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Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Great Hiatus

There are few literary enigmas so intriguing as the missing particulars of Conan Doyle's detective between "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of The Empty House".  Certainly there are clues, like this one:

"I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa and spending some days with the head Llama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend." --The Adventure Of The Empty House, pub: 1903; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In the vaults of the bank at Cox and Co., at Charing Cross, there is a travel-worn, battered tin dispatch-box containing all of John H. Watson's case-notes. It periodically leaves the safe and materializes in the the possession of  investigators and writers of pastiches and parodies. It appeared here for a moment this morning and displaced the content of my usual Sunday sermon. In this extracanonical  vignette, I shall address the problem presented by the excerpt above. Why did the author spell "Llama" with two L's?
                         [Sigerson in conferrence with the Head Llama]

Head Llama:  Mr. Sigerson, antar jeg - eller Mr. Holmes.
Sigerson: You presume correctly. But you are not, I take it, the Tibetan Pope.

Llama:  No, his title is spelled with only one L, but we often get our luggage mixed up at airports.

Sigerson: Then please excuse this intrusion. Though, by what mystery it occurred,  I confess myself baffled.

Llama:  Oh, no excuses needed, and no mystery is involved. This meeting is the mischief of our creators.

Sigerson: Beyond the obvious fact that you are a domesticated South American camelid, well-suited to Andean high altitude, therefore comfortable in the Himalayas, I can deduce nothing. How did you become Head Llama in Tibet?

Llama:  Elementary, I am the only llama in Tibet.

Sigerson: But surely you mean creator in singular and not its plural form. 

Llama:  I am here by a caprice of fiction, a simple misspelling on the part of Conan Doyle, who said: "Sometimes a writer must be masterful, and not nervous about details." Conan Doyle is my creator, my sole creator. You, however, were a joint effort.

Sigerson: You cannot mean my chronicler, Doctor Watson. He and I were created by the same author!

Llama:  No, I refer to your physical appearance, and the illustrator for the Strand Magazine, Sidney Paget, who made your face recognizable worldwide. He took advantage of a model that was available at a moment's notice and whose reliability was unimpeachable. Here, permit me to lay the evidence before you. First, consult the hand-mirror you keep in the pocket opposite your magnifying glass.

Sigerson: Yes, there I am.

Llama: Now consider this photograph of Sidney Paget:

                                [Sidney Paget, British illustrator of Victorian era. photo, pub. domain]

Sigerson: Good heavens! I am seldom surprised, even less often astonished, but you have succeeded in inducing both reactions in me. Two creators indeed! 

Llama:  Your investigation is completed then?

Sigerson:  Yes, thank you, there is nothing more to be learned here, and I have a long journey ahead.

Llama:  Go in peace.                                       


  1. What a hoot. Perhaps because I have an interest in lamas, a fondness of llamas, and find good Sherlockian fiction/pastiches hard to go past (particularly Laurie King). Megathanks.

    1. Thanks E.C. As you know, I'm also a fan of Laurie King, who lives not far from here and whose own eccentricities have long puzzled my friend, Willie.

  2. A very intelligent llama indeed to be able to straighten out Sherlock. What a humbling experience that was for him.

    1. Thanks Delores! At least the trek back to London was all downhill. Some consolation.

  3. Clearly, Doyle wasn't acquainted with Ogden Nash, who wrote something like:

    "The one L lama, he's a priest
    The two L llama, he's a beast
    And I will bet my silk pyjama
    There isn't any three L lllama."

    But if there WERE a three L lllama. no doubt, you would find him. Another fun post, dude.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I hadn't seen Nash's poem before --nor did I notice the resemblance between Paget and his Holmes illustrations until this morning. Fun Sunday!

    2. Geo., as usual your commentary and the responses are all erudite if not sometimes beyond the pale (for example, it's well known that Conan Doyle had to revive Holmes more than once because of reader outcries),

    3. Indeed! And since Dr. Doyle's last bow, many fine writers have answered those outcries in his stead, ably too. The shelf over my head contains at least 100 of them!

    4. How interesting. I have never read any Sherlock Holmes, at all, at all.

      Maybe it'll be my new thing. Thank you, Geo.!

    5. Michelle, I envy you reading the canon for the first time. It's a delightful romp and tour of Victorian England. Conan Doyle's kindness, courtesy, honor and humor preside over the entire thing.

  4. Lloyd the lame llama
    languished in L's,
    leisurely lolling
    in luxuriant dells.

    Lately his lentitude
    lessened his leisure
    but the L's he maintained
    lent him limitless pleasure.

    (attributed to Tsonghapa)

    1. I like that! But if a llama is named Lloyd, would a lama be named Loyd? I wish I knew but I won't ask a grammarian --they'd just hit us with some new rule of usage.

  5. Wonderful post! As Susan already quoted Ogden Nash, I can only add a minot poem by Hilaire Belloc:

    The Lama

    The Llama is a woolly sort of fleecy hairy goat,
    With an indolent expression and an undulating throat
    Like an unsuccessful literary man.
    And I know the place he lives in (or at least--I think I do)
    It is Ecuador, Brazil or Chili--possibly Peru;
    You must find it in the Atlas if you can.

    The Llama of the Pampasses you never should confound
    (In spite of a deceptive similarity of sound)
    With the Lhama who is Lord of Turkestan.
    For the former is a beautiful and valuable beast,
    But the latter is not lovable nor useful in the least;
    And the Ruminant is preferable surely to the Priest
    Who battens on the woful superstitions of the East,
    The Mongol of the Monastery of Shan.

    1. Thank you, Brigitta, for this delight from a favorite writer! Most kind.

  6. Having had several encounters with llamas, I have learned somethings. A llama can aim a gob of spit at any who annoy it.

    I do love a good Sherlock tale. Thank you.


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