Thursday, June 25, 2009

The "Case Files" of SPEC

The full title is actually The Case Files of Sherlock Holmes: The Speckled Band. It is a 1997 collection of essays edited by Barbara and Christopher Roden. The Rodens have a whole series of these story-specific Case Files, starting with one about the Musgrave Ritual.

Some of these essays attempt literary criticism, others talk of chronology or try to locate Stoke Moran and the ruined Roylott manor, while others reveal interesting facts about ACD's play adaptation, and list the significant film, TV, and Radio adaptations of SPEC. There are two pieces, by Chris Redmond and Brad Keefauver, which toy with the idea that Holmes has romantic feelings for Helen Stoner.

Redmond repeats some of the points he made in In Bed With Sherlock Holmes about SPEC, still insisting that "nothing homosexual" is going on. But now he speculates about Lionel Needleman's suggestion that Roylott originally installed the ventilator so that he could peek at Julia dressing or bathing in her room. That may be true, but then Redmond implies that Helen knew about the voyeurism and suspected that Roylott wanted to move her into the room for that reason, only making up for Holmes "a flimsy story about strange sounds in the middle of the night."

I mean, be logical. If Roylott wanted to merely peek at Helen, he would have attempted to move her into the center room two years ago, or at least after a period of mourning for Julia. Would he really be so patient as to wait until Helen got engaged before he had "repairs" done on her bedroom wall? No, I'm sure by then, Roylott did intend murder, not merely voyeurism, and I'm sure that Helen had no need to make up any story about whistles in the dead of night. No, what we need to explain is why Helen didn't attempt to leave Stoke Moran before and to live with her Aunt Honoria in Harrow.

Evidently, Redmond has a poor memory of the story (and I'm very disappointed that the Rodens didn't catch errors in many essays in the book), because he talks of Holmes using a whip on the snake. But Holmes attacked it with a cane. The only whips mentioned are Roylott's hunting crop and the dog-lash. (But I can never be sure if ACD means a "dog leash" which I have seen some Sherlockians call it, or a dog whip, which people like Redmond assume.)

Redmond also pointlessly insults Helen Stoner, saying that she is not brave at all, sleeping through the excitement; as if staying in that dreadful house under threat of violence instead of going for Harrow is nothing! It's as if Redmond's never seen a TV adaptation (or read the ACD play) in which Roylott confronts Helen about her visit to Holmes, and she risks being assaulted again. Redmond says "It apparently never occurs to Miss Stoner even to tell [Percy Armitage] about the situation, let alone go to his parents' home near Reading and look for protection." But she has told Percy before! He dismissed all her fears and suspicions as nervous fancies, so she came to Holmes for the protection that her fiance did not give her. (And in the 1964 adaptation with Douglas Wilmer, Helen does want to leave for her aunt's house, and Watson agrees, but Holmes insists that she stays the night.)

Redmond also apparently believes that Roylott married the widow Mrs. Stoner after his imprisonment in India. True, Helen tells her story confusingly out of order, but since she says that Roylott married Mrs. Stoner thirty years ago (when the twins were two), he'd have to be pretty elderly to serve both a long imprisonment and thirty years of the twins growing up. Redmond also somehow concludes that the twins were "teenage girls" when Roylott returned to Stoke Moran. That's clearly wrong. Helen says their mother died "eight years ago" and then Roylott took them to Stoke Moran; age 32 minus 8 years gives 24, not teenage at all. If Redmond can't properly remember what happens in the story, then maybe he shouldn't write about it.

But Redmond is right that Holmes has used an absurd weapon against the snake, trying to kill it when he should instead have trapped it. This certainly supports the theory that Holmes intentionally wanted to enrage the snake so that it would kill Roylott. Why should he want to engage in vigilante justice in this way, hmm? Why should he be so intent on "not simply rescuing Miss Stoner from danger, but challenging Grimesby Roylott"? Because he is in love.

Apparently in the thirteen years between In Bed With Sherlock Holmes and this 1997 collection, Redmond has realized that Holmes is behaving quite chivalrously with Helen Stoner, not dismissively. So now he sees Holmes's poker-bending display as an attempt to show off his masculinity and impress his love interest. (Typically, Redmond insists that Holmes is not doing it to impress Watson, because there's "nothing improper" between them.) No, apparently Holmes is doing it hoping that Watson will write the story and tell Miss Stoner, who will swoon at Holmes's display of strength. But why would Holmes wait for the publication of a story? Indeed, Watson tells us that Holmes himself tells Miss Stoner of Roylott's disturbance, once they arrive in Stoke Moran. We do not know the exact words he used. As much as I'm glad that Redmond reconsidered his position on Helen Stoner, it's sad that in over a decade he hasn't reconsidered his position on Holmes and Watson.

As for Brad Keefauver's piece, titled "Boys Will Be Boys," he makes much of how young Holmes is in SPEC, and how excited he is about their client before learning anything of her case. In typically blind Sherlockian fashion, Keefauver reads hetero nervousness in the fact that Holmes waits for Watson to dress before going down to see their client. Then Holmes is too friendly and touchy-feely with Helen Stoner, to the point that she protests that she is engaged, to dissuade his interest. Holmes invites her to breakfast, and she refuses, but not in a totally unfriendly way.

Then Keefauver analyzes Holmes's "double entendre" about him and Watson spending the night in Helen's room, and points out that it is in response to her saying "I am in your hands." Then Holmes explains himself and leaves for the Crown Inn with Watson. Keefauver suggests that Holmes tried to make Watson stay behind from the vigil, not because of the danger, but because he wanted to shirk his duty and be alone with Helen Stoner instead. Keefauver also implies that Holmes did manage to be alone with her the morning after Roylott's death.

After all this salacious talk of sex, Keefauver softens and implies an emotional and lasting love. He points out Helen's untimely death, which probably occurred in 1891, and implies a link to Holmes's death at Reichenbach (as I have done), though he doesn't specify which death occurred first. He speculates a tragic heartbreak in either scenario.

But then Keefauver brings up the evil Helen Stoner theories, about her being a manipulative murderer on the level of "the most winning woman I ever knew." In such a case, Holmes would be a victim of her villainous seduction. Keefauver doesn't conclude on one side or another, but leaves the question open.

I hope, based on Keefauver writing in a calm and rational way in these Case Files, that his six wives theory is pure joke. Because I don't understand his mentality to go over the top about Watson, and yet finally see something subtle about Holmes and Helen Stoner.

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