Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Mystery of Justice


Sherlock Holmes and I made our first acquaintanceship when I was a mere minor. I gobbled his stories like candy. Watched all the old Basil Rathbone movies on re-runs and then, fell in love with the BBC series starring Jeremy Brett. (I still hear that theme song when I think of Mr. Holmes.)

Sherlock is such a comfort. He’s the Superman of mystery. He proves again and again that the world is not essentially mysterious, it’s understandable. It’s logical. It’s …elementary.

In the universe of Holmes, understanding is the antidote to suffering. It’s the things you don’t understand that drive you to smoke like a stack, play music manically into the night and occasionally self-medicate with dangerous controlled substances.

Knowing, understanding…is what sets the world to rights.

I just finished reading a recent Sherlock revamp, The Holmes Affair, by Graham Moore. Fun book. What I really enjoyed was the way the author examined this basic principle of the Holmes Universe.

Turns out, some mystery authors think knowing isn’t enough to set the world to rights. Sometimes knowing makes things worse.

Moore sets up a comparison of the Holmes-ian “drive to know” versus the more modern position that knowing isn’t enough to counter suffering. Justice seems to require both understanding and action.

Many of my favorite modern mystery writers are committed to this point of view. Action forms the antidote to suffering. Dennis Lehane and Robert Parker send their heroes into the mess of a mystery to punch, shoot, taze, and otherwise battle their way to a satisfyingly just solution.

Spencer, the hero of many of Parker’s mysteries, is one such dose of comfort. He’s a Superman of Sleuths too. He quotes poetry, cooks a gourmet meal and appreciates a woman’s beauty with flair. When the world tips off balance, Spencer can shift it back into place with his bare hands.

The manly call to action is what sets the world to rights.

Or is it? Turns out, sometimes actions aren’t the answer either. In The Holmes Affair, Moore suggests the mystery lovers’ most fundamental dilemma. Sometimes, knowing makes the world more complicated and justice harder to find. Sometimes, action is no antidote to suffering.

And that is perhaps the greatest mystery of all….

10 comments:

MaureenAMiller said...

"Sometimes action is no antidote to suffering."

Great post, Julie. I loved the Basil Rathbone movies. I even visited the Sherlock Holmes Pub in London where they have an exhibit of his study. Oh, and beer. :)

Marcelle Dubé said...

Loved the movies, too, Julie. And I love Spencer, too. A man who's good with his words *and* his fists? Wow.

J Wachowski said...
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J Wachowski said...

I went there too Maureen! Very fun.

I know Marcelle, Spencer's really almost TOO good to be true.

Anyone seen the new BBC series Sherlock, yet? It's awesome.

Toni Anderson said...

Excellent post, Jules. The world is such a complex place and human beings are so...fallible and heroic? Hard to tell sometimes.
I saw the BBC Sherlock Holmes. Loved it. I also enjoyed RDJ's movie, but for totally different reasons :)

Shirley Wells said...

Great post, and one that's made me want to watch all the old Sherlock Holmes 'Jeremy Brett' episodes again.

I love Spencer too - the books and the TV shows.

As for the new BBC Sherlock Holmes, I thought it was freakin' awesome. As a bit of a traditionalist, I had my doubts but it took me all of 2 minutes to fall in love with it. :)

J Wachowski said...

While I can definitely understand the allure of RDJ, the camera work made me a little queasy. Compared to BBC's Sherlock, which had amazing cinematography. The depth of field in those shots was simply divine. I'm excited for the next three episodes, which are coming out this fall.
There's so much history with Sherlock, and so many solid interpretations of the stories. It's quite inspirational.

Rita said...

I also like the hero who knows what’s wrong and takes action. Even if its considered inappropriate action in today’s PC world. I have no problem with a hero/heroine who reachs out and touches the bad guy before taking him in to the authorities.

Elise Warner said...

Julie: To anyone that loves Holmes, I recommend Gillette Castle in Hadlyme, CT. William Gillette, a famous(early 20th C.)actor, playwright and inventor wrote two successful plays about Holmes with Arthur Conan Doyle's approval and with his patrician looks and piercing blue eyes was Holmes.

J Wachowski said...

Ooo Thanks for the tip Elise! I haven't heard of Gillette. Will investigate.

Rita--yes, that sounds delishiously un-PC. But I have a soft spot for cowboy justice as well.

Which reminds me--that's something I like about the new Sherlock. I like the way Watson has an active role. He's a soldier and acts like one--nice re-interpretation, IMHO.