Monday, September 10, 2007
The Romance of Acquiring Knowledge (Books - The Beekeeper's Apprentice - Laurie R. King)
Mary Russel is a lonely, brilliant 15-year-old heiress whose parents have both died (is this a requisite for young heroes and heroines in adventure stories - perhaps so the reader isn't constantly asking why they are permitted to take such risks?). She stumbles across Sherlock Holmes on the moor near the country house where he has chosen to retire. He mistakes her for a young boy (I guess his wits aren't what they were), she deduces with logic the experiment he is conducting with bees (it's elementary, my dear Holmes) and lo a friendship is born. He becomes her only friend, father, and tutor in all things of the mind - they play chess, she works on his experiments, learns how to distinguish between different kinds of ash - you know, all the important skills for a young detective. Being a creature hungry to understand all things that can be understood through logic, she eats it up. I think today she would be diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Mrs. Hudson, Holmes trusty housekeeper, becomes a surrogate mother of sorts. Even Dr. Watson makes an appearance.
There is actually quite a bit of exposition before the mysteries begin, but this is not dull at all - especially if you enjoyed Sherlock Holmes. Its like being reintroduced to someone I knew once. He is somewhat older now and I knew him from a more polite distance before whereas now he is up close. The mystery format echoes the earlier Holmes stories - the first one I read yesterday is perhaps 30 pages in all. It's reminding how much I enjoyed Holmes, Father Brown, all of Agatha Christie, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, when I was a kid. I can remember taking ten Agatha Christie books home at a time from the library when I was around 12 and reading through that pile completely before returning them. I remember being sick and in bed and having my heavy Sherlock Holmes volume on my knees, and trying to solve the mystery, though always one step behind his logic. One of my favorite books at that age was The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook. That was a well thumbed volume.
Laurie King's Mary Russel and her Holmes are capturing that same sense for me. I have always romanticized the life of the mind - especially when it comes to books - I am greedy to know. To be on the hunt to find out something is perhaps the finest state I can think of (unless that something is electronic). Why? For others, the unknown is a source of threat and revulsion. I am titillated by the possibility of fitting pieces into the puzzle - knowing what, and then knowing how. These stories appeal to that sense of romance for me and their short format is the perfect one for the reads I can muster now between GRE studying and neurophysiology.