Weekly Forum #42

“At this period of my life the good Watson had passed almost beyond my ken.” – LION

The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane is a curious case. Dr Watson is absent from the events and Mr Holmes took up his pen to describe what occurred. Although the case describes countryside intrigue, the actual culprit had no involvement in such interpersonal matters. Holmes wrote this case and yet it is one of the least flattering of his investigations.

What are your thoughts on LION? Why did Holmes write it? How would it have gone differently if Dr Watson were there? Do you personally think it is one of the better stories, one of the worst, or simply somewhere in the middle?

12 Replies to “Weekly Forum #42”

  1. [bursts in with the gay theory] They’re married and retired together and Holmes is lying that he and Watson never talk anymore! But it wouldn’t have been such a rubbish story if Watson WERE there, so I’d say that, at least, was true (“true”).

    The mystery itself isn’t terrible, but the Bert Coules adaptation which puts Watson back in the scene is the BEST. He’s just an essential element to a good Holmes story.

    1. My love of the Bert Coules adaption of LION for BBC Radio 4 is so strong that I wanted to resist mentioning it because I’m too predictable when I talk about LION… but there you’ve gone and mentioned it and now I can’t resist: Yes, definitely the BEST. If there’s any pastiche or non-canonical story that I’d like to think could exist well in the Canon, it is that one.

      As for Holmes lying, I think that’s a strong possibility. He seems to have strong incentive to skew the truth. He goes out of his way point out how his mind is a crowded box-room, that it takes him a while solve the case due to that, and that even as he is praised at the end, he feels that he had been “slow at the outset—culpably slow.” I feel as if he wrote LION as a way of telling the public: “Leave me alone, I’m no longer a detective, nor the great mind you think I am. Stop bringing cases to me, for I’m obviously not as astounding as Watson describes me.” (Which I think can suit the happy ending you described as well, Misty.)

      Unfortunately for Holmes, even as he does his best to show that he doesn’t deserve praise, he still showcases his skill for observation and identifying details throughout his account of LION. It’s as if he’s unable to downplay his ability effectively because he’s not aware of how an average mind works, of how much a duller mind would miss that Sherlock Holmes cannot help but identify because it appears so obvious to him.

      As an aside, I’d like to think that if Watson was present at the initial incident (and LION were recorded truthfully as such), he would’ve taken one look at the body and identify the culprit immediately without need for gallivanting across the countryside for clues. The End. They could rename the story “Watson Knows the Trick” and it’d only be a page long. 😉

  2. LION may not be the best of Sherlockian stories, but it’s far from the worst. If nothing else, it’s worth considering for the rather unusual villain.

    As a Watsonian, I prefer not to call Watson a liar, though occasionally he does hide or change information to protect a client, or even, perhaps, because there’s a detail he didn’t write down and simply remembered wrongly.

    I extend the same courtesy to Holmes; if he says the story happened, I believe he did. If he says his mind is now cluttered, As a member of the senior generation, I’m daily faced with the reality of how the most carefully-structured system of organizing material to be kept and not kept can break down over the years. Sometimes, do what we will, we cannot immediately recall facts we need while unable to shovel out the immense amount of information dust and useless trivia that’s accumulated over the years in our brain attics. Remember how hard it is to *not* think of pink elephants when asked to forget them?

    For me, the bottom line is that Holmes thought the event interesting and, in Watson’s absence, wrote it up, just as he did when Watson wasn’t around for BLAN. He’s a better detective than Watson, but not at all as good a writer. Watson would have described the area better and given us a real feeling for the atmosphere of the place, even, in a few words each, better describing the characters of those involved in the incidents.

    But our Watson wasn’t there, alas. Even friends as close as Holmes and Watson can drift apart, and a close reading of the Canon leads me to believe that there were other times when they did the same, each going his own way for a while until fate brought them together again.

    1. Forgive a few editing errors — or non-editing errors. The beginning of paragraph 3 should read: “I extend the same courtesy to Holmes; if he says the story happened, I believe it did. If he says his mind is now cluttered, I’m sure it is. As a member of the senior generation…..” [continued as written above]

    2. That’s a good point. It brings to mind “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullen, wherein Holmes writes down one of his lasts cases as he struggles to dispel the fog of memory and focus on a specific point in time.

      So, for LION, Holmes thought this particular event was event interesting and published it. Why do you think he felt it was interesting? Why publish it?

      Personally, I find it interesting that it is a slice of his life in the countryside and also describes an intriguing love triangle interrupted by a tragic accident. Though I wonder if Holmes chose to write LION for those reasons.

      1. Why did Holmes publish it? I think after years of dealing with nasty individuals out to hurt someone or unfairly gain something, it was refreshing to deal with a death that had no malice in it, only nature being nature.

        Surely Holmes, living in the country rather than the city, had observed the natural world and reflected upon it, noting the difference between intentional evil and bad things that happened accidentally.

  3. I happen to like LION for the glimpse of Holmes in retirement. It is a better story than BLAN. I haven’t played the Game that much with LION, but I do understand that this is one of those rare stories that Doyle changed quite a bit while writing. I haven’t seen it but there was a facsimile of the manuscript published in the 1990s and it appeared to be worked over quite a bit by Doyle. Perhaps the plot gave him trouble. If there’s anyone out there who knows more about, please chime in.

      1. My question would be “Is the Calabash Press still publishing or selling books?” The ordering and postage details page is not available.

        1. I wish I knew. I once sent them an e-mail asking if they’d ever reprint “The Baker Street File”… but no reply.

  4. I like LION. I wouldn’t put it in the top 10, but definitely in the top 30.
    So many things about Holmes’s retirement and his relationship with Watson in those years between 1904 and 1914 are known to us only through this story. The side characters are interesting. Holmes’s writing style is lively and entertaining, better than his previous effort in BLAN.
    Regarding Watson and the friendship between them, there is an important detail that BLAN and LION tell us: these stories were published in the 1920s and Holmes says that they have been written at Watson’s instigation: “The ideas of my friend Watson, though limited, are exceedingly pertinacious. For a long time he has worried me to write an experience of my own.” Holmes uses the present tense, so it is clear that in the mid-20’s he was still in touch with Watson. Probably the old friendship had been rekindled by their reunion in August 1914. It is a comforting and pleasant thought, to be able to picture in one’s mind Watson and Holmes sharing a cup of tea and some good South Downs homemade honey on a not so occasional week-end visit.
    By the way, I am the proud owner of a copy of that “little chocolate and silver volume” (an 1890 printing; there were several editions). It is exactly as Holmes described it, and an interesting reading.

    1. That is a comforting and pleasant thought. I agree with you.

      Will you send me a photo of the “little chocolate and silver volume” to share on the website? That would be a delight!

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