“The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” Or, Stop him, Gromit!

“The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” was first published in November 1903 and took place, once again thanks to Baring-Gould and his beloved weather reports (ah, it’s good to be home again), Tuesday, August 20 to Wednesday, August 21, 1895 (and also once again going against many of his fellows most of whom date this case to 1894).

When discussing his return to Baker Street, an instance of Watson’s pawky sense of humor seems to have fallen to the ACD’s editing pen. According to Leslie, the sentence originally read ‘At the time of which I speak, Holmes had been back for some months, and I, at his request, had sold my practice and returned to share the old quarters in Baker Street as a Junior and insignificant member of the firm‘ (NA, 830). I think there’s something particularly charming in this sentence – Holmes, going so far as to finance the purchase of Watson’s practice, has obviously missed his Boswell and Watson is so quick to uproot his life at Holmes’ insistence. I guess old habits die hard.

Once again, I find myself nudging Paget further down the list of my favorite Holmes illustrators – Frederic Dorr Steele has pushed him down to #3 there (I think Gutschmidt’s still got the number one position, though) with this:

He looks a bit like Jon Hamm to me… Though Baring-Gould, in a rare fit of snark, points out that Holmes seems to have worn his dressing gown out to Deep Dene House (BG, 425).

Though Holmes laments the lack of interesting cases, Watson assures us this is far from true, mentioning the ‘shocking affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland, which so nearly cost us both our lives’ (NA, 831). Leslie points out that ‘in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, it was the S.S. Friesland, a Dutch-American liner, that sighted Professor George Edward Challenger’s pterodactyl when it escaped from the Queen’s Hall’ (NA, 831). Surely SOME Holmesian has put forth the theory that Holmes and Watson were off tracking dinosaurs here! And, sure enough, Baring-Gould doesn’t let us down. Ray Kierman steps up to the plate, suggestion that ‘Holmes and Watson, retained by Challenger, had chartered the steamship and “placed the vessel in the very path [Holmes’] matchless brain told him the beast would pursue [on its flight back to Maple White Land] . . . There seems no doubt that Holmes lured the monster to the very decks of the vessel, and there . . . fought it out . . . There seems little doubt, either, that Watson, in the nick of time, when the pterodactyl had Holmes down for the last prod of its vile and lethal beak, stepped forward and sent a bullet through the brainless [?!] skull of the creature . . .”‘ (BG, 415). Sounds very exciting, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately T.S. Blakeney steps in to ruin all the fun, pointing out that the year of The Lost World seems to be 1906 and, as the Norwood Builder takes place in 1894 (See? Baring-Gould’s playing the renegade again!), the dates simply don’t match up.

My miscellaneous thought [Let me show you it!]:

  • Ordinarily I wouldn’t explain my obscure subtitle here (I certainly haven’t before), but this one is so bizarre, I can’t help myself. In the BBC radio play version of “The Norwood Builder,” the voice actor who plays Oldacre sounds SO much like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit that the entire thing becomes an Aardman claymation episode  in my head. It’s impossible to take the ominous Oldacre seriously when I keep expecting him to say ‘Cracking cheese, Gromit!’ at any moment!

And that’s it! After the craziness of the previous two short stories, it’ll be an adjustment returning to the fairly normal theories. Also, I have to say that I don’t feel like I did “The Empty House” justice – I wrote it up too quickly and Baring-Gould was in the doghouse (I didn’t quote anything from him) because he organized his essays poorly. If I get around to it, I may attempt to rewrite that one eventually…

Anyway, tune in next week for “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” – a perennial favorite!

*Most of my notes, I think, come from the New Annotated simply because I find its format easier to work through and it is, therefore, the version that I’m reading first (I’m only reading the notes in the Baring-Gould). Much of the information is doubled up, but there is some that is unique to either volume, so if you see NA, that’s the Baring-Gould edition and BG is the New Annotated. No, I’m totally kidding – it’s the other way (the logical way) round.


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