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#208117 - Mon Jan 12 2004 12:56 AM The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
TabbyTom Offline
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Please post your comments in due course.


Edited by TabbyTom (Wed Jan 14 2004 04:52 PM)
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#208118 - Tue Jan 13 2004 04:11 AM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
Maynooth Offline
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Registered: Mon Jan 20 2003
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Loc: Western Australia
I am extremely ecstatic that the Sign of Four has been chosen for book of the month! I will endeavour to start comments without spoilers.

I love the way Dr. John Watson (Doyle was only his agent you know) writes this tale. Not only is the tale itself filled with romance and adventure but it also gives a great insight to the opinions and prejudices of the Victorian era.

There are a couple of threads of thought that I wonder about;
The contents of the chest.
Dr. Watson's time in Australia.
Where Tonga ended up.
The bond between Christian and Muslim in an "unlightened era".
The hatred toward the Hindus.
We haven't changed a lot in our foolish prejudices for all the superior airs we put on.

I enjoy the mental visions of the boat chase. I think it is probably one of the greatest chases depicted in literature.

If there is anyone in the UK who can pin point the locations, I think that would be facinating.

Okay, there it is, a short opinion. Who else read this?

Awaiting your comments,
The Earl of Maynooth


Edited by TabbyTom (Wed Jan 14 2004 04:53 PM)
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#208119 - Tue Jan 13 2004 05:02 AM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - February)
halfbakedangi Offline
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Registered: Wed Jun 11 2003
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Loc: Kolkata India                 
I have Maynooth, and it was me who suggested it

I'm reading up the book again now, so my opinions will be posted after a few days.

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#208120 - Tue Jan 13 2004 06:03 AM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
TabbyTom Offline
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Registered: Wed Oct 17 2001
Posts: 8361
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I read it towards the end of last month. Like Chinky, I'm going to re-read it before I post.


Edited by TabbyTom (Wed Jan 14 2004 04:55 PM)
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#208121 - Thu Jan 22 2004 06:58 AM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
Maynooth Offline
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Posts: 114
Loc: Western Australia
Alright, it's the 22nd of the month BEWARE THESE MAY BE CONSIDERED SPOILERS.

Did Watson and Small come to some agreement? Did Watson and Small keep the jewels and never let on to anyone that they never fell to the bottom of the Thames? Small wasn't going up for murder (not in England) and so he would come out sometime and reap his bitter harvest. You notice that Watson never seemed to work very hard after that!

What was Watson doing at the diggings in Ballarat. Do any of you Ballaratians know?

Did Tonga really sink to the muddy bottom of the Thames or did he survive to aid in Small's escape in a later story yet to be revealed?

All mere suppositions? Perhaps....

The Sign of Four is probably the second best known of the Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles being the first. The Hound has had more movies made of it than ANY other story by anyone. Some of the actors who played Holmes in The Sign are Jeremy Brett, Ian Richardson, Arthur Wontner, Matt Frewer, and Charlton Heston did the movie The Crucifer of Blood which was very loosely based on The Sign.

So if you enjoyed the book try to find one of the movies. I would suggest Jeremy Bretts version but then I biased as I think he was the best Holmes. Brett did 46 of the 60 stories.

Okay, I'm off before I wear out my welcome.
cheers
Maynooth
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#208122 - Thu Jan 22 2004 08:06 AM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
sebastiancat Offline
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Registered: Thu Sep 05 2002
Posts: 527
Loc: Philadelphia Pennsylvania USA
I finished the book last week, and alas do not have a copy of it in front of me so please bear with me.

Like you Maynooth, i wondered about the so-called "demise" of Tonga. For one so savvy, it would be an ignominious death. My imagination leads me to believe that the Thames was not the ultimate resting place.

The area in the book that actually had me sit and wonder, even after I finished was when Smalls is recounting how he got to be a member of the four. He defensively stated that if he did not agree his life would be forfeit. If he did agree, it was with the knowledge that another life would be taken. That is what I thought about; how would I respond in a situation like that. Could I choose life for myself even if it meant death for someone else?

Hopefully more to follow when I have the book in front of me.
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#208123 - Sun Feb 01 2004 04:30 PM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
izzi Offline
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Registered: Sat Jun 15 2002
Posts: 2214
Loc: the amusement arcade of life
Aha! as you quite rightly say, Maynooth, "the game is already afoot", and I've only just got hold of a volume which includes "The Sign of Four". Never mind, better late than never, I shall be reading it over the next couple of days.

I'm not completely sure yet, but I think that this particular tale is a new one on me as I don't recognise the names of the characters so far. I've read quite a few before, but it has been quite a few years since I last read one of Conan Doyle's "Holmes" yarns. I've browsed through a couple of the posts entered so far but purposely avoided reading any further than the one marked as being a 'spoiler' - thank you for that, Maynooth.

As I've mentioned before when we were discussing Poe's character Dupin, their powerful observation and perceptive skills really are quite astounding, but the superior manner and arrogant way these detectives work tends to infuriate me just a tad. Obviously that style is a necessary method of instructing and educating the reader, but still nausiatingly annoying nevertheless. I have to admit that Conan Doyle managed, through Sherlock Holmes, to introduce his readers into the incredibly fascinating world of forensic science. Whether that's entirely a good thing or not is another matter though, as he was very effectively instructing the criminals as well as the good guys.

I was interested to read in another Book Corner thread that Maynooth and MotherGoose had recently hosted a 'Holmes v Poirot' debate. It would be good to hear a lot more about that!

The subject of Holmes's cocaine habit was raised and that's something which also intrigued me. On the one hand we have Holmes praising the qualities of the drug as a stimulant which he claimed enhanced and sharpened his brain power. On the other, Watson is clearly disgusted and concerned by his companion's addiction, actively trying to persuade his friend to cut down on the use of the drug for the sake of his health. Where did Doyle himself actually stand on this matter? He was a doctor himself, I understand, so he must have seen plenty of cases of drug abuse and addiction, but it's not really clear which side he comes down on.

I know very little about his personal life, but I'm always keen to learn a few extra snippets of information about the authors. Perhaps you would be good enough to elaborate a little for us, Maynooth, if you have the time.

I'm not very far into the book yet, but there seems to be a fairly familiar style developing. As in the first Dupin mystery, early on in the tale we witness a magnificent show of the great detective's powers of deduction as we read the section where Watson asks Holmes to determine what he could through a brief study of his pocket watch. The 'performance' interupted by the appearance of the client and the case itself is presented to us in full. Intriguing!

More later when I'm a little further on.
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#208124 - Sun Feb 08 2004 02:44 AM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
Maynooth Offline
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Registered: Mon Jan 20 2003
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Loc: Western Australia
As to Dupin I will refer you to the very words of Holmes from "A Study in Scarlet";
"It is simple enough as you explain it," I said, smiling. "You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories."
Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."

Sir Arthur is a fascinating man. As I understand it, and I am no authority on the great man, he sponsered a hospital for the Boer war and helped to man it. He made suggetions for alterations of uniforms, including better helmets. He was knighted and I find it interesting that Holmes refused a knighthood. I'm not sure what the tells about the author but it does make one wonder. Doyle did many great things in his life and is very worth looking into further.

As for cocaine (and morphine from time to time, see "The Sign of Four") Holmes only ever used it when he had nothing challenging to do. Never, never did he use it when he was on a case of deeply interested in anything. He is said to have been weened off it in later stories.

This is my one hundreth post. It has nothing to do with the above but I just had a real and present need ot mention it!

cheers
Maynooth
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#208125 - Mon Feb 09 2004 05:55 PM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
izzi Offline
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Registered: Sat Jun 15 2002
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Most enlightening, thank you, Maynooth.

Hmmm, a character from one book (Watson) pointing out the similarities of another character (Holmes) to a fictitious detective created by Poe. Then going on to say that he "had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories". Such a neat, little twist!

Quote:

it also gives a great insight to the opinions and prejudices of the Victorian era




That's putting it mildy. The physical descriptions given of Tonga and his fellow Andaman Islanders were, in my opinion, particularly loathsome.

I thought it a bit odd that Small was always so distrustful of Tonga, who had been such a loyal companion to him, assisting in his escape and had never acted in a threatening manner towards him. Yet when it came to his pact with the Sikhs there was such a tremendous bond of trust between them, the old adage of honour among thieves. Even to the extent that Small was willing to forego the chance of his own freedom rather than do a deal with Morstan and Major Sholto without the complete consent of his partners in crime.

Quote:

Did Tonga really sink to the muddy bottom of the Thames or did he survive to aid in Small's escape in a later story yet to be revealed?




That brought to mind the way that Holmes himself was written out in a drowning incident following a tussle with Moriarty. To then pop up again as large as life, by public demand, at a later stage.
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#208126 - Tue Feb 10 2004 11:01 PM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
halfbakedangi Offline
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Registered: Wed Jun 11 2003
Posts: 1576
Loc: Kolkata India                 
Sorry, I am so late, it took me some time to get through the book due to exams etc.

Like Maynooth, I especially enjoyed the romance which was brought in the story. I also liked how Jonathan Small confessed everything without a care in the world.

I am as puzzled as everyone else as Tonga. Since I read that he was horrible disfigured, I've always wanted to see how he looked like ? Is there any picture online which can show him ?

The boat chase was also very exciting, and I would agree with Maynooth, the boat chase was one of the best depicted chase in literature.

And lastly, I have to say how India was brought into the story..and also Calcutta was mentioned !

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#208127 - Wed Feb 11 2004 05:29 AM Re: The Sign of Four (Book of the Month - January)
izzi Offline
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Registered: Sat Jun 15 2002
Posts: 2214
Loc: the amusement arcade of life
Quote:

Chinky wrote:

I am as puzzled as everyone else as Tonga. Since I read that he was horrible disfigured, I've always wanted to see how he looked like ? Is there any picture online which can show him ?




Chinky, I didn't get the impression that Tonga was in any way disfigured. He was just depicted in that deplorable way through typical British Colonial bigotry and ignorance.

Quote:

"Now, then, where are we to find our savage?" He stretched his hand up and took down a bulky volume from the shelf. This is the first volume of a gazetteer which is now being published. It may be looked upon as the very latest authority. "What have we here?"

Andaman Islands, situated 340 miles to the north of Sumatra, in the Bay of Bengal.
The aborigines of the Andaman Islands may perhaps claim the distinction of being the smallest race upon this earth [...cut...]

They are a fierce, morose intractable people, though capable of forming most devoted friendships once their confidence has been gained.


"Mark that Watson. Now listen to this."

They are naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small, fierce eyes and distorted features.




As I said, a loathsome description of a fellow human being. I also remember thinking when I first read that section, at least they were generous in their remarks about their loyalty. That was until I went on to read the following passage during the boat chase, which left me in no doubt at all as to what was really meant by the wording of the previous generalised character trait. Not genuine friendship and loyalty, but obsequious subservience.

Quote:

The dull blur in front of us resolved itself now clearly into the dainty Aurora. Jones turned our searchlight upon her so that we could plainly see the figures upon her deck. One man sat by the stern, with something black between his knees, over which he stooped. Beside him lay a dark mass which looked like a Newfoundland dog.
[...cut...] At the sound of his strident, angry cries there was movement from the huddled bundle upon the deck.

It straightened itself into a little black man - the smallest I have ever seen - with a great misshapen head and a shock of tangled, dishevelled hair. Holmes had already drawn his revolver, and I whipped out mine at the sight of the savage, distorted creature.

He was wrapped only in some dark Ulster or blanket, which left only his face exposed, but that face was enough to give a man a sleepless night. Never have I seen a man so deeply marked with all bestiality and cruelty. His small eyes glowed and burned with a sombre light, and his thick lips were writhed back, which grinned and chattered at us with half animal fury.




The way in which we British once regarded anyone who wasn't "white anglo saxon" as inferior and in some cases as practically subhuman never fails to make me cringe. It just leaves such a dreadfully bad taste in the mouth.
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