Applying metafiction fun to Granada's Brett-starring "Sherlock Holmes: The Eligible Bachelor" and the insistence on prophetic dreams

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Summary: Granada's long series of Jeremy Brett starring Holmes adaptations are considered a high point of the adapted canon, but 'The Eligible Bachelor' is sure to rankle. I have a little fun with the prophetic dreams bit.

BLOT: (16 Dec 2012 - 02:59:50 AM)

Applying metafiction fun to Granada's Brett-starring "Sherlock Holmes: The Eligible Bachelor" and the insistence on prophetic dreams

[Doug's Note: It is way past my bedtime, but I'm both waiting for some Nyquil to kick in and am letting rage caused by reading idiots on the Internet die down. Also, this should have been up about a week ago but I got sick and just kept putting it off.]

"The Noble Bachelor", from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is a run away bride found, shortly thereafter without a great lot of fuss, in the arms of presumed-dead-but-still-alive prior husband, and that is all stitched up even if the first line makes it sound like a huge scandal, which maybe it was. It was probably deemed too slight to keep in the initial Brett-starring Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 1984 series (i.e., the David Burke as Watson stage of the show) and so only surfaced later, in 1993, as "The Eligible Bachelor", the end of a trilogy of extended adaptations that tended to have a grittier, more Hammer-horror-themed run. Maybe to tap into the delight that had been extended to their version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles".

A great many elements were added, so that the core story was only a facet of the overall plot of the tele-movie. Lord St. Simon had previous marriages that ended tragically (and suspiciously). His family home, now Glaven, is off limits and is filled with dangerous wild animals. Mental Asylums show up as well a prison and play whose production is staged just this side of sinister (without any seeming cause). There are a handful of Arthur Machen level coincidences, as Holmes basically bumps into everyone necessary for solving the case just a day or two before the case lands in his lap. And, most controversially, Holmes has a series of a dreams that turn out to be, spoilers, highly prophetic. In fact, unlike actual "prophetic" dreams, Holmes manages to dream precise images that show up later on screen, with only a couple of images being in the "symbolic" style. For a series of stories dedicated to cold reason, this feels unnecessary and maybe even a bit pandering, but I'm sure it went over well for the sorts looking for late Victorian weird (while likely pissing off Holmes devotees).

However, one of the more intriguing aspects of Holmes fandom is metafictional readings of the plot. If we assume that Holmes and Watson were real, that Holmes's exploits were written and catalogued by a man who did not fully understand Holmesian "deduction" (and who was notably more emotional and personable than Holmes), and that there were certain considerations of privacy and of plot that would require significant changes here or there to stories to keep them non-actionable and fun, then we end up with a game where the stories are hints towards what really happened rather than an accurate chronicle. In [Horowitz's "official" Holmes novel] House of Silk, I think it was, Holmes chides Watson for writing the stories in such a way as to make the solution seem last minute and dramatic when really they had often solved cases earlier in the story. That sort of thing. The Leslie S. Klinger annotated Holmes is full of notes from various newsletters and fandom writings about what was really meant here or there, why this or that date was wrong, and what might have been implied by some throwaway detail never touched again by Doyle, if we assume that Watson, the "true" writer, was hiding things in plain sight. It is a subgenre in itself, finding clues not intended by Doyle and working out the real story across entire arcs.

In this case, let's assume that the Granada adaptation was just another one of Watson's takes, a decades later rewriting and expansion of his original small story, some death or permission or additional daring allowing him to expand upon the tale's dirtier elements. Let's say that in the original chronicle, Holmes had some dream, about spider webs or leopard spots, and Watson (a broad stand-in for Doyle) leaps upon coincidences with a wife-killing maniac. In each retelling, the dream becomes more specific, more details added. Imagine the true story, one where a debt-ridden man who kept his now-penniless ex-wife locked away where she can not tell stories against him, and who died when his ill-kept estate collapsed in some old place and crushed him. Maybe some local fauna, a bit wild, did roam nearby, and was spotted by Watson when he visited the scene afterwards. The spiderwebs dotting the place stood out to him, immediately.

Watson pushed the coincidences, talked himself into them, exploded little details and shrunk big contradictions, and we end up with such a story as Granada gave us: a weird quagmire with debts large and unexplained, inexplicable menageries of animals and a crumbling estate, the seedier side of theater, the corruption of Britain's mental asylums, the inefficacy of the police, the power of money, and so forth and so forth. These elements make no sense because Watson was more concerned with fitting reality to the dream, the story he was most concerned with, rather than admitting the reality of the dream.

Like Watson, we take faint coincidences within a dream as a starting place and we build up an entire testament embroidering and emboldening and enlarging them with every retelling and with every moment passing. Just go and talk to an old aunt about the night she dreamed of your grandfather's death, or to your cousin about the time the neighbor had a vision of a fishing boat and they found you, shivering and wet, in the family boat after a day of searching for you. Neither of those things happened, but something like them happened, and over time, all we have left is the warmth of stories overshadowing the corpse of the past.

It is fairly human, the need to be more than our meat-shell, to think that either we or others have powers to expand, and so Watson attaching such powers to a man he clearly worships is not unbelievable. Though I am sure Holmes would have shook his head furiously at the whole thing. Which means this retelling was made after Holmes's death, one more attempt at canonization by his chief advocate.


Written by Doug Bolden

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