The View from Sherlock Peoria (152)
May 1, 2005
R.I.P. Mary Russell . . . I Wish!
If you like the Mary Russell novels, you may want to skip this week's column.
If you have any kindly, sympathetic feelings toward Laurie King as an author, you may want to skip this week's column.
If you consider yourself a peace-loving, tolerant-of-others, general nice person, you may want to skip this week's column.
That being said, the rest of you can dive right in!
Peter Blau's Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press for April reports on a blog quote from author Laurie King, which reads "I shall be working on the last Mary Russell, where she and her husband return to England just in time to meet a ship from Africa that carries a nasty contagion, sent there from the German colonies as a prelude to the upcoming conflict, that drives its victims insane with terror. Russell and Holmes die in each others arms, I'm afraid."
This report was dated April first, and you know what that means. But for one brief, glittering moment, I had this vision of Mary Russell's beautiful ocean death, something like the finish to Titanic, where Holmes hangs over some floating wreckage and Mary, rather than let go like Jack did in Titanic, clings to Sherlock and starts pulling him under with her. Holmes, having been in a similar watery grave situation before, instinctively uses baritsu to slip her grasp. After watching his much younger wife disappear into the murky depths, a slight smile crosses the consulting detective's face and he suddenly finds renewed vigor to start paddling his piece of wreckage back to Sussex. And as he paddles toward the rising sun, we hear Holmes singing as vigorously as he once did in that second Rathbone film.
Ah, sweet fantasy!
King's quote "Russell and Holmes die in each others arms" really sums up a lot about what old school Sherlockians hate about the Mary Russell stories. A.) Russell's name, and person, always come first, and B.) The whole romance angle is just plain cheese-level silly. Conan Doyle knew better than to do it at all (Would you really call Irene a romance? C'mon.), and it's hard to think of a successful example of a Holmes romance in the last hundred years. (Billy Wilder's restrained "Private Life" touch on the subject could be the best.)
Perhaps Sherlock Holmes himself expressed the best criticism of the Mary Russell tales, with his words: "You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid."
I mean, how would people feel if you made a sequel to the movie "When Harry Met Sally," where Sally gets shot by the mob and Harry goes on a bullet-ridden spree of vengeance for his lost love? How would that movie's fans take pleas for tolerance from those who just love seeing Harry blast wise guys with a shotgun? (I can see the t-shirts now: "After Sally's death, Harry is ours!")
While Doyle may have said, "You may marry him or murder him or do what you like with him." to William Gillette in reference to a stage play version of Holmes, Doyle also wrote would-be pastiche writer Arthur Whitaker and suggested that he create his own characters, rather than use Holmes. Although the thought of forever without a new Holmes story is too much to side with Doyle's latter thought completely . . . there are still just some things that we can all live without seeing Sherlock Holmes do in print.
Using a light-saber, for example. Sure, it would be a natural use of his fencing and single-stick talents, but as much as anyone loves Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes does not need to be a Jedi Knight to entertain us. Being Sherlock Holmes is simply enough. Holmes the husband and lover is a fanzine material at best, just like Holmes and that light-saber.
But then, I could create a Congressional fillibuster using just Mary Russell arguments. To see Sherlock Holmes deserting his partner of so many years and taking up with a young girl was a lot like seeing the husband of a close friend dump his old reliable wife for a young bimbo. When Holmes retired from detection, he retired from detection, and one likes to think that if he took it up again, he might have brought his old partner out of retirement with him.
After reading Laurie King's April Fool's Day quote, I realized how much I'd really like to see the death of good old Mary Russell. Seeing her take Sherlock Holmes with her might be kind of rough, but like I said earlier, he escaped Moriarty's deadly embrace once. Maybe he can pull it off again.
Your humble correspondent,