I’m sure most of you have heard by now about this survey. It says, in case you missed it: nearly 60% of Britons think that Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson walked the Earth as living men, and conducted a private detective agency out of 22B Baker Street, London, in the last decades of the 19th century. While a quarter of Britons thought Winston Churchill a work of fiction.
Amazing, the power of public opinion these days. Power even unto the resurrection of the dead. Even those dead that haven’t had the good fortune to live yet, except in the minds of those who have imagined them.
Alas, I fear that, in the case of Holmes and Watson, this power is doomed to be short-lived. And I have proof.
Dearest Quilly, knowing that I am fond of spending quality time with the documented imaginings of Sir Dr. (or is it Dr. Sir, or just Sir and leave off the Dr., or … oh, never mind, no wonder the United States abolished noble titles) Arthur Conan Doyle, gave me a copy of one of the more recent compilations of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I opened it with the usual gleeful anticipation, and made a shocking, horrifying discovery.
The book has footnotes. Footnotes!!
Footnotes for words like jarvey and half-crown (not to mention half-sovereign) and toff and wideawake and landau and consumption and red Indian and (for heaven’s sake) even Downing Street.
Footnotes to explain who Joseph Smith was, and Diogenes, and Norman Néruda. Footnotes to explain the Indian mutiny against British rule, and where Gravesend is, and why Dr. Watson’s Jezail bullet wound (what, no footnote for Jezail bullet?) was in his shoulder in one story, and in his leg in another.
Footnotes, in short, to explain to 21st century readers things, events, and ideas that were as living to the Londoners of 1900, and as necessary to Sherlock and his Boswell (yes, another footnote), as astronauts and iPhones and 9/11 are today.
Surely you remember back to your high school and (perhaps) college English courses, and facing with dread any book labeled “classic”. Because, between the dead language and the murderous footnotes, the book could not be read.
Holmes and Watson are doomed, I tell you. Doomed!!
– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2008 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.