Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The monthly Sherlockian bill?

This morning a movie chain I frequent announced a new monthly program where they automatically charge you a set amount each month to see up to twelve movies at their theaters. It immediately reminded me of the fitness center that dings my credit card ten bucks per month, the computer game that gets its monthly fee, the podcast I support with an automatic monthly donation, etc., etc.

The life has become a pay-by-the-month affair for a lot more than the good old rent and utilities that Monopoly games were built on. But aside from the Patreons of "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" and "No Place Like Holmes," I don't think anyone else has yet embraced that model in the Sherlockian world.

And how soon will a Sherlockian society go for collecting dues via the monthly credit card ding?

I suppose it's how much they have to offer. Most club dues are small enough that they don't need a twelve-way split. Those with bigger print journals, however,  could probably offer a few more benefits or an added publication and easily justify "Twelve easy payments of just FIVE dollars!" each year. 

Getting a monthly credit card ding for Sherlockian purposes, however, would seem to justify something that happened each month to make it worth your while. Patreon supporters of "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" get a lot of podcast content every month for their investment, and a lot of podcasts go that route. But it would be interesting to see some larger Sherlockian organization go that route and combine publications with web content for a total ongoing Sherlockian community experience.

The world has been moving ahead at a breakneck pace in the last decade, and while Sherlockians have made some great big ol' strides, there are still some opportunities out there left to be exploited. One wonders what the personality of a John Bennett Shaw would have done with the possibilities an energetic team of 25-year-olds might see currently. I say "team," because things have just gotten too big for the solo "sparking plug" of the 1980s to fully take advantage of. We are a culture of communities now, and a good community can do incredible things (for good or ill, sad to say).

So what manner of ongoing Sherlockian experience would be worth five dollars a month, or ten dollars . . . or even twenty? A package of publications, events, e-connectivity, and community? A Sherlockian box of goodies every month? (Or just one goodie, be it signed book or Canonical artifact.) Something that made one a part of an ongoing project? (Herding cats, of course, but you never know.)

There are places in Sherlockiana that we haven't made it to yet, but they're out there.  And if a really good one requires a monthly bill, I might not be adverse to that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Holmeses of Montague Something

William S. Baring-Gould was a smart man. A much smarter man than I.

Baring-Gould, for example, counseled that we not confuse Montague Place, mentioned in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," with Montague Street, the place where Sherlock Holmes started his detective career. They are definitely separate streets, but both bordering the same block, and definitely intersecting with each other were it not for the interference of Russell Square. (Using Google Maps and all its marvelous views, you can pretty much fly around the area like the hand-in-hand Holmes and Watson aerial trip Holmes once suggested. Not taking off the roofs, of course.)

Suffice it to say, they're pretty damn close to each other.

So when one considers that Sherlock Holmes started his career from a street named Montague in that neighborhood, and that Violet Hunter of "Copper Beeches" started her career from a street named Montague in that same neighborhood, you might want to start disregarding Baring-Gould's sage advice and go, "Hmmmm."

A number of writers have theorized that Violet Hunter was a sister or half-sister to Sherlock Holmes, and when you consider the odd coincidence of the streets named Montague, the theory starts to gain some weight. Where does one often start one's career? Out of the family's residence. The kind of place you'd split rent with a room-mate to get out of and live on your own. Or stay in between governess jobs that you needed to ask an elder brother's advice about.

And speaking of elder brothers -- who do you think might have been the primary resident of these Montague quarters? We are told Mycroft Holmes "lodges in Pall Mall" -- a little over a mile away -- when he is first introduced, but might he not have started in Montague as well, later moving to Pall Mall and keeping the rooms open for family in town? (We know from "The Empty House" that he kept Holmes's Baker Street rooms going though empty for years, so the concept is not that strange to him.) Or was their widowed mother there? Some aunt or uncle?

I think that this street of Montague coincidence, combined with pre-existing theories of a Holmes sister deserves further exploration. And if, like Baring-Gould, one were to insist that one was, yes, "Montague Street" while the other was "Montague Place," I would remind one that Watson also wrote "Holmes" and "Hunter."

And Holmes's over-dramatic annoyance at being asked to advise on governess jobs when he should be hunting criminals? Oh, that's totally big brother peevishness. But in the end, as Sherlock Holmes said, the Rucastle job was "not a situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for."

Shared origins, like that Montague starting point, do count for something.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Did Sherlock Holmes have a father?

As cloning didn't exist in the Victorian era, we know for certain that Sherlock Holmes was fathered by a male of the species. But did he grow up with a father?

Mycroft Holmes, the elder brother choosing government service, seems like the sort of fellow who is following in the family footsteps. Mycroft was famous for lacking the energy to pursue a path outside of his routines, and in picking a career, he seems like the sort that would take the path of least resistance: "Father worked for the government, so I shall as well."

Younger brother Sherlock, however, is creating his own path, and it's a path that no one before him ever walked. It's a path so outside-the-box that it's hard to imagine a present father figure not raising a major fuss, or at least some serious recurring questions, about every step Sherlock took.

Add that to the fact that when his best friend's father makes a random comment about Sherlock's potential as a detective, Sherlock takes it to heart, just the way a college-age youth without an actual father in his life might do. He's looking for something. And that something he's looking for reveals a void in his life.

Many a writer has seen this in Holmes and given him a father that shunned him, a father removed from the family by his own crimes, or just one who died. BBC Sherlock is quite the exception in giving Sherlock Holmes perfectly normal parents and a father who has been in his life all along . . . yet still seems to have nothing to do with Sherlock's evolution as a detective.

It might be something of a writer's challenge to create a father for Sherlock Holmes who both inspires and guides his son into what was a completely novel path at that time and somehow is not worth ever being mentioned to Holmes's closest friend. Yet I have a feeling that someone will get there someday . . . enough people are certainly trying out every potential Holmes these days. It might even have been done already and I'm just not aware.

I hope such a version of Holmes's backstory does exist, because we'd like for him to get a few more happy Father's Days than he gets currently.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Where my Watson truthers at?

Many years ago, I remember encountering an ardent Doylean who argued that playing the game of discussing the Canon with Watson as the author and Doyle as the agent created a very dangerous possibility.

"If you pretend Watson wrote the stories," he warned, "people are going to believe it."

Well, that was long, long ago in a Sherlockian culture far, far away, and the world we find ourselves living in today, thanks to internet connectivity and the empowering of like-thinkers it brings, is very different. All sorts of folk who believe things that they are definitely mistaken about (yes, some facts do still exist) are proudly asserting their personal truth to the world, no matter how ridiculous that truth might be.

But what truth are we hearing asserted nowhere at all?

That John H. Watson did really write the sixty stories that have Conan Doyle's name on the spine of the books. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed.

I mean, how do we get flat-Earthers, moon-landing-is-fakers, bigfoot hunters, and all sorts of other groups I could offend by including them here, AND WE DON'T HAVE ANY WATSON TRUTHERS!?!?

Yeah, sure it would be nutty, but nutty is running amok these days. At least we should have some nuts we can invite to our Sherlockian events! (Yes, yes, we do have a few mixed nuts at our Sherlockian events, but let's not talk about . . . well, that guy.) And a true Watson truther is going to be working hard at gathering evidence that Doyle was the literary agent, Watson was the writer, and that SHERLOCK HOLMES IS REAL!  (Sorry, had to plug the silly podcast, also on iTunes. But back to the topic, because -- big secret -- that sham podcast doesn't have real Watson truthers on it.) Actual conspiracy theorists can work very hard at maintaining whatever fiction they've decided is the truth.

So why no Watson truthers out there?

I suspect it is because believing that John H. Watson really wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories doesn't play to any general disbelief in accepted authorities as strongly as flat Earth or multiple-Kennedy-shooters, etc. The government would have no obvious reason for covering up Watsonian authorship the way it would moon landings and the like. (Though there are those theories that the British government covered up the truth about Jack the Ripper . . . can we roll Watson into that established belief system? Maybe in England. Hard to get all anti-Parliament and all here in the colonies, when we have our own political villains.) NASA, the CIA, the CDC, etc., really don't care about our favorite Victorian doctor and his friend enough that we can even suspect them of malfeasance, and we sure don't have any problems with Mycroft to rail against.

We love Mycroft. Even if he did cover up Watsonian authorship, well . . . he's Mycroft.

But I guess it's like everything else. Hundreds of movies this year and no Sherlock Holmes movies (no, Gnomes doesn't count). Hundreds of English-language TV shows this year, and none of them are about Sherlock Holmes (this may seem like I'm missing something to some, but you know). All those crazies out there and none of them are into Watson-truther crazy!

Ah, well. Sounding a bit like an over-privileged Boomer here who listened to too much Andy Rooney in younger days, so I'm going to wander off and try to find something a little more substantial to get worked up about before the next post.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Reflections upon Canonical scatology

(Cue the Vivaldi, cats and kittens, we're about to get all fancy up in here.)

Ladies, gentlemen, and those who would prefer othermost designations. A noble speaker upon that platform we call "the Twitter," has, of late, discovered a particular Catalonian holiday custom, as all Sherlockians must eventually, the Sherlock Holmes Caganer. This, of course, has eventually led us back to the Canon of Holmes, as all things must, and a period of reflecting upon Sherlock Holmes and that matter commonly referred to as "the poo." (Excuse the common parlance, of course, we are striving for fanciness today.)

From the digestive system of the domestic goose to the manner in which South American nitrates are produced, avian scatalogy seems to be that sub-study of the field that comes to mind most when one first thinks of Canonical fecal matters. As is only proper, as the altitude of most bird-relating droppings has a distinctly cooties-lessening effect that the common ground-based excrement. (I apologize for that last word. Its tone lacks fanciness.)

I will long remember that final line from a pun-building story of Holmes and Watson, as once featured in the first newsletter to bear the name Plugs & Dottles (The Peoria one. Apologies, Nashvillians.) which ended with Holmes pronouncing:

"A bird on the Stand has worse doo on the butch."

But, I digress. In reflecting upon Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and such conversation as "And where it it?" followed by "In the bath-room," it seemed like the best way to consider the whole situation would just be in song. So, sing along if you like, in your fanciest of voices:

John Watson had gone to the bath-room.
After Sherlock had finished his bit.
The doctor came out quite disgusted,
And in his hand was a big pile of  . . .

Sha-ving cream! God save the Queen!
Shave for Sherlock and you'll never be mean!

Black Peter he hung from that harpoon.
Some P.C. had stabbed him through the tit.
But if you looked close at the crime scene,
The captain's corpse had lost all of its . . .

Sha-ving cream! God save the Queen!
Shave for Sherlock and you'll never be mean!

Now, as you can see from the above example, the most appropriate and societal appropriate manner to study the scatalogical aspects of the Sherlockian Canon is by analyzing each and every story with a new verse of the old song "Shaving Cream." I think I have found my summer goal for this year, which might be a little easier than converting a full season or two of Gilligan's Island to Sherlockian purposes.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The shipping office

Sometimes I just take out a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, open it randomly, and plant a finger on a phrase, then just ponder the result. In a work so rich with detail, I'm never disappointed.

This morning (and why I don't do this every morning, I don't know), I gave it a shot and found a Canonical character who was into shipping . . . well, not that kind of shipping, sadly.

Dr. James Mortimer makes his first appearance at 221B Baker Street, having left his walking stick behind on a previous attempt to meet Holmes and Watson, and says this:

"I was not sure whether I had left it here or in the Shipping Office. I would not lost that stick for the world."

If Mortimer is absently leaving his cane behind places, it would seem he doesn't really depend upon it too badly, nor actually value it too highly, since he lets his dog chew on it.(A curly-haired spaniel that he's dragging about London, yet apparently leaves tied up on the street when coming up to visit detectives.) But back to that Shipping Office.

"The Shipping Office" would be the perfect name for a fanzine, but if we get past that distraction, our first question has to be, "What was Dr. Mortimer doing there? What was he shipping?"

Mortimer wasn't shipping anything -- and this detail gives you a view of how rich Conan Doyle's mental image of his characters' world was -- Mortimer was surely at the shipping office inquiring about Sir Henry's possessions that were coming over from Canada. Mortimer won't meet Mortimer at Waterloo Station for over an hour yet.

We spend much of our time in the early chapters of The Hound of the Baskervilles watching Holmes and Watson deal with the mystery of Sir Charles's death and then the mysterious figure who shows up to follow Sir Henry. We focus on cabmen and boots, maps and manuscripts, but not what Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer are doing in London before heading out to Baskerville Hall. Which is, basically, all the bits that have to do with moving one's entire life from Canada to England.

What possessions had Sir Henry accumulated that he felt dear enough to bring across the Atlantic with him? What did he leave behind? How did a shipping office of the 1880s work, being so long before UPS or Fedex? Royal Mail Canada was founded in 1867, but was probably not up to shipping anything too large at that point. We read of "shipping agents" a few times in the Canon, and an Aberdeen Shipping Company in "The Man with the Twisted Lip," but the snapshot Watson/Doyle gives us is not at all detailed, and why should it be? "Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Shipping Agent" would have been a very different set of stories. (And yet, might still have worked!)

As with all things Canonical, I'm sure some enterprising Sherlockian could unearth enough material about shipping of the Victorian era to fill a twenty-minute talk at some Saturday symposium and entertain the usual suspects for that amount of time. But such an obscure specialization is the kind of thing you would only get to if you were currently a proud professional shipper yourself . . . or just randomly poking your finger into a copy of the Complete.

The Canon never disappoints, though, which is, apart from Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, another reason why it's stayed with us so long.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

O Baker Street! Our Holmes and Watson land!

Can I be a POW in a trade war?

With the Nigel Bruce of diplomacy raising potential conflict with our continental brethren to the North, it seems like the perfect time to remember all of the Sherlockiana that Canadians and Americans have shared over the years. Even though we feel strong, strong ties to that land where Sherlock Holmes came from, Canada and America have long been brothers in the House of Holmes. Some of our greatest Sherlockians have even had ties to both countries, like Vincent Starrett, born in Toronto but blooming as a Sherlockian in Toronto.

Canada is the land tied to The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Scarlet Claw, while America that of The Valley of Fear and Sherlock Holmes in Washington. (Yes, technically we get A Study in Scarlet, novel-wise, but that was more about our wilderness and those Mormons who were always trying to secede back then, rather than America proper.) Canada claims Matt Frewer among its Sherlocks, and America has . . . Stewart Granger? No, he's British . . . Robert Downey, Jr.? He's the only big movie Sherlock we have, and he didn't do a Hound of the Baskervilles? Guess there's a reason, North America doesn't get to have its own Sherlocks, another thing America and Canada share.

Toronto and Minneapolis have the two great Sherlockian collections not held in private hands, and if it wasn't for two ridiculously large lakes blocking a straight drive between them, well they'd still be hundreds of miles apart, but, man, would that make for a good double-conference if you could pull it off. (And odd note: the Sherlockian collection that's the furthest North? Not the Canadian one.)

Sherlockian presses and authors have been sending books both directions across the U.S./Canadian border for  decades, and neither side has the monopoly on quality of thought contained within those books. (Though in some parts of Canada, I suspect the local Sherlockians have more winter to have long, thoughtful studies of Holmes.)

Basically, Canadian Sherlockians have, to me, always been those siblings we look at fondly and maybe sometimes think they're the better part of the family. The idea that one incredible doofus outside of our happy little tribe is going to do anything to muck that relationship up is just one more ridiculous possibility in a world of ridiculous possibilities and realities of late. Nobody really knows where we go from here.

But Canadian Sherlockians and American Sherlockians both share a "dual citizenship" in our common land, that place Vincent Starrett called a "nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895."  Hopefully we'll continue to meet there for a long, long time to come, no matter what silliness goes on elsewhere.