Thursday, January 17, 2019

Sherlock Holmes, hero for a hateful day

"This looks like one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a man either to be bored or to lie."
-- Sherlock Holmes, not liking people in "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"

"What is it that we love about Sherlock Holmes?" a great Sherlockian once asked as the theme for an essay of warm Sherlock fuzzies. Well, let's be honest. Sometimes we just love Sherlock Holmes because he thought the rest of us were foolish dullards. Not because we think that we are particularly dull or particularly foolish . . . but those goddamn other people.

So here we are mid-winter, post-SH-birthday, amidst a governmental break-down in both the US and the UK, and all those other people . . . even some of our friends . . . are just . . . ugh.

It's a great time for Sherlock Holmes!

Because Sherlock Holmes wasn't the guy who liked everybody. He cared about people. He tried to help those poor sods whose foolishness got them into this mess or that. And his prime mission in life was calling the world on its bullshit. (Yes, we can call such things "mysteries," but, really? A demon-dog with eyes aflame? A league to promote keeping redheads alive? A man who'd leave Mary Sutherland at the altar? Bullshit! Bullshit! And, c'mon, she wasn't that bad . . . bullshit!)

My apologies for being a bit swear-y tonight, I'm in that sort of mood. Humanity just needs to get its act together right now, including me, the swear-y blogger who should be working on other projects, and the cat on my lap that wants to bite my arm as I'm typing. We're all in a bit of a mid-winter mood right now.

Which is why this, too, is a good time for Sherlock Holmes. The detective who could end a successful case with "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable." Murder was an awful thing, not a puzzle game, and Sherlock Holmes got that. Murderers suck.

One might almost think that finding a literary hero that gets "in the dumps at times and won't open my mouth for days on end" is not a healthy option, but all of those very human, very unsociable qualities, that make Sherlock Holmes kind of a jerk are qualities that the rest of us tend to possess as well. The fact that he can stir himself to rise above them, to help humanity, and put forth, as Deadpool would say, "Maximum effort!" . . . well, that just makes him more of a hero for us than we could hope for, a hero who gets it.

And gives us the hope that we might rise past our lower attitudes as well. Any quest for the facts can take you down a dark road. Some people do things that make them unworthy of the time it takes to deal with their social summonses. Bad days are gonna come.

On those days, we still have Sherlock Holmes, bless him. A truly beautiful misanthrope who manages to get the job done despite it all.

And on we go toward better days, where he's good to have around as well.

When you find your favorite writer of old books.

If you collect old books, and wander the bookshops looking for familiar names, as time goes by, you may start to develop sets of non-Sherlockian books from an author with ties to Sherlock Holmes.

Over the years, I've piled up sets by a few such names. Christopher Morley . . . the easiest of the old Irregulars. Vincent Starrett . . . the harder one, though it helps to be near Chicago. Father Ronald Knox. Dorothy Sayers. Isaac Asimov. Even that Conan Doyle fellow. And, as time went on, I've gotten rid of a few as well, once I decided that, if not for their connections to Sherlock Holmes, I really didn't care for their style.

Tonight, I was bumbling about the library, knocking things over, and realized that one such old author has wound up holding a place of honor among my shelves. While others have come and gone, not a single copy of this fellow's books -- that wasn't a duplicate -- has ever left my library. And why has he made it to this cherished place? 

Not for great literary stature. Not for importance to the Sherlockian movement. Not because anyone else told me he was somebody I just had to have. Just a writer whose little hardbacks make me smile, both in premise and execution . . . and he just happens to hold a very special place in the history of Sherlock Holmes.

Mr. John Kendrick Bangs. The man who told Victorians what Sherlock Holmes was doing in the afterlife after Conan Doyle killed him.

Bangs' tales of ghosts and gods, writers and lovers, emperors and idiots, are light and lively and never tax one's brain overmuch at the end of a long day. He's just having fun and churning out books like an old sci-fi favorite of mine, Ron Goulart, the sort of writer who seems to like to play in their imagination more than the tortured emotions of their soul. (Those who still wonder at my joy in Will Ferrell's work may note that I've gone for light and silly for a very long time.)

How long does it take for a Sherlockian book collector to realize their old book author of choice? How many books does it take before the fix in in? With less bookshops to browse, and on-line buying having a laser focus, I wonder if future collectors will even sample some of the old authors -- most of them came my way after finding nothing directly Sherlockian after a day's search and settling on something tangential in an author or subject with any Sherlockian connection I could make. Quite a few odd old books have wound up in my library that way. Things like The Story of the Gypsies or The Pipe. But I digress.

Having a favorite author from another era who doesn't have a currently popular character gives you a certain literary mystique, I should think, so if you don't have one, you might want to give it a try. Lord knows there are enough of them out there. And the things you might learn along the way can be almost as much fun as the reading itself.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The politics were there . . .

Sherlockiana sometimes seems like its own little island, far from the coast of mainstream human interactions, where Sherlockians can sit back with their figurative tropical umbrella drinks and relax and enjoy the sunshine that radiates from the master detective.

That's not true at all, of course, as current events, trends, and even our latest adaptations, born of current culture, have always affected us very deeply from our earliest writers on. Yet Sherlockiana has, until now, not really had its "kneeling during the national anthem moment," when fans of football started decrying that politics had entered their get-away-from-it-all hobby.

The Baker Street Babes tweeted a link to an essay involving the #MeToo movement by one of our current literary lights, Lyndsay Faye, this week that moves us in that direction. Whether or not it catches fire well enough to become a point of contention in our ranks has yet to be seen. Sherlockiana is a fairly conservative hobby on its elder side, but so liberal on its up-and-coming side that we're probably going to see a few more of these issues come up before things transition to future generations.

An un-named editor of the BSI's manuscript series seems to have rejected a pretty solid essay in its entirety instead of suggesting any tweaks, which says to me that said editor hit one segment of that essay as a roadblock and didn't consider its entirety. That also suggests that the deal-breaker may have been something which disagreed with said editor's worldview.

The point that inevitably comes up in these situations is "Why didn't so-and-so quietly discuss this with so-and-so, instead of making it a public issue? Why bring politics into our hobby?"

Well, politics comes into our hobby all the time, behind the scenes. When editors pick what gets published in journals, when a society head decides who can become a member, when a writer decides what he is going to post in his blog that morning. Which brings in the question: If a political choice is made in the forest where no one can hear it, is it still a political choice?

We usually only hear complaints about such issues becoming public when one disagrees so heartily with said issue that one wants to pretend it doesn't exist. And that mindset isn't good for anyone's future, as one can see playing out real-time in modern America right now.

My friend Rob and I have been having a very interesting discussion on this latest little issue, and a thoughtful discussion is always worth having . . .

Even on our tropical island in the Sherlockian sun.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sherlock Holmes's other birthday

Once upon a time, the aging blogger began, we had regional soda pops. Taking a vacation a day away from your home meant pop machines with an array of bottled liquids bearing names and colors you'd never seen before. A few, like the now omnipresent Mountain Dew, survived and went national. Others now reside as "Who remembers this?" photos on Facebook.

When the subject of Sherlock Holmes's April 5th birthday came up this week, I was put in mind of such regional variations, as I wondered if that date ever gained traction beyond the Southern Illinois/St. Louis area where its evangelists spent the most time.

In the early 1980s, when Father Raymond L. Holly first championed April 5 as the true date of Holmes's birth, William S. Baring-Gould had already heartily embraced January 6 in his cornerstone annotated, and the Baker Street Irregulars had well settled in with their own traditions. But the Southern Illinois scion society, the Occupants of the Empty House, went their own way, following the arguments of Father Holly, and began to celebrate that holiday on April 5.

Those arguments were based upon Holmes's rebirth in "Empty House," Anglican customs, and the detective's very name, "Sherlock," and can be most easily found in the book Commanding Views from the Empty House, in an article titled "The New Beginning." They make much more sense than Christopher Morley's flimsy hangover premise for the January date, but those early Irregulars did like their drinking jokes, as evidenced in the B.S.I. "Buy-laws."

But the reasons why one might think Sherlock Holmes's birthday is this date or that really aren't as important as the celebrations of that date which follow. Members of the Occupants of the Empty House did a very clever thing in picking their own date -- they could have a marvelous celebration at their own meetings and still attend the New York celebration of the other date with never a conflict to be had. Other dates, such as one in June, have also been proposed for similarly functional reasons, June being a better time to do most things than January.

At its core, though, is a premise Sherlockians have always held dear: Look at the original texts about Sherlock Holmes and figure things out for yourself. And then embrace those choices with all your heart. Before we even knew what "headcanon" was, with that concept acknowledging that another head might hold another fact as Canon, we let our hearts hold some things to be true, as Vincent Starrett wrote in his poem "221B."

And sometimes, specific areas of the country held those ideas as one, just like the regional soda pops of my childhood, for a similar reason . . . they were very tasty, and enjoyed by both locals and visitors.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Comedy is hard, so put a disclaimer at the front!

"It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy. It cost one man his reason, it cost me a blood-letting, and it cost yet another man the penalties of the law. Yet there was certainly an element of comedy. Well, you shall judge for yourselves."

Ever realize that you are Canonical before?

Our old pal John Watson speaks directly to us in that opening of "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs," asking us to decide something for him. He thinks this might be a funny story, but whether he's unsure of his own ability to tell the joke or just concerned about how some of us might take his getting shot or Nathan Garrideb winding up in a nursing home. But in his own mind, the events of "Three Garridebs" was funny enough that he has to at least mention that there was comedy there.

Maybe he's just giving us permission to laugh at this particular criminal matter before we get to the serious parts. Because even Sherlock Holmes, both before and after Watson takes a flesh wound, has to laugh at parts of it.

This is the tale where we get the phrase "crazy boob of a bug hunter." We get a visitor showing up at Baker Street who recognizes Sherlock Holmes from his pictures (perhaps one of the reasons Holmes retires not so long after this). We get that lovely quote from Holmes that could be used very neatly of late, "I was wondering, Watson, what on earth could be the object of this man in telling us such a rigamarole of lies."

Rigamarole. Sherlock Holmes says "rigamarole." If you're in a state where pot is legal, you can probably get ten minutes of giggles our of that word alone.

And a villain who says things like "Here am I, a wandering American with a wonderful tale," and expects people to take him seriously, something Sherlock Holmes doesn't from the outset. And once he's caught, even after shooting at Watson, admits, "I'm a soft-hearted guy that can't begin shooting unless the other man has a gun also." And follows it with "I've not hurt this old stiff."

As "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" wasn't published until twenty-two years after it occurred, and Watson refers to Nathan Garrideb as "our old friend," there seems a likelihood that Watson, and possibly Holmes, continued to see Garrideb once this case was over, which is perhaps where the "cost one man his reason" part came in. With the sanctum of his home and collection violated, there's a strong chance Garrideb started seeing intruders and threats to it everywhere and coming to 221B Baker Street over and over again as a returning client, to the point where Holmes and Watson saw him as a bit of a joke. (And, perhaps, gave Sherlock one more incentive to retire to Sussex.)

But there was something Watson found very funny in all this, hence the words at the outset, yet, as with all comedy, might not have been sure everyone would laugh at it. With all the other funny moments in the Canon, this is the one time he thinks it funny enough to call it out, though, which gives us a hint as to where the doctor's funny bone truly was.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Sherlockiana in the wind

I often get philosophical around this time of year.

For instance, I just remembered a time in the late 1970s when my younger brother went to his senior prom, and his classmates had decided upon the theme "Dust in the Wind." They plainly enjoyed the current hit by the group Kansas, but at the fact that a bunch of high school kids picked such a dreary nihilistic tune for their prom just seemed bizarre to me.

I mean, prom, that time when see if you are of appropriate status to get picked to go, put on a tux, and make sure you get the official picture to add to your personal permanent record . . . it's important, right? Not dust in the wind, right? And tonight is that Sherlockian prom among proms, the B.S.I. dinner. A black hole in our current social media universe, an untelevised awards show, a thing of mystery to those who haven't been, a thing of mixed emotions to those who have.

The B.S.I. dinner doesn't have advertised themes, like "Under the Sea," "Moonlight and Ham," or "Dust in the Wind." The Baker Street Babes charity ball has been going that route to great success (though still no "Moonlight and Ham," sadly). And all we hear in the aftermath of the elder event is usually new-member lists, but as with proms, it's about that moment. Either you're there or you're not. It's all about the moment itself, and luckily, no one function has the monopoly on moments.

Sherlockian moments can be such great moments, and happen all over the place, even tonight. Because like the secret of those high school kids and their "Dust in the Wind" prom theme, moments are pretty simple: "Life is short, so we'd better have sex now." (You know how proms are.)

So whatever you're doing with Sherlock tonight, I hope your moments are warm and welcome tonight, and whether or not you are getting to go to the prom, I hope you get to have sex*. Because, "Dust in the Wind," y'know?
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* Or your equivalent peak experience.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ice Cream and Sherlock Holmes

One of my fascinations in the movie Holmes and Watson is a momentary flash during a dream Sherlock Holmes has, where he and his new love Millie operate an ice cream stand together.

Yes, Sherlock Holmes dreams of ice cream.

His dream ice cream shack is called "Sherlock Cones Ice Cream," and in its brief moment on the screen, I have only been able to identify three of its six advertised flavors, even after seeing the movie six times. The three I have are:

"The Game Is Afruit"

"The Six Neapolitans"

"The Sign of the Four Flavours"

And I have a vague recollection of something based on The Hound of the Baskervilles, but that may elude me until the DVD and its ability to pause come around.

Sherlock Holmes and ice cream, though, is not as odd a combo as one might think. Good ice cream is a chemistry of sorts . . . in fact, in the 1890s, Agnes Marshall, England's "queen of ices" thought liquid nitrogen might be used to make ice cream, long before Dippin' Dots, "the Ice Cream of The Future," was invented by a Southern Illinois University grad using a similar process.

The cone part of "Sherlock Cones," is, of course, another sign that Holmes and Watson is an alternate history Sherlock, as the ice cream cone wasn't popularized until a decade or so after Sherlock's dream on our Earth, at the St. Louis World's Fair. (Funny how many ice cream innovations occur not so far from here. Soft-serve started in Kankakee, and Dairy Queen in Joliet.) Of course, since Sherlock Holmes winds up in A-mehr-ica at the end of Holmes and Watson, his post-Moriarty activities and all that midwestern ice cream business could have been intertwined.

This, of course, is excellent fanfic fodder for the American adventures of Sherlock and Millie, but trying to tie Sherlock of the Doyle Canon to ice cream is a real reach. Sherlock of the Doyle Canon seems to be all about the cheese as his dairy product of choice, and even non-iced cream is nowhere to be seen.

Still, something about that chilly, tongue-coating, flavor-rich delight seems like it should have a kinship with Sherlock Holmes, like his "spirit animal of food" or something.  But as with so much about that master of detectives there are wilds here to explore.