“I have hitherto confined my investigations to this world. In a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task.”
- Sherlock Holmes, in “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
In his career spanning many years, and at least 3 continents, Holmes combated evil in many form. He fought master criminals, along with tools of the Father of Evil, like a gigantic hound and a vampire. But by his own admission, he forbore from raising his sights too high, and I am sure for a person of his superb, incomparable (ok, comparable with only 2 persons in the world) logical mind, any idea of supernatural would have been one of his famous “last resort”. Not that Conan Doyle was ignorant about supernatural (he has written some very good stories, and he was one of the most learned men about this subject at his time), but I am sure he felt that the logical mindset of his detective would be incompatible with any supernatural, for any supernatural explanation excludes logic by definition.
Anyways, if anybody felt that the great detective was below combating supernatural, the void is now filled. Two books, which came out in recent years, have striven to match Holmes’ prowess against spirits and magic. Of course, I am talking about “The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes” and “The Italian Secretary”.
“The Mandala…” is set in the years when Holmes was Siegerson, roaming around in Tibet. It starts with Holmes arriving in India (Mumbai to be precise) when one of the Indian spies in British government is detailed to keep an eye on him. Of course the identity crisis (I mean, the crisis caused by Holmes’ false identity) is solved quickly and Huree Chunder Mookerjee (the spy) now accompanies him to Darjeeling and then on to Tibet. In Tibet, Holmes helps new Dalai Lama, thereby keeping Chinese away from domination in Tibet. The climax is surprising, and makes Holmes rethink some of his fundamentals (which can be seen as only difference from Conan Doyle canon).
“Italian Secretary” is set in some indeterminate time, definitely after Holmes helped Holmes for the second time (did anybody get that?), earning a recognition from Crown. Senior Holmes calls Holmes to Scotland, where the architect appointed for restoring Mary’s bedchamber, and his foreman are brutally murdered. This may have connections with recent plots to kill Her Majesty, and Mycroft is worried enough that he calls Holmes down (up) to Scotland to investigate. After a near-murderous journey, they reach the palace and realize that the departed Queen’s Italian music teacher was brutally killed in the same bedchamber, and he is supposed to be still there seeking revenge. After investigating, they realize that the rumours are more than true, and they have to solve the double murder under the shadow of the spirit (sometimes literally). They come across the “blood which never dries” and after solving the crime, Watson meets a little girl ghost (Remember Joey, “You know I am afraid of little girl ghosts”?)
Now, we compare the books…
While “The Mandala” starts with the normal Holmes with whom we are familiar, “Italian Secretary” starts with a spat between Holmes and Mrs. Hudson, because she thinks that Holmes is mocking her saying that he believes in ghosts (believe me, he is supposedly not joking). The books go on in the same vein. The Holmes in Darjeeling and later Tibet is same old, coldly logical machine. Holmes is Scotland on the other hand, keeps insisting that there is a ghost where they are going. A Holmes who believes in ghosts, you ask me? I ask you back… Doyle must be turning in his grave somewhere (sushi anyone?).
The Tibetan Holmes is cast in the same mould as the one we are used to. He lives in the heartland of “magic”, and still believes that any crime can be solved with his brain and action. He disguises himself to get himself out of Darjeeling where he is followed by Col. Moran’s minions from Mumbai. He helps the Tibetan government (Lama’s palace) when there is an attack inside the palace, and a important mandala is lost. He helps the monks take the new Dalai Lama to the cave near glacier where he is supposed to meditate before becoming Dalai Lama. When he is forced to accept supernatural conclusions, he is only believing it because there is really no other deduction to be drawn.
Contrast this with the Holmes in Scotland… he says he believes in ghost, and fights Mycroft and Watson when they oppose his views. Even Mycroft is a bit offcolour in the adventure. His disregard for “men in service” who are the Queen’s guards from The Services, his explanations and his talks with Sherlock are clearly something which is not Mycroft (they have sibling word fights, for crying out loud). And Mrs. Hudson (who tolerates the Holmes’ indoor shooting practises, chemical experiments to mention a few things) is so angry with Holmes that she refuses to offer them tea, and to get tobacco for Holmes.
All in all, Holmes was still Holmes when he reached Tibet, but the lack of tobacco, and the tea brewed in a beaker from his chemistry set definitely changed him for a short time when he went to Scotland. That’s why I give Book(?)…err rating of 2.5 to The Mandala (some points lost for adding supernatural flavour to the world of Holmes), while the Italian Secretary’s ghost can only get a rating of 7 (some points gained for being a good story, if kept outside Holmesian universe).
Quote of The Day:
I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.
- Sherlock Holmes