“no ghosts need apply” [SUSS]
We have very few "ghost story" elements in the original Sherlock Holmes stories. As Holmes reminds us in "The Sussex Vampire,"
“This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain.”
And yet, we were led to believe—through creative storytelling and incredulous observers—that the supernatural was present:
- In The Hound of the Baskervilles, when Dr. Mortimer suspects the hound of being supernatural, he follows up with “Since the tragedy, Mr. Holmes, there have come to my ears several incidents which are hard to reconcile with the settled order of Nature.”
- Later, when Holmes mentions something about the devil’s work, Dr. Mortimer wonders if Holmes believes in the supernatural. Holmes answers, “The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?”
- In "The Devil's Foot," the vicar Roundhay burst into Holmes's cottage, screaming “We are devil-ridden, Mr. Holmes! My poor parish is devil-ridden! Satan himself is loose in it! We are given over into his hands!”
- And in "The Sussex Vampire," the title itself gives us to believe that there are supernatural elements afoot. Holmes, from the very outset, is skeptical of anything of the sort, reminding Watson, “The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”
Not that Conan Doyle didn't have experience with stories that were other-worldly. "J. Hababuk Jephson's Statement" is a fictional version of the Mary Celeste incident; "Lot No. 249" is the original mummy story; "The Horror of the Heights" makes us wonder what lurks in the skies above; and "The Terror of Blue John Gap" puts our thoughts to what lurks in the earth below.
His ability to create believable scenarios and build suspense through the eyes of his narrators made him a superb storyteller indeed. Perhaps we were never quite to frightened when reading the Sherlock Holmes stories because Watson, our narrator, is fairly fearless.
Fortunately, most feet remain flat-footed on the ground at Baker Street Elementary. And some students remain flat on their backs...
Baker Street Elementary follows the original adventures of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, as they and their friends work through the issues of elementary school in Victorian London. An archive of all previous episodes can be viewed at www.bakerstreetelementary.org.