Are Sherlock Holmes stories a bit of a railroad?




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    Are Sherlock Holmes stories a bit of a railroad?

    I'm reading the original sherlock holmes stories on my ebook that I got for christmas.

    These appear to be in order of publication or writing (as each one has made reference to prior stories). I'm on the 3rd one right now, the Red Headed League.

    What's got me associating SH with railroads (and the term may not actually apply), but the deductions SH makes are ones that the reader cannot make. You can't read a sherlock story and solve it or make the same deductions SH does.

    We are left in the same position Watson is. Sherlock looks so darn smart because he has information and details that the reader does not..

    at least thats my take from the first 2 stories (study in scarlet and the sign of the 4). Red Headed seems a bit more obvious (and I may have read it centuries before). I'd be surprised if the 1/2 pay clerk who just joined a month ago and encouraged him to apply for the position was not running a scam that involved this gullible red headed client.

    perhaps future stories become more fair, what do others who've read SH think?

 

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    Railroad does not apply to stories. Or else all stories would be railroads because they are written and all action and events are pre determined.

    What you are seeing is one type of mystery genre. Not all mysteries allow the reader to solve them right along with the main characters. I'm not sure what you mean by fair though.

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    It's worth noting that Holmes primarily uses inductive reasoning, not deductive (despite Holmes himself referring to it as deduction). He doesn't consider all possibilities and then whittle them away until only the right answer remains: "if not a or b or c then d". Instead he connects logical concepts -- "if a then b".

    As a result the sense that the story is following an unwavering linear path in large part comes from that reasoning. If the path wavered then Holmes would have to be wrong; with the exception of "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" (a story name, do not reveal it if you don't want to be spoiled), his reasoning is always right.

    A deductive story allows the protagonist to follow red herrings, search far and wide, run into dead ends, and reach conclusions in a roundabout way, things we might associate with a non-railroaded interactive adventure.

    As to a sense of fairness, you have to know everything Holmes knows about his time and place to have any chance of reaching his conclusion before it's revealed, something that no one but the author has, so it's effectively impossible. (Except for the fact that so many mysteries told after the publication of the Holmes stories mimic or even copy the originals that some results will seem "obvious".)

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    What Crothian said. The Sherlock Holmes stories are written as stories, not logic puzzles. Sometimes you can solve it along with Holmes; most of the time you can't. It's a different sub-genre of detective fiction.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fast Learner View Post
    As a result the sense that the story is following an unwavering linear path in large part comes from that reasoning. If the path wavered then Holmes would have to be wrong; with the exception of ... his reasoning is always right.
    On the contrary, Holmes makes mistakes. He almost always gets to the correct conclusion in the end, but he is not immune to blind alleys and red herrings along the way. I can think of several examples off the top of my head.
    Last edited by Dausuul; Wednesday, 11th January, 2012 at 11:51 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fast Learner View Post
    It's worth noting that Holmes primarily uses inductive reasoning, not deductive (despite Holmes himself referring to it as deduction). He doesn't consider all possibilities and then whittle them away until only the right answer remains: "if not a or b or c then d". Instead he connects logical concepts -- "if a then b".
    Absolutely! When I started reading the stories I was surprised to find this, because it didn't match what I'd imagined them to be like.
    There have been quite a few stories where this was particularly jarring: Holmes is often basically jumping to conclusions, ruling out any other possibilities, apparently without good reason. But since the author makes sure, Holmes' explanations are always the correct ones, anyway, it doesn't matter.

    Still, I found the stories largely quite enjoyable. They have definitely aged well and sometimes feature ideas that I thought of as being quite modern.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Janx View Post
    the deductions SH makes are ones that the reader cannot make. You can't read a sherlock story and solve it or make the same deductions SH does.
    Something important to remember about the early Sherlock Holmes stories... they were written in the late 1800s when the mystery genre was just barely getting started. There were a handful of authors out there writing mysteries (Poe, Lecoq, Wilkie Collins), but the formula for mystery fiction had yet to be established.

    When we read Holmes nowadays, we come to it with modern-day expectations of what a mystery story should be. We expect a crime, the guilty party to be introduced as a character at some point, and we expect to be able to "figure out" the mystery either right along with the detective or even before the detective. Most of these conventions, though, weren't really popularized or standardized in detective fiction until Agatha Christie came along and created the "whodunit."

    Hopefully that will help as you read the stories?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fast Learner View Post
    If the path wavered then Holmes would have to be wrong; with the exception of "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" (a story name, do not reveal it if you don't want to be spoiled), his reasoning is always right.
    I disagree, actually. There are quite a number of Sherlock Holmes stories where he comes to the incorrect conclusion, fails to figure something out, or fails to catch the bad guy. He has made quite a few mistakes along the way... after all, he's only human.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
    Still, I found the stories largely quite enjoyable. They have definitely aged well and sometimes feature ideas that I thought of as being quite modern.
    Couldn't agree more!! By a happy coincidence, I started re-reading the SH stories this past weekend. It will be my 7th reading of them, and I love them so! They led to my love of all things Conan Doyle which has lasted for over 15 years.
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    I did find the writing to still be enjoyable.

    it was only my recent reading where I put my finger on the "we can't solve these" problem. It's mainly because Holmes is written to be the only guy who can.

    It was interesting that the first story Study in Scarlet, introduces some forensic science concepts.

    cataloging every cigar ash known aids in crime scene identication.

    having a chemical that you can confirm the presence of blood is useful evidence (ex. Luminol).

    I have no clue if these things actually existed at the time of writing. If not, then Doyle has done us a bit of Science Fiction turned Fact in a very practical way.

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    I'll clarify: I shouldn't have said that Holmes was never wrong, but that when he was -- and this is only from memory, it's been a while -- it didn't drive the stories to dead end paths or have the plot following red herrings for more than a few pages. With the exception of the story I noted, I don't remember him being dead wrong and continuing to drive down that wrong path for any length of time.

    Other writers have allowed for more wide-ranging plots that probably feel less railroady.

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    It works best if you think of the Canon not as Mysteries, but as Adventure stories featuring a Detective.

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    Railroad is not the exact term, though when I read a Sherlock Holmes story, I feel like a player in a railroaded RPG game.

    SH is the author and the author is SH. The author invents carefully contrived case circumstances that nobody can solve, nobody except SH, who does so using evidence that the author has provided to no one but SH, who announces the existence of the evidence to the reader through his (the author's) amazing perceptive abilities, said evidence to have gone unnoticed by all except for the saving grace of SH's presence.

    If you are thinking I did not like the SH stories, you're correct.
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