Thursday, March 21, 2019

Sherlock Holmes, electric light in a gaslit world

One thing I've always loved about Sherlock Holmes is the way he changed people's realities.

They'd come to him with a murderous curse, a bizarre society, or some other weird turn their life had taken, and when he left their lives, the world was back to normal.

We know, of course, that Sherlock Holmes didn't really change reality. As much as he might be called a wizard by an amazed client or his faithful companion, Sherlock didn't snap his fingers and alter actual physical forms or change history. No, what he did was much better.

He pulled away the curtain painted with a false reality that someone else wanted his clients to believe. "Gaslighting" is the popular term for it currently, when a narcissistic or otherwise ill-intentioned soul decides to roll out the false truths, manipulating another person to believe something that isn't the case at all, usually for the villain's own personal gain.

Windibank. Stapleton. Clay. Murillo. Gruner. Peters. The list is long, and the malefactors many levels of wicked.

Yet Sherlock Holmes stood next to each of their intended prey and emanated his bright light of reason, vanishing their shadow-play and bringing daylight to their stories. Showing the world as it actually was again.

It's fitting that in a world where gaslights were a literal thing, Sherlock Holmes lit up the world around him like the electric bulbs that would soon make those gaslights a thing of the past. And amazingly, even in a world well over a hundred years down the line, the consulting detective remain a beacon for us, an ideal.

Looking hard for facts to illuminate truths when villains want us to see otherwise. Giving others explanations that someone might be holding back. Seeing justice done at last.

That's all Sherlock Holmes. And one of the main reasons we love him. Worth holding on to these days, as much as in his own.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The sensitive side of John Watson

Yesterday, I was considering the first time we meet John Watson, as he tells Sherlock Holmes that "I object to rows because my nerves were shaken." Then today, on a totally separate quest, I came upon these words, "Again I had an opportunity of asking him a point blank question, and again my delicacy prevented me from forcing another man to confide in me."

John Watson cannot bring himself to ask his room-mate what his occupation is.

Even in Victorian times, this hardly seems like a breech of social protocol, especially if said room-mate is actually conducting business within your shared rooms. And, as always, Watson gives us something about himself that passes muster in the flow of a narrative, but considered by itself brings up real questions.

Was it his delicate manners or his delicacy of health that prevented him from asking? In the modern era, a man who had endured what Watson had might be quickly understood to have suffered some form of post traumatic stress disorder. But even that seems like it might not account for Watson's seeming reluctance to be even so harmlessly assertive with, as he says, so specifically, "another man."

Telling your occupation isn't usually a confidence, unless it's something society usually frowns on. Might Watson have added a red herring or two in that visitor list to prevent his true thoughts about Sherlock Holmes at that time from becoming apparent.

One thing a lot of folks used to the more traditional Sherlockian study might not fully appreciate is the way fan fiction has studied the minds of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and continues to do so. When trying to get a feel for a whole personality, it is fine to call out this characteristic or that, but putting the whole of a person through scenario after scenario, feeling out how they might react in this situation or another . . . well, its almost like the experimental method using the personalities of Holmes and Watson as lab rats in an assortment of mazes.

One can test how well one knows the characters and build upon that knowledge as one writes, going "this seems right," "this doesn't seem right," testing and re-testing with betas and reader comments, moving on to new scenarios based upon what was learned in other fic-scientist's scenarios. One could take a simple sentence, like the one I fixated on above, construct a situation to test Watson's "delicacy" at that point in the relationship, and let scenes play out until one of them hits the mark and shows us true Watson, bringing out potential backstories and feelings behind that line.

As with any Sherlockian scholarship that doesn't involve Conan Doyle and history books, exact, unarguable results are near impossible -- which is why the great game of Sherlockiana has lasted as long as it has. (Much like Ripperology which, with a slightly more solid Canon of evidence, continually produces results just as hazy as anything to do with Sherlock.) The fun is in coming up with your own answers to those unanswerable questions.

And Watson has left us with so many, probably because he was just too "delicate" to be straight with us. (Pun, unintended, but left in like it was.)

Bull pup season

"I keep a bull pup and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the principal ones at present."
-- John H. Watson, A Study in Scarlet

Most of us, thankfully, will never have the list of issues that got John Watson into the state he describes above when he first met Sherlock Holmes. Almost all of us, however, are going to get hit with a cold virus at some point that puts us in a condition much like that which Watson described at that point.

Getting up at all sorts of ungodly hours, extremely lazy from lack of good sleep, and just crabby enough from all of that to object to rows, maybe not because our nerves are shaken, but mainly because in the state a cold can put us in, we're not taking any crap. (Which can actually be a little useful to the less-assertive among us.)

Finding a certain sympathy for early-Baker-Street Watson is, perhaps, the only bright side to being inflicted with a "blah" head cold. It just has to be endured, and one hopes for a capable room-mate who can leave us alone while perhaps staying just interesting enough to distract us from our minor miseries.

I can understand that firearms enthusiasts like to argue that "a bull pup" was somehow a Victorian way of saying "gun," but the idea that Watson would tell a prospective room-mate, "I keep a gun and I object to rows," seems a little counter-productive. I, for one, certainly would not happily agree to room with somebody that threatening at the get-go. If that was the meaning, Sherlock would have surely looked at Stamford and stated simply: "NEXT!"

"I have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the principal ones at present," is a lovely and intriguing statement, and truly one that applies to head cold season as well. One would think Holmes might have asked about those, but he had probably made some deductions about those that he wasn't revealing. ("Gambles on horse races, can't remember if he's married or not at a given moment, drinks a bit.")

But, as with Watson's post-war state, the head-cold too will pass. And then back to our adventures with Sherlock Holmes.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The 221B Con Scramble starts NOW!

Less than three weeks to 221B Con, and the scrambling begins.

Indecision on badge ribbon choices outside of the must-do "Doyle's Rotary Coffin" is down to the wire. The last of the panel assignments seem to be in, and the prep for those ramps up. And then there's always that dream cosplay, whose assembled parts and pieces will need to come together now or never. What else am I not thinking of? That must be addressed as well, and soon.

On the badge ribbon front, it's a mix of how much fun a ribbon statement can be versus "Worth the cost?" The lack of a DVD release of Holmes and Watson has limited access to movie quotes and some of my favorite remembered lines need context ("IT'S NOT WORKING!" "We're American ladies!" "Toilet-sized chunks!"). On the non-Holmes-and-Watson, how hard do I really want to push "Named 'Worst Person In Our Hobby' 2019," which is kind of fun with no context, but is really dwelling on someone else's bad moment. (Stickers might be enough.) And there's always that podcast that I relentlessly don't promote. (Nineteen episodes and it's still a work-in-progress.) One year, I'm going to hit January flush with cash and go badge-ribbon-crazy, as I love those things.

As far as panels go, here's what I'm getting ready for:

Holmes and Watson. Having sat in the theater and watched that movie six times, I've got a lot to say about that movie and my love for it. 221B Con will be my chance to convert my friend Howard Ostrom to the One True Faith with some old-time Holmes and Watson evangelism, and if there was ever a panel to get a bit silly with, this is going to be the one. There may be props.

Sherlock Holmes AUs before there were AUs. "Alternate Universe" fan fiction has been going for a little bit, but how many pastiches, movies, and just-plain wrong adaptations took Sherlock Holmes out of the Canon and place him in an alternate universe before we knew what alternate universe's were? Basil Rathbone fighting those Nazis didn't just happen in Victorian London, nor with a ninety-something Sherlock, but nobody stood up in theaters and went "Alternate Universe!" So it's going to be fun gathering up some of those times and places and get into what made them AUs without an A03 "Alternate Universe" tag.

The Unreal Podcast. Did I mention that I don't promote my podcast? Well, this panel on fictional podcast is going to get into the joys and concerns of why you, too, can and should do a podcast that you don't promote. Joining me will be Mary O'Reilly from the Academicasaurus Podcast,  and since Mary and I first met while holding together a Sherlock Holmes discussion with a crazy man, I can assure you that we can easily fill an hour with some lively talk.

And then there comes the challenge of cosplay, the thing that has fallen off my list for so many cons prior to this. It's going to require a bit of crafting, given that I can find a key item to start with, but I won't bore you with non-details. Canny readers should be able to guess the direction I will be heading, though, if this comes off.

What am I missing? That's the part I have to figure out next. Probably not going to get life-sized Paget Sherlock in the car again this year, as I have to drop a human off in Nashville, and humans take up room. Also, the good Carter will be accompanying me this year, after a couple years off. And there's a cold that I just got and will need the three weeks ahead to shake.

But 221B Con is coming! And there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Canons to remember

Picking up a nearby copy of the Complete for a bit of reference last night, I got a surprise run-in with the past. You truly can't judge a book by its cover, as the cover of this particular book was a pretty common old Barnes and Noble edition.

Nothing fancy or unexpected there. In fact, the copy was so seemingly ordinary that I usually pick up one of the two on either side of it, a favorite Literary Guild complete or a well-worn, hand-noted Doubleday that once belonged to a good friend. As I flipped to the index, however, I got a bit of a surprise. The book was signed. Not by Christopher Morley who wrote the preface, or Conan Doyle, of course. It was much too new. But it was signed by every member of a road trip that the book had been purchased to accompany me on.

The road trip was a grand idea of Don Hobbs, who made a great effort to have it recorded for posterity in those pre-smartphone-video days, and I'm not going to go into describing it here, but the book made me realize what a great Sherlockian souvenir a Canon can be. Just as a family Bible often holds hidden history, a copy of the Sherlock Holmes stories can become a special souvenir in itself -- and one you can use for other purposes. (And maybe other souvenirs.)

I have a couple of other souvenirs from that trip that serve no useful purpose, other than to sit out and take up shelf space, a jar of dirt from Sherlock, Texas and a discarded railroad spike . . .

. . . but I think I like the autographed Canon better. It shares the names of all who were there when it was used, and sparks a few more memories than dirt or metal.

It's often said that books take us places, but returning that favor and taking a book somewhere might pay its own dividends later on . . . and maybe even surprise you. This one caught me as I was just about to plan a trip later in the year, to another place I've never been. And made me think that maybe I should contemplate which Canon I decide to let come with me on that trip.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"The worst person in our hobby"

"His relentlessly mean-spirited, adolescent, and even disturbing posts long ago marked him as the worst person in our hobby."
-- Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, the Facebook feed

Well, it may seem odd to those with greater curiosity than I, but when I see a long comment from someone who plainly doesn't like me, I don't always read the whole thing. A natural protective impulse, of course, and maybe over-protective. So until I was out to lunch today and someone asked me about a bit of online drama from earlier in the week, I hadn't actually read the sentence above. And, WOW!

Someone, it seems, has decided that I'm a veritable Charles Augustus Milverton, the "worst man" of Sherlockiana.

Their preface, "It's been a number of years since SHFD gave up on a specific blogger," tells me that they haven't been following this blog's ongoing journey through Sherlockian life, and that they were plainly sent a link to a particular post by someone in the "LOOK AT WHAT HE WROTE!" club. I've had a lot of non-readers over the years who get passed a single post, and they are invariably the most incensed, coming at the words with an already-established preparation for furor. And limited information is always the best way to demonize another human being. So I kind of understand how they came to this place. I'm easy to disagree with, and if you ignore everything about me but a few select opinions, I am horrible.

But "the worst person in our hobby?"

I mean, that's a wee bit extreme. Instead of arguing any of my points, which are well able to be debated, they went straight for, not the jugular, but to elevating my very being to the pinnacle of bad Sherlocking. And seemed to say that I've held that post for a very long time, unbeknownst to me.

And that, that sort of reverse superlative demands a response, a response which I did not make on Sunday when I only glimpsed the last lines of the diatribe, since I didn't see it. And, truly, there is only one proper response to that statement:


A comment so extreme is going to have a few possible effects. One might be to drive someone from Sherlockiana never to return. Another? Weelllllll, it could be that, having been cast in such a role, left with no obvious path to redemption, and no way to lower the opinion of an authority so important as Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, a person might feel that certain restraints had been lifted. And that one could freely be expected to behave as, indeed, the worst person in our hobby.

So if I embrace this new title of "the worst person in our hobby," it could mean a real perspective enhancement. Because if I'm the worst person in our hobby? The rest of you guys are pretty special, and I will need to be sure to treat you as such. Good on you, you beautiful mother-Sherlockers.

But while we're at it, what are the outer limits of "our hobby" these days? I need to get a better idea of my new domain. Some of us might have a broader definition of that term than others, so while one might be the worst person in a very small pond, maybe they're not so bad for those who see the larger "ocean" view of the hobby. I mean, I'd hate to start making claims and run into the guy who is actually the worst person in our hobby. He might want to fight or something, and yikes!

I just don't know. It's just a lot to digest when you suddenly discover such a statement has been made about you. And it really makes me wish I could afford to attend a few more Sherlockian weekend events out there this year, just to remind people I'm still the same clumsily pleasant fellow they knew back when. But, hey, when you're the worst person in the hobby, you just don't get to as many events as the better Sherlockians. (Hey, I think I'm discovering side benefits to this title -- catch-all excuse!)

But really, my biggest takeaway from this whole debacle is that we all have to continue to try just a little bit harder in such fractious times. Not to be sure to make everybody happy by being as non-controversial as possible, but to continue to try harder to express the potentially disruptive ideas clearly. (Yes, "Nazis," obviously a trigger word, even in a seemingly fitting context. I should know that by now.) The ad hominem attack favored by the propaganda outlets remains a problem we all may have to deal with at some point in a disagreement -- it's just too easy. Sometimes you just have to take the hit and move on. And best of all, as with all Sherlockiana, just try to have a little fun with it.

"Worst person in our hobby."  Thanks, Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, whoever you are these days. Here's a little outro music for you. I'll save a karaoke number for you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Age of the Monstrous Book

Lately I've been reading a book that I can't yet properly review, European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss. It's a lovely book with Sherlock Holmes in it, like its predecessor, The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter. But I'm only about a quarter of the way into it, which is still a goodly distance, as the book is a hefty 708 pages.

Goss's incarnation of Irene Adler has recently showed up in my reading, and I'm loving her depiction, as with all of the book's characters. The Athena Club books have a charm that was lacking in Alan Moore's shock-jock Victoriana of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and I don't begrudge it the pleasant pace of its ensemble cast ramble. But the sheer heft of picking up the book makes one consider what brought us to this point.

Sure, super-popular authors like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling have been allowed to take books to extreme lengths in the past by their publishers. But I think the digital age is leading us to a place where massive tomes are not all that unusual. If the writers want to go for it, and a large share of readers are buying the book to read on their smartphone or tablet, where weight isn't an issue, size doesn't really matter as much as it once might have. And no one is going to complain of getting to see too much of favorite characters. Some of the massive ongoing fanfics out there amply demonstrate that.

Ross Davies' Baker Street Almanac is demonstrating that the big, fat book isn't just limited to the fiction shelves, though its PDF is a whopper that your device might groan under the weight of, if such things could groan. As the government and tech industry discovered with gigantic manuals, ink-and-paper isn't always the most cost-efficient means of getting the words out, but there are still enough book lovers out there that some things will always need to get that classic treatment.

And that means some of us will be wandering the house, strengthening our wrists as we read in the early morning hours . . . which is, at least, some exercise for a devoted bookworm.