Rack & Riddle

Buttons has been “racking & riddling” (to use the méthode champenoise term) to come up with a question that will generate new research and scholarship. After several pies and several more pints, he stumbled across something:

Who can complete a compendium from the Sacred Canon of all things that burn?

For example, the lighthouse would have a kerosene lamp and that would create a flame; the lamplight would require a gas flame to throw off light into the foggy evening.

When you begin to go through the Canon with an eye to the absolute necessity of flame in 1895, you begin to find a huge new body of inquiry. And, when you add those things that are outside of normal Victorian life, such as the flaming radix pedis diaboli, we have even more to consider. This is a topic worthy of a significant scholarly paper for The Watsonian.

We’ll give you a few days for this one. Now, back to the bacon and tomato sandwich.

12 Replies to “Rack & Riddle”

  1. How far does this go? For example, we might cite all mentions of lamps, lights, (they all involved burning), fireplaces and the fires contained therein. There’s burning hay in NORW, though, and then there are guns that are fired — there is burning powder involved in those, after all. Any explosions, such as GLOR, would have to be counted in. We’d have to cite every single mention of a pipe, cigar, or cigarette being smoked or even lit, or for that matter a match being struck for any reason.

    In short, whoever wants to do this would need to read the Canon, word for word, and write down every instance of a flame or burning by hand. This, incidentally, is what Steve Clarkson did, in effect, for each and every item in the Sherlockian Compendium, which is why it took him so many years.

    As an aside, the Compendium was started pre-computer, and the original items were listed on index cards. Quite a feat!

    1. That’s pretty much it . . . Nefarious and Incendiary, is it not? It’s also good training for the upcoming First Annual John H. Watson Canonical Treasure Hunt. Like this quiz, it will take a fair amount of research and develop yet a deeper appreciation for the Sacred Canon.

    2. Roxie … great observation on Clarkson’s accomplishment. As an addition, it was also the way the entire first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled.

  2. I agree with Roxie that this would be a huge undertaking even if we limited ourselves to item that were meant to burn, like vestas and coal or wood in the fireplace, and not include those items not meant to burn, like the house in Eyford with a stray engineer’s thumb on the sill or top secret papers in Von Bork’s cliff-side aerie. I think it would be a difficult enough task to be complete if limited to one novel.

  3. Perhaps those who enjoy this sort of thing could take it one story at a time, or make it a group project, with a volunteer (refuses to meet anyone’s eye at this time) collecting the thoughts of anyone in the group who finds an item in a given story within a stated period of time.

    Of course there are a lot of groups already that are going through one story a week or fortnight or whatever, just generally discussing it, and a number of the members of this group belong to them. n Whether this would help or hinder such a project for this group I cannot say.

    Nevertheless, this might make a great group project for those interested.

    1. Roxie

      Great idea! If a group of five were to be formed, each member could do one or two stories at a time for five to ten, and then move on to the second set, and so forth. Pretty soon, the group has accomplished the Canon and can author a group paper that would be a Watsonian phenomenon. You could count me in if you wish to pursue.

  4. Much to be considered… the acid that disfigured Baron Gruner, Isa Whitney’s need for opium and (sometimes) Holmes’s desire for cocaine, Watson’s ardor for Mary Morstan, all other forms of burning to include.

    1. If the sun’s fair game…”The night was clear and fine above us. The stars shone cold and bright, while a half-moon bathed the whole scene in a soft, uncertain light.” The literal and figurative burning in the Canon may rival the stars in the sky. Even “hot-heads” like Flora Millar might be fitting fodder for Canon fire.

  5. Fellow Watsonians:

    All wonderful ideas … especially the group to work on this. However, I think it fair to limit it to those things that actually burn or flame in the Canon. The sun is fine, but you don’t light it with flame. And almost anything can ultimately burn, but let’s limit it to those things that are designed to burn or that are actually set aflame or on fire. And why not start with one story, say the first one written by Dr Watson and progress in order from there? Seems a measured and sane approach.

  6. A thorough reading of Part I of STUD reveals 40 items that burn or are burning. Any challenges?

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