Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


Is it an accident that the white  on Silver Blaze's head resembles
the white streak that sets off a pair of spats and an imaginative mind?

    This is a story of imagination - who has it, who doesn't. And Sidney Paget uses the deerstalker hat, the ultimate symbol of Sherlock Holmes, as one guide to who does and who doesn't have imagination in the best conceived and executed of the canon tales, "Silver Blaze.".  But a deerstalker alone is not enough - spats are a must!

    Obviously, Holmes has imagination.  Who else would wear a deerstalker hat, and an oversized hooded duster to the moors of Dartmoor then put on a pair of spats to finish the wardrobe?  In this interior scene of the railroad carriage, his traveling companion, Dr. Watson is much more conservatively, and unimaginatively dressed. With his formal, coat and collar, bowler and boots he is suitably attired to both meet the sportsman, Colonel Ross  and tramp the moors in search of a lost horse.   Juxtaposed by Paget across from Holmes in a first class  railroad car, Watson is the stereotypical practical Victorian traveler legs crossed and cigar dangling, while Holmes, looks as if he is trying out a new disguise that incorporates a wild mismatch of GQ,  Lands End and Trappist monk attire.

    But, Watson's very practical attire matches his very practical observations that  Straker's wounds may be self-inflicted and the observation that Silver Blaze was joined by a human on the moor. "Quite so," says Holmes and thanks Watson for saving them a long trip. But this is condensation of the worst kind.  Watson is two steps behind Holmes, and the attire Paget dresses him in confirms the lack of imagination of the faithful but unimaginative friend. Paget knew that Watson would never sport spats on the moors, but spats and a deerstalker and an outrageous cloak would lift Holmes above the Victorian fashions of the unimaginative.

   Poor Inspector Gregory.   Holmes twice damns Inspector Gregory with faint praise by saying that he lacks only imagination to make him a superb inspector. Doyle fulfills this evaluation by portraying Gregory as the thorough and respectful follower who chides himself for missing  a slight clue.  Paget furthers this image of an overachieving flatfoot  by picturing Gregory in the background of the first image, and hat in hand in the second.  Further, he wears very practical boots instead of the more imaginative spats of Holmes and Col. Ross.  And Paget could not resist the bearded giant  Scotsman image that makes Gregory look like The Wallace  captured and clothed by Fleet Street before being paraded through the villages in a cage.

    At first glance, Col. Ross seems unimaginative.  Doyle puts words of complaint and distrust in his mouth, but at the same time, he trusts Holmes up to race time that Silver Blaze will run.  And at the moment of triumph, he wishes only to know the identity of the murderer of Starker.  How does Paget show this imagination?  Its the spats! He and Holmes stand clasping hands with spread spatted feet  in a recognition of the imagination of two men who see  beyond the winning of the race to greater issues.   The practical booted Gregory and Watson stand behind the two and are given a patronizing once over by a porter in the background.

    Paget  draws Straker and Silas Brown as the yin and yang of horse trainers. Straker's death scene depicts a typical English workman's clothing.  A common coat with no tie and boots that do not shine. Dead in the brambles, a victim of his unimaginative idea to geld a horse's tendon - and bested by a beast who would have nonesuch.

    On the other hand, Silas Brown shrugs off the idea to do the right thing and lead Silver Blaze back to his owner and hides him in the manner of a Poe Purloined Letter, among the beasts in his own stall. A disguise good enough to fool booted inspectors, but not a bespatted detective.

    Straker dies for his duplicity, while Brown lives on protected by Holmes himself, who tells Col. Ross that the horse was cared for "by one of his neighbors." A bit of fiction that is too easily swallowed by the supposedly imaginative  Col Ross and can only be explained by the fact that Ross has changed from his spats to more formal footwear for the running of the Wessex Cup.

    The game is afoot in this tale, and who is shod how is a key that Paget uses to reveal imagination to us all.


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