Who Was That Doggy at 221B?

Much is often made of this exchange from A Study in Scarlet, where Holmes and Watson are introduced by Stamford as possible roommates. Because I can’t help myself, I’m going to include comments on random other things via 1.

Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea of sharing his rooms with me. “I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,” he said, “which would suit us down to the ground. You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?”

“I always smoke `ship’s’ myself,” I answered. 2

“That’s good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally do experiments. Would that annoy you?” 3

“By no means.”

“Let me see—what are my other shortcomings? I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. 4 Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.”

I laughed at this cross-examination. “I keep a bull pup,” 5 I said, “and I object to row because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I’m well, but those are the principal ones at present.” 6

And this leads to a number of interpretations…

Option 1: Bull (Terrier) Puppy

The idea is that Watson owned a bulldog puppy, or maybe a bull terrier puppy, not necessarily little, who then disappears from the rest of the Canon. This absence could be considered… ominous. Many fans take this option, and both Bert Coules (BBC Radio Adaptation) and Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes (2009)) ran with it, introducing such dogs in their own works.

And then what happened to the poor doggy?

Some propose that the dog was given away, because dogs hate Sherlock Holmes; in “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”, one that took place before Holmes met Watson, Holmes has his ankles injured so badly by Victor Trevor’s bull terrier that he’s laid up for ten days afterwards. 7 Or perhaps Holmes felt a seething resentment unprovoked by the dog, although one would hope that would come out at an interview.

If a such an incompatibility did come up between Holmes and a puppy, what would happen? In Coules’ version, the puppy is given away; in Ritchie’s version, Holmes proceeds to experiment with the puppy. The latter actually reflects what a sociopathic boy does in the much later story, “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” to a spaniel, which doesn’t make for a kind reflection of Holmes’ mind.

In my opinion, if there really was a dog, the problem of bull terrier + Holmes’ ankles came up. I don’t think Holmes would actually experiment on the thing, since he acts so lovingly towards Toby, a hound who attempts to track a strange interloper in The Sign of Four, and is unlikely to ever get evil on that little floppy-eared face’s ass. Perhaps Holmes is simply more of a hound person (and indeed, Watson often describes Holmes as a hound 8 in the stories) and reserves his hatred for other dogs.

Speaking as someone who actually did get attacked by someone’s ill-trained actual bull dog, but has had friendly encounters with dogs of the floppy-eared variety, I completely fucking agree with Holmes in this case.


Where was I? Ah, yes.

Option 2: A Temper

Some object to the idea of the bull pup being an actual dog, because up ’til then Watson had been staying in a hotel, which wouldn’t have looked kindly upon dogs. (See this article at Sherlock Peoria, also the home of the sporadic web comic, Action Sherlock Brain Theater.)

Another option, then, is to take refuge in obscure slang. Apparently “having a bull pup” is slang for “having fits of quick temper” (see The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana). However, as pointed out in the previous article, Watson didn’t show off his temper during the Canon, or else he would have pummeled Holmes long ago and left. Not even Ritchie’s Watson is that impatient, though he’s less patient than most Watsons.

Actually, perhaps that was part of the motivation behind leaving Holmes for Mary Morstan. And perhaps Watson—who always was quick to want to bring physical vengeance on Holmes’ enemies, such as in “The Illustrious Client”—really did have a short temper, but rarely wrote it in. We’ll never know for sure, thanks to the Watson Gap. 9

Word of God would have been useful here, don’t you think? 10

Option 3: Packing Heat

This is my personal favorite, from a that would have been awesome point of view: the bull pup was a gun.

Of course, we’re not referring to modern bull pup guns, which are assault rifles where the receiver is located in the stock.

Apart from the complete difference in time period between Watson and the modern SA-80 British bull pup rifle, this is highly unlikely to have been a convenient weapon of choice. Although it’s quite fun to imagine him with one during, say, “The Adventure of the Empty House.”

However, “bull pup” in this case is likely to refer to the British Bulldog Revolver, a rather popular type of revolver in the past.

The relatively short barrel makes this gun convenient to carry around. I’m not sure, however, that folks in Britain, even Victorian England, would have really objected much to a bulldog revolver. But I have no idea what the culture was like during ColonizationFail, and as Watson in that scene in A Study in Scarlet had no friggin’ idea what kind of a roommate Holmes would end up being, he might have taken the guy for an academic softie. 11

If this really was the bull pup, then Watson took it with him on just about every adventure.

Actually, come to think of it, this interpretation makes the most sense to me. I wonder if the various interpretations of Watson that removed his capability with weapons led to the bull pup as dog idea later on.

Ah well.


You Know It’s True.

For the Rule of Cool overrules all other consideration in the world of pop culture fiction.



  1. double parens [back]
  2. What was worse: `ship’s or shag? Strong does not even begin to describe either. [back]
  3. And here we see the proximity of Holmes’ chemistry hobby, next to the upcoming mention…. [back]
  4. Yes, you are. [back]
  5. Ding ding ding! Next to the mention of “bull pup”! [back]
  6. The other set of vices is often speculated to be (a) womanizing and (b) gambling. If you take the tack that Watson was homosexual, (a) would still apply in terms of being oversexed. [back]
  7. In this relative captivity, Holmes and Trevor became close friends, or at least close as Holmes counts friends, which considering that he’s made two in his entire life before retirement, may or may not be entirely accurate. Or they were lovers. Your choice. Psychological associations and weirdness could definitely ensue. [back]
  8. INNUENDO? You choose! [back]
  9. Dibs. It’s my reference to the problems of a first-person narrator if we take them to be unreliable. And we’re pretty sure, thanks to stories published years apart in the canon, yet depicting events happening less than a year apart, told with completely different perspectives on Holmes as a character (largely positive-ish, and then heading down into “why the fuck did you stay with this jerkass” category). Although, like anything else, there are multiple flavors of interpretation here. [back]
  10. Of course, in Doyle’s case, Word of God would have been laughing in the face of any fan who asked. Because he didn’t give a crap. Welcome to Sherlock Holmes fandom, where the inmates run the asylum, because the asylum administrators all took off for the pub. [back]
  11. Actually, now that I think about it, Holmes mentioning his chemicals, and Watson coming upon him in his biochem capacity, may have lead Watson to believe that Holmes was some kind of nerdy little geek. Oh, innocent Watson. [back]

Retyping the Speckled Band, Part 6: Action, Climax, and Epilogue

Originally published April 3, 2010.

Previously we discussed how Doyle deals with suspense and the rising of stakes.

This time we’ll look at his action sequences. In large part, however, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is one of the quieter, arguably saner stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon. But you know, it has a cheetah and a baboon in it.

Let’s roll.

Continue reading

Retyping the Speckled Band, Part 5: Suspense is a Good Thing

Originally posted April 3, 2010. Yes, that’s quite the time skip.

Previously we looked at how Doyle dealt with description as we began to descend into the Muddled Middle that plagues so many works, including published ones.

Today we’ll deal with the aspect of suspense.

Man, it’s been over a year since I wrote the previous part of this series. Let’s hope I’ve actually scraped together enough experience to deal with this bit….

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Retyping the Speckled Band, Part 4: Description with Purpose

Originally published May 6, 2008.

Previously we looked at how Doyle revealed character depth in the flow of the story, rather than breaking flow to drop in character information.

Today, we’ll look at Doyle’s skills at description, atmosphere, and suspense as we lead into that part of any story, so maddening to many a writer: the middle.

Let us type.

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Retyping the Speckled Band, Part 3: Revealing Depth

Originally published January 31, 2008.

Last time, we looked at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s techniques of:

  • the information dump as extended inner story; and
  • pacing between inner and outer story.

Today, we’re going to look at Doyle’s adeptness at revealing character depth through multiple narrative means.

Let us type.

Continue reading

Retyping the Speckled Band, Part 2: Information Dumps

Originally posted January 16, 2008.

Last time, we looked at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s techniques of:

  • opening the story;
  • non-direct dialog;
  • laser-focused description;
  • establishment of character.

Today we’re going to look at how Doyle attacks one of the most difficult methods for any fiction writer: the information dump.

Let us type.

Continue reading

Retyping the Speckled Band, Part 1: Beginning with Style

Originally posted January 14, 2008. My thoughts these days are that writing is not a physical skill, but through this exercise (and the painting one, for that matter) you naturally study in more depth what’s going on. The mystery serial’s dead and off the net, and maybe it’ll stay that way.

When I first started writing fiction again in the middle of 2007, after a hiatus of over a decade, I realized that I had lost the cadence and flow of writing a story. Story writing is inherently an entirely different process from that of non-fiction. As a result, I had a tendency to stall, and stall badly.The damage was spectacularly bad on a couple of short mystery stories I wrote. I was filled with sadness and despair, but I kept going ’cause I’m like that.

One day, I stumbled across the thread of a wise writer, by the name of James D. McDonald, over at AbsoluteWrite called Learn Writing with Uncle Jim. One of his suggestions is to retype the first chapter of a novel:

Now, retype the first chapter. Do this with your writer’s eye, not your reader’s eye. Think about the lengths of the sentences, the lengths of the paragraphs, the sounds of the words. Think about the order of the scenes. Notice the dialog. How are the dialog tags rendered? Where is the point of view?

The point of this exercise is this: Have you ever gone to an art museum and seen the art students sitting there with their easels and oils, copying the great masters? The point isn’t to turn them into plagairists, or to make them expert forgers. The point is to get the feeling into their hands and arms of how to make the brush strokes that create a particular illusion on canvas. Writing is no less a physical skill than painting.

I thought that was pretty crazy, and didn’t try it at first.

One day I decided, what the heck.

Well, I don’t think it’s crazy anymore.

So let me take you on my journey of retyping “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”.

Continue reading

Just Finished “A Study in Pink”…

… and it was very, very good.

However, there’s one point I’d like to address. No spoilers here.

In the first part of the episode, someone (not Holmes) tells Watson to fire his psychotherapist. Watson, you see, expresses a lot of trauma in PTSD-style terms—flashbacks, psychosomatic symptoms, nightmares, stuff we haven’t seen yet and I’m not sure we ever will.

That someone tells Watson to fire his psychotherapist because he no longer has trembling fingers when he thinks of traipsing off after Holmes; that it’s not because he’s been traumatized by the war, but because he misses it. It’s not PTSD, but a thirst for adventure.

I really hope that’s just the character you wrote talking, Steven Moffat, because if it’s not, if this is your view… you’re a fucking moron.

How do I put this… since, as a PTSD sufferer, I am rather upset….

People who suffer from PTSD can often operate extremely well under stressful conditions similar to those in which they incurred the trauma.

Given that said conditions are often life-and-death or fatal ones, how the fuck else do you think that PTSD sufferers actually survive to have PTSD later on after the war? PTSD is, in its own twisted way, a survival mechanism that, for better or worse, works extremely well. The problem is, indeed, when life becomes normal, because trigger reactions and memories no longer fit.

I mean, hell. My oncall rotation is one where a mistake can cause millions of dollars in damage. I actually did have a choice to not go on a rotation that is so very vital to my company. But here I am, and been so for almost three years. Why the hell do you think I made that choice?

Basically, just because Watson’s limp wasn’t “real” doesn’t mean his trauma or his PTSD also aren’t real; and just because he has PTSD doesn’t mean he can’t function in a high stakes situation, just as he did on the show.

If you want a good portrait of how PTSD interplays with “thirst for adventure”, go digest Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series. (I summarized it, too.)

Oh well. It’s unlikely to come up ever again, because it’s likely to never be addressed again. Another one for the What PTSD? box.

I am disappointed. And if Watson is magically healed of PTSD (just like his game leg!), then Moffat has just perpetuated more marginalization of actual PTSD sufferers. After all, real main characters can’t have PTSD.

The episode? Otherwise extremely good.

Retyping the Speckled Band: Closure at Last

This little post series started out when this blog was brand new and focused on writing. Since then, the focus of this blog has changed, new sub-blogs have been created, and I learned more about writing, maybe, sort of, or at least analysis.

This series started here, and now ends on Holmesian Derivations, but I just felt it was fitting to list the links here, seing as “Retyping the Speckled Band” started here.

And now I’m free! Free! FREE!

Also I think I found next year’s RickRoll.

You Know the Rules, and So Do I

In regards to my post about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and the Sherlock Holmes sequel… it was a RickRoll for April Fools day.

(I know I got at least ONE person! ETA: I’ve never had someone cuss at me for rickrolling them before. I love firsts!)

I actually do love Rick Astley songs. Especially “Never Gonna Give You Up”, although for April 1st I tend to think along these lyrics instead of the normal ones:

We’re no strangers to 4/1.
You know the rules,
And so do I.
Playing pranks is what I’m thinking of,
And you’ll get this from every other site.

I just want to play with your feelings,
Gotta make you understand:
I’m gonna kid you up,
I’m gonna let you down,
I’m gonna run around,
And joke with you.
I’m gonna make you sigh,
I’m gonna say goodbye,
I’m gonna tell a lie,
And desert you.

It was a fun post to write.

Of course, it might come to pass, so it might actually be a prophetic April Fools joke after all….