CURIOUS INCIDENTS AND THE NIGHT SKY

The phrase That was the curious incident functioning as a familiar quotation indicates an event that didn’t happen, but the absence of this event is more significant than its existence. The quotation is an allusion to Sherlock Holmes’ words from Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Adventure of Silver Blaze. In this story Sherlock Holmes observed that a dog on the farm hadn’t barked at night while the racehorse (named Silver Blaze) was being stolen, which made Sherlock Holmes infer that the horse had been led away by someone who was a member of the household and whom the dog knew quite well. In the aftermath of this inference, the criminal was identified. A longer phrase, of which the curious incident is a part (The curious incident of the dog in the night-time), was borrowed by Mark Haddon for the title of his well-known mystery novel that later won several prestigious book awards and had a few stage adaptations.

2015-05-30 16.35.44 In its turn, Mark Haddon’s book has also become a source of quotations. The site http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/4259809-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time gives more than 150 sentences and even passages that resonate among readers. In fact, the book is a window into the world as viewed by an autistic teenager. The boy is very good at math, but in all other aspects he is a 5-year-old child, though having a fresh look at thing around him. Like Sherlock Holmes, he also investigates a murder – the murder of a neighbor’s dog. To every chapter of his first-person narration Christopher (the teenager) assigns only prime numbers: the first three chapters are numbered correspondingly 1, 2, and 3, but the fourth chapter goes under number 5, the fifth under 7, the sixth under 11, etc. The boy explains his choice in the following way:

“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.” 

You may also be impressed at how philosophically this boy measures himself against cosmos:

“…and I went into the garden and lay down and looked at the stars in the sky and made myself negligible.” 

When doing the study of the phrase curious incident I looked through some websites dedicated to “sherlockians” (aka “holmesians”) and “sherlockisms,” and I was surprised to find out that, for instance, the familiar phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” was never used by Sherlock Holmes in this form. What has actually been used was a one-off “elementary” – in the The Crooked Man:

“…I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson,” said he. “When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom.” “Excellent!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he.”

Among other utterances that struck my eye were: “There’s nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”, or “I never guess – it is a shocking habit destructive to the logical faculty.” Sherlock Holmes’ perception is rather sharp, isn’t it?

What is it that makes quotations from literature so loaded and expressive for the reader? In the first place, it’s their applicability to situations the reader goes through. In other words, the ability of the quotations to be “internalized.” The more situations which can be associated with a quotation, the deeper will the quotation be rooted in the reader’s mind. For instance, each time when I see that there have been no major changes in the life of my country – even after the new president, the new government and the new parliament came to power last year (the old guard are not brought to court for the crimes they have committed, the corrupted judicial system is not reformed, no preferences to small and medium business are given, etc.) – I say to myself ironically: “Another curious incident.”

One more characteristic that turns such expressions into our possession is our experience. As I age into the late afternoon of my life, I get better understanding of life when it is compared with prime numbers: on the one hand life is simple, on the other hand you can hardly work out the rules for that simplicity, even if you “spend your whole time thinking about them.

On these warm and short nights in May my balcony door is always open. I go to the balcony and forget about all kinds of “curious incidents”: I just look at the stars in the sky, think about eternity and… make myself negligible.

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