Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Niches within niches

What's your Sherlockian specialty? What's that corner of Sherlock Holmes lore you're into that most Sherlockians aren't . . . but, oh, those rare few that are!

Sherlock Holmes is one of those parts of our culture that most people have a positive feeling about, which is why he's a part of our culture. But those who cross over into fandom, a passage marked by the act of actually seeking him out rather than just smiling when he appears, are but a small, small percentage of the populace. A niche market within the mystery genre market, some would say.

But if Sherlockiana is a niche within the mystery niche, how far down do the "niche" groupings go?

There are certain parts of Sherlockian culture that one would definitely call "mainstream" Sherlockiana. If your screen Sherlock of choice is Jeremy Brett or Benedict Cumberbatch, those are definitely mainstream Sherlocks. If you attend the NYC weekend every January, there is a venerable old mainstream of Sherlockiana to that. If you hold that Vincent Starrett's poem "221B" is the poem in a field where we don't do all that much poetry . . . well, mainstream.

I have to stop now, as I'm starting to sound like Jeff Foxworthy: "You MIGHT be a Sherlockian if . . ."  Yet while our mainstream connects us, it is always our niches within a niche hobby that makes us interesting. None of us can dive deep into every aspect of Sherlock Holmes, so we depend upon our fellow Sherlockians to go those distances for us and report back. It can be that one person willing to research puddings and write it up for publication, or it can be that one friend who travels to the conferences we can't get to. The lowest level of Sherlockian niches within niches can even be a Holmes fascination you share with only one other friend . . . and you're still waiting to find that friend. But when you do, oh! They will be so happy.

Sherlock Holmes himself was on the road less taken. He picked a path that didn't guarantee him popularity or success. And at first, the connections with others he made were with people that didn't entirely get it -- Lestrade or Gregson loved the results, but didn't get the brilliant methods behind them at all. Eventually, however. Sherlock found his John Watson, the guy who understood that what Holmes was doing was way cool. And their little niche of detective work fandom got to be a greater joy for them both.

Sherlockians have always found it easy to model their hobbying after Holmes, and our myriad of different focuses and loves within the greater focus and love of Sherlock fits that pattern nicely. Niches within niches, all the way down.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A proper fic prompt

The Singular Adventure of Paul Thomas Miller

By John H. Watson, M.D

One cold February night, as I was returning from a patient call in Marylebone, I saw an opportunity to stop in at Baker Street and see my old friend Sherlock Holmes. His minion and landlady, Mrs. Hudson, gladly sent me up the familiar seventeen steps with the glad news that he had already had a full supper that evening, and I found him perched on the mantlepiece, looming over all of the day's newspapers, which he had spread across the floor as was his habit. His vision in those days had become so keen with the powers of a vampiric predator that he neither dim light nor fine print nor a distance of twelve feet were any impairment to his ability to read.

Those eyes sparkled at the sight of me and he smiled, not bothering to hide his fangs.

"Ah, this is a grand evening!" he declared. "Both an intriguing case and my beloved friend appearing within the same hour? I am doubly blessed."

"HAW! HAW! HAW!" came a protest from the bedroom door, and Holmes's husband Maurice came waddling out with his flippers outstretched in warning. Even though theirs was a marriage of convenience arranged for Holmes's brother Mycroft's occult purposes, Maurice still did not enjoy my presence in their home, given my past relationship with his mate.

"This is professional, Maurice," Holmes said in a firm, yet soothing tone. "Dr. Watson will be of great aid to me on this matter of Mr. Paul Thomas Miller's predicament. A simple advertisement he placed in the agony columns of several London papers has caused several individuals to knock themselves out."

"Is that even possible, Holmes?" I asked.

"Only for a skilled pugilist," he replied, and swung his fist up, connecting with his chin and knocking himself off the mantlepiece. He landed, of course with the grace of a cat in front of the hearth. "Were I still human, that would have rendered me unconscious. Still, you see the technique."

"Impressive!" I replied.

"HAW! HAW! HAW!" barked Maurice, plainly seeing that as a flirtatious comment.

"Mr. Miller, it seems, has recently returned from the deepest jungles of South America, pursuing the missing link," Holmes continued, "and feels that the ads were meant for him in some way. We should speak to him at once, if you are not otherwise occupied."

"My rounds are finished, and my house is currently a bachelor establishment, so I see no impediment," I replied.

Minutes later, Holmes and I were in a hansom cab, rattling down Regent Street, with Mrs. Hudson calming Maurice with some fresh squid in our wake.

(These stories are so much easier to start than to solve, aren't they? In any case, the preceding was spawned by the below pair of tweets today.)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

That annual January ritual returns

Folks do love a ritual.

There is an instinct in us, seen so clearly in babies and tots, that when something delights us, we want to do it again. And again. And again. Until the weight of repetition makes it no longer delightful and we become angry that it's just not the same. We see this in entertainment all the time, with big franchises like Star Wars or Harry Potter, whose oldest fans oft become their worst critics.

Looking to repeat the high of first love is always a doomed exploit, and most of us know this. But there's a more comfortable level of repetition that holds our institutions together, the "this worked once, so let's keep doing it." There's a comfort in regularity, and some things, like gravity and time, tend to function reliably well, and we can base our habits around them. There's no greater security than "If I do A, then B happens next."

But humans are not exactly as reliably the same as something gravity would seem to be. Generations shift. Our technology changes us. Our creative arts change us. And those who love the ritual will fight hard against those changes, carving out a pocket where their thing will survive, often with weird traditions that become a bit cartoonish over the years. Take the Kentucky Derby, for example. Horse racing is not nearly as popular as NASCAR at this point. Yet it has found its pocket, and has its one day of the year for big hats and mint juleps. Part of the ritual.

The annual members letter detailing the upcoming Baker Street Irregulars weekend arrived in inboxes this morning, an event that always makes me a bit philosophical. And it should, as the BSI's benevolent dictator often gets a little philosophical in the letter itself. I have long disagreed with him on a few points, but as I'm often reminded by others when I bring those points up, "It's his club."

The ritual goes on, though, and as the BSI dinner becomes something of a "Kentucky Derby" event for locals and those who can afford to find a place there, both in financial cost and being the the "appropriate" sort of person to merit an invitation, change comes slowly. "It takes a while to turn a train," as one wise soul once told me, and living in a place where a good many of our railroad tracks have been turned into hiking trails brings certain knowledge that sometimes trains don't turn. Some evolve into something else, while some, like the annual Polar Express, become a yearly novelty item.

Folks do love ritual, whether it's a religious service or a margarita on Cinco de Mayo. And watching them evolve takes a lot of patience, but it's kind of fascinating from a distance. Which, for some of us, is just a better vantage point.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The detective world of Sherlock Holmes

Characters like Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter don't come along every day, even for their creators.

With this weekend bringing a second "Harry Potter" movie that doesn't include Harry himself, one starts to muse on a world where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle somehow followed the path of J. K. Rowling. It's well known that Doyle wanted to quit writing about Sherlock Holmes at at least one famous point in his career. But technology had not made it to the point where screenwriting was a valid career choice for a successful writer in Doyle's era, and given his attempts at breaking into playwriting, you know he's have been into screenwriting in a heartbeat.

And if movie adaptations had turned his popular literary character into a box office bonanza for Hollywood, combine that with wanting to get away from Sherlock and Doyle's love of history and you get . . . .

A prequel.

A Sherlock Holmes prequel.

Finding some way to put Brigadier Gerard into "the detective world of Sherlock Holmes," Doyle could have made Gerard his Newt Scamander. Or would it have been Professor George Edward Challenger who first appeared in a movie script from Doyle's pen, rather than a book? Or both? And more!

In any case, it's hard to imagine Doyle turning down a payday from simply putting a character he was going to write anyway into "the detective world of Sherlock Holmes." And suddenly Sherlockians would have new questions of "Canon" and "not-Canon" to consider.

A Conan Doyle shared universe is still something a clever writer might concoct, if one hasn't already. But the market to make it as big as Rowling's has long passed -- Sherlock is huge, but Doyle has suffered the fate of all writers, passing from "popular" to "classic." He can't surprise us with a new book or screenplay at this point, and that surprise is part of what makes marketing fall in love with a creator.

Still, it's fun to imagine what might have been in "the detective world of Sherlock Holmes."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Be the Sherlockalypse nigh?

The harbinger of the Sherlockalypse appeared on Twitter this morning.

I directly questioned him directly, as one must with such creatures.

"Are your the Anti-Jay-Finley-Christ, here to bring about the Sherlockalypse?"

And his reply was an occult phrase that was surely the incantation "T'aris heah'shu s'pa getion maf owin!" rendered as English by Siri. You don't want to know what that corresponds to in the Anti-Jay-Finley-Christ's Extremely Long Names For The Tales of His Dark Canon. You don't. Trust me.

I sincerely hope I was mistaken in all of this.

For if it was the true A.J.F.C., we could only surmise from his appearance that the Four Hansoms of the Sherlockalypse are nigh. and that their passengers,  Illiteracy, Mal-adaptation, Repetition, and Tedium will soon bear down upon us. And woe! WOE, I say! Woe will be we, the Sherlockian world who faces that dismal doom.

For truly, the Sherlockalypse is beyond all our ken. To imagine a world that not only has no Sherlock Holmes, with all that came from the Canon we know, ripped from our bosoms, with his legend perverted and twisted into an unrecognizable form, leaving us mentally clutching that shriveled and brainless plastic thing representing the remains of our greatest literary love . . . it is a vision that only a madman's brain could contain for the most fleeting of seconds before even he collapsed beneath its other-worldly weight.

Excuse me, I had to pick myself up off the floor again. Where was I?

Oh, yes . . .

The floor. Have to stop that.

Anyway, it's forty more days until Holmes and Watson with Will Ferrell comes out in theaters, sure to be his biggest Christmas treat since Elf. And I know I'm just as excited about it as all the rest of the Sherlockian world, so much so that I try to get into the heads of some other Sherlockians sometimes, just to expand my anticipation of what's going to be a earth-shaking delight with their shivers of excitement as well.

It's coming!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Let's talk about dictators.

To John H. Watson, he was always the dictator.

The only one the good doctor ever wrote of, "the most lewd and bloodthirsty tyrant that had ever governed any country with a pretence to civilization," the man they called the Tiger of San Pedro.

Watson lived in a pre-Hitler era, when people didn't have that over-used tag to throw on a purely evil tyrant. It's interesting that Watson does not compare Don Murillo, the aforementioned Tiger, to any world leader of the past. But as a writer, he was still able to describe hime well enough.

"Strong, fearless, and energetic, he had sufficient virtue to enable him to impose his odious vices upon a cowering people for ten or twelve years."

Interesting statement that -- even the sleaziest of bullies must have something for someone to admire, as no many can take leadership of a country without the cooperation of somebody else in that country. Some army must follow him. Some key people must find some profit in him. One man is just one man. And with no support from anyone else, any one man will fail.

And eventually, after more than a decade as "a terror through all Central America," there was what Watson describes as "a universal rising against him." Armies quit following. Key people found no more profit in him.

Dictators eventually run their course, whether they're cast as "benevolent" or "blood-thirsty." We haven't developed immortality as yet, and even when we do, no one thing remains consistently popular or functional forever. And any one man can inevitably be replaced by some other man (or woman). If a dictator like Don Murillo is bright enough to see what's in the cards, he gathers his resources and escapes while he still has the power to pull it off. But even then, one has to be careful just how many people are looking to get their revenge or justice for the abuses of power.

It's funny how we often see dictators the way Miss Burnet suggested that Sherlock Holmes saw Don Murillo: "To you they are like crimes committed in some other planet." (Side note: Even though it may seem odd that a Victorian governess thought about life on other planets, people have had that thought going back at least to ancient Greece, almost considering other worlds the way we thing of parallel universes today.) In other words, "it can't happen here."

And maybe it won't in our lifetimes, though one could see how it might as barons of politic and corporation work to ensure their power. But even in the Sherlockian Canon, the rise and fall of Don Murillo, with that fun title of "the Tiger of San Pedro," gives us a vision of how that tends to work out.

And why we like honest fellows like John H. Watson so much better when all is said and done. The ones who remember what a dictator was like when they hear of him.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A pikachu wears the hat

Ah, it's cranky old man morning here at Sherlock Peoria. Get ready for it. Here it comes.

Do we really consider Detective Pikachu any sort of interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, just because he's wearing that non-Canonical hat?

He's a talking pikachu. He wears the hat that is synonymous with the profession of detective. But is there anything more Sherlock to him than that?

I like Pokemon a lot. Played three or four of the video games heavily, watched the cartoons when they first came out, even though I was wee bit older than their target market, love Ryan Reynolds movies, and am definitely going to see the Detective Pikachu movie when it comes out. But not because I'm a Sherlockian. Simply because it looks like a fun movie.

My Sherlockian side is going, "C'mon, it's just the damn hat. Are we that desperate for Sherlock Holmes getting noticed as a cultural icon at this point?"

Like I said, cranky old man morning.

People are going to collect something, and Sherlockians picking up little character tchotchkes in deerstalkers is a tradition going back a long long way. I suspect that spoon with ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy in a deerstalker on the handle might be one of the earliest, but I don't know if the question has ever been fully researched: What is the oldest trinket with a non-Sherlock Holmes character wearing a deerstalker?

We've seen the deerstalker on Snoopy, Garfield, Daffy Duck . . . oh, wait, Daffy was in a legitimate Sherlock Holmes parody, wasn't he? Daffy was more in the mode of Will Ferrell's coming Holmes and Watson interpretation, which makes one wonder how many Sherlockians enjoy Daffy but pooh-pooh Ferrell already. Not to be species-ist, but Will Ferrell at least has "human" going for him.

Ah, humans. Few are the humans who don't go negative on something touching their favorite thing at some point, even in their private hearts while pretending it's all good in public. Or maybe it's just me, early in the morning before my cocoa.

Onward to breakfast and less-cranky thoughts!