Monday, 1 July 2013

"Tiger" Jack Moran and his Enemies - Doyle, Fraser and Gaiman Ride a Bicycle Made for Three


"I have not introduced you yet," said Holmes. "This, gentlemen, is Colonel Sebastian Moran, once of Her Majesty's Indian Army, and the best heavy-game shot that our Eastern Empire has ever produced. I believe I am correct, Colonel, in saying that your bag of tigers still remains unrivalled?"
The fierce old man said nothing, but still glared at my companion. With his savage eyes and bristling moustache he was wonderfully like a tiger himself.

 "What business have you got at your time of life to be trying to slaughter a man fifteen years younger than you are, in the middle of civilised London, especially when he’s a high-tailed gun-slick with a beltful of scalps who can shoot your ears off with his eyes shut? For that’s what Tiger Jack Moran was, and no mistake." 

"My shoulder, touched by the Queen, continues to improve; the flesh fills and it heals. Soon I shall be a dead-shot once more"


"Tiger" Jack Moran first appeared in the Sherlock Holmes short story The Adventure of the Empty House in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1903 The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes had just been resurrected due to public pressure only to face another threat. A lieutenant of his now conquered nemesis Professor Moriarty was after his blood. This lieutenant was Colonel Sebastian Moran, famed tiger hunter and marksman. The first quotation is from this story.

Colonel Moran
as portrayed by Sidney Paget

Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels and short stories inspire in mysterious ways, however, and 96 years later a different short story converged with Doyle’s by the hand of George MacDonald Fraser. Fraser was at this time nearing the end of his Flashman series and the short story Flashman and the Tiger from the book of the same name saw Sir Harry Paget Flashman encounter Moran, whom he calls “Jack” at the infamous battle of Insandhlwana in 1879. However, their paths cross again when Moran manages to draw the old yellow-bellied shirker to confrontation. What he did to provoke this stupendous feat is better enjoyed from Fraser’s pen, but suffice it to say this puts Moran, Holmes, Watson and Flashman in the same room. The second quotation is Fraser's.

Then, in 2006, that master of plot twists and twisted plots Neil Gaiman added the short story A Study in Emerald to his collection Fragile Things. While clearly appropriating Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, there is a twist to the story which really strengthens Moran’s position as one of Moriarty’s lieutenants in the Sherlock Holmes corpus. The third quotation is from Neil Gaiman's short story. While it takes a tremendous Sherlock Holmes addict who has studied the novels and short stories in depth (twice) to identify Moran’s position in the short story, Neil Gaiman once more manages to make his story expand beyond the mere 9 pages on which it is written. It also makes said addict revisit said corpus.

If you enjoyed the first two seasons of BBC’s television revision and update of the Sherlock Holmes stories, aptly named Sherlock, you will be delighted to know that there is a third season in the works. Although not expected to air until 2014, the first episode is expected to build on The Adventure of the Empty House as the last episode of the second series saw Holmes fall to his death. There is hope though, because if you find the wait for The Empty Hearse long and unbearable, you can discover these three short stories in the meantime.

Feel free to read them in any sequence you like, but in retrospect, this one would be highly recommended:

Arthur Conan Doyle - The Adventure of the Empty House

George MacDonald Fraser - Flashman and the Tiger (starts on p. 179)

Neil Gaiman - A Study in Emerald

What do you think? 

Which story did you like the best? Which author would you like to read more by? Are you looking forward to the third season of Sherlock? Do you know of any other good literary constellations like this one where plots and characters merge surreptitiously? See also my post on the appeal of the villain!

Comments on The Tale of Sir Bob are always welcome!

Sources: As given, Collage, Frame, Pics

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