Alan Alexander Milne (AA Milne) is best known for his children’s stories featuring Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, and the gang in the Hundred Acre Wood. These stories were based on his son, Christopher Robin Milne and his teddy bears. Winnie the Pooh made his debut in Punch in 1924, but Milne was a prolific writer before this, writing whimsical poetry and essays for the satirical magazine Punch, as well as plays and novels that have all but been forgotten.
A A Milne was also a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast. In 1903, Milne graduated from Cambridge with a BA in Mathematics, and in the same year he wrote a piece for Vanity Fair entitled ‘The Rape of Sherlock’ (15 Oct 1903). The title is a play on a mock-heroic poem written by Alexander Pope in 1712 called ‘The Rape of the Lock’, wherein a Baron cuts a lock of hair from the lady Belinda, without her permission. The term ‘rape’ is used, in this sense, to mean ‘taking with force and without permission’, rather than the sexual denotation it has today.
‘The Rape of Sherlock Holmes’ is a parody of the Sherlock Holmes Canon. There are all the usual tropes: the rooms in Baker Street, Watson’s war wound, the Persian slipper filled with tobacco, and Holmes’ dressing-gown. It also draws on Watson’s occasions of ineptitude as a doctor, such as when he suggests to Thaddeus Sholto in The Sign of Four that a large dose of strychnine would be a fantastic sedative. (Strychnine is a stimulant and is incredibly poisonous in high doses.) In Milne’s story, Watson was so nervous and excited that he loses his clinical thermometer down his patient’s throat! This patient, it turns out, is Sherlock Holmes.
In a revelatory twist, the story also reveals that there is no Moriarty:
“But Moriarty?” I gasped.
“There is no such man,” [Holmes] said. “It is merely the name of a soup.”
Such a theory has abounded in Sherlockian lore. David Leslie Murray wrote for the Times in 1932 that he agreed with writers such as T S Blakeney that ‘Moriarity is clearly a myth’. A G Macdonell wrote an entire essay on the subject in 1934 for Baker Street Studies. The main reason for this is that the timelines of ‘The Final Problem’ (1893) and The Valley of Fear (1915) do not chronologically make sense. ‘The Rape of Sherlock’, however, was written twelve years before the publication of The Valley of Fear, and is perhaps one of the first pieces of text to highlight the conspiratorial aspects of ‘The Final Problem’ and how Watson’s narrative of the story is incredibly unlikely.
‘The Rape of Sherlock’ should, however, be taken with a handful of salt. It is not High Sherlockian Criticism; it is a comedic commentary on the Canon and one of the earliest examples of Sherlock Holmes fanfiction. In later years, A A Milne was a member of the first Sherlock Holmes Society in Britain.