The Levy Lecture scheduled for Jan. 19 was a story for grownups, as famed storyteller Megan Wells presented her version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of the Speckled Band.” Given the tense pandemic-laden, pre-inaugural mood across the country, a virtual trip to London seemed like the perfect escape. More than 500 people registered to attend the free lecture.
The story, reportedly Sir Arthur’s favorite, is considered a classic “locked room” mystery. Written in 1892, it touches on themes of loyalty, family, status, and greed. Ms. Wells tells the tale from the perspective of Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes’s loyal assistant, as Dr. Watson recalls the most memorable case he and Mr. Holmes faced together. Dressed in a deep burgundy coat jacket in the corner of a sitting room with some richly appointed upholstered chairs, Ms. Wells leans back, takes a sip of tea, and starts to speak.
The story begins when a slight, prematurely aged-looking young woman, Helen Stoner, trembling with fear, comes to their London office at 221b Baker Street and slowly opens up to them about the cause of her fear. The story includes several acts of violence leading to death, wild animals, and large inheritances. The details offered to the two detectives pique their curiosity, and they accept the case even though Miss Stoner has no money with which to compensate them. She notes that after her marriage, scheduled six weeks hence, she will receive a substantial allowance and be able to pay the gentlemen at that time. The mention of an inheritance only adds to Mr. Holmes’s interest. As Dr. Watson noted, Mr. Holmes’s frequently shared mantra is, “Follow the money. Always follow the money.”
Of course Sherlock Holmes solves the case, and Ms. Wells’s retelling is entertaining and captivating. Once she broke character and returned to being Megan Wells, comments from the audience watching at home were immediately rapturous.
William White wrote, “Outstanding storytelling today. Riveting!!”
Georgean Vorwerk, a former student of Ms. Wells, shared “Thanks so much for bringing Megan to us today. Hope you will invite her back soon! It is especially nice to have her into our home during this coronavirus season.”
During the Q&A session, Ms. Wells talked about her creative process, how she takes previously written pieces by others and turns them into oral stories to be “performed” for an audience, and what themes she looks at when writing and telling her own personal stories. Universal themes like the act of hospitality —inviting someone in to the home — and falling in love with one’s children are told in every culture, in every language.
Interested readers can watch Ms. Wells tell “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” on the Levy Senior Center Foundation’s YouTube channel. The next Levy Lecture, on Jan. 26, will feature an interview with Evanston author Cynthia Beebe as she discusses her memoir, “Boots in the Ashes,” which looks back on her career as one of the first female Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents. Levy Lectures are always free, but registration is required.
By Wendi Kromash as published in the Evanston RoundTable. Ms. Kromash is a member of the Levy Center Foundation Board; she manages and moderates the Levy Lecture Series.