In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

126 • “playing the game” and what outsiders dismiss as spoof scholarship. Still, it came as a surprise when I was suddenly invited to deliver the Distinguished Speaker’s Lecture for the year 2000 at the annual “birthday weekend” of The Baker Street Irregulars. “It Is the Unofficial Force” • The Baker Street Irregulars (BSI) was established in 1934 by literary journalist Christopher Morley as a sodality devoted to honoring the greatest of all consulting detectives, Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street. The group takes its name from the ragamuffin street urchins who occasionally assist the detective; as Holmes says, they can “go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone.” In particular, the Irregulars and various local “scion societies”—the Copper Beeches of Philadelphia , the Speckled Band of Boston, the Red Circle of Washington, the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis—have for decades been bringing together enthusiasts to play a peculiar, if addictive game, founded on the premise that Sherlock Holmes really lived and Dr. John H. Watson recorded his investigations. (Arthur Conan Doyle “It Is the Unofficial Force” • 127 merely served as Watson’s literary agent, and contrived to take more credit than he deserved.) Alas, the good doctor was prone to romanticize his friend, misremember details, and make mistakes in chronology, thus leaving room for ongoing conjecture about Holmes’s family background, early career, that three-year disappearance in the 1890s (the Great Hiatus), and the Master’s eventual retirement to the Sussex Downs. There, you will recall, this precise thinking machine devoted himself to keeping bees and completing his masterwork , The Whole Art of Detection. How, you may ask, does one make a game of all this? By filling in the gaps in Watson’s narrative and by deliberate, clever misreading—the French deconstructionists have nothing on the Irregulars when it comes to finding latent, suppressed meanings hidden in “endless minutiae.” For instance , could that mysterious government official Mycroft Holmes—Sherlock’s older, extremely indolent, and smarter brother—be the original M of British Intelligence? Or might “this central exchange, this clearing house” be the guardian of a computer (or even himself an anthropomorphic computer) created by Charles Babbage? Of course, the pleasure in such speculation derives from the researcher’s ability to build a convinc- 128 • ing, seemingly airtight case: Manly Wade Wellman , for instance, determined with inflexible logic that Sherlock Holmes was the father of P. G. Wodehouse’s all-knowing valet Jeeves. Is all this clear so far? As H. W. Bell observed long ago, “the subject is vastly complicated and correspondingly amusing.” Besides these narrative gaps into which a scholar can read deeply (or even plunge to his doom), the canon’s fifty-six stories and four novels propound myriad other matters upon which to exercise one’s ingenuity. What kind of snake was the Speckled Band? How many times did Dr. Watson marry? (Evidence suggests at least two wives; Trevor Hall uncovered five, not necessarily excessive for a man of hearty appetites whose admitted knowledge of women “extended over many nations and three separate continents.”) Which university did Holmes attend , Oxford or Cambridge? (Christopher Morley proposed that Holmes undertook postgraduate studies at Johns Hopkins.) Just establishing the proper order for the various cases can be the work of a lifetime: There have been at least fifteen separate attempts among the Irregulars’ microchronologists to clarify Watson’s incoherencies. These days, even though The Baker Street Irregulars accepts Doyleans—people who regard “It Is the Unofficial Force” • 129 the Holmes exploits as stories written by the author of The Lost World—it still doesn’t encourage this misguided approach. Yet at that time I was, if anything, a Doylean. Why, then, had the affable Michael F. Whelan, the current “Wiggins,” as the head of the BSI is termed, asked me to address the society in the new millennium? It is true that during the 1990s I had become friends with Jon Lellenberg, a Pentagon defense specialist, who was also a representative for the Conan Doyle estate in North America and the author of five volumes in the archival history of The Baker Street Irregulars. Perhaps Lellenberg—who once noted that the BSI began as “a cocktail party at the Hotel Duane, on Madison Avenue, on January 6, 1934,” and that that party, “in the large sense, is still going on today”—had detected my liking for Tanqueray martinis, literary talk, and good company . Making the obvious deduction, he had recommended me as a suitable speaker for the BSI. That...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.