Thursday, July 20, 2017

Submission.

Here's the thing about blogging . . . it is way too easy once you get in the habit.

You write, you hit "publish," you see if any comments come in. It's a routine, like any other. And enough people read it that you don't worry overmuch about trying to hit a single target. If one person out of a hundred gets some joy out of it, you can feel like you did something. But tonight, I broke out of my routine for a change.

The John H. Watson Society put out a call for submissions for its October journal, and having recently joined said society, submitting seemed like something I should do. So I concocted something a little different from what you usually read here, ran it through a few reviews, a few changes, and then sent it off. And this weird thing happened  . . .

I actually felt nervous.

More nervous than any public speaking engagement I've done in the past five years . . . those have actually gotten pretty comfortable. And definitely more nervous than tossing something out to those stalwarts who read this blog on anything close to a regular basis. Anyone who returns to this stream of words is probably familiar enough at what's coming to not get to outraged.

I suspect it was the fact that, unlike what I wrote earlier about blogging, I was sending a bit of writing off to a single target, an editor-in-chief with a respectable writing ability of her own, in an area where my own skills aren't really proven. (Leaving out details in case I do make The Watsonian, to keep it a surprise.)

Submitting a creative work to a journal, publisher, or any place where a thumbs-up, thumbs-down is expected is another muscle that exercise builds up, and I fear all this blogging has let that particular muscle atrophy in me, leaving it in need of physical therapy . . . like a few that show up needing that as one nears sixty. (It won't be my first.) I do need to exercise it more.

This blogging thing is just so darned easy.

Does a creator's intent matter?

Let's talk about writer Arthur Conan Doyle and film-maker Ed Wood for a moment.

I use Ed Wood in this instance, because while there are writers of his ability out there, they don't tend to attain the fame that he did. But Ed Wood and Arthur Conan Doyle were both creators who attained prominence for their creations, so I think he will suffice for the point I'm going to explore.

Ed Wood made a little sci-fi/horror movie called Plan Nine from Outer Space. I say "sci-fi/horror" because that was Wood's intention. What he actually created was a comedy that audiences have enjoyed for decades now as just that . . . a comedy. Which it wasn't made as.

So if a goodly number of people start enjoying Holmes and Watson as a gay couple, is it any more problematic than the legion of fans who enjoy Plan Nine from Outer Space as a comedy?

As long as I've been a Sherlockian, I've seen folks trying to claim authoritatively what Conan Doyle thought about this or that. Sometimes it seems on target, sometimes it seems like they're stretching some quote out-of-context to suit their purposes. In the end, though, all everyone is working from is the same set of words as everyone else and interpreting those words as their individual mind will. Piling on the words to have Doyle corroborate himself always gives us the best picture, but even at that . . . who really knows what's going on in anyone's head?

What we do have, however, is the product Doyle produced and handed over to the public for their entertainment, to enjoy as they chose. Just like Mr. Ed Wood.

Because of the quality of that product, as well as the fact Doyle is more "historical," having died longer ago, we tend to take Doyle a little more seriously. People raise the question of his intent and seem to think that should govern how we view his characters . . . out of respect for the dead or somesuch silly notion that gatekeepers enjoy trotting out in their seriousness.

But let's be honest. The only thing they're defending is their own worldview, and trotting out one more "how you should behave" to try to justify it. You know those people. (Heck, I'm doing it here.)

Conan Doyle was no Ed Wood, of course. Wood was a shlock film-maker who didn't make his horror movie horrific enough. Doyle was a great writer!

But step back and look at on part of Doyle's work: John Watson's marriage.

It's on again, off again. Mary Morstan never really returns as a character. A wife seems to die, then Watson seems to leave Holmes for a wife eight years later. Conan Doyle is horrible at writing an ongoing male-female relationship in the Canon of Holmes. One might argue that they are mystery stories, not "Watson's romance" stories, but at that point you're actually just flinging the barn doors wide open. If Doyle's point wasn't Watson's romance and he didn't care about it, an interpretation of a monogamous, Mary-faithful Watson suddenly has equal footing with an interpretation of closeted Victorian John who was in love with Sherlock. If the writer's intent isn't clear in the text itself . . . the interpretation of which can change over time . . . the reader can enjoy it however they choose.

Which is what audiences do.

Nobody is going to propose that you should properly enjoy Ed Wood's Plan Nine from Outer Space as a frightening horror movie because that has to be what Wood intended. And a big part of the Sherlockian game from its earliest days was the fact that Sherlockians were not enjoying the Canon as Doyle or his offspring intended.

Because in both cases, that's where fans found the fun was. And if a new generation of Sherlockians finds the fun somewhere new in those same stories, that'll be where the fun is then. It'll be their world eventually, they get to do that.

All we can do is enjoy what we enjoy and let others do the same.*

______________________________

* This view may have evolved since earlier postings in this same blog about a certain American television show, which, quite honestly, the writer did not think anyone enjoyed. Still learning such things.






Monday, July 17, 2017

The logical synthesis of fanfic.

So little time, so much to read.

And every month's listen to Three Patch Podcast brings just a little more added to the "I want to get to that someday" list. They have some pretty solid recommendations if you listen for what seem to be classics of the form. But sometimes, their discussions themselves become just as much fun as a good read. Case in point, the "We Ship It" segment for July, featuring the Jolto pairing (John Watson/James Sholto).

While Jolto is definitely going to be a hard genre for me to get to (as much as I love movies, war movies tend to be on my no-fly list, and this is all about soldiers), the fans on this audio panel (Cookie, Vanetti, Monika Krasnorada, and Bree) find it very hard to confine themselves to existing storylines involving Watson and Sholto, and just start coming up with completely new possibilities for the characters interacting. While amazed that a character with so little air time and a seemingly dead-end relationship with John Watson could be so fascinating, they just keep making James Sholto moreso as they ramble on . . . which is some perfect podcasting.

John Watson's war years and military service is one of those areas, both in BBC Sherlock and Doyle Canon, where a few skeletal details set up legions of potential tales. And just as Victor Trevor comes from Sherlock Holmes's college days to inspire wonder at that duo's time together, James Sholto comes in for Martin Freeman's Watson. (In the Doyle Canon, we'd have to place Murray in that "old army buddy" role.) Attempting to flesh out what happened in that time, around the few details that are presented, is not only classic Sherlockian brainwork, but classic Holmes detection as well.

"I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them," Sherlock states during "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches." And what is an explanation but a story of how someone got from point A to point B, which Sherlock Holmes was constantly trying to work out. His results, when edited down to the one provable theory, were solutions and not prose narratives (at least until Watson got his pen going), but Sherlock was spinning fics about the characters of every drama he came across. Just like the "We Ship It" crew from this month's Three Patch.

There is a definite "new scholarship" angle to the work of fan fiction. Instead of going for dates and measurements to calculate the like of the Musgrave Ritual, there are explorations of personalities and relationships in ways that can only be done in fiction. And we have more of it going on now than any time before us in Sherlockian history.

It's fun to be able to hear some of that work coming together while doing a little cooking and washing up, especially for a Sherlockian who has been around long enough to have heard so many retreads of well-worn pathways over the years. And that was tonight.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Lady Sherlock Holmes.

Another fun day on the ol' Twitter, where the fuss and the counter-fuss spool up for a given newsbit. My favorite among today's early contenders:


Doctor Who is going to be female in the next go-round. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor is still a single-thread-continuity character, so the impact of his transition might be felt a little harder by his fans, but we all knew it was a possibility. So let's get back to Sherlock Holmes.

Just how would Sherlockians react to a full-fledged, major media female Sherlock Holmes? We've had some pretty great versions done on YouTube and elsewhere, but they weren't at the Downy/Cumberbatch/Miller level. And don't give me the "Well, Watson has been a woman!" excuse for Sherlockians being accepting. Watson has been Nigel Bruce. Sherlockians of the past have shown that they pretty much would accept a pig as a Watson if you keep your Sherlock close enough to their image of the Master Detective.

But Sherlock Holmes . . . ah, Mr. Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street . . . could Sherlockian culture as a whole accept him as a woman? And which would be harder of these two choices: Accepting Sherlock Holmes as a woman or accepting Sherlock Holmes as an American. Especially here in America where we tend to think a solid British accent brings intellect and class along with it. American James Bond knock-offs have never held a candle to that chap. And an American female Sherlock Holmes? Well, you might as well just make him a Martian with tentacles to many a Sherlockian.

But here's the thing about re-works, reboots, and re-imaginings . . . you can do ANYTHING and get away with it if the writing is good enough. ANYTHING. The problem we see consistently, especially in sequels and reboots of known properties is that the writers think they can slap a deerstalker, a pipe, and a few weak observations on a detective and he's Sherlock Holmes. Writers use successful known characters as a crutch, don't work at real characterization, motivation, or plot quite so hard, and the result is pretty awful.

But take something like Battle for the Planet of the Apes or Westworld (both done in 1973), give them to some thoughtful writers and talented directors, and you get something so much better than the original that an audience doesn't just accept, but welcome it. I'd propose that BBC Sherlock was much the same . . . taking the thought of Sherlock Holmes in the modern day, which had been tried many times before, and doing it so well that it never seemed like there was a question.

It's this part before we see the story that's so rough for some people. They just can't imagine anything besides what already is. And from my own experience, I definitely know that there are some things you don't want to explain to people before you can show them enough of the finished work, so that their mind can actually see the thing and go, "Yes, that's a great idea!" Letting a limited imagination try to fill in the blanks on anything is risky business, and on a creation that they're only given a single fact on, like a female Doctor Who, it's nigh impossible to get their buy-in. They only know what they know.

Changing Doyle's Sherlock Holmes into something other than a Victorian white man isn't a taboo, it's just a creative challenge, a test of the imagination, both for those who currently dream of it and those who will inevitably accomplish it in the mainstream. (And great kudos to those who have already achieved that goal out of the mainstream.) One day it will come, just as surely as Johnlock and every other potential Sherlock of worth.

I have more faith than ever in the creative arts these days. I just wish we could get our crap together on more practical matters.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

What is it that we love in John H. Watson?

One of those big-con moments I've always found unpleasant is the fan who steps up to the celebrity Q & A and decides to speak for all fans. It might be a simple expression of gratitude or love, most likely something positive, but it is that completely narcissistic preface that gets me every time: "I just want to speak for all of us and say . . ." Nice of you to appoint yourself our representative. I might have chosen differently.

In Sherlockiana, we tend to get equally positive, equally sweet attempts to capture some part of all of us and put it on display for others to nod at and, hopefully, agree. In 1946, a fellow named Edgar Smith did it in the classic intro to that spring's issue of The Baker Street Journal, in an essay he entitled "The Implicit Holmes."

"What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?" Smith asked in his opening sentence.

He then proceeded to wax nostalgically about the Victorian age at the start, with all the longing of someone who believes "Make America Great Again" is a knob we can turn to travel to a mythical past. Three paragraphs in, however, he gets to the meat of it: "there is more than time and space and yearning for things gone by to account for what we feel toward Sherlock Holmes." And then he goes for it.

Sherlock is "a symbol, if you please, off all that we are not, but ever would be." Or "more simply, that he is the personification of something in us that we have lost, or never had. For it is not Sherlock Holmes who sits in Baker Street . . . it is we ourselves." And that does account for a lot of us. Sherlockiana has its share of bright narcissists. But just as BBC Sherlock ripped the Victorian period away and proved, once an for all, that Sherlock Holmes can exist out of time, something else has been coming our way for a very long time now. Something, or someone, that Smith left noticeably absent from his 1946 essay -- a year marked by the premieres of the movies Dressed to Kill and Terror by Night, featuring a certain version of that very someone.

John H. Watson. Built in the 1880s publishing world, destroyed by a movie industry that didn't know what to do with him, and rebuilt in TV shows featuring actors like David Burke, Edward Hardwicke, and Martin Freeman. Being written about during all that time, but over the distance between 1887 and 2017, becoming more interesting, more developed than the mysterious everyman narrator we were first handed so long ago.

What is it that we love in John H. Watson? There is a question I would hate to try to answer for fear of being like one of those presumptious Q&A fans at a con. There are a lot of things to love about John Watson, probably more than there are about Sherlock Holmes, depending upon who you are and what you see him as. There are a lot of answers to that question. Too many for easy theorizing about our peers.

As John develops further over time, perhaps there will come a single definite answer: friend, lover, man of action? Sliding scales of each of those and more? Edgar Smith concluded that the Sherlock Holmes we loved was "the Holmes implicit and eternal in ourselves." Is Watson much the same, when we are not Sherlock inside? Or do they make a matched set?

"What is it that we love in John H. Watson?" is a harder question to ask than its 1946 predecessor, I think, but well worth the pondering.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The fascinating failures of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

We have The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We have The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. We have many a pastiche collection with a similar name, like The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes. The one collected casebook that we have yet to see, however, is The Failures of Sherlock Holmes, because we enjoy seeing Sherlock Holmes succeed . . . for the most part.

Having three half-written, failed blog posts sitting in my Blogger drafts bin this week (and, apparently thirty-nine undeleted since I started with this system), it seemed like a good moment to consider those times when things just didn't work out for our friend Sherlock.

We can talk about his "Norbury" moment, be it "The Yellow Face" or "The Six Thatchers." One, still enjoyable for the stories of the people he interacts with, the other existing to provide character development. We can also talk about Sherlock's "creator-failure" adventures, like Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stockings or "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs." So many of those still manage to entertain us, like a marksman clown, through just how badly they miss the target.

The failures of Sherlock Holmes all still manage to entertain us for one simple reason: He is so good when he succeeds. He may not succeed all the time, even when he is successful. Prime Sherlock is a very high bar, for both creators and Sherlock himself. The fact that he has reached a pinnacle where a screw-up on his part makes that mistake interesting to us is a great accomplishment indeed. Quite a different thing than me blogging about how I failed to get into a tweetalong . . . which has brought me to another revelation about the failures of Sherlock Holmes.

When it comes to failure, John H. Watson once again proves his vital worth in the phenomenon that is Sherlock Holmes. If Sherlock Holmes was just writing about his own failures, he would run a very great risk as just coming off as a whiner. "Oh, woe is me, I got another client killed when I should have protected them!" Or worse. "Another day of dark despair at Baker Street. Cocaine or morphine this morning after the daily pipeful of tobacco dregs . . ."

Having a friend or co-worker handy who has seen your successes and can, therefore, help you take your failures in stride is a very good thing. Failures suddenly become something to amuse and not another step into the deep valleys of depression. Watson plays such an important part for Sherlock Holmes within the Canon, and outside of the Canon, we ourselves take up that role when it comes to failed Holmes movies, novels, or television. The successes happened before, and they will again.

I really hope we never see a collection entitled The Failures of Sherlock Holmes (though I'm sure I've tempted fate by suggesting such a title here), as Sherlock isn't Sherlock if he doesn't succeed now and then, and succeed grandly at that. But a failure or two does not make him stop being a fascinating character.

And that is something we all need to remember for ourselves now and then.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Holmesworld.

We multitask far too much these days. And tonight I made the mistake of overlaying a viewing of the HBO series Westworld with a bit of Canonical research. Or the reverse of that. As my mind was immersed in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, with all it's familiar lines and character actions, the framework of Westworld set in.

You know Westworld, whether you once saw the 1973 movie a long time ago, or the current premium cable series, the amusement park full of robots who play out wild West storylines for the amusement of the guests. Just like when an imaginative Sherlockian wanders the world encapsulated in the sixty stories of Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson, M.D.

I've long had a view of Holmesworld as a virtual amusement park. If you're one of the few that encountered my book, The Armchair Baskerville Tour, published back in 1995. It was my tour guide narration of a walk through The Hound of the Baskervilles itself. It was called utter rubbish by an expert on the real world Dartmoor, but it wasn't about his Dartmoor. It was about that virtual world a reader walks into when opening that novel and reading the first page.

Now, the thing about Westworld is that it's about a virtual world that goes off-script. The Holmes Canon doesn't go off-script for those Sherlockians who enjoy the safe, familiar ritual. It's a beautiful place, even with its literarily polluted air, muddy streets, and bloody murder. Letting it be is a fine thing . . . for many.

Then there's the rest of us. Those who see beneath the surface to see that Holmes and Watson might be lovers. Or that "John Watson" might be Doc Holliday in disguise. Or that Martha in "The Last Bow" is landlady Hudson. The Holmesworlds of our headcanons range from the simple changes like Watson staying faithful to a single wife to the sheer madness of a second Holmes coming back from the hiatus after the first died killing Moriarty. We wander Holmesworld, moving the furniture around when it's unspecifically placed, listening to the words spoken "off-camera." Letting the stories beyond the stories play out.

There have been a few discussions lately about what the "real" Holmes and Watson were like. The thing is, Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, Adler, Hudson, and the rest are only as real as we let them be, in that imaginary Holmesworld for which Arthur Conan Doyle laid the framework. The framework. We build the pieces between the words, the timelines, the resurrections, the loves, and even the lives of those creatures within. We love them, we have a certain respect for them, but in the end, you have to see them for who they are . . . larger than life toys for our mental playtime.

They probably aren't going to go off-program and start killing us, as Yul Brynner's robot cowboy did in the original Westworld. And they probably aren't going to attain sentience or something like that, as I'm suspecting might happen in the HBO version (I'm not that far in!). The only real danger is Holmesworld is from the other guests who don't seem to want to share the toys . . . or want to share their exact version of these toys a little too much. Usually those are the folks who think it's something more than a big toybox . . . or Holmesworld.

Have fun kids. Just remember where you are.