Where the Truth Lies

"Well, whatever it is, it sure must be most unusual. Uh, the reason I say that is because, you know, when my wife and I try to remember what happened yesterday or the day before, well, we don't agree on anything."
- Lt. Columbo (Dagger of the Mind, 1972)
A warning to the reader: this is going to be a filler-post involving conflicting memories, parallel universes, Columbo and Dr. Watson's brain. This is your chance to turn away and come back within a day or two when I have regular review up. You've been warned!

Recently, I stumbled across a website, called The Mandela Effect, which collects shared, alternate memories of events and popular culture that contradict the recorded history of our plain of reality – indicating to some that we're sliding between parallel universes.

A popular series of children's books, The Berenstain Bears, is central to this phenomenon, because people across the world swear they remember the name being spelled as BerenSTEIN.

It became enough of a thing that (reputedly) the son of the creators, Mike Berenstain, felt compelled to respond to a particular blog-post to explain the history of his family name and how "most people have just misread the name" – which has done nothing to make the debate subside. Other examples include confusion over the date of Nelson Mandela's death, the number of states within the U.S. and the titles of TV-series or movies.

Dr. John H. Watson
As a consummate reader of detective fiction, I was immediate reminded of a phenomenon known within mystery circles as Dr. Watson's faulty memory, which is especially notable in two particular stories: "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" from His Last Bow (1892) and "The Adventure of the Resident Patient" from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893).

The stories open on a very similar, almost identical note as Holmes performs a mind-reading trick on Watson, which was the result of some editorial acrobats, but in their universe it's Watson's unreliable memory that recollected that moment at the start of two completely different cases – and that wasn't the only time Watson's mind became fuzzy on the finer details. He ascribed the first name of James to both Holmes' arch-nemesis, Prof. James Moriarty, and his brother, Col. James Moriarty, which makes no sense!

So I agree with Mike Berenstain's simple explanation, but I can understand why some people would freak out over this, because I have a crispy clear memory of an alternative ending to one of my favorite Columbo episodes. A faulty memory I had shelved away as a Watsonian lapse of the mind, but when I came across the Mandela effect I saw an opportunity for a filler post!

Columbo: Oh, the mind boggles, sir!
Try and Catch Me (1977) is arguably one of the greatest episodes from the series, in which Lt. Columbo's opponent is one of the most likeable murderers you'll ever meet on the small screen: a small, somewhat elfish-looking mystery writer, named Abigail Mitchell, who avenged her niece by locking the murderer inside her walk-in safe – which eventually began to lack the oxygen needed to breath.

Well, I was quite surprised, even a bit shocked, upon re-watching Try and Catch Me for the time, because I remembered a completely different ending to the episode. I remembered Columbo allowing Abigail Mitchell to get away with murder and even handing over the car-keys, a key piece (pun!) of evidence, to her, but that was not the ending I saw the second time around. On the contrary! Columbo makes no bones about it: she is coming with him to the police station.

Abigail Mitchell even asks Columbo if he "would consider making an exception" in her case, because she's "an old woman, quite harmless, all in all." To which Columbo replies, "you're a very professional person in your work and so am I." However, the episode ends with a line suggesting an alternate time-line, "if you had investigated my niece's death, all this need never have happened," but that would've been an entirely different story altogether.

There's nothing in the episode that would justify the ending I initially remembered, but I've got a possible explanation as to why my mind butchered that ending: it was during the time I began to discover mysteries and wanted everything to be exactly like my favorite detective stories, which, at the time, included Agatha Christie's The Murder on the Orient Express (1934) – which is a book that shares in the blame of turning in me into the mystery addict you know today. If you know solution of that mystery and the morally ambigious ending, you probably understand why my mind did what it did.

Well, that's all I've to say on this subject. I wish I could've delivered the definitive proof of dual realities, but hey, what's you gonna do. 

Hopefully, I have a new review up before long and meanwhile, you could check out my recent reviews of Freeman Wills Crofts' classic debut novel, The Cask (1920), or Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee at Work (1967), which is collection of short stories. 

Oh, and my sincere apologies for wasting your time with this post.

1 comment:

  1. I love the quote from Dagger of the Mind which as it happens I watched a couple of weeks ago. I've been rediscovering Columbo in a big way recently.