Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The beauty of hard things.

Last night I was writing about how collectors may not be the dominant force in our Sherlockian future due to the internet, but how I was also sure that they would still be among us. The rare treasures of our shared past make collecting a fascinating occupation for those with the means, and just because we have the "easy button" of the web doesn't mean that there won't be those who, even now, chose to do things the hard way . . . which is where some of the best collectables come from.

I thought of this tonight as I pulled a random book down from myself, landing upon Client's Case-Notes edited by Brian R. MacDonald.

Published in 1983, the first thing you'll notice about it is the dust-jacket is actually glued together from two sheets of paper. And opening it up, you'll notice something else.

Somebody typeset this book on a typewriter and justified the margins! (I used a picture of Dana Richards's article, as he was one of those lovely regulars who graced The Holmes & Watson Report with regular content back in my print era.) And the mere fact that it's a hardbound book means someone spend some money on the binding of its 125 copy run.

Every detail of this book cries out "Somebody really wanted to publish a book!" to the knowing eye. Such things did not come easy back in 1983, before such modern miracles as household typesetting a child can do and  48 Hour Books. And despite the crass commercialization of the collectable market with chase items and "limited" runs designed to hit just the right price-point that we see these days, I think the best collectables will still come from a place of the heart.

Hand-binding, papercraft, and calligraphy still exist, and Sherlockians who will produce a run of  17 copies, 221 copies, or something in between just for their friends will probably still take place. Sherlockiana is not a field one spends much time in for profit . . . unless one counts "squee" as currency (or one of the less high-pitched expressions of delight, of course, for the easily-embarrassed). Because the best collections we have are the ones with memories attached, as memories are proven to be fueled by emotion.

Such items will actually carry a sense of that forward to an appreciative future owner in many cases, as with that Clients Case-Notes. I know I didn't lay hands on it in 1983 . . . or did I? . . . but just paging through it now and reading a few of its articles yields an echo of the pride those original Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis much have felt when this first hit their hands, after what was surely a long, hard journey into print.

And there is a certain beauty in that, one that keeps it on a collector's shelves, even now.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another collection leaves its collector.

When word came over the wires today that Don Hobbs's library would be making its way to the library at Southern Methodist University, it was one of those "end of an era" moments that become more frequent once you've lived long enough.

If you're unfamiliar with Don's library, it contained what is generally acknowledged to be the largest collection of different foreign language editions of Sherlock Holmes stories. No Sherlockian ever amassed such a globe-spanning collection of Sherlockiana as Don, and he made many a friend in many a foreign clime along the way. It was almost like the collection was just a side effect of Don Hobbs being Don Hobbs, and not really a project.

But nothing lasts forever, and it's good to see Don's massive amount of books moving to the next phase of it's book-life at Don's direction, freeing him from the responsibilities of caretaker for such a valuable resource as well, to move on to his own next phase.

I'm a big fan of healthy change, and even though I'm a bit sad to see this period end, it does seem like a healthy shift. I suspect the era of the big collector is leaving us. Oh, there will always be collectors, yes. Humans have certain native tendencies that aren't going away. But the time when collectors dominated the Sherlockian world is fading fast.

So much content is online, with more coming out every single day. Every one of us has a massive Sherlockian collection at our fingertips now. More to read of Sherlock Holmes than we could ever hope to read. More resources for research that we'll ever use. More video, more audio, more Sherlockians to connect with, in dribs and drabs or in fully-formed friendships.

But thinking of Don Hobbs and his marvelous collection takes me back to the days when John Bennett Shaw roamed the Earth, holding workshops, pointing out the one hundred key books we could all go searching for to sow the seeds of our own collections. Collections that most of us were growing similar versions of . . . except for that rare fellow like Don, who found a niche and went at it with the whole of his being.

Collections have always impressed us, and Don's work getting a new home will only let it continue impressing Sherlockians as time goes one. But it makes me smile to think that, while the books were nice, Don Hobbs was mostly memorable for just being out there and being Don Hobbs . . . and that era continues.

And yet, here we are at a turn in the road, with a big sign telling us, "You are now leaving This-moment-ville!" But more of the great Sherlockian road still lays before us.

Wave to Don when you get the chance. He'll be the one with the slightly lighter step now, I'm sure.

Monday, June 26, 2017

John Watson's Island gets vistors!

Well, the AU-TV network is still on the air here in Sherlock Peoria, and six more episodes of that Sherlock Holmes based version of Gilligan's Island came streaming in over the weekend. Here's the latest updates on our episode guide to John Watson's Island!

19. The Retired Street Urchin. While retrieving an apple from a tree, John Watson sees a boy running through the trees. He gives chase only to be eluded as the wily youth runs under branches too low and through passages too narrow for John to navigate without wacky mishaps. The other castaways claim John is just hallucinating from some island berry or other poor food choice, but when John finally gives up and sits dejectedly flipping a shilling, the boy jumps out and tries to grab it. John snatches it back, and the boy introduces himself as Wiggins, a street lad who rafted downriver to get away from city life. John tells Wiggins he'll give him the shilling if he meets the rest, and when he does, the Professor announces that the boy's weight is perfect for the hot air balloon he's been building, but didn't have enough material to make it large enough to carry himself. They send Wiggins off in the balloon, but having forgotten to teach him anything about wind currents, watch as he heads in the direction of France.

20. The Hound of this Islandville. When Irene and Mary demand the men help them build their own establishment apart from 221B Island Street after their tolerance for Sherlock's experiments runs out, the men hold a planning session at Professor Moriarty's pub. Deciding it would be easier to convince the ladies they should stay at 221B than to build a new building, the professor suggest the others put together some mythical night-time threat to terrorize the women into staying in the group structure. Sherlock and John concoct a costume of a giant hound that breathes fire and put the plan into effect. But when Lestrade runs up to Irene and Mary, fleeing the supposed demon hound, whips and truncheons appear in their hands and they start pummeling John and Sherlock until their hoax is exposed. As John sleeps off his injuries, he has some very sexy S&M dreams about the ladies, and in the morning decides it is only proper for the fair sex to be housed in separate accommodations, and talks the rest of the men into building Camden House.

21. The Novice Bachelor. "Duke" Balmoral, handsome captain of the Camford sculling team, rows up on the beach in an experimental single-scull craft during a marathon training exercise. He is greeted as a liberating hero by the islanders, who serve up a feast and make his rest for the return trip as pleasant as possible, having determined he can take one person back with him. Duke loves the attention, especially that of Irene and Mary, and soon, we find, that of Sherlock, too, as he comes out of the closet as bi. Announcing he has decided to stay on the island, Duke finds the castaways a little less enamored of him, and when Sherlock rejects his affections, he slips away in his sculling boat early the next morning, leaving a note to say he enjoyed the freedom to be himself on the island, but is not willing to come out of the closet back at Camford, with a cheesey "What happens on the island stays on the island" sign-off.

22. The Performing Ape. When Sherlock devises a fruit-juice cocktail that will help Irene's sore vocal cords after a night of operatic singing, a wild island langur starts stealing the containers of it Sherlock leaves by her hut. When the castaways start hearing a beautiful singing voice in the night, they are certain someone new is on the island and spend a lot of time searching -- but seeing the same langur hanging out near Camden House. Eventually, as Sherlock brings Irene a new container of juice just as she starts up a gramophone recording that the langue starts singing along with, they realize the truth . . . that Sherlock's elixir has improved the langur's normal barks and whoops to the point they sound almost human. Sherlock vows, "I won't make that any more -- oh, we certainly don't want an island of talking apes!"

23. The Glaringly-Obvious Scot. When Sherlock saves Mary from drowning during an afternoon swim, John decides he must do something heroic to impress Mary to turn her grateful attentions away from Sherlock. Lestrade and Irene offer to pretend they're in jeopardy to help John, but John turns the offer down. Later that evening a crazed Scottsman wearing a kilt and blue facepaint shows up on the island and kidnaps Irene in front of John, who thinks it's Lestrade going on with the original play and waves Irene's pleas for help off. On his way back to 221B, however he runs into Lestrade and compliments him upon changing clothes so fast, but when Lestrade is baffled, John realizes the truth. He and Lestrade chase after the Scotsman, whom John battles as Lestrade frees Irene. The Scotsman, seeing things not going his way, dashes back to his Scots-canoe and paddles away. Irene, however, praises John as her hero, balancing things out for Sherlock's earlier heroics.

24. The Return of Black Peter. Black Peter Carey's dinghy washes back up on the island, and the castaways learn he wasn't killed by that harpoon nineteen episodes ago. They all try to talk Black Peter into taking whoever will fit in his boat back upriver, but Peter's will has been broken after being left for dead on the banks of the Plumstead Marshes where tidewaiters nursed him back to health. He is afraid of returning to civilization for fear of Patrick Cairns harpooning him again. Irene, Mary, and John try to build up his ego, to no avail. Mycroft and Lestrade try to convince him that the full forces of the Government and Scotland Yard back in London can surely protect him. The Professor offers to have Cairns murdered.  But when Sherlock shows up with a harpoon-like spear after killing an island boar for the night's dinner, Black Peter freaks out and takes off in his boat to head further downriver.

Well, six more episodes down the tubes (internet or boob, your choice). Really didn't expect to see Black Peter returning like that, but Wrongway Feldman set the pattern, and the pattern must be obeyed. (For those who aren't big Gilligan's Island fans, every episode of John Watson's Island is inspired by its numeric counterpart in the Gilligan version.) Just seventy-four more to go, but we've got all summer for this. Who knows, we might even get to the Harlem Globetrotters! (The third of the TV movie sequels.)

And what the heck, it's time to sing the sign-off again!

So this is a case that has gone astray,
they're here for a long, long time.
They may not solve a case each week,
please send them a lime.

John Watson and his Sherlock too

will do their very best,
to foil Jim Moriarty troubles
in their weird Thames island nest.

No wires, no gas, no hansom cabs

not a single luxury
just like the Grice Patersons,
it's primitive as can be.

So join us now, Sherlockians,

E'en if you're full of bile,
for seven stranded characters
here on John Watson's Isle!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dark spots on the Canonical banana.

After hearing someone go on about the "crimes" of Moffat and Gatiss and season four of Sherlock earlier today, I decided to dip back into that trio of episodes this weekend to remind myself of what I found of value in them, which is quite a bit. The controversy over them gave me room to contemplate what a problematic season means to any series . . . and the different reactions different viewing patterns can give.

I mean, go back as far as The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes and some of the stinkers contained within. These days, we just accept them as a part of the whole, and the better stories that came before give us reason to pardon them when they finally show up. We have a full sixty stories to read, and our memories of those good times are still so fresh as we move along that we can cruise by the likes of "The Mazarin Stone" at speed and get back to thinking about "The Red-Headed League."

But when they first came out?

You got "His Last Bow" in 1917. And that was the end. No more Sherlock Holmes stories. BUT WAIT! A miracle happens, and four years later, you get "The Mazarin Stone."

(Insert sad trombone noise here.)

And you now at least two months to contemplate that sorry piece of crap before getting "The Problem of Thor Bridge" to take your mind off it.

I can relate to this as a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To anyone who Netflix binge-watched the entire series, or watched it on DVD, season six when showrunner Joss Whedon was away doing Firefly, was just a bad bump in the road. But to those of us who lived through a full year of such sad spectacles as "Doublemeat Palace" and the ruinous "Normal Again" rationed out one-per-week until a three month summer hiatus brought back something that, while better, could never quite be the same again . . . well, maybe you survived without scars, but my Buffy fandom took a "Star Wars Episode One" level hit.

Which brings me back to Sherlock. Eventually, I'm thinking there are going to be new fans of the series who plow throw all four seasons without the damage it did to so many who experienced show-change in real-time. At which point an older Sherlockian might reply, "You just don't know . . . you weren't there . . ."

Fandoms rarely get to be all roses and sunny days. Talking to the good Carter tonight about her personal canon, classic Star Trek, she too has those hard-to-rewatch episodes of things she first saw nearly fifty years ago. (She didn't start until reruns, so she was a few years late to that party.) And yet, tonight, we sat down to an episode of Star Trek Continues, an amazing piece of work that you can find on its own site or on YouTube, and found that sometimes you get lucky and you can go home again, at least for a little while. (After watching that, I fully expect that someday the Johnlockers are going to get something very close to their wish. Fan video abilities get better every day.)

In the end, the love of the whole will always trump the disappointment of the component part as a fandom moves through its generations. But, man, those hard days are always tough when they do come. Good thing we can have hope.

A new Mrs. Neville St. Clair

During last night's discussion of "The Man with the Twisted Lip" at the library, I was struck by a change in the Sherlockian approach to a particular character, and a change that shows a bit of evolution in Sherlockiana itself.

"The Man with the Twisted Lip" is a very different story among the first dozen shorter cases in which we first experience tagging along with Sherlock and the doctor. 221B Baker Street never appears, John encounters his friend Sherlock out of the blue, and in one of the truest expressions of their friendship, just runs off with him without a moment's hesitation. Middle of the night, "Hey, what are you doing here?" and yet, "Okay, let's go!"

The reason Sherlock Holmes is not at Baker Street for this case is that he's taking the very unusual step of staying with his client. This is even more odd when you consider John Openshaw from a few cases before, who feared for his very life, yet was sent home alone. This time, Mrs. Neville St. Clair, a woman who truly deserves a first name if any Canonical character did, seems to have talked Holmes into working out of her home as he attempts to find her missing husband.

The boy Sherlockians who dominated the last century tended to focus upon one detail of Mrs. St. Clair above all others. When she first appears at the door to her home, she's wearing a fabric we've never heard of (Mousseline-de-soie, defined by Webster's as "a silk muslin with a crisp finish") and Watson writes that he can see the silhouette of her figure. Those two details were enough for ye olde men of the Sherlockian table to so often chortle "Seductress! Oo-la-la!" and dig no further into the true strangeness of this situation.

Yet we live in a different age now, when empathies for a female character are a little more pronounced in most of Sherlockian society, and other thoughts come nicely to the fore first, as they did last night in our discussion group. Mrs. St. Clair's actual behavior, rather than her potential wardrobe scandal, gets the limelight.

And Mrs. St. Clair is particularly interesting in the way she plays Sherlock Holmes, holding back the news of her husband's letter until after Holmes speaks of his conviction that Neville St. Clair has been murdered. It's almost like she's trying to poke holes in that Sherlock-smarty-pants persona . . . just the way a family member who's known you your whole life would.

Sherlock Holmes is not only staying at the St. Clair home, but he uses its dog-cart and stablehands like a familiar houseguest would. He has things ready to go in the wee morning hours, and doesn't bother announcing his departure to his hostess, a casual bit that one might take to be a touch of rude Sherlock, but I really don't think that's the case.

Because one you get past the "oo-la-la!" of boy Sherlockians past, Mrs. Neville St. Clair, her hidden first name, her letting Holmes stay, and her general cleverness and the way Sherlock trusts her intuitions point more to her being a Holmes cousin than a seductress.

This is a woman who charged straight into a murder-friendly opium den when her husband seemed to be in trouble, so considering her for a place in the Holmes family does not seem undeserved. Back in 1988, in my book Sherlock and the Ladies, I theorized that Mrs. St. Clair was a childhood friend of Sherlock Holmes, but now . . . my lord, can it be nearly thirty years later already? . . . I would be all for promoting her to cousin.

She deserves it, and we live in a little better world than we did then, despite certain reversions. A happy thought that came out in last night's discussions of our friend Sherlock Holmes.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Bob Burr Memorial Edition.

With all the ways to keep a calendar these days, I still find I am horrible with birthdays.

So when The Sherlockian E-Times showed up last evening with a "Bob Burr Memorial Edition," I was quite happy to be reminded of my late friend's natal day. In my mind, his spirit still inhabits the house across the fence, so I hope the residents aren't too troubled by that ghost. He could be quite the insistent mischief-maker, as the Hounds of the Internet were often painfully aware.

And then tonight, Bob came up again, as he tends to when Sherlockians gather in Peoria, as he was the first to gather the faithful here, not a hundred yards from where I now sit. Author Philip Jose Farmer may have been the first to say Peoria should have a group and named it with the oft-needs-explaining soubriquet of "The Hansoms of John Clayton," but it was Bob, always Bob who actually got the meetings going and held the group together for so many years.

So as our Sherlock Holmes Story Society met again for the sixth month in a row at Peoria's North Branch Library to discuss "The Man With The Twisted Lip," those who remember him couldn't help but think of Bob. Especially as his Canonical title, both in the Hansoms and the Baker Street Irregulars was "the Rascally Lascar," which comes from that very tale. As the lascar rascal in the story ran a den of addicts, I don't think that any Sherlockian society chief ever had a more appropriate reference for his alias.

T'were I a better friend, perhaps I should have taken "a Dane, who acts as assistant there" from the story to have been a bit more dedicated to his efforts, but having more Canonical titles at this point than I have fingers on one hand with this society or that, I was never as steady a hand as Bob in Sherlockian nickname or scion society coordination. Like the song says, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," which is one of the great things about being a Sherlockian long enough: You get to have seen enough good things and good people to have a few regrets at not appreciating them all as fully as you might have.

Which is always something to think about as we interact with those present now. It may be fight-fight-fight on the internet some days, but in the little local gatherings, we shine. (And the big ones, too! Really missing 221B Con this week, after hearing reports of Sherlocked USA.)

Ah, well, enough nostalgia for one evening. Perhaps a few observations on "The Man with the Twisted Lip" will be coming soon. And you can thank Mr. Burr for that.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What is Sherlock Holmes to us?

Sherlock Holmes is so many things to many people, but he has always occupied a couple of major spaces in our modern mythos.

To the post-Victorians of the early 1900s, he was an envoy to nostalgia of a time gone by. To the predominately left-brained, before "left" had such strong political connotations that the phrase might be misunderstood by many, he was a torch-bearer for logic and reason. Classic Sherlockian texts push those two roles hard, but these days, Sherlock Holmes definitely has one more major role in our lives, and I've been trying to put it into words for a few days now.

When Sherlock Holmes and John Watson first meet, both men are on the fringes of society, practically outcasts. Watson, through ill-health and physical injury, has been put on the government's disabled list. Holmes is described by a colleague (Stamford) as someone you probably don't want to spend a lot of time with, and fits no well-defined societal role. Neither man really has much in the way of friends, family, or lovers. And when they meet, it's important.

Christopher Morley once put his name and introduction on a book called Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship. It contains just A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, "The Final Problem," "The Empty House," and "The Bruce-Partington Plans," but doesn't really delve into the theme of its title much other than to present those stories and talk about Sherlockiana in general.

We know that Sherlockiana has sparked some wonderful friendships over the years, and we know that Sherlock and John were great friends as well, but why is that friendship more special to us than that of The Three Musketeers? Or Nero Wolfe and Archie? Or any of the thousands of other fictional friendships from classic literature up to today's New York Times best sellers?

Now that we've had a chance to see two major denominations of Sherlock Holmes fans develop, with different styles of Sherlocking, we have a great opportunity to look for commonalities in very different approaches. How are middle-aged men calculating the geometry of "The Musgrave Ritual" like young ladies producing Mystrade porn fics? How are past travelers working out the location of 221B Baker Street like modern fan tourists extrapolating from Setlock? The techniques might be very different on the surface, but the spirit behind them? Much the same.

And so much of that common spirit ties back to the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Call it friendship or call it love, those two souls coming together has great meaning for us. Two men who don't fit into society at all, outcasts in their way, coming together in a relationship that makes that same world that doesn't know what to do with them a better place.

All the mysteries they solve, all the clients they help, none of that is as meaningful as what Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson bring to the table when they come together for that work. "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane" are nice stories, but with Sherlock alone, they don't tend to make anyone's top ten list. Something is missing and even though Watson's role doesn't seem as specifically important as Sherlock's, replacing him with any casual stranger just doesn't filled the bill, just as if Watson had gone on to room with Stamford in A Study in Scarlet.

Even just asking the question "What does Sherlock Holmes mean to us?" leaves out a key element of the equation. It is Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson together that bring the most meaning to their stories, in any medium, in any re-creation. Their relationship, the bond of two outsiders that works a pure magical alchemy of personality, has produced good things both in fiction and in our really real world. Solving mysteries to entertain us and bringing empowering friendships into our lives.

And that, the connection between Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson is, at this point in our world, far more important than nostalgia for the Victorian period or examples of observation and deduction.

We are very lucky to have them.