By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting
It may surprise some of you to know that I have degrees in book reading and writing. While earning those degrees I studied one specific time period more than the others–that being British Literature from late-17th/18th century through the early 20th century. This is to say that it is a time period I know a little more about than you might think. And early 1900s is probably my favorite period out of that timeline, particularly England under Victoria’s rule.
And, perhaps, because of this strange obsession I have with the period, I presently have a small bone to pick over Moriarty the Patriot.
It’s not the minor inaccuracies of the clothes, nor the adaptation of character designs. It’s not even the adjustment to social tendencies depicted that are more Japanese than British-English of any period thus far either–because those kinds of things happen frequently in adaptations. And it’s not Moriarty or his backstory too! Because, again, this is an adaptation, and liberties will be taken to fit the new story (besides, even in the original works by Doyle the man’s backstory was inconsistent).
My issue is with the character of Sherlock and his supposed “deductions.” Well, maybe more accurately it’s with the writing of Sherlock.
You see, Sherlock is almost always introduced the same way in an adaptation. He makes a judgment about someone (usually about Watson or the Watson stand-in) and then proves it using his observational skills. This introduction is important because it clarifies that the world of the characters is one based on where common sense and science not only work but make sense. His deductions are logical and based on some semblance of rationality. Here is an excerpt from the original novel:
“I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind, that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were such steps, however. The train of reasoning ran, `Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.‘
How does this prove we are in a world where common sense and logic works? Well, because he didn’t pull any of these deductions from thin air. He just used his eyes and common knowledge to make a quick judgment.
In the example above, everything that Sherlock assumes is true and based on reasonable assumptions about the time period and about what he can observe of the person before him.
The tan of Watson’s skin is something he notes because London is usually dark and wet around this season, so you’re unlikely to get a tan. The way the man walks and stands is also a thing he can observe, and fresh military men walk very differently from the average citizen or gentleman. These two observations, coupled with noticeable injury and limp could lead one to think that maybe he has just come back from the current war (the First Anglo-Afghan War). Of course, maybe he wasn’t injured in the war at all–maybe something else happened; however, you can make a pretty good guess that an abled bodied soldier would not be home and looking for a room in the middle of war-times if something hadn’t happened to him on the battlefield.
My point is that all of Sherlock’s deductions come from observing details, paying attention to the basics of the world (such as the ongoing war or understanding rigor mortis), and using your senses. Sure, there may be a few things the average person doesn’t know that Sherlock does, but that’s because Sherlock has studied different things and to a more serious degree. The level of understanding is different, but not impossible to achieve in one’s own time or effort. And, as another note, Sherlock is not perfectly observant all of the time. There are plenty of examples of him needing to take breaks, of him closing his eyes to block out distractions so he can better focus on what someone is saying, and of him smoking to zone out for a bit so that he can come back to a problem with fresh eyes at a later time.
It’s absolutely vital to Sherlock’s character, and the original story, that all of the deductions are based on the “possible,” which is why the introduction of Sherlock in Episode 6 of this adaptation immediately irritated me. Here is the scene:
Side note: I’m sorry it’s shown as a poorly made gif–I literally could not find a copy of the clip with English subtitles on YouTube so I could not include it as a video. If you want to look at it in the episode itself, it starts at about the 13:00 minute mark. EPISODE LINK)
Here is what bothers me so much. Why would a mathematician be checking to see if the staircase on a ship fits the golden ratio? More importantly, why would that in any way matter to Moriarty as a character? Based on what we’ve seen so far of this character, and we’ve had 6 and ½ episodes to define him so far, none of Sherlock’s statement makes sense here.
Like, at all. (And I know that this also happens in the manga–doesn’t make sense there either.)
You know what would make sense though? For the time period and the character development we’ve seen of Moriarty thus far? A pause to consider– and maybe even compare–staircases on the ship between the main steps for passengers and the steps for commoners or staff.
Why would that make sense? Oh, thank you so much for asking. Time to get real nerdy here for a minute:
Class issues were a serious problem in Victorian England (as they are now, though in a different way). These issues were not necessarily the same as depicted in the show but it was still consistently present throughout the society as a whole. (A good, short read on the subject can be found here for those of you interested: Social Life in Victorian England.)
One way that this issue came out was in the very architecture of homes. In Victorian England, nobleman homes and estates were built with main staircases, where the residents and guests walked, and servent staircases, where the staff and other temporary employees walked. The difference in these stairs was huge, as the servant staircases were basically death traps.
In the late 1800s, a mathematician (and architect) named Peter Nickolson figured out the exact measurements that would generally ensure a comfortable and easy walk upstairs:
BTW: Here is a great video on the subject and how they were death traps: Staircases in Victorian England
However, Nickolson’s math and designs were not used regularly in the design of houses for years to come.
By the setting of the story, and given Moriarty’s interest in maths, his understanding of class issues, and beyond–this kind of knowledge would make far more sense than searching for the golden ratio in a man-made set of stairs.
Moreover, the golden ratio is generally interesting to mathematicians (to my understanding) because it can be seen in nature frequently. It is a pattern found everywhere, from the way that petals grow on flowers, to how seashells form, to freaking hurricane formations! So why on Earth would Moriarty be interested in an architect’s choice to use such a ration when planning a staircase?
He wouldn’t, I believe. Nor would Sherlock generally be able to make that assumption based on his time gazing at the staircase, distance from said staircase, nor angle.
So what can he deduce, if not that? Well, he may be able to deduce that Moriarty is a nobleman based on his attire. He may also be able to deduce that the man is a student based on age, as in an earlier episode we were told he’s quite young to be teaching in university and appears close in age to his students. Maybe he’s a student of architecture? But, if he’s a nobleman–as we suspect he is based on his attire–then it’s unlikely he works a labor-intensive job or one close to it. So, he must be in academia for academic reasons such as mathematics. Physics during that time, as an academic subject, focused more on lighting, heat, electricity, magnetism, and such. And, Sherlock notes that Moriarty is specifically looking at the stairs, not the lights of the ship.
So, BAM! I’ve deduced Moriarty is a young nobleman who is likely a student of mathematics. Perhaps he’s recently had a lesson on staircases or another algebraic concept that’s caused him to pause with momentary interest.
It makes a heck of a lot more sense than finding a “golden ratio” in a man-planned and man-made staircase… don’t you think? And, maybe, we can even deduce that rather than a student he’s a professor who has just thought up an interesting lesson–though that would be a BIG jump from the data we’ve been provided here.
Deductions that come from major leaps in logic make it seem like Sherlock is doing magic… and he is–because it is magical that people find it impressive or believable. It’s not. And I would argue that the original character would find it insulting based on his comments to Watson regarding being compared to other fictional detectives.
Pay in mind, I have this feeling about several adaptations, so my judgment on Moriarty the Patriot isn’t technically exclusive. It just hit me so hard in my first viewing that I felt I needed to share because generally, this issue of deductions becoming magic rather than stemming from logic doesn’t happen in the first two minutes of meeting Sherlock Holmes.
So… yeah. Thanks for coming to my absurd history/lit lesson through Moriarty the Patriot. I appreciate you sticking with me to the end and hope it was enjoyable.
You can watch the series on Funimation.com right now at: https://www.funimation.com/shows/moriarty-the-patriot
Overall, it’s a pretty good series; although there was a lot more child-murder than I expected…