Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Norwood Builder

In the summer of 1894, things just got weird on Baker Street.

Remember Sherlock Holmes? The guy who loved all those weird little puzzles presented by humanity interacting in its great metropolis. A found Christmas goose and hat, a near-sighted girl with a boyfriend who took off . . . he seemed to take joy in digging up the truth in all sorts of situations. But after a few years off, suddenly he's bitching that Moriarty isn't around to make crime more interesting, and refers to himself as "out-of-work."

Remember Dr. Watson? The guy who used to have a wife and attempt to practice medicine? He's given up the medical profession and moved back into Holmes's rooms, recruited as a partner . . . for that business Holmes is out-of-work at.

This Sherlock Holmes, who has talked Dr. Watson into giving up his own life, is also perversely happy to see a ruined mess of a young man show up on the run from the police and a murder charge. There have been many who suspected Sherlock Holmes was not the same man when he returned from his supposed death at Reichenbach Falls, ever since Father Ronald Knox pointed it out in the 1920s, and "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder," by itself is a case that lends credence to that theory.

Even Inspector Lestrade seems to have lost confidence in Sherlock Holmes in this case, advising him to give it up at one point without even telling him why. And if Lestrade wasn't concern enough, consider this: Sherlock Holmes seems to be unsure if he has the stuff to solve it. Sure, he talks a good game, but when Watson sees him the second morning of the case, he has spent a sleepless night and looks "pale and harassed." Holmes actually seems like he spent more of the night worrying about not being able to solve it than actually thinking it over and over like he used to, back in the pre-Moriarty days.

And here's where it gets really weird: The first story of Sherlock Holmes's return to life after his supposed death at Reichenbach Falls is the tale of his reappearance, a necessary choice. The second? "Norwood Builder," a tale of  *** SPOILER ALERT FOR THE HUNDRED YEAR OLD STORY *** a man who fakes his own death. Almost like Watson is trying to cement the idea of Sherlock Holmes faking his death (with that wacky "reversing his shoes" ploy) in the heads of his readers by kind of going, "See, people fake their deaths all the time." Which then makes one wonder, what if the tale that Holmes faked his own death is the actual fake-out in this cycle?

At the end of the tale, Sherlock Holmes asked the villain how he pulled off a part of his plot involving burned bones: "By the way, what was it you put into the woodpile besides your old trousers? A dead dog, or rabbits, or what?" When no answer is forthcoming, Holmes then actually advises Watson, "If ever you write an account, Watson, you can make rabbits serve your turn."

In other words, "Just make something up, Watson!" like the threshold of fiction has already been well crossed in some much larger violation of Watson's sharing the truth with the reader.

Of all the stories in the Summer of Sherlock so far, I think this is my least favorite for all those doubts that it casts upon our trusted friends Holmes and Watson. Were these details perhaps a touch of shading by an angry literary agent who was grumpy enough at Holmes's return to do a little malign editing of Watson's words? Or was this indeed a second Holmes pushed upon the public? It is a very uncomfortable choice.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

As bad as I wanna be.

Well, the Bootalicious E-story contest deadline was today, and just to be sure, I finished my own little Watsonian chronicle before bed last night. As I imagined, and is typical for the word-limit, time-limit short story contest, I ran out of runway in landing my literary Cessna, the landing gear came off when I hit the 2500 word limit, and the craft started taking damage as I tried to save the passengers, so to speak.

But, hey, it's not like I'm in it for the glory.

Simultaneous to my literary hard landing was a Facebook friend's rant against people who say movies suck. I suspect his point was directed toward those critics who go see every movie, then gripe about films that were never intended toward their demographic or personality type. But I couldn't help being touched by his words, because, after all, Elementary sucks. And yet I just keep watching it. And it's not even like I have a financial investment such as a movie ticket, which might spur one to finish just to get one's money's worth. It's FREE, FREE, FREE on CBS TV.

All of this, then raises the question: How dare I criticize the creators of Elementary when my own attempts at a Sherlock Holmes tale are definitely sub-par? (Don't think Seven-per-cent Solution. Don't think Beekeeper's Apprentice. Think literary Sharknado.)

Well, for starters, nobody paid me to write my Sherlock Holmes. I work a full-time-plus job, serve on a board, try to keep up with a blog, nurse a Warcraft account along, and then in my leftover time, occasionally write one-draft fiction which I even more occasionally subject people to.  All from my basement here in Peoria, the traditional lair of the fanboy.

Someone who's handed a choice opportunity for a Sherlock Holmes pilot that a network really wants to have on their schedule, thanks to a really good existing Sherlock Holmes franchise . . . well, those folks should have a little more expected of them. Mainly their network, of course, by whom they are judged by the ratings numbers, and thus, advertising dollars they bring in. But also by fans of the existing character they were assigned to re-create. Sure, we're probably not even a blip on the ratings, but we get to have our opinions by right of having been here first. I'm not saying that Sherlockians are the Native Americans of this country's Holmes mindset, but I might say that Elementary did try to buy us off with a few beads and trinkets in the paltry cookies the show provides.

And for all my faults, I do dump a lot of sugar into my Sherlock literary cookies. Which makes them a lot of fun to make, and sometimes that's just the point. Even when your mixed metaphoric cookies over-shoot the runway and crash and burn.

Summer of Sherlock: The Lion's Mane.

Curiously, reading the tales of Sherlock Holmes on the dates they occur reveals an interesting pattern, come late summer . . . retirement suddenly comes on strong. Take a look at the next four tales:

July 30, 1907, Tuesday -- "The Lion’s Mane"
August 1, 1894, Wednesday -- "The Norwood Builder"
August 2, 1914, Sunday -- "His Last Bow"
August 20, 1898, Saturday -- "The Retired Colourman" 

First we find Sherlock Holmes in retirement, then a "retiring" fellow who had pretty much given up his own business and then definitely leaving the scene, followed by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson coming out of retirement, and finally a retiree at the center of a murder mystery.

Is late summer a time when people tend to think of retirement, as summer vacations come to an end and the work of harvests, fall, and winter set in?  Did the season affect Watson and his literary agent in their selection of stories from this time of year?

Off-topic summer side note: Here's a great game to test your Sherlockian know-how -- go to the Moonfind search engine of the Canon. Now think of any Sherlock Holmes story, like "The Lion's Mane." Now think of the one word that will pull up that story -- and only that story -- on the search engine. (And "Lion's Mane" is one of the easier ones.)

The thought of retirement for a mind that "rebels at stagnation" must have been an curious little problem for Sherlock Holmes. Plainly the detective business had lost its luster for him, as once Professor Moriarty is vanquished, Holmes seems to be actually looking for a new Moriarty and not finding one. When he refers to "the late lamented Professor Moriarty," it seems like he's the one doing the lamenting, having to deal with crooks and schemers who aren't even close to his level. But retirement?

It seems Holmes's first choice of retirement busy-work is writing. He writes "The Blanched Soldier." He writes "The Lion's Mane." He writes the Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, probably because he spent as much time and thought on bee-keeping as any man ever did and exhausted that subject -- the bees certainly know what they're doing and don't require too much maintenance past a certain point.

Sherlock Holmes might have also had ideas of becoming something of a naturalist in his retirement, as is hinted at in a number of stories. "Of late I have been tempted to look into the problems furnished by nature," being the biggest clue, said during the finishing of Moriarty. And "Lion's Mane" shows hints of Holmes going that direction, as in his familiarity with the book Out of Doors by J.G. Wood. But he also has to rummage around his attic to find it, so it seems like a hobby he might have given up on.

He still writes up "The Lion's Mane," though, which is exactly the sort of "problem furnished by nature" he spoke of over a decade before.

Yet in July of 1907, when the events of the tale occur, we know that he is not going to stay long in that cottage in Sussex, for the summer story that starts just a couple of days from now is soon two take him away for years. This period of occasional weekend visits from Watson and dropping in on Harold Stackhurst was probably just a bit too lonely for him . . . even those of us that think we are nature people sometimes are surprised to find we were people persons after all.

Because the "Lion's Mane" certainly makes a lousy beach companion. (The story, however, not bad.)

(And one last note: Maud Bellamy. Forget Mary Russell and Irene Adler. Maud Bellamy! The one woman we have Sherlock Holmes's direct testimony on, and even he can't let her pass without comment.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Naval Treaty

Few of the shorter chronicles of Mr. Sherlock Holmes give us as much personal information about he and Dr. Watson as "The Naval Treaty." There are the big biographical items, like learning of Watson's well-born schoolmate Percy Phelps, and the smaller, personal opinion bits, like Holmes's hopes in the sight of board schools and his obvious value of education. (As if his own example wasn't enough.)

And then there are even more subtle things, like Watson's attitude toward his medical practice.

"I was going to say that my practice could get along very well for a day or two, since it is the slackest time of year." Apparently Londoners were healthier in July, but even with that, it's not like John H. Watson is a picture-framer or scissors-grinder, or any one of a thousand professions that work on an "I'll get to it when I get to it" basis. In other tales, the good doctor mentions who he can get to cover for him. In this one, he seems to be more "Aaaaah, they'll get by without me."

Now we know Watson is a bit younger in the 1880s, and perhaps still trying to impress Holmes a bit, but such a cavalier attitude toward his patients seems unlike him. Which makes one wonder . . . was his practice that non-existent in those days? Or was he, perhaps, engaged in a specialty that had a slightly more predictable ebb and flow, like obstetrics?

Once the province of midwives, the late 1800s were a time when doctors were starting to get into the baby business, and Watson, trained as a surgeon, might have taken an interest in Caesarean sections as a possible specialty. He certainly doesn't seem all that interested in his old schoolmate's brain fever.

Percy Phelps does have the honor of being the first known overnight guest at 221B Baker Street. Of course, his stay does bring up the question of the number of bedrooms at 221B: "Mr. Phelps can have the spare bedroom tonight," Holmes says. Did he mean Watson's now-vacant room, in which case it was assumed Watson would either go home for the night or sleep in Sherlock's room? (And if he went home for the night, he really wasn't worried about Phelps's brain fever!)

Finding Watson spending an evening in Baker Street with someone other than Sherlock Holmes is rather an interesting thing as well. The doctor tries entertaining Phelps with tales of Afghanistan and India, catching him up since last they knew each other. Watson raises "social questions," the likes of which I'd certainly like to hear . . . in fact, all the conversational ploys Watson finds don't work with the single-minded Percy Phelps are probably exactly things we'd all love to hear on an evening at 221B, alone with the doctor.

As we will surely never get that happy circumstance, at least our friend Watson has given us a marvelously drawn-out case like "The Naval Treaty," to help fill at least one summer evening.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Writing Sherlock just to see what's under the hood.

With a mere two days left until the deadline for entries to "Bootalicious: The first, the only, Sherlock Holmes e-story contest with boots!" I find myself at 1402 of the 2500 word limit. At which point the second problem with writing for Sherlock Holmes story contests comes in.

First, of course, is getting the idea, getting comfortable in the idea, and starting the writing.

Second, then, comes that moment when you realize you have to land this plane you've just gotten airborne, and you have to do it with only so much fuel and runway left. Story contest judges can be very persnickety about their word count limits. And as so few of us are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, they're not going to let our works get fatter and fatter just because the market can't get enough of our prose.

Sources on the web say a short story should be between 1,000 and 7,500 words long -- a limit that Watson went over many times, but then, his novels were a bit short by modern standards as well. The "Bootalicious" contest limit actually makes its entries qualify as "short-short stories" and there is where the Sherlockian writer can get into trouble.

There are so many trappings we love that go with an enjoyable Sherlock story. The Baker Street scene, the Watsonian commentary, the descriptions of the clients . . . and then one feels the need to set up a mystery, of course, which must be followed by a solution to said mystery. All of that basically makes it three stories in one. And while one could allow 2,500 words each for the trappings, the mystery, and the solution and get a 7,500 word story in, pulling all three parts together in 2,500 provides something of a challenge.

If you've never written a Sherlock Holmes story, it's an exercise well worth trying, even if you're certain you have no talent whatsoever. No one else has to read your story for you to get something out of it -- the mere act of trying to put together a similar beastie to those stories you've enjoyed all your life can give you a different perspective on what makes them, and what makes them  enjoyable.

It's a little like tinkering with an old car, just to see how it runs. You want to pick a car you're not depending upon to get you were you want to go, just as you don't want to quit your job just to see what writing fiction is like. There are professionals out there who have that covered. But a little tinkering in your spare time never hurt anyone, and can be quite educational.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Dancing Men

"The Adventure of the Dancing Men" was perhaps the best read of the Summer of Sherlock here in Peoria so far, for one simple reason: The Hansoms of John Clayton were with me on this one.

Thirty-six years, eight month, and nine days ago, six Hansoms first came together at an address about three hundred yards from where nine of us gathered last night to discuss "Dancing Men," so Peoria's Sherlock Holmes group has a certain consistency to it, to be sure.  Certain rituals were observed, as they have been from that first gathering, but I also have to say that I think the discussion of the story at hand was as good as it ever has been in those years gone by.

The theme that kept coming up in our discussions of "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" was that of honor. While honor doesn't specifically come up in the story (nor in the Canon, according to Moonfind, except for "Speckled Band"'s Honoria Westphail), it seemed like a key factor.

In the modern day, Elsie Cubitt's actions in not telling her husband about her past are a little hard to understand. A simple statement like "My father was a gang leader and there was a very dangerous man who is now stalking me!" might have saved her husband's life and spared her a horrible wound.

We debated her love for her husband and found it sound. We delved into Abe Slaney's mind and found it dangerously obsessive. But what we kept coming back to was the "why" of Elsie's silence. It was a different day, to be sure, and reputation meant a lot, especially to a man of an old, old British family. But how much? Elsie Patrick confides to her future husband that she has "nothing personally to be ashamed of" and says it is simply "the disagreeable associations" of her past which make her promise her future husband to allow her not to talk about her past. And yet she is so frightened by the possibility of him knowing the truth that she will not utter a peep about a direct threat to their lives and marriage.

It is a very hard attitude to grasp for a modern American, but then, like Australia, we're a country born of more than a few criminals and cast-offs of more polite British society. And like it or not, Abe Slaney comes from Chicago, the city that means gangsters, in a state with more governors who wind up in prison than we care to speak of, so we Illinoisians may have a more casual attitude toward a criminal past than most.

Our discussions roamed through those hard-to-understand cultures where killing is accepted for honor and even my completely rejected theory that the line "There was an American young lady there -- Patrick was the name," indicated that Hilton Cubitt's wife was a transvestite and Abe Slaney her/his former gay lover. (Hey, what better code for a hidden Chicago gay community of Victorian times than "dancing men?") But we kept coming back to Elsie Patrick Cubitt's motivations for her silence, which seems much less reasonable to us these days than Effie Munro's fears of racism in "The Yellow Face," a problem we still deal with today.

In any case, "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" yielded a very nice social evening for this Summer of Sherlock here in Peoria. It's always good to see that our old Canon has the power to do that, even after thirty-six years here, and a lot longer elsewhere.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A nude first for an old institution?

Well, The Baker Street Journal has certainly got my attention with this tweet . . . .

And I probably just lost a good share of my readers for a bit longer than the normal blog post holds their attention. Fitting for a summer issue, the hot weather sometimes putting one in that particular suit of one's birth, but questions arise:

Is this Irene Adler's first BSJ cover? Is this the first appearance by a woman on the BSJ cover?

I really hope not, on either point, as that might have a certain controversial overtone. Yes, yes, all in fun, but you know the internet these days, always quick to the controversy . . . oh, wait, I'm a part of that internet. So let me quell the controversy by discussing other nude covers of The Baker Street Journal. Like these:

WHOA! Settle down, there, ladies! I know you got three instead of the one, but they are just drawings after all. And naked as jaybirds! Well, except for that coat . . . which looks a lot like the one Irene Adler used to cover her naked body in "A Scandal in Belgravia," a scene surely inspired by the little known fact that both Sherlock Holmes and Julian Wolff posed nude with coat for the artists of these BSJ covers. I mean, why else would you wear that classic "flasher" style coat? 

Of course, times change and by the time Tom Stix (see correction comment below) made the cover, as you can see, he's wearing nothing but a smile. So the Irene Adler is sort of a natural evolution of sorts, paving the way for the Tom Stix's successor, Mike Whelan, to take Tom's sans-trenchcoat look to a fuller shot.

Where's it all leading? A clothing-optional Baker Street Irregulars dinner? An eventual Cumberbatch centerfold? Articles on the length and girth of Sher . . . ahem . . . well, that would be Sherlockian scholarship we haven't gotten to yet, and writers are always looking for fresh fields. (Though I suspect Tumblr got there months and months ago.)

Well, the old Journal had to do something to get some attention during Comic-Con week, and I guess this bit of cover un-cosplay fits right in. Excuse me while I scroll back up the page for a moment . . . .

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The week of the Big Party.

Ah, for a teleporter and a scalped ticket this week!

SherlockeDCC hits the San Diego Comic Con for its second year in a row, and I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm more than a little bit proud of the Baker Street Babes for that. If life were a stage, this audience member would be giving them a standing ovation for that little feat.

With San Diego being the new Mecca of popular culture at this time each year, for right or for wrong, however this little moment in history lasts, just knowing that there is a Sherlockian presence there . . . a vital, exciting, and current Sherlockian presence there . . . it makes a statement.

Sherlock Holmes is a part of popular culture.

And while that might have once been seen as antithetical to any literary aspirations the fan of the literary agent's work might hold toward the Canon's place in the world, I think we can safely say things have changed. The Canon as literature and Sherlock Holmes as pop culture can co-exist quite nicely. Especially now that Cumberbatch and company have brought Sherlock to the modern day in a very infectiously enjoyable fashion, and we've seen that Sherlock Holmes is big enough to handle several levels of existence at once.

It's the sort of thing that deserves a party at what is already a massive party of sorts, celebrating legends, icons, storytellers, and the stories they've told. And you have to hand it to those amazing people who managed to put it together for our friend Sherlock, and sell the thing out in record time.

Something for my Sherlockian "bucket list," up there with watching the last episode of Elementary and bungee jumping Reichenbach Falls? Could be, through probably more attainable than that last one and less about endurance than that first one.

And it's not a prom. Yep. Not a prom.

Have fun, you lucky visitors to San Diego this week. I shall envy you all greatly.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Never mind the madman for a moment.

It's the prom!

That's it! It's totally the prom!

It's exciting to get asked to the prom, it's THE social event of the school year, and the highlight of the evening is the announcement of the king and queen. (Or in this case kings and queens.) You get a fancy gown or rent a tux, and the people who are into proms are way into going to the prom.

Yes, this probably has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes, and I apologize to those who came here something a little Sherlockian and found this bit of nonsense. But I just had to tell somebody, even if the thought is something probably thunk by a hundred before me, and the interweb was just sitting here.

It's totally the prom! And I'm not really a fan of proms. Oh, well.

But just to make this qualify as a proper Sherlockian blog post:

Could Sherlock Holmes have gone to prom? Since its earliest mentions on record seem to be American colleges circa 1894, he probably would have had to started his Irish-American stint as an older-looking Chicago college student in 1912 to have pulled that one off . . . no wait, he was hanging out with that teenaged American girl Mary Russell at one point. Teenaged American girls are always dragging random men to proms. And Holmes did like flowers, so he surely would have bought his date a corsage, for as he himself said "We have much to hope from flowers."

And there was that "promenade" in Lady Frances Carfax's disappearance. But Britain, happily, stayed clear of the American prom tradition until the 2000s. Young Watson might have decided to chevy his date around with a wicket, so that was perhaps for the best.

Proms. Why did it have to be proms . . . .

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sherlock Holmes on Facebook? Of course!

"We have resisted every temptation to modernize the scene in Baker Street, or give a super-duper streamlining to its characters and characterizations," Edgar Smith wrote in a 1946 opening bit for The Baker Street Journal. But I have to wonder, when I look at the puny little thing that is my daily newspaper these days, if old Edgar might not change his mind a bit in current times.

We live in a different age, and although my friends in the press might argue otherwise, print journalism of the level we see today would not be nearly enough to feed the data requirements of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. So I started wondering: What would Sherlock Holmes do as a substitute for his multiple newspapers? 

Well, for starters, he would be on Facebook. And on Facebook. And on Facebook.

At first that might seem a bit silly. But consider this description of Facebook:

"What a chorus of groans, cries, and bleatings! What a rag-bag of singular happenings! But surely the most valuable hunting-ground that ever was given to a student of the unusual!" 

Of course, that wasn't a description of Facebook, but Sherlock Holmes referring to the newspaper agony columns, which he carefully kept clippings from. Still, you can see the parallel, can't you?

Sherlock Holmes, in the modern metropolis, would not simply go on to a social network and start "friending" people as Sherlock Holmes. No, he would maintain a series of identities at different levels of society, friending the most wordy, Facebook-crazed people in just the right places. Captain Basil, the plumber Escott, an Irish-American activist named Altamont . . . keeping his feeds well-trimmed and prodded along as needed, Sherlock Holmes could have on hell of a time with something that seems like so much chatty nonsense to so many.

And that would hardly be his only internet outlet. Twitter, Craigslist, Yelp . . . maybe not Tumblr (Kidding! Just kidding! Or not.) . . . but who knows what Sherlock would be able to re-purpose to his own uses, as he did so many scientific disciplines we don't normally associate with criminal investigation? I'd be very curious to see the settings on his Google newsfeed.

As much as we enjoy Sherlock Holmes in Victorian England, a modern period adaptation that wandered in and out of the Canon would still have a hard time catching up to all of the thought that Sherlockians have put into Holmes and Watson's lives over the years. And by that same token, our two modern Sherlock-y television bits have yet to work out all the ways Sherlock Holmes would adapt to our very different modern world.

Edgar Smith resisted the temptation to think of a modern Sherlock, simply because he didn't have to. There was still a lot of uncharted territory to wander in Sherlockian fandom of 1946. These days, however, with things like telegrams gone and newspapers dwindling before our eyes, pondering the possibilities of modern Sherlock might be well within our realm.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Second Stain

Once upon a time, I placed the date that "The Adventure of the Second Stain" begins as July, 19, 1887. Not too unreasonable, as others place it in the 1880s and Ernest Bloomfield Ziesler, the king of Sherlockian chronology, put it in July of 1889. Now, due to this "Summer of Sherlock" tour we've been taking, I am totally doubting myself for two major reasons, and one of them isn't happy. Not happy at all.

For the Prime Minister of all Great Britain comes to 221B Baker Street in this story.

The frelkin' Prime Minister.

When I was a younger American, reading this story, I don't think I ever fully felt the weight of that. "He's a political minister, and Watson keeps calling him 'the Premiere' -- some English goverment guy, you know how much pomp and circumstance they have over there!" First impressions have a way of sticking with you later on, even if you were very young when you first made them, even if (as science now tells us) your brain hadn't finished growing, even if you were decades from seeing Love Actually and the shock value that the Prime Minister showing up at your house actually has.

During later reads of this story, I focused on this detail or that, but still glossed over the Prime Minister part. And boy, was I missing the boat on this story.

The frelkin' Prime Minister.

If the Prime Minister of all of the British Empire comes to 221B Baker Street to personally seek out the help of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, it means two things.

1.) Sherlock Holmes is a lot more famous, with a lot more respect in high levels of government, and a much better known track record than he had anywhere in the 1880s.

. . . and . . .

2.) Mycroft Holmes is dead.

Remember the "Summer of Sherlock" discussion of "Greek Interpreter," when I first posited that Mycroft Holmes was dead by the 1903 events of "The Dying Detective" because Watson didn't even think to inform brother Mycroft that Sherlock was dying? Well, what's your first thought when the Prime Minister completely ignores the smarter Holmes brother with a government office and heads straight for the younger one?

And if you read "The Adventure of the Second Stain" with an eye to Sherlock's words and actions, they belong to a man who knows he's the only resort the Prime Minister has in this affair. Not to a man whose elder brother would be invaluable in a case involving spies and international affairs.

As much as we chide pastiches for always dragging Mycroft into the story, here's a tale that Mycroft belongs in, a tale where his absence is very notable. And not because the Prime Minister decided to visit a start-up young consulting detective who just hadn't happened to tell his partner about his brother yet in the 1880s. No, the combination of Holmes's acceptance by the P.M. as well as there being no question about Watson listening in (Remember those earlier days when Sherlock had to tell clients they could trust Watson?)  on state secrets of the highest level puts this case at a much later time.

A time after Mycroft's death.

On a side note, we've been having "autumn evenings" this past July week, here in midwest America, so life is definitely mimicking art, weather wise. The nice weather takes a little of the sting that the loss of Mycroft and questions about my personal Sherlock chronology that the Summer of Sherlock have brought up, but not much.

Frelkin' Prime Minister.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The perils of Sherlockian chronology.

Being a Sherlock Holmes fan is not for the faint at heart.

Decisions have to be made at some point in your Sherlockian development. Like last Wednesday, the 133rd anniversary of the day Holmes and Watson met. Well, at least the day that I decided Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson first met.

How dare I be so bold as to make that decision to place a critical date in the lives of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on July 16, 1881?

Because you have to. At some point in your career as a Sherlockian, you may want to celebrate that moment in time, and when you do, you have a decision to make. Watson never told us the specific day he and Holmes met, so you're going to have to figure it out for yourself.

There's the easy route of course. Just pick up a book like The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William S. Baring-Gould, see what he has decided the date is, and go with that. It's easy, and no one will disrespect you for it . . . except for maybe the five or six actual Sherlockian chronologists alive at any given moment, and they won't do it to your face. (*COUGH* Wimp! *COUGH*) But the fact of the matter is, you're still making a decision even if you just agree with someone who has already thought it through.

But if you're going to make the choice for yourself, like I did, and come up with a date that is quite different from other chronologers, like I did, here's a tip:

Remember why you decided to put the event on that particular date!

After Wednesday's blog about Holmes and Watson's first meeting, I started to wonder why I had chosen July 16, 1881, and then quickly discovered it wasn't written up where I thought it was written up. And panic set in.

What if someone called me on it? What if someone asked why I was celebrating it in July instead of March, like Baring-Gould? I could be declared a fraud and a sham and paraded through the streets of Sherlockville on a rail . . . well, luckily Holmes fans aren't usually given to mob mentality . . . but suddenly discovering I had nothing at my back was just a wee bit disconcerting.

So I set out on a quest to validate the work of an earlier version of me whose memory I apparently did not choose to put in a handy place in my mind palace. (A good sign I will never start just flicking your face like Charles Augustus Magnussen, as arrogant as this blog might occasionally mistakenly convey me to be.)

It plainly wasn't with my story-by-story chronology notes. And Google sure wasn't going to help.

I found bits of a discussion I was having on the Hounds of the Internet when I first developing my chronology where I had gotten their meeting to summer of 1881  . . . but that date? Why July 16th in particular? Nothing in my "Seventeen Steps" notes on the tale at that time.

As much as I hate to leave this story without a tidy resolution, it seems that for the moment, I still can't supply an answer to the question of why July 16, 1881. Trusting in one's self is a handy faith to have, and I will swear to you that the fellow who came up with that date was not the sort who would do it with no reason at all, however whimsical.

But the mystery remains, along with the words . . . to be continued.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Watson: A role or a person?

Comic books are forever revealing things to me about Sherlock Holmes. Not necessarily the comics about Sherlock, but thoughts on characters who go on, and on, and on, like the great detective has done. Comic book characters, living their living in monthly installments over decades, have a faster evolutionary rate than Sherlock Holmes, so for the same reason geneticists study fruit flies, they can be an interesting study.

This week Marvel comics made a couple of announcements of changes to major characters: The mighty Thor will now be female, and Captain America will now be African-American. The latter did not seem all that odd to me, as Captain America has been black before in a tale or two. And his old pal Nick Fury changed races recently, so no big deal. And even though we've been through gender-bending a lot of late, as with Thor's brother Loki becoming an evil enchantress for a time, something about Thor going XX bothered me. I mean, I'm as feminist as the next guy, but Thor?

As I discussed the matter with a friend, it occurred to me that there was a major difference between Captain America and Thor. One was a role, a mantle which could be taken up by anyone. The other, in my mind at least, was an individual.

And suddenly I was back two years ago when we learned that Dr. Watson was going to be a woman on Elementary. Back then the topic was a little too hot to delve into thoughtfully without being immediately labelled a misogynist, so I didn't let myself dwell too long upon that change, focusing my attention more on the titular Mr. Elementary. (Yes, I'm the only one who calls him that, but it's titular to me. Plus it's fun to say titular. Titular.)

Dr. Watson's change bothered me back then the way Thor's change bothered me at first reaction today. Not because I hate to see a woman in a role. But because I felt I was losing the individual that should have been there. Joan Watson isn't just John H. Watson with different body parts, she's a completely different person. As equivalent as the genders should be held in treatment and respect, few of us would argue against gender difference being one of the biggest characteristic gaps in individual human beings. While a given person can display varying degrees of masculinity or femininity, both nature and nurture are altered between XX and XY to the point where John H. Watson surviving the character surgery to become female is a nigh impossible thing.

My gut didn't say I was gaining a Joan, just losing a John. And a John who had been an old and beloved friend at that. And plugging Joan in his space was erasing him from this new universe of Sherlock Holmes.

Now that we're hearing Joan Watson may be replaced, even temporarily, by Kitty Winter, a female partner for Sherlock Holmes who was a female partner to him in the Canon (albeit so very briefly), it makes me wish they had gone with Kitty from square one . . . and bring a returning John H. in to threaten her position two seasons later. Wouldn't that have been a lovely tale?

Creators have been a little more reticent to alter Sherlock Holmes's gender than that of Watson, whom we've seen go female a number of times over the years, because they apparently see Watson more important as a role than an individual with a specific personality. Sherlock Holmes, however, is not only a unique and specific individual, but surely the moneymaker to most . . . and you don't mess with the goose that lays golden eggs . . . well, any more than you think will bring you more golden eggs.

So I'll leave the question to you: Is John H. Watson a role or an individual? Should we miss him when he's gone, or just embrace his replacement and move along? We hope creators don't give us that choice, and masterfully move our emotions in whichever direction they chose in their creation. But if you were the creator, which path would you prefer?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The first meeting.

Even though we're twelve stories into the Summer of Sherlock, with ten left to go, I'm calling this the halftime of this warm weather reading excursion for one reason, and one reason alone: today, July 16th, is the 133rd anniversary of Dr. John H. Watson meeting Mr. Sherlock Holmes for the first time.

"Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said Stamford, the man to whom we owe so much.

Has there ever been a moment so deserving of being immortalized that moment in bronze? Three men standing together in a laboratory, one gripping another's hand in an hearty handshake while the third looks on, not knowing that he's just caused a legend to be born.

"How are you?" Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson, followed by what we normally remember as his first words to Watson, "You have been in Afghanistan, I presume."

But let's step back. "How are you?" Sherlock Holmes says to this stranger as he gives him the warmest of handshakes. Sherlock Holmes. The guy people like to wrongly think of as the ultimate cold fish. And here he is, making first contact with Watson with all the energy of a lonely car salesman meeting his first customer in weeks. 

To be fair, Sherlock might not be all that excited by Watson's arrival as the test for blood that he's just discovered works. But what does Sherlock Holmes do in this moment of discovery? Say, "Sorry, I'm busy right now, I have to document this!"? 

No, Sherlock Holmes sets the precedent for his entire relationship with Dr. Watson: He shares in his discovery. He's eager to tell somebody what he's just found out, and Watson responds in just the way he needs:

"It seems to be a very delicate test," Watson says.

"Beautiful! Beautiful!" Holmes cries out in reply, and while we might think he's talking about the test, he could actually be talking about Watson's reaction. Consider the fact that Stamford is also in the room, and he's just standing there silently, bump-on-a-log style.

A simple "Indeed" from Watson gives Holmes enough encouragement to go on, and an eventual "You are to be congratulated" is icing on the conversational cake that Holmes fairly laps up in his increasing enthusiasm. Sherlock Holmes didn't just discover a blood test, he also found the guy bright enough and friendly enough to make such a discovery moment even better.

A few more words are exchanged, and Watson reports, "Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea of sharing rooms with me."

It's practically bromance at first sight, but if you pay attention to what's going on, it isn't just that Holmes finds Watson a handsome man or observe he's solvent enough to pay half of the desperately needed rent. Watson is actually giving Sherlock Holmes something he needs in that conversation, and it's exactly the same thing Watson will give him throughout their partnership: appreciation, acceptance, and the understanding that what Holmes does is, honestly, quite amazing.

Meanwhile, Stamford, the guy who probably just arranged the moment to see Watson's reaction to the weirdo in the St. Barts laboratory, doesn't seem to get any of it. Yet he's still there to show us that Watson does by way of comparison.

It's a wonderful moment, one well worth a quick re-read (here's a link, just skip right down to the good parts), and even a life-sized bronze statue set. Any sculptors or sculptor benefactors out there willing to get such a thing commissioned? We've got a full two years until the 135th anniversary!

Whither goest the pastiche? And how far?

As we move further and further away from the era of Watson's literary agent, it becomes more and more of a certainty that most readers of fiction will not find his words as immediately accessible as they once were.

You can be loyal to the Doyle all you want, but sit a fifteen-year-old next to a copy of The Hunger Games and a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and see which book gets read first. As popular as Holmes may be, thanks to Downey, Cumberbatch, and Miller, the Sherlock Holmes fan who comes in directly through the door of the Canon will continue to be a rare and special thing . . . most of us need a gateway drug.

It may be as simple as "I watched BBC Sherlock, then I picked up the Conan Doyle-agented original Watson." It may be "BBC Sherlock, Sherlock fanfic, pro-written Holmes novel, then Conan Doyle-agented original Watson." But here's the thing: Sherlock Holmes pastiches have long been our training wheels for adjusting to the Victorian pitter-patter of Watson prime's verbiage.

But before Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss took the bold step of moving Holmes and Watson to the modern day and succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams, there was a reticence among writers of the Sherlockian pastiche to move past a certain point in telling Sherlock stories. There was parody, where Holmes could be something weird or non-human, but the idea of making taking him into a complete alternate dimension, where he could be a tennis player or a ballet dancer and somehow remain Sherlock Holmes was unheard of. These days, Watson's old tin dispatch box, that writers always found through a odd circumstance and carefully parceled out the contents of, has become Pandora's box with the lid flung wide open. Literally anything is possible with Sherlock Holmes, for better or worse, and there's no closing that box again.

As I started working on my entry for the Bootmaker's story contest last night, this fact became abundantly clear, as it had after reading those Sherlock products from other hands I've encountered of late. While there were never set boundaries on pastiche-writing twenty years ago, the wide acceptance of Sherlock and Elementary have given us the unwritten permission from the world at large to go further than ever before with our favorite detective.

How far is too far? Will we need new categories beyond "pastiche" and "parody" to know what we're reading  as time goes on? We shall see.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The impetus to write.

After over thirty-five years of writing this and that about Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I find myself having a problem doing what once was the easiest thing of all: Repeat my first steps as a Sherlockian.

And what were those first steps as a Sherlockian, before I ever attended a club meet, before I ever read a newsletter from a fellow Holmes fan, before I even knew I had kindred spirits at all out there?

I did what so many a Sherlock Holmes fan does: I wrote a story about him.

It seemed so easy back then. True, not wanting to set my own style against Watson's, I did pick Holmes up in Sussex, where Watson left him off. And I'm not going to claim the result was a great piece of literature, but it came easily. And it truly must to many who carry a torch for Holmes with a newly lit flame, because so many do that deed.

But when the Bootmakers of Toronto lately came up with a choice little notion for a Sherlock Holmes story contest with a theme of boots of any sort . . . well, suddenly I find that it's not so easy any more.

I've been doing this long enough to know that the key to writing is simply to write, but when it comes to Sherlock? Well, I kind of expect him to be clever and impress me, which is a tricky task when one has to contrive a mystery for him to solve to do it. One has to be villainously clever to come up with a plot that deserves a Holmes solution, and while I'm sure I can write a tale of Holmes going to the tobacco shop to buy some shag, that mystery part is a little intimidating.

Hmm. Perhaps that's the answer to the issue right there: just write a story about Holmes going for a walk to buy some pipe tobacco or something equally mundane and see where it goes from there. After so much Sherlockiana running in one ear and out the other over the past decades, I am probably over-thinking the matter.

In any case, I hope you who are inspired to enter the Bootmakers' contest slip into a productive state quicker than I. Because at this rate, you'll have one less competitor to worry about!

Rich fan, poor fan.

The economies of being a fan have a wider spread than ever these days.

On one hand, we have some amazing things out there for those with either deep pockets or a fanatical enough devotion to live on macaroni and cheese for as long as it takes to pay off the bill for a $2300 Belstaff coat or a first edition from eBay. On the other, we have the masses of reading, video, art, and education upon Sherlock Holmes one can get via the internet for absolutely nothing.

One can do one's Sherlockian socializing via social networks and discussion groups, or one can spend a couple of thousand on flights and hotel for attending a Sherlockian event in some major city. Sherlockiana has been an international hobby almost has long as it's been a hobby, and one with a healthy credit status could always do some serious Sherlockian social travel, but the options have even exploded on that front . . . mainly due to the explosion of Sherlockian connections on the no-cost front.

And while it hasn't fully hit Sherlockiana as hard as other fandoms, thanks to our world being as much books as other media, the amount of businesses marketing to fans has grown immensely, adding potential costs that didn't exist years ago. Suddenly I feel like I grew up in the depression when I hear myself saying, "I remember a day when a celebrity would give you an autograph for free." The current convention model for actor autographs (and photos with said actors) can range from thirty to eighty bucks for the signatures and twice that for the photos.

I'm not sure if it's a sad or happy thing that writers and artists are still signing stuff for free or not. (Happy for the fans, yet showing a disproportionate skewing of the culture toward looking good over actual brains.)

It fascinated me that at a convention debacle attended by a number of Sherlockians this past weekend, the organizers made an attempt to get attendees to come up with nearly twenty-thousand dollars in an hour to keep the con going. While it wasn't clear if they raised their full amount, the convention did keep going, which led one to wonder, how many fans had that kind of ready cash to kick in and did? And what is in the fannish mindset to set aside critical thinking and spontaeously dump money into an emotional moment?

Actually, when you come right down to it, that's what is at the core of the economies of fandom, and has been for a very long time: The sudden choice to pour a ton of money into an emotional moment. For as much as we Sherlockians pride ourselves on our Sherlock-like powers of reasoning, nobody ever spent a few hundred dollars on a single book for purely intellectual purposes. There are other, better investments out there if you want to make money. Nobody ever spent a couple of thousand  hard-earned dollars or more on a winter-time vacation in New York City just because it's such a great place to be in January. It's the emotional ties to Sherlock and Sherlockians that get them there.

One could probably even chart the level of emotion-to-income necessary for fan-based decisions. A wealthy fan can collect on a whim, but a pauper fan can do impressive things based on passion alone. And most of us fall somewhere in the middle, making out choices one day at a time, and hopefully not regretting them later.

What I'm curious about these days, looking at the things money is being spent on, is this: Do we have more money than we used to, or more fannish passion?

Guessing the latter, but as with free writer autographs, I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad about that.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Watson's female troubles.

When Joan Watson turned up as the Watson with lady parts on CBS's Elementary, it was obvious that the variation on Sherlock was heading into new territory. But after a hundred and twenty years of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson almost always the same gender, one had to wonder if there wasn't an unintentional reason for that, and it looks like, in Elementary's third season, we're going to again be reminded of why.

The word is out that the Canonically-named Kitty Winter is coming on board, and she's doing so as Watson's replacement/rival, according to the first reports. Think about that for a moment: Watson's rival. A key part of Holmes and Watson lore for the past century has been their great friendship, which was something Elementary seemed to miss from the get-go, with Joan Watson's "hired sober companion" status making the coupling seem more like a bad arranged marriage than a friendship.

The "Will they eventually fall in love/sleep together?" question has haunted the show even when the producers said otherwise, and Joan Watson's somewhat forced romance with Elementary's version of Mycroft Holmes just pressed the question further. Now that Mr. Elementary has had a romantic rival in season two of their supposedly unromantic relationship, it seems that Mrs. Elementary is going to have one as well, even though she's endured the parade of prostitutes and business-like purely sexual encounters in their open relationship thus far.

While it's very possible for a heterosexual male and a heterosexual female to have a business-like alliance, a partnership of many sorts, or a deep meaningful relationship as friends, it doesn't seems like Elementary can get its head out of traditional gender stereotypes to explore one of those. Watson must remain fairly chaste, only giving herself to the closest thing to her room-mate as possible, while Mr. Elementary sows his wild oats randomly across New York (while somehow not being nearly as charming as a Captain Jack Harkness). For all its superficial attempts to be daringly different, it's almost afraid of its own transgendered Miss Hudson.

Joan Watson endured the appearance of Mr. Elementary's ex-lover, Jamie Moriarty, in season one. She found her own new boyfriend in season two. Now, in season three, it sure seems like she's being replaced by another "not really a girlfriend, but who are we kidding here."

While BBC's Sherlock likes to titillate its fans with a little bromance, the friendship between the two men is the solid core of the show. While Holmes might have a few insecurities when Watson's old friend Major Sholto returns for the wedding, they pass quickly, and when Mary Morstan enters the picture, as nefarious as past might be, Sherlock accepts her into their friendship and goes the distance to protect the Watsons when needed. Could the John Watson of BBC's Sherlock been a Joan and things have played out the same? I almost think it could.

While the Kitty Winter shake-up actually gives me hopes for Elementary's entertainment value in season three, the whole reason for her being there seems just another example of the show's issues with dealing with a male Holmes and a female Watson who just can't be friends and leave it at that. And in 2014, I really think audiences are up for something more than that.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: Black Peter

Three blog posts yesterday and none of them what I should have been writing about: "The Adventure of Black Peter!" Starting on July 10th of 1895, "Black Peter" is apparently one of four tales that inspired Vincent Starrett to pen the words "where it is always 1895" in his poem "221B." Yes, yes, he probably picked it for rhyming with "alive" as much as anything else, but let's see what made 1895 so special, at least in this, the summer story of the four.

Well, that took all of no seconds . . . the very first line of the case is Watson telling us: "I have never known my friend to be in better form, both mental and physical, than in the year '95. His increasing fame had brought with it an immense practice . . . ." Unlike other summer adventures, Sherlock Holmes is working, working, working in 1895, doing things like stopping the plague from spreading and working for the Pope. Putting those last two facts together kind of screams "Dracula" to the imaginative minded, but chronologists for the vampire's history put his attack on England at 1893, so perhaps Cardinal Tosca's death was an after-shock. (Just sayin' -- you know the Sherlockian drive to bring Holmes and the Count together, as little sense as it makes in Holmes's science-and-logic world.)

But I digress . . . we're all about bloody harpoons today. And Sherlock Holmes doing something unusual: conducting an experiment with a harpoon and a pig before he even goes to see the crime scene. He's apparently interested enough in the case to go to the trouble of finding a harpoon and a pig, but just not quite motivated to head out to Woodman's Lee and lend the desperate Stanley Hopkins a hand from the outset. It is a busy month, of course, so perhaps Sherlock thought he could pull a Nero Wolfe and just solve it without leaving town -- he was at the height of his powers after all, so perhaps he'd even solved a few from a chair in Baker Street already that year. And he sort of eventually does.

Holmes apparently did need to get out of London for a bit, because even at his busiest, he decides to kill a few hours by taking a stroll in the woods with Watson and "give a few hours to the birds and flowers." (And if ever there was a phrase that seemed code for a little Johnlock action, that one is probably it. Or else that Holmes was a bird-watcher. I'm not going down either of those paths, but feel free.) Something about summer always seems to make Sherlock Holmes a little more relaxed on his cases, it seems, even at his busiest.

But there is so much goodness to this story involving Holmes doing a lot more than just relaxing. Apprehending two culprits and immediately throwing one back, Captain Basil (If there had been a "Captain Benedict" in another tale, we'd be sure that someone what psychic.), even a trip to Norway . . . Holmes is proactive, imaginative, wise, and all sorts of wonderful in this tale, just as Watson told us.

There's a lot more to comment on in this tale, and I'm sorry for the rather cursory look at this summer case, but it was a rather distracting day yesterday, and unlike Mr. Holmes in 1895, we're not all in our best form in July!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Baker Street dozen Emmy nominations!

What, no "Outstanding Art Direction"? What the Hell, Emmy Awards!!!

Okay, I'm kidding. In an amazing feat this morning, BBC Sherlock's "His Last Vow" captured a full twelve Emmy nominations in all of the same categories as the previous season's "A Scandal in Belgravia" . . . with the excaption of "Outstanding Art Direction." I blame the absence of Lara Pulver and her muse-like inspiration of the art direction, unless you're of the camp that think it was Benedict Cumberbatch's nude scenes that helped that cause.

Sherlock's major opponent in nearly every category this time out is Fargo, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman actually at odds in the best actor category for those two serieses. (For some plainly strategic reason, Martin is in "Best Supporting Actor" for his Sherlock work.) Personally, I have to give a little love to another of Sherlock's competitors, that wonderful Idris Elba BBC series, Luther, which could actually split the Brit-love vote.

Can Sherlock beat the much-beloved, and oh-so American neophyte, Fargo? Will the other nominees break up the winnings for either of those shows? And this is Sherlock's third round in three of its categories -- any Emmy love for a repeat suitor? Just one freakin' Emmy would be nice after seventeen not-quites. And yes, it is an honor just to be nominated. (Poor Orphan Black. She's an orphan!)

Here's the dozen that Sherlock's "His Last Vow" got the nod for, if you want a very capsulized version:

Best TV Movie 
Best Actor (TV Movie or Mini-series)
Best Supporting Actor (TV Movie or Mini-series)
Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special 
Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special 
Outstanding Casting For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special
Outstanding Cinematography For A Miniseries Or Movie

Outstanding Costumes For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Miniseries Or A Movie

Outstanding Music Composition For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special

Outstanding Sound Editing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special

Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Miniseries Or A Movie

And for those of you who are keeping score at home: Elementary still stands with two nominations and no wins from 2013 in the categories of "Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music" and "Outstanding Main Title Design," both of which went to DaVinci's Demons. Which is a shame, because even I'd give an award to Elementary's opening credits.

And now we also have to see if Ian McKellen's newly retitled movie Mr. Holmes is going to be good enough to bring ol' Sherlock Holmes an Oscar for the mantle at 221B Baker Street. Well, that and cross our fingers when the Emmys come on this fall . . . can't get ahead of ourselves.

Your own Clyde and Angus.

I'm sure Howard Ostrom knew I couldn't leave this topic alone when he tweeted about it this morning: The CBS online store is selling Elementary merchandise to the fans. And it seems to be focussing on the non-Canonical side of Elementary, which isn't hard as the show is ninety-eight-point-nine percent non-Canonical.

It's also interesting to note that aside from the mandatory poster and t-shirts, scarves, loads of socks, and NYPD merch, the store seems to have picked the show's non-human characters, Clyde and Angus as its merchandising favorites. (A penny-pinching fan might want to go the way of this tumblr site that shows how to make paper versions of the pair. And I started searching for Clyde and Angus fanfiction, which I seem to remember existing, but wasn't having any luck.)

I never really had any fondness for Angus the phrenology bust, as phrenology is a pretty silly pseudo-science and it showing up so soon as an interest of the modern Mr. Elementary was one more nail in his not-Sherlock-Holmes coffin. And Angus had to serve as a weapon in one episode and was enjoyably smashed, so seeing him resurrected in the CBS store was definitely no thrill.

And while Clyde the turtle has always been a high point of Elementary in my desperate hours of enduring the show, his plushy representation seems a bit crude and not worthy of one of the show's standout performers. Its description does say stuffed Clyde is a puppet, though, so if you want to use him to wake up your co-tenant every morning, he might be good for that. (But here again there is a cheaper route: pull up a chair and just stare creepily at your flatmate like Mr. Elementary does until they wake up.)

Is there actually more Clyde and Angus merch for Elementary than Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson merch? I'll let you be the judge, as I don't know if socks count. (The idea of a Mr. Elementary cosplayer who does that outfit enough to need thirteen different pairs of Mr. Elementary socks is just a wee bit frightening.) But Joan definitely seems to be in short supply, and one would think a line of Joan Watson sleepwear would but just the merch the show needs.

But, hey, if you need to get an Elementary fix to get you over the mid-summer no-show hump, a little CBS store shopping might be right up your alley. They haven't quite lured me just yet.

A claret in Kroger.

Director Francis Ford Coppola never made a Sherlock Holmes movie, but his winery makes a claret.

Does that give him Sherlockian points?

Maybe just a little bit. Claret is such a good Sherlockian wine.

I mean, it was the foundation of a pleasant August afternoon conversation between Holmes and Watson in "Cardboard Box," when Holmes actually got out of work mode and just told stories that didn't make the Canon . . . but oh, how we wish we could have heard them!

And what does Holmes drink with his cookies after three days of absolute fasting in "The Dying Detective?" Claret. If you go for something first after a three-day fast, it must certainly be a favorite.

So the first time I was walking through my local Kroger and saw the word "CLARET" staring up at me from the endcap of the wine section, it was a happy day indeed. And of course I had to pick up a bottle for an upcoming meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton.

Claret isn't a word used much in the wine world these days. If you google it, you don't even get any ads trying to sell you claret, which is in itself a remarkable thing these days. Even Coppola Winery likes to refer to their claret as a "Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc blend" just to make sure modern wine-drinkers know what they're getting.

But a Sherlockian doesn't need to be informed of what they're getting with a claret. Pleasant afternoons with a friend and a much-needed refreshment after a hungry case, just as our friend Sherlock Holmes did.

And Coppola's claret doesn't make you disagree with Holmes, I am happy to say.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

And while we're on the subject of the Doyle Estate . . .

With The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes drawing ever closer to Peoria, I'm starting to look forward to a pleasant October trip to St. Louis to have a look. This comes as a result of being recently reminded of the Doyle Estate's activities to support the image of Sherlock Holmes over the years. The Estate is one of the exhibit's collaborators, and I keep hearing very good things about the tour. So let's look at the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd.'s works for a moment.

"But Brad," one might protest, "the Doyle Estate? What of the dreaded wine brochure incident, your support of the Free Sherlock case, and the fact that they didn't prohibit Elementary from devastating the Sherlockian TV landscape?"

But could anyone have stopped Elementary? And with the recent verdict in Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd., one could actually view them as the underdog at present in the Free Sherlock case, which gives them a certain cachet. And don't bring up the dreaded wine brochure incident, I'm still haunted by something that Mrs. Hudson never, ever said. (But really wanted to, I'm sure. Don't ask.)

The Conan Doyle fan has much to thank the Conan Doyle Estate for: Their part in bringing manuscript material in Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, The Narrative of John Smith, and "Dangerous Work": Diary of an Arctic Adventure" to the world. Their help with Andrew Lycett's biographical research on ACD. But never having been as into Watson's Literary Agent as so many of my fellow Sherlockians, I find it more interesting to look at the Estate's activities in England, where copyright was no longer an issue over a decade ago.

There is a very cool Sherlockian bus bench in London this summer, courtesy of the generous sponsorship of the Doyle Estate. (One you might even be able to acquire for your personal collection this fall, should you have a little extra cash and a great bus-bench delivery service lined up.) They're also helping out with yet another museum show at the Museum of London coming up there in October.

So it's not all lawsuits and licensing fees with the Conan Doyle Estate, as I may have commented after an earlier blog. It will certainly be interesting to see what their future holds for us, however this latest bit finally shakes out.

Monday, July 7, 2014

If corporations are people, what is Sherlock Holmes?

Breaking news over the Google feed is suddenly looking like the fight to free Sherlock Holmes may have one more round in it . . .  a Hail Mary, to be sure, but still one more hope for the Doyle Estate before the matter is dead and buried.

Law 360 has a juicy little tidbit that the Doyle Estate has asked for a stay on the latest court decision while they petition the Supreme Court to consider their case. Will they get it? Will the Supreme Court consider their petition? That in itself a longshot. The highest court in the land gets petitions by the thousands each year, but considers well under ten percent.

One always hates to see court cases drag on and on, but the idea of getting Sherlock Holmes as a topic for the Supreme Court . . . some dark corner of the Sherlockian mind might actually find that a little exciting. And it raises a lot of questions, like . . . .

Are there liberal and conservative sides to the Free Sherlock case?

Is this just a way for the Estate to keep collecting those licensing fees for just a little bit longer?

Are any of the justices old enough to have known Conan Doyle personally?

Sherlockians have been having at it with the Doyle Estate as far back as 1946, so Les Klinger's modern battle is part of a long tradition. In a 1960 issue of The Baker Street Journal, Edgar Smith wrote an opening editorial called "Defiance to the Gods," in which he suggests the journal might well carry the inscription "Published without the permission of the Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" on every issue.

"For why, it may be asked, is permission needed? Mr. Sherlock Holmes is a public figure, and no public figure could conceivably tolerate the indignity of subjecting himself to copyright," Smith wrote, among other great bits. Yay, verily, there were giants in those days!

A Supreme Court case might just put an end to the battle once and for all, but as we've seen in this instance, the Doyle Estate, like Stephen King's Carrie White, is surely bound to thrust a bloody hand out of the grave any time we start thinking the matter is dead and buried. Like any other bureaucratic bit in the modern day, intellectual property isn't likely to become any less messy any time soon.

And our friend Sherlock, in the meantime, seems to be winding up in court a lot more than Professor Moriarty ever did. He might start wishing he went over the falls too, if this keeps up.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A new age of Sherlockian limericks ahead?

There once was a young man name of Sherlock,
Whose pal surely suffered from shell-shock.
Thumping from the next room
Seemed a cannon-like boom,
So dates had to come somewhere down the block.

Sherlockian limericks are one subject we shall probably never ever know enough about. William S. Baring-Gould, creator of our first great annotated Sherlock Holmes, wrote a nice little tome called The Lure of the Limerick. Isaac Asimov have a little collection of his Sherlockian limericks, one per case on each of the sixty stories, published by The Mysterious Press under the title Asimov's Sherlockian Limericks. But the best stuff, the very best stuff, has probably never seen print.

I mean, Asimov's Sherlockian limericks are nice, but have you ever seen his other limericks, which are more of what the bawdy little rhymes are more properly like? The ones where he uses his grown-up words, like the -- excuse me for this offensive way of putting it -- "F-bomb"?

The guy could write a limerick!

But the constraints of polite society are always holding back the limerick, and some of the best I've heard have been during a good social eve of drinks and rhyming where things were made up on the spot and never put into the public record, usually for good reason. Asimov had to have Sherlockian limerick or two that didn't make print, and Baring-Gould? He surely did as well.

Given the level of rowdy sexiness going on out there with things like Red Pants Monday these days, I have to wonder if the Sherlockian limerick might not be coming back in a big way. Sherlock Holmes has never been sexier than he is these days, and a little sex can help make a limerick a lot more fun. As in a certain fellow . . .

Moriarty, suddenly Mr. Sex,
Working hard, criminal empire erects,
Saturday Night Fever
And all kinds of haver,
Charm the ladies much more than his pecs.

Are there any good Sherlock limerick site out there, where under the cover of Tumblr pseudonyms, poets are running wild and free? Let me know.

The mouth of the Baker Street Irregulars.

Who speaks for the Baker Street Irregulars on the internet?

I mean, here I am, blogging all my silliness like a kid trying to get attention, and do you ever see a response from a representative of the group? Sure, there might eventually be some off-hand remark in The Baker Street Journal three months from now, like "some internet parties have been saying . . ." or "the Wiggins does not suffer fools lightly," but the two events will be so disconnected that only a handful will realize there ever was one.

I commented earlier on the lack of B.S.I. presence on the web, when I was looking for some basic history of the club, like who ran it from what date to what date. But when you consider that a young Sherlockian looking for info on the club on the internet as today's young Sherlockians do, they're getting more and more likely to run into my blatherings than something official from the group itself.

Yes, I am (for the moment) still a member, but as many a B.S.I. will tell you should you ever find one, I really don't know what I'm talking about, just trying to make sense of it from a distance like everyone else. And there does seem to be a communication gap, even within the group itself. Take, for example, one bit that the group's commander-in-chief wrote in his mid-year letter to the membership (think "State of the Union" on paper):

"Two recommendations reached me in the recent past which were unique and worthy of noting to the membership. Both missives were the BSI equivalent of 'selfies.' Both individuals had received inexplicable advice from the same Irregular source to self-recommend for BSI membership. It would be surprising to me that any Irregular wouldn't be aware of two old adages: 'one cannot pursue the Irregular Shilling... it can only pursue the individual' and 'the harder one pursues membership, the more elusive it becomes.' These types of entreaties fall into the same category, in my opinion, as individual 'campaigns' or very personal, less objective, recommendations. They are not helpful." 

While I think he just made those "old adages" up, the point is that nobody seems clear on B.S.I. membership policies except for the new adage, "Don't displease the guy making all the choices!" A little web presence might have helped that issue and not gotten those two good Sherlockians placed on the B.S.I. Santa's "naughty" list.

Are the Irregulars possibly afraid to speak up these days for fear of displeasing the "benevolent dictator" by saying something that goes against his wishes? Is that the true reason that Jon Lellenberg was unceremoniously declared outside the ranks of the Irregulars actually the fear that something he said could be taken as official word of the club? Because, let me tell ya, Jon can speak as authoritatively about the Baker Street Irregulars of New York as anyone. Love him or hate him, the man knows his stuff. (Side note: Some wags have suggested that Jon's new status should have XBSI as the letters after his name. I'm thinking "Free BSI" might be more appropriate.)

Some years ago, when the internet was blossoming, there was a chap whom I remember thinking would be the perfect voice for the Baker Street Irregulars on-line, and it seemed for half a moment like he might become that. But that never came to pass, and now he's just a great voice for Sherlockiana on-line, which always seemed to me a great loss to the Irregulars. And again, my personal theory has always been that somebody wanted to remain in tight control of who was speaking officially for the B.S.I.

So here I stand now, *a* voice of the Baker Street Irregulars jabbering away on the interwebs. If somebody wants to step up and start setting the record straight for the group, giving it more than some passive aggressive sniping on Facebook back channels, I'd be delighted to see it. And maybe I'd actually shut up a little bit.

A little bit. I'm a Sherlockian blogger, after all. I have to ramble about something to do with Sherlock Holmes. And the Baker Street Irregulars falls well within my purview. But I shouldn't be the loudest voice on that subject, not by a long shot.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The British government does a Mycroft.

Sherlock Holmes's motivations for going the places he did during his Great Hiatus from the London detective business during the early 1890s have always been ripe for speculation among Sherlockians. I myself have lately keyed in on his old friend Victor Trevor, but once source that never fails to come up is his brother Mycroft, the man who was the British government. Sherlockians, including those behind the BBC Sherlock series, just love sending Sherlock on secret missions for the Crown at brother Mycroft's direction.

So when the news came out a couple of days ago that the British government was sending Sherlock Holmes to North Korea with a specific purpose in mind, it just didn't seem all that odd to the Sherlockian mind.

Sure, the basic facts of the matter are just that a government expense spreadsheet had a line item about paying for the rights to show BBC Sherlock at the Pyongyang International Film Festival in North Korea, but headlines like The Telegraph's "Sherlock Holmes sent to 'encourage change' in North Korea" accompanied by photos of Kim Jong Un seeming to watching Benedict Cumberbatch with delight are practically playing that grand Game that used to be just the territory of Sherlockians. (Who knows? With so many Sherlock fans out there, maybe the Telegraph's headline writers do contain a Game-playing Sherlockian or two.)

The government's purpose in sending the film is indeed listed as "Encouraging change," and even though the column for "Human Rights element" is marked with a "No," I suspect they got that last bit wrong. For while depriving North Koreans of BBC Sherlock might not be up there with imprisonments and executions, well, there might be one or two Sherlock Holmes fans in North Korea that heard about the show through the grapevine and is feeling a bit tortured by its absence. (Yes, it's a stretch, but we're Sherlockians. We're supposed to stretch for Sherlock.)

I also have to suspect that North Korean officials have already seen CBS's Elementary, for in May they made the statement to the press, "the U.S. is a living hell." So sending BBC Sherlock might be a major humanitarian effort in that case as well. (Insert evil grin upon blogger's face here.)

But in the end, it all comes back to feeling a lot like the hand of Mycroft Holmes, once more sending his baby brother on a mission . . . and one more mission that it seems like he could succeed at as well. For Sherlock Holmes has changed the world of a lot of people I know in a lot of countries. Why not North Korea as well?

Friday, July 4, 2014

What if a woman ran the Baker Street Irregulars of New York?

In trying to make sense of the current state of the Baker Street Irregulars, of late, the best comparison I can come up with seems to be that of a micro-brewery. All year long, the micro-brewery toils away with its product lines available to that limited segment of the public that knows about them and is interested in its product, and then, once a year, the micro-brewery has a special private party for its favorite customers. They can come, share their love of the micro-brewery, and over time, a beer festival grows up around the outskirts of the private party for beer drinkers in general.

Trying to look at the B.S.I. work as an Academy Awards situation just wasn't working as an analogy, given the lack of voting by the "Academy" and some other details,  but I think the micro-brewery comparison, where the brewing is publishing and the archives a museum dedicated to the little business just makes more sense. It's just so . . .  manly.

Which sparked an entirely different line of thinking: what would the flagship of American Sherlockian societies look like if it was being run by women instead of men?

Our first point of reference, of course, would be the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. No publishing arm, no university archives, just an ongoing social whirl with a nice little publication that doesn't try to be anything more than a part of the society's fun. No pushes for "record sales" or beefing up the subscriber base by advocating gift subscriptions to libraries. The Adventuresses have been a visible social presence at many a Sherlockian event, rallying 'round for a picture or hosting an impromptu gathering. It could be that the Principal Unprincipled Adventuress has remained constant for so long, but there's been a steadiness there, through the impact of giving up their Holmes birthday dinner when the landscape changed or even allowing men into their ranks.

Our second point of reference would plainly be the Baker Street Babes. While I tend to see them more as a coalition of entertainers (writers, podcasters, event organizers) who are also friends, they tend to get mentioned whenever gender-based groups come up, probably because older guys tend to see the word "Babe" as strictly feminine. But the Baker Street Babes have never given any other impression than that they're all about having fun, and they've reminded me of the legendary tales the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes revels since early on.

And actually, that was the same feeling you got from the Baker Street Irregulars early on, when the Game was being played in earnest and the name of A.C.D. was never mentioned. So then one starts to wonder if it is truly the gender of those in charge or the age of the institution. In eighty years will the Baker Street Babes be a tightly-run, business-like organization while some newer upstart group is hosting parties at the New Madrid Holo-Con? I sure hope not, but people get funny about preserving the ideas of their youth when they get old, rather than looking to the young for inspiration.

Still, I'd be very curious as to what the other side of the gender coin would look like when it comes to the elder American Sherlock club.

The Sherlock Holmes School of Flag Design.

I really think I would have liked Sherlock Holmes.

Not because of the detective skills, or the adventures, but just because of the way he thought.

"It is always a joy to me to meet an American," he said to Frances Hay Moulton in "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," "for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a Minister in far gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes."

Impractical, idealistic . . . the kind of thing that most Americans or Britons would pooh-pooh without a second thought. It was one of those moments we got to see Sherlock Holmes use his fertile imagination for something other than spinning alternative theories to explain a set of circumstances. Sherlock Holmes the dreamer coming to the fore. The kind of guy who would just make up an occupation from whole cloth and spend his life making it come true.

The idea of bringing up America rejoining England on our Independence Day seems a bit counter-intuitive, but Sherlock Holmes doesn't say, "will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the world-wide British Empire." He says "world-wide country" . . . that apparently, England and America were going to run between them.

But if you ever look at attempts to show what "a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes" looks like, you may have noticed that most often you see both flags repeated twice in alternate corners of the new flag. Quarters of the flag . . . like there's really room for two other countries to be splitting the world with America and England. But what could those countries have been in Holmes's mind? Canada and Australia? Russia and China? Germany and France? Spain and Japan? Or perhaps the four major historical lands of the British Empire, America, Canada, India, and Australia, all quartering a Union Jack somehow, with Britain as their District of Columbia. (That, however, would have been a little more sneakily bringing in British dominance than Holmes's friendly statement would imply.)

See, it's just a fantastic, impractical notion, this world-wide Union Jack/Stars and Stripes nation notion of Sherlock Holmes. But that's what makes it kind of cool. A sign that Sherlock Holmes liked to play.

And even though it may be hard to work out in its details, the idea that a patriotic American and a patriotic Briton could live together as a part of one proud global nation is something that we Americans can even embrace on our Independence Day. 

For as independent as we may be from foreign rule, we're still part of this one great planet. And in our best moments, we don't need space aliens to come fight with Will Smith as they blow up major cities to bind us all together as Earthlings, as happened in the movie Independence Day (a film that Sherlock Holmes might have really liked, considering what he said above).

So "Happy World-wide Country Day, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!" I'm kind of a dreamer as well.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Gloria Scott

"I have some papers here," said my friend Sherlock Holmes, as we sat one winter's night on either side of the fire . . .

Definitely not summer again, as Dr. Watson frames the circumstances in which Sherlock Holmes told him about the tragic history of the prison ship Gloria Scott. Not summer for Watson, anyway, but what is there to talk about, when winter's cold has you trapped inside trying to keep warm?


And in "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott," we get to hear of not only Sherlock Holmes in summer, but young Sherlock Holmes on summer break from college. And not only college Sherlock on summer break, but college Sherlock on a summer break hanging out with a close friend who isn't Watson.

That bears repeating: a close friend who isn't Watson.

While our modern TV Sherlocks like to emphasize that Watson is a rare specimen in befriending this odd duck that is Sherlock Holmes, the original tales literally tell a different story. Holmes wasn't much for idle socializing, that is true. He was focussed on the art of detection, and becoming a Sherlock Holmes takes a bit of time and focus. But when circumstances put a decent fellow like Victor Trevor in his life, Sherlock Holmes seems to have had no problem accepting that friendship.

And Sherlock is interested in people, too. The way he speaks of Trevor senior is that of someone he found fascinating, not just as a specimen for observation and deduction, but as a man whose experiences around the world and strength of mind made him well worth talking to.

Sherlock Holmes has the company of his college buddy and his buddy's interesting father, "a small but select library," wild duck hunting, and more of that fishing we have observed him doing elsewhere on a summer case. There is probably more vacation to this case than any other in the sixty stories. And more of Sherlock Holmes just relaxing in the company of fellow human beings.

Victor Trevor, as I said, was a close friend of Sherlock Holmes, a young man who, in different circumstances, might have been John H. Watson, had his father's death and the potential scandal surrounding it not made him want to flee England. Those were different times, and finding you were a convict's son rather than the son of a respected justice of the peace might make one fear being socially outcast enough to take the step prematurely.

Sherlock Holmes and Victor Trevor stayed in touch, as Sherlock reports to Watson that Trevor is doing well after emigrating to Terai. And that's where it gets interesting. Because when, after bringing down Moriarty, Sherlock is forced to leave England and Watson behind for a time, where does he go?

"I travelled for two years in Tibet," he tells Watson later. Two years. And we never exactly hear just why Sherlock Holmes would want to go to Tibet for two years. Sure, a great place to explore, but it's a big world . . . why specifically Tibet?

Perhaps, knowing he had to be away from London for an extended period, Sherlock Holmes headed for his other close friend besides Dr. Watson: Victor Trevor, who now lived in Nepal, right next door to Tibet. One can imagine that, over the years, Trevor's letters weren't just "Hey, Sherlock, I'm doing well out here in Nepal!" There were probably a bit of, "Hey, old buddy, come on out and let's explore Tibet! It'd make a great vacation!" in there, too.

Sherlockian biographers have long conjectured that Holmes used the hiatus to reacquaint himself with Irene Adler, but getting back together with Victor Trevor, Sherlock's first friend with a bull pup, makes a lot more sense.

And in that case, Holmes made his summer vacation last two whole years. Pity Trevor wasn't the writer Watson was, or we might have had a really great tale to add to the Apocrypha.