Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet

Weeks 3-5: A Study in Scarlet

We finish up January with the first Sherlock Holmes story ever written, featuring the first major case of his career.

Till We Have Faces - a story of love

There was a time I might have disliked this book.  Years ago, two things could easily ruin a story for me: harsh protagonists and untidy endings.  Till We Have Faces is guilty of both.  I think I would not have liked it those years ago, so why do I wish I had read it then?  Possibly to become aware of what I was doing.  Experience, however, was the best way to learn, and this is exactly why I felt this novel, tremendously.

Orual is an unattractive young woman - so much so, that her own father, the violent king of Glome, reminds her when he's angry.  Her grim life is changed completely when she adopts her beautiful baby half-sister, Psyche, and raises her with all the affection she can give and has never quite received.  In a world where Orual finds her father, the people, and the gods set against her, it is only a matter of time before tragedy hits.  She lives and strives for just one thing: to hold on to what love she has.

You never comprehend how much you love someone until something comes along to break it.  You don't realize your own mistakes until it's too late.  I could hardly put the book down; I empathized only too well with the narrator, seeing where her sad tale was going.  How did C. S. Lewis, of all authors, understand her so deeply?  I think the line between devotion and idolatry concerns more than solely human relationships; it is directly related to our spiritual condition.  As Kierkegaard wrote in Works of Love, God must be our middle term in human relationships - if we don't view others through Him, we can't love them truly.  By approaching love from this larger viewpoint, Lewis so deftly characterized Orual that she is as true to life as fiction gets, harsh as she is.

I give it 4.5 stars overall.  The ending is not bad - in fact, it is fitting to the theme - but it didn't quite captivate me like the first part.  Also, in view of the fact that this story is set in a fantasy pagan world, I can't help but wish Lewis had taken more liberties with the resolution, since he was already so far from the original.  That said, I rounded it to a 5 on Goodreads, where the rating system only takes whole stars.  This is my first favorite read of the year.

Sherlock Holmes: "The Musgrave Ritual" (review)

Ah... the Musgrave Ritual.  While it does not come immediately to mind when I think of favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, nonetheless it is one of those I always enjoy.

An old college acquaintance, Reginald Musgrave, asks Holmes to help him solve the mystery of his missing butler.  Holmes's career is still in its earliest stages, and he is eager to take on the challenge.  The most prominent clue is, in itself, a riddle - the "Musgrave Ritual" that has been passed down in the family for generations.  Holmes believes if he can solve the riddle, all the rest of the mystery will fall into place.

This story gives a lot of great insights on Holmes himself - specifically, his methods.  He is one who focuses on gaining and using practical knowledge that will help him in his work (we'll hear more about that in A Study in Scarlet!).  Sometimes that practical knowledge may seem almost random.  In this instance, he makes use of his knowledge of math, history, and human psychology to approach the problem.

There are two great adaptations of this story which I just want to mention.  One is a TV episode, from the fantastic Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett.  It takes a few liberties with the story, but it overall it follows it closely.  A small clip:

Another one I enjoy is the Basil Rathbone movie Sherlock Holmes Faces Death.  The plotline combines the concept of a riddle with the game of chess, all in a spooky house (for added drama).  Granted, it's more of an "inspired by" film than a purist adaptation, but it's great fun to watch. 

Embracing routine in 2017

On a recent post, "Dreams & Goals for 2017," I talked about wanting to find a daily schedule to help me reduce stress levels, as well as balance my time between work and personal pursuits.  A commenter, Mari, expressed interest in hearing about my schedule if I found one that works.  It's been two weeks, and I'm happy to report I've created a daily plan and stuck to it, and overall it's been a surprising success.  :)

This is the approximate breakdown, with clarifying notes:

9:30–10:00 PM - Lights Off
I put this first because it is the most important.  I have always - and especially since college - been a night owl, easily staying up till 1:00 AM no problem and even past that sometimes.  I could hardly imagine going to bed early, let alone consistently.  On January 2, I made myself turn the lights off at 9:30, and that was the beginning of the success.  I did not fall asleep for an hour or two, but that was just the first night of the new schedule - it became vastly easier, of course, once I started getting up early.

As someone who finds it easier to fall asleep than to wake up, this was the single most useful change I made.

5:50–6:15 AM - Lights On
I have two alarm clocks.  One is my trusty mp3 player (yes, I am ancient), which I've set to play "Clair de Lune" at 5:50 AM.  The other is my Philips Wake-Up Light alarm clock, which has a beep that goes off at 6:00 AM.  Now here are real the tricks:
  • Through this system, I get about 8 hours of sleep every night.  Falling asleep at about 10:00 PM makes it easy to get up at 6:00 AM, because I really did get a good night's sleep!
  • The wake-up song matters.  I used to use "Arabesque I" and also tried songs by Yiruma, but the first notes of "Clair de Lune" are just perfect for me personally.
  • Every evening, I place my mp3 player in a different location in my room.  In the morning, the little task of finding the mp3 player helps my brain wake up.
Random benefit:  This may sound strange, but I have suddenly started having awesome dreams almost every night.  I almost never had dreams before.  (Probably I used to be too stressed/tired to dream.)

7:00–7:30 AM - Study (Work-Related)
On my best days (and I'll be honest, this is not every day), I will try to complete my morning routine by 7:00 AM and then get in some work-related study before I leave home.

8:15 AM - Start Work (with More Studying)
I generally start work by 8:15.  My boss really advocates training and self-teaching, so I spend about an hour reading or watching video tutorials.  It is sometimes tempting to skip this step - especially if I'm in the middle of an intense task - but I have found that if I spend those quiet morning hours in quiet study, it minimizes the stress of the workplace environment and sets me up for a more productive day.  

Additionally, I feel more enthusiastic about training when I do it every day, as opposed to saving it all for a Friday or a low work day.

11:45–Noon - A Real Lunch Break
For the first two years of work, I was in the habit of eating while working.  This is terrible for at least three reasons:
  1. You enjoy your food LESS when you do this.
  2. You don't give your brain any time to rest.
  3. Your keyboard/mouse become...gross (TMI, sorry).
Again, it is tempting to eat while working, but by forcing myself to take a real lunch break, even for 15 or 20 minutes, I am giving my brain the break it needs.  Just sitting at my desk eating lunch, I suddenly hear my coworkers' chats and other office noise in a whole new (more positive) light.  It helps reset my perspective for the second half of the work day!

5:00 PM - Personal Study Time
I get home around 5-ish, and soon after that is my non-work study time.  I start with one lesson of French for Reading, then I read the Bible chapters for the day. 

Regarding Bible study - I've been using the "Beginning" study plan from BibleGateway, which is reading Genesis through Revelation in a year.  They figure out the whole schedule for you, and you can use their calendar tracker to stay on schedule.  I'm reading the NKJV translation for the first time, with a hard copy of the KJV close by for comparison.  I also keep a "Bible journal," where I write something about the day's chapters (sometimes a sentence, sometimes a page, whatever comes to mind).

7:30–9:30 PM - My *Favorite Time of the Day
After dinner and a hot bath, I can catch up on blogs and reading!  (Also, Blokus - a somewhat addicting board game my sibs and I just learned.)

In Summary...
Do I stick to this schedule 100%?  No, I'll be honest I've deviated from the course more than a few times.  

That said, whenever I didn't follow it, I noticed a domino of Bad Side Effects, and in general I was less happy (and more stressed) when I didn't adhere to the schedule.  

*Interestingly enough, each time of the day is more enjoyable when I follow the schedule than when I don't.  But truthfully, this time is probably the most enjoyable of them all. 

What else?
Having a schedule means taking out things you can't fit into it.  You have decide how important it is to not miss that TV episode, or whether you should be watching a 30-minute YouTube video.  For example, my favorite show, Good Mythical Morning, starts up again tomorrow.  I may end up watching it during my lunch break, since an episode fits into about 15 minutes.  However, I might have to postpone watching the new Victoria series, since the first episodes runs till 11:00 PM tonight...we'll see!

Sherlock Holmes: "The Musgrave Ritual"

Week 2: "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"

Our second week features another story from Holmes's past!  Comment below with your thoughts on the story, or share a link to your blog/vlog review.

If you have any issues with the linky widget, please let me know. I switched over to a different widget hoster that would let me have multiples.

"The Golden Pot" and Other Tales - Hoffmann's mind is a weird place

In my Mount TBR 2016 Recap, I mentioned how much I loved the original Nutcracker and Mouse King, which left me wanting to read more by E. T. A. Hoffmann.  I was excited to find this little collection of some of his other stories waiting under the Christmas tree: The Golden Pot and Other Tales.

How can I describe Hoffmann?  His writing - his bizarre, funny, gruesome, sometimes tedious writing - precedes Lewis Carroll in many ways.  Hoffmann likes to bewilder his characters, make them question who they are, and encounter all manner of strange people and anthropomorphic animals.  He has an idea and runs with it wholeheartedly.  In a general sense (and in contrast to Carroll), I would say Hoffmann's stories are fascinating more than they are likeable.

My favorite was the first one, "The Golden Pot" (5 stars).  Anselmus is a young, fanciful calligraphist who gets a job as copyist for a mysterious man, Lindhorst the Archivist.  Lindhorst's beautiful, yet eerie house is just one of the fantastical elements Anselmus encounters.  I can't say much more without giving it away, except that I found it to be the most original and intriguing of the stories.

The majority of tales in this volume feature three archetypes:
  • an eccentric, flighty young man, who may or may not be living in the Real World
  • an aggressively seductive woman, the "anti-princess" if you will
  • an angelic, modest, beautiful woman, who is most likely the young man's fiancee
I wouldn't be surprised if Hoffmann is used in universities' literature courses to illustrate the portrayal of women in 19th century literature.  Those two types of female characters are prevalent in that era, and Hoffmann is here typical.  It is really unfortunate that 19th century media - and, indeed, much of modern, 21st century media - chooses to focus on two extremes, rather than on more balanced and realistic female characters.

Clara in "The Sandman" (3 stars) is one exception.  Though she plays a traditional role in the story, she is also levelheaded and refuses to accept the fears of her fiance.  Clara goes even farther - she promises to protect him:
If the hateful Coppola should presume to annoy you in your dreams, I am determined to appear in your presence like your guardian angel and to drive him away with loud laughter.  I am not the slightest bit afraid of him...
Clara is a wonderful character, but unfortunately, Hoffmann relegates her story to that of most thoughtful, intelligent heroines in the 19th century.  Was it because brave, logical females could not be tolerated - or was it because they weren't "sexy" enough for the readers?

To be fair, in Hoffmann's world, the male characters aren't much better, however sympathetic they may be.  In "Princess Brambilla" (2 stars) and "Master Flea" (1 star), the male protagonists are easily swept away by the events (and, of course, the alluring ladies) they meet by accident.  It's amusing at first, but quickly grows wearisome.  Hoffmann's strength of committing himself to an idea becomes a weakness, because the plots are more cringeworthy than charming. 

I'm not sure why "My Cousin's Corner Window" (5 stars) is included, but I liked it.  It is a story of two cousins observing a marketplace from a window.  It has an almost Hawthornesque feel to it, and it reads more like nonfiction.  If you grow tired of the Wonderland-like settings of the other stories, then skip to this one and savor this literary portrait that makes you feel as if you've traveled back in time.
Then, O my reader, you may come to believe that nothing can be stranger or weirder than real life, and that the poet can do no more than capture the strangeness of reality, like the dim reflection in a dull mirror. 
- "The Sandman," p. 98-99

Happy Birthday, Sherlock Holmes!

By general consensus, January 6th, 1854, is considered to be the birthday of Sherlock Holmes.  You can read about the humorous history of this (somewhat arbitrary) celebration in this 2009 article.  

I'm a firm believer in 1854 as the birth year, since Holmes is described as about sixty years old in "His Last Bow," which takes place in 1914.  As for January 6th, I'm not sure about it, but I don't mind it.  (For one thing, it's the same day as Epiphany, which helps me remember!)

In observation of his birthday, how about a discussion question - What is your first memory of Sherlock Holmes?

When I was about nine or ten, I discovered The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes on my family's bookshelf.  It wasn't the complete stories, but about 2/3 of them, with the illustrations by Sidney Paget.  The first one was "A Scandal in Bohemia," and while I couldn't have told you the definition of some words - like "blackmail" - I was absolutely carried away by the story, and of course, by Holmes and Watson. 

Enthralled, I devoured the entire book in a very short time.  Like Watson, I was floored by Holmes's deductions.  Unusual for me at the time, I got emotional over some plots - "The Greek Interpreter" terrified me, and I was heartbroken by "The Final Problem."  I was completely immersed in the series.

As I got older, Sherlock Holmes the character influenced my life in a lot of ways, which maybe I will talk about in another post.  Suffice it to say, though I've experienced many books, I'm not sure if any have affected me as much as the Sherlock Holmes series.  

Sherlock Holmes: "The Gloria Scott" (review)

The first in the lineup for our Sherlock Holmes challenge is a flashback to Holmes's college days, where he was a solitary student studying chemistry.  He made a total of (surprise) one friend, as he tells us: Victor Trevor.
He was a hearty, full-blooded fellow, full of spirits and energy, the very opposite to me in most respects, but we had some subjects in common, and it was a bond of union when I found that he was as friendless as I.
I like this bit; it makes Trevor to be a sort of proto-Watson - opposite personality to Holmes, but lonely like him.  Trevor also genuinely likes Holmes's conversation, to the point he asks him down to his house for a visit during break.

The actual mystery, involving Trevor's father, is a grisly start for our challenge!  Yet I think it summarizes many key points to the Sherlock Holmes series.  It has the mysterious note, the sympathetic villain or anti-hero, and a somewhat lengthy flashback dialogue.  More importantly, it reconfirms Holmes's belief in himself, and those adventures tend to be amongst his best.

I was a little sad to read that he spent the last seven weeks of the holiday at the college, "working out a few experiments in organic chemistry."  It seems to imply either Holmes had no family to go home to, that he was extremely obsessive about his studies (most probable), or that home was not a good place for him.

Can't wait to read all of your thoughts on this one!

Sherlock Holmes: "The Gloria Scott"

Week 1: "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"

This is the first check-in post of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge!  Comment below with your thoughts on the story, or share a link to your blog/vlog review.

Kai (Fiction State of Mind)
Keely @ Achaemenids
Ashley @ BookishRealmReviews
Dana @ Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Marian @ noonlight reads

Note: Having some trouble with the linky widget, so please bear with me (and post your links in a comment if there is no widget visible :)).