Friday, October 7, 2022

Slowly I Turned | Looking at a Sidney Paget Illustration from Sherlock Holmes The Final Problem

Slowly I Turned | Looking at a Sidney Paget Illustration from Sherlock Holmes The Adventure of The Final Problem [FINA]

These looks at Paget illustrations seem to have become a series of their own accord, and as such, I'll be adding it as such to the KM. Mini-Series Index. Unlike the other series, I'll promise neither any sort of even loosey-goosey schedule nor a definitive end-goal--although a finite amount of source material does, of course, exist.

"Slowly I turned... Step by step... Inch by inch..." You know the old vaudevillian sketch presented by The Three Stooges, I love Lucy, and a myriad of others from the Borscht Belt to Hollywood. I often think of that while thinking of Niagara Falls--I mean Reichenbach Falls.

Nevertheless, the illustration. Is that a deerstalker hat plummeting on-ahead and down into the murky, endless, and somehow ghostly-ghoulish depths? It bears mention that the deerstalker as Holmes headwear is an invention of Paget and picked up by the American illustrator Frederic Dorr Steele, as Doyle does not mention it by name and not really even by full-on description. The Adventure of Silver Blaze's [SILV] "Ear-flapped travelling-cap," is the closest, followed by a 'close-fitting cloth cap' couple of instances.

William Gillette's stage presentation donned the 'stalker (and puffed at the calabash which is non-canonical, as well). But what is canonical? Gillette ain't, although Doyle did take some part in said plays. Many take the original illustrations as canon. I do. In the case of that, this trivia becomes trickier because there it is, the deerstalker, in canon, but still not at Doyle's hand. Also in the canon is the fact that Moriarty is penned as a pale older gentleman, tall and thin, with rounded shoulders. Not exactly a physical rival of any robustness. Particularly not with Holmes' knowledge of boxing, Baritsu, and stick-fighting in mind.

And then there are the professor's constant side-to-side oscillations which could be taken as the further frailty of illness. It really does become quite odd that anyone would believe this fellow as an equal to Holmes in the realm of a row, bloody or otherwise. Actually, if you look at Holmes' face, he's not at all stressed or stressing as they grapple on the precipice. He is quite stoic, to say the least. Emotionless. Resigned? Perhaps determined. Look at their stance. A hopeless, arm stiff up in the air Moriarty, balding head flung back. Holmes, in control, looking into the abyss as if a target.

Holmes was not in a good frame of mind leading up to this point. "Yes, I have been using myself up to freely," he offered while chainsmoking and looking paler and more gaunt than even usual.

Look at the left arm of the detective, his right hand locked around its wrist. This is not the way you toss a fellow, this is a way in which you tumble down into eternity with that fellow. That's correct; I feel as though this is Holmes not wanting to defeat Moriarty but wanting to die with him. That makes his reappearance later, after being taken as dead, all the much more odd. My goodness, look at the right knee of Holmes springboarding off the rocky wall of the jagged cliff. He's all but jumping!

Let's look ahead to his description of events in The Adventure of The Empty House [EMPT] when he makes his return from the not-dead. "I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went." It sure doesn't look like that in the illustration at hand. Could this Paget illustration in The Final Problem be the final drawing depicting the real Holmes?

[The narrow length of the drawing really hits home in serving to relate the great heights and depths involved.]

Is the rest of the canon made up of tales of some counterfeit Sherlock? Did he die at Reichenbach? No, don't be silly. And Watson, struggling as both a gumshoe and a physician would of course not have plugged some doppelganger into the role of Holmes so that he could sell more stories to The Strand. That's just ridiculous! Is it just me or is there quite vaguely a pair of sort of skulls just underneath them and under the edge and off to their left? Look at the deerstalker again. No movement. None anywhere. It feels much like the death photography of the Victorian era.

::: very :::

Online sources: The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia (The Final Problem), Wikipedia (Slowly I Turned), Trifles Podcast (Hats) from I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, and Lit2Go (The Return of Sherlock Holmes).