Sherlock Holmes is the greatest detective of the world. He is the king of investigation, the biggest master of mystery solving. Several symbols belong to his character, for example the deerstalker, the pipe, the violin and the long coat. The accessories make him feel more comfortable, while the pipe and the violin forward his mental relaxation. His another important symbol, the magnifying glass gives him new information. But only a few people think about how significant this small object is in the hands of the detective genius. This article tries to unravel the mystery of the magnifying glass. The topic is detailed and serious, but the mystery itself is not an easy one either.
Violence and peace, reason and science under the lense of the magnifying glass – or Technology or the science of deduction?
Undoubtedly Sherlock’s most effective weapon is his brilliant brain, but he keeps some things with him that come handy when solving crimes. He usually has a pen or some chalk to scribble down important details and to be able to send messages – writing is very special for him (Read more about writing and reading here: The importance of reading , Sherlock Holmes and the art of writing). We know from the adventures that his sense perception is much more developed than that of ordinary people’s, he is excellent in observing and spotting out strange things. In real life this increased sensibility develops instinctively by those who have dangerous profession, so it shows how aware Doyle was of the abilities of men with special, risky jobs. Yet the magnifying glass is very important. It proves that Doyle didn’t want to endow his character with super powers, something that ordinary people cannot have. The magnifying glass the genius of Baker Street uses could be in the hands of Scotland Yard policemen, he cannot be blamed for the fact that they do not always rely on it. The magnifying glass reveals a smaller world what is accessible for everybody. Sherlock has the goods of the police during the investigations, because he had set a system of rules that he follows in order to work the most effectively. This system consists of the knowledge of different branches of science, lots of patience and his own observations. We have to accolade his creator, Conan Doyle, who realized that crime solving has to be based on science to be effective. This way his Sherlock Holmes could inspire real life forensic sciences, and he had enormous effect on French mastermind dr. Edmond Locard (More information: dr. Edmond Locard).
So the magnifying glass is the symbol of science that Sherlock wisely uses, but this tool would be insufficient without the fantastic brain of the sleuth. Holmes stresses several times that his mind is his metier. Just think about the case of The Blue Carbuncle, where dr. Watson examines the hat as well, but it tells him almost nothing, while Holmes knows that the ordinary accessory marks the beginning of a very interesting adventure. It is curious that Sherlock immediately begins to contemplate on the man whom the hat may belong to. He spares a lot of time to examine the object (through the magnifying glass as well), then he deduces several things about its owner. He reminds the good doctor that he also had the chance to reveal the facts: „On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see.”
We have to stop and muse a little here. We live in the age of technology and science. Yet the question often emerges whether we use technologies or are we the victims of them? Nowadays, when we are surrounded with computers and smartphones, it seems unbelievable that the same question bothered Victorian people as well. Because of the industrial revolution they saw lots of new machines and technologies. Conan Doyle knew the answer very well. His Sherlock Holmes (just like the author himself) was a man who used new things but he ruled them and never fell their victim. He doesn’t loose his ability of being interested in the owner of an old hat. The Scottish author believed in what his Greek predecessor, Sophocles wisely stated: ”Numberless are the world's wonders, but none more wonderful than man.”
Of course most people think they rule the machines and equipments that surround them and make their lives more comfortable. Many things give that illusion, but let’s see the facts: several years ago a baby starved, because the parents spent their time caring after their Tamagotchis. This example is brutal, but the parents were victims. They did not have time for their baby, for each other and for themselves. Is our modern world different? Not much. Nowadays Tamagotchis are substituted with online strategic games, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and so on. The device changed, not the activity. Lots of people have online friends whom they never met, they are just a profile picture. It is true that you can chat with other users, but the conversation is often limited to the use of emoticons, to share unimportant news or to provoke others. You have the feeling that you belong to a community of like-minded people, but most online group members don’t even know the real names of each other, and sometimes they think it’s all right this way.
'Look Up' - A spoken word film for an online generation.
There are groups where the idea of meeting emerges, but the inchoation dies away soon, because in real life communication and attachment is hard to create. One can answer that Sherlock Holmes is a solitary man, and the clubs that bear his name slowly break up. We do hope that at least some of the Sherlockian clubs and societies survive, but we must not forget that the detective have always been excellent in communication. Though he never loved, and he wanted to protect his relatives from the dangers of his profession, he is truly attached to Watson, Mycroft Holmes and Mrs. Hudson – these relationships are much deeper than today’s virtual friendships.
Sherlock Holmes and Watson could talk for hours about interesting things. According to a survey British parents have 49 minutes for their children per day. I am Hungarian. In my country this duration is 10 to 15 minutes. The most terrible thing is that this period of time also involves conversations like this:
- What happened at school?
- Nothing worth to mention.
- Yes, for sure.
- All right then.
Watching tv together is included to the period spent together as well. Lots of people live their lives in disinterest, hatred and loneliness. We do not have time to love, and we lack the patience that is needed to get to know ourselves and each other. Violence floods us from the tv, and it is said that this is cool. Brutal visual stimuli may lead to violence. Some tv series depict family realtionships full of cheating and pique, with temporary reconcile, then starting over again. Movies suggest that brutality or living in fear is normal. When some problem emerges, the solution is to go away, or to fight or to use a weapon. One cannot get on without stealing, cheating or lying. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine also dissects the effects of violent news and how manipulatively they are presented.
Of course there would be violence in the world without television or internet. It had always been there, in ancient ages as well. Saying that news show reality is illusory, it is only one side of the story. Today news and information are organized and they are smartly dosed to enhance their effects. The fact is withheld that earlier in history information streamed much more slowly, in lower doses and without graphic illustrations, so people had more time to process them. It is also remains untold that there’s someone who can stop brutality – and it is man. Just think about the ancient Greeks. Spartan soldiers had a really brutal and tough life. Nobody liked them, they were tortured and mortified. They were taught in early childhood that it is a common thing to leave other Spartans on the battlefield to die, human life is nothing, dying during a fight is a merit. As adults they became fearful murderers, but at the battle of Thermopylae they learned how to cooperate with other Greeks, and the separated tribes became one nation. When they saw that other Greeks attend the wounds of their fellows, they humbly learned to do it as well. King Leonidas used a tweak to let the other Greeks go away when he saw that the situation is fateful. He thought of that they all have families, and asked them to warn all Greek people to the Persian danger. Those warriors who have been taught to be violent and cruel, who have been beaten all their lives, could look at each other as brothers. Mercy can rise in all hearts at any time. Muhammad Ali sacrified his world champion belt and his subsistence to refrain from killing people during the Vietnam war. The American hero, Desmond Doss saved many lives during World War II, without touching a weapon. Gandhi freed India with words, starvation and walking. We do not have to live in a world full of violence. Sherlock Holmes chose to fight against it as well. His story and his magnifying glass show how important it is to see clearly what we have to do for ourselves and for each other. Unfortunately some adaptations show him more brutal than Doyle created him. In The Case of Identity he picks up a hunting-crop and expels the scoundrel, but he doesn’t hit him. He chases criminals and he also has restraint not to hurt them. The greatest detective of the world shows that anybody can do something for a better world, but for that one has to do some self-examination, and one has to observe and understand others as well.
An acquaintance of mine once told me:”People have many things in common, and their fears are one of them, but they can’t or don’t want to speak about them. In a bruised heart there’s the wish not to see anybody else, yet to belong to virtual groups to feel that they have found new friends. Media tells us that sexuality and material goods are the most important, and that our popularity depends on how many likes we get a day. But where is man among these things? How could we arrive at the fact that a woman can’t see herself beautiful without pumped-up lips and enlarged breasts, while a man thinks that a fast car and a luxury apartment makes him a real man? Sadly we can’t find the time to call our old friends and chat with them for five minutes, but we spend two or three hours watching reality shows. We follow lots of tv series, but we hurry eating our food which causes indigestion and weight problems. In these series we follow the lives of strangers, while we do not have time for those who were good to us, who helped us. We want others to ask us how we are, but we forget to do the same. We idolize celebrities, and we think they are just like us, because they aren’t perfect either, they drink, use drugs, smoke, commit suicide. We feel they are equal to us, because they also have problems. Yet we fail to see that a popular celebrity can be qualmish and unhappy despite the money and the countless fans….On many blogs the section of introduction consists of listing the series the blogger follows and his/her age. It may be informative, but this alone doesn’t tell much about the man or woman behind the blog. Creativity, merits and feelings remain hidden. Advertising is a task that a machine can do as well. We are not using tv, mobile phone and internet any more….we are the victims of these.”
We talked a lot about topics like these. My opinion is that this problem exists long since. Plato’s metaphor fits here:
Plato's Cave (animated version)
Political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote thoughtful studies on how television makes people inhuman. He foresaw social crisis where man is lonely in the middle of the crowd. I do believe that a clever man doesn’t need violence. A clever man is not violent, and he/she doesn’t let distress and aggresssion into his/her life. This is the first step to self-recognition, the rest will follow. Albert Einstein told:”Human beings can only live a valuable and harmonious life when they succeed to free themselves from striving for their material pleasures all the time. Our aim must be contributing to the spiritual values of society.”
Sherlock Holmes is a man of spirit, he represents the highest intelligence. He is skilled at many branches of science, and he’s aware of the latest invetions. Yet he is not lost in these things, so his character and abilities remain untouched. He has time to collect Gothic manuscripts, to go to classical music concerts, to read, to play the violin. He exercises his brain with different observations. He counts the stairs in 221B Baker Street, he recognizes Watson’s cigarette stubs on the street, and he can say many things about an ordinary hat. He trained himself to be like that. The outstanding surgeon, dr. Joseph Bell, and the other scientists that were role models for Conan Doyle, did the same. If you ask a mental arithmetic genius, he will say that he practised a lot. Doyle spent most of his life with writing, and he was a talented author in various literary genres. Our brain can be trained, just like any other muscle in our body. The key to success is in our hands, and the legendary magnifying glass reveals this as well. With the help of his magnifying glass Sherlock Holmes gained new information and he could make deductions. But he needed curiosity, steadfastness and practical knowledge as well. Our brain helps us the get to know our world better, this possibility is open to everyone.
In the Victorian era children’s toys resembled people or sweet animals. Children of our time play with monsters. Magazines and movies show photoshopped celebrities, and there are strange trends in fashion. Everything seems to be cool what is not ordinary, but one must never forget that there is a human being behind every staggering and odd individual. Dare to observe, to communicate and to see under the surface.
A Study in Scarlet was the detective fiction where the magnifying glass
appeared for the first time as an investigative tool, in the year of 1887.
This fact is mentioned by Susan Elizabeth Sweeney in her 2009 essay
'The Magnifying Glass: Spectacular Distance in Poe's "Man of the Crowd" and Beyond.