08 November 2010

Reading Monday: Right and Wrong

It was in Grade 8 that I read my first Sherlock Holmes story. Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" was in my English Reader, and I wolfed it down the very day I acquired my brand new pile of school books.

Holmes's style of detection was gripping, and the prose flowed gently - I should have enjoyed the story, but I didn't.

The note on which the story ended stuck in my gullet-
"Get out!" said he [Holmes].
"What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!" [Criminal]
"No more words. Get out!" [Holmes]
And no more words were needed.

I was fourteen then. A young and righteous fourteen. A fourteen who believed that crime was wrong, and that criminals had to be punished. A fourteen who had an inflated sense of justice. A fourteen who could not understand how a detective could allow a criminal to walk free.

Something was wrong with the world if criminals were allowed to go free, after a confession was wrung out of them. I asked my mother to explain, but either she couldn't, or she chose not to. I harboured a growing resentment against Arthur Conan Doyle, as I waited for the story to be taken up in class. Even before the English teacher could start the discussion, I put up my hand, and asked how a detective could allow a criminal to walk free. She fumbled, and fidgeted and finally came up with an answer so unsatisfactory, I realised I had to either find the answer myself or remain discontented forever.

For two weeks, I tried to convince myself that Sherlock Holmes was actually in nexus with the criminals, and I even picked up a book of his short stories to find proof to further that claim. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the book, and as I read those stories, the portrait of Sherlock Holmes started taking shape. Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant detective who lived by his own code of right and wrong. Sherlock Holmes, the man who was firmly on the side of Justice, even if it sometimes put him at odds with the Law.

That one book taught me that Right and Wrong are not absolutes. That sometimes it is Right to give a man who has truly repented his crime a second chance; to subject him to Law would only make a criminal out of him. The other stories in the book taught me that sometimes you have to bend the law in order to serve Justice

That has been a lesson that has stayed with me through life, and had guided me in taking most of the paths that I have taken. Had I never read that story, I may never have become the person that I now am. That is the power of the written word. Can anything else ever match up?
Image credit:
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes


Unknown said...

I love Sherlock. I just downloaded the complete collection for my Kindle.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

You know, I'd forgotten, but I had the same reaction right after reading a particular Agatha Christie book where the killer was let free (you might remember it.) I was horrified! I'd forgotten all about it until you mentioned it. :)

Hart Johnson said...

How great to remember so exactly the book that inspired you to look deeper! I think I was older than that and I can't put an exact point on it. I wonder if starting with a DIFFERENT Holmes and then reaching that one later would have had the same impact.

ViolaNut said...

I'm with Elizabeth - I remember the famous Christie more than the Holmes, though I read them both at around the same age. However, I wasn't bothered by it at all - in the words of the wild wild west, "That son-of-a-b!+(# needed killing." The idea appeals, somehow. Does that make me a barbarian? Or just a Hammurabian? *scratches head*

Natasha said...

@ Clarissa- I have them all in paperbacks, but I do know that one of the first things I would do after I get a kindle is download the Holmes stories.

@ Elizabeth- the name eludes me, but I do know the story you are talking about, and I was horrified too. There is after all a difference between stealing and killing.

@ Hart- I had actually forgotten, but one of Margot's posts made me start thinking of last lines, and this memory came back. Shades of grey- I wish it had been my mother who taught me, but Holmes was not a bad teacher either. But, the impact was most dramatic in this one, because the scene was so dramatic (and unexpected).

@ ViolaNut- well, that was a killer after all, not a petty robber. I read that Christie book only recently, so it had nowhere near the same impact :-(
And I am not happy with 'needed killing", but....