmer ground when he points to Watsons’ restrained reference to “the compliments of the season.” He writes: “That is the first frosty phrase to remember. Not a Merry Old Christmas, not Jocund Yule; just the bashful British meiosis, Compliments of the Season. Wary old Watson, one of Britain’s great understatesmen. No emotional Heile Nacht, no Tannenbaum, no vast substantial Fezziwigs, no lachrymous Yuletide yowling. Compliments of the Season, Old Boy; and how are you, Holmes?”

And yet, restrained though it, this is a fine phrase. So, in the long-held tradition of Sherlockians and Holmes everywhere, I wish you and yours Compliments of the Season on this Boxing Day.

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