Friends, I am thrilled to share with you this excellent article written by special guest blogger Ray Wilcockson. In honor of Sherlock Holmes Week and The Undershaw Preservation Trust, I thought it would be great to invite Ray to be a special guest and write something fascinating and fun for all of you. He decided to write about Professor Moriarty and Doyle’s imagination, and the following article is absolutely brilliant. Have fun feasting upon this!
“Some Deep Organising Power” – Professor Moriarty and Doyle’s Imagination
Nice PALACE, Sherlock! Mine Now!
I put all your PEGS in one basket.
Hope you MIND
Relax, Joe – it’s only me, Altamont (aka Ray Wilcockson), taking temporary occupation of your virtual throne as Guest Blogger in honour of Sherlock Holmes Week 2012 and the Undershaw Campaign.
“It is always a pleasure to meet an American” (ACD) - especially one who has revived a neglected literary form, the “trifling monograph,” with your new book, “The Real Sherlock Holmes.”
The literary letter (of the kind once written by Dickens and Doyle, Stevenson and Barrie) is another genre worthy of revival. So, my new American friend, I send you, from the homeland of Sherlock Holmes:
AN EPISTLE TO JOE.
1. Of Memory & Imagination.
I read your book while considering Conan Doyle’s creation of Moriarty in The Final Problem and observed the inherent importance of imagination in building a memory palace. Your advice to create dramatic, even bizarre images in the mind’s eye reminded me of Holmes’s repeated reference to the importance of imagination.
America’s great artist, Edward Hopper, noted that “no amount of skilful invention can replace the essential
element of imagination.”
My hat goes off to those writers like Dickens and Doyle who must (in a pre-electronic age) have developed effective Sherlockian Indexes to organize their busy lives. Consider their Memory Palaces.
It seems to me, Joe, that uniquely a writer must house in a special wing products of imagination formed by himself and garnered through reading. Think of those pictures of Dickens surrounded by his characters. It is estimated he invented 963 named characters, all of whom persisted in the imaginative memory. I counted 230 entries in the Who’s Who section of The Sherlock Holmes Companion. And that is only the total for Doyle’s Holmes stories.
Keeping these in some kind of order, maintaining authorial control is a much more difficult feat than retaining knowledge of the kind learned by London taxi-drivers or Dickens himself: “I thought I knew something of the town, but after a little talk with Dickens I found that I knew nothing. He knew it all from Bow to Brentford.” This comment from George Lear, a fellow clerk, was made when Dickens was but 16. Lear also noted Dickens’s powers of observation and love of the theatre.
Memory and Imagination whilst not identical are close relatives. We know this best through the common experience of bereavement where emotional acceptance lags far behind knowledge of the fact of death. The Classical Greeks knew this. At the close of Keats’s Hyperion, the only Titan left alive is Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory and mother of the Muses. She embodies the mythical and emotional memory of a whole race.
2. Of Doyle’s Mind Palace.
Along with all the other calls on a man of unusual energy, multiple interests, a crowded diary and iron self-discipline, I sense, in Doyle’s decision to ‘kill‘ Sherlock Holmes, a timely assertion of personal control. “If I had not killed Sherlock Holmes I verily believe he would have killed me,” echoes Dr. Jekyll’s dilemma. Doyle had been very ill with the killer influenza; in January, 1892, he took a break after finishing The Copper Beeches writing to Mary Doyle:
“poor…Maupassant has written 30 books since 1880, and has now gone mad, so it is bad policy to do too much.”
Perhaps in this age of Sherlock fandom, we omit to observe the effect on the creator when contemplating how some fictional characters are so consummately drawn they are readily believed to be real people.
Doyle had (by his own admission) to be ‘utterly callous…to have a chance of opening out into new fields of imagination‘ for, as Jeremy Brett found (and Cumberbatch will need to address), Holmes can be over-powering if not held in check. For me, The Final Problem is the necessary imaginative enactment of Doyle’s inner struggle with the monster he had brought forth. A balance, a perspective, a pinning down had to be achieved…and,after all, killing a fictional character is not homicide. It is as if the master craftsman returns
the sword blade to the forge for ten long years to achieve a truer Toledo-tempered steel.
When Holmes returns (in Hound of the Baskervilles) it will be by invitation. The physician has healed himself. Dr. Doyle sensed the threat to his burgeoning imagination and sought how best to deal with a personal Mr. Hyde.
This was a crisis of relationship between an artist and his imagination. Ironically, Holmes the hero was very much the villain looming too large in the throne-room of Doyle’s mind palace. The final problem is how best to unseat him.
3. Of Moriarty.
The most interesting (and optimistic) fact about The Final Problem is its very existence. In theory, Doyle might have quietly closed the Canon with The Naval Treaty…and moved on.
Intuitively, Doyle rejects mere abandonment and instead constructs a legend. Upon Dr.Watson, so naturally, falls the mantle of Mnemosyne, reminiscing in bereavement upon the passing of greatness. Only the Great may defeat the Great and in a mere 2300 words at the center of this story Doyle bodies forth a Nemesis worthy of Holmes.
Fact-seekers may who hunt the alleyways of history for Moriarty models but the answers are already there in the language and construction of Doyle’s text.
There the operative vocabulary , images and structures unite to impy distance, elevation, balance, mind, power, organization, invisibility, inevitability and darkness.
My next Markings post will look in detail at this passage which Doyle places entirely in the narrative voice of the dead detective. By the time Watson has transcribed Holmes’s introductory biography of Moriarty and the detective’s account of their unique meeting in Baker Street, the myth has been unforgettably forged.
4. Of Alchemy.
I am sure you delight, as I do, Joe, in those Canonical moments where Holmes conducts some new, ground- breaking (often highly dangerous) experiment.
Literary imagery (by which I mean simile, metaphor, personification and characterization) originates through similar alchemical processes. Images drawn from life, history, nature and reading associate, coalesce and mint novel powerful apparitions hitherto unimagined.
If you ask “Where did Moriarty come from?” I must reply, with Holmes: “Ah! my dear Watson, there we come into those realms of conjecture.“
5. Of Thoth.
At the close of Chapter 12 of The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles intervenes as author to ask:
Chapter 13 is devoted to reminding the reader that novelists are not always in full control of their characters. It is prefaced with this quotation from Tennyson’s Maud (1859):
“For the drift of the Maker is dark, an Isis hid by the veil.”
The statue above features Thoth, Egyptian god of Imagination inspiring the scribe, Nebmeroutef, who, absorbed in his writing, does not return the god’s gaze. The inscription is Keatsian: “Imagination brings back truth.”
Conan Doyle would never read Fowles’s novel of 1969. But he had himself written very recently The Ring of Thoth and Lot 249, short stories of Egyptian horror that feed into the image of Moriarty and inspire, notably, the moving Boris Karloff performance in “The Mummy“ (1932).
Stevenson’s Hyde and Mary Shelley’s Creature also lie behind Professor Moriarty – all three created only for eventual destruction. And behind them all is the over-arching figure of Milton’s Lucifer – hideous, murderous all…yet how we take to them, even empathise and sympathise! How we miss them when they fall! (“Moriarty is real” insist the badges and t-shirts of the faithful).
5. Of the Dark Stranger.
Joe, I begin to outstay my welcome, so I shall bring this epistle to a close by returning you to the post’s title.
Holmes has sensed for years, we understand, “some deep organising power” which surfaced eventually in the person of Moriarty. I sense too, in this most complex, courageous and superbly constructed short story a deeper organising power than Doyle’s conscious artistry.
It is a power that lead Conan Doyle into supreme irony – “killing” Holmes in the short term ensured his immortality. It is the sign of a true artist that he drink from the truth of his imaginative fountain (however unpalatable it may taste).
AND , guess what, Joe! (irony of ironies) : the name Doyle is from the Scandinavian.. and translates “the dark stranger“. -x-
Ray vacates Joe’s throne, polishes Joe’s pegs, takes a last look round…and closes the Palace doors behind him…