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Wednesday, 11th January, 2012, 09:40 PM #1
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
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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Wednesday, 11th January, 2012, 10:11 PM #2
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
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.
Wednesday, 11th January, 2012, 11:44 PM #3
Defender (Lvl 8)
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 "[spoiler]The Adventure of the Yellow Face[/spoiler]" (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".)
Wednesday, 11th January, 2012, 11:44 PM #4
Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)
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.
Last edited by Dausuul; Wednesday, 11th January, 2012 at 11:51 PM.
Originally Posted by Agent Elrond
Thursday, 12th January, 2012, 09:16 AM #5
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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Thursday, 12th January, 2012, 02:13 PM #6
Novice (Lvl 1)
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?
"It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own." -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Through the Magic Door
Thursday, 12th January, 2012, 02:19 PM #7
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
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.
Friday, 13th January, 2012, 01:51 AM #8
Defender (Lvl 8)
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.
Friday, 13th January, 2012, 08:30 AM #9
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
It works best if you think of the Canon not as Mysteries, but as Adventure stories featuring a Detective.
Friday, 13th January, 2012, 04:00 PM #10
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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