The View from Sherlock Peoria (257)
May 13, 2007
Angels of Darkness, Again
Few pieces of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings hold as special a place in my heart as the unperformed, and for over a century, unpublished play Angels of Darkness. It’s not the work itself that makes me love it so . . . it is most certainly a lopsided mutt of a play . . . but the Holy Grail quality of how long I waited to read it. Like the great Billy Wilder movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which has a Grail story all its own for me, Angels of Darkness has a legend and with that legend, a kind of magic all its own.
At this late date, I have a hard time remembering when I first heard of Angels of Darkness, learning that it was a manuscript in Doyle’s papers that featured Watson but not Holmes. But such a tantalizing tidbit it was, like a manuscript from Watson’s own tin dispatch box of unpublished cases just waiting for us to find it. As excited as Indiana Jones was over that ugly gold lump of an idol in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the manuscipt to Angels of Darkness seemed like something better still: the kind of thing that would actually get a bookish Sherlockian to risk blow-gun darts and giant boulders.
When the Toronto Public Library finally acquired it and put it under a glass case at one of its symposiums in the nineties, the lure of Angels pulled me there over any speaker they had on the program that year. Since Doyle had written it in a notebook, which was laid open for the display, only two tantalizing pages were visible . . . what wonders could the rest of that notebook hold, I had to wonder. And in the next decade, when the Baker Street Irregulars actually reproduced it in their manuscript series, I ordered it immediately. Twenty years of wondering and waiting were finally over.
At the May meeting of The Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, the topic for discussion was to be the Apocrypha . . . those Doyle works that featured Holmes and Watson but weren’t included in the sixty tales we call “Canon.” And somehow, during a passing visit from Meredith Granger, he and I had come up with the idea of performing a bit of the play at the Clients meeting and not letting on what it was until it was over. I was just keen to see a bit of it done, and this Saturday night, at Napoli Villa Italian Restaurant in Beech Grove, Indiana, a scene from the play was actually performed.
The results were interesting, for one of the great flaws of the experience of reading the play is Doyle’s used of phonetic spellings for the dialogue of several of his characters. For example, Sir Montague Brown, as an English dandy, always says “bawed” for “bored.” Reading “bawed” makes it just look goofy, but actually hearing a decent performer say “bawed” makes the line work. It also makes one wonder how the whole play would sound if it were performed on stage. (For a slightly different performance, see this week's Action Sherlock Brain Theater.)
One of the biggest impediments to that, of course, will be one of the challenges I had in selecting the scene for the Clients meeting. Angels of Darkness has some horrible racial stereotypes in it – and whether the character’s race of origin was Africa, China, or Ireland, they all come off worse than Steve Dixie in “The Three Gables.” The evil Mormons who are villains of the piece might also hinder it in the modern era, when a Mormon is even running for president. But if it were performed in its whole form, even though it might be an utter train wreck, I think I would still have to see it . . . just because it still has mojo to spare from being teasingly held just out of reach for so many years.
Of course, a lot of other great things happened at the Clients meeting. Mike Whelan and Steve Doyle gave some learned papers. And, I also learned that GaXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX XXX XXXXXXXXX XXX XXXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXX XXX XXXXXX(This portion censored on Mark Gagen’s behalf.) XXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXX XXXX XXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXX.
That’s one of my favorite things about Sherlockiana . . . there’s always something out there, a bit known, a lot unknown, that we still have to get excited about.
Your humble correspondent,