Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sherlock Holmes still stands for something.

As with so many mornings of late, I woke up this morning to headlines of slimey power-plays by the greedy and self-interested. Those whose desire for winning that game whose points are scored with dollars outweighs all else: Truth, empathy, the future . . . why think of any of that when you can put points on the board?

In this world, we can't really afford to happily smile and nod when certain phrases are uttered.

Let's start with this one: "No shit, Sherlock!"

An unpleasant little thing that Watson would never say. Why? Because at it's core it's about disrespecting someone who, for whatever reason, seemed to be smarter than you. One could argue that it was about bringing down someone who was putting on airs, but in the everyday usage I've observed, it's about putting the Sherlock Holmeses of the world in their place . . . and that place would seem to be "You ain't so smart, Mr. Fancy-pants Detective!"

It's not a Watson sort of phrase. It's a Gregson sort of phrase. And not handsome TV Gregson.

Now let's move on the a phrase that might bring a little more disagreement.

"All Sherlock is good Sherlock."

All everything is never all something. And even that sentence is wrong, because throwing around universal constants in fields other than science and math is not usually productive. Even in those fields it can be a little dangerous. Because there is bad Sherlock out there.

Not just Sherlock that a particular person didn't enjoy, but Sherlock that betrays the parts of that character who have kept him alive this long. Or betray those things that make him useful to humanity.

Is "No shit, Sherlock!" -- that three word pastiche -- good Sherlock?

Well, let's think about what makes good Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes is our greatest image of a detective. A man who can find the truth about a situation despite all the charm or horror of the circumstances presented to him. A man who not only cares deeply about finding those truths to make other people's lives better, but who brings with him a best friend upon whom he can always depend. A particular tale can emphasize one part of all that, like his caring for Watson, over another part, but in the end, all of those pieces have to be a part of Sherlock Holmes.

Unless he's evil Sherlock Holmes, and that, by its very definition, is not good Sherlock Holmes.

So what am I saying here? In an age where truth is being perverted and science and learning suppressed, where egos and profits would foster any lie to advance their causes, we need good Sherlock Holmes more than ever. He stands as a torch in the darkness, a reminder that, even though he's fictional, the things he does seem possible. We can find the truth. We can make life better for other people. And we can, like Sherlock Holmes himself did many a time, admit our mistakes and be happy for those truths that do make life better for others even when things don't go the way we thought they should. ("Norwood.")

There are actually some hard lessons in the tales of Sherlock Holmes. But they are good lessons.

There is a core to Sherlock Holmes that should always be good Sherlock for us. Because it's about good things, things that make us better. Not a superficial package of a middle-aged white male with an English accent and a certain coat and hat, which is where bad Sherlock often emanates from. Sherlock Holmes can be a hermaphroditic fish alien that carries his pocket watch Watson AI in his belly-button pouch and still be good Sherlock, if he/she does what Sherlock Holmes does best.

Waking up to the sorts of headlines we wake up to these days, it's good to then reconsider Sherlock Holmes and that he's still there for us, still a reminder for us of things good and true. And that just maybe, when this story is over, the Sherlock Holmes in us will have some solutions.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Great Podast Experiment!

As of this past weekend, season one of Sherlock Holmes Is Real came to a close. I haven't written too much about it here, as it has been a test balloon into the stratosphere of podcasting from the start, and just having some fun with friends while seeing just how the whole medium worked.

Podcasting has been replacing radio, and people have slowly begun replacing "Bob and Tom" with a more specialized "Burt and Scott" -- at least those who listened to radio to start with. Under a particular age, downloaded and streaming audio has been the only way to go for quite a while now. And something that powerful, that widespread, sure seems like it should be pretty hard to do.

But it's not.

That was the message emphasized time and again at last year's 221B Con panel on podcasting, and after following that advice, I discovered that the panelists weren't wrong. What you know if you've listened to podcasts is the steeper grade . . . holding an audience. I know that my own listenership has subscribed and departed from a legion of podcasts at this point. Even ones I liked a lot at first, but eventually just got tired of. It's a rare and special 'cast that can hold an audience for years . . . or even more than one episode, sometimes, and something that only comes from people trying . . . and then some other people trying . . . and some other people trying . . . .

Knowing all that, I actually spent a year with a brand new microphone on my desk before I ever made my first real attempt at a podcast. The whole "let's just chat for an hour and be entertaining" didn't seem like something I was ready to commit to on a regular basis, and those were what I was listening to at the time. Then the non-fiction serial documentaries started trickling into my routine, and then fictional serial documentaries, and then I head the one that just sounded like the kind of fun I wouldn't mind having.

So I committed to six little episodes. Just six. And Sherlock Holmes Is Real was born.

Not saying that was a great moment in the history of the podasting medium, just saying it happened. Because, like every other bit of my Sherlockian life, I did exactly as much work as it was fun to do, and not much beyond that. While there are those great and dedicated souls out there who will drive themselves hard for the world of Sherlockiana, I will definitely admit to not being one of them. And, as a result, sometimes also not one of your higher-quality-output folks.

In the world of the written words, there was just grammar and spelling to worry about, and if you read enough and were lucky enough to have parents who spoke decent English, those sometimes come easy. But in the world of spoken words? Mouth noises. Pause lengths. Volume. Background sounds. Breathing. Things you don't even think about in daily conversation suddenly become points of maniacal fixation. Or not. Or obsessing about one thing and ignoring another thing.

But, despite all that, the basics of podcasting are not too hard to pull off. If you've ever considered it, I would definitely advise as those folks on the 221B Con panel did, that you give it a try. I committed to six episodes just to make sure I gave it a fair shake, and as time and co-conspirators allow, I intend to keep going. So many podcasts I've listened to started from very flawed and amateurish beginnings but got better over time, and hopefully, Sherlock Holmes Is Real will do that, even if it's just going to that audience of a hundred or so Sherlockians that most of my projects have wound up with.

As with all things Sherlock, though, the fun is in the doing.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The criminal mastermind who stayed on Baker Street.

As I've written here before, I don't like to review books in my blog as I have been at this far too long. Forty years as an active Sherlockian will make you a little jaded in some areas. Personally I have long felt, similarly, that movie reviewers lose their skills at some point, because they can never appreciate a given movie like someone who doesn't see a hundred movies a year and wind up reviewing it for other reviewers. You can make good points, but there's a freshness one can't recapture completely.

So it was with much trepidation that I started reading The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street by Rob Nunn. Rob being a friend, I wanted to read the whole work, but if I read an entire book on Sherlock Holmes, it seemed like it really would need to be mentioned here. And, man, I'm old and cranky of late.

Luckily, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street is a very comfortable read, so comfortable that I forgot what the back cover said it was: "The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street explores Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original sixty stories through the lens of Sherlock Holmes the criminal instead of Sherlock Holmes the detective."

I kept finding myself going, "Okay, he's still involved with Henry Baker's goose, when is he going to go off the rails and do more crime?" It was a little like reading that similar volume Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by William S. Baring-Gould and going "Hey, I know how Sherlock Holmes solved all these cases already! Get some new ones!" I enjoyed Baring-Gould's book as a younger Sherlockian, but now I think it would drive me crazy. Fortunately, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street has the untold tales to lean into for Holmes's criminal exploits and they work well as such. There is much crime here. And it does do some twisty things with the stories we know.

As Rob writes in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street started with the thesis for a Sherlockian article, "What if Sherlock Holmes had really been a master criminal?" and expands it from there, taking in the whole Canon. How would Holmes's interactions with all those familiar stories been different had he been a criminal? And how would they have been almost the same? What would such a thought-experiment show us?

It has always been said that Sherlock Holmes was different after the hiatus, and I think that Rob's work demonstrates that -- Sherlock Holmes seems to be a lot more criminal after he faces Moriarty. John Watson, I think, suffers a bit when Sherlock is doing bad, as he can't entirely be that great soul we see in the original Canon as he becomes a lot more active as a partner in crime than he was as a partner in detection. If Robert Mueller was going after Sherlock Holmes in the late 1890s, Watson would be going down first. (Fortunately, Lestrade was no Mueller, and Holmes was no . . . well, you get it.)

So, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street: better for newbies than oldies, perhaps, but a book that'll definitely give you something to think about. It's available on Amazon and priced right for Christmas giving. And as with so many Sherlockian works by new writers of late, twenty years from now, you'll want to have added it to your collection when said writer's later works come out.

And that is the great part about having been a Sherlockian for forty years. You don't have to hunt for these things, because you bought them forty years ago.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The potential of a Ryan Reynolds Sherlock Holmes.

Sometimes a puzzle piece just slides right into place for you.

We've seen lots of cartoon critters don a deerstalker cap over the years, but Great Detective Pikachu -- a video game soon to be a movie -- is now offering us something I hadn't considered before.

Ryan Reynolds as Sherlock Holmes.

Sure, ol' double R being cast as the voice-actor for a deerstalker-wearing Pokemon is a couple of removes from actually playing the great detective, but . . . man!

Ryan Reynolds as Sherlock Holmes? Can he do an English accent? Who cares! Pull a reverse-Elementary and make Watson the British one while Sherlock is American! OH! Idris Elba as Watson! No way Idris Elba is playing a stupid Watson, and boy, can he do ex-military surgeon who's good in a tough spot.

I picture the Ryan Reynolds version of Sherlock Holmes being more like Robert Stephens in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a more human Sherlock, but still brilliant when it comes down to it.

Now that we've had Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock, Will Farrell and Sherlock Gnomes on tap, it seems like almost anything is possible. Not probable, of course, but possible. And the mere thought of a Ryan Reynolds/Idris Elba Sherlock Holmes movie just makes me smile.

As does the fact that Sherlockians have such an open horizon of possibilities out there now. I think that was the best part of being inspired to think of Ryan Reynolds as Sherlock Holmes after that Detective Pikachu casting news . . . just the way it seemed like something that could just . . . happen.

With every dark twist we see in the world of late the idea that happy possibilities, whatever that means to you, could have potential as well . . . .

All I have to say to that is, "Pika-pika, my dear Watson!"

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Advent(ures) Calendar

December came a little too fast this year. We're already into day five.

But even this far in, it's not too late to start such seasonal treats as an advent calender, that one-surprise-a-day ceremony of marking the days leading up to Christmas. What does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Well, it's like everything else in the world -- if there's not a direct link, Sherlockians will make one. And with that in mind, I propose . . . if someone hasn't come up with this already . . . the "Advent(ures) Calendar."

When the first series of short stories appeared in The Strand Magazine, there were no "Memoirs." Just twenty-four "Adventures," the tragic episode of "The Final Problem" being the last. Their numbering in The Strand conveniently lines up with the twenty-four days of December that falls before Christmas day.

A typical advent calendar has you opening little boxes or doors for all the days leading to Christmas. And while we might consider ourselves familiar with all twenty-four of the stories in what we traditionally see as the first two volumes of Sherlock Holmes short stories (along with the held-back "Cardboard Box"), I am perpetually finding a new surprise in those tales every time I open one of them up.

Now, one might go, "So many tragedies within those stories! Who wants to go through that roller coaster on their way to Christmas?" Well, like I said, this Advent(ures) Calendar can be full of surprises. Take today for example: December 5, the appropriate day for "Five Orange Pips," if ever there was one.

John Openshaw fell in the river and drowned, right? Look at the story again.

A body is pulled from the river with an envelope with his name, "John Openshaw," on it.

Because, of course, the letters in everyone's pocket only ever their own name on them, right?

And . . . gee . . . there might not have been another man in London with an envelope with the name "John Openshaw" on it, would there? Oh, yes, Openshaw or a minion, ready to drop one last message, perhaps?  And whether or not young John Openshaw helped that fellow in the river, discovering in the paper that he is supposed dead might be a chance Openshaw could take advantage of.

So, day five of the Advent(ures) Calendar, you open the door and find . . . a living John Openshaw!

But there is still "The Final Problem" on Christmas Eve. Well, let me allay your fears! What happens after Reichenbach? 1892, 1893, 1894 . . . three years until John Watson sees his friend Sherlock Holmes again. And what comes after Christmas Eve before John sees Sherlock again? Three days. (Well, they might not be three whole days if you want to get picky, but close enough for Christmas!)

So, what do you think? Time to start opening up the Advent(ures) Calendar, even if it is a few days later than it should have started?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Blue Carbuncle Season

"And on the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . THE BLUE CARB-UNCLLLLLE! The Blue Carbuncle, the Blue Carbuncle, the-uh Blue Carbuncle, and the Blu-ue Car-buncle!"

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, "The Five Days of Christmas" done entirely with Blue Carbuncles!

Because that's what Sherlockian Christmas is all about, isn't it? "The Blue Carbuncle."

You can pretty much insert "The Blue Carbuncle" into the lyrics of any Christmas song. Sometimes as all the lyrics. And now, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," BC-style . . .

"Blue Carbuncle, Blue Carbuncle, Blue Carbuncle, Blue Carb!"

Or something a little lighter, like "Jingle Bells."

"Car-buncle, Car-buncle, the Blue Car-buncle! Car-buncle, Car-Buncle, the Blue, Blue Carbuncle!"

I'm dreaming of a Blue Carbuncle? Or did this just become a Blue Carbuncle nightmare?

The point is, as a Sherlockian writer, when do you start to pour on the Carbuncle? When is too early, when is just right, and how much Blue Carbuncle focus is appropriate for the Yuletide season? We don't want it to be seen as a part of the "War on Christmas" and get Fox News coming after Sherlockiana by using it too much, but we do want to keep our little Christmas tradition going.

How many other Sherlock Holmes Christmas time things can one do? A bit from "Speckled Band," a scene from BBC Sherlock, and then back to Blue Carbuncling (Christmas caroling, using only "The Blue Carbuncle" for lyrics.)

'Tis the season. Let's see how it goes  . . . .

Thursday, November 30, 2017

John Watson makes his move.

With sexual harassment cases involving prominent figures dominating the news, I suppose it was inevitable that someone brought up the name of Sherlock Holmes . . . even if just to declare his innocence. That occurred on Twitter yesterday, and the feed has been so fast and furious of late that I can't even find the tweet to give that person credit. I have to agree with them, though.

Sherlock Holmes has a pretty clean record when it comes to his dealings with the fair sex. Even in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, when he's confronted with a beautiful and confused naked woman in his sitting room late at night, he's a good guy. Watson, however, instantly assumes Holmes did something . . . but then, Watson is the problem when we start looking at the duo's ways with women.

I know, I know, Watson is our buddy, our pal, and probably just in love with Sherlock, according to the greater portion of today's fans. But when you get back to his primary courting episode, recorded by his own hand, problems do arise.

While we tend to think of Watson as noble, in the original novel The Sign of Four, he is needy and out-of-work and takes advantage of a terrified woman in a stressful situation to jump-start his social life. He portrays himself as a nervous innocent, but when you look at what actually happened there, questions can be raised.

One of the sure signs of predatory behavior in the workplace is that man who takes advantage of a power imbalance to satisfy his needs. In The Sign of Four, a frightened client coming to the one professional who can help her is definitely a situation with a power imbalance. If Mary Morstan had shown up at a new psychiatrist's office and that psychiatrist had asked to keep his buddy in the room for their sessions, and the buddy asked her to marry him in the next forty-eight hours, we'd definitely be going "WHAT THE . . . ?" But the consulting detective business, being new at the time with no defined professional standards, it doesn't come up.

Of course, dating wasn't easy in the 1880s. We didn't even have the word "girlfriend" in usage in a male-female sort of way until the 1920s, and if families didn't help you out early on, asking a woman to coffee probably wasn't a handy option. But the "it was a different time" line comes up a lot of late, so we might not want to trot that one out right away.

Watson's sudden courtship of Mary Morstan has room for a much larger study than this early morning blog post has room to do. One could even see its flaws as reasons that the Watson-Morstan marriage actually didn't happen as expected, and the timeline troubles we've always seen with the doctor's unnamed wife are party the fault of his sudden proposals to clients. (Even if he was just desperately trying to beard his true feelings for his room-mate.)

But at least Sherlock Holmes is clear, as far as I can see. But since we just have Watson's testimony about his own relations with the women of three continents, you do have to wonder.