My Words!

When it sounds too good to be true…

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

Yet another foray into the world of Sherlock Holmes, and this time it’s The Adventure of the Copper Beeches! We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Dire situation, not sure where to turn, when suddenly, something happens that seems to be a godsend. But… is it really?

This story opens with Sherlock Holmes being in a particularly argumentative mood, taking it out on the flat and Watson. He has little hope that his next client will be little more than a mild, non-criminal consultation. Yet when Miss Violet Hunter arrives, she impresses him with her presence and speech. She has, what appears to be, a good situation at first, but as Sherlock says, it is not a job he would wish his own sister to take. There is something suspicious, even to the reader, about this job. The requirements of her are to wear particular clothing, sit here and there about the house, and cut off her luxurious hair–little to do with her actual hiring job of being a nanny. And the pay! She’d be one of the highest-paid nannies around!

Sherlock suggests she do as she needs but that he will aid her if she needs it, so Miss Hunter takes the job offered by Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle. With a little sleuthing on her part, she discovers she is performing for the sake of some strange watcher, and that there is someone trapped within an isolated wing of the house, while a starved, aggressive mastiff prowls the grounds at night. She contacts Sherlock for further advise, and the detective and his companion decide they must rescue the captive, with Miss Hunter’s aid. The plan goes off without a hitch, until it is revealed that the captive is already freed. Mr. Rucastle returns to find everyone in his home; when he goes to spring the dog free, it turns on him immediately. Sherlock and Watson then rescue the scoundrel, killing the starved canine.

As it turns out, another of the hired help had conspired with the watcher to free the young captive, at the very same time as Sherlock and his cohorts. It was Mr. Rucastle’s daughter from his first marriage, and, as seems usual in these plots, he would lose her inherited finances if she were to marry–and that was precisely what she had intended. As the story closes, Watson notes that he had hoped Sherlock would continue to have ties to Miss Hunter, but that he did not. And that is just how Sherlock Holmes likes it.

Interested in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

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One can return from India with more than just good food!

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

A return to the Sherlock Holmes world, with The Adventure of the Speckled Band! I had actually read this short story back in August, but as I had forgotten the precise details, I wanted to reread it real quick before writing anything about it. Easily done, because honestly this might be my favorite (or at least most memorable) crime committed in Holmes’ portfolio. A young lady, the living remainder of a pair of twins, comes to seek Holmes’ aid because no one else believes her to be in danger. And boy, was she as good as dead had she not. Chronologically-speaking, Watson puts the crime as being one of the earliest ones he witnesses with Holmes, and he is eager to see what takes place.

The lady in question is Helen Stoner, and the criminal in question is her step-father, Dr. Roylott of Stoke Moran, Surrey. He is a huge man of a foul disposition, with an extensive background in India. He has been living off the will of his deceased wife, Helen’s mother, but if Helen or her sister were to marry, they’d be granted a portion of that money. When the sister nearly married, she suddenly died, crying out, “The speckled band!” in her sister’s arms; there were no visible signs of harm. It is believed that their step-father and the gypsies he permits to live on the property are to blame. Helen is now due to wed, and has been moved into her sister’s room–right next to Dr. Roylott. It’s a secure room in every way but one, and this is what interests Holmes the most: a ventilator into Dr. Roylott’s room, right next to a dummy bell pull that hangs upon the bed–that, by the by, is clamped to the floor. Yes, that all seems a bit too obvious an issue, something more tangible and easy to understand compared to other mysteries.

Ultimately, a snake is tricked to slide down the dummy bell pull in the middle of the night to potentially kill the sleeper. However, Holmes and Watson’s interference ends with the snake becoming enraged and attacking its master, killing him immediately. This short story is well-known, particularly for the detail about the identity of the snake. The line reads, “It is a swamp adder! …the deadliest snake in India.” There is much argument on this detail, because this snake does not formally exist. Some say that Watson misheard Holmes, while others (those who believe that the stories are based on real events) point to an Indian cobra as the culprit (and truth be told, every time I read the story, I forget this detail and assume the snake is a cobra). It is a good, quick short story, with a positive end, as Ms. Stoner is alive and well at the end, saved by the detective duo.

Interested in The Adventure of the Speckled Band? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

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Don’t touch the Boy Who Lived…

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

I’ve done it; I’ve finally done it. I’ve reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone! The first (and last) time I read this particular novel was in 2005. Back then, I was attempting to read through the series but got tripped up with The Goblet of Fire. I tried reading it five different times, always made it about halfway, then crashed. By that time I had entered college proper, and it was during the infamous hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and a meningitis outbreak, so there were a lot of serious distractions for quite a while. I’ve never seen all of the movies, but I’ve always wanted to try and give the books another shot. Having (somewhat) recently greatly enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I figured, why not now?

The book is written for someone much younger than me (considering I am now thirty), but the content is still enjoyable. There’s some rough patches, but they’re honestly to be expected as a story being told from Harry’s (a what, twelve year-old white boy who’s suddenly come into money and wizardry after being neglected and unloved his entire life?) perspective. The most aggravating part, for me, is the regular bashing of Hermoine for the first part of the book as “bossy and a know-it-all”, and this is likely because I recognized what they describe as her behavior, as how I was at her age. Their words hurt her, as they do me. I even had a nightmare last night reliving a few of the darker times I had trouble with this in my childhood! But they’re young and naive and they learn to overcome a lot of presumptions in this, the first book in a seven book series. If anything, what I walked away thinking was “Huh, a grown woman wrote a book that seemed like it was truly from a young boy’s perspective”. Not bad at all. It is a daunting task, to write for a group you are not a part of, honestly, and it was done marvelously.

The book is a steady stream towards the climax, whether or not the stream is diverting off-course for a moment or rushing headfirst towards the elements of the climax, something is always happening. More often than not, these things are magical, wonderful, and curious. We are to share Harry’s mystification as he goes through the curriculum of Hogwarts. This first book is the most magical, being the first to introduce us to the Wizarding World, to Hogwarts and Quidditch, to magical spells that levitate and transfigure and bind. To a being who should not be named, but seems to get named an awful lot.

Many things were created to make this world believable; infrastructure, shops, banks, currency, creatures, laws… And while I don’t remember the next few books, I’m certain the world is even more fleshed out. J.K. Rowling isn’t at the top of her game for nothing. In this book, my favorites are Hermoine and Neville, because they are overly concerned with the fate of the Gryffindor House as a whole, unlike Harry and Ron–certainly not Harry. Just about everything he does jeopardizes Gryffindor from its chance at the House Cup, an award given to the House with the best overall performance by the end of the year. The fact that Neville is rewarded for his ultimate attempt at stopping his friends from getting into trouble makes me smile, because it is, in fact, a great deal harder to stand up to your friends than most are willing to deal with. A small, entirely necessary lesson for any age.

What do I like most about The Sorcerer’s Stone? Hmm… The climax is quite nice. It’s short and sweet, and ties it all up in a nice package. Harry has to rely on his friends to make it as far as he’s come, but in the end, holds out on his own against Voldemort, long enough for Dumbledore to interfere (and save Harry). The series of enchantments safeguarding the philosopher’s stone (or was it called sorcerer’s stone even in the US interior? I already can’t recall!) from being stolen are one good, final showcase of the different things that exist in this magical world. And that bit about Harry being protected by his mother’s love… I do scoff a bit at that, but in the Wizarding World, it makes sense. This is a world of charms and curses, after all. A mother’s love feels like it could be a very powerful charm, indeed.

If I recall, this is the shortest book in the series; they progressively become longer and longer. For the age group it was originally targeting, this is a good, non-discouraging book to get into the world of wizards as well as the world of reading, and for that I applaud it. I remember when this one came out, seeing kids who wouldn’t be caught dead with a book, were reading it at the bus stop every day. And that is a very magical thing indeed.

Interested in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? It can be purchased here.

~Lils

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