Friday, May 31, 2013

The equality to be a stupid Watson.

Don't knee-jerk on me with this one, folks. It may require a little "outside the box."

In our most recent confrontation of Sherlock-person versus Moriarty-person, we saw something highly unusual: it was actually Watson who defeated greatest of all criminal masterminds. In considering this turn of events, I think it behooves us to look at an overall pattern in Watsons that goes back for decades.

Female Watsons are smarter Watsons.

Joanne Woodward as Dr. Mildred Watson.

Margaret Colin as Jane Watson.

Debrah Farentino as Amy Winslow.

Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson.

Not all geniuses, yes, but not a dummy in the bunch. And since everything is relative, factor in this: Male Sherlocks paired with these female Watsons also seem to be somewhat impaired: delusional, time-challenged, or with serious addiction issues going by the list above. In each case, we are deprived of a Sherlock Holmes who is fully at the top of his game, thus making Watson all the brighter by comparison.

While it has been suggested that the most recent pairing comes closest to an "equitable" Holmes/Watson partnership, male/female detective duos of equal brainpower have been around a long time. Nick and Nora Charles hold a special place in the firmament of detection, just as surely as Miss Marple, Sam Spade, and a handful of other non-Sherlock detectives do. Do we really need to balance the brainpower in the Holmes/Watson team?

And yet when Sherlock is male and Watson is female, writers seem almost driven to even things up, just to be courteous to the ladies. Having Sherlock Holmes be the true peak of detection that he is has to make someone look a little foolish, to look up to him a little bit in admiration, and as Watson is standing closest to ground zero, it inevitably has to be him (but never her) now and then. That's just the way the game is played. If we want the Nick and Nora game, well, there's Nick and Nora. Or Jonathan and Jennifer, if you're a TV lover.

There is a very sneaky sexism at work in the male-Holmes, female-Watson duo. Why not completely female-female? Or even more workable, female Holmes and a male Watson? Hell, Watson could be Nigel Bruce goofy again, and as a man partnered with a smarter woman, I think we'd totally let him get away with it. (But really, make Watson smart. Make Holmes just that much smarter. Of course, that takes a really smart writer.)

And while a true, genius of a female Sherlock Holmes would be ground-breaking and totally suited to our modern state, as opposed to Holmes's Victorian origin-point, let me take my suggestion on step further. I think we'll truly know we've succeeded in gender equality when Sherlock Holmes can be a brilliant man, Watson can be a slightly foolish woman, and we don't see anything wrong with that.

Male or female, bright or stupid, the key to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson will always be the differences between them and the friendship that ties those two unique beings together.

And that should be a lesson for us all, really. Accepting a partner without demanding they be at all like us? That's not stupid at all.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hyperbolic headlines.

When I was a kid, back in history, I remember newspapers being rather unexciting things. Their headlines just presented the basic facts of the story that followed and didn't seem to work all that hard to draw you into the account that followed. They didn't  have to, as you didn't have much else to do back then but read the story. Flash forward to today, the internet, and the short attention span. Suddenly we get headlines that aren't just designed to grab you, they're built to make you charge headlong into the words that follow, either with gleeful anticipation or fierce outrage.

Take, for example, this op-ed headline from Flavorwire: "Why Sherlock Holmes Superfans Are Wrong About 'Elementary.'" The piece is basically a non-Holmes fan explaining why Jonny Lee Miller seems like Sherlock Holmes to her, even though he doesn't to her friend, the actual Sherlock Holmes fan. The headline, however, pulls one in by declaring the "superfans" wrong as a class. Which leads us to a fun new game in our own little debates on the series (all voices to be read in a French accent, just for fun):

"No, my friend, your Sherlock Holmes collection has far more books than mine! You are the true Sherlockian superfan, and therefore wrong about Elementary!"

"Ah, but you blog non-stop, the real hallmark of a superfan! It is you who are wrong about Elementary!"

"No, no, you are speaking at the U of M conference in August! My meager status of 'fan' does not come close to your superior Sherlock Holmes knowledge! How sorry I am that your superfan status invalidates your opinions on televised entertainments."

"But just yesterday, you quickly corrected my hideous error in stating that Killer Evans appeared in 'The Three Gables!' Your mighty Sherlockian brain can only be that of a superfan, and thus sadly mistaken on all things transmitted via video!"

And on and on it goes, with only the most innocent of "crimes" Sherlockian left to opine.

Ah, but that's not my favorite headline.

The Guardian favors us with "Why Elementary is far more than a Sherlock Holmes pastiche."

More. . . than . . . a . . . Sherlock . . . Holmes . . . pastiche.

After a century of pastiches, stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and yet among the original sixty, this announcement of a saga rises above pastiche . . . well, that's . . . that's . . . well, that's worthy of several . . . ellipses of sheer amazement. The article itself seems to consider Elementary a major step for the advancement of women in our culture. But the concept the headline raises is something even more important: a work featuring a character called "Sherlock Holmes" which finally rises above mere pastiche.

Rising above pastiche, to the level of Canon? Would that mean we've come full circle, and the cycle of Sherlock can now be complete? Our is it something even more transcendent? Something which will attract the finest minds and, like a Zen koan, raise them to ultimate enlightenment as they fixate their meditations upon it over the course of a season.

That would explain a lot.

But the world of internet headlines must just be a bit more grand and glorious than the world upon which it reports. Of course, just in case I turn out to be a superfan, let me say this: I might be wrong.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and idiots.

In a moment of outrage yesterday, ye olde deliverer of links to this blog's comment section, Silke Ketelsen was driven to cry out, "Surrounded by idiots everywhere." Now, for a moment in the comment moderation booth, Sherlock Peoria's moderation staff was taken aback by such language. Was she indeed insulting a city, a nation, the whole of planet Earth itself? (Well, I pretty much knew who she was insulting, but it set the Sherlockian ponder-machine in motion.)

I was reminded of many a time that I have had a similar moment, and my go-to line of movie dialogue from that classic film, Plan 9 from Outer Space: "Because all you of Earth are idiots!" The same character, Eros the alien, really ticks off an Earthman by carrying on that line of thought with, "You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!"

Eros, otherworldly intelligence though he may be, is laughable in his frustrated insults, delivering just more bad dialogue in a movie full of bad dialogue.

But contrast Eros with a more down-to-Earth higher intelligence, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, of course, spends his days surrounded by lesser minds and a good part of his career is based around stepping in when Scotland Yard is feeling foolish and not up to a task. But when does Sherlock Holmes use the "i" word?

Well, two out of three times, he's using it about himself.

"I say, Watson," he whispers in The Valley of Fear, "would you be afraid to sleep in the same room as a lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind has lost its grip?"

And then in "Stockbroker's Clerk," we find: "Idiot that I was! I thought so much of our visit that the paper never entered my head for an instant."

Nothing is more frustrating to the man of skill than his own mistakes. The one time Sherlock Holmes does use it to describe another, it's in a field he would naturally find less than reasonable: "what does the idiot do but get into the clutches of a barmaid in Bristol, and marry her at a register office!" (Describing young James McCarthy's romantic past in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery.")

As with most occasions when we use the word "idiot," Holmes is talking about someone whose mental state he cannot even comprehend: a young man, silly with love.

On none of these occasions is Holmes really trying to insult someone, as Eros the pompous alien is in Plan 9, and his use of the word isn't nearly as comical as a result. Which is why I like to turn to Plan 9 when I'm using the term out of frustration with others, as Silke did, just to give me a laugh. But when I'm talking about myself, of course, I'll take the more Holmesian route.

Because, hey, if we're going to be idiots, at least we can be idiots like Sherlock Holmes. All us of Earth tend to be that way.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The smartest guy in the room.

"The first rule of magic. Always be the smartest guy in the room."

Jesse Eisenberg is uttering that phrase every few minutes in movie theaters across the country this weekend as his movie Now You See Me nears. And while I'd love to discuss how cool that movie is looking in its previews, that line above is what brings the discussion back to Sherlock Holmes.

The magic of Sherlock Holmes has always been that he's the smartest guy in the room.

Readers didn't flock to the original sixty stories for the tale of a recovering war veteran adjusting to urban life. None of us look to Holmes for an example of working well with the official police force. And that drug addict nonsense is sheer tabloid exploitation of a few stray lines.

Sherlock Holmes is an ideal of what the human brain is capable of, given the proper study and application. He's the high bar we set to try to clear, the Mount Everest that's there to scale. He's the spirit of the free-roaming intellect, ranging from field to field and never locking into a single point of view.

Sure, a top expert in a particular field will always display greater savvy in their chosen arena. But the smartest guy in the room? Always Sherlock Holmes.

A puffed up non-fan will often turn up to try to belittle the ideal, try to qualify him, or focus on a single perceived flaw and try to crack it open to discredit that title, but if he wasn't the smartest guy in the room, he just wouldn't be Sherlock Holmes.

And what would be the point of that?

One of the fascinating things about the male side of Sherlockian culture (where I live -- I won't speak for the ladies), is that a goodly share of us are attracted to the Sherlock Holmes stories because we can relate to feeling like the smartest guy in the room on occasion. Whether we're right or whether we're wrong makes no difference, we can always find some evidence for our case. (Heck, every time I write this blog I'm the smartest guy in the room! Why? Because I'm the only one in the room! Explains some of the attitude, doesn't it?) The mix of intelligence, ego, and testosterone can become a less than charming mix sometimes as we get invested in our opinions and try to defend them with all the fervor of an attorney trying to save an innocent from the electric chair. But that's not why bright boys come to Sherlock Holmes fandom. They come because it's refreshing to see Holmes be so right that no one can argue with him, the lucky bastard.

Sherlock Holmes will always be smarter than any of us. We're only human. One reason for Holmes's place as master of detection is his great ability to take a different point of view as much as he needed to get to the heart of an issue, and to put himself in another man's place where necessary. And he can do that kind of thing more easily than the rest of us because he is an ideal, a legend, an avatar of intellect. And the true smartest guy in the room.

The first rule of magic? Let him be that guy.

Magic will follow.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

That Baker Street closet.

As I woke this morning, I was contemplating the changes modern tales have been making to Sherlock Holmes and how they reflect social change. Holmes was pretty sexist in the 1800s, and now Watson is a woman in the mainstream. Holmes was pretty racist in "Three Gables," and now we have the race-bent comic Watson and Holmes. The one boundary we still haven't fully crossed, however, is the one that has more solid Canonical footing than either of those others.

Dr. Watson wasn't a woman. We know that. Holmes and Watson weren't black. It's an interesting change to see them so, but still a change. But answer me this: do we know for a fact that Sherlock Holmes was not gay?

Yes, we've seen slash fiction, where everybody and their brother is having man-on-man sex and cuddles with each other. But when you shift the entire universe away from vagina-friendly, it takes away from a true exploration of what a gay Holmes was going through in Victorian England. Life is easy for him if his room-mate is gay, too.

But Watson married and moved out, and is obviously fond of the ladies in the original text. Sherlock Holmes, however, gets away with "women are never to be trusted" and never actually having a heterosexual relationship over the course of three decades, and mainstream Sherlockians have tended to leave that alone, or else shove him into an off-screen dalliance with Irene.

Irene Adler. "The" woman. She who beat Holmes. In the very story, Watson specifically writes: "It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler," and he couldn't say it any plainer than that. And yet we still want to make Irene the detective's beard.

I don't give Elementary a lot of credit here, but I will give it this. It has managed a whole season with a male Holmes and a female Watson without even hinting that they have to have a romantic relationship. And to me, Sherlock Holmes coming out of the closet could only be done faithfully if his relationship with a male Watson sticks to that same disciplined approach.

"Faithfully" is the key word here. It's easy to twist Holmes into being a vampire or a wizard or a what-have-you if you completely leave the Canon behind. You can be as true to the original sixty stories as can be and still have Sherlock Holmes be a carefully closeted gay man. It's not so unrealistic to even see that as the reason Watson seems to be in and out of Baker Street so much. Yes, he actually married and moved out one of those times, but perhaps his first departure was an impulsive move after being initially shocked to find his fellow lodger's tastes didn't match his own. (The horrified Watson of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes comes quickly to mind. That movie danced on the line of a gay Holmes, but inevitably came back to him just liking "bad" women.)

It's interesting to look back and see how easily old school Sherlockians have playfully questioned Holmes or Watson's gender without ever giving serious study to the elephant in the room. Those were different times back then, of course, so you can't really blame them. A culture that didn't accept letting women into a certain major dinner until the 1990s wasn't going to . . . hey, wait a minute . . .  (Okay, not going there.)

In any case, now that we're seeing explorations of Holmes and Watson in ways Victorian London would never have permitted in their original incarnation, perhaps it's time we truly explore a Sherlock Holmes that could have existed, that maybe even did exist, for all of the mainstream blinders in that direction.

"You say we go round the sun," Holmes once said. "If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work."

And neither would Holmes actually having been Canonically gay. Let that phrase roll around in your head for a minute: Canonically gay. That way all along.

The times, they are a'changing, but we still have a ways to go. The day we see a mainstream Sherlock Holmes who truly doesn't favor the ladies, as we know he didn't, perhaps we'll know we're finally there.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Questioning your Sherlock Holmes fan bits.

A little while ago, the Welcome Holmes discussion group bandied about the question, "What kind of Sherlockian are you?" It's an innocent little question, but the sort that could be answered casually or with all the contemplation of something a Vorlon would ask a captain of Babylon 5.

What kind of Sherlockian are you?

Well, that's for you to decide, and I'd encourage you not to be easily labeled. But I am a bit curious about a few of your tastes as they apply to this ongoing blog endeavor. While the numbers of readers of this page massively outnumbers the rare comment-writers that come here, it seems like a single reader who makes a comment can influence what gets written in Sherlock Peoria a disproportionate amount, and that hardly seems fair. So I'd like to hear from you, but if you're at all like me, getting involved in the comments section of any web page is just something you like to stay away from. The answer?

Fortunately for us all, the internet gives us a lot of venues for anonymously finding out what people think, so I've constructed a little survey to give everyone a shot at the direction this blog heads this summer. It's easy, multiple choice for the most part (with one final vote that should provide at least one interesting blog all its own), and won't take more than a minute or so. Ten questions in all.

And if you live in the U.S., you've probably got a three day weekend to kill anyway, so have at it!

Here's the survey!

Friday, May 24, 2013

On belonging to clubs, 2013.

"And still, poor soul, I had this morbid hankering for inventing clubs."

I remember a day when I, like Christopher Morley, had such a hankering, and I'm sure many a Sherlockian of seasons past has felt that way as well. The swell of Sherlockiana in the late seventies and early eighties were a boom time for club-starters and reinvigorators alike. Many of those societies have fallen away since then, but some still hold on to proud records of decade after decade of existence.

So now that we stand in the midst of one of the greatest high tides of Sherlock fancy in our history, I find myself occasionally wondering: Where are the clubs?

Sure, the old guard is still out there. But new fans like to start new clubs, even in cities that have established groups. And perhaps I'm out of touch . . . well, yes, I am rather out of touch . . . but I still think the internet would have showed some sort of clubbishness on the rise. Sure, you can cite the Baker Street Babes, but they're a podcast cast when you come right down to it. And they're kind of unique.

Now, as I'm gaining a reputation for being the anti-everything Sherlockian with this blog, I have to phrase this carefully so as not to seem to be coming out against clubs. But here's the thing . . . could we be entering an era where the club no longer serves the purpose it once did?

Clubs were always connecting points, places we'd go to meet other Sherlockians. Now, thanks to the internet, you can find other Sherlockians in your area and arrange a meet-up without having name nor banner to fly overhead. Networks of friends can be built to your individual tastes on the web, and your Sherlockian pals can be completely different form those of the Sherlockian who lives next door. Geography no longer limits us.

And while clubs have historically served as great organizers of larger events, this year's 221B Con rose up without involving any local scion. It's not the first Sherlockian event to come about in such a way, but as the first Sherlockian con of size, it's worth noting.

We're not the only clubland affected by the modern day, which you may hear of if you talk to any Elks, Jaycees, Odd Fellows, Eagles, Moose, Kiwanis, etc., etc. Service clubs that were once key parts of local communities have felt a shift of late, and even though Sherlockian societies would seem to be an entirely different animal, history brings change to everything at some point.

I'm certain existing groups will carry their banners on into the future. Retro-chic clubs will inevitably form now and again. But what used to be the standard way of doing things might be changing. Will we one day come to look at the 1980s as the era not just more Sherlockian newsletters and journals than any other, but a rare peak of the traditional Sherlockian society as well?

I suspect that we're just going through a major shift of the way we interact as we merge with our new technologies, and that on the other side some charming soul get a hankering to gather some folks together for lunch just like Morley once did (poor soul), and the cycle of new groups will begin again. Despite the listserver groups, I don't feel like the internet has yet produced a true, fully-functioning web based society that takes advantage of all that our advances in tech have to offer (unless the Babes actually are the new model). And I definitely don't think we've all adjusted to seeing as much of each other as the web makes it possible to do. (That, perhaps, is a blog for another time.)

The Sherlockian community is stronger than ever, despite my perception of a blip in the new club radar. And most of our surprises lately have been happy ones. The new kids on the block have come up with some impressive stuff so far, though. I can't wait to see what they'll surprise me with next. Will it be a new model of club? We shall see.

Gillette out of here!

Here's someone I don't think about much: William Gillette.

Dick Sveum brought him up yesterday in the comments section caused me to step back and consider the actor/playwright for the first time in decades.

Sherlockians have  traditionally held William Gillette in high esteem, and I do mean traditionally. Their respect for him has been handed down generation to generation for the simple reason that no one living has seen him perform the role on stage. All that exists of his work is a scratchy recording he made at the age of 82, and that really doesn't scream "this guy is an amazing Sherlock."

So unlike Basil Rathbone, Eille Norwood, and the rest, generations past his own could not re-evaluate his work. All we have are the writings of his fans and some ancient critics . . . and you know how that goes. As a result, William Gillette gets a free pass that no other actor playing Sherlock Holmes is privvy to. He even gets a luncheon named after him every January.

Gillette was the first big Sherlock, you have to give him that. But what were his contributions to Sherlock Holmes lore, really? That cartoony calabash pipe that no Sherlock will probably ever use again in seriousness? That unnecessary quote from Doyle, "You may marry him or murder him or do whatever you like with him." (Except use him without paying fees to the Doyle estate, of course. It would have been nice if Doyle had added "for free" to that line, since he was being so grumpily generous anyway.)

And Gillette Castle has given American Sherlockians a place to go without crossing the ocean, which makes me also wonder . . . would anyone have cared so much about Gillette's Holmes all these years if we were all British and had all of England to pay our Sherlockian homages to? Any European who winds up there, of course, probably goes, "So this is what you call a castle here . . . hmmm." In those early days of American Sherlockianism, of course American Sherlockians latched on to an American actor. In those days, we didn't have Brits on the internet going "OMG, did you hear that accent!?!?"

Dick Sveum said he could imagine me in 1899 talking about how bad Gillette was, and I can't disagree with him on that. I bet I would have hated his cheesey play were I alive and Sherlockian way back then. (If I wasn't too busy farming just to stay alive, of course. Life didn't allow most of us to be quite so active in our hobbies back then.) When the Gillette play came to Peoria back in the 1970s, I wasn't totally enamored with it, but hey, it was something with the name "Sherlock Holmes" on it that was actually in Peoria. Beggars can't be choosers.

These days, however, we aren't begging for Sherlock Holmeses. Would any of us still be choosing William Gillette? I wonder.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rare work.

In 1952, an seller of books and Sherlockian named Madeleine B. Stern wrote an article later published as a booklet called Sherlock Holmes: Rare-Book Collector. In it she set about trying to identify all of the rare editions Holmes owned, starting with clues given in the Canon and working from there.

In 2013, we suddenly find a counterpart to Ms. Stern called simply "mid0nz," who has once more demonstrated that BBC's Sherlock has inspired a wave of new Sherlockian scholarship. mid0nz's contribution? The "BBC Sherlock Books & Magazines Master List."

Where Madeleine Stern once went through being published in The Baker Street Journal and small press publishing to get her list of what was in Sherlock Holmes's library out there, after combing the Canonical text, mid0nz has resorted to her livejournal after combing the neo-Canonical video, and the results are equally impressive.

Stern catalogued 111 books from Victorian Holmes's library. mid0nz catalogues nearly 70 in Sherlock's library, and then goes on to report every other book in every other location seen in the series. It's the kind of dogged attention to detail that have set Sherlock Holmes fans apart for a hundred years, and apparently will continue to do so, whether we're talking original Canon or an inspiring television adaptation. Whether you're a fan of the modern Sherlock or not, you have to respect that kind of dedicated documentation and want that kind of savvy soul in your club.

Well done, mid0nz!  If there is the equivalent of a "Shaw 100" Basic BBC Sherlockian Link Library, I would hope someone has placed your page there.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In which I blame the fans . . . .

Ever see a little movie called Plan 9 From Outer Space?

A low budget 1959 effort by quirky director Ed Wood, Plan 9 From outer Space has been considered a cult favorite for its sheer awfulness. Long before Mystery Science Theater 3000 set about making movie mockery an art form all its own, kicking back with drinks and snacks to mock Plan 9 with friends was a great way to spend an evening. Plan 9's flaws are so obvious and so comical that you were never in danger of a party guest going, "But I like this movie!" Everyone knew it for what it was, and even a rookie film buff could enjoy taking verbal potshots.

Plan 9 From Outer Space was always fair game, the primer for enjoying a bad movie.

As we went into last fall, I truly thought that CBS's Elementary was the Plan 9 of modern Sherlocks, a loser of a show that only the completist collectors would pay much attention to. Of course, I quickly started discovering I was wrong in that estimation. Sure, the show sucked. But it had fans.

Now, a gracious Sherlockian, as so many are, might have backed off at that point. If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything. I like what I like, you like what I like, it's all good. But at the same time I discovered the Elementary fans out there, I discovered their prime defense of the "little brother" of Sherlockian television.

"Well, Sherlock got away with [insert flaw here], and you didn't yell at him!" Totally a younger sibling argument. And completely missing the point. Star Wars, for example, gets away with things that Plan 9 From Outer Space can't. They both have spaceships, aliens, and sci-fi hijinks, right? Just not really in the same ballpark. And the truly bad thing about that defense is the feeling you get that an Elementary fan might be willing to bring all of Sherlock Holmes down a few notches just to justify their enjoyment of what should just be accepted as a guilty pleasure of a show.

I've heard Rathbone cut down in defense of Elementary. I've heard Brett criticized in defense of Elementary. And worst of all, as displayed in one recent piece defending the show, even Doyle's original isn't proof against getting taken down a notch just to raise Elementary up a notch with phrases like "Conan Doyle's iteration."

Perhaps the writer just didn't know what "iteration" means, but the connotation is that Doyle was just another creator retelling the Sherlock Holmes story . . . that somehow existed before he ever put pen to paper. An iteration is just a repeat of the same process, so it also seems to say that the original Canon and Elementary are equals in this iterative process of retelling the story of Sherlock Holmes. And one story is just as good as another, isn't it?

Conan Doyle may have written "The Mazarin Stone" and "The Three Gables," but by Godfrey Norton, he didn't write sixty "Mazarin Gables." (By the way, can we raise a glass to Godfrey Norton? He seems to be getting screwed these days, no matter which modern adaptation you go for.)

Maybe Disney will make their new Star Wars movie with an Ed Wood flair, and we'll all find that lowering the bar is just the global warming of modern media, tossing away facts wherever needed to suit denial theories. Or not.

Occasionally, I feel really guilt for lambasting a show that's fans seem to be stung by my criticisms of it. And then I remember that they're the reason I've stuck with it this long.

Because I really shouldn't read what they're writing, just as they shouldn't be reading this.

The boob tube.

What makes television special?

Now that we've done a full season a American television doing its worst to a version of Sherlock Holmes, garnering decent ratings and the love of a few Sherlock Holmes fans, it's fascinating to compare its content and success to the century of other work on the detective.

If the content of CBS's Elementary were a series of novels, it never would have gotten off the ground. Most Sherlockians who defend it now wouldn't even have given it the time of day in book form. Books require engaging the mind, reading is an act that one decides to do and must keep deciding to do. Television, that opiate of the masses, is what we plop down in front of when we don't want to make any effort at all, letting its programming wash into our minds like the tide.

Even going to see a movie requires a choice and an effort. Television can be watched from bed as one starts to drift off to sleep. It is our most mindless of occupations.

The other thing one notices about television, when considering it next to published fiction, is that a single human being can carry a TV show, just by their looks, their charm, a presence that makes them good company even when they're on a two-dimensional screen. One of the first jabs critics take at fans of BBC Sherlock has always been to cite their love of Benedict Cumberbatch. One of the first plaudits many a lover of CBS's Elementary brings up will always be a fondness for Jonny Lee Miller. Both actors are key to the success of their shows, as are their Watsons. When it comes to actors and stories on a TV show, one sometimes has to wonder which is the cake and which is the icing.

Sherlock Holmes has always been a character of great personality, and love him or hate him, finding him just boring is out of the question. Stories may succeed or fail at holding one's interest as they wander through the dullest of missing papers or an exciting mysterious creature about to attack from the dark, but Holmes himself never bores, which makes him a prime candidate for television. Were the man himself walking the Earth 24-7, following him with a camera would make for a reality show to leave all others in the dust. Of course, what the reality show's editors did with Holmes's footage might not be the most pleasant thing, as they went through their usually doctoring to play up conflict and force themes and storylines into real world events. If Holmes griped about Watson not writing his cases up objectively, one can imagine his reaction to his reality show producers . . . not good at all.

One recent commenter on Elementary claimed that "there's a popular misconception -- the fault of many an adaptation -- that Sherlock Holmes is a supergenius." The writer was obviously a fan of the show who is twisting reality a bit to defend her love of it, and her error brings up the biggest problem with mixing Sherlock Holmes and television: Sherlock Holmes is too smart for a medium that is most often consumed by the brain at rest, as most ongoing American television is contrived for.

But aren't the actors charming.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

If Watson could tweet back.

After ten years of blogging without a comment section, this past year of doing so with that added feature has really made me consider Dr. Watson's position in a new light.

We all have our perspectives on the good doctor. His level of intellect. His relationships. His feelings about Holmes. His weight and height. Every one of these characteristics could be charted from Sherlockian to Sherlockian, and I doubt we would find that many mental images of John H. Watson, M.D. that are exactly alike.

Devoted husband and father or childless polygamist? Limping bitter atheist or able runner of hopeful faith? Confused sidekick or contributing partner? Watson has been considered in so many different lights over the years that he is as much an everyman as we shall possibly ever meet. And why?

Because we haven't met him. Because John Watson isn't our Facebook friend, he isn't tweeting away from Baker Street, and he doesn't show up at our parties. Sixty stories and done, that's our John H. Watson.

Can you imagine how different the world of Sherlock Holmes fans would be if Watson was connected to the internet? If the minute "The Red-headed League" or some other story was published, his readers could tweet their immediate reactions to him?

"No, Mary's still alive," he would have to write. "She just had nothing to do with that case."

"Yes, Mary's still speaking to me. She didn't get jealous after the way I described Irene Adler last month and kick me out. I just overnighted on Baker Street because we got back late. I'd sent her a telegram earlier."

"I do not put veiled political comments about the Afghan campaign into Holmes's cases, and I'm sorry if you interpreted it so."

"I do not own a single pair of red underpants, thank you very much."

Of course, those are just some possibilities spun out of my particular view of Watson. He could be espousing liberal causes, railing against England's gun laws, or promoting spiritualism in his online presence -- we just don't know. If there was a solid, living, breathing single point of John H. Watson-ness out there to measure our thoughts against, life as a Sherlockian would be a completely different thing. We might not even like the guy.

If Watson decided to tweet something rudely against or ardently in favor of marriage equality just before publishing The Hound of the Baskervilles, he would probably lose a few readers on one side of the issue or the other. Thanks to the internet and twenty-four-hour news cycles, we're all still adapting to having viewpoints so different from our own constantly on our radar. Thirty years ago, you could get into a debate at a social event, sure. You could write into a publication and read someone's arguments against your point weeks or months later. But now, a connected life gives one a constant awareness that our personal views don't always line up with everyone else's, often strongly and immediately.

Unlike Watson, all of those people with such unbelievably strange opinions, are real people, who are out there, living lives we know nothing of, 24-7. Their paths have been quite different than our own, and have led them to very different destinations a lot of the time. And we don't get to decide who they are or tweak them to our tastes, as we do with our friend Watson.

Which is probably why we go to everyman Watson for relaxation, and are a little bit happy he's not out there tweeting away. And that is just fine. Occasionally, however, we have to get out there and deal with those nutty real people, and that is where the internet now challenges us to be better human beings than The Strand Magazine did with its readers. At least that's what's happening with me these days.

But I know how I'm dealing with it, for better or worse. It's Dr. Watson I wonder about.

And probably always will.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The greatest story never told.

Conan Doyle was an incredibly gifted writer, as anyone who has read his work knows. Sometimes, however, talent or no, you just get lucky. And that, it now seems to me, was what happened with a little tale called "The Final Problem."

We were discussing "The Final Problem" last night as the Hansoms of John Clayton, Peoria's local Sherlockian society, gathered once again. We're more of a smaller, book discussion group these days than a bigger society of speakers and banquets, and that does not seem to be an entirely bad thing. The chance to not miss anyone's ideas, as one might in a larger crowd,  provides the opportunity for themes to develop, and last night the theme seemed to center on all the things Doyle didn't tell us in "The Final Problem." In fact, the entire story is practically untold.

"The Final Problem" begins with Watson saying he's only writing the story up because Moriarty's brother wrote letters defending his brother. Watson doesn't say what was in those letters, or why Colonel James Moriarty's words provoked him to publish Holmes's greatest triumph . . . which Watson was going to otherwise leave out of the public press.

When Sherlock Holmes first starts explaining about Professor Moriarty, it's all "dark rumours" and "hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind" instead of specifics. When Moriarty shows up in person for the first great confrontation between detective and mastermind, the conversation is completely "you know what you did" and "you know what I'm thinking" sorts of lines. But perhaps the capper is Holmes's own words about the battle between himself and Moriarty:

"I tell you, my friend, that if a detailed account of that silent contest could be written, it would take its place as the most brilliant bit of thrust-and-parry work in the history of detection." Sherlock Holmes comes straight out and says it: There's an incredible story here that is not getting told. Later in life, when Holmes could have taken the time and written up that story, what did he choose to do instead? Write short stories about a man with a disease and a sea creature, and then write a book on bees. All that material from the Moriarty campaign, and he writes about nothing to do with crime at all? There's an aspect of Holmes's psyche still unexplored.

But unexplored is the very heart of "The Final Problem." When Holmes and Moriarty have their final confrontation, Holmes calls an extensive time-out and writes Watson a letter. (It's a very casual final battle, apparently.) In it Holmes says that Moriarty has taken the time to explain how he tracked Holmes and Watson, and how he escaped the police, but do we get to hear it? Of course not.

Watson even closes the record with "As to the gang, it will be within the memory of the public how completely the evidence which Holmes had accumulated exposed their organization." The public? "The great unobservant public," as Holmes once called them? Watson's reliance on their memory instead of actually telling the story just denies us that much more.

It's well known that Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to be rid of Sherlock Holmes when he wrote "The Final Problem." And he apparently wanted to be rid of him as quickly and efficiently as possible. Filling out all the untold portions of that single story would have easily filled a novel that took long months or even years to write, which would have defeated the entire purpose of getting Holmes out of his life to begin with. So Conan Doyle took a lot of shortcuts. A LOT of shortcuts.

And while doing so may not have made for the most satisfying story, Doyle provided more fan fodder and pastiche primer that anywhere else in the stories of Sherlock. Had he contrived to set us up that way on purpose, one would have to bump his genius up quite a few notches in one's estimation. But, like I said at the start sometimes you just get lucky.

Without the cycle of Moriarty, death, and rebirth, Sherlock Holmes would still be a popular detective, yes. But would he rise to legendary? Mythic? That, like most of "The Final Problem," is one more story we shall never know.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Love. A finale.

Tonight it all comes to a close. The long season of Elementary, the seemingly endless series of scathing blogs on that subject. It has been said that Elementary can do no right in the eyes of some of us, while Sherlock can do no wrong. And that, it must be said, is somewhat true.

Tonight, I have come to understand why, thanks to one of life's curious coincidences. The season finale of Elementary just happened to be on the same night as the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness. One could say it's Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller double feature night, if you time it right, and I was lucky enough to do just that. A 4:45 matinee of Star Trek, followed by an 8:00 showing of Elementary.

So let's talk about Star Trek. I love Star Trek, just as I love Sherlock Holmes. Both mythos are, at their heart, about humanity at its best, facing the unknown with logic, passion, and courage. In Star Trek, we find those qualities spread across a larger cast, true, but they are the same. And tonight, I really enjoyed Star Trek: Into Darkness, despite a few flaws which struck the good Carter more strongly than myself. I think I enjoyed it even more than its predecessor.

And here is why. Among all the story elements, plot twists, sly and not-so-sly references, I got one message from director J.J. Abrams and writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, and one message alone. That message?

We understand. And we love Star Trek, too.

For all the running, running, running, the constant action, and occasional moment of cheese, that single message touched the very heart of my love of Star Trek.

We understand. And we love Star Trek, too.

If you were to ask me why I don't seem to see the imperfections of Sherlock (Yes, I am not fond of "The Blind Banker," either.), it is because I get the same message from both seasons of Sherlock and its creators, Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss:

We understand. And we love Sherlock Holmes, too.

The story of how they came upon the idea to do a modern day Sherlock Holmes story is a story of fans, the sort of story I'd hear from friends of mine, if they worked in television. And those really good episodes of Sherlock showed a fan's knowledge and caring. The use of A Private Life of Sherlock Holmes to build "A Scandal in Belgravia," was sheer subtle genius. Putting Moriarty on trial, as Basil Rathbone did, a true confection. With such beautifully woven bits of reverence to the Master, how could I not forgive Sherlock a few imperfections?

We understand. And we love Sherlock Holmes, too.

And now comes the season finale of Elementary. And, SPOILER ALERT, here comes Irene Adler at last. Irene Adler the painter, Irene Adler the prisoner of a fellow named Stapleton, Irene Adler the princess held away in a modern castle. Joining Moran, the serial exsanguinator. Watson, the sober companion. Miss Hudson, the expert in ancient Greece. And Mr. Elementary.

Canonical references scattered like bread crumbs to pigeons.

There is no love of Sherlock Holmes in tonight's soap opera of Mr. Elementary and painter Irene. This, as with the rest of the season, is that classic egotism of the non-fan who thinks they can rewrite a classic to their own needs (or the needs of the network that's paying them) and turn out a product that's just as good. Or maybe even better, they hope. They're just doing their job, and not everyone gets to work at a job they love.

CBS could have done a little more thorough job search and found someone who loved Sherlock Holmes to create this show. They could have negotiated a little further with the Sherlock folk. But they took the cheap and expedient route and we got Elementary, a show that may be a labor of love to somebody, but it's not the love of Sherlock Holmes.

And personally, I'm not a pigeon who is going to be happy with a few crumbs. Or a mythos where every single character is a victim. As I said before, both Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek are about humanity at it's best and most hopeful. The original Holmes tales were about finding reasonable truths behind the most unbelievable circumstances. Elementary feeds into the culture of fear and victimization, where serial killers lurk around every corner and people do the most evil things to each other. Mt. Elementary literally stands shorter among his fellow man than the classic Sherlocks, and figuratively as well.

Mr. Elementary leaves Joan Watson to deal with Moriarty in this sad, sad world. And that's not the least of it. Irene is Moriarty. Yup. And, I saw this cheap little twist a'coming. Yes, I did. And what's the message I get from one more manipulation of the characters to put a square peg in a round twist hole?

We don't get Sherlock Holmes. And we don't care.

That's the message I get from Elementary, week after week. I know there are those folks out there who enjoy this show for reasons of their own. Maybe they even love it, though I don't seem to hear those words being said a lot, like I do when the subject of Sherlock comes up. But that's for them to describe in their blogs. And I hope they love their show enough to write those blogs.

Me, I love Sherlock Holmes. And I love creators that love Sherlock Holmes, too, even if they're bad pasticheurs who are bravely attempting a character beyond their skills. I'll take those attempts over a corporate-produced ratings fodder like Elementary any day.

So tonight, we bid adieu to Mr. Elementary for a few months. I won't miss him. Forty-five minutes left in tonight's episode, and I think I'll let his fans have those forty-five minutes of content without my commentary as a parting gift. If something turns this whole season of episodes around in that time, you can count on me coming back, but I think it's shot its wad for tonight.

Oh, and Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into Darkness?  Amazing.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The month of "M."

May is the right month for contemplating Professor Moriarty, I think.

It's the month when educations reach their climax and hiatuses begin for the young . . . a metaphor which might work for them. But the young have their whole lives ahead of them, unlike Professor Moriarty, or Sherlock Holmes for that matter. For Moriarty, May meant the end of an empire. For Sherlock Holmes it meant the climax of a career. And for both, it meant seeing all the truths of that mutual moment and having the brains to recognize them.

And that's what fascinates about Professor Moriarty.

Conan Doyle, the master of describing genius, held back from trying to detail what took place between Holmes and Moriarty, and none who have followed him have had the mind to succeed where Doyle refrained. We have had many who have tried, but none have apparently had the canvas nor the colors to paint that perhaps unseeable vision.

But it's fascinating to stare into that abyss and try to see what Sherlock Holmes saw as he looked across the London criminal world and began to see patterns. And from the patterns, trace threads back to the center of what he came to see as an enormous web, to put a name to the spider who lived there. And once he saw that spider, to quietly gather all the data needed for Scotland Yard to bring that web down in one perfectly timed action. It's unimaginably complex.

And from Professor Moriarty's side, it's just as intricate. After first building his vast and multi-layered empire, weaving it with safeguards to keep himself well removed from the slightest accusation, Moriarty had to recognize that Sherlock Holmes had become a threat to that entire organization, from end to end, from big to small. And then he had to have the vision and intellect to see one thing more.

To the mere mortal eye, the final confrontation of Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes is riddled with puzzles. Why did neither man seem to bring a gun to the fight? Why would a plotter of incredible genius decide to attempt murder by something not unlike a football tackle, especially after a period of civilized talk that involved one of them actually writing a short letter?

The best indicator of Moriary's final encounter with Sherlock Holmes is given us in their earlier exchange at 221B Baker Street.

"All that I have to say has already crossed your mind."
"Then possibly my answer has crossed yours."

Reichenbach was the end of a master's chess game with a board as big as London, where both players see clearly that conclusions are inevitable. When they met at Baker Street, Professor Moriarty seemed certain that conclusion was Moriarty's immense crime machine rolling over a sole crusader, however clever that man was. But by their second meeting in Switzerland, the professor saw things a little differently, having possibly added in a very weighty factor we don't often consider.

Personally, I think that factor was Moriarty learning that Sherlock had an "M" of his own behind him, with an actual empire at his disposal. The big guy wouldn't just drive a carriage and keep the rent paid when his kid brother was threatened with death, would he? C'mon. Having seen the spider at the center of Mycroft Holmes's web, Moriarty's self-sacrificing attempt to kill Sherlock Holmes makes much more sense -- it's not revenge against Holmes the younger, it's spitting in the face of Holmes the greater with that one last act. Moriarty can only escape Mycroft by heading for death's own realm and tries to take Sherlock with him. It's quite mythic, really.

Professor Moriarty's tale is a battle of gods when you come right down to it, not something mere mortals were meant to comprehend. That's probably why adaptations so often fall short . . .  well, that, and who but a fool would attempt something that a master of writing about Sherlock Holmes would not even attempt? And fools have issues of their own.

Happy month of "M." Consider it carefully.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A mother's burden.

Let's take a holiday today, and let our minds wander a little ways into the future.

A young lad, we'll call him little Johnny, as his mother was a big fan of a certain literary figure, has come home from a birthday party with a little goody-sack of temporary tattoos. Having the limits of a typical child of his age, he has applied every single one of them to himself and has come running proudly into his mom's hobby room, announcing:

"Look, mom! I'm Sherlock Holmes!"

His mother just shakes her head, knowing some ne'er-do-well brother-in-law has let the child watch Elementary on Netflix again. And then comes all those duties that make motherhood a job to be respected: Finding some picture books about the real Sherlock Holmes. Taking the lad to a family-friendly Sherlock Holmes society, where he can gain more Sherlockian education. Downloading The Great Mouse Detective immediately, but then spending some time debating on whether or not Young Sherlock Holmes is age-appropriate.

And all this, just because somewhere a TV producer hired an actor with vaguely Cumberbatchian credentials, and when confronted with the fact that said actor was covered in tattoos, went, "Well, our Sherlock Holmes will have tattoos." And why not? If you were not really a fan of the original material and were just assigned to create an American Sherlock, the sky's the limit. Have him wear rubber hip-waders to crime scenes and wear those glasses where spring-loaded eyeballs pop out to show he's observing things. That's just being original, after all!

But somewhere, a mother has to read her child Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man to show her child a character in fiction that actually has the tattoos he's now become fond of. And then take great pains, as all mother's do, to try to get that boy back on the path to being a reasonable specimen of adulthood.

So here's to the mothers out there, fighting a never-ending battle against the lazy whimsies of popular media. Happy Mother's Day, you maternal heroes! Continue to make sure the kiddies get to bed before ten, nine central, and you may never have to face that dreaded moment that little Johnny's mother had to deal with.

Because the birds and the bees talk will be a lot easier.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Post-Elementary blog blog.

The day after a really bad episode of Elementary always makes me a little philosophical.

Questions arise as the comments roll in, such as: "If a TV show is awful, and no one but its fans watch it, is it still awful?"

To some, it seems, the only thing wrong with CBS's fiesta of faux-Sherlock is that I, for some inexplicable reason, decided last August that I would go on a nine-month tirade against it. But the reason I am so hard on Elementary is pretty simple, actually: I watch the show.

A lot of more sensible Sherlockians gave up on that a long time ago. And a lot of more kindly and politic Sherlockians simply keep their thoughts on the matter to themselves.

But if we all quit watching the show, all those folk who say, "It's gotten a lot better" might have their words accepted at face value. While Elementary might have shown some improvement on an episode like "Snow Angels," it also went back to showing its true colors with its latest foray into machina ex machina storytelling on "Risk Management," an episode so obviously co-written by series creator Rob Doherty.

Despite what those curious Elementary fans who continue to read this blog seem to think, I really don't sit in front of my television set every Thursday with an agenda of hate. This particular Thursday, I wasn't even going to comment on the episode at all, as the show came on while I was writing about next season's plan for Mr. Elementary to go to England. But then the show came on, and I reacted.

When I wrote the words, "SPOILER ALERT! I hate Elementary," that wasn't my ongoing state of being. That was me, sitting there, watching the show, and just responding accordingly to what was presented. A very Zen moment of critique. And then I post, and in that marvelous turnabout of life on the net, I become the one getting critiques. I don't suppose anyone goes about hating me on a daily basis, just as I don't hate Elementary every hour of my day. They'd be quite happy if I'd turn into a fan of the show, or even if I'd just turn it off, just as I'd be quite happy if I'd sit down one evening and find a totally engrossing, top-notch episode of Elementary.

But neither of those events seems to be going to happen anytime soon. It's telling when the comments run more about me than the episode I was talking about, and my major points go unaddressed. The fact that Elementary's writers had Moriarty stealing Holmes's lines to brag about himself was particularly gallilng, and, really, just some very un-Moriarty-like characterization. The fact that he had to explain to a fellow who is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes exactly who "Moriarty" is both denigrates the original Moriarty as a criminal mastermind and the original Sherlock Holmes as a detective. I react to things like that, and write them down here. Just doing what comes naturally.

But it would appear that if I didn't point these things out, to some, Elementary might be a better show. Which makes me think of a quote from another non-Moriarty villain, like that prank caller in Thursday's Elementary. It might be familiar to you, and it goes like this:

"And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

To which I can only say, "Rooooby rooby roo!"

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The manatees work toward a finale at CBS.

OH . . . MY . . . GOD . . . .

SPOILER ALERT! I hate Elementary. I'm also giving away pieces of this week's episode. If either of those might cause you upset, better move along now. Now.

This week's Elementary just began with Moriarty calling Mr. Elementary on the phone and delivering lines straight from the Canon. One problem, however.

They were Sherlock Holmes's lines.

What was perhaps the longest bit of Holmes's Canonical dialogue in the show so far, and it was delivered by Mor-fricking-arty. And not a scary, creepily genius version of Moriarty. Just a guy on the phone, sounding like a guy on the phone. And it gets worse.

Moriarty wants to hire Mr. Elementary. Mr. Elementary wants information about the death of Irene Adler, and Moriarty says he'll give it to hiim if Mr. Elementary solves a murder for him.

Yes, now Mr. Elementary is actually letting Moriarty solve the case that fascinates him more than any other. Bad enough that Joan Watson has been played as a victim to Mr. Elementary's little social terrorisms for so much of this year, but now the show's prime detective is letting Moriarty run him around like one more minion in his web? This show isn't about heroes. It's about victims. Always has been. Victims of addiction. Victims of career disaster. Victims of just being less than adept at living in society.

Interestingly, Mr. Elementary makes some small deductions about Moriarty from the phone call. His age, for one. The fact that he comes from Sussex for another. Sussex. That place where the real Sherlock Holmes eventually retired, and to some students of the Master, grew up as well. One almost envisions a classic Sherlock Holmes hanging up the phone with a chuckle and going, "Well, Watson, I've got that New York pretender looking into the case, which is about all it rates."

Joan Watson spends a lot of time spreading peanut butter on bread this episode, which I quite enjoyed. It has kind of a Zen calming effect, watching the smooth, rhythmic motion of the table knife. Ah.

But back to Mr. Elementary. No, wait . . . Joan Watson is talking about Gregson's penis. What is it with this show? Mr. Elementary kicks a soccer ball against an indoor wall, this being his random irritating act for this episode. Find one irritating thing that the real Sherlock Holmes did without an obvious and productive reason for doing it. This show continues to reveal that it just doesn't know how actual smart people work. It's like a stupid person's subjective version of someone of high intelligence, "This is what they act like. I don't know why they act like that, but this is how they are!"

. . . and Moriarty is back, telling Mr. Elementary he's not done enough and that there's more he needs to find out about the case. Let's think about that for a moment. It's almost like our boy has a mentor in Sussex who actually knows how to solve a case.

Man, you have to like the sound of Jonny Lee Miller's voice to like this show. And that accent, which is completely wrong for Holmes and makes me wish I had Professor Higgins's ability to place his upbringing  . . . wait . . . what? Mr. Elementary just made a reference to the smell of Joan Watson's urine. Seriously, people think this is a good show? Seriously? I am as baffled as I was back in September and October of last year.

After monologue after monologue by Mr. Elementary, he tag-team solves the case with Joan Watson, Bell, and Gregson. They're a pretty solid team for those few minutes of the show, which might be cool if they actually were a team the rest of the time. One more random bit of writing in a random show.

And the last scene of this week's Elementary? The thing that makes Mr. Elementary wrinkle up his face in fussy-baby emotion? More random writing. Oh, look, the whole reason for his original breakdown and addiction, the whole crux of this show, seems to be a lie . . . a lie that he wasn't smart enough to see at square one. Or else we're talking twins, the most hackneyed soap opera twist of all.

They say that dogs have a more highly developed sense of smell than ours, by a multiple of thousands. And yet dogs seem to enjoy sniffing crotches and poo. In that same fashion, perhaps my brain is just not highly developed enough for Elementary. Because it sure looks like crap to me.

"London calling to the zombies of death."

Last week's episode of Elementary provoked the strangest reaction in this corresponent, and that reaction was this: no reaction at all.

I've become somewhat numb to the "Really, you're calling that 'Sherlock Holmes?'" aspects of Mr. Elementary, and without that stimulus, the return of Elementary's version of Sebastian Moran and hints of Moriarty on the horizon were actually just . . . well, too dull for comment. But the monotonous drumbeat of CBS's programming thuds on, and we find ourselves faced with yet another Thursday night, as well as the news (caught by the ever-alert Ketelsen) that Mr. Elementary, like Batman and the Beverly Hillbillies before him, will be going to London for an episode next year.

The very idea of Mr. Elementary in the hometown of Holmes is a curious thing. Will it make him more Holmes-like or less, as we see him in a setting that brings out the contrasts of his character all the more? Joan Watson, unlike homey British Johnnies of yore, is apt to stand out like a sore American thumb. The idea of a Watson buying postcards in London just doesn't seem right at all, yet it could happen. And a better question still: If Mr. Elementary goes into Speedy's Cafe, will the universe explode as is always predicted when matter and anti-matter collide?

But if Mr. Elementary does wander through some London locale that already has the visual imprint of Cumberbatch Holmes upon it, it could well be one more step to exposing that truth I've long suspected: Mr. Elementary is a deranged irregular from the Sherlock universe. Sure, it won't make Elementary a better show, but at least then it can have spin-off cred, and no one expects a spin-off to be as good as the original.

Excuse me now, I have to start the next blog entry. This week's Elementary just crossed new lines of awful.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The monkey dance of death. Or maybe just whacked shins.

Ah, baritsu. You used to be so cool.

Once upon a time, Sherlock Holmes had his own martial art. He used it to "just say no" to a grabby mathematics professor and rid London of a crime wave, all in one exotic move. He said it came from a Japanese system of wrestling, which made it kind of like an obscure branch of something stolen from Sinanju, the sun source of all martial arts.

Of course, then comes Robert Downey, Jr., and his Batman-like dissection of his opponent's weaknesses followed by exploitation of same, in the movie Sherlock Holmes. And then we started hearing about "bartitsu," the Victorian martial art that claims to be what Sherlock Holmes was actually using. Now it pops up in my Google newsfeed in headlines like "Fight Like Sherlock Holmes: A Victorian Martial Art Makes A Comeback." Sure, it was rediscovered before the first Downey film, but would we be hearing of it at all, if not for the Downey action flick (which doesn't really use it)?

I wonder. Sure, it might have gotten another little write-up in The Baker Street Journal, as it did in 1958, but have you seen the photos of bartitsu in action? It's got all the goofy posing of old fashioned Marquis of Queensbury fisticuffs with some orangutan-like stances that look as vulnerable as can be to any sort of low kick. It's no wonder that the normally tenacious fans of Sherlock Holmes didn't dig into bartitsu in past decades, and seemed happy to let it be swept under the carpet. It's just not baritsu.

The marital arts have come a long, long way since Victorian England. And most sensible folks know that fighting out of your weight class will get you clobbered no matter what your particular flavor of fighting style is . . . which is the main reason the handgun exists at all. Even Sherlock Holmes, who was an able boxer and stick-fighter, knew when it was time just to have a pistol in the pocket and dispense with the niceties.

Maybe one of these days, "bartitsu," which actually sounds like a groping technique for taverns, will fade into the London reek once more and we can get back to the mysterious coolness of baritsu. But for now, I think I'll stick to paying more attention to Holmes's mental methods than something that looks like someone imbibed a little too much serum of langur.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Solving all of history.

While working on a non-Sherlockian project in the last few weeks, I found myself dealing with the facts of a man who died near Groveland, Illinois in 1865. The gentleman in question was found near the road with a fatal head injury, and the history books I read said the wound came from a horse's kick. When speaking to a local history buff, I was told some said the would came after being thrown from the horse. The historical record being a patchwork thing, "facts" are easy to question, and I found myself turning this death by equine misadventure into a potential murder mystery in my mind.

In what might be a spoiler to those who haven't read all of the original Holmes stories (skip this paragraph if you're one), we all know the big twist in "Silver Blaze" was that the horse, not any human, was the perpetrator. So what if, in this case, the reverse was true? Not really a story there, but the death of the man involved did cause a turn in local history . . . enough so that motives could be found for a human culprit easily enough.

And if there is a mystery to be solved in the lifespan of one Sherlock Holmes, who else would one want to have solve it?

Sure, popular wisdom says that Holmes would only have been eleven years old at the time. But some sources did say his parent dragged him and his hefty brother all over the place (probably the reason for the latter's sedentary habits as an adult), so why not Peoria, Illinois?

It's so very easy to see why pastiches get written. It's easy to see why Sherlock Holmes gets dragged to Minnesota . . . and Kansas City . . . and Dallas, Texas . . . all those places he doesn't really belong without always having the benefit of a truly gifted writer to make it somehow work. What we call "fan fiction" tends to come from the blank spots in a character's life, and to the true fan of Sherlock Holmes, the detective's absence from every single place and every single moment in history is a blank spot that just cries out to be filled.

I don't think I'll ever write the tale of eleven-year-old Sherlock Holmes solving a mysterious horse-kick death just outside of Peoria in 1865. It just doesn't sound compelling enough to be worth the time to put together. And yet the idea rose to the surface from stew of history as such things do, not for the first time, and surely not the last.

There was a reason that Mycroft heard of Sherlock everywhere, as he once told Watson.

That guy just slips into everything.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Springtime for The Baker Street Journal . . . and Ger-man-eeee!

The spring issue of The Baker Street Journal arrived yesterday, almost as if the publisher was trying to hit the date of Sherlock Holmes meeting Moriarty at Reichenbach. As the contents of this issue were heavily Reichenbach-weighted, I'm leaning toward this theory over one where Rothman, Doyle, and company waited for the last snows to finally and truly be done  before declaring it to be officially spring.

You will have to forgive the title of today's blog, as it may seem that I'm casting the BSJ in the role of Hitler if you're familiar with a certain song lyric. But that's hardly the case. I just like The Producers too much to let the chance pass. And this issue of The Baker Street Journal sure bears the least comparison to Adolf Hitler possible, when compared to at least one other Sherlockian publication I can think of this year.

Editor Steve, not to be confused with publisher Steve, does a fine job of leading the issue off by stating that the modern excitement about Holmes is no different than that of anytime past: "Few may choose to write scholarship or attend the BSI Weekend, but all of them play the Game in their own way and deserve the title Sherlockian." And he then goes on to back his statement with some wonderfully diverse, and yet somewhat theme-oriented contents.

Now, I could walk through the contents article by article as I have done occasionally in the past (who else reviews individual issues of the BSJ?), but this time I think I'll stick to my favorites among this quarter's fine crop.

My favorite piece this issue had to be Nick Dunn-Meynell's "Thinking Like Sherlock." His lead-in puts BBC's Sherlock episode "The Reichenbach Fall" into a perfect historical perspective: We have been given a chance to solve a mystery that has been lacking in Sherlockian culture since pre-1900, the chance to figure out how Sherlock Holmes escaped death. He follows with internet theories and his own analysis, bringing us a very complete and admirable package on "Fall." Well done, Mr. Dunn-Meynell.

And while all of the issue's contents are pretty solid, I would also single out "Mycroft's Malady: Sleep Apnea" by Richard Leung for a.) bringing modern knowledge into our Victorian Canon, and b.) not being Sherlock Holmes and Asperger's (which I think is a load of crap). Also worth a stand-out mention: "Sherlock and the Moon" by Arthur Levine, a look at Holmes's many connections to that near-astral body.

I like new ideas, and this issue was full of them.

Even the coverage of the ever-repeating BSI Weekend seemed a little fresher this time around, taking many voices to cover its many events and capturing the thrill many a new visitor to the weekend feels. By the time I got to my annual grumpy point: that doggerel-in-the-daytime, the Sherlockian year in verse (Let it go, folks. Not everything needs to be a tradition.), I was feeling quite congenial toward even that bit. (Still, let it go.)

But you know me, I have to be crabby about something, even a fairly excellent issue of The Baker Street Journal. I'm getting up there in years, and it's what we crabby old folks do. And here's what bugged me about this issue of the BSJ:

Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor is on the cover. A man whom every other villain portrayed upon that cover would have ended with a flick of a pinky finger. A villain whose work, however showy, would insult Professor Moriarty. (Catastophes to change real estate prices? Really? Society half-destroyed and he expects the real estate system to remain unaffected?) Lex Luthor drawn in comic book form might have been a worthy addition to the cover, but the Gene Hackman version? Pfui!

He has to be the worst man ever to appear on a cover of the BSJ. But, given that it might be one of the best issues, I suppose we can all take that in stride.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Just soaking in the moment.

It suddenly struck me, as I planned the next few days' entertainments, that we have entered a very Sherlock-filled month.

Tomorrow night opens the first blockbuster of summer, Iron Man 3, starring the big screen Sherlock Holmes of our day, Robert Downey, Jr.

In two weeks comes the also-huge Star Trek: Into Darkness, featuring the small screen Sherlock Holmes sensation, Benedict Cumberbatch,

And meanwhile, Jonny Lee Miller, our third current contender for the crown, will be giving Elementary its climactic, season-ending one-month run.

Yes, two of the three are in roles that don't contain the name "Holmes," but none of them seem to be absolutely done with the role. Technically, they're all currently seen by someone or the other as the 2013 image of the Great Detective.

No matter what your feelings about any one or more of them, just take a moment and consider where we stand. Like no place any Sherlockian has ever stood before. William Gillette, counting up his full tour, wasn't in as many theaters as Downey has played. Basil Rathbone, after ruling as the Sherlock of his day, was never as anticipated as a villain as Cumberbatch, though he was a master at it. And Jeremy Brett . . . well, sorry to say, he never pulled as many viewers at PBS as Jonny Lee Miller is with the change of a single network letter.

Credit where credit is due, any one of them can top past Sherlocks by some account or another, but together? They form a triumvirate of legendary Sherlock power, pulling from different demographics to gather a modern nexus of popularity for Sherlock Holmes like no other time. Even Conan Doyle himself could only gain popularity among those who could read, and the speed and spread of translations was a lot slower in his day.

So, all things considered, this could well be the Golden Age of Sherlock Holmes.

That thought is sure to be quickly disputed by the more nostalgic or Canon-focused, but the facts, the numbers, the sheer size of the wave, makes it very, very hard to ignore.

And very, very easy to enjoy.