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Ruthyone

Conan Doyle's list of 12 best Holmes stories

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Thanks for posting that link, Ruthy!

 

I have a copy of The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (basically, a book of Holmes stories that are not generally to be found elsewhere -- in some cases because it's not clear who whether Conan Doyle wrote them or not).  At any rate, it includes that same list of twelve along with Conan Doyle's reasons for his selections.

 

He begins by saying that, because The Casebook had not yet been published when he made up the list, he did not include any stories from it -- otherwise, he would have picked "The Lion's Mane" (among the best plots) and "The Illustrious Client" (for "a certain dramatic quality").

 

As for the list itself (and his reasons):

 

1.  "The Speckled Band" -- a popular favorite

2.  "The Red-Headed League" -- original plot

3.  "The Dancing Men" -- original plot

4.  "The Final Problem" -- introduced Moriarty

5.  "A Scandal in Bohemia" -- first short story & has "female interest"

6.  "The Empty House" -- explains Holmes's "death" & introduces Moran

7.  "The Five Orange Pips" -- "a certain dramatic quality"

8.  "The Second Stain" -- his best story of diplomacy & intrigue

9.  "The Devil's Foot" -- "grim and new"

10. "The Priory School" -- "if only for the dramatic moment when Holmes points his finger at the Duke"

11. "The Musgrave Ritual" -- "a historical touch" and "a memory from Holmes's early life"

12. "The Reigate Squires" -- "the most ingenuity"

 

His runner-up list includes "The Naval Treaty," "Silver Blaze," "The Bruce-Partington Plans," "The Crooked Man," "The Man With the Twisted Lip," "The Gloria Scott," "The Greek Interpreter," and "The Resident Patient."

 

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I love that comment of his on The Devils Foot - "grim and new" !!!

 

Very grim and very new..... ahead of its time. Some people, Isaac Asimov included, consider it to be a sort of precursor to the more  'psychedelic' science-fiction/speculative fiction of the 1960s.

 

It's one of my favourites. I love the atmosphere of the brooding HOlmes at the start, and Watson trying to get him from taking on the case because he should be resting! And the ending of course with one of Holme's brilliant and occasional floutings of strict legality :)

 

devi05.jpg

 

actually there's a big thread awaiting to be opened up here even if we just examine ACD's own little comments about the list, before we even get onto our own opinions of it...!!

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I agree!  And I didn't even post Conan Doyle's complete reasons, just synopses -- perhaps someone can find his complete write-up online, and link to it.  (Or I can hunt for it later this evening.)

 

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I agree!  And I didn't even post Conan Doyle's complete reasons, just synopses -- perhaps someone can find his complete write-up online, and link to it.  (Or I can hunt for it later this evening.)

 

ooh, I have this in one of my books. I'll write as much as my tired post-workshift hands will allow and add tomorrow!! :)

 

SPEC

"There is the grim snake story The Speckled Band. That, I am sure, will be on every list." (how right you are!!) "

 

REDH and DANC

"Next to that in popular favour and in my own esteem I would palce The Red Headed League and The dancing Men, on account in each case of originality of the plot." (no arguments from me)

 

FINA

"Then we could hardly leave out the story which deals with the only foe who ever really extended Holmes, and which deceived the public (and Watson) into the erroneous inference of his death."

(now this is interesting.... it's usually assumed that the legend of Moriarty being Holmes' nemesis came about gradually over the decades, unattached from ACD's intent, but here we see the very germs of that legend being sewn by ACD himself... if I can mix my metaphors!)

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Of course, Conan Doyle wrote that description much later, so he would already have been aware of what the public, the playwrights, et al., were making of Moriarty.

 

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Of course, Conan Doyle wrote that description much later, so he would already have been aware of what the public, the playwrights, et al., were making of Moriarty.

 

 

good point! :)

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here's some more, whilst I ave the energy to copy it out!

 

FIVE

"But now comes the crux. There are a number of stories which really are a little hard to separate. On the whole I should think I should find a place for 'The Five Orange Pips' , for though it is short it has a certain dramatic quality all of its own."

025_zps4b9647b2.jpg

SECO

"There are two stories that deal with high diplomacy and intrigue. They are both among the very best of the series." ( Naval Treaty and Second Stain) (i'm surprised he didn't also include The Bruce-Partington Plans alongside them, it has similar plot but bags more atmosphere IMO). "....there is no room for both of them in the team , and on the whole I regard the latter as the better story."

 

PRIO

"I also think that 'The Priory School' is worth a place if only for the dramatic moment when Holmes points his finger at the duke." (his reason is a bit bizarre - I get the impression ACD is just looking for any old excuse to get to the end of the list now!! It's a nicely anti-aristocratic moment but surely there are loads more exciting and noteworthy 'little details' that stand out better? OH well)

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I agree that I don't agree with Sir Arthur!  It's easier to say why I disagree on some of his choices than it is to say which stories I would have chosen, so I'll take the easy route.  (And I'll use short titles rather than code names, simply because I'm not sufficiently familiar with the latter, and assume that some other members aren't either.)

 

"Speckled Band" -- I find it hard to judge this story on its own merits, simply because the titular line of dialog distracts me so much.  Why in heaven's name would a woman who has just been bitten by a snake say "It was the speckled band"?  Possible reasons:  It was too dark in the room for her to see that it was a snake -- but then how could she see the speckles?  The venom had addled her brain -- but the sequence of events would presumably have been 1) she's bitten, 2) she sees the snake, 3) it leaves the room, 4) the venom takes effect, so why would her initial impression be distorted?  I suspect that Conan Doyle considered the phrase an intriguing title (which it was, until I found out what it referred to) and also liked it as a red herring (whereas I consider it weak).

 

"Red-Headed League" -- I find this entire story highly implausible.  Just how gullible is this fellow supposed to be?  (Might as well change his name to Garrideb!)  Now, I'll agree that Holmes inhabits a slightly different world from ours, but if the usual laws of human behavior do not apply there, then Holmes is out of business.

 

"Musgrave Ritual" -- Even more than with the preceding, this is a story where Holmes is a genius only by comparison to his client.  The Jeremy Brett adaptation managed to fix most of the problems, but even it was left with a tree that stayed the same height for 200 years.  I've dealt with this at greater length in the Brett thread.

 

As to which stories I would nominate to replace those, I'll have to get back to you when I'm more familiar with the canon as a whole.

 

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I don't agree with Doyle either, but it is interesting to read which of his creations he thought the best. It tells us something about his intentions as a writer, doesn't it.

 

But honestly, "The Musgrave Ritual"? God, that one is bad. And not just because of the tree. The Musgraves are one stupid family, aren't they. And what exactly was the point of their quaint old custom?

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As I take it, the ritual was intended to ensure that each successive generation knew what they were guarding, until such time as it would be prudent to return the crown to the king.  Well, they remembered the ritual just fine, but (being a family of congenital idiots) it never occurred to any of them that it meant anything.

 

Oh, one other weak point that I didn't include on the Brett thread -- that trapdoor was apparently in the room where the firewood was stored, meaning that the supply would be depleted on a fairly regular basis, exposing the trapdoor.  And even if that wasn't the case, and even though it was in an old, disused part of the house, surely some of the kids would have come across it at some point in that 200 years.  So why hadn't anyone ever lifted the door and removed the chest before.

 

And while we're at it, GOLD  DOES  NOT  RUST!!!

 

(Whew!  I feel better now.)

 

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"it was.... a bloody big snake....."

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I love that comment of his on The Devils Foot - "grim and new" !!!

 

Very grim and very new..... ahead of its time. Some people, Isaac Asimov included, consider it to be a sort of precursor to the more 'psychedelic' science-fiction/speculative fiction of the 1960s.

 

It's one of my favourites. I love the atmosphere of the brooding HOlmes at the start, and Watson trying to get him from taking on the case because he should be resting! And the ending of course with one of Holme's brilliant and occasional floutings of strict legality :)

 

devi05.jpg

 

actually there's a big thread awaiting to be opened up here even if we just examine ACD's own little comments about the list, before we even get onto our own opinions of it...!!

That is a wonderful pic! :)
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And while we're at it, GOLD DOES NOT RUST!!!

Gold does not rust, but the Plantagenet crown was an amalgam of copper and tin with a golden cast, so it would rust, like all bronze does! The Musgrave ritual has the best opening ever: even Mr Gatiss couldn't forego the sheer pleasure of Holmes's shooting practice indoors in TGG! A moment of unparalleled, unprecedented, high comedy! Silver Blaze is much more problematic, breaking half the rules of the Turf without a by-your-leave!

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Gold does not rust, but the Plantagenet crown was an amalgam of copper and zinc, with a golden cast, so it would rust, like all bronze does!

Well, that would certainly explain what we read/see in The Musgrave Ritual.  I seem to recall, however, that the crown is referred to as "gold" -- but I don't recall who used that word, nor whether they said "gold" or "golden" (which might refer simply to color).  Perhaps that was in the Brett episode, since I don't see either word used in the original story.

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Dear Carol, in the original story, Holmes simply says:" It is nothing less than the ancient crown of the kings of England."

Bearing in mind that all the gold regalia were seized by Cromwell's Commonwealth, broken up and melted down, this was the Plantagenet ringlet of copper and tin (sorry about the zinc misprint above), which was adorned with beryls and garnets. It would rust beautifully! And to think that it is the Hollow Crown! Benedict cannot seem to get out from under the shadow of either Sherlock or his ancestor (X-times removed) Richard III. :smile:

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Then the "gold" reference must have been in either the Brett adaptation or my fertile imagination!

 

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Aha!  It was the former.  In this video of the final few minutes, Holmes scrapes the tarnish off one piece of metal, and (at 7:30) as he holds it up to show the resulting shiny spot, he exclaims, "Gold, Musgrave!"

 

I would have forgiven Watson or (particularly) Musgrave.  But Holmes should have known better -- if not historically, then metallurgically.

 

On the other hand, certain gold alloys can tarnish.  I remember my gold-plated Girl Scout pin needed to be burnished now and then to brighten it up.

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This article describes the crown on Charles I as made of "gold" --

 

 

 

The crown may have been made for [...] Henry VII, and was used in the coronations of his children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and then of James I and Charles I [....]

 

In 1649 Charles was beheaded in Whitehall and the crown was broken up at the Tower of London. The gold went straight to the mint for coinage, and the jewels were sold off in mixed packets like loose sweets.

 

If that is indeed true, then the Brett episode could be explained by assuming that the crown was not pure gold, but rather an alloy that would tarnish over time.  (Of course, one would also need to assume that the crown had not actually been broken down, but history is rarely 100% accurate, and fiction needn't be.)

 

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Dear Carol, please add to your list of probabilities that Sir Arthur was not a trained historian, rather a dilettante, but he had such love of historical romances that he insouciantly threw Sherlock Holmes down the Reichenbach Falls in order to be left in peace to continue with his more "serious" historical novels! A bad decision if there ever was one! Concerning gold ornaments, anything in 9 carat or 7carat gold content will tarnish over time! 14, 18 and 22 carat pieces don't.

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[...] anything in 9 carat or 7carat gold content will tarnish over time! 14, 18 and 22 carat pieces don't.

 

Safe enough, I think, to say that some gold alloys will tarnish, and anything with even the slightest propensity will do so within 400 years!

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Thanks for posting that link, Ruthy!

 

I have a copy of The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (basically, a book of Holmes stories that are not generally to be found elsewhere -- in some cases because it's not clear who whether Conan Doyle wrote them or not).  At any rate, it includes that same list of twelve along with Conan Doyle's reasons for his selections.

 

He begins by saying that, because The Casebook had not yet been published when he made up the list, he did not include any stories from it -- otherwise, he would have picked "The Lion's Mane" (among the best plots) and "The Illustrious Client" (for "a certain dramatic quality").

 

As for the list itself (and his reasons):

 

1.  "The Speckled Band" -- a popular favorite

2.  "The Red-Headed League" -- original plot

3.  "The Dancing Men" -- original plot

4.  "The Final Problem" -- introduced Moriarty

5.  "A Scandal in Bohemia" -- first short story & has "female interest"

6.  "The Empty House" -- explains Holmes's "death" & introduces Moran

7.  "The Five Orange Pips" -- "a certain dramatic quality"

8.  "The Second Stain" -- his best story of diplomacy & intrigue

9.  "The Devil's Foot" -- "grim and new"

10. "The Priory School" -- "if only for the dramatic moment when Holmes points his finger at the Duke"

11. "The Musgrave Ritual" -- "a historical touch" and "a memory from Holmes's early life"

12. "The Reigate Squires" -- "the most ingenuity"

 

His runner-up list includes "The Naval Treaty," "Silver Blaze," "The Bruce-Partington Plans," "The Crooked Man," "The Man With the Twisted Lip," "The Gloria Scott," "The Greek Interpreter," and "The Resident Patient."

 

Aha.  In another thread we were discussing some stories from this list, notably 'The Reigate Squires' and how it has been unfavorably overshadowed by the flashier, more crowd-pleasing, but stylistically weaker (this writer's opinion) "The Speckled Band".  'The Red-Headed League' gets a lot of love . . I may be willing to concede that it may be the funniest story in the Canon, if "The Blue Carbuncle" doesn't take that honor.

 

Sir Arthur differed with his reading public in placing 'Squires' at all.

 

I would be in accord with "The Dancing Men", 'Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Second Stain".  ACD's runners-up contains some of my top 10: Silver Blaze, B-P Plans and 'the Man with the Twisted Lip'.  I count the Gloria Scott and the Musgrave Ritual out by dint of them being pre-Watson stories, and Gloria Scott in particular is less an investigation from Holmes than just an historical recitation.  The Greek Interpreter introduces Mycroft and probably deserves a spot in my second tier, along with the Naval Treaty. 

 

"Musgrave Ritual" scores for my Ookiest Crimes list, along with The Devil's Foot, and the case I consider to be the saddest of Holmes's canonical career, The Case of the Cardboard Box.

 

I must dispute with Sir Arthur's contention that 'The Lion's Mane' had one of the best plots.  Sadly, no.  There is the uncustomary novelty of Sherlock narrating the case for us, and even more uncustomary, seeming to pay particular admiring attention to a young lady of the neighborhood.  This, along with the incredibly long time it took for him to put two and two together, makes this outing read like the Great Detective might be entering his dotage . . (at the age of 50).  He really is not swift this go-round, even with a dying declaration from the victim which *names his killer*. 

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Just off the top of my head (and not having read or not remembering some of those stories) my two main disagreements with ACD's list would be Redheaded League (the client is a total idiot) and Musgrave Ritual (the elaborate calculation does not take into account that, especially over the course of the several hundred years involved, trees get taller!!!!!)

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This may be a dumb question, but do trees just continually grow taller and taller over time, or do they stop at a certain point like people do?

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This may be a dumb question, but do trees just continually grow taller and taller over time, or do they stop at a certain point like people do?

I'm not certain. I do know that palm "trees" stop growing (and die) when they're so tall that they can no longer suck water all the way up from the ground -- but palms are not really trees.

 

I can, however, say that it's downright asinine to assume that a tree is the same height that it was a long time ago. It may have grown (even if it has actually stopped growing, you would have no way of knowing *when* it stopped). And it may have lost a bit of its top due to wind or lightning damage or insect damage, etc. Unless the damage was pretty significant, you wouldn't be able to tell from the ground.

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