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The View from the East End (24)

By Inspector Hopkins

October 23, 2005

Ignorance is Bliss

Remember the old adage about the bumblebee not knowing that he couldn’t fly, so he went ahead and flew anyway? Well, in much the same way, it seems to me that we newer Sherlockians often go ahead and try new things because we just don’t know that we "can’t".

As a continuation of my thoughts concerning Sherlockian Scholarship, I once received an e-mail from a young man asking whether or not anyone had ever thought about what the Baker Street rooms looked like, or how they were arranged. He wanted to try and figure out what they might have looked like, and wanted to know if anyone else had done this!

When I read his question, I smiled with that self-satisfied smile of the "Sophomore" lurking quietly inside all of us, because I knew that it had already been done . . . over and over and over again. Imagine . . . someone out there wanted to try and figure out something that had already been well publicized many, many times before! Look back at my earlier articles about "Recreating the Baker Street Rooms", or, most recently, "An Afternoon at the Dobry’s", for example.

On deeper reflection, I realized that this man was just starting out as a Sherlockian, and he had the enthusiasm and exuberance that everyone feels when they first start out in any new endeavour. He just didn’t know that what he wanted to do had been done before, and many times, as a matter of fact.

This reminded me of when I first became serious about Sherlock Holmes. At that time, I had this grand idea of trying to figure out in what order the stories occurred. Ha! Can you imagine that? I didn’t know this had been done dozens of times before by much more knowledgeable people than I, and it was called "chronology". Once I started to make some headway on this project, I began to explore the depths of the Sherlockian knowledge on the Web. Imagine my dismay and chagrin when I found out that my project had already been done! And numerous times, no less. Of course, you might argue that there are differences, some subtle and some not so subtle, between the various chronologies out there, but in general there is only one major trend. Why re-discover the wheel if it has already been done?

Same argument goes for the Baker Street rooms.

Feeling like someone who knows there is no Santa Claus when he is asked if Santa Claus exists, I answered the young man’s e-mail as honestly as I could, knowing that my answer might make, (or break), a new Sherlockian just starting out. I explained to him that just about everything in Sherlockiana had indeed already been figured out, but that this should not discourage him from attempting his own interpretation of how the rooms in Baker Street might have been laid out. I went on further to say that there were no absolutely "correct" answers in Sherlockian study and that everyone’s opinion was just as valid as anyone else’s. I cited some websites regarding those rooms, familiar to many of us, which he could consult as he worked.

I sure hope that this was the right answer, because I never heard from him again, in spite of my inquiries as to his progress.

It occurred to me that there is so much information out there, that one can become strangled by it, to be frozen into inaction, because of self-doubt and feelings of Sherlockian inadequacy. I myself fall into this trap week after week.

Newcoming Sherlockians need to feel that their "discoveries" are important and relevant to the hobby. Hence the double-edged sword of "Sherlockian Scholarship": as long as they don’t know they can’t fly, newcomers to Sherlockiana will continue to happily flap their wings.

Until next time, I humbly remain,

Yours faithfully,