The Musgrave Ritual is one of the few Sherlock Holmes stories that's like a puzzle.
If you try hard, you can actually solve most of it before Sherlock Holmes does!
You see, it doesn't really have that one crazy, mind-blowing Holmesian deduction that makes you jump.
But what it does have is a puzzle - almost a riddle. And step by step, one tiny deduction at a time - Sherlock Holmes advances in the treasure hunt and solves the riddle.
And that's what makes it cool: you can actually imagine yourself as Sherlock Holmes in this story!
Each small deduction he makes is not easy, but it's not that out of reach either. And so for once, it's fun actually imagining yourself solving the mystery - rather than just watching in awe as Holmes solve it.
So yup, that's what I love about the Musgrave Ritual: It makes me feel like I'm solving the case!
Take a peek at my ratings for this story:
Reginald Musgrave was Holmes' college mate - and he's got a plate full of problems in his hand.
First: his butler Brunton was in his library in the middle of the night reading a historical family document. Butlers don't generally do that, right? Why was this one doing it?
That's an illustration by Sidney Paget that shows Musgrave spotting Brunton in the library.
Second: this same butler has suddenly vanished a few days after being caught in the library. Of course, the question is why and where?
Third: a maid who is this butler's ex-girlfriend has also vanished after throwing some worthless disks/metal pieces into a lake. Why? And what are those disks?
Of course Reginald Musgrave is confused. He does what any sensible person in his place would do: approach his cool college mate and say - help me figure this thing out!
Sherlock Holmes has to follow the clues he has - one by one - until he can figure out where and why the butler and the maid have disappeared.
Ah yes: he also needs to find out what on earth that family document that the butler was reading at night, means.
The name of the family document is: The Musgrave Ritual...
Sherlock Holmes is splendid but which man doesn't have his flaws?
The Musgrave Ritual gives us a nice little window into Holmes' idiosyncrasies - stuff he wouldn't be very proud of. :-)
I love that moment when Watson opens Holmes' box of secrets and tells us that:
It's quite interesting to learn about all of these habits. It's a bit like learning the funny and outrageous inside stories of the ideal school topper. :P
I was especially surprised to learn about the pistol shots.
By the way, all of these idiosyncracies have been replicated in The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.
Take a peek at how they've recreated all these interesting habits:
And - here's a video that shows these objects in detail.
The video quality is not excellent, but it shows the Persian slipper, the coal scuttle, the knife and even the V.R. sign that Holmes makes as he shoots on the wall! (If the video appears to be a bit dark, you can increase the brightness of your screen.)
One thing I like about Sherlock Holmes is that he knows that he's very intelligent. He accepts it as a fact.
In The Musgrave Ritual, there's this moment when he's thinking about how the butler Brunton's mind might have worked.
That's when he says:
Now this isn't some uber-cool dialogue, but Holmes is basically saying: Generally, I need to put in some effort to empathize with the guy I'm chasing. In this case, the culprit is a genius (like me), so all I have to do is ask myself: what would I have done?
I like the simple, matter-of-fact way in which he conveys: I'm obviously a genius.
As I've said, The Musgrave Ritual is like a treasure hunt. Of course, the moment when the treasure hunt finally ends - has to be a magical one!
Sherlock Holmes first reads the Musgrave document carefully and figures out it is indicating the location of some treasure. He deduces that that he should note that shadow of an elm - a tree - when the sun is above an oak tree near the house.
Here's what happens next - compressed into 4 quick observations...
That moment when Sherlock Holmes finally says something to the effect of - 'This is Charles I's crown. Mystery solved!' - that's my magical moment.
Again - to be honest - I wasn't exactly mind-boggled by Holmes' deductions in the story.
They aren't unbelievable. Even you and I might have done it with some effort.
But then, a treasure hunt - with a Holmes you can relate to easily - that was a lot of fun for me.
Take a peek at this illuminating remark from Sherlock Holmes in the story...
Basically, The Musgrave Ritual is Sherlock Holmes' third case ever. Now that means something given that he solves hundreds upon hundreds of cases in his life.
The famous Sherlockian William Baring-Gould says that this case occurs in 1879. If that is true, then Holmes must be around 25 years old while solving this intriguing case!
Just in case you're wondering, The Gloria Scott is Sherlock Holmes' first ever case.
Now generally, when we talk of Sherlock Holmes - 221B, Baker Street comes to mind, doesn't it?
In The Musgrave Ritual however, Sherlock Holmes lives in another place in London. He lives in Montague Street.
When I read that - of course - I wanted to find out where on earth this street is. This picture shows exactly where Montague Street is - and where Baker Street is as well.
Thanks Jacek Halicki for the superb British Museum image I've used for Montague Street
Montague street is very near The British Museum. That's what that building shown in the picture above represents.
While we're talking about locations, here's another engaging map that shows where Hurlstone Manor is. Hurlstone Manor is Reginald Musgrave - Sherlock Holmes' client's - house.
That's where all the action in the story takes place.
Nope, the house itself doesn't really exist. Conan Doyle made it up.
Watson tells us something about Sherlock Holmes in The Musgrave Ritual - that made me gasp when I first read it.
He says Holmes once shot at the wall with his pistol in such a way that the bullet-pocks formed the shape 'V.R.' Now that's outrageous. Or so I think ;-)
Well, atrocious as that may be, here's a question: What does V.R. stand for?
Apparently it stands for Victoria Regina - a special name for Queen Victoria. Kings and Queens of the U.K. have had symbols like V.R. and G.R. (George Rex) for a long time to identify the king or the queen.
What's the point of these symbols? They're like the personal seal of the king or the queen on government papers and outside some government buildings.
Take a peek at some of these royal cyphers (as these abbreviations are called):
Thanks Tegula for that image of Queen Elizabeth II's royal cypher.
In the June, 1927 issue of the Strand Magazine, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle released his list of best 12 Sherlock Holmes stories.
Nope - I won't go so far as to say The Musgrave Ritual was the first story on the list. :-) But well, it was on the list - and that's a big deal.
It was #11 out of 56 Sherlock Holmes stories.
That puts it in the top 20th percentile - which means The Musgrave Ritual is better than 80% of all Holmes stories! Atleast according to Conan Doyle :P
Conan Doyle was apparently a bit confused about whether to include The Musgrave Ritual in his 'top 12 list' or not. Then he figured he'd just add it because of its "historical touch (and) a memory from Holmes' early life."
That's what he wrote in The Strand Magazine.
When Sherlock Holmes finally solves the mystery in the story, he comes across the crown and some coins of Charles I. That's the hidden Musgrave treasure which the butler Brunton was after.
The question that bobbed up and down in my head was: what's with Charles I? Who was he?
Charles I was the King of England from 1625 to 1649.
He had some goof-ups in his life - he offended a lot of people's religious sentiments by saying he wouldn't favour a certain sect but favouring it anyway. Then, he also had a lot of tiffs with the Parliamant about spending money. He didn't spend government money wisely.
England had a money crisis with him as the king.
All this caused many members of his parliament to revolt against him.
Now revolting was fine - but these 'Parliament guys' went a step ahead. They forced a trial on him and then well...beheaded him. (Sigh. I think that was going a bit too far.)
For 11 years from 1649 to 1660, England didn't have a king. The king's crown was apparently destroyed.
Now that crown found by good old Holmes in the Musgrave Ritual is...Charles I's crown.
Reginald Musgrave's great great great....ancestor must have been a Royalist - a supporter of Charles I.
He must've thought: I'll put the crown in a secret place in my property with a secret code. And that's exactly what he did.
In 1660, Charles I's son - Charles II - came back to power. But by then Musgrave Super-senior must have died. And the secret of the crown died with him.
Until Sherlock Holmes figured the whole thing out after more than 200 years!
If you haven't yet read The Musgrave Ritual, well - you can read it right here (It's worth it!):