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Sherlock Holmes’ beginnings

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Here at Oxford University Press we occasionally get the chance to discover a new and exciting piece of literary history. We’re excited to share the newest short story addition to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries in Sherlock Holmes: Selected Stories. Never before published, our editorial team has acquired The Mystery of the Green Garden, now believed to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first use of the Sherlock Holmes’ character in his writing. Written during Doyle’s time at Stonyhurst College before entering medical school, the short story displays an early, amateur style of writing not seen in his later published works.

The Mystery of the Green Garden is set during Sherlock Holmes’ childhood – a rarely discussed part of Holmes’ life. Holmes’ is only sixteen years old when he is called to his first case. Unlike many of the stories in the Holmes series which are narrated by the loyal Dr. Watson, Holmes himself tells the short, endearing tale of his mother’s beloved garden. Getting our first look at his parents, Holmes briefly describes his mother as a “lively but often brooding woman.” We catch only a glimpse of his father who he calls a tireless civil serviceman with, “rarely enough time to fix even a long ago missing board in the kitchen’s creaking floor.”

Before attending university where he first acquired his detective skills, and moving to 221S Baker Street to practice his craft, Holmes lived at 45 Tilly Lane overlooking “a lush, never ignored garden.” Described as his mother’s favorite pastime, she gardened tirelessly day in and day out. As a young boy he recalls “spending countless hours playing in the dirt as mother tended to her beloved flowers and ferns.”

One morning, Holmes wakes to discover the garden destroyed. Flower beds are overturned, and shrubbery and plants are ripped apart. His mother is beside herself upon seeing her hard work demolished, and Holmes vows to discover the foolish culprit behind the dastardly act. A neighbor provides the first clue that sets the wheels in motion. His elderly neighbor who often wakes “before the sun has met the sky,” describes to Holmes a “tall, lean man with a crooked gray cap” that he saw running down the pathway between their two houses in the early hours of the morning while everyone in town still slept. Without any experience at solving cases, Doyle displays the first use of Holmes’ abductive reasoning skills later developed in the stories. As Holmes gathers clues as to what seems to be a random act, a story bigger than anyone can imagine slowly unravels.

April Fools! We hope we haven’t disappointed you too much. Although The Mystery in the Green Garden is just the work of a fool’s mind, there are seven Sherlock Holmes novels in the Oxford World’s Classics series. Sherlock Holmes: Selected Stories includes over a dozen stories truly written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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