Just Call Me Sherlock

The Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair, which poses a plethora of intriguing questions to a new notable figure each month, is always interesting and one of my favorite features of the magazine. One of the questions regularly asked is, “Who is your favorite hero of fiction?”

It seems like I personally have a different answer to this one every time I read the section. One month I might tell you my favorite literary hero is Elric of Melniboné and the next I would assure you it is Repairman Jack. Even as I write this, I’m recalling how much I like Hiaasen’s recurring character Stranahan and Gaiman’s tragic alter-ego Dream. Burroughs’s John Carter and Maguire’s Elphaba Thropp are also favorites of mine.

But when I really sit and think about it, there is one figure that always stands a head above my other beloved heroes. That would be the gaunt and imposing figure of a one Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes is, to my mind, the quintessential hero: ethical, observant, intelligent, cunning, wise, sophisticated, charismatic, brave, chivalrous, cultured, and an absolute master of disguise. I’ve read every original Holmes story (most more than once) and while I'll grant that some are better than others, not one has ever disappointed me.

The thing that is so wonderful about Sherlock Holmes is his ability to use simple observations to appear as if he is privy to special information or, to the less scientifically grounded, psychic. By simply noting the condition of a man’s pipe, he can tell you that the man is energetic, muscular, left-handed, careless, wealthy, and that he values the pipe very highly*. By taking a quick glance at Watson’s boots one evening, he could tell that Watson had recently enjoyed a Turkish bath and had gone there with a companion**.

Holmes was so adept at what he did, that he somehow became a veritable reality. I have met people who thought Sherlock Holmes was an actual private detective who lived in 19th century London. Talk about skillful writing! Doyle authored a legend.

The Adventure of the Purple Pumps

I had an opportunity at work the other day to put to practical use what I had learned about observation and deduction from the Sherlock Holmes canon. A coworker of mine – lovely woman named Nicole – came into the office looking as radiant and fashionable as ever. I should tell you that I have an abnormally fervent appreciation for stiletto-heeled shoes; if a woman is wearing high heels, I will notice. So, anyway, after I wished Nicole a good morning, I said to her, “So, you really love your new boots, huh?”

Now, the fact that a straight man was commenting on her footwear would have been enough to surprise her, but she was completely shocked that I had so perfectly called it. The boots she had on were indeed new, she told me, just purchased two days prior. She then insisted I tell her how I could possibly have been so certain they were new, since she had worn them the previous day, as well, and even some friends of hers hadn’t noticed them.

“Well, the fact you wore them yesterday was a factor, to be sure,” I said. “But women wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row all the time; that alone wouldn’t be enough to convince me they were new.”

She asked, “Is it because they’re still so shiny?”

“They are in excellent condition,” I replied, “but that could merely indicate you take impeccable care of your belongings. No, oddly enough, it is your blouse which removed any doubt that the boots were more than a few days old.”

“My… blouse?”

“Yes. Your blouse is mauve – the exact shade of mauve as a pair of four-inch pumps you own. On any other day, you would have worn those pumps with this blouse. But today you chose to wear a pair of black boots – and a pair you just wore yesterday, at that! That could only mean that the desire to wear the boots outweighed the more studied fashion choice of perfectly coordinated pumps. And why would that be? Well, because they were brand new, of course, and the thrill had yet to wear off.”

After I had explained all this, Nicole agreed, just as Watson always did when Holmes would enlighten him to one of his skillfully derived conclusions, that the deduction was really quite simple, perhaps even… elementary.

*cf. The Yellow Face, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
** cf. The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
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7 Responses to Just Call Me Sherlock

  1. Kevin Wolf says:

    Holmes is my favorite as well. In fact, I'm currently writing a story for the VCFP that pretty much rips off the whole consulting detective genre that Conan Doyle invented.

  2. lauowolf says:

    How are you on They Might Be Giants?Just rented it again.

  3. Lolyou need to get acquainted with Commander Vimes of Terry Prattchet's Discworld series, as he definitely shows how much of a prat Sherluck is.

  4. Kirk says:

    "In fact, I'm currently writing a story for the VCFP that pretty much rips off the whole consulting detective genre that Conan Doyle invented."Cool, Kevin; I'll have to check it out. Will you be running with the Sexton Blake crowd or have you invented your own Holmesian consulting detective?

  5. Kevin Wolf says:

    It's an alt-Earth world that some other folks and I communally created in The Lab. One of the time periods we decided to play in was a Victorian steampunk era, so of course I had to create a Holmesian character to put in it.
    I've got sort of a unique spin on it, though. Go check out the intro, or you can wait until I'm finished and read it when I post it. I'm making good progress lately.

  6. Kirk says:

    lauowolf: I must confess that I have not seen that movie. I've heard of it in a very second-hand manner by someone who found it contrived and insulting to the genre. Thus, I've never been compelled to see it, though I would certainly stop on it were I to come across it while channel-surfing one night.I'd love to hear your review of it!fallen: I'd agree that Holmes is an ass, but I forgive him for it because he is such a perfect ass. It's like he has a right to be an ass.I've read Pratchett, of course, but not specifically anything about Vimes. I must say a Pratchett-esque Holmes would be pretty entertaining.

  7. Vimes is more like an anti-Holmes, he is the middle aged, alcoholic (on the waggon latter in the series) who has been a cop all his life, he doesn't trust clues, is not a bigot (only because he hates everyone). He knows where he is in the city by how the cobblestones feel through his boots. At one point he says how he hates people who say "'SO in so is a dock work, you can tell because of their coverall, and callus and the mud on their boots.' when it could equally be someone who is retired and just mucking out the garden in their old dungarees."

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