Carry On Secret Service

How could one not love a film in which John Gielgud plays the action hero?

Quite impossible.

And as an added bonus the film has Madeleine Carroll and Peter Lorre. Need one say more? I'm very much afraid one does.

Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936) is based on W. Somerset Maugham's splendidly bleak and realistic spy novel (or maybe it's a collection of short stories, I'm not entirely certain) Ashenden (1928). The script is by Charles Bennett and Alma Reville and makes a pig's ear of everything. (The movie is not to be confused with Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel The Secret Agent - which Hitchcock also, slightly confusingly, filmed in 1936 as Sabotage).

Gielgud plays an officer and erstwhile novelist who returns from the front, only to find himself officially dead and enrolled in the secret service as "Ashenden". Then, with no training and precious little instruction, he's sent off to Switzerland to bump off a spy. To make him even more conspicuous he's given a partner, known as The Hairless Mexican (because he's neither hairless nor Mexican!) alias the General, played flamboyantly by Lorre.

The General is a fellow who manages to cause commotion and make scenes wherever he goes - obviously an invaluable asset and the perfect companion for the secret agent who wishes to remain inconspicuous.

And to top everything off the head of the Secret Service, R, spuriously has decided Ashenden ought to be a married man because the novelist was a bachelor, so in his Swiss hotel room Ashenden - much to his surprise - finds a wife.

Clearly a well oiled piece of machinery this British Secret Service.

The first thing Ashenden and the General do is eliminate the naughty enemy spy. But, turns out they get the wrong fellow. This causes the hysterical Mrs Ashenden to go right off the whole spy business. She leaves Ashenden and inadvertenty goes off with the real spy.

Ashenden and the General dashes off after her and the spy. They catch the spy on the train and are about to do away with him when the silly goose Mrs Ashenden again gets hysterical; she will have none of this killing stuff. She even threatens to expose Ashenden and the General to the Germans soldiers aboard the train, which of course would mean instant death to them all.

Then the train is bombed by the British. Our protagonists pull through, unscathed. Ashenden finds the severely wounded spy among the debris and is about to strangle him but at the last moment he can't do it. The General has no scruples. He'll shoot the spy. But first a cigarette. The spy snatches the gun and shoots the General, then expires.

Ashenden and Mrs Ashenden embrace. The wicked have been punished and love vanquishes all. The end.

Not much is left of Maugham's extremely fascinating moral ambiguities and the realism with which he depicts the slightly dreary life of a spy. It's all a bit seedy and grimy. The things one has to do are nasty in a banal way, nasty and sordid and remarkably unglamorous. Hitchcock, like always, is content with a brainless pot-boiler that's just a poor excuse for an insipid romance.

However, I'm right fond of the film. Lorre gives one of his very best performances as the randy and slightly ludicrous little hit man with no morals whatsoever. He'll as soon cut your throat as shake your hand. Lorre is positively chilling when he smiles - this, surely, is a man to watch out for. At the same time there is innocence in the performance, a certain childlike naïveté, as he wasn't really aware of the fact that he does perform nasty deeds. He whines, he tries to seduce every woman he meets, he plots his cunning little plots whit the subtlety of a bull in a china shop, he gets angry and pulls a tantrum when a woman is denied him. In a curious way he is, at the same time, lovable and lethal, slimy and seductive. Quite clearly he is the star of the show and justly so.

Madeleine Carroll's role is just stupid. She, on the other hand, is a delight, as ever. There seems to be very little romance between her and Gielgud but she radiates with such luminance that one hardly even notices just how spinsterish Gielgud manages to be in the romantic scenes. Such a great pity she didn't do more films.

One thing has to be said about Hitchcock's movies. Mostly the scripts make absolutely no sense whatsoever plot-wise. Yet somehow he manages almost to obfuscate that crucial fact and still make the films work, at least on other perhaps more visceral levels. One scarcely even notices that the plot is absolute rubbish and wouldn't fool a child. But it does fool most everybody. Most of the time. Perhaps one is unreasonable in one's foolish demands for a non-idiotic plot fit for a mentally adult audience. Probably one is.


Before the End

The penultimate entry in the Granada Holmes series, The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes, isn’t half bad, actually. I recalled it being far worse.

The tricky thing is that by now they’re starting to run out of really meaty stories. I hesitate to call the remaining stories weak, but the incontestable fact is – by this time they’ve pretty much done the scorchers and are left with the more challenging stories.

In some of the stories there is no crime. This, obviously, makes it jolly difficult to structure them dramatically. Inevitably the viewer must feel at least slightly cheated by the anticlimax.

In these stories the script is crucial. Not to mention the directing and the acting. Mood and atmosphere may prevail where plot is absent. Fortunately Brett is still quite good, though some signs of strain are visible.

The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax is the archetype of a Holmes story: a damsel in distress and the villain trying to get at her money. The atypical feature of the story is that the villain is in no way a member of the family, nor does he attempt to marry Lady Frances.

The Thor Bridge is slightly more difficult. No crime, well none that can be prosecuted, so the story requires a bit of padding. The result is quite good, all things considered. There is melodrama but it is kept under control. There is no crime in Shoscombe Old Place either. Here too some considerable padding is required. So what the director does is that he shows a lot of the old lady in her veil. Which is a mistake. Put a veil on a young man and he still moves like an young man. This works admirably in a text, not so much when it is filmed.

The same applies to The Creeping Man. Here too we don’t really have a crime; it’s just the old professor taking simian hormones for purposes of rejuvenation. But when we see this old professor, actually see him, acting like an ape and swinging from trees from the effect of the hormones, it doesn’t work at all. The more we see the less we believe. Mere glimpses work, an old man beating his chest and running on all four simply makes one smile wryly, or erhaps wince. Otherwise the episode is very good. Pity that Doyle didn’t write more stories with natural science like this in them – this one has almost a feel of science fiction.

The Illustrious Client is, once again, archetypical Doyle: a lethal villain preying on a lady of means an entrapping her into a disastrous and ominous marriage. Quite splendid, especially the villain who’s played by the absolutely marvellous Anthony Valentine: a fellow who simply can’t help being delightfully shifty and untrustworthy, but in a quite delightfully gentlemanly and urbane manner. Valentine, by the way, also played Raffles in the 70s series about the gentleman thief and master cricketer. A couple of days before the Brett version I happened to watch the 60s version with Douglas Wilmer. In this one Baron Gruner was played by Peter Wyngarde, and in such a chilling fashion that one sincerely fears for Holmes’s life. Ripping stuff. Otherwise I have to say the newer version is superior. They had a lot more money to burn and it shows.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery is the only proper mystery of the lot, a hideous murder and a classic tale of Sherlockian detection. Peter Vaugh is a superb villain, a murderer for whom one almost feels sorry. The script is solid. It’s by John Hawkesworth and it shows. If only he could have scripted more episodes.

In all the aforementioned episodes Brett is still quite excellent, keeping his mannerisms under control delivering a solid and well crafted performance. Sometimes he may seem a tad too eager but probably the scripts are to blame for that. Having to pad they tend to overuse Holmes. So often Brett has nothing to do, only to emote. That’s never good.

The Case-book is concluded by three feature length episodes: The Master Blackmailer, The Eligible Bachelor and The Last Vampyre. They are not on the double DVD I just purchased and I can’t say I’m too distraught by the fact. These episodes mark, very clearly, the end of the series. They’re padded, punched up and perverted beyond belief. The first has certain qualities, the other two are just silly and have nothing to do with Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

After this – destruction. But even the next instalment has some remarkably good episodes, erratic in the extreme as the rest may be.



I know this is slightly ungentlemanly, but I can't help but wonder about the financial arrangement between Holmes and Watson.

Holmes does of course handle the most demanding aspect of the cases, the brain work, but Watson does chip in. He provides company, muscle, moral support. He provides a sounding board. He is in every sense of the word the great detective’s assistant. So what happens when the grateful clients whips out the old check book? Does Watson get his just cut? Or does Holmes hang on to the entire loot?

This is never mentioned by Watson. The subject of money is coarse and not to be mentioned in genteel society.

Watson has his practise, of course. However, it never seems to thrive. He's also willing to abandon it at a moment's notice, whenever Holmes has need of his help. This, surely, cannot be good for business. So it seems inevitable that he does need the cash, his cut of the loot; after all he is a family man.

Occasionally the cases are pro bono or Holmes chooses to waive the fee. At other times he collects in abundance. The prime example is in The Priory School where Holmes collects a cool £6000 from the Duke of Holdernesse

"The fact is, your Grace," said he, "that my colleague, Dr. Watson, and myself had an assurance from Dr. Huxtable that a reward had been offered in this case. I should like to have this confirmed from your own lips."
"Certainly, Mr. Holmes."
"It amounted, if I am correctly informed, to five thousand pounds to anyone who will tell you where your son is?"
"And another thousand to the man who will name the person or persons who keep him in custody?"
"Under the latter heading is included, no doubt, not only those who may have taken him away, but also those who conspire to keep him in his present position?"
"Yes, yes," cried the Duke impatiently. "If you do your work well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you will have no reason to complain of niggardly treatment."
My friend rubbed his thin hands together with an appearance of avidity which was a surprise to me, who knew his frugal tastes.
"I fancy that I see your Grace's chequebook upon the table," said he. "I should be glad if you would make me out a cheque for six thousand pounds. It would be as well, perhaps, for you to cross it. The Capital and Counties Bank, Oxford Street branch, are my agents."

£6000 is an enormous sum. Any of it going to Watson? Doesn’t seem like it.

"In that case," said Holmes, rising, "I think that my friend and I can congratulate ourselves upon several most happy results from our little visit to the North. There is one other small point upon which I desire some light. This fellow Hayes had shod his horses with shoes which counterfeited the tracks of cows. Was it from Mr. Wilder that he learned so extraordinary a device?"
The Duke stood in thought for a moment, with a look of intense surprise on his face. Then he opened a door and showed us into a large room furnished as a museum. He led the way to a glass case in a corner, and pointed to the inscription.
"These shoes," it ran, "were dug up in the moat of Holdernesse Hall. They are for the use of horses; but they are shaped below with a cloven foot of iron, so as to throw pursuers off the track. They are supposed to have belonged to some of the marauding Barons of Holdernesse in the Middle Ages."
Holmes opened the case, and, moistening his finger, he passed it along the shoe. A thin film of recent mud was left upon his skin.
"Thank you," said he, as he replaced the glass. "It is the second most interesting object that I have seen in the North."
"And the first?"
Holmes folded up his cheque, and placed it carefully in his notebook. "I am a poor man," said he, as he patted it affectionately and thrust it into the depths of his inner pocket.

What if the shoe were on the foot? What if it were Holmes assisting Watson in the surgery? Not doing anything terribly difficult but still being helpful and doing his bit? Would Holmes expect to be paid for his fair share of the work when the patients coughed up? I rather suspect he would. Even if he pottered around in the surgery merely to help his friend. I mean fair is fair, innit?

What about other famous detective duos? Does Hastings collect when Poirot gets paid? Mais non - not bloody likely. Nero Wolfe seems exemplary in this respect: he actually pays his minions steady wages no matter what. Raffles and Bunny also share the loot. In their case it is actual loot as they’re thieves and not detectives. Honour among thieves, eh what?

Maybe Holmes and Watson have another kind of deal. Maybe Holmes keeps all the dosh they get off clients, while Watson’s remuneration is the material he gets for his stories.

"I am glad to meet you, sir," said he, putting out a broad, fat hand, like the flipper of a seal. "I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler. (. . .)”

This is what Mycroft utters upon meeting Watson. Obviously the stories are well known, therefore they must sell and bring in money. But also they serve as a mighty promotional tool for Holmes: they’re in fact his best ads.

Or is it like this: Holmes is the professional, Watson the amateur. The professional gets recompensated for his efforts, the amateur gets to tag along.

The money clearly is an awkward topic. It makes one cringe. It isn’t at all gentlemanly to demand money for services rendered. And it’s quite shocking to demand it from a lady – a gentleman simply doesn’t accept money from a lady. Doing so would make the fellow a – dashed cad.

The ideal would be to be an real and true amateur; amateur in the sense of not charging for one’s services. But that is only possible for one of independent means. Holmes doesn’t have a fortune so he has to work. He has to live on something. Watson at least has his surgery to fall back on. Holmes has nothing else than his detective skills. I’ll grant that he could be an actor, he could be a musician, he could very well be a dozen other things if he so chose. That, however, would mean abandoning being a full-time detective. Then he’d be a mere hobbyist. A dabbler. Everything his malicious slanderers claim him to be.

Courtly ideals and filthy lucre go not well together. One cannot be a parfait knyght, save the damsel in distress from the fires-spewing dragon, and then turn around and grab the damsel's scrip.

Not cricket, old fellow.

Perhaps this is the way to see the partnership: Watson is in fact Holmes’s sponsor.

By not taking a cut of the profits Watson ensures that Holmes has enough money to keep going – to keep on solving the crimes and to keep on unmasking the villains. This isn’t a business. Holmes isn’t in it for the lucre. So the money is in fact irrelevant – it’s only valuable so far as it enables him to continue his work.

Being a detective isn’t Holmes’s profession – it’s his mission.


Sherlock 2100

Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century is a fairly curious illustrated TV series. It's science fiction, obviously, and doesn't shun a cliché. Any cliché. If one is able to ignore the fact that Holmes looks like a far too pretty escapee from the Backstreet Boys, that most Londoners sound either like Cockneys or Americans (and sometimes like American Cockneys), the police are all basically cretins, Holmes repeats "elementary" like a ruddy parrott at every turn, the plots are essentially redundant, and that the series clearly is aimed at an audience with the mental age of six and a half, one may even enjoy it. I rather do.

Moriarty has come back to terrorise New London. Actually it's his clone, but who cares. Inspector Beth Lestrade (the old Inspector Lestrade's great granddaughter or something) at once sees that only one man can vanquish such naughtiness: Sherlock Holmes. Good thing then that Holmes's body is preserved in honey (!) and stored in the cellar of Scotland Yard. And good thing too that a there's a boffin what looks exactly like Conan Doyle what knows how to quicken and rejuvenate Holmes. And as a Holmes must have a Watson, a Watson is provided: a robot who (or that? - or maybe we really must think of it as a whom) has been programmed to think of himself as Watson.

New London is a grim and surprisingly gothic place, very much out of Blade Runner with its sky scrapers, flying cars, nano technology and other cyberpunk mores: it's high tech yet also at the same time dilapidated and seedy, it's new and shiny and futuristic on the outside and has an underbelly that's a right heap of crumbling brick and rusting iron.

However, while the city may be straight from Blade Runner the car chases are straight from Star Wars and the dialogue standard fodder straight from a cheap comic book.

Holmes has his trusted magnifying glass while Watson has seemingly unlimited access to all data bases and has the ability to analyse any found substance on the spot. Very handy. Holmes status is not as independent as it once was. This time around he does take the occasional private consulting job but mostly he works for the police, with Lestrade as his supervising officer. Holmes isn't at all as distant as he used to be but Watson is still the more human one. Even if he is a robot or compudroid.

The stories aren't particularly Holmesian, well not classically so, but at times they do follow the original plots, sort of, even give them a nice and novel twist or two. Or sometimes they merely use an old title. Like in The Resident Patient. Here there is no patient, resident or otherwise. Percy Blessington has invented a method to morph people's DNA, and the way they look. This will come very handy to Moriarty when he attempts to take over the world by substituting a world leader with his dead ringer dummy. But Holmes foils it.

In The Hounds of the Baskervilles there's a crime spree in New London and sightings of phantom hounds - on the Moon. Obviously this falls under the jurisdiction of the New London police, how else. Holmes doesn't go with Lestrade and Watson, he of course already is on the Moon. The hounds seem to be large wolf like creatures that jump on the Moon dome and howl mightily. This, Holmes observes, is strange as there is no atmosphere on the Moon and therefore the howling outside the dome shouldn't be heard. Holmes hacks into a Lunar mainframe and investigates. The howls seem to going directly into the emergency broadcast system.

Holmes ventures outside the dome and proves that the giant hound is nothing but an illusion. A virtual hound. But there is another one, one that attacks people and kidnaps children. Maybe it's the phantom hound of Lunar legend? Holmes seems sceptic. The villain turns out to be Moriarty who's taken over the Moon (by kidnapping a couple of children!) and is about to try to take over the Earth "by reprogramming the Lunar defence network to unload its firepower on Earth's major communication facilities". Holmes foils the plan and Moriarty flees, almost managing to destroy the Lunar centre Galileo City.

In the The Red-Headed League it seems that certain criminals want the police - and Holmes - to cotton on to the league. Mr Wilson, the newest recruit, owns a dingy chip shop and has a dodgy assistant - who indeed put him on to the league. This time around it's forgery and art theft from the National gallery. And Moriarty, as per usual, is behind it all. The ultimate scheme is to kidnap the wealthiest man in the world. Holmes dresses up as the intended victim and foils the dastardly scheme. Moriarty gets away, yet again, just by dashing off. In The Six Napoleons the Napoleons in question are flying cars, "the most sumptuous luxury vehicles ever built". The ornamental crystals on them are destroyed. Why? Turns out one of the crystals is a new and potent power source. In The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire Lot the vampire feeds on data. Moriarty wants to catch the data vampire for his own purposes. Turns out the vampire is a hacker - a young girl who is in fact trying to hinder Moriarty. Holmes foils Moriarty's villanous scheme and Moriarty flees.

In A Case of Identity a hacker pretends to be a police costable in order to gain access to New Scotland Yards mainframe. In the Blue Carbuncle the item in question is a talking blue gremlinesque doll that every child wants for Christmas. And there's one doll in particular that everyone is after - especially Moriarty. The storyline seems to owe more to Schwarzenegger's Jingle all the Way than to Doyle. Anyway, the doll makers have come up with robot intelligence and Moriarty wants the intelligent doll so he can build his own robot army and conquer the world. Which beggars the question: Isn't Watson supposed to be an intelligent robot? If so, what's the fuss about? If he isn't, well what bloody use is he to Holmes? Moriarty's plan is foiled by Holmes and the fact that the doll doesn't much like the idea of working. Definitely one of the better episodes. In The Crooked Man Mr and Mrs Barclay have a violent row behind closed doors. When the door is broken down by a household robot Mrs Barclay is found fainted on the floor and Mr Barclay has mysteriously disappeared. There's some strange fur found and ominous claw marks. Barclay is a genetic engineer, by the way. Everyone familiar with Doyle's story can guess where this is going.

The graphic work isn't bad. Some of the voice acting is pretty horrible, most of it quite competent. Moriarty is actually very good. The science fiction elements aren't innovative but reasonably fresh and well used. This being a kiddie show murders are of course out. Which sort of diminishes the Holmesian spectrum of cases.

Art it ain't. Canonical it ain't. Holmes it ain't. It's basically Punch and Judy. But it is tolerably amusing anyway.


Once More Unto the Breach

I'm probably not far wrong if I claim that Henry V is Laurence Olivier's best Shakespeare movie.

It was made in 1944, during the war, so there is a definite patriotic tendencity in the offing, not surprisingly. But there is very little pathos and the patriotism seems somehow wholesome and clean spirited.

The movie is set up as a play at the Globe, that great wooden O, played by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men on the first of May 1600. First there is some magnificent William Walton, as English music as you can get, then the camera majestically sweeps the Elizabethan London (a rather good scale model, actually) with its trees, thatched roofs, chimneys sprouting smoke, and the bluer than blue Thames leisurely making its way through the city. The camera zooms in on the Globe. The flag is just being raised so we know there’s about to be a performance; our play – Henry V. Then we get a tour round the Globe and see the musicians, staff, the genteel audience sitting along the walls of the theatre and the groundlings bustling and prattling in front of the stage: it’s all delightfully unceremonious and unspectacular. A boy with a sign appears on the stage. The sign "The Chronicle History of Henry the Fift with his battell fought at Agin Court in France". The audience starts to settle down. Then the chorus, played by Leslie Banks (who for me always is and will be the supremely evil count Zaroff in The Most Dangerous Game) struts out and starts declaiming. Everything is still very casual with members of the audience actually sitting on the stage, right beside the actors and the action.

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt –

Then a cunning cinematic trick, the chorus approaches the camera and directs his words directly to the film audience:

On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

The camera pulls back and the boy with the sign reappears. Now we’re in King Harry’s antechamber and the play proper begins with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely scheming to protect the riches of the church. After the scene we follow the actors backstage for a quick and dizzy glimpse of the what goes on behind the scenes. The King makes his appearance. Usually this scene – Henry’s justification for going to war against France – is extremely boring, now it’s played for laughs with almost slapstick humour. This is in fact quite curious and bold: this is after all a wartime movie about an important English war. The attempts to justify war are downright ridiculed and mocked. The lack of pathos seems absolutely refreshing.

The scene shifts to the street in front of the Boar’s Head – that merry and familiar stomping ground of dear old Falstaff – as it starts raining and the groundlings seek cover as the actors just get drenched. Robert Newton, as is his wont, does an excellent Ancient Pistol: mellifluous and bombastic and with the gravitas of a sort of comedic James Mason. This is the death scene of Sir John Falstaff. In the play he never appears and is only mentioned by others: he’s been cut out of the play as he’s been cut out of the King’s life.

In the movie Falstaff does get screen time, as is only right and proper, and his death scene is shown, echoing lines from his last meeting, with prince Hal in the second part of Henry IV. This Falstaff is just an old man, a reed, bereft of life and devoid of wit. He’s still breathing but already dead. He’s a hollow shell. It’s all profoundly tragic. They say he cried out of sack.

Then it’s off to France and the dreamy and more than slightly decadent French court. The scenes are no longer played on the stage of the Globe, they’re abstract but still clearly studio scenes with their painted artificiality and deliberately cardboardy settings – a typical contemporary theatrical stage setting, in fact. The shots and scenes become increasingly realistic when the battle commences, but there are still definite artificial elements. It looks almost as if the scenes were shot outdoors, until one sees the painted backdrop. And then the rocks no longer look that natural. But maybe it is an outdoor shot, and the backdrop is there to conceal it?

Olivier delivers his speeches magnificently, stirring both his men and the audience into a frenzy. The mood has definitely shifted. No longer are we served crude but amusing slapstick.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

And then, of course, the mood changes back we get more slapstick with Nym, Pistol and Bardolph, and the humorous squabbles of Fluellen, Macmorris and Jamy. But now there is a strong undercurrent of seriousness, a tangible core of do or die. This piece isn’t about a war that was fought centuries ago, it’s about the war that is being fought right now. The scene in which Harry roams the nocturnal camp incognito and discusses the war with his more humble subjects at a fire may be the finest in the picture.

The English are severely outnumbered. It should be but a light feat for the French to wipe them out. But: the French may have the numbers – the English have Harry.

When it’s time for the big battle the scene shifts yet again and now we really are outdoors, under a very clear and blue sky, the scene becomes realistic – and we get the glorious, riveting St Crispin Day speech:

If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. Of course this is insanity, but very noble, beautiful and inspired insanity.

The battle scene isn’t half bad: lots of horses, lots of archers. When the archers let off their arrows in a black cloud of death one almost feels sorry for the French knights. Then pretty soon it’s all chaos.

After the battle we again return to the more theatrical and artificial settings in the court of France where Harry woos and wins the fair French princess Katharine. Then we’re back at the Globe for Harry’s nuptials (with Kate as a boy, obviously). The chorus concludes the play.

Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen,
Our bending author hath pursued the story,
In little room confining mighty men,
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
Small time, but in that small most greatly lived
This star of England: Fortune made his sword;
By which the world's best garden be achieved,
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown'd King
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France and made his England bleed:
Which oft our stage hath shown; and, for their sake,
In your fair minds let this acceptance take.

We zoom out of the Globe, through London, back into the skies, and encounter the credits accompanied by ripping choral music by Walton.

Olivier’s Henry V may well be patriotic war time propaganda – but first and foremost it’s art. Just like Shakespeare’s play.

Branagh's Henry V ain't bad, it's his best Shakespeare film by far, but Olivier's is better.


När han vaknar

Petri Salin:
När han vaknar

När Sherlock dör första gången dör han inte. När Sherlock dör första gången blir han odödlig. Han besöker dödsriket, blir smord, blir en halvgud.

När Sherlock dör andra gången dör han inte. Han bara försvinner. Han lämnar efter sig allt. Hans lägenhet är som den alltid var, ostörd, orörd, alla hans ägodelar på sin plats. Hans pipa, hans pistol, hans tobaksfyllda toffel, hans violin, hans plagg. Hans förstoringsglas. Allt väntar på honom, allt bara väntar på hans återvändo.

När Sherlock dör andra gången slumrar han, dold för världen, och vi vet att en dag skall han återvända.

När han vaknar.

(Reichenbachin jälkeen)

Quick, Watson - to the Cinny!

Pursuit to Algiers (1945) is the twelfth entry in the Rathbone-Bruce series and a pretty weak one at that. Not entirely without interest, however.

The script is based on a throwaway line in The Norwood Builder. Well, based is perhaps too strongly put.

"At the time of which I speak, Holmes had been back for some months, and I, at his request, had sold my practice and returned to share the old quarters in Baker Street. A young doctor, named Verner, had purchased my small Kensington practice, and given with astonishingly little demur the highest price that I ventured to ask - an incident which only explained itself some years later when I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes's, and that it was my friend who had really found the money. Our months of partnership had not been so uneventful as he had stated, for I find, on looking over my notes, that this period includes the case of the papers of ex-President Murillo, and also the shocking affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland, which so nearly cost us both our lives. His cold and proud nature was always averse, however, to anything in the shape of public applause, and he bound me in the most stringent terms to say no further word of himself, his methods, or his successes - a prohibition which, as I have explained, has only now been removed."

Holmes and Watson are about to go on their hols. But of course duty calls, the kingdom of Rovinia needs Holmes desperately. The king has been assassinated and now Holmes must see to it that the young prince, who has been abroad studying, doesn't meet the same fate but gets safely home. Holmes and the prince take an areoplane and leave the sulking Watson, as stupid as ever or maybe even more so, to make his trip on board the Dutch steamship Friesland.

Friesland seems absolutely brimming with shady characters. Some of the passengers just lurk in their staterooms. On the radio Watson hears a shocking piece of news: the plane Holmes and the prince were in has crashed. No survivors.

But, turns out that Holmes and the prince have been aboard the ship all along and the aeroplane was simply a ruse. And obviously the assassins too are on the ship, ready to pounce.

At the dinner table Watson recounts the strange adventure of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. And of course the camera zooms away and only returns for his very last words. Better that way. At least in this movie.

Really the most interesting thing about the movie is the trio of assassins - Mirko, Gregor and Jodri - who bring life to the otherwise trite movie. Two of them seem to have escaped from The Maltese Falcon: Mirko is a rather clumsy but amusing Joel Cairo and Gregor is an inflatory and less witty and scathing Gutman. But as assassins they are quite hopeless. It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to beat these chaps.

Of course the villains still get the upper hand, even if they are hopeless, and they kidnap the prince. But it's all right, the prince isn't the prince at all but a dummy. The real prince has been masquerading all along as a steward. Rah-rah. Case solved. Oh and Holmes also stumbles upon some very valuable jewels with no connection to anything at all that only recently have been stolen in London. The end.

Oh dear. One has to ask: what the devil has any of this to do with Sherlock Holmes? The mind boggles at this remarkable stupidity. Really, Rathbone, you ought to be ashamed of your participation in this unadulturated idiocy.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1986) didn't please me much when first I saw it almost a quarter of a century ago. Now I saw it for the third time and found it surprisingly pleasant. It is a quality production: the acting is fine, the settings work, the plot is not bad at all. It seems like a cross between Harry Potter and Young Indiana Jones: good humoured and quite clever.

This time, to my surprise, I immensely enjoyed the movie. It was exciting, funny, and a bit sad. Anthony Higgins makes a splendid villain and one can't get a better narrator than Ralph Richardson. Even if he is a bit schmalzy.

I do, however, still have reservations about the script. Great reservations. It's simply to pat. At one stroke, literally, the boy Holmes meets Watson, Lestrade and acquires his deerstalker, Inverness cape and his briar - and becomes immune to women. All the cliché trademarks. And his teacher Rathe turns out to be Moriarty really.

This last detail escaped me previously as it comes after the credits. So I'd never seen it. Can't say that I'm too impressed. Far too pat. It just won't do to explain away simply everything.

But the movie is great fun and worth a dozen Rathbone films.

Metropolis Re-visited

The curious and quite interesting thing about Fritz Lang's Metropolis is this: every time one sees it it's quite different. Literally. Well, at least for me.

Partly this has to do with the music. With silent movies music plays an incredibly big part. Every time the score is different, so is the movie. An interesting way to test how much music really does mean to the silent movie is to watch the movie with no music whatsoever. Usually the movie becomes quite unwatchable. It simply makes no sense whatsoever.

I don't know how many times I've seen Metropolis but every time I have seen it does have a different score. Sometimes contemporary, sometimes ghastly rock by the extremely ghastly band Queen or horrible Ennio Morricone (spoiling it all pretty thoroughly).

But also it is different. They keep cutting it. And sometimes they even find new footage - meaning of course old footage restored. So I probably haven't seen two versions with quite the same footage.

This makes one's experience of the movie eternally variable, constantly different. At times the score makes the movie unbearable, at other times the cuts make the plot well nigh unintelligible.

Originally Metropolis was 153 minutes long, so most of the versions I've seen have been severely butchered. Most? All of them.

The longest version I've seen is probably the 2 hour restored version by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung from 2001. It's also the most true one. They've tried to restore all the scenes and where scenes are missing they indicate what happens in them. Another thing: they use the original musical score of the 1927 premiere.

This version makes most sense by far of all the versions I've seen of the movie. In the other versions the motives of several key players have always been, well, shall we say odd. Here things seem more logical, the plot more even. Especially the plot lines with Josaphat and The Thin Man have been cut severely, almost entirely, in all other versions. Here there is much more motivation and explanation. The plot lines are there for a reason.

Rotwang's central, not to say crucial, character is also more fully explored. Now the destruction of the city seems to be quite logical.

Metropolis needs to be a long movie. It is science fiction, but it is also and essentially a parable, a biblical tale, and moves with a majestically slow pace. It isn't a fast and modern psychological drama - far from it. So every cut dimishes its power and majesticity.

There's still a good half hour missing, vanished, so we'll never be able to see it as it was meant to be seen.

Unless there's a miracle. Such as there was with the earlier Lang film Vier um die Frau. This movie was lost for the longest time, until it recently was re-discovered in South America.

Miracles do happen.

(Oh good lord - when I check the web I find that an even longer version has been found in Buenos Aires in June 2007 with an additional 25 minutes of original footage - thus making it an almost complete version of the 1927 premier. Good show!)


Elementary, My Dear W!

"Elementary, my dear Watson." The quote of quotes. Holmes's signature tune. The one Sherlockian catchphrase everybody knows. The one thing Holmes always, always, says. It's a standard. Only thing is, Holmes never said it in the Canon. Doyle never wrote it.

This, by now, is common knowledge. So the question is: who
did say it? And when and where, exactly?

There are instances in the Canon where it's almost said. In The Crooked Man Holmes comes awfully close. He says "
elementary" but fails to add the mandatory tag of "my dear Watson."

"I see that you are professionally rather busy just now," said he, glancing very keenly across at me.

"Yes, I've had a busy day," I answered.
"It may seem very foolish in your eyes," I added, "but really I don't know how you deduced it.
Holmes chuckled to himself."I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson," said he. "When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom."
"Excellent!" I cried.
"Elementary," said he.

Wisteria Lodge we get this bit of dialogue:

"But what was he to witness?"

"Nothing, as things turned out, but everything had they gone another way. That is how I read the matter."
"I see, he might have proved an alibi."
"Exactly, my dear Watson; he might have proved an alibi. (. . . )"

Which, one has to admit, while not exactly it, is still almost in the vicinity.

Elementatry is used in seven Canonical stories: the novels A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the short stories A Case of Identity, Wisteria Lodge, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, The Blanched Soldier and of course the aforementioned The Crooked Man.

First time "Elementary, my dear Watson" actually was uttered was on the silver screen, by Clive Brook in the first Holmes talkie
Sherlock Holmes, based on Gillette's famous play, in 1929. It stuck.

However, in
The Films of Sherlock Holmes the authors Steinbrunner and Michaels make no mention of Brook's Holmes coining the infamous phrase. But they do offer us this little gem of immortal dialogue when Holmes hears of Moriarty's prison sentence:

HOLMES: The only man to use scientific methods as I use them . . . A marvelous man. And now he's gone.
ALICE: And we shall soon be going. You haven't forgotten your promise?
HOLMES: Forgotten? Lock up the laboratory, Watson. Unload my pistols.
WATSON: Yes, my dear Holmes. But
where are you going?
HOLMES: I'm ashamed of you, Watson, after all these years. Where are your powers of deduction. A beautiful girl . . .

ALICE: An impetuous lover . . .
HOLMES: A menace removed . . .
ALICE: What can follow but wedding bells!
HOLMES: We're off to apply for a special license!
ALICE: Sherlock Holmes and wife, farmers!
HOLMES: Sherlock Holmes - new laid eggs for sale!
WATSON: Incredible, my dear Holmes! Amazing!
HOLMES: Elementary.

Other sources give the last line as
"Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary."

absolutely no idea if the phrase actually does occur in the movie as it's one of the Holmes films I've never seen. The common census seems to be that it does occur. Fair enough.

In Gillette's play, the basis for Brook's movie, we have:
"Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow." Almost. But not quite. Forgot the "Watson", old fellow.

So. Where does the infamous phrase first appear?
In writing, I mean. Never mind the talkies.

The answer might be slightly surprising. The word on the street is: it first appears in a 1915 novel. The text itself was written and serialised a few years in a magazine called The Captain as early as 1909-10 by a future master of English prose. The book is something of a turning point in his career. Previously he'd written mostly stories for boys, humorous school stories, now he's reaching out for a larger and more adult audience. The book features his earliest big character and one of his juiciest. Don't ring a bell? I'm not surprised.

The author: the future knight of the realm Sir Pelham, but then still only plain old P.G. Wodehouse. The novel: Psmith Journalist.

Psmith Journalist
is one of those early Wodehouse novels where he doesn't have his ducks in a row, not quite yet. It's very funny, for the most part, but it's also an occasionally uneasy mix with melodrama, social commentary and gritty crime - all in a jolly jumble. Later Wodehouse would learn to purge his material and purify his humour. The over-all result here is slightly heavy and patchy.

Psmith follows his trusted friend Mike to America on the latters cricketing tour. Not having much anything to do with his time he appoints himself sub-editor of a magazine for children, Cosy Moments, and forthwith transforms the magazine. Into what? Well obviously, at least to the inimitable Psmith, to a socially conscious fighting unit with the sole purpose of bettering the living conditions of the unfortunate inhabitants of a certain slum-like tenement in New York.

The really interesting thing is how Wodehouse incorporates the infamous gangs of New York into his story. One of the key players in the story is Bat Jarvis, who closely resembles that nasty purveyor of iniquity Monk Eastman (of whom Borges writes in his book A Universal History of Infamy and Herbert Asbury in his Gangs of New York). Eastman was a particularly vicious gang leader whose gang was so large that it split into warring factions when he was in jail so that he had to form a new one. Another noteworthy thing about Eastman (and also Jarvis) is that he owned a pet shop and had an amazing fondness for cats. I wonder if the tendency of villains to stroke cats in a menacing way - Ernst Stavro Blofeld! - originates from Eastman?

The gangs of New York and the social injustice and misery of tenements is not the most happy material for Wodehouse. It's too real. It simply isn't funny. Therefore the book only works in parts. The realism is too real and causes anxiety. The tenements are not funny. Real gangsters and real killings aren't funny. Even if Psmith is there to bring light comic relief.

Anyway, Sherlock Holmes is much mentioned in the book as Psmith fancies himself something of a successor of the famous detective. And frequently uses his "Sherlock Holmes method" to deduce things.

Sherlock Holmes always was a big influence on Wodehouse, much bigger than most people seem to realise. Jeeves and Wooster. Holmes and Watson. The analogy is clear and fully intended. The stories follow the mechanism of the Holmes stories with amazing accuracy. We have Jeeves as the solver of intricate and seemingly impossible puzzles, quizzical quandries and other dashed difficult cases involving aunts and overly eager fiancées, and Wooster acting as his trusted and utterly baffled chronicler. Even the names echo their roles. Wooster - Watson. Jeeves - Holmes. Only that funnily enough Wooster believes himself to be the Holmes character. Well mostly.

Elementary, my dear Wooster.

I think it's quite possible that Wodehouse really learned how to be Wodehouse when he found a way to do humorous Sherlock Holmes stories. That gave his humour much needed solid structure and liberated new dimensions of comedy.

But, hang on.

Upon re-reading Psmith I find that the word on the street is wrong. The Internet is wrong. Wikipedia is wrong. The phrase does not occur in the book, well at least not in my 1979 Penguin edition.

Right. Doyle didn't coin it. Wodehouse didn't coin it.

So, whence then does it hail?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Post scriptum:

There's me with egg on my face. Occured to me to check it out electronically. Google Books and a couple of other sites had the whole book in electronic form. So I had a look, and sure enough, this is what I found in chapter 19 of
Psmith Journalist:

"I fancy," said Psmith, "that this is one of those moments when itis necessary for me to unlimber my Sherlock Holmes system. As thus.If the rent collector had been here, it is certain, I think, that Comrade Spaghetti, or whatever you said his name was, wouldn't have been. That is to say, if the rent collector had called and found no money waiting for him, surely Comrade Spaghetti would have been out in the cold night instead of under his own roof-tree. Do you follow me, Comrade Maloney?"
"That's right," said Billy Windsor. "Of course."
"Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary," murmured Psmith.

Bugger. It was there, all the time it was there, and I missed it. Wodehouse did coin the phrase after all. Oh dear. Can't even read any longer.


Orlacs Hände

Robert Wiehe directed two great classics: Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari in 1919 and Orlacs Hände in 1924. In both movies Condrad Veidt is, in an extremely grotesque fashion, mixed up with other people's murderous schemes.

The protagonist Paul Orlac (Veidt) is a pianist - not only a supreme master of the instrument but perhaps the greatest virtuoso of his time. There is a terrible accident and Orlac loses what is most precious to a pianist: his hands. "His hands . . . for God's sake . . . his hands!" his wife cries out in anguish to the doctor. "Save his hands . . . his hands are his life . . ."

The doctor promises to do his best and he does manage to save Orlac's hands. But there's something a little odd about them. Why do people keep staring at his hands? Why is there a man who laughs at him when looking at his hands? Orlac wonders and wonders, getting more and more anxious. He has nightmares - a giant hand reaches for him surrealistically as he lies on his hospital cot.

Awakening from his nightmare Orlac finds a note on his bed. He reads it and is aghast: "Your hands couldn't be saved . . . Dr Serral gave you different hands . . . the hands of the executed robber and murderer Vasseur!" Orlac looks at his hands in horror. It's as if the hands no longer are a part of him but have a bizarre will of their own. He faints on the floor.

He confronts the doctor. It is true.

The thought of a murderer's hands starts to drive him insane. He vows never to touch another human being with his soiled hands. He tries playng the piano - it's hopeless. His new hands can produce only vile cacophony. He looks up old newspaper articles about Vasseur's crimes. When he comes home he finds a dagger sticking out of his door. A dagger with an X on the handle. A dagger like the one with which Vasseur performed his horrid deeds. He pulls it out and cluches it to his breast, then furtively hides it inside the grand piano.

His hands have become like claws, all wizened and withered: "Damned . . . cursed . . . hands!"

When night falls and darkness descends upon the house the hands draw, pull, him towards the grand piano. He's almost like a somnambulist, the hands control him and he follows them in absolute horror; he's utterly helpless. He stabs the air in front of him with his knife, slashing it to ribbons.

There's a mysterious and sinister looking man in a long black cape and floppy hat who's been following Orlac. He seems to have some menacing hold over Orlacs maid. He's trying to force her to do something, something against Orlac. At the same time the creditors are closing in. As Orlac no longer can play, he's got no income. And the debts keep on piling. Orlac's wife goes to his father. He's a rich man. He can save them. The father refuses, coldly and sadistically stating that he would want Orlac to become a destitute pauper: he hates his son.

His wife entreats and begs Orlac. He must go to his father - surely Orlac's father must help them. He must.

Orlac goes to his father's house. He finds the door unlocked. This is highly unusual as the door is always locked and closely guarded by a trusted servant. The house seems empty. In one room Orlac finds his father lying on the floor - with a dagger sticking out of him. It's the dagger with the X on the handle. The murderer Vasseur's dagger. Orlac alerts the police.

One of the detectives recognises the dagger. With his magnifying glass he examines the prints on it and proclaims them to be - Vasseur's! Vasseur is dead but his hands still murder! How is that possible?

Orlac flees the scene of the crime in horror. The sinister man in the long black cape follows him. It's the same man who laughed at him in the hospital. "You are your father's heir," the man says to Orlac, "you will pay me a million francs." "Why," says Orlac. "For my hands," the man says, then reveals the mechanical contraptions he has instead of hands: it's the executed murderer Vasseur!

The same experiment the doctor did with Vasseur's hands his assistant did with Vasseur's head! Vasseur shows him the scar on his neck where his head was removed and then, after the re-animation, re-attached.

And now, if Orlac doesn't pay him a million francs by tomorrow the police will receive information that it was Orlac who killed his father. The evidence against Orlac is quite overwhelming. The maid saw him with the dagger. The fingerprints are from his hands. He has the motive. It's quite open and shut.

Orlac knows he has to pay. His wife says no; he must go to the prosecutor and tell everything. He does so and the prosecutor immediately signs out a warrant for his arrest. The detective, however, stops this. He has Orlac get the money and meet the blackmailer. When he does, the police strike. "Vasseur" turns out to be a hospital assistant called Nera and well known to the police. The scar and the missing hands are only fake. He fesses up to blackmail but not murder.

The murder was done with Vasseurs hands, not his. Orlac, Nera points out, now has those hands. Orlac is arrested. But just then Orlac's wife and maid burst in. The maid comes clean. She knows all. She's been the murderers unwilling assistant: it was Nera who killed old Orlac. He knew Vaisseur and had rubber gloves made from his hands, gloves with Vaisseur's prints. And what's more, Vaisseur never murdered anyone. It was Nera who framed him for a murder he himself commited.

Vaisseur's hands are clean, not the hands of a murderer at all. And that means that Orlac's hands too are clean.

The real culprit is arrested and all ends on a happy note.

Orlacs Hände is not as expressionistic as Caligari but it does have its fine moments, especially when the camera lingers on the crushing anguish of Orlac, the sheer terror on his face when he believes himself to be doomed to murder somebody, the panic when his hands literally lead him on to terrors unknown.

Will he murder? Did he murder? These are the focal points of the movie.

However, everything is resolved far too easily and conveniently. It was all a frame-up. It really amounts to a sell-out and I for one feel cheated at the end. It would have been so sweet if his hands had been those of a murderer and had had a will of their own. It would have been even sweeter if the murderer had come back from the dead. Alas and alack, that was not to be. The supremely titillating supernatural elements prove to be just fake. This leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.

I much prefer the ambiguous ending of Caligari - now that one really leaves a powerful after taste and lingers under one's skin literally for ever. Never for an instant do we get relief from the opressing atmosphere of the film, never for once do we feel it's over and we can relax. The tension lives on and simply keeps growing even after the ending. Therefore the impact is immeasurably more potent.

Orlacs Hände shows great potential but fails to live up to it. The gripping scenes don't quite make up for the sell-out ending. Not quite.


Tanckar om jordens skapnad

Det blev lite tal om finlandssvensk science fiction på Ahrvid Engholms Skriva-lista precis efter Finncon - just angående vår panel visavi ämnet. Det var då som Zen Zats (Sveriges turbator, ungefär) Bertil Falk, lite i förbigående, sprängde nyhetsbomben. Den äldsta science fiction-boken skriven på svenska torde vara Tanckar om jordens skapnad från 1741. Och boken var skriven av en viss Johan Krook som, påpekade Falk, hör och häpna, var från Finland!

Nå, i princip är detta ingen nyhet. Det står faktiskt redan i Sam J. Lundwalls bibliografier. Lundwall skriver: "Krook föddes 1713 i Finland, troligen i Nyland, och disputerade 1737 i Uppsala. 1746 återfinns han i Åbo som preses för en filosofisk avhandling. Han blev sedan hovsekreterare. "Tanckar om jordens skapnad" kan sägas vara Sveriges första science-fictionroman. Författaren inleder arbetet med att konstatera att man "i denna här wår tid, med icke mindre beswär än omkostnad, endteligen wil weta: [...] den rätta beskaffenheten af wår jord, hennes yttra figur och skapnad, om hon, som man i de äldre tider godt och enfaldeligen trodde, skal wara lik en pankaka, eller som man nu i de nyare disputerar, antingen hon är mera lik en citron, än såsom en hollendsk ost." Huvudpersonen ger sig upp i ett luftskepp för att titta på jorden och väl ute i rymden blir hans nyfikenhet så stor att han far till månen. Där upptäcker han ett berg av glasflaskor som innehåller jordbornas förlorade förstånd. Han far tillbaka till jorden utan att ha fått besked om jordens skapnad, men väl om "rätta distantien emellan förnuft och dårskap". Böök skriver om boken att "denna berättelse är framställd i ett maner, som tillhör det odrägligaste man öfver huvud kan tänka sig". Författaren dog 1778 i Stockholm."

Men att Krook både: a) skrev den första svenska science fiction-boken och b) var från Nyland är något som, hittills, gått åtminstone mig helt förbi, fast Lundwalls bibliografiska prestationer icke är mig helt obekanta. Jag misstänker att jag inte är helt ensam i den saken.

Men vem var då denne Krook? Inte mycket utöver det Lundwall nämnde tycks vetas om honom. Men lite finns det nog på nätet. Lagus studentmatrikel vet detta om honom: "Krook, Johan. Borgo. p. 327 || Hans far p. 221. Gymnasist i Borgå 1728. Student 1730. Uttog testim. i k:m 8.8.1733. Student i Upsala 25.9.1733. Respondens der 1737 u. Grönbergh, 1737 pro gradu u. Ullén. Magister der 1737. Præses i Åbo 14.6.1746 för „Theses philosophicae“, resp. Sam. Krogius. Blef hofsekreterare."

Helsingfors universitets studentmatrikel har detta att förtälja: "kl. 1730 Johan Krook 5734. Vht: Hollolan kirkkoherra, FM Bengt Krook 4308 (yo 1698, † 1749) ja Katarina Printz. Porvoon lukion oppilas 7.10.1728 – 1730. Ylioppilas Turussa kl. 1730 [Krook] Johan. Borgo _ 327. Ylioppilas Uppsalassa 25.9.1733 Joh. Benedicti Krook Nylandus. Respondentti Uppsalassa 24.3.1737 pro exercitio, pr. käytänn. filos. prof. And. Grönwall. Respondentti Uppsalassa 28.6.1737 pro gradu, pr. teor. filos. prof. Petr. Ullén. FM Uppsalassa 30.6.1737. Preeses Turussa 14.6.1746. — Hovisihteeri. † Tukholmassa (Riddarholm) 1.9.1778. Naimaton."

Och ytterligare: "Viittauksia: HYK ms., Index s. 108b. — V. Lagus, Studentmatrikel I (1889–91) s. 402 (LXXXII); Turun akatemian konsistorin pöytäkirjat XII 1726–1731 (julk. T. Carpelan, 1948) s. 497, 499; Turun akatemian konsistorin pöytäkirjat XIII 1731–1738 (julk. T. Carpelan, 1952) s. 179 (8.8.1733, erlade chartae sigillatae afgifften för ett testimonium), 182, 238; Turun akatemian konsistorin pöytäkirjat XV 1742–1747 (julk. V-M. Autio, 1968) s. 160 passim; A. Jörgensen, Nyländska avdelningens matrikel 1640–1868 (1911) #382; Uppsala universitets matrikel II 1700–1750 (utg. A. B. Carlsson, 1919–23) s. 240; B. Lunelund-Grönroos (julk.), Matriculum gymnasii Borgoensis 1725–1809. SSJ 17 (1946) #68. — J. H. Lidén, Catalogus disputationum I. Disp. Upsalienses (1778) p. 219, 481; A. Bergholm, Sukukirja I (1892) s. 738 (Krook. Uudenmaan suku. Taulu 2); K. G. Leinberg, Dissertationes academicæ Fennorum extra patriam. BNF 58 (1900) #68; J. Vallinkoski, Turun akatemian väitöskirjat 1642–1828. HYKJ 30 (1962–66) #2107P."

Alltså född i Borgå (Borgo!), far kyrkoherde i Hollola, släkten starkt infesterad av kyrkofolk. Men sedan tar det slut.

I sitt mail nämnde Falk att Lunds universitetsbibliotek råkade ha ett exemplar av Krooks bok. Men, eftersom mannen då levde, skrev och publicerade sin bok i Sverige, fanns det ingen orsak att anta att man i Finland skulle hitta hans bok. Inte sådär bara. Det att han var född i Finland var en ganska incidental bagatell. Vem kom ihåg honom idag? Vem kom ihåg hans bok? Vem hittade bokens anknytning till Finland? Nej, det faktum att mannen som skrev Sveriges första science fiction-bok var från Finland var nog ett föga känt faktum i hans gamla hemtrakter.

Det var när jag i helt andra ärenden besökte vår nationalbibliografi Fennica som jag kom på att ta en titt om boken, möjligtvis, kunde finnas nämnd där. Och denna språkligt tämligen schizofrena anteckning hittade jag i registret: "Författare: Anticthon, salanimi, k. 1778. Titel: Tanckar om jordens skapnad, eller Fonton Freemassons äfwentyr, till högwälborne herr grefwen **** och nu med anmärckningar till trycket befordrat af Anticthon. Förlag: Stockholm : tryckt hos Lorentz L. Grefing, 1741. Omfång: [1-3] 4-80 s. ; 4:o. Anmärkning: Nimiösivulla myös: [motto] O! Proceres, censore opus est, an haruspice nobis? Juven. Arkit: A-K4. Material: monografi. Verkets språk: swe. UDK-klassifikation: 839.7 -3 11/12. Annan författare: Grefing, Lorentz Ludvig (kirjapaino, Tukholma, 1739-1769. Samling: KANSALLISKOKOELMA (käyttö vain lukusalissa). Signum: Reenpään kok. Filosofia."

Vilket då betydde att Universitetsbiblioteket (eller Nationalbiblioteket som det officiellt heter nuförtiden) ägde ett exemplar, och helt slumpmässigt, vågar jag påstå, eftersom det handlar om en donation. Men egalt! De hade ett exemplar - ett exemplar som man fick läsa!

Så till Unionsgatans branta backe styrde jag mina steg och innan jag visste vad som hände höll jag Krooks revolutionerande opus i mina händer. Det kändes - ja - ganska magnifikt. Att läsa en svensk science fiction-bok från 1741 i originalupplaga är inte något man gör varje dag precis.

Bokens text var inte alltför lätt att förstå eftersom vårt bekanta alfabet endast användes i vissa utländska citat. För övrigt var det att tolka de olika kufiska tecknen: och dessutom tycktes versalerna inte alls ha något att göra med sina respektive gemener. Och vice versa.

Men det blev gjort. Och boken blev läst.

Själva ramberättelsen är enkel. Berättaren Fonton Freemasson vill äntligen få reda på vilken form Jorden har. "Högvälborne herr grefwen har sig wäl bekant, hvad man i denna wår tid, med icke mindre beswär än med omsorgnad, wil egentligen weta: iag menar den rätta beskaffenheten af wår Jord, hennes yttra Figur och skapnad, om hon, som man i de äldre tider godt och enfaldigen trodde, skal vara lik en pannkaka, eller som man nu i de nyare disputerar, antingen är mera lik en Citron, än såsom en Hollendsk Ost."

"Minsan det går/ei längre an/at krypa i det tysta."

Han lyckas bygga en flygande maskin eller egentligen ett "luftskiep" och sätter ut. Skeppet tar honom upp, allt högre upp genom himlarna, ut i rymden där synen av alla dansande stjärnor och majestetiskt kretsande himlakroppar helt hypnotiserar honom. "I betracktan af denna widd blef jag wäl förstörd, bestört för denna myckenheten skull, förskräckt utöwer en så widlöftig storlek, men därhos kär uti denna deras fägring, och ännu mera undrande nyfiken at se alla uti en ständig rörelse, utan att ändock röra hvarandra. Jag glömde alltså bort icke allenast mig sielf, at iag war en dödelig, utan ock min hemvist, jorden."

Världsrymden förför Fonton Freemasson till den grad att han helt glömmer bort sin ursprungliga intention. "Jag såg nu intet mindre efter, än som det, om hon är flat, fyrkantig, rund, aflång (. . .), om hon stödiar sig på stolpar, på fyra par Oxars ryg, som de i Japan mena, på fyra Elephanters, som Indianerne föregifwa, eller om hon ledig och lös swäfwar i luften: Om hon får behålla den äran de gamla henne tillagt, att var en orörlig medel=punct et centrum för hela werlden, eller ock om hon med de nyare Philosophers samtycke, måste taga sig den mödan uppå, och i följe med de andra Planeterna löpa om kring Solen."

För att inte segla alltför djupt i rymden och där hopplöst förirra sig styr Fonton Freemasson sitt luftskepp mot Månen och landar där. Han upptäcker strax att det finns liv på Månen: växter och djur - och sedan stöter han på månmänniskor. Dessa ligger på en klart högre nivå än vi nere på Jorden men trots det inser de att Fonton Fremasson inte är ett djur och accepterar honom i sitt sällskap.

En dag är månmänniskorna ute och jagar vilt och Fonton Freemasson tappar bort sig. Det är då han gör sin upptäckt. När han vandrar vilse stöter han på ett berg av glasskärvor. Berget påminner honom om en "Bruna-hög" (?) eller en "Ätte-backe". När han studerar skärvorna noggrannare märker han att bland dem finns även hela glasflaskor.

"Omsider som iag ännu vid närmar påsende förmärkte, at dessa här omtalta glas de vore teknade med Romerska sifror, och iag sålunda kände igen något som war hemma ifrå jorden, så wiste iag då intet mera hwarken hwad iag skulle säja eller tänka, här stannade hela min lilla inbillnings gåfwa, det war mig en sak som iag intet kunde begripa, ty lämnar iag det såsom et (. . .) och tänker intet vidare här uppå, utan mera huru iag, utan någon särdeles anfäktning, skulle komma ifrå detta förtrollade stället." Och: "Mån, likasom Rom fordom=dags af Albae ruin, får terricolarum interperentia, igenom the earthli folly profiterar, fastän tiden går, och sättet huru detta sker, skulle blifwa så obegripligt härefter, som okunnigt det hafwer warit alt härintils."

Det tar en stund men sedan börjar Fonton Freemasson förstå vad det handlar om, vad de kryptiska glasflaskornas hemlighet är: Månen drar till sig det mänskliga förnuftet som det drar till sig tidvattnet. Vi tappar delar av vårt förstånd, det evaporerar till Månen där det sparas i glasflaskorna.

"Sålunda så fant iag icke allenast på denna här häritida obekanta sanning, at nemligen wår Siäl, på wist sät, äfwen som wår krop och hela den öfriga jorden ständigt evaporerar, at hon ock i brist af näring och behörig skötsel, kan aldeles mista sin styrka och sit förnuft, utan ock, få i ansende sielfwa contexten, at endel af wåra Poëter samt Philosopher, icke utan orsak, ansedt wår jord för en Planet, som är öfwer alt full besatt med förnuftelöst Folk: 'Tous les hommes sont Fous & maigre tous leurs foins, Ne different entre eux, que de plus ou de moins.' Mindes vult decipi, at hela werlden sielf gierna wil wara dåraktig och på alt sät blifwa bedragen."

Fonton Freemasson känner behovet att söka fram sin egen flaska och återskapa sitt förnuft. Men vilken flaska är hans? Det kan han inte veta. Han ber månmänniskorna att få återvända hem och de ger honom tillstånd. Men det verkar inte riktigt bli av. Månmänniskorna vill gärna höra om hur allt är på jorden och Fonton Freemasson berättar hur vi har det. Månmänniskorna är enormt roade. Fonton Freemasson å sin sida vill gärna höra om hur saker och ting är på Månen och månmänniskorna berättar för honom. Fonton Freemasson är minst sagt fascinerad.

Men ändå börjar han längta hem. Det är ju nästan hans plikt att sprida sin nyfunna kunskap. "At wi Bröder i Apollo hafwa en oinskränkt påfunds makt, wi ha låf at resa til himlar, afgrunder, stiernor och nya werldar at wid hemkomsten wisa Folck sina dårskaper." Så han återvänder till jorden och sin käraste Eucharis.

Men kan han vara tillfreds med sin tidigare existens, efter allt han sett och lärt sig och upplevt? Nej, det kan han ej. "Ei gör iag på slutet så godt som wåld på mig sielf, och tager så fram mit luftskiep, ställer det uti fria luften, sätter mig däruti, och då man icke utan förundran afwaktar, hvad iag hade sinnet at företaga, så ser man mig fri ledig och lös sakta swäfwa uti ren och stilla luft, til dess iag helt ich hållen omsider så försvan utur alles theras åsyn." Ett elegiskt slut: Fonton Freemasson återvänder till Månen.

Ett klassiskt mönster, satirikerns grundredskap - helt som tex. hos Swift. Vi reser till ett främmande land eller en främmande land, skådar vår egen dårskap, och till slut äcklas av både våra medmänniskor och samhället vi lever i.

Jag vet inte egentligen om Krooks bok kan kallas prosa. I Universitetsbibliotekets samling är boken klassificerad som filosofi. Det kan handla om olika tiders olika litteraturuppfattingar. Tanckar om jordens skapnad är för våra ögon en ganska orolig melange vetenskap, filosofi, essäistik och skönlitteratur. På 1740-talet gjorde man inte sås stor skillnad - allt vad belles-lettres. Filosofi och naturvetenskap - finns det någon skillnad? Allt handlar ju om tankar.

Krook är exceptionellt beläst. I texten nämner han föregångare inom fantastiken som Cyrano de Bergerac, Dominicus Gonzales, Athanasius Kircher, Jesuiten Pater Daniel och Astolphus, samt även Ariosto och Vergelius. Dock inte tex. Swift. Av naturvetenskapare nämner han Doctor Wilkens, Hugenius, Fontenell, Gracian, Balfac, Copernicus och Galilaeus Galilaei (som han stavar dem). Det är solklart att han känner till litteraturen, både den moderna och den klassiska, att han vet vad vetenskapsmännen och filosoferna anser om de kosmiska frågorna. Det är inte problemet med boken.

Problemet är att han hela tiden verkar känna sig tungt förpliktad att påminna läsaren om sin vida kunskap och beläsenhet. Sällan lyckas Krook prestera en enda mening utan ett lärt citat. Det är helt normalt för honom att belasta en enda sida med tre eller fyra långa citat, ofta på tre eller fyra olika språk: engelska, franska, latin, forngrekiska. Huruvida citaten är relevanta är icke frågan. Det kan en som inte läser forngrekiska knappast avgöra. Men i varje fall gör citaten texten tungläst och ibland så gott som oläslig.

Läsaren är inte intresserad av vad Aischylos har att säga - läsaren vill veta vad allt underligt och fascinerande det finns på Månen. Hurdana månmänniskorna och deras samhälle är. Allt detta så gott som förtiger Krook. Han ger oss nästan inga narrativa detaljer. Han beskriver inte månsamhället. Han avslöjar inte varför månmänniskorna ligger på en högre nivå än vi. Vi får aldrig veta vad de tänker, vad de känner, hur de lever. Vi måste bara tro på Fonton Freemasson när han säger att de är bättre än vi. Ytterst frustrerande. Istället citerar Krook.

Han citerar klassiska greker och romare. Han citerar moderna fransmän. Han citerar italienare. Han citerar dramer. Han citerar dikter. Han citerar vetenskapliga texter. Han är inte intresserad av att skriva en berättelse. Han är inte ens intresserad av att formulera ett filosofiskt traktat - främst verkar han vara intresserad av att bevisa hur lärd och beläst han är. Inte någon värst lovande premiss för en science fiction-bok.

Och Krooks prosa? Om det finns ett kantigt, konstgjort, konvoluterat sätt att uttrycka en icke fullt färdigt formulerad tanke, så väljer Krook detta sätt. Och krånglar till det hela med ett par irrelevanta citat. Krooks meningar är lika långa som de är diffusa. När han kommer till paragrafens slut verkar han inte längre själv komma ihåg vad det var han skulle säga. Men ingen skada skedd - ett Vergilius-citat räddar allt.

Ändå har boken sina kvaliteter. Det här är en ganska intressant produkt av upplyssningstiden eller åtminstone upplysningsandan. Jag misstänker starkt att den skämtar rätt fritt med tidens tankegångar och karakteristiska griller: tankar vår tid så gott som helt har glömt bort. Detta gör att boken inte alls fungerar som den borde. Namnet på huvudpersonen - Fonton Freemasson - ja det måste ju vara en hänsyftning till frimurarna? Men vad betyder det? Jag har ingen aning. En annan sak som slår mig är hur okristen boken är, rent av ateistisk. Kanske det beror på att Krook är prästson. Intressant, i varje fall.

Trots allt är det inget under att Krooks bok är bortglömd. Det är ingen stor orättvisa an sich. Tanckar om jordens skapnad är en stökig bok och tungläst som bara vad: främst något för akademikern.

Men faktum kvarstår: den första svenska science fiction-boken är skriven av Johan Krook från Finland. Och riktig science fiction är det det handlar om: en helt stilren utopi och satir.

Det är något man kan vara ganska stolt över. Därför tycker jag vi kan förlåta Krook hans något klumpiga text - det är inte alltid lätt att vara först.

Post scriptum - Reichenbachin jälkeen

Sherlock Holmes-tarinoita on kirjoitettu satoja. Tuhansia. Niitä on kirjoitettu aivan liikaa. Doyle itse kirjoitti niistä tasan 60 kappaletta. Loput ovat muiden käsialaa.

Suuri osa mukaelmista, kopioista, pastisseista, kunnianosoituksista, plagiaateista, törkeistä varkauksista – miten niitä tahtookaan kutsua – on yrityksiä kopioida Doylen tyyliä ja teemoja. Toinen lähestymistapa, nykyään niin yleinen, on naittaa Holmes tarinassa toisen tunnetun kirjallisen tai historiallisen hahmon kanssa. Sherlock Holmes ja Dracula. Sherlock Holmes ja Viiltäjä-Jack. Sherlock Holmes ja Tohtori Jekyll. Sherlock Holmes ja Buffalo-Bill. Sherlock Holmes ja Freud. Sherlock Holmes ja Ctulhu. Sherlock Holmes ja Teddy Roosevelt. Sherlock Holmes ja Dracula. Taas.

Idea heittää Holmes toisten kirjallisten hahmojen kanssa samaan soppaan oli varmastikin aluksi ihan raikas ja virkistävä, ja voi olla ihan hauska vieläkin, mutta toisto tappaa. Kuinka monta Sherlock Holmes ja NN-tarinaa suurinkaan Sherlock Holmesin ystävä lopulta jaksaa lukea?

Yksi seikka tuntuu yhdistävän melkein kaikkia myöhempiä Holmesista kirjoittavia: he eivät koskaan ole täysin ymmärtäneet Holmesin hahmoa eivätkä siten tarinoiden ydintä. Yksi Holmes-tarinoiden vastine löytyy keskiajan ritarirunoudesta. Holmes on ritari ja Watson hänen aseenkantajansa ja trubaduurinsa. Ritaritarinoissa pelastetaan pulassa olevia neitoja ja kukistetaan lohikäärmeitä – samaa tekee Holmes. Mutta. Ritaritarinoissa rakkaus on pääosassa. Holmes-tarinoissa harvemmin. Vai miten sen asian kanssa oikein onkaan?

Ehkä meidän pitäisi ymmärtää Holmes-tarinat eräänlaisina käänteisinä ritaritarinoina joissa sankari ei saakaan pelastamaansa neitoa vaikka kukistaakin lohikäärmeen? Rakkaudettomia tarinat eivät silti ole. Muotoilen asian toisin: rakkaus on kaikissa Holmes-tarinoissa pääosassa mutta käänteisesti – rakkauden puutteen muodossa. Rikokset tapahtuvat rakkauden puutteesta. Rakkaus pitää perheet koossa. Sen puute hajottaa ne ja tappaa perheenjäsenet. Henkisesti tai fyysisesti. Tai ehkä henkisesti ja fyysisesti.

Tarkkaan Holmesinsa lukenut on huomannut että melkein jokainen rikos kaanonissa on rikos perhettä vastaan. Rikos voi aluksi näyttää muulta mutta lähempi tarkastelu osoittaa teesini oikeaksi. Mistä The Hound of the Baskervillessä on pohjimmiltaan kyse? Isosta verenhimoisesta kummituskoirasta? Ei. Koira on rekvisiittaa. Kyse on perheenjäsenestä joka kokee itsensä syrjäytetyksi ja yrittää tappaa kaikki jotka seisovat hänen ja suuren perinnön välissä. Mistä The Sign of Fourissa on oikeasti kyse? Ei suinkaan aarteesta vaan siitä että majuri Sholto on tehnyt suurta vääryyttä kuolleen rikostoverinsa perheelle: nuorelta naiselta on varastettu hänen perintöosuutensa ja siten tulevaisuutensa (tosin myös Jonathan Smallin rikostoverit, Tonga varsinkin, on pakko nähdä Smallin surrogaattiperheenä – joten ehkä toinen kirjan alkuperäisistä ja tärkeistä rikoksista on brittiupseerien rikos Smallin ”perhettä” vastan). Charles Augustus Milvertonissa nimihenkilö kiristää uhrejaan intiimeillä ja ajattelemattomilla kirjeillä. Se ei ole hänen oikea rikoksensa. Yksi uhreista murhaa Milvertonin. Sekään ei ole tarinan varsinainen päärikos. Oikea päärikos on se että Milverton rikkoo perheitä. Holmes ja Watson eivät ilmianna lain omiin käsiinsä ottanutta murhaajaa poliisille.

The Solitary Cyclist on varsinainen tyyppiesimerkki Doylen Holmes-tarinasta. Päähenkilöä, sihteeri Violet Smithsonia, seurataan. Perheetön Violet pelkää turvallisuutensa puolesta. Tarina huipentuu siihen että yksi Violetia vainoavista rikollisista yrittää mennä väkisin hänen kanssaan naimisiin jotta pääsisi käsiksi Violetin perintöön. Violet ei edes ole tietoinen sukulaiselta tulevasta perinnöstään. Tarinassa konkretisoituvat Doylen tärkeimmät teemat: perhe, raha ja turvaton ja yksinäinen nainen eli a damsel in distress. Rikollinen yrittää käyttää avioliittoa rikoksentekovälineenä. Avioliitto soisi hänelle takaoven Violetin omaisuuteen. Avioliitto ja perhe ovat taloudellisesti itselliselle naiselle turva ja suoja mutta myös mahdollinen ansa ja äärimmäinen cul-de-sac. Vaimo on aina aviomiehensä armoilla kuten tytär on aina isänsä armoilla.

Perhe on Doylelle pyhä. Mikään rikos ei hänen mielestään ole niin vakava ja vastenmielinen kuin rikos perhettä vastaan.

Jos valtionsalaisuus varastetaan niin tarinan oikea rikos ei löydy varkaudesta. Naval Treatyssä Watsonin ystävältä varastetaan tärkeä dokumentti jonka joutuminen vääriin käsiin vaarantaa kansakunnan turvallisuuden. Varas paljastuu miehen langoksi. Mutta mikä on hänen varsinainen rikoksensa? Tietenkin se että hän petti perheensä. The Second Stainissa vakooja murhataan. Tärkeitä papereita on jälleen kadonnut ja valtion turvallisuus jälleen vaarassa. Vakoojan murhaajaksi paljastuu hänen mustasukkaisuudesta seonnut vaimonsa ja motiiviksi miehen uskottomuus. Tarinan ytimestä löytyy siis jälleen toinen rikos, suurempi rikos, rikos perhettä vastaan. Salaiset asiakirjat ovat pelkkää rekvisiittaa – puhdas hitchcockilainen mcguffin.

Valtio on abstraktio. Yhteiskunta on liian suuri sana jotta se merkitsisi mitään. Perhe sitä vastoin on aina läsnä. Perhe on konkreettinen. Perhe on lihaa ja verta.

Holmesin hahmo kuvastaa perheen tärkeyttä kaanonissa. Holmes on yksinäinen susi, tunnekylmä, vailla siteitä, vailla perhettä. Suhde veljeen on etäinen. Muita sukulaisuussuhteita ei juuri olekaan. Hänen perhetaustassaan on ilmiselvästi jotakin hämärää. Luultavasti, kuten niin monet Holmes-tuntijat arvelevat, hänen lapsuudessaan on tapahtunut jotakin todella pahaa – ja selvästikin ydinperheen piirissä. Muuten se ei olisi koskettanut Holmesia niin syvältä, niin tuhoisin seurauksin. Mutta juuri sen takia Holmes osaakin ammattinsa niin hyvin. Hän tietää mitkä vaarat ydinperhettä uhkaavat. Ja mitä niistä voi seurata. Hän on yliherkistynyt perheen sisäisille rikoksille.

Watson on monella tapaa Holmesin vastakohta. Heitä tuntuisi kuitenkin yhdistävän se että kummallakaan ei ole pahemmin perhesiteitä. Siksi kai he ajautuvatkin yhteen ja ystäviksi. Watsonilta mainitaan kaanonissa ainoastaan veli. Veli on ollut alkoholisti ja sittemmin kuollut. Ehkä Watsonkin tulee rikkinäisestä perheestä? Tätä Doyle ei paljasta mutta viitteet vaikuttavat selviltä. Watsonin selviytymisstrategia on kuitenkin päinvastainen kuin Holmesilla. Watson yrittää paikata tilannetta menemällä naimisiin ja perustamalla oman perheen. Holmes ei kykene edes siihen.

Watsonin veljen alkoholismia vain sivutaan. Alkoholismi oli arka paikka Doylelle. Hänen isänsä oli alkoholisti ja se rikkoi hänen oman lapsuusperheensä. Alkoholismi oli hänen isänsä rikos, rikos perhettä vastaan. Hänen äitinsä rikos oli melkein yhtä paha. Äiti suljetutti isän pakkolaitokseen. Äiti myös aloitti suhteen toiseen mieheen, perheen kotona asuvaan vuokralaiseen, isän vielä asuessa kotona. Tämä rikkoi perheen rippeetkin. Äidin ja vuokralaisen suhde jatkui koko äidin loppuiän, vielä tämän mentyä naimisiinkin. Vuokralainen oli ammatiltaan lääkäri ja avainasemassa kun Doylen isä suljettiin hullujenhuoneeseen raivotautisena alkoholistina. Doyle ei koskaan antanut kummallekaan anteeksi tätä. Eikä isällekään jonka alkuperäinen rikos oli aiheuttanut koko katastrofin ja kaatanut korttitalon viimeistä korttia myöten.

Holmes-tarinoiden rikokset ovat hämmästyttävän usein juuri perheiden sisäisiä. Ne juuri ovat kaikkein pahimpia. The Copper Beechesissä isä ja isän uusi vaimo ovat vanginneet edellisestä avioliitosta syntyneen tyttären jottei tämä voisi mennä naimisiin rakastettunsa kanssa – ja viedä mukanaan perintöosuuttaan. A Case of Identityssä kuvio on melkein sama: äiti ja äidin uusi mies juonivat tytärtä vastaan jotta tytär ei menisi naimisiin ja veisi talosta omaa perintöosuuttaan. The Speckled Bandissä isäpuoli tappaa tytärpuolistaan yhden ja yrittää tappaa toisenkin. Motiivi on jälleen sama: tyttöjen perintöosuus.

Doyle selvästi kammoaa uusperheitä. Isät tahtovat päästä eroon edellisen liiton tyttäristään, äitipuolet vainoavat lapsipuoliaan, velipuolet kiduttavat ja yrittävät tappaa uudesta liitosta syntyviä lapsia. Taustalla on pakko olla Doylen oma henkilökohtainen trauma ja ydinperheen hajoaminen. Paradise lost. Vanhempien itsekkyys ja heikkous tuhoaa koko perheen.

The Cardboard Boxissa mies tappaa vaimonsa ja tämän rakastajan ja lähettää heiltä leikkaamansa korvat vaimon sisarelle. Vaimon sisar on tarinan alkuperäinen konna, hän alun perin saattoi petolliset rakastavaiset yhteen. Tässä tarinassa lienee totta enemmän kuin siteeksi, tuumaavat Holmes-oppineet, ja jollakin tasolla kuvio heijastaa Holmesin vanhempien ja vuokralaisen traagista triangelidraamaa.

The Priory Schoolissa herttuan avioton poika kidnappaa avioliitossa syntyneen pojan ja yrittää tappaa tämän koska tuntee tuleensa väärin kohdelluksi. The Golden Pince-nezissä Holmes selvittää professorin murhatun sihteerin tapausta. Tapaus osoittautuu murhan sijasta vahingoksi. Tekijä on professorin vaimo – jonka professori Venäjällä petti ja joka petoksen takia joutui vuosikymmeniksi vankilaan, syyttömänä. Tarinan todellinen konna ei siis olekaan tappaja, vaimo, vaan professori.

Tällaiset arkiset, todet ja syvältä kouraisevat kuviot eivät pastissimaakareita kiinnosta. Ei. Heille pitää olla jotain raflaavampaa, jotain isompaa. Pastisseissa ja mukaelmissa supersankarin viittaan puettu Holmes laitetaan lähes aina pelastamaan kruununjalokivet ja taltuttamaan superrikolliset. Mikään ei voisi olla Holmes-tarinoiden perusluonteelle vieraampaa. Jos Doylen tarinassa varastetaankin jalokiviä niin syy on aina intiimimpi ja motiivi löytyy perhepiiristä. Jalokivet eivät ole Doylesta kiinnostavia. Perhe on.

Holmesin supersankariviitta on silti ainakin osittain Doylen omaa syytä.

Päättäessään enemmän tai vähemmän ex tempore tappaa Holmesin pois hänen oli pakko keksiä Holmesille tämän arvoinen vihollinen. Joku joka realistisesti ajatellen olisi Holmesille tiukka vastus. Joku joka todella voisi saattaa Holmesin päiviltä. Joku joka oli – melkein superkonna. Holmes päihitti superkonnan. Se taas teki hänestä melkein – supersankarin.

Vielä mielenkiintoisempaa on Holmesin kuolema Reichenbachin putouksilla. Holmes kuolee mutta ei kuole. Mytologiaan suuntautunut voisi muotoilla asian näinkin: Holmes palaa kuolleista.

Tämä tekee Holmesista vähintäänkin mytologisen heeroksen. Harvassa ovat ne sankarit jotka ovat käyneet Manalassa ja palanneet takaisin maan pinnalle. Orfeus. Gilgamesh. Jeesus. Puolijumalia ovat he, aivan eri kastia kuin tavalliset sankarit. Ei löydy heidän uroteoilleen mittaa, ei määrää.

Holmes palasi kuolleista ja siten kaanonia on lupa lukea mytologisten lasien läpi. Jos olisin uskonnollisuuteen taipuvainen sanoisin: uskonnollisten lasien läpi. Kuolleista palaaminen tekee Holmesista täysin ainutlaatuisen yksityisetsivien parissa. Kuolleista palaaminen tekee Holmesin työstä melkeinpä pyhää.

Näin nähtynä Holmesin voi melkein kokea supersankarina.

Ehkä puolijumalana.

Kiehtova mysteeri on myös se missä Holmes kolme kuollutta vuottaan vietti. Niistä vuosista – hiatuksesta – tiedämme yleisesti ottaen hyvin vähän. Watsonille Holmes kertoi käyneensä Tiibetissä, mikä tuntuu loogiselta jos ajattelemme hiatusta hengellis-mystillisenä jaksona Holmesin elämässä. Mitä hän siellä teki? Mitä hän siellä näki? Mitä hän siellä oppi? Emme tiedä. Voimme vain arvailla ja spekuloida.

Myös sen tiedämme että jonkin aikaa Holmes kiersi maailmaa norjalaisena. Silloin hän käytti nimeä Sigerson. Muuten vuodet ovat meille tabula rasa. Mutta pastissien tekijälle se vasta herkkua onkin.

Emme tiedä mitä Holmes kuolleena ollessaan teki. Yhdestä voimme silti olla varmoja: se oli jotakin merkittävää.

Reichenbachin osuutta ei siis ole mitään syytä vähätellä. Juuri paluu Reichenbachista tekee Holmesista erityisen kiehtovan hahmon, suorastaan vastustamattoman. The Final Casen ja The Empty Housen mytologis-uskonnolliset vinkit ja implikaatiot ovat ilmiselviä sille joka viitsii ne nähdä.

Reichenbachin jälkeen mikään ei enää ollut entisellään.

Holmesin mytologisia ulottuvuuksia on mukaelmissa käsitelty luvattoman vähän. Minua juuri ne kiinnostavat. Miksi yrittää kopioida Doylen tekstejä? Siinä jää auttamattomasti kakkoseksi ja erittäin nololla tavalla. Doylea ei päihitä kukaan, eikä varsinkaan hänen kotikentällään. Ja miksi pistää Holmes mekaanisella tavalla ottamaan mittaa tunnetuista henkilöistä? Se on temppu joka vanhenee hyvin nopeasti.

Huomattavasti mielenkiintoisempaa on lähestyä Holmesia viistosti, melkein takakautta, yrittää jollain tapaa käsitellä Holmesin myyttiä ja myytin merkitystä. Etsiä siihen uusia näkökulmia, jopa uudistaa sitä. Tai ehkä peräti dekonstruoida sitä. Juuri näin toimivat Holmes-pastissien kiinnostavimmat tekijät kuten esimerkiksi Nicholas Meyer ja Michael Dibdin. Lukijan on vaikea enää kokea Holmes samalla tavalla kun on kerran lukenut heidän kirjansa (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution ja The Last Sherlock Holmes Story). Kokemus on puhdistava, suorastaan katharttinen.

Minusta mielenkiintoista pastississa ei ole se kuinka ovelan superkonnan Holmes saa kiinni. Holmes ei ole James Bond eikä hänen tarvitse ollakaan. Eikä se erityisen mielenkiintoista ole sekään miten nerokkaasti Holmes dedusoi – mikä onkaan rasittavampaa kuin että Holmes-parka joutuu pastississa pastissin perään kertomaan asiakkaalleen, kenkien ja housunlahkeiden kunnon perusteella, missä tämä on juuri ollut ja mitä tehnyt. Mielenkiintoista on se että nähdään Holmes uudella tavalla, että valotetaan ja nostetaan esille uusia puolia hänestä. Että puretaan hänen myyttiään ja kootaan palaset hieman uudella tavalla. Että inhimillistetään Holmes.

Holmes ei ole pahvikuva. Holmes ei ole marionetti. Holmes ei ole klisee. Tai ainakaan hänen ei tarvitse olla.

Itse en ole lähtenyt kopioimaan Doylen alkuperäisiä tarinoita. Osin siksi etten osaa, osin siksi etten uskalla. Doyle teki sen jo. Ja teki sen paremmin: siis keksi konseptin ja vielä loppuvaiheessa plagioikin itseään – usein erittäinkin pätevästi.

Kuten leikkisästi tavataan sanoa: Holmes selvisi hengissä Reichenbachista mutta ei se enää entisensä ollut. Aika hyvä silti.

Joten olen lähestynyt Holmesia myytin tai myyttien kautta ja pyrkinyt avaamaan niitä parhaani mukaan tai kuten on tuntunut tarpeelliselta. Ehkä olen vähän hämärtänytkin niitä, jos se on tuntunut tarpeelliselta. Holmes-mytologiaa ei ihan hetkessä tyhjennetäkään.

Mitään yhtenäistä mytologiaa tarinani eivät muodosta. Päinvastoin. Jokainen tarina lähestyy Holmesia ja Reichenbachia aivan omasta näkökulmastaan ja valottaa tapahtumaa (ja Holmesia) täysin itsenäisesti. Toisiaan näkökulmat, ideat, ratkaisut ja oivallukset lyövät iloisesti korville. Jokaista tarinaa voisi pitää yhtenä näkemyksenä asiaan.

Ylösnousemus ja kuolema on novelleista perinteisin ja mutkattomin, Suuri kirjasto kokeellisin. Liebestodissa Holmes saa maistaa Tristanin roolia. Vai onko hän sittenkin Marke? Tai kenties Melot? Wagneriaani ymmärtää, muille novelli on hepreaa. (Kuunnelkoot Tristan und Isoldea niin ymmärtävät.) The Fallissa Holmes saa tuta Borgesin kaksoisolentotematiikkaa. Sankari on aina enemmän sidoksissa konnaan kuin haluttaisiin tunnustaa. Jin ja jang. Doktor Steinerin talossa on enemmän kuin ripaus Shelleyn Frankensteinia. (Novelli huipentuu Suomessa siksi että kirjoitin sen Suomeen sijoittuvien Holmes-tarinoiden kokoelmaa ajatellen – mutta kokoelmaan saatiinkin tarpeeksi tarinoita joten annoin novellini muualle julkaistavaksi.) What the Thunder Said on Reichenbach katsottuna T.S. Eliotin ja James Frazerin tekstien kautta: The Waste Land kohtaa The Golden Boughn. Syystä tai toisesta yhdistän aina Reichenbachin kärsimysnäytelmän pääsiäiseen.

Ymmärrän hyvin ettei maailma tarvitse minun Holmes-tarinoitani. Mutta minulle oli kuitenkin tarpeellista kirjoittaa ne: minä tarvitsin niitä enemmän kuin maailma. Maailma antanee syntini anteeksi. Jos ne jotakuta toista huvittavat niin hyvä niin. Mutta onneksi Holmes on niin jykevä hahmo ettei kaadu, ei edes horjahda, vaikka kuka mitä siitä kirjoittaisi. Se omalla tavallaan antaa luvan vaikka mihin.

Ja onhan plagiaattimaakarilla jo Doylen oma lupa väärinkäyttää Holmesia, lupa jonka Doyle 1890-luvulla antoi William Gillettelle tämän Holmes-näytelmää varten: ”You may marry, murder or do what you want with him.

Tämähän jo melkein velvoittaa ottamaan vapauksia Sherlockin kanssa. Rajana on vain mielikuvitus.

Petri Salin, Helsingissä 17.09 2010

Tarinat ovat alun perin ilmestyneet seuraavasti:

Ylösnousemus ja kuolema - Juri Nummelin (toim.): Sherlock Holmes Suomessa (turbator, 2010)
The Fall - www.tricrepicephalus.blogspot.com
3) Suuri kirjasto - Usvazine 1/05 ja Jäätynyt Kokytos (turbator, 2009)
Doktor Steinerin talossa - Portti 2/10

Liebestod ja What the Thunder Said saavat tässä ensijulkaisunsa.