Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In defense of Hatty Doran Moulton.

Sometimes, Sherlockians like to just make trouble.

Having lived next door to a man whose greatest joy was seemingly getting himself repeatedly kicked off the Hounds of the Internet, I know this well. So I tend to forgive little outrages like the one my friend Rob Nunn committed over at his blog, Interesting Though Elementary, earlier this week. Forgive, yes. But let stand unopposed? As the mighty Thor would often shout under Stan Lee's scribelage, I say thee nay!

For Rob has a real bone to pick with Ms. Hatty Doran Moulton of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor." After saying he might have come to a contest for "Worst Villain of the Canon" to argue her candidacy for said position, Rob refers to the poor girl as "vile," states that she sucks, and cites her absence from a Baker Street Babes list of female characters as more evidence of her awfulness.

Now, I don't know if Rob was stood up at a wedding by a California girl himself once upon a time, or harbors some other grudge, but personally, I am rather proud of Hatty, a fellow American who stayed loyal to her man under the tremendous pressures of British society. Allow me to call my first witness to Hatty's quality of character: Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

"I trust that you at least will honour me with your company," Sherlock said to Hatty and her husband, once the unforgiving Lord St. Simon had coolly stalked out of 221B.

"Honour me with your company," one of the greatest minds in Victorian England says there. Can you imagine the sheer joy of hearing those words directed at you from Sherlock Holmes? Sherlock Holmes, a man with such a keen eye and such a perceptive brain that he knows more about you than anyone else at first meeting. Sherlock Holmes, whose skill at judging character and looking for deceit, weakness, or villainy was at the highest level. And also, Sherlock Holmes who viewed the average social summons as calling upon one "to be bored or lie."

Sherlock Holmes did not invite just anyone to dinner at 221B Baker Street.

And yet he invited Hatty Doran Moulton and her husband. Did he invite Flora Millar? No. Did he invite Inspector Lestrade? No. Did he invite his own brother, Mycroft? No, no, no.

He invited Hatty.

Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I could go on all evening about the fine qualities of this upstanding daughter of the American West. I could draw in Lord St. Simon's testimony of her strength, courage, and nobility. I could read newspaper reports of her fascinating persona. And of course I could call up what her maid Alice's loyalty reveals about the sort of person who inspires such a bond. But do I need to say anything more once you have seen how Sherlock Holmes himself judged this woman?

Again, I say thee nay!

We have many a villain to turn our glares upon in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, and that we shall all do, as we enjoy his battles against them. But Ms. Hatty Doran Moulton shall never be among them . . . unless you are the sort who would also write a book proclaiming Sherlock Holmes a villain!


Monday, September 18, 2017

An interesting loss for Sherlock.

Since BBC's Sherlock first aired, the television Emmy awards have definitely had a Sherlockian point of interest in particular years, and this weekend's celebration was no different. The three academies of televised arts and science that administer the awards chose not to give Sherlock any trophies this year, but the loss was actually . . . well, one might say "telling."



The award for Outstanding Television Movie went to a Black Mirror episode named "San Junipero," and if you're at all familiar with that tale, you might see it as having exactly what many a fan thought its competitor, Sherlock's "The Lying Detective" lacked.

"San Junipero" is a love story between two real souls in a fictional world. One of the pair has a spouse and a traditional heterosexual marriage. The other is someone who has never had a real physical relationship. And they meet in what is basically a shared mind palace.

The similarities to anything Sherlock Holmes end there, really, but the contrast to what was presented in "The Lying Detective" are stark. "San Junipero" was a story of two people trying to overcome their own personal issues to be together. "The Lying Detective" was an all-out conflict of two master manipulators trying to outfox each other while uncaring about the collateral damage to anyone around them. One would definitely seem more traditionally feminine and one more painfully masculine, and the genders involved reflect that.

Had the second episode of the latest (too painful to say "last," as heavily as that possibility looms) series of Sherlock been more "San Junipero," it would have definitely had more of the show's fans rooting for it when Emmy time came. "The Lying Detective" was what it was, and we can't rewrite history . . . but there is something about that hazy vision of an episode called "The Tiger of San Junipero" in place of "The Lying Detective" that has a lure to it, as so many paths not taken do.

"The Tiger of San Pedro" was the title of the second half of "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," if you weren't familiar, but I'm thinking this fantasy version of Sherlock season four episode two would draw more from "Empty House" than that tale. "The Tiger of San Junipero" could have brought Sebastian Moran into Sherlock at long last as a Moriarty confederate who actually developed the tech to enter a person's virtual world. The plot would inevitably require John Watson to enter the world of Sherlock's mind palace as well, and . . . well, you can play it out from there.

A mash-up of Sherlock and the Black Mirror episode that beat it is practically a prize unto itself, not even needing an Emmy award. And if I wasn't sure that anyone came up with a fanfic version of the last blog-idea I had, this one I definitely think someone had to do. It's just too lovely a concept, and I know there are fans of both out there.

Hopefully, they got some kudos. Kudos aren't exactly Emmys, sure, but hey, most good work on this planet never sees a trophy. Sometimes, it's just there to make us happy for a bit.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Not much to be funny about."

It seems like clowns are just made to suffer.

Currently we have a box-office smash at the movies about a monster who used to pretend to be a clown to lure children into sewers, but now seems to take on clown guise because it incites fear. We have an actual horror-in-the-name TV show using clowns as a major theme for its season. And we have the poor-but-spirited Juggalos marching on Washinton to protest, among other things, their clown society of fans being considered a gang.

Clown sadness isn't new. In fact, it's a trope that goes back probably as far as clowns themselves. And the cases of Sherlock Holmes, containing all things as they do, have their own sad clown as well.

Little Jimmy Griggs of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger."

Little Jimmy Griggs worked for Ronder's Wild Beast Show, a very popular show at its peak. Its owner, Ronder, was said to rival his predecessor George Wombwell and his contemporary Lord George Sanger for wild animal showmanship. Ronder did well for "a human wild boar" as John Watson called him, but inevitably alcoholism got the better of him, and all the money from his successes could not keep good perfomers with him when the fines for animal cruelty and assaulting humans kept coming in. His employees left in droves.

Except for little Jimmy Griggs.

We're not sure just why Jimmy Griggs stayed on. Maybe he had a secret love of Ronder's ill-treated wife, or the handsome Leonardo, or just the animals themselves. Sometimes a funny fellow can get by in rough circumstances by using his sense of humor to calm an angry drunk or shine a light on the one bright spot in a dark time. But Ronder's Wild Beast Show was no place for a man to rise in his career.

Griggs was definitely cited as one of the few people holding the show together as the piggish sot Ronder went into decline. And on the night of the Abbas Parva tragedy, Jimmy Griggs was one of the first on the scene to stop the situation from getting worse.

The show's star attraction, the great lion Sahara King, had, to all appearances, escaped its cage killed Ronder and mauled Ronder's wife during their nightly feeding of the beast. Griggs led the men who drove the lion back into his cage and got Mrs. Ronder to safety . . . even though the handsome Leonardo got half-credit. (Obviously undeserved as his cowardice was later revealed.)

It was six months before Mrs. Ronder was well enough to tell her story of what happened that night, and during that time we can only assume it was the devoted Mr. Griggs who held her fortunes together, making sure she had the money to live out her life in peace once she recovered. Did the show go on? Was Sahara King put down, or did "man killer" just add to his show biz resume? Where did life take Jimmy Griggs after that night?

We will never know the fate of James Griggs, circus clown and the kind of guy who could help hold a show together. But after seeing the flaws of his co-worker Leonardo, we can only presume Griggs was a stouter fellow than he ever got full credit for, even under the pen of Dr. Watson.

I hope it went well for him. And on one good note, he's not still around to see the era of the scary clown taking over. If "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" were written today, Sahara King would probably be the star of cute kitty videos and Jimmy would probably have been the one framed for killing Ronder.

What a world, what a world.


Friday, September 15, 2017

A wave of theater Sherlocks?

It seems like my Google News feed has, of late, decided that Howard Ostrom is their best model for news of Sherlock Holmes.

Theatrical adaptation after theatrical adaptation are all the headlines. Moffat and Gatiss seem to have run out of rumors to spread about potential future seasons for Sherlock, probably getting their heads down to work out their Dracula series. Will Farrell's movie is more than a year off, Elementary is still many months away, and no other major Sherlock Holmes promotions seem to be on the national or international stage.

But the local stages?

It's almost like a requirement that every major city had to have at least one production of a Sherlock Holmes play in 2017, and all the major city wannabees as well. Which makes me wonder . . . just what is it that brings a local Sherlock Holmes to the stage?

Are they just obvious aftershocks of a few big years of mainstream Holmes?

Or is Sherlock Holmes just a character that egomaniacal actors with pull at their local playhouse want to play?

Is it that older folks tend to be theater audiences and Sherlock has long been a draw with older crowds? (A good test of that -- how many stage Sherlocks are under forty?)

Or are there just particularly well-written Sherlock Holmes plays in circulation around the local theater circuit these days?

All of the above?

It would make a fascinating chart if one could gather counts of the number of different productions of Sherlock Holmes plays that were performed every year since he first took the stage over a hundred years ago. It would probably be an easy thing to cross-reference its peaks with surges in Sherlock's popularity in books and film, but one has to wonder if any anomalies outside of those expected peaks would show up. Or worrisome . . . what if he was hugely popular just before World Wars?

Hopefully that's not the case now. It could simply be that there are more humans on Earth than ever before, and for every X number of humans there must always be one production of a Sherlock Holmes play . . . a simple product of our collective hivemind, which the great detective is definitely a part of. And they'll always be there, just more noticeable when one isn't being distracted by the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, etc.

But Holmes went from book to stage to film to television, and in the end, he'll probably wind down in the very reverse of that order, if his cycle does decide to wind down at some point, before revving up again.

And on the Baker Street parade will go.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sahara King is in the house!

Among the mysteries considered by Sherlock Holmes there is one about a cat owner that I particularly relate to.

I have to say "considered" in the case of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," because Sherlock Holmes doesn't really solve it. He just hears the confession of someone who was an accomplice to a murder years before, and suffering a horrible punishment from that act ever since. Or maybe not from the murder itself . . . but from the fact that she was a cat owner.

True, the cat belonging to Eugenia Ronder was of the "big" variety, technically being a lion and all, but her kitty, Sahara King, seemed to have a certain quality that is very noticeably present in the feline that dwells in my own house, a fully-clawed male specimen named "Tink." And that quality is an unpredictable wildness.

"And why should it attack them savagely when it was in the habit of playing with them?" Sherlock Holmes poses the question to Watson before they go to hear the full story of Sahara King's apparent turning on his owners. From that statement, I would definitely conclude that Sherlock Holmes has never owned a cat.

Because cats like to play. Oh, yes, they like to play. With their victims.

Our size is really our only defense against household felines, as much as we might think they love us. Having adopted a roaming outdoor cat who enjoys the comforts of central heating in the winter, we know what happens when the usual hunting habits get interrupted by snow and ice. Eventually our friend Tink gets bored. And at some point, nothing else will satisfy him but stalking prey . . . even if that prey is six-two and weighs two hundred pounds.

The inevitable end of his hunt, with all four claws holding a limb in place while his jaws chomp down on a leg or arm, is quickly over-powered, but come spring, our local version of Sahara King finds prey whose heads he can fit in his mouth, just like Sahara King did to Mrs. Ronder, and very bad things happen.

Now, you might want to step away from this blog post if you're a fan of cute kitties and/or don't like much gruesome in your Sherlockian reading. Because you probably aren't going to like the part that comes next . . . .

Okay. Just the stout-of-heart still here?

Come spring, we start finding critters without heads on our porch. Cute little furry critters, too, except for the "dead with no heads" part. I kept envisioning our cat having a secret lair somewhere with skulls lined up in his trophy room, because they certainly weren't showing up anywhere we could ever see. It was a real mystery for Sherlock Holmes . . . or Google, which we finally turned to after catching him in the act one morning.

Apparently -- and this is the part you're going to wish you left for, if you ignored my earlier warnings -- even well-fed house cats love the particularly special flavor of brains. Yes, just like zombies. And given all the other similarities between small cat and big cats, I can't help but think if Eugenia Ronder had not been rescued by her fellow circus-folk, she might have met the same fate as the critters on our porch. And Sahara King would have had a special treat that night.

Ew, gross, I know, right? The study of Sherlock Holmes is not all kings in silk masks and pretty opera singers, you know. And the climax of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" is right out of a horror movie in any case, as Mrs. Ronder steps into the light and pulls away her veil.

So far we're managing to deal with our household version of Sahara King without having to resort to veils, and his teeny-tiny mouth is probably going to keep us from that eventuality. But when all is said and done, cats are cats.

Be careful out there.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The stressful Sherlocking of autumn.

Pay attention long enough and you'll see your own patterns emerging.

This time of year tends to be among the most hectic, as we transition into fall, school, the last quarter of the year . . . everybody wants to get everything done by the holidays. My biggest problem with it seems to be in that little late August/early September lull when I start getting great ideas for projects that are inevitably killed by everything that's going on in the months that follow. Halloween costumes. Nanowrimo. New fall TV.

Cite a fall project, and I can tell you what killed it -- one of might biggest regrets was the Dark Lantern League online role-play group, killed, ironically enough, by an intensive webmastering class. And if that trend wasn't bad enough, you know what else comes when life gets hectic and the brain is churning hard when downtime comes?

Even more ideas for Sherlockian efforts.

Get a few weeks with nothing to do, and . . . nothing.

Get a month without a spare moment, and the seeming greatest of all Sherlockian inspirations appears  . . . only to be old hat by the time the schedule clears up.

That's why the blog business seems to work so well for me: Spit out an idea, give it a little fleshing out, just enough to get it out of the system, and move on to the next. But it's treading water. When nothing gets fully developed, it's hard to move forward, whatever one defines as moving forward.

The obsession project, the thing that eats your whole existence for months on end, has been my best way to get the bigger things done. Not the slow and measured pace that allows some distraction alternating with the discipline to return to the work. Being able to take the long view and stick to the course.

I wouldn't be writing this rather whiney post if I wasn't starting to set my mind to gets some things done in the Sherlockian field this fall for a change. Ideas are here and some of them might actually have value. So let's just see what happens this time, and if the patterns break for a change.

Watch this space.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Deutero-Sherlock

Many people have said that Sherlock just wasn't the same after the hiatus. Or Sherlock wasn't the same after the hiatus. Or both.

In the 1920s, it was how the post-Reichenbach Sherlock Holmes might have been fictional, as several bits of him don't match up to pre-Reichenbach Holmes (Father Ronald Knox in the essay "Studies in Sherlock Holmes").  In the 2010s, it was how seasons three and four of BBC Sherlock just didn't live up to the promises of seasons one and two to so many fans.

In that 1920s Knox essay, he referred to a "Deutero-Watson," a second biographer of Sherlock Holmes who wrote some of the tales and not the others. But to my mind, even as I first read "Deutero-Watson," I was evolving Knox's words on Sherlock not being the same to a post-Reichenbach "Deutero-Sherlock."  Sherlock Holmes did die at Reichenbach Falls, and then was replaced by a second Sherlock Holmes.

Many a Sherlockian has toyed with this idea, over the years. A Vernet cousin. A twin. An actor. A clone. Such theories are of limited use when considering the original Holmes Canon as we tend to love all sixty tales at this point, even the runts of the litter, and don't want to suppose that even the Sherlock of "The Mazarin Stone" was not our Sherlock.

But as I reflected upon such theories and applied that filter to the issues of BBC Sherlock, the idea of a Deutero-Sherlock seemed much more sound.

We are never told exactly how Sherlock Holmes survived the Reichenbach Fall. We know that someone who looked just like him came to the graveyard while John mourned at his grave. We know that Mycroft pulled a shaggy spy from the field to take up Sherlock's place in London. And we know that John Watson seemed to want to punch Sherlock Holmes a lot more after his BBC hiatus, starting immediately. And Mycroft did use that phrase "the other one," which we were supposed to accept meant Eurus . . . but did Eurus ever seem like anything close to another Sherlock?

As messed-up and secretive as the Holmes family eventually was shown to be in "The Final Problem," the idea that there was an additional sibling, a twin for Sherlock is not that far fetched. Or, failing that, an MI-6 agent that Mycroft Holmes made into a replica of his brother. (That would certainly explain all the spy stuff coming in so hot and heavy.)

But, as tempting as a second Sherlock might be, there is that price that must be paid . . . a price earlier Sherlockians have always been unwilling to accept to explain a few character changes. Does one give up two seasons and a Christmas special to hold that the pure Sherlock of seasons one and two was not the man who came back post-hiatus? Both were played by Benedict Cumberbatch, 'tis true, but it tends to leave John Watson in an even messier place than he is at the end of season four, even though he may not consciously be aware of it.

Has anyone wrote a fic of post-Reichenbach Johnlock where poor John discovers Sherlock is truly not the man he remembered? Surely they must have a this point. It would seem material enough for a whole sub-genre.

As much as my mind goes back to this little theory of a Deutero-Sherlock, it never stays long. In fact, mere moments after I finish this off, I'll probably be back to a single true Sherlock in my headcanon. But it's always an interesting question to raise.