Thursday, July 30, 2020

The ones on the outside

Ever stop to ponder how Sherlock Holmes might have a certain appeal to the outsiders among us?

When coming across something like the large accepting group of LGBTQIA+ at an event like 221B Con, one might, at first, consider it just a result of the porny fanfic community who found a  fountain of inspiration in BBC Sherlock. And at this point, many will say, "Well, Sherlock was always gay, so, of course . . ." And you might not agree with that, just as you might not agree that Irene Adler was the one and only love of his life. We all have our favorite matches to make for the boy.

But what really makes Sherlock one of us, whatever your community might be, is if you've ever had that feeling of belonging to the outsiders, those who life has placed outside the mainstream.

Sherlock Holmes was a white, British man in a time when the white, British man was at his peak. This is true. But he took advantage of every privilege he was given, and used it to walk outside the lines. He could have been a doctor, sure. He could have gone to work at Scotland Yard. He could have made his way as a research chemist. But he took none of those roles, and better still, he did not deny all traditional roles simply to go criminal and exist for his own selfish gain. No, Sherlock Holmes stepped outside the lines to help those whose problems were in that area where no traditional answers would serve.

And Sherlock Holmes had a certain acceptance for those who were also on the outside. While "You have been in Afghanistan, etc." might be the famous first line, the more important words Sherlock Holmes says to John Watson will always be, "Come on . . . Get your hat." It's that first moment when Sherlock Holmes offers an invitation to his depressed room-mate who views his life as meaningless. Sherlock Holmes is figuratively holding out his hand with those words and saying, "Join me."

Holmes doesn't see Watson as a potential biographer. He doesn't want Watson to carry a gun and be his backup. He simply thinks that he's going to get a laugh at the expense of Lestrade and Gregson, and his sad old roomie needs a laugh. It's a small kindness, but a kindness none the less. An acceptance of one human being going, "Come on, let's share a laugh."

Sherlock Holmes is never quite who anyone wants him to be, but he gets done what he wants to do. John Watson, as loathe as he is to go on about himself in print, seems to have had a similar problem fitting into a societal norm. And how many fans that have followed their exploits since 1887 would profess toward being one of their fellow folk who stand outside the conventions of life?

A whole lot of us. Even those with a modicum of success inside the systems.

But even in a hobby of so many outsiders, we still find those who think we need to put up fences now and then. Once, that was not letting women attend certain club dinners. Other criteria get proposed on occasion, usually be someone with a specific person or group in mind that they want to keep outside the gate. Creating an "outside" for a hobby based on an outsider, a hobby so normally accepting of outsiders, will always be a burr in my Sherlockian saddle when it arises, and I'm fine with that. It should be the sort of thing that makes us yelp.

And I think Sherlock Holmes himself would like it that way.

"Come on , , , Get your hat." Wonderful words.

The 2020 blogging quota

While I'm not sure how concerned anyone else is about the number of times I post about Sherlock Holmes in a given month, looking at the little "Blog Archive" scoreboard is something I do from time to time, to see if I'm winning against the me of other years. And this year, I am definitely not winning.

I've done about 33% less posting so far compared to last year, and I've got excuses: podcasting, less in-person Sherlockian events to write about, not even an Elementary left to debate, John H. Watson Society duties, trying to write a book, etc.  But Sherlock Peoria management (which is also me) is just not happy with the numbers the staff is putting on the board. Every time month-end nears and I'm down from the previous month, or the previous year's same month, I start desperately whipping up a couple more blog posts for the month to try to bump the stats slightly.

A good motivation for blogging? Not necessarily. For writing, however, just exercising the old verbal functions? Just fine.

One more on the pile.

The wealth of a Sherlockian

Vincent Starrett had a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual.

A working writer, a newspaper reporter making what reporters did, Starrett was never a wealthy man. He lived through the great Depression, came to the brink of complete poverty, even selling his Holmes collections on occasion. And when he wanted to buy a particular book, there weren't enough Sherlockians at that point that he had to compete with any previous generation's wealthier scions to obtain it. In 1917, he was said to have the best Sherlockian collection in the United States.

But, a hundred years go by, and nobody can be Vincent Starrett any more. The last Beeton's up for sale went for $156,000, which is still less than complete collections or Doyle manuscripts have gone for. But those things are for the very wealthy and the institutions at this point. Vincent Starrett couldn't even be Vincent Starrett right now and afford to have the best Sherlockian collection composed of only items produced in the last ten years, I'd wager.

Collecting has always been a past-time that favored those with deep pockets. Sure, before eBay, you could get by with traveling a lot and being observant and clever, but the world-wide auction house suddenly put you in competition for any given item in a battle of who would pay the most for it. I suspect that Baby Boomers might have the last great generations of middle and lower class Sherlockian collectors, between those changes and the rise of digital works, along with the fact that current generations are trudging up economic hills much steeper than most of their parents.

Every generation works hard for its money, with the exception of those members who get handed it by their parents, and we've seen more than a few of those in the Sherlockian realm. But as a fandom ages successfully and its objects age and grow in value, as ours has done, the difference between what one Sherlockian has and another has becomes a much greater divide than in Starrett's day.

But we know it's not the things that matter, really. It's the people.

Who you enjoy associating with can definitely influence the Sherlockian path you take. When we gather, we usually see Sherlockians at their best -- happy, energized, engaged -- which is why we often say "Sherlockians are the best people!" Even those of us that are eventually suspected of murder can be fun to have dinner with once or twice. On that account, Sherlockiana can be a great leveler. If we're meeting in a venue that requires no extravagant cost, no tuxedo or ball gown, we can mingle with folks from every station of life, and often never know of anything but a common love of Sherlock. (Once upon a time, I was very shocked to learn I had a judge or two in the ranks of those I enjoyed at workshops. Turned out that judges were regular people, too, and not tremendous authority figures in their off hours.)

Sometimes I look at our Sherlockian world and worry a tad about economic disparities and how they might one day affect us. But then I remember the vast economic disparities that have always been with us. Edgar Smith was, no doubt, afforded some opportunities and abilities as a high level executive at General Motors, but his reputation for welcoming Sherlockians with open arms was always there as well. As long as that attitude stays with us, and we don't slip into "but what if we just gate-keep a little bit because . . . well, that person," I think we'll be okay. Ever notice how Sherlock Holmes wasn't really into personal vendettas or refusing clients with governess job issues, as much as he might have griped about dealing with people? That does tend to come with the hobby, in most cases.

There's a certain wealth that comes with being a Sherlock Holmes fan, and I hope we always have that luxury, whatever happens with the economic precipice we seem to be standing on these days. Sherlockiana made it through the depression once, and, hopefully, we won't have to do it again. But let us never lose our true riches of spirit, for any reason.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Story Ruiners Society

This past Thursday, a stalwart band of summer Sherlockians met for our monthly library discussion of a Watsonian tale, and as always a delightful time was had by all. Inquiring minds digging deep into a case's details always provides many a reward, new takes and surprising info abound. This time, however, our tale was "The Red Circle," and as we dove into the depths of that record of crime and vengeance, matters just got darker and darker.

There is a lot at the end of "Red Circle" that remains unexplained, and Sherlock Holmes does not at all seem interested in explaining it.

We know the monster Giuseppe Gorgiano was working with a team, as evidenced by the two men who kidnapped Mr. Warren and then released him.  We know that Black Gorgiano went into the vacant house, was stabbed to death, and Gregson and Leverton saw three men leave the house after Gorgiano went in. We know that all concerned were part of a larger criminal organization, and plainly, some members of that group were still roaming free at story's end, but now knew where Emilia Lucca was.

Gregson says he is taking Emilia Lucca to see his chief, and then, apparently, turn her loose on London streets. We don't know what happened to her husband Gennaro, even though Emilia is insanely positive about his fate. I say "insanely" because this was a woman who was just dancing around a bloody corpse a few minutes earlier.

Holmes and Watson, of course, just ditch the whole scene and head to Covent Garden for a show, and once can easily imagine some mid-credits scene in an adapted version where their happy enjoyment of a concert is intercut with scenes of Emilia Lucca back on the streets and being murdered by another Red Circle killer while Wagnerian music from the concert plays over it.

When all was said and done, there was talk of yet another podcast (not by me, definitely) in which the hosts discuss the darker implications of every Sherlock Holmes story's end. So many have those vague Watsonian tales of "it seems like justice happened, but nobody really knows" that it wasn't that hard to imagine.

As dark as things have seemed in the world lately, a dark take on the Canon would not seem entirely out of place. But would it help our mental state?

Well, crazy Emilia seemed happy enough for a bit there. Who knows?

Friday, July 24, 2020

His Lost Poem

And now, a theoretical first draft of Conan Doyle's poetical introduction to The Lost World:

I have wrought my simple plan
To make a boy from a grown man,
To give a Cumberbatch a fan,
And see Omega Watson's can
Explained as how it has a tan.

I'll spin at hearing Sherlock's span
Especially in American
With fic of Brady girl, that Jan,
Whom a Wolff might surely ban
Along with that half of her clan.

Should have wrote a guy named Dan
Who Canonically was a Sherlock stan,
Just to rhyme with words like "Iran"
And the Sussex Duchess Meghan.
He could drive old Sherlock's van.

But before this draft you pan
Wanting boys who are half man.
Just recall ol' buddy Han,
Who was hot to your old Gran,
And wish that he had played Moran.
As published by Doubleday Doran.

Have I done all that I can?
Rhyming things with the word "plan?"
Now I'm repeating again and again,
And that didn't rhyme with plan!
Oh, goddamn! Afghanistan!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A previous generation's head Irregular

Sonia Fetherston's new book, Commissionaire: Julian Wolff And His Baker Street Irregulars, arrived yesterday, and having a furlough week off work (no sympathies needed, just a cost-saver and I got to take some vacation pay and leave unemployment for those who need it) with time to spend, I made short work of reading it. I don't normally review books in this blog, as there are many more books out there than I want to read, even involving Sherlock Holmes, but when I found myself almost a third of the way through the book after just unwrapping it, it seemed to justify a few words.

With two Christmas Annuals of The Baker Street Journal and a previous book in "The Baker Street Irregulars Biographical Series" under her belt, Sonia is a practiced hand at writing Sherlockian biography, and it shows. Since I'm not usually a BSI history guy, I didn't pick up her first book, so I don't know if her style of gathering reminiscences from existing Sherlockians and written comments of past Sherlockians went on there or not, but the way they peppered this book made it a nice breezy read, easy to pick up and read in small spurts if needed.

The life of a quiet little fellow who held a club together when it needed an anchor doesn't make for the most dramatic reading, and this book is as much a celebration of his life by those who remember him as some sort of tale of dramatic triumph and tragedy. He made maps, he put out a journal, he had parties at the New York apartment where he lived most of his life. Since his papers were all lost after his death, there is no chance for a deep dive into his inner thoughts, but the book gathers what we do have and presents it well for those who want to know a bit more about the Wolff.

I was definitely one of those. Sonia contacted me as she wrote the book, to hear my memories of Julian Wolff, and I persistently told her that I didn't know if I had anything of worth to tell. I had one black and white photo that Gordon Speck took of me standing beside Julian Wolff in 1987, and that picture is practically my entire memory of the man who carried the Baker Street Irregulars from the sixties into the eighties. (Why Gordon used black and white film, I don't know. I shot color that same year.) My own pictures from that year featured John Bennett Shaw and Peter Blau, whom I considered the superstars of Sherlockiana back then, as collectors were the thing.

So it was good to go back and learn of the man who caused so much grief in my own Sherlockian life. Well, I can't completely blame him, of course, as we all cause our own problems to some degree, but the chapter of the book "No Gurlz Allowed" amply shows how Wolff's membership policies set up one young Sherlockian for a rift with the organization Wolff had been running until a few years before. The book's cover photo of Julian Wolff with chin upraised might look noble in some ways, but to me, he now just looks stubborn.

So it was good to learn about a fellow from the past whom I met once, really didn't know much about, yet affected my world (and probably yours too, either directly or in ripple effects). And Sonia Fetherston does an excellent job of telling that story through the eyes of a legion of his fellow Sherlockians.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Sherlock Holmes Magazine, reviewed

Okay, let's be honest. Some of us didn't expect much from Sherlock Holmes Magazine.

We'd lived through things like Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine that were as much about other detectives as Holmes.We'd paid fifteen bucks for a supermarket glossy thing that just reprinted old stuff most experienced Sherlockians knew by heart. Magazines also seem like a dying format these days, as the internet gives us fresh pictures and news before a publishing house can crank up its press. And Sherlockians . . . well, we've never had the numbers to support an all-Sherlock ongoing full color magazine.

What can I say, us older folks have a lot of outdated ideas in our head. The market isn't just the United States or Britain anymore. And the funding site model make it possible to make sure you have the buyers before you produce the product. But beyond that, I really, really didn't expect the raange that editor/writer Adrian Braddy would scoop up in his arms-wide hug of the current state of Sherlock Holmes.

Cumberbatch piece, check. Conan Doyle piece, check. We'd expect those. Photos and bits on both upcoming Netflix productions? Good. An Audible-produced Holmes game for Alexa voice interfaces? Hadn't heard of that. Switzerland banning Sherlock Holmes in the early 1900s? That's very interesting. A thoughtful look at one of the stories. The struggles of the first Sherlock Holmes novel. Holmes work during lockdown. Theater. A feature on The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes? Well, singling out that movie alone shows someone has taste.

But there's so much more than that one paragraph even describes. It's the range of this friggin' magazine that makes it wonderful. Instead of just taking what comes their way, the rations that fan-based Sherlockian publications, even the top of the line, have always existed on, the creator(s) of Sherlock Holmes Magazine went out of their way to capture the full range of Sherlock Holmes in this moment, along with bits of the past that are still of interest, all put together in an exciting and enjoyable manner.

The only sad part of this magazine's arrival was that somehow weather and my mailbox got one edge damp. It quickly dried, but is a just a touch wrinkled in one spot, which makes it no longer in mint condition. But you know what? This isn't a magazine to keep in mint condition. This is a magazine you can pick up time after time, put a little loving wear on it, and make it your own. Fuck collecting when something is this good -- I'm not going to be selling it off before I die.

Can Sherlock Holmes Magazine keep it up? I would be glad to see it. And am also glad to admit that I was very wrong in my assessment of what a magazine dedicated to Sherlock Holmes can be in the year 2020. We have such a rich wealth of Sherlockiana behind us, and, it seems, some real treasures ahead of us as well.