Sherlock's One Weird Trick
April 24, 2015 1:50 AM   Subscribe

In 1923, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his shortest Sherlock Holmes story and one that is considered "non-canon" or "self-parody": "How Watson Learned the Trick".

The reason it was so short, under 500 words, was that it was hand-written into a tiny bound volume, to be placed in the miniature Library of Queen Mary's Doll House alongside similar 'small works' by Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Edith Wharton and other prominent authors. But the reason he wrote this particular story is covered in this essay by Graham Moore, who wrote a novel about Conan Doyle and his legacy as well as the screenplay for "The Imitation Game" (which are connected, as he explains in the essay).

Also now available, an original scale (1.5" by 1.2") hardcover reproduction of the "Trick" book.
posted by oneswellfoop (27 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Walker Books also published J Smith by Fougasse from the Queen Marys Dollshouse library, but looking at the Amazon page I think they published it full-scale.
posted by Leon at 2:03 AM on April 24, 2015

posted by thelonius at 2:05 AM on April 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

I find Sherlock's reasoning hard to believe in numerous ways. He probably has more than one razor (he is basically rich), he also never seemed much interested in sport results (it's not like they are tobacco ashes), and his dentist would send a telegram and not a letter. Also as a doctor himself Watson would know that Barlow is a local dentist, perhaps even know that he is Sherlock's dentist.

So yeah: Go Team Watson!

Also: The essay from Moore was a great read.
posted by KMB at 2:16 AM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is there an anthology publishing all the stories from Queen Mary's dollhouse in a single full-sized volume, I wonder? If not, why not?
posted by Paul Slade at 2:17 AM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wow, Watson is going to need some ice for that burn.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:21 AM on April 24, 2015

And there was me, thinking I'd read all of the Sherlock stories.

I have seen variations of that story from a dozen different authors, but none quite as sweet as that!
posted by Eleven at 2:21 AM on April 24, 2015

Also, God help me, I read the whole thing in Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch's voices.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:22 AM on April 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

(J. Smith is also actualish size, though not as tiny as the Holmes book. I sort of worked on them.)
posted by Grangousier at 2:25 AM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Grangousier: I just bought the SH one. Are there any others, or plans for any others? I think I'd probably end up buying the complete set (if they were at dolls house scale).
posted by Leon at 2:27 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

To be honest, I don't know - I worked as a freelancer on technical stuff, so I don't find out about things until they need me to do something (which is, relative to the total number of things that get done, vanishingly rare). It seems like a good thing to do, but it's very fiddly (a lot fiddlier than people might think), so I suspect they might be waiting to see how these do.
posted by Grangousier at 2:36 AM on April 24, 2015

That's not a clue Watson, that's your jar of jam.
posted by Ashenmote at 2:40 AM on April 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

"Watson, you fool ... someone's stolen our tent!"
posted by jbickers at 3:26 AM on April 24, 2015 [12 favorites]

The Jeremy Brett Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series references this story: it's the exchange between Holmes & Watson at the barber in "The Resident Patient" (starts at about 3:50).
posted by thomas j wise at 3:30 AM on April 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

Wait, so whose behind is the Giant Rat of Sumatra?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:42 AM on April 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Wait, so whose behind is the Giant Rat of Sumatra?

Why, its . . . ectrician, of course! Ha ha h . . . ha haa! And with my new vox circuit, . .. orld is my . . . yster! (. . . ept for . . . onths with 'r' in!

I am happy to see that A. Conan Doyle and I agree on one thing: that the Holmes stories are cheap and manipulative.

Also, as usual, there is tons of induction, but not a single deduction in the story; that is the real trick.
posted by Herodios at 4:02 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

That story was so ill-mannered in such a cute way...thanks for sharing!
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:04 AM on April 24, 2015

I think what Holmes does is called 'abduction'. But he often misrepresents this method as giveing deductive certainty, with his "eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" schtick.
posted by thelonius at 5:26 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, as usual, there is tons of induction, but not a single deduction in the story; that is the real trick.

Oh my god this is why I can't stand Holmes stories. I'll watch for Cumberbatch chewing scenery but the detectivation in the original stories is too terrible for words, and Holmes should know the difference between inference to the best explanation and goddamned deductive validity!
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:31 AM on April 24, 2015

Samuel Vimes dreamed about Clues. He had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way. And he distrusted the kind of person who’d take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, “Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times,” and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man’s boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he’d been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen* and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!
- Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay
posted by kmz at 6:15 AM on April 24, 2015 [28 favorites]

Oh Terry, piercing that bright light of induction with the fog of commonplace coincidence.
posted by dazed_one at 6:49 AM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

The scriptwriter for 'The Imitation Game' ruined a perfectly decent Andrew Hodges Turing biography by adding some goopy Hollywood drivelling, so I'll be all grumpy about anything he says.
posted by ovvl at 7:56 AM on April 24, 2015

Also it presented Turing as the Great Weird Boy who was the only one who could see these beautiful miraculous patterns that everyone else was just twelve steps behind him on always, instead of presenting him more accurately, as a remarkably clever man in the company of remarkably clever men and women brought together because of their cleverness and because of their history with using machines to crack codes, working cleverly on a part of the problem instead of being in himself capable of seeing everything and solving everything.

I know so, so, so many guys, myself included, who got their minds good and well fucked by versions of that Great Weird Boy narrative, so I'm sad to see it potentially propagated to another generation of somewhat clever awkwards who can't get anything done because they think that they have to be the visionary supergenius who can solve everything alone.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:33 AM on April 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

One of my favorite instances of the "Whoah, Doc! Say that in English!" has to be in the movie Dewey Cox: Walk Hard.

The boy's brother is halved (exactly as it sounds), and upon hearing the doctor say that "this is a particularly bad case of being halved," the farther exclaims, "English, Doc! We ain't scientists!"
posted by auggy at 9:54 AM on April 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Jeremy Brett Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series references this story: it's the exchange between Holmes & Watson at the barber in "The Resident Patient "

While I much preferred this Watson played by David Burke than his replacement Edward Hardwicke, this scene seems overacted and painfully arch to me. IIRC The Resident Patient is the first story produced, so maybe they hit their stride later on. I don't recall it always being like that. But then the years change things, and i don't remember a lot of shows from the 80s being as badly written and performed as they seem now. (Though I don't mean to lump The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in with "badly acted 1980s TV shows"; that'd be a massive, undeserved overstatement of what I'm driving at there.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:05 AM on April 24, 2015

I think what Holmes does is called 'abduction'.

I do enjoy the Cumberbatch series, but one thing that unnaturally annoyed me about it was early on in the first series when Lestrade Shows Holmes a dead guy in a car in the middle of nowhere and asks him "Do you have any theories?", to which Holmes answers "I have 7", or something. Because he totally would have said "No. However, I have 7 hypotheses."
posted by KGMoney at 10:27 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the things I'm enjoying about Elementary is that Watson's observational and reasoning skills do improve over the course of the series, and she's not just an audience surrogate to whom Holmes explains the details of his brilliance.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:28 AM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is why I am rarely satisfied reading mysteries -- the solutions are often plausible, but usually presented as the only possible answer during the big reveal, and I often expect the criminal (or, as I imagine, the falsely-accused) patiently explaining how this elaborate story the detective presents is completely consistent with an entirely separate set of facts. In fact, I often want to rewrite the end of these things (especially Christie stories) with different conclusions that are entirely consistent with the supposed "evidence" carefully amassed in the preceding 90% of the novel. It seems like it would be fun game, where the more mundane an explanation you could make up, replacing as few pages from the end as possible, would be the winner.
posted by chortly at 3:08 PM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

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