Sunday, April 30, 2017

The uninhabitable room.

Okay, prepare yourselves for somebody whining about how tough it is to live with a luxury . . . .

As I type this, I'm sitting at my basement desk, bare feet on a concrete floor, surrounded by a banker's boxes, a shop vac, little figures of Gaiman's Endless, a lantern in case the power goes out, an old Weight Watchers case, and a thousand other random items that basically make it look like a junk shop or crazy old coot's storeroom, which it has kind of become.

Two floors above me is one of those things every Sherlockian wants to eventually have at least one of: the Sherlock Room. A library that's totally devoted to Sherlock Holmes (well, at least 80%, in this case.) Once one settles into their own place, doesn't have to deal with the raising of children, and values Sherlock over overnight guests, it's not that hard to put together. And put together. And put together. It can evolve over years or decades.

One envisions creating such a room, then lounging in its comforts, soaking in all the Sherlockian essence that now surrounds you. What happened in my case?

A room I walk into, grab the book I want, and walk out of again.

If somebody's coming to visit, I'll clean it up enough to let them take a tour without stepping on anything, but in day-to-day life? I'm down here in the basement listening to the dehumidifier run while I blog about the guy I devoted that whole room to, two floors up.

What's wrong with this picture?

I've planned campaigns to retake the room, to clear its wild literary overgrowth, and settle in there once and for all. Oh, yes. But the room gathers up its overwhelming contents of nostalgia and sideroad Sherlocking routes and steals my gathered force like a field of poppies on the way into the Emerald City. And eventually I retreat to my basement stronghold, to work on something that's a little more accomplishable . . . like a blog post.

I could claim I'm not lazy in avoiding that larger chore, but that would be a bit like being an invitation-only group that claims it has no elitism . . . the tinge of what I'd be denying is hard to shake.

My Sherlock room has, ironically, become like 221B Baker Street even though it's not an attempt to replicate that famous address. It is a place I imagine that I'd love to spend time in, yet I just can't seem to. Or maybe it's my Afghanistan, which I inevitably leave, a bit wounded and looking for company whenever I attempt to retake it. If it seems like I'm just rolling through metaphors like mad, it's probably because I'm searching for the one that inspires me to go up, face the room and do what needs to be done.

And having made that statement . . . off I go. . . .

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Lestrade in Boscombe Valley.

Tonight was Sherlock Holmes Story Society Night here in Peoria, and our discussions took us all over "The Boscombe Valley Mystery." As Holmes's cases go, it's a pretty humdrum little murder piece, practically a CBS procedural in it's way (How many other Holmes tales feature the coroner's report?), but the relationships portrayed are fascinating when one digs in.

The thing that really caught my attention tonight with the clever insights of my fellow attendees, was Inspector G. Lestrade's mindset running through the course of this mystery.

Lestrade is far, far away from Scotland Yard on this one having been "retained" by Alice Turner to discover the true murderer and prove her childhood friend innocent.

The first interesting Lestrade fact involves Watson, as Holmes tells his friend, ". . . Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with the Study in Scarlet . . ."  Now, Watson is married at this time, so the statement might make one wonder how Watson went all the way from A Study in Scarlet to well after his marriage before seeing Lestrade again. Tales like "Noble Bachelor" and "Cardboard Box," in which Lestrade appears before Watson's wedding seem suspect, and the multiple Watson wives theory is immediately back on the table. Unless . . . .

Roll Holmes's words around in your head, "Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with the Study in Scarlet." Sherlock Holmes is using the actual title of the novel. Like he's not only needling Watson about his work, but smirking at Lestrade's role in it. Almost like Lestrade has been bragging around town about being written up in a novel.

And when he's retained by the daughter of a wealthy rural land-owner for what he seems to think is an open-and-shut case,  Lestrade calls up Sherlock Holmes . . . also in said novel . . . seemingly just so Holmes could confirm that James McCarthy was the killer and that there was no more investigating to be done. (Unless Alice Turner was shy about calling in Holmes directly and went through Lestrade, whose connection was celebrated in the aforementioned A Study in Scarlet.)

Holmes is uncharacteristically taking his time in this case, talking about the barometer a lot, like he's just messing with Lestrade . . . and really, he is. There never seems to be too much doubt in Holmes's solving of the case, just some time to gather evidence. And when Holmes doesn't follow the path Lestrade intended for him, we get one of the best Lestradian attempts at cover:

"I am afraid that my colleague has been a little quick in forming his conclusions."

Good old Lestrade! Is he actually doubting Holmes here? Oh, yes, he is. Lestrade is very full of himself in this case.

"I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies. . . . McCarthy, senior, met his death from McCarthy, junior, and all theories to the contrary are the merest moonshine."

When Holmes describes the killer, according to his evidence, Lestrade even refuses to consider looking for the man. And Holmes then actually calls the inspector an imbecile (but not to his face), and the Scotland Yard inspector is never heard from again in this account.

Holmes and Watson had a room already rented for them at the Hereford Arms, while Lestrade is "staying in lodgings in the town." Why no hotel for Lestrade? Was he staying with a "friend?" Did he have family in Hereford? Even roots in Hereford?

Was Lestrade a local hero having recently attained a bit of fame in the novel A Study in Scarlet?  (Possibly from carrying a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual around with him just to make sure people saw it and his name in print? They didn't have to read the whole thing.)

Lestrade calling Sherlock Holmes in on a case he thinks has already been solved is a curious point on the years the two men worked together. For someone who likes to ponder on Sherlock, John, and Greg/George/Geoffrey/Gilgamesh/etc for a while, "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" actually offers up more mysteries than just a murder . . . and I'm stopping at Lestrade for this evening.

It makes the case surprisingly worth a repeat visit.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sherlockian generosity.

There are Sherlockian traditions, and then there are Sherlockian spirits. The former are easily documentable, repeatable, and most often, expected. The latter, while often behind the former, pop can pop up so randomly that one can get a surprise smile in the middle of an otherwise unexceptional day.

Seeing a Sherlockian desiring of a particular item on the interwebs today, I offered one up gratis and was not at all surprised to find that a fellow Sherlock Holmes buff had beat me to it. Not at all surprised. Because that is who, with certain rare exceptions, I've always known this fandom to be.

But the range these days is so far-reaching, when one considers the current state of Sherlockian generosity.

From individual books handed from one friend to another, to large endowments given to keep university collections curated and growing. From the legion who write and publish to the web for the entertainment of friends they haven't met yet to those groups who organize events that give to charities both inside and outside our hobby. (And those which hit both -- the Beacon Society may have Holmes as a context to give financial aid to teachers, but any funds that help teachers serve purposes much greater than Sherlock Holmes.)

In considering generosity, I've heard it said there are those who give time and those who give treasure. Those who set up weekends to remember like the Scintillation of Scions, the SH/ACD Symposium in Dayton, 221B Con, or that big January weekend all donate massive amounts of time to give a few concentrated days of magic to many a Sherlockian they don't even know. I've known Sherlockians who'll work for weeks or months on a gift for a single Sherlockian, which is time actually creating treasure.

From buying someone a drink to picking up a dinner tab to paying a hotel bill . . . in my time as a Sherlockian, I've seen Sherlockians kind and generous even when they really shouldn't have. Not everyone I'm talking about was wealthy or even possessed of that much disposable income. But their Sherlockian spirit held a love of others in this community that let them rise to the occasion.

Sherlockian spirits are fine things to behold, and no one should ever call an exorcist to remove when a serious possession by one is encountered. In fact, it's the thing one might even find Sherlockians to be most generous with.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sherlockian walls.

A long time ago, in a city far, far away (from here), a fellow named Christopher Morley received a letter from a fellow named Edgar Smith that asked, "Starrett also told me something of the Baker Street Irregulars. Is this band still operating, and is membership in it beyond the realm of my aspirations?"

That was 1938, before the sin of suggesting one's self for membership in the Baker Street Irregulars of New York was invented, along with many another hoop to jump. It was a simpler time, of course, a time when even a vice president of General Motors did not feel so privileged that he wouldn't ask a New York writer such a simple question without some decorum in a private letter.

Smith had heard about the club via actual word of mouth . . . a transmittal method where "viral" was not something that happened overnight. And Morley, at that time, was probably still happy at the mention of one of his little clubs. It's a little hard to imagine their perspectives at this late date, but one can see a bit of it in the distance with a mental squint.

But one has to wonder, upon thinking such thoughts, "When did the walls go up?"

When did Sherlock Holmes's followers become such a demanding legion that an annual dinner in New York City needed barriers to hold back the tide? Was it the 1960s, when William S. Baring-Gould's The Annotated Sherlock Holmes put a chapter on the group in the hands of baby-boomers and their patents nation-wide? Was it in the 1970s, when Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution made Holmes trendy enough that a non-Sherlockian might ask a pal to bring him along to the feast? Jeremy Brett and a television Holmes that non-readers could get worked up about in the 1980s?

The walls didn't happen overnight. Phrases like "private club" and "literary society" weren't used to defend those walls beginning in the 1940s. All of what we see today evolved over time to protect what someone along the way saw as an institution in danger of invasion, a culture under threat by immigrants who might cause change. You know, those "faddy" people.

Those darn Basil Rathbone fans. The people that just got excited by Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The Russellites. The Jeremy Brett stage-door Joanies. All of those people, who got all worked up about Sherlock Holmes for a time and were never heard from again.

Oh, wait . . . .

Sherlockian immigrant cultures are a lot like other American immigrant cultures. There are worries of their invasiveness at first, then eventually they add their strengths to our own and we go, "Hey, these guys are all right!" And as for "faddy" folk who come in with guns blazing and are never heard from again in five years, we get those from original Canon pedigrees just as much as from the other sources. Some of us just have shorter Sherlockian life spans than others.

Walls go up when we're feeling weak and afraid of something on the other side of that wall. The strong and confident don't put up walls or set themselves up as gatekeepers. Those things only come when you feel like you've got something to lose or something that can be taken away. They're not about moving forward into the future and opening up to possibilities, but settling into one spot.

As Sherlockians, and as human beings, we have to think hard when we start to put up walls. Are we keeping just one thing out or many? Are we protecting ourselves or boxing ourselves in? Are free-range Sherlockians healthier than carefully fed Sherlockians?

The world is big enough for us to see all sorts of Sherlockian growth taking place these days. There was recent news of a Sherlock Holmes convention attempting to organize in Minneapolis, a city that has been home to some really wonderful symposiums every few years. The idea that both kinds of Sherlock events could be happening in a town with such a long and storied history of Sherlockians is a wonderful one, as the two approaches could feed each other like a dream wrestling tag team. (Horrible mixed metaphor, I know.)

But as we've seen with the BSI and ASH in New York City, where one group arose because the other blockaded their kind of Sherlockian, walls will never stop Sherlockian expansion completely. Development will still happen around the outside of those walls, tunnels will be dug, neighboring towers will rise up, and the newcomers will have their own parties. (The "Daintiest Thing Under A Bonnet" Charity Ball, for one good example.) That growth isn't validation of the walls, it's just Sherlockian society dealing with an obstacle in the best way it can.

The Jurassic Park movies like a quote that goes "Nature finds a way," when talking about the fences in their dinosaur zoo that never work. In our own Canon, we have a similar quote from Sherlock Holmes that goes "When one tries to rise above Nature, one is liable to fall below it."

Walls are always an attempt to control nature, whether it's Mother Nature, human nature, or even Sherlockian nature. We have to be very careful where we put them up. Because even though that line from "The Creeping Man" was about a somewhat outrageous monkey-professor, there are much more mainstream ways to "fall below" nature with our walls.

Because it can easily quite being about Sherlock Holmes and start being all about those walls.

(As in, someone feeling the need to write a blog post about them!)

Monday, April 24, 2017

That New York question.

It's not even May, and I've already had the question a few times already:

"Will you be in New York next year?"

The question doesn't need any more detail to anyone familiar with more traditional Sherlockian venues. It's practically a traditional Sherlockian farewell -- yes, we're parting, but there's always that great big gathering in New York that happens about the time of Sherlock Holmes's birthday every year. It's a simple, happy tradition, a universal statement of Sherlockian friendship and happy hopes for the future, right?

Except, maybe not so universal and maybe even . . . troubling?

No, don't be silly! It's all good! Sherlockians are the best people, and any chance to be in that grand company is mandatory fun!

Yes . . . of course . . . except . . . .

So many great Sherlockians to see! New York City itself! The annual BSI dinner! Cocktail parties! That special speaker thing! Book shopping!

Well . . . I . . .

The whole family will be there! Auntie Violet will want to see you! It may be her last Christmas, you know!

Hey, wait . . . when did this . . .

And you don't want to make Uncle Mike sore. You heard what he did to cousin Jon!

I'm not . . .

There are people making it all the way from France! Japan! Australia! You don't have to go nearly that far!

But I don't live that . . .

You went to 221B Con!

Yes, it's more cost-effec . . .

Sorry, got to go! Will you be in New York next year?


Thursday, April 20, 2017

When Sebastian Moran was born, American-style.

When if comes to the doings of Sherlock Holmes and his folk, we like to focus on London, that great city with such a rich history. In 1840, for example, Professor Moriarty's lieutenant Sebastian Moran was born there, London was the largest city in the world then, having not-all-that-recently taken the title away from Beijing, which held it for about a century after taking it away from Istanbul. Moran was born a big city boy.

This evening, however, for completely non-Sherlockian reasons, I was exploring a less urbanized area of the world and what things were like there about the time Sebastian Moran was getting slapped on the bottom for the first time. (Of course, Watson left out the part of "The Adventure of the Empty House" when Holmes slapped Moran on the butt as Lestrade and company dragged him off to jail. How do I know this? Well, you have your tin dispatch box, and I have mine . . .)

So while the son of Sir Augustus Moran was being welcomed into the world, here's what was going on over here in Peoria-land. Peoria was here, with just under 1500 people, about a third the size of Chicago, which was only number 92 in America's largest cities. (New York City, first. Baltimore, second. New Orleans, third.) And why not? The Mississipi river above St. Louis marked the edge of the frontier. Only ten years before, Black Hawk and his Sauk warriors were trying to reclaim parts of Northern Illinois, coming back from the Iowa Territory.

With twenty-six states in the U.S., Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana were are far as U.S. civilization went. The American map on Sebastian Moran's date of birth is something to see.

Joseph Smith was still alive and in Nauvoo, Illinois when Moran was born (though they only named it "Nauvoo" in April of that year, having just bought the town the year before when it was still "Commerce, Illinois," and the Jefferson Hopes of St. Louis were all still in St. Louis, probably still gabbing about the Missouri Mormon War not long before, and Joseph Smith going to talk to U.S. President Martin Van Buren after getting kicked out of Missouri, in hopes the president would intercede and force Missouri to take Smith's 20,00 settlers back.

Pa Doran, father to Hatty Doran, was surely a child somewhere east of the Mississippi River, but where or how old, it's hard to say. Doran families were scattered all over the U.S. in 1840, with plenty even in Indiana, where the Clients were not nearly as Illustrious in those days.

It's hard to say, too, whether or not Elias Openshaw had come to the Florida Territory to seek his fortunes by 1840. The guerilla war that the Seminoles had undertaken against settlers was pretty well over by then, so if Openshaw hadn't arrived, he had probably heard that the territory was a little less dangerous. (Which is truly ironic, given how later dangers of the area would follow him back to England.)

For all the fancy credits on Colonel Sebastian Moran's resume, it should surprise no one that a man born in 1840 still had so much of a wilderness hunter in him. There were still frontiers to be explored, especially for those born in the big city of London.

And to a modern American, some of those were right in our own backyard.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A visit from one of that wandering Sherlockian tribe.

I was reminded today of what Sherlockian life was like when I got out a little more, when travel was a bit more easily done, and work responsibilities didn't get quite in the way as much. Monica Schmidt and her husband Bill stopped by a local pub on their way to the city where I first found other Sherlockians and we had a nice leisurely lunch that could have well gone on to Morley's "Three Hours For Lunch Club" length with just a little more disrespect for the workday and places to be.

One of the multitude of Sherlockian topics that came up was a great Sherlockian named Joe Moran and how one tended to see him at so many events . . . a true Baker Street Irregular by Sherlock Holmes's own definition that "They can go everywhere . . ."  There have always been certain Sherlockians that you tended to see at all sorts of events, in all sorts of places. They were like an unofficial club all their own, a sort of gypsy Sherlockian society that could never be delimited or defined lest it loose its special magic.

I'm sure that nameless society wanders from Sherlockian gathering to Sherlockian gathering still, and Monica is surely becoming a part of it. I mean, I saw her in Atlanta just a week and a half ago, and she showed up in Peoria today . . . and we average about one out-of-town Sherlockian a year of late, so it's a rare imaginary stamp to have on your virtual passport. But things are looking up.

A chance to hear another Sherlockian's stories is always a wonderful way to spend a meal, and I especially enjoyed discovering another soul whose initial youthful contact with Holmes was a movie they didn't get to see when they wanted to . . . the sort of dangled Holmes bait that makes you prize something all the more as you wait to get at it. And then there are the compared notes on all those rare and fascinating folk one meets along the Sherlockian road, which brings me back to that unofficial wandering gypsy society of Sherlockians that's out there, even now.

It doesn't require an invitation. Just keeping your eyes open, keeping a few weekends free, and finding a little extra traveling cash for the occasional hotel room . . . depending upon your area of the country, of course. It may be a little easier when you call a major city home, yes, but if one listens carefully enough to the Sherlockian grapevines, opportunities arise all the time.

What will 2017 bring, now that spring has sprung and people are moving about . . . maybe even myself? Well, we see what that distant gypsy call beckons us to. It was great to have a visiting reminder of all that today, for as much as I enjoy this blogging bit in the late quiet of the evening, Sherlockians in person are always better. (Thanks, Monica!)