Friday, December 30, 2016

Happy New Year from the Triple K Ranch!

By now, I'm sure that we've all heard enough references to the second day after Christmas and "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" for this year. In fact, if you quit reading after seeing them mentioned in that first sentence, I wouldn't blame you. But the holidays aren't over yet!

While you'll hear many a mention of that "second morning after Christmas," the line you probably won't hear in the week ahead is "On the fourth day after the New Year I heard my father give a sharp cry of surprise as we sat together at the breakfast table."


Well, a.) It's not about Holmes or Watson.

And, b.) "The Five Orange Pips" is not a happy holiday tale like that other one.

In fact, at New Year's when we celebrate the fresh new year ahead of us, "Five Orange Pips" is a tale of the grim inevitability of oncoming doom. And the character who speaks that line above is dead by story's end, with Sherlock Holmes found impotent in stopping that grim outcome.

Any other year, it would be easy to just skip the New Year's reference in "Five Orange Pips" and move on to Sherlock Holmes's (celebrated) birthday on January 6. But this year? This . . .  year?

Well, if "orange" isn't already a trigger word for you, the return of the villains of "Five Orange Pips" to the forefront of American public consciousness with their post-election celebrations should tell you exactly why this week is the perfect time for a re-read of "The Five Orange Pips."

It's that oh-so American institution that I like to call the Triple K Ranch, just because they don't deserve the dignity of a full reference. It's why, coming from the clan Keefauver, we have to take care not to name children "Kevin Keith" or "Kathryn Kyla." It's why our Halloween ghost outfits must be sure to drape roundly over our heads and not have a point. And it's why we don't celebrate "The Five Orange Pips" the way we do many other classic Holmes cases from that first set of short stories.

Being set an ocean away from the horrors of its American source society, "Five Orange Pips" even has some politely British drowning murders instead of the horrors perpetrated on American shores. Watson's agent was selling stories for casual entertainment after all. And Sherlockians of the last century have jokingly sent each other envelopes with five orange seeds on occasion . . . which isn't nearly as horrific as burning a cross on another Sherlockians lawn. So far as we know, the pip thing wasn't real . . . or was it?

Sherlock Holmes solves what he solves of this case by reading from K volume of "the American Encyclopaedia," where he finds "Its power was used for political purposes, principally for the terrorizing of the negro voters, and the murdering or driving from the country of those who were opposed to its views. Its outrages were usually preceded by a warning sent to the marked man in some fantastically but generally recognized shape -- a spring of oak leaves in some parts, melon seeds or orange-pips in others."

Sherlockians don't like to dwell overmuch upon the villains in question, so I can't . . . or maybe just decided not to . . . remember any articles going into American history to discuss the use of leaves or seeds to warn victims. The warning of victims so subtly does not seem like a common practice for the kind of brutality we associate with the Klan in America in any case. Usually the horrors they perpetrated were the warning for everyone else.

And there was horror there. Not all nice friendly fruit seeds and drowning in rivers during a storm.

Which is why it's a good reason to perhaps make "The Five Orange Pips" our New Year's reading this year. Not so we can resign ourselves to oncoming doom, but so we can learn from Sherlock Holmes's lesson in this case . . . sometimes some silly little orange thing is something you should take seriously, and take it seriously a lot quicker than you think you should take it seriously.

Or maybe we've already learned that lesson the hard way and just have to, like Sherlock Holmes, deal with living with the results and learn to be a better detective going forward. And hope the shipwreck doesn't take too many innocent sailors down with it.

"We did at last hear that somewhere far out in the Atlantic a shattered sternpost of a boat was seen swinging in the trough of a wave . . . ."

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Molly Hooper, keeper of secrets.

This morning, I started fearing for Molly Hooper.

I've been fearing for a lot of the folk in BBC Sherlock in the last month, as dark rumors circulate about the coming fourth season. Mary Morstan Watson seems to be a marked woman, as her apparent death goes back to the originals, and the dangerous past of Sherlock's Mary just raises the odds of something dire either headed toward her or resulting from her.

Molly seems very nearly sheltered next to Mary, despite the fact she also seems the most vulnerable person in Sherlock's circle. But I wasn't too worried about her until I started considering her place in all of this. Molly Hooper is the biggest addition to this new Canon of Holmes. Anderson and Donovan are just new names for old Scotland Yard extras, despite their more developed characters. Molly is something special. The one who seems to love Sherlock most of all. (Yes, yes, Johnlockers, John, but I'm going Sherlolly on this . . .)

We know from the start of Molly's crush on Sherlock. And when she starts dating someone else, Sherlock immediately deduces that her new boyfriend is gay and she just can't see it. When she starts dating a second time, that new someone else is disturbingly Sherlock-like in appearance. So a.) She is attracted to Sherlock, and b.) Sherlock thinks she likes gay guys.

Now, consider what we see in Sherlock's mind palace in that lengthy "Abominable Bride" fantasy. In the Victorian world of Sherlock's mind, Molly Hooper must pretend to be a man to get what she wants in life. On the surface, that would be her job, but as a metaphor in Sherlock's head? Might mental Molly be pretending to be a man to attract a man who knows he only likes other men?

And we've always known who Molly wants to attract.

Molly is Sherlock's non-family secret keeper, a role she took on when he faked his own death. And if more of Sherlock's secrets are going to come out in season four, perhaps we'll see another secret that Molly has been keeping for him come out as well. And if all of Sherlock's secrets come out?

Well, maybe there's no need for a secret-keeper any more. And that bodes nothing good for dear Molly.

This pre-season Sherlock pondering is just a worrisome thing.

Passing judgement.

"And yet I wanted to find one man of judgement to whom I can tell my terrible story, so that when I am gone all might be understood."
-- Eugenia Ronder

So much in that one line these days. Gender dynamics. "Who tells your story." And judgement . . . something that was once sought out, but is now just one more undocumentable field in which even the most idiotic can claim to have skills. 

Judging is an interesting thing. When I was a kid, I remember my farm-based cousins taking their livestock to the fair to be judged every year. Animals don't get offended when you judge them, so far as we know, and when you're being kept as livestock by another species, well, that species has probably earned the right to judge you. What does this have to do with Sherlockiana?

Well, I was feeling rather judge-y today, seeing some of the upcoming tweetalongs for the three-years-in-the-waiting next episode of BBC Sherlock. And that could have been what today's blog entry was about. But why risk irritating folks who find such things pleasurable, right? I mean, Elementary still exists, if that was all I wanted to do.

Yet judging things has been a part of Sherlockiana as long as their has been Sherlockiana. Rating stories. Reviewing pastiches, whatever their medium. Making commandments of what must or must not be included in a "proper" Sherlock Holmes tale. Choosing Sherlockians to attend a private dinner or join a private club. Some people really love the judge-y parts of the hobby, most certainly when they get to be the self-appointed judge.

And that can be a lovely thing, if you can be sufficiently entertaining at it. But then people might have to judge how entertaining you're being, and . . . oh, the worm suddenly turns!

I think that's why I like returning to the Canon when my Sherlockiana wanders too far off what feels like the appropriate path. The Canon of Holmes is our source of truth, Sherlock-wise, and when you're down to the truth of things, there is not much need for judgement. And in those cases where judgement might be needed, as in the disposition of a murderer the Yard has missed, well, Sherlock Holmes is there to provide it.

He was, after all the "one man of judgement" that Eugenia Ronder knew to head for. John Watson, while not on her radar, was most certainly one as well, being consulted by Sherlock on multiple occasions regarding such things. We do enjoy watching those two pass judgement, something we will allow them to do before any other human beings we know.


Well, first, this is where we get back to truth. Sherlock Holmes was better than any man alive at discerning the truth of a situation, and as much as we love our opinions, we should always love the truth more. It's what made Sherlock Holmes famous, pulling truth from confusion like a magician pulling a something from a something else.

And second, we like to see Sherlock and John passing judgement for what they don't do. While they may pass judgement on those who willfully or accidentally head down a criminal path, they don't pass judgement on us.

There might be a lesson there. And, by the by, if you judge that I misspelled judgment for this entire blog post, you might be half-right . . . and not Conan Doyle.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Sherlock and the unreadable book.

There are those Sherlock Holmes related gifts you talk about, and there are those that remain unmentioned, yet have the certain . . . potential.

'Tis the season for the family and friends to sometimes kindly tip their non-deerstalker caps to their local Holmes fan with special gift or two. One could say knowing a fan makes the gift-giving easier . . . which it can, if there are so many specialty items out there that no one could already own them all, as stands our current Sherlockian state. Or one could put it down to a remembrance that "Hey, not as big a fan as you, but Sherlock Holmes is still cool."

In any case, gifts.

This year brought a couple nice surprises my way, and an interesting juxtaposition of gifts at that.

One, from a particularly clever nephew and his particularly clever family, was a wooden puzzle box called "The Sherlock." Containing fifty-two different problems to solve, the puzzle box's instructions explain it thus: "Fire up your keen sense of observation and unlock your superior Sherlockian mind to crack the mysterious case of the wooden puzzle like a true detective. Just pick a challenge card, examine every nook and cranny of the indicated rods, eliminate the impossible, and strategically fit them into the cube until they lock into place."

Though heavy on the spatial dynamics, "The Sherlock," indeed, does come as close to replicating a case for Sherlock Holmes in a wooden puzzle as I've seen. Presented with a number of facts in the form of wooden pieces with the knowledge that somehow they all fit together to make sense of the whole, powers of observation, deduction, and eliminating the impossible all do come into play. In fact, I would say there is more Sherlockian method used in solving "The Sherlock" than in the larger share of latter-day Sherlock Holmes stories out there. I've already decided I'm going to have to ration out the fifty-two challenges (pity it wasn't fifty-six or sixty!) to make the enjoyment last.

And while "The Sherlock" was a lovely gift for running your mind around, its counterpoint was the present I got for the Sherlockian who wants to use no brain power at all, and, in fact, wants to use their head in that lazy, lazy fashion of Sherlock Holmes when bored and not on a case: The Olde Book Pillow from ThinkGeek, an edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes filled with stuffing instead of words.

There are a few unreadable editions from the Canon out there: the plastic chew-toy version of The Hound of the Baskervilles for dogs comes quickly to mind, as does one segment of an end table designed to look like a stack of books. But this fluffy tome might be just the voodoo to fill your head with dreams of Holmes and Watson, t'were you inclined to nap on its nicely done covers.

I hope that didn't sound too much like ad copy, but reporting upon the new Sherlock bits post-holiday is probably a Sherlockian blogger standard . . . if there are enough of us to have a standard . . . and there probably are, out there on Tumblr, somewhere, but . . . oh, well, time to get some rest.

I think it's time for pillow Sherlock over puzzle Sherlock. Hope the holidays were kind and spared you from the ritual sacrifice of your village or town, and maybe even saw a nice Sherlockian item or two as well.

Rocket Raccoon declares war on the other
Christmas presents.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A different Sherlock Holmes tale for a different holiday.

Maybe you've gotten to your yuletide reading of "Blue Carbuncle" already, and maybe you haven't just yet. In either case, one short story is hardly enough to fill the entire month of December, so let me recommend another case from the Canon in celebration of another of the holidays this season brings: the winter solstice.

The winter solstice lies at the heart of nearly every other holiday you can name at this time of year, that point when every culture in this hemisphere gets its shortest day and longest night. The season of long, dark nights needs something to pick up our spirits right in its center, and so cultures both modern and ancient seem to have always found some excuse to move one of their holidays here. And what Sherlock Holmes story is the best holiday read for the longest night of the year?

It's not too hard to come up with that one: "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."

It has a touch of Christmas in it, if you need that extra push, but no other tale in the Canon may be as strongly night-oriented as "Speckled Band" -- the perfect way to commemorate a long, dark night.

Whistles in the dead of night. A sudden death amid a stormy night with a howling gale. A clearer night with Holmes and Watson walking to Stoke Moran after eleven at night. Then the vigil as they sit into the night, waiting for the unknown . . . "Twelve o'clock, and one, and two, and three, and still we sat waiting for whatever might befall."

And then, in that darkest hour of the night, between three and four A.M., a sudden small gleam of light from a ventilation duct! Yet in this case, unlike the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, the light signals deadly danger still to come. And yet another half hour passes in complete darkness.

Even though Watson sees nothing, Sherlock Holmes strikes, and lights his own lights, first a match and then a lamp. And with that light, he reveals the truth behind what only took place in darkness before.

If "Blue Carbuncle" is the best tale for Christmas socializing, feasting, and fun, "Speckled Band" is the perfect tale to commemorate the Winter Solstice and its longest night. For no night was surely any longer for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that sitting in Stoke Moran waiting for invisible death to strike. It might be a true horror story, if not for Sherlock Holmes, whose keen eye and ready hand kept watch through that night . . . a spirit that lies within every Sherlockian to some degree through every long dark night. A lesser detective than Holmes might not have faced the source of danger straight on, might have become distracted or drowsed as the night wore on.

We never learn whether or not Helen Stoner slept peacefully in her old bedroom while Holmes and Watson stood guard, but by three in the morning, surely she had found some rest before the house was stirred up by her two secret protectors. So whether you take the path of John Watson, staying awake, or Helen Stoner, trying to get some sleep, Sherlock Holmes is a comforting presence in any dark night. Even the longest one the year has to offer.

So, happy Winter Solstice! Sleep tight, and don't let the bed adders bite!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sherlockian Christmas is weird.

And now, a Christmas message from Mr. Sherlock Holmes:

"I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies . . . I suppose that I am committing a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong again. He is too terribly frightened. Send him to gaol now, and you make him a gaol-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which also a bird will be the chief feature."

Or, to put it more plainly:
"It's not our job. Screw the law. We scared him straight. The prison system sucks. But, hey, that was fun, wasn't it? Let's eat!"

You'll note that the latter translation leaves out the part of the quote most Sherlockians would go to for their Christmas cards: ". . . it is the season of forgiveness."

In his Christmas speech, Holmes gives about five other reasons for letting James Ryder go other than pure forgiveness. Forgiveness is a bit like the Christmas bow he's just putting on top of the package as he hands it to Dr. Watson, who, depending upon which Watson you favor, may have been just waiting for the "Let's eat!" part. (That Watson would be the Nigel Bruce one, in case you were wondering.)

This, of course, followed Holmes and Watson taking a holiday guest back to Baker Street who was half-hoping to get a present, but just got a glass of brandy and a couple of commands to "Get out!" after his tale was told.

Being a Sherlockian at Christmas has its weird side, with "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" being our holiday tale. It's easy to focus on the beginning of the story and take our traditions from wishing our friends "Compliments of the season" on the second day after Christmas . . . but should we also be inviting people into our homes for a glass of brandy and a tale, then shout at them to "GET OUT!" at the appropriate moment, just before dinner?

Well, no, but it does sound a little bit like fun, doesn't it?

Okay, maybe not, for those of you who don't Scrooge it up a bit on Christmas. For those with a bit of the "humbug" in their souls, however, frightening hotel attendants might be just the Grinch-y activity their Sherlockian lights look for. Because, after all, "it is the season of forgiveness," right? People have got to forgive your crabby "Get out!" shouting, especially after you gave them some brandy.

I don't know. This entire post started on a completely different subject, but being "the season of forgiveness," I let that one go. I even let go of using "I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies" as Sherlock Holmes's own critique of CBS's Elementary . . . though, whoops, I did just slip it in, devil that I am.

Back to the holiday season and to not trying to do too many "Blue Carbuncle" tributes . . . being a Sherlockian can just get a little weird at this time of year . . . .

Sunday, December 18, 2016

It wasn't an award for gaslighting! Honest!

We all know that facts aren't what they used to be, of late.

There are even those narcissists and other manipulative sorts who like using a little ploy called "gaslighting," wherein they try to convince their prey that noooooo, reality didn't happen the way they remember it. It happened the way the manipulator said it happened, regardless of what the actual facts were. Not a good thing at all, this gaslighting business.

And as I was contemplating matters of Watsonian dates this morning, and an article I wrote back in 1983 on the subject, I was reminded of a fact that sounds a lot different now than it did then . . . I was the proud winner of Sherlockiana's first "Gaslight Award" in 1984.

Um . . . yeah . . . "gaslight."

The award's inaugural announcement was printed on the inside cover of the March 1983 issue of The Baker Street Journal. Gaslight Publications, "in gratitude for continued success and support from the Sherlock Holmes community," was creating the award for "a monograph of permanent value to the study of the Sherlock Holmes Canon." A very grand pronouncement, that, though unfortunately, the phrase "Gaslight Award" didn't quite have the "permanent value" itself of the works it sought to reward.

The article that I eventually won the award and its one hundred dollar prize with . . . a bit of a debacle in itself . . . was a piece published in the June 1983 issue of The Baker Street Journal, called "Upon the Relative Reliability of Watson and Wilson." It put forth an idea I've been touting ever since, that Dr. Watson is the ultimate source of truth when it comes to dating the cases of Sherlock Holmes. The piece's logic was pretty sound, its facts quite factual. No gaslighting to it at all.

But now?

Well, if you ever find anything in this blog's essays disagreeable or totally delusional, you've got all the ammo you need to discredit the writer of same: "Everybody knows that Keefauver is the original winner of the Gaslight Award! You can't go by what he says!"

Yep. That's the kind of resume material I've got in Sherlockiana. (We won't even get into the part where the award's creator was later suspected of murder by local law enforcement.) But I guess I shouldn't talk . . . some folks actually had their work published by "Gaslight Publications" before it went out of business. And I don't think they were gaslighting anyone either . . .

Sherlockian dinosaur battle!

There is perhaps no older character-based fandom that Sherlockiana. Once a group gets older than Sherlockian fandom, it usually starts looking a lot like a religion. And you can even see things having trended that way in the elder parts of Sherlock-world, something I was reminded of this week when Ray Betzner's Studies in Starrett blog came out with Ellery Queen's forgotten review of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

No, no, not Billy Wilder's movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The two guys who formed "Ellery Queen," Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Leopofsky (both using yet another layer of pseudonyms under their "Ellery Queen") were both alive when the movie came out, and only sixty-five (which was a lot older back in 1970) so they might have reviewed the movie. But in this particular case, it was still 1933 and they were reviewing Vincent Starrett's book, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

 And they weren't being very nice about it.

This revelation might come as a stunner to many a modern old-school Sherlockian, as that segment of fandom was pretty much raised to consider The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes a holy book and Vincent Starrett of prophet of the Sherlockian faith. He was, after all, one of the guys doing what we do now in 1933, a real pioneer in the field. As with so many things past, whose impact is lessened on a modern reader who comes upon it much more aware than their 1933 counterpart, we pretty much assume from current reverence that such a book was praised in its day. But no . . .

Ellery Queen pans the book so badly that even he himself admits in the review "undoubtedly I have been appallingly unfair to Mr. Starrett." Ellery Queen isn't even that high on his fellow Sherlock Holmes fans in the review, leading off with "There has never been a more rabid, intolerant, and jealous tribe than the Loyal Order of Sherlock Holmes Enthusiasts. And, more than that, so hypercritical."

Is Ellery Queen trying to be funny, or were the Sherlockians of that time just dicks?

I've met a few Sherlockians who fall into that category, and anyone familiar with the "just Cumberbatch fangirls" garbage from a few years back know that those guys are still out there. And I know that a few old school Sherlockians would put me in that category whenever I make a comment similar to Ellery Queen's and go "C'mon, Vincent Starrett wasn't that great!"

But I remember being disappointed upon seeing Starrett's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes on a paperback book rack at the Pekin Mall Walgreen's for the first time and realizing it wasn't a novelization of Billy Wilder's movie. And then being disappointed again when Starrett's chapter on Sherlock Holmes's methods seemed pretty weak sauce. (So disappointed that it spurred me to write a book-length treatise on those methods to fill the void.) But, man, I never was as hard on Starrett as Ellery Queen went in his review.

What's interesting now is that as the fortunes of mystery genre popularity has shifted with time, a modern Sherlockian might have heard the name "Vincent Starrett" more often than "Ellery Queen," where once that was not the case. Ellery Queen's detective "Ellery Queen" isn't much heard from these days, while Starrett's poem "221B" is still in high rotation among the the Sherlockian faithful. (In fact, I can't remember the last time I thought of Ellery Queen prior to this blog post.)

Reading Ellery Queen's review now is a bit like seeing a tyrannosaurus rex attack a triceratops -- the rare spectacle of two behemoths from long ago battling. But really, they weren't giant writer-monsters completely unlike us -- they were just fans. (The Queens were less than thirty years old when they wrote that review!) They might have been talented, been able to break new ground due to their place in history, but as the Queen review reminds us, they were just fans in a world of other fans. If they never existed, other Sherlock Holmes fans would have risen to take their place, and BBC Sherlock would surely still be coming out this January even if things had been different in 1933, as Sherlock Holmes is still Sherlock Holmes.

And he will probably keep going long after us, just as he kept going so long before us.

Seventy-four years from now, somebody is going to be digging up a Lyndsay Faye review of some piece of fanfic we don't yet know will be cherished by Sherlockians in decades to come and go, "See? They were fanzibbets back then just like we're fanzibbets now!"

And time will just keep marching on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The greatest muggle of all.

These days, it's easy to feel like quite the muggle.

"Muggle" for the three people out there who've never heard the word, is the unkindly term for a non-magical human in the Harry Potter books. (In England . . . apparently, as we've recently learned via the movies, in America the common term is "no-maj.")

Perhaps the most memorable line from all of the Harry Potter's books is the pronouncement: "You're a wizard, Harry!" by the semi-giant Hagrid. Curiously, there's a parallel line in the tales of Sherlock Holmes. Actually, more than one.

"I believe that you are a wizard, Mr. Holmes."

"Mr. Holmes, you are a wizard, a sorceror!"

"Mr. Holmes, you are a wizard."

"Holmes, you are a wizard."

Ironically, unlike Harry Potter, who only had to be told once, Sherlock Holmes is told that multiple times for one very simple reason: He was not actually a wizard.

Sherlock Holmes was the muggliest muggle of them all. He didn't believe in ghosts. ("The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.") And while he doesn't come out and disagree with anyone's belief in the devil, he flatly states he has no influence over the devil's realm. ("I fear that if the matter is beyond humanity it is certainly beyond me.")

Yes, the powers that Sherlock Holmes possessed were completely and entirely those of a regular old human being. We forget that sometimes, which is easy to do. A lot of Harry Potter fans have wound up as Sherlock Holmes fans of late, partly due to the charm of a certain television show, but also, surely, due to Holmes's wizard-like talents. Yet in the end, if you're looking for the fictional wizard whom Holmes is most like, you have to turn not to Harry Potter, but Tavi of the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. Tavi is the one person born without ties to the elemental magic of his world and must work his way through life faking that ability through sheer cleverness. (Things change for him, of course, but his muggle-ish days are certainly his best.)

Sherlock Holmes isn't a wizard. He isn't even a Scotland Yard detective. He isn't a doctor. He isn't a priest. He holds no government post. Sherlock Holmes isn't anyone's boss. He has no powers whatsoever, actually, other than the ability to think outside the box, to pay attention to connections other people miss, and use skills that are commonplace in one arena for purposes that aren't normally seen used for.

Sherlock Holmes is, perhaps, the greatest muggle of all time. The outsider who manages to master any realm, be it criminal, political, or household, by wit and vision. No magical powers at all. At this point, Sherlock Holmes has been around so long that we often forget that. At this point, he's an accepted part of of lexicon, a name you can shorthand with, going "Oh, you're a Sherlock Holmes!" and not think any further about the matter, which is pretty much the same to most as going, "Oh, you're just magic!" And that is definitely making a mistake.

Because even though Sherlock Holmes might have been the greatest muggle of them all, he was, to be very sure, a muggle. Just like the rest of us. That is the best thing about him. That is a goodly part of why he stays with us, iconic and wonderful. And it is why he stands as an inspiration to those who discover him to this day.

Wizards can be very cool. Very fun to watch. But at the end of the day, I always come back to that great muggle, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Because he's one of us. And there's hope in that.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Well, if the streets are buzzing with baby name news about BBC Sherlock, I might as well go with it tonight.

Rob Nunn asked if the name of the Watsons' new baby, coyly advertised as a birth announcement in the Telegraph, had Canonical significance.

Well, unless you count "Rosamund" as a mashup of painter Salvator Rosa and young constable Edmunds, the answer would be "no."

But Salvator Rosa was mentioned in The Sign of Four, the original Canonical tale where the originals of Rosamund Watson's parents met. And Edmunds appears in "The Veiled Lodger," which does remind one of how we last saw Mary Morstan-Watson enter the mind-play of "The Abominable Bride," coming to Baker Street hidden in a veil.

Salvator Rosa is kind of interesting, said by some to have spent time living among roving bandits, and painting one piece called "Justice leaving the Earth." He also wrote satire. Edmunds isn't around for Holmes to solve his case, however, and is sent off to India.

If "Rosamund Mary Watson" is at all original Canon based, it may find a source in Holmes's quote, "What a lovely thing a rose is!" combined with the second half of the original name-source which finds "mund" meaning "protection."

Because if John and Mary Watson are going to be having a baby, everybody better be all about protection. I just worry that her middle name, "Mary," isn't a tribute to her late mother. (Watson as a single dad, though . . . is that even possible?)

All in all, it is probably just an echo of Rosamund Marriott Watson, the Victorian poet, who apparently liked to use "aggression in marriage" as one of her themes . . . hmm, that's not a dandy omen at all. She also married an Australian named "Armytage," and doesn't that conjure up a certain Sherlockian character who, in his way, might have triggered the entire Sherlockian Canon.

All sorts of theories swirling about right now, but in the end, Rosamund is just a baby. Probably not going to pull a gun on anyone is an unexpected act of betrayal or anything too dramatic . . . at least not this season.

But she's on her way, along with the rest of season four of Sherlock. 


Children of Watson.

I don't think it really hit me until today what we're going to see in BBC Sherlock that we've practically never seen in mainstream Sherlockiana before: Watson and a baby.

Now I'm sure fanfic, that ready generator of potential alternate reality, has hit upon the subject. Heck, Watson has probably popped multiple babies out of his own birth canal by now in alternate universe territory. But bookstore pastiche, despite more than a hundred years of effort, along with movies and television, has been pretty well mum on the subject.

I mean, babies don't solve mysteries, right?

Watson's grown children and grandchildren find their Sherlocks, find John's hidden tin dispatch boxes, carry the name forward into the present or future. But almost without variation, we encounter them as grown adults. We never see John H. Watson as a father. We never consider John H. Watson as a father.

When the primary relationship in a man's life that anyone is interested in is that time during his single years when he lived with another man on Baker Street (so, maybe he wasn't single . . .), there is little room for a father/child relationship. In fact, there is so little room for a husband/wife relationship outside of his partnership with Holmes that we surely unconsciously ignore the possibility of fatherhood and the abandonment issues it brings up.

There is that line in "Blanched Soldier" that Holmes has about being abandoned by Watson: "The good Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife, the only selfish action which I can recall in our association. I was alone." This comes in 1903, more than a decade after Watson speaks of marriage multiple times, so why would this desertion be different to Holmes? And why is Watson still "good" in Holmes's eyes?

Well, if you're one of those who believe in Watson's heterosexual monogamy, well, perhaps 1903 was the time in which a new baby kept Watson from Baker Street once and for all. Even if you are a Victorian Johnlock fancier, there could have been a similar moment when a mid-life crisis Watson wanted offspring enough to go the traditional route -- this was Victorian England after all, and other options were slim indeed.

Watson as a father. If there was ever a man so perfect for fatherhood, just by the loyalty and devotion he has shown to another human being, it is Watson. And now we get the chance to see just what that looks like with the new season of Sherlock.

So many things coming up, for a show so low in episode counts!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Conan Doyle brand.

It appears to be a "brand" new day for The Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., having suffered that court case loss over their control of Sherlock Holmes, and their latest web site rebuild seems to reflect that. The very first thing you see when you go to the site is Conan Doyle's signature with a registered trademark symbol next to it. A logo of sorts.

Okay . . .

Conan Doyle's cartoon portrait looks skyward at the words "ADVENTURER," "AUTHOR," "CAMPAIGNER," and more, ignoring the similar row at the bottom of the page, "BRAND," "LICENSING," and "CONTACT." If you follow the "BRAND" link, you can find another row of links with the very intriguing "LIFESTYLE" link, which leads to bits from all the big media franchises who paid the Conan Doyle Estate a little money before the court case business and something called "the Baker Street Academy Project." I was kind of hoping for tips on leading a "Conan Doyle" lifestyle, so a Downey preview and some . . . hey, why does the BBC Sherlock image not have its logo on it, like Elementary and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. Hmmm.

Stepping back, there is a "PRODUCTS" link that seems more lifestyle-oriented than the "LIFESTYLE" link. Here you can see Conan Doyle watches, luggage, pens, pipes, rum, hankies, and moustache wax, all branded with the Doyle brand.

Okay, I wasn't clicking on the Doyle historical links, which are the sites best content, but even they end with the words, "Inspired by what you see? Interested in aligning your brand or product with the legendary Conan Doyle? Contact the Estate."

I was reminded of the first time I visited Graceland in Memphis, and realized how fully that Elvis Presley had gone from entertainer to commodity, from part of our culture to marketing brand. It was one of those moments where you go, "Yes, I guess there's money to be made there," but feel a little saddened by the fact that our history and common culture can be so easily put up for sale. Yes, Elvis was an entertainment product from the start, just as Conan Doyle's writings, but once the man himself is gone and his ghost has a registered trademark on it, well . . . I guess Conan Doyle was right about the spiritualism thing, he just had the wrong angle on how it would turn out.

At a time when profiteers seem to be moving into key positions in our government in America, a little thing like seeing Conan Doyle turned into a brand just adds one more straw to the cynical camel's back. People have been being inspired by Conan Doyle and his works for a very, very long time now, and I don't think their first thought after said inspiration was, "How can I partner with a brand that will maximize my personal brand's potential reach and blah, blah, blah, business-speak, etc."

But maybe that's where we're headed. In that case, let us all be comforted by the words of Sherlock Holmes as he folded up a generous check and tucked it in between the pages of his notebook in "Priory School," then put the notebook in his pocket.

"I am a poor man," said he.

Paydays weren't his most famous detective method, but we all have to bring the money home from somewhere. Sigh.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Worst pre-Sherlock time ever.

Oh, crap, Sherlock's mother and father are still alive . . . at the moment.

Y'know, for decade after decade we've heard tales of those readers from 1893 onward who read "The Final Problem" and thought Sherlock Holmes was dead. How sad they were. What a dark time it was.

But I don't think any reader of Sherlock Holmes has gone through the emotional turmoil prior to a story coming out that BBC Sherlock is putting its viewers through.

In interviews, previews, and the casual tweet, things are looking pretty grim for our heroes. A villain supposedly more completely evil than any before. Loss. Tragedy. Bad hair.

Seriously, that bad hair and slightly moist complexion is definitely a worry-point, as he could herald anything from drug addiction to mental breakdown.

John Watson has a wife, a dog, a baby. Sherlock Holmes has charming parents, that non-Canonical favorite friend Molly Hooper, and the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson. And Mycroft . . . aaaa, he isn't going anywhere and his driver can take care of herself.

The cliff-hanger we were left with this time, Moriarty video appearing all over London, was a fun little tease. Past seasons, with a bomb-laden Watson, a pavement-smashed (but not!) Holmes, both had the jeopardy provided, a single worry to focus on. But this time?

The lack of a single target for concern makes everyone a target for concern.

Sort of like when Moriarty had snipers on all of Holmes's friends in "The Reichenbach Fall," which reminds one that Sebastian Moran still hasn't shown up in Sherlock, and who better to carry on Moriarty's legacy . . . especially when we've been thrown a Culverton Smith shaped bone to distract us.

And if all of that wasn't bad enough, BBC Sherlock drops a preview that ends with Sherlock Holmes saying "I love you" to someone behind the camera's point of view. Watson is behind him. Mycroft is behind him as well, diluting the notion he could be speaking to John without looking at him. Given that much of Sherlock fandom was already known not to be enjoying the impediment of Mary Morstan to a John-and-Sherlock love match, using that clip seemed almost the opposite of fan-service.

So if it wasn't enough to worry about who is going to be killed this time around, we get that just-plain-weird bit. It's not really a romantic "I love you" and quite naturally so, Sherlock is not a romantic kind of guy. Could be his mom. Could be Irene Adler. Could be Molly, Janine . . . or, big twist . . . a guy who's not John. (Well, I guess that would give Johnlock fans a little hope.)

Man, I just hope Sherlock isn't saying "I love you" to a corpse.

Crap, waiting for the fourth season of Sherlock is rough!

Friday, December 9, 2016

My Cabinet post qualifications.

We're seeing an American presidential transition like none in living memory at present, and no one is quite sure what may happen next. There is a definitely fearsome aspect to mystery and uncertainty, as any reader of Sherlock Holmes tales can tell you, but there is also, with the right point of view, opportunity to be found in such situations.

Now, the word "opportunist" is ripe with negative connotation, but think upon this for a minute -- in a world where anything can happen, anything can happen. And if we're heading into a presidency where unprecedented things are going to go on, why not something as unprecedented as . . . say . . . a Cabinet post called "the Secretary of Sherlock Holmes Affairs."

Why do we need a Department of Sherlock Holmes Affairs, with it's own Cabinet Secretary?

Well, for many reasons, which you should impart to the president-elect if you happen to have his ear.

Reason Number One: Sherlock Holmes is more popular than ever, and his popularity is growing, a growth that America should keep a firm handle on within its borders.

Reason Number Two: There has never been a Department of Sherlock Holmes Affairs, and such being the case, we have a void in leadership when it comes to matters of Sherlock Holmes in America that could put us at a disadvantage in dealing with the leaders of Sherlock Holmes affairs in China or the Middle East. (Should such arise.)

Reason Number Three: The United States of America broke away from England in 1776, taking with it the English language, the Imperial System of measurement, and Alexander Hamilton. It's time we officially broke away from England a second time and took some more things from England, including Sherlock Holmes. (Yes, this is very silly, but look at some of the other things we're heading toward.)

Reason Number Four: Our new president could make history by being the first president in history to have a Secretary of Sherlock Holmes Affair . . . a real prestige item, a sort of Cabinet luxury position that says, "I can afford unnecessary Cabinet Secretaries like no leader before!"

And, best of all, Reason Number Five: Because the president-elect could appoint me, Brad Keefauver, as the Secretary of Sherlock Holmes Affairs.

"But, Brad," you say, "isn't the president-elect filling his Cabinet with people who are seemingly antithetical to the departments they're heading up? A Secretary of Education who doesn't like public education, a head of the Environmental Protection Agency known for suing that same agency? But you love Sherlock Holmes!"

Now think for a minute: Who is the most Nielsen-popular Sherlock Holmes in America? Who is the Sherlock Holmes a standard, network-TV-watching, not-so-fancy-pants-literate guy like the president-elect is probably most familiar with?

The one on CBS's Elementary. 

Now name the American citizen who has most often and most publicly come out against CBS's Elementary . . . 

Uh-huh. You're getting the picture. This guy.

The perfect pick for Secretary of Sherlock Holmes Affairs.

Like I said, there is opportunity to be found when all the old rules go out the window. Anything can happen.

So let's make Sherlock Holmes great again, eh? Or a least pretend we're doing that while we get me some extra cash and a few more blog post readers. Which I can definitely promise will happen as your new Secretary of Sherlock Holmes Affairs.

I'll keep my phone handy.

Cross-pollinating with the Sherlockian world. Or just the world.

What is the best quality in Sherlock Holmes's skill set to bring into your own life?

My answer has to be this: cross-pollination.

People tend to focus on deduction, observation, great expertise, and other finely honed abilities when they think of what we should emulate about Sherlock Holmes, but what really made him a never-before-seen detective talent in his debut was his cross-discipline approach to his field. When we first encounter him, he's hard at work in a medical school, working with blood. Not at detective school working with footprints, but among doctors taking tools from their trade.

Whether it was from fields legal, botanical, occupational, or otherwise, Sherlock Holmes liked to go into other areas besides detection to see what he could bring back. And this hobby of ours, Sherlockiana, works much the same.

Sherlockians naturally bring their existing skills and talents with them when they come to the hobby, and use them to celebrate Sherlock Holmes. It's very easy to see. What we often don't see so keenly is when Sherlockians take the things they learn in the Sherlockian community and apply them to other areas.

The Sherlockian world can offer great opportunities to write, speak, network, plan events, etc., and after some time in this arena, you can take what you've learned here and apply it elsewhere. Then once you've spent some time elsewhere, grab what you learned there, and bring it back to the celebration of Sherlock.

What Sherlock Holmes did with detection, we can do as well with Sherlockiana, and do, more often than we sometimes realize . . . taking a bit of Holmes-learned skill out into the world, bringing some other fandom or vocational talent back to Holmes . . . just like bees flying around spreading pollen and returning to the hive.

Bees. Hmmm.

We always take Sherlock Holmes's venture into bee-keeping after he retired from urban detection as a literal thing. I read a theory recently that Sherlock's elder brother Mycroft didn't live to the time of "His Last Bow," and now I have to wonder . . . what if Mycroft died and the British government came to the younger Holmes in their time of need. And Sherlock Holmes decided to keep "bees" as he once did Irregulars, human agents to fly off into this field or that and gain what "pollen" they could and bring it back to the hive. Not thinking of his "bees" as agents for taking action, but just gatherers of information, he might have taken Mycroft's place in a manner all his own.

Could modern Sherlockiana be the apiary Sherlock's own "bees" now come from, cross-pollinating the intellectual landscape in that wide-ranging, world-wide variety of places and roles we call our own?

Well, I've had worse theories.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"I saw your iPod!"

Today was one of those interesting days when my coworkers learn a little more about my secret Sherlockian life. It's not that big a secret, really, I just don't haunt cubicle city going, "Have you read the good works of John H. Watson, friend?" But occasionally some little event will come along that shines a light on my lifetime love of Sherlock Holmes, and today was one of those days.

Monday night I did a little interview on the podcast of Steve Tarter from the Peoria Journal Star. It's out now as episode number 36 of "Tarter Source," touting me as "Peoria's Sherlock Holmes expert Brad Keefauver," the sort of thing that always gets me a little embarassed. It's hard to truly feel like an expert in anything, really, since the more you know, the more you know you don't know.

And, really, there's nothing like a live interview to put a little humility in you . . . Martin Freeman's name dropped completely out of my head and the Baker Street Babes didn't make it out of my mouth when listing Sherlockian podcasts. Non-Sherlockians aren't going to really notice such details, but you know other Holmes fans will . . . especially if you put a link to it on your blog.

My favorite moment of the day, however, was as I rushed out to the front desk on an errand and someone happily exclaimed, "I saw your iPod!" as I went by.

It was a very small Sherlock Holmes mystery, perhaps not taking the great detective's own level of skill, but if you forget everything I wrote above, it goes a bit like this:

"The Adventure of the Wandering Musical Device" by Brad's distracted brain.

It was not unusual for Sherlock Holmes to get cases mentally projected to him by folk who were in the middle of their workday. I would see his face suddenly go blank as he stopped for a moment in whatever activity he was involved in that day, and his eyes would open just a small bit wider as he came back to the present moment.

"Watson, I have a case!" he would most often say, and on one particular morning in the winter before my marriage, he followed it with "It seems a fellow has had witnesses claim his 'smart' device was seen wandering outside of his pocket, when he knew for a fact that it was inside his pocket the entire morning!"

"Astounding, Holmes! Such things have brains of a sort, yes, but not the limbs to escape a pocket with! What could it mean? An uprising of the mechanicals?"

And from there, Holmes and Watson would go off to interview the client and a witness or two, look at the iPhone at the center of it all, eventually revealing that the witness at the heart of it all had actually meant "I saw your podcast," which is indeed strange in itself as one typically hears a podcast.

But that is where so many Sherlock Holmes mysteries begin, with a situation that just doesn't quite make sense and needs Holmes to make sense of it. And after a hundred and thirty years, that little ability still charms the world enough that I get to go on a local podcast and talk about him for a bit.

Some abilities never go out of fashion, and I think we can definitely include those of Sherlock Holmes among them, even now. And possibly especially now.

Which makes it all the better to get out and talk about him.

"Have you read the good works of John H. Watson, friend?"

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Here we come a-Blue-Carbuncling!

Is it too early to talk about "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle?"

Famously called "a Christmas story without slush" by writer Christopher Morley, reading "Blue Carbuncle" is a fine holiday tradition for Sherlockians. But what's fascinating about it is the way it invokes the season without any of the traditional holiday symbols . . . and actually shows us a bit of yuletides gone by. No one is singing of Christmas carols, there is no reference to St. Nick, no manger scene, no holly or mistletoe, no gifts of the magi, no . . . .

Well, there is the bird.

If you want to link "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" to its cousin of fifty years prior, A Christmas Carol, you can look at the prize bird heading toward the family dining table. In "Blue Carbuncle," however, the bird is a goose, and in A Christmas Carol the bird is a turkey. But in either case, the bird is one of the simplest of holiday symbols, the center of the feast, the celebration via feeding the family and friends.

Unlike most Sherlock Holmes stories, which are about making one connection between a criminal and a crime, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" uses its bird to display a whole series of connections between people over the holidays.

Dr. Watson calling on Sherlock Holmes to wish him "the compliments of the season."

Peterson, the doorman, an acquaintance of both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson separately -- a rare thing, like Stamford who first introduced them -- who uses Sherlock Holmes as the neighborhood "lost and found."

Peterson's wife, who kindly cooked up a second Christmas goose for her family, only to discover buried treasure.

Sherlock Holmes, having Peterson buy a fresh goose for someone he hasn't met yet.

Mrs. Hudson, cooking up a completely different bird -- a woodcock -- for Holmes and Watson.

Henry Baker and the Alpha Inn goose club, where the innkeeper saves the patrons pennies to help them make sure they have a holiday bird when they might otherwise come up short.

Holmes and Watson going out for a beer.

Breckinridge the goose merchant, helping his boy Bill put up the shutters once he's sold out for the night, but claiming the ability to sell Holmes five hundred geese the next morning, then later telling James Ryder to go to hell in a very Victorian manner.

James Ryder, who worries over his father and mother, and gets a goose from his sister, Maggie Oakshott, as a Christmas present . . . perhaps the most directly Christmas-ish thing about the entire story, her gift to him.

And all of those relationships come together to create a pleasant little holiday mystery for Sherlock Holmes to solve. No stress, no Scotland Yard, no murders . . . just a chain of holiday-touched humanity who have something sparkly enter their lives during a frost-sparkled season. Did I mention that "Blue Carbuncle" doesn't even have snow in it? But it does have "frosty air."

"A Christmas story without slush," Morley called it. And if you view "slush" as reindeer, snowmen, elves, sleighs . . . and all the other trappings and tag-alongs that have attached themselves to the holiday season like the ever-expanding chores of the wedding industrial complex . . . then "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" can offer you a restful literary oasis this season.

And it's never too early to enjoy a bird (and maybe a beer) with friends, so the tale never really goes out of season in any case. Happy Blue Carbuncling!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Going controversial: The Cage match!

Okay, I'm not going to start a Twitter war over this, as I would surely lose, but the Baker Street Babes have gotten something very, very wrong for perhaps the first time in their illustrious Sherlockian hive-mind career.

Tonight, Amy Thomas rolled out a graphic hashtagged #HolmesunCAGEd that cast a Nicholas Cage-starring Sherlock Holmes movie. Her casting: Cage as Sherlock, the Rock as Watson, Sylvester Stallone as Moran, Arnold Swarzenegger as Moriarty, Megan Fox as Irene Adler, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Mrs. Hudson.

The very thought of Nicholas Cage as Sherlock Holmes is brilliant, and why Hollywood never cast that man as Holmes is a crime against movie-making. No star in Hollywood burns with an intensity so Holmes-worthy as Nic Cage, and if there is a God, somebody better damn well be making that movie as we speak.

But let me put on the soundtrack to Gone in Sixty Seconds and explain to you where the fair sex went wrong in casting a movie that must be fueled by that hormone the Baker Street Babes are not nearly so soaked in as some of the rest of us: testosterone.

First, Watson. The Rock as Watson? No, no, too flamboyant, not nearly the key a Watson needs played in . . . Vin Diesel, however, whom was suggested as Mycroft in their feed? Now there's the Watson for Vin Diesel. Steady, simmering, and ready for action even when wounded.

But who then for Mycroft? Well, they have a gentleman named Arnold Swarzenegger down as the villain, but given that Mycroft was the government itself, Arnold is a much more solid establishment figure who fits naturally into the Mycroft role. (He's going to be the American government in this one, of course, because getting this cast to all do accents is definitely out of the question.)

Sylvester Stallone is no Moran . . . he's Lestrade, obviously, with Dolph Lundgren as Gregson.

But who are the bad guys, then?

Tommy Lee Jones as Moriarty. Kurt Russell as Moran.

But here's where it gets interesting . . . we do have to add a few ladies to this list, and for Mrs. Hudson, in an action movie of this level, there's only one place to go and that's back to Britain.

Helen Mirren as Mrs. Hudson.

And for Irene Adler . . . there can be only one name: Sigourney Weaver.

For Mary Morstan, I'm going to go with Milla Jovovich.

Since we don't want to throw children into this, I'm casting Wiggins with John Cusack. And his Irregulars are Colin Farrell, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, John Cena, and Jason Statham.

Is that enough testosterone for one Nicholas Cage movie, the man who gave us one of the manliest movies of all time, Con Air? Probably so. But there's always room for debate in Sherlockian circles, and Amy Thomas poured out some excellent fuel for debate on this one.

It will always be one of my great disappointments that Lucy Liu was never allowed to release her full action-movie prowess in CBS's Elementary. (Giving her Jason Statham as Sherlock could have made that a completely different show.) And how we got a crazy action movie Sherlock Holmes that starred Robert Downey Jr., with all the other possibilities available, I shall never know.

But the movie and television industries aren't done with Sherlock Holmes yet, not by a long shot.

Hope springs eternal.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The massively mysterious subject of Mycroft Holmes.

It has been nearly one hundred and twenty-five years since the world first learned of Mycroft Holmes. And after all that time, it's amazing how little we still know of the man . . . a very important man, to both England and his brother. Still, there's been quite a bit written about him, so when Olimpia Petruzzella asked me on Twitter about other monographs, articles, or studies on Mycroft other than my own little contributions on the web, I found it a bit hard to answer within the constraints of tweeting. So let's look at what we've heard about Mycroft over the years . . .

Ron DeWaal's The Universal Sherlock Holmes, which you can find over at the University of Minnesota library site, had about sixty-some pieces about Mycroft listed in the mid-1990s. The first, an interview with Mycroft called "The Resources of Mycroft Holmes" by Charlton Andrews, came along in 1903. This should be an immediate clue to the sort of lengths one goes to in writing about Mycroft . . . given that most of us only have two of Watson's case records to go by for data on the man, some have resorted to, shall we say, more questionable reportage?

That would not be the case with Sherlockian pioneer Ronald Knox, of course, whose "The Mystery of Mycroft" appeared in the 1934 collection Baker Street Studiesedited by H.W. Bell. Knox does a very thorough job of reviewing the available data on Mycroft, raising questions, and making a few measured hypotheses. He notes Mycroft's complete absence, even by mention, in "His Last Bow," which may mean the elder Holmes didn't make it to the first World War in his country's service.

Bruce Kennedy, in his 1969 monograph MYCROFT: A study into the life of the brother of Sherlock Holmes, covers the available Canonical material, raises his own questions, and takes a special interest in just where Mycroft's income was coming from. (Yet leaves finding the answer to "some future scholar.")

"Sherlock to Mycroft" by Owen P. Frisbie in 1955's The Best of the Pips is a little poetic inquiry wondering why the elder Holmes doesn't turn his skills to detection, and poetic tribute is always a good way to address a mystery like Mycroft. No great aid in our understanding of the man, of course. As with the articles, we just get more and more questions when it comes to this guy.

The Baker Street Journal has had its share of Mycroft articles, with a nice little exchange in 1969, when Lyttleton Fox penned a piece called "Mycroft Recomputed" in the March issue, followed by Philip Nathanson's "Mycroft as a Computer: Some Further Input" in the June issue. Fox gets into some odd technical specifications of Mycroft as machine, and Nathanson follows by tying Mycroft's creation to Charles Babbage, positing that Watson also left us clues to discover Mycroft was a machine. T'was a fun time pre-internet, when a Sherlockian had a month or two to advance a discussion by a fellow Sherlockian, as Fox and Nathanson did on Mycroft.

A very comprehensive round-up of Mycroftian writings, if one can find one of the 300 copies, is William S. Dorn's The Many Faces of Mycroft Holmes. Mr. Dorn works his way through all of the previous work on Mycroft with little chapters like "Mycroft as a Double Agent," "Mycroft as a Murderer," and, well, "Mycroft as an . . ." Author, bumbler, consultant, athlete, secret agent, agoraphobe, computer, and computer programmer.

For this post, I think I'll end with the Dorn, as any evening spent wandering through the Sherlockian library always contains a few side-trips that make the process much longer than it should be. The more one reads Sherlockian work on Mycroft Holmes, however, the more one realizes we barely know that man, and that the characterization on BBC Sherlock is actually some of the most considered work on the character since the original tales. There is so much of Mycroft yet to be explored even now, and I think the open minds of our younger enthusiasts these days will open up entirely new windows on him.

(Even if one wants to go with that odd little machine-man theory . . . the tech has come a long way since 1969!)

Looking forward to it!

Monday, November 28, 2016

An Elementary rerun: A Study in Not Getting Sued.

After yesterday's trip through five seasons of two Sherlock Holmes TV adaptations and one procedural that uses the name, it seemed time for a new visit back to one of those Sherlock Holmes productions that makes you wish the "How Did This Get Made?" podcast did TV shows. Yes, I'm going to return to that old favorite topic of Sherlock Peoria readers . . . at least if you go by number of comments . . . CBS's Elementary. And specifically, Elementary's own version of A Study in Scarlet, the first meeting of "Sherlock Holmes" and "Dr. Watson."

As the DVD case implies with the headline "NEW HOLMES. NEW WATSON. NEW YORK." Elementary takes its own road for bringing a Holmes and Watson together, which seemed to be made necessary by the fact that CBS originally tried to get rights to do an American Sherlock, the BBC show which had used the original Doyle version as its base. Abandoning that thought, CBS was left with coming up with something so completely different that there would be no room for accusations of copying the British show with their own adaptation of Holmes in the modern day. And that point is where things start to get interesting when you compare Elementary to the original Doyle novel.

John H. Watson, M.D., was a recovering war veteran when we first meet him, weak and wounded. Joan Watson, M.D., was a healthy jogger who gets up at 7 A.M. for a run in the morning and is mildly psychic enough to stop jogging just before her cell phone rings. While one might be distracted by the gender swap, there is more than one contrast at work here.

John H. Watson was killing time in a bar when he runs into an old acquaintance. Joan Watson is called by a rehab center who tells her the patient she was hired as sober companion to has escaped. Like the illness/health contrast, the morning drink versus addiction treatment aspect adds another layer of difference.

While their morning contacts take both Watsons to meet Sherlock Holmes for the first time, the Sherlocks they meet are opposing elements as well. John gets some warning as to the person is is about to encounter, Joan does not. John is introduced to a man who has been hard at work in the lab on a ground-breaking discovery in forensic science. Joan must introduce herself to a man who just finished a paid sexual liaison and is stimulating himself with multiple television channels at once.

Interestingly, both Sherlocks start their conversation with a non sequitur that requires later explanation. John's Sherlock is a reasoned observation about his Watson's past. Joan's Sherlock is a misleading re-enactment of a soap opera romantic monologue. (Joan's Sherlock's first "deduction" comes much later, as he observes she doesn't use drugs or alcohol without saying why.)

John's Sherlock finishes explaining the experiment he's been working on and then starts telling John what the downsides to having him for a room-mate might be, to see if John finds them objectionable. Joan's Sherlock tells her to not get comfortable and leads her off into the city, explaining why he must accept Joan's presence and complains of his boredom, even though he's fresh off of dominatrix sex and watching at least six TV channels at once.

John's Sherlock sets up an appointment with him to look at the Baker Street rooms they'll share rent on the next day. Joan's Sherlock explains that the brownstone she has met him in is "the shoddiest and least renovated" of the five residences his father owns in New York, that he can only live in if he accepts Joan's company.

John's Sherlock lets John wonder about his profession for a week or so before telling him what it is, and lets John accompany him on a case that very day. Joan was told of her Sherlock's previous avocation by his father, and then finds herself at the police department learning from her Sherlock that he has resumed that past-time in New York.

John's Sherlock doesn't introduce John to Gregson when they arrive for their first case, as Gregson is eager to have Holmes on the case and just seems to accept anyone Holmes brought with him isn't a problem. Joan's Sherlock introduces Joan to Gregson as his "valet" and Gregson doesn't want to allow Joan on to the crime scene. (Perhaps a modern necessity, like the latex gloves that the later pair put on.)

John's Sherlock had "established a considerable, though not very lucrative, connection" with Scotland Yard when John first met him. Joan's Sherlock worked with Gregson alongside Scotland Yard ten years before in London, taking no pay.

The crime scene and crimes investigated differ quite a bit. We already saw bits of Joan's first crime being committed at the start of the show, as is the procedural's typical format, and know it involved a woman in something flimsy being chased about her apartment. John's first case with Sherlock is the original-original Canon of Sherlock Holmes, of course. Joan's first case with her Sherlock is a complete pastiche. Both Watsons find some horror in observing their first corpse, John with the comment that death was never more fearsome, even with his war experience, than what he saw at the crime scene, and Joan with a gasp and turning away when the blood-pooled corpse is revealed.

John's Sherlock won't be keeping bees until his retirement decades later. Joan's Sherlock is already keeping bees on the roof of their brownstone, and the hive somehow drips honey into the hall below.

John's Sherlock immediately takes John from the crime scene to his first witness interview. Joan's Sherlock tells her he has no use for her, takes the batteries out of her alarm clock so she doesn't wake up (ironic, given how many times he will later try to take the place of that alarm clock), and heads off to investigate the case without her.

John's Sherlock makes himself welcomed by their first witness interviewed together by playing with a gold coin the witness hopes to gain. Joan's Sherlock badgers their first witness interviewed together until Joan orders him out of the room, then claims it was a ploy to make the witness more cooperative, which Joan doesn't quite believe (and she's right).

John's Sherlock goes off to a Norman-Neruda violin concert by himself mid-way through the investigation, possibly because Watson is too worn out from the morning's business to attend. Joan purchases opera tickets to celebrate what she thinks is the finish of their case, as her Sherlock's father mentioned he liked opera, but Sherlock refuses to go and Watson goes alone, later to have Sherlock embarassingly barge into the performance to discuss the case.

John's Sherlock, at a later time, will make painful deductions about a death in Watson's life from a watch, the death of his brother who died an alcoholic. Joan's Sherlock, during their first case, will make painful deductions about a death in Watson's life from a parking ticket, the death of her last surgery patient who died at her hands.

A pill container winds up as the key clue in both cases, and a ring and a ring-box parallel each other at one point as well. One would ascribe both more to happenstance coincidence rather than cunning intent, given the lack of more direct parallels.

John and Sherlock meet at a hospital, Joan and Sherlock seem to have a very sudden break-up at a hospital.

John's first murderer crashes through the window at Baker Street. Joan's first murderer has his car crashed into by her Sherlock driving Joan's car.

John's Sherlock has his Baker Street Irregulars do a little work for him. Joan's Sherlock winds up with Joan doing a little work for him while he's in jail.

And the murderer is caught with Gregson present in both cases.

During the Elementary premiere's initial run, I found it repulsive enough to be unable to be completely objective about it, but the passing of the years have dulled that impact. Tonight's analysis, which I think was a little more unemotionally done, reveals part of what struck me so wrong during that initial viewing years ago: Point by point, Elementary seemed to be trying so hard to be different from an adaptation of A Study in Scarlet that it very nearly creates an anti-Canon of Sherlock Holmes.

That said, one can never deal with Sherlock Holmes without looking dead-on at the character of Sherlock Holmes himself. His whole world revolves around him like the sun, as many a pasticheur who has tried to write a non-Holmes story has learned. Sherlock Holmes is a character whose entire being I have enjoyed and was attracted to read more about, every step of the way. On the other hand,  Elementary's "Mr. Elementary" (as I took to calling him way back when, unable to reconcile this person on the screen with the Sherlock Holmes I knew) is an unlikeable, fairly awful human being whom I've wanted to avoid from the start. Even when trying hard not to be a hater, that guy just gets under my skin, especially during his early, pain-in-the-ass-to-Joan days.

But hey, if he's your guy, look at all the parallels above and enjoy the lining up . . . even if there is a touch of anti-Canon there. These days, that's Canon to fans as well.

Just not this one. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Sherlocks, four seasons -- quality, quantity, or quagmires?

For a lark this morning, I decided to just run through the later TV series adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories (sorry, Ronald Howard) and compare character usage. My little lark was spurred by the fact that CBS's Elementary has been down to using Shinwell Johnson as their major Canonical draw card this season, a minor character pushed up to being a featured player. We all know who the major face cards in dealing Sherlock Holmes stories are, so I was curious to see how TV producers played them.

What follows are the Granada, BBC, and CBS hands that were dealt.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Irene Adler, Mycroft, Moriarty. (690 minutes)
Sherlock, Season One: Mycroft, Moriarty. (266 minutes)
Elementary, Season One: Irene Adler, Moriarty, Milverton. (1038 minutes)

Granada comes strongest out of the gate, but then they were attempting to be somewhat Canonical. Their major move -- pushing Mycroft up into Adventures, when he was a Memoirs guy in the original tales. BBC teased that Mycroft was Moriarty at first but kept both, but CBS flat out made Irene be Moriarty, blowing a second usable character on a trick non-reading viewers wouldn't even get.

The Return of Sherlock HolmesMycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Hound. (450 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Two: Irene Adler, Mycroft, Moriarty, Hound. (265 minutes)
Elementary, Season Two: Mycroft, Moriarty. (1031 minutes)

Both Granada and BBC seem to see that Mycroft is worth keeping around, while CBS brings in a strangely pale in-name-only Mycroft for season two. The Hound of the Baskervilles is also a definite second-season go-to for both British incarnations once Sherlock is established, while CBS decides to hold that card. Moriarty, however, is going strong in second seasons. (Note: I included Moriarty whenever his or her face actually appeared. Video or flashbacks count. Letters don't.)

The Case-book of Sherlock HolmesMilverton, Kitty Winter, Shinwell Johnson. (390 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Three: Mycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Milver-nussen. (262 minutes)
Elementary, Season Three: Kitty Winter. (1017 minutes.)

Once you've exhausted Moriarty, Milverton is definitely your next play. If you've exhausted Milverton . . . well, player's choice. CBS decided on Gruner, but he was mainly backstory for Kitty Winter being promoted to a major role. BBC was still hanging tightly on to Mycroft and promoting Mary Morstan to a major role, even before her Canonical case comes up.

The Memoirs of Sherlock HolmesMycroft, Culverton Smith. (303 minutes?)
Sherlock, Christmas Special: Mycroft, Mary Morstan, Ricoletti's abominable wife. (90 minutes.)
Elementary, Season Four: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Morland. (1032-ish.)

Third seasons definitely seem to be where the wheels come off the Hansom cab. Granada had Mycroft starring in an episode (due to a Sherlock star illness) and pastiched things up a bit to stretch the stories, BBC could only pull a Christmas special fantasy based on a Canonically untold tale, and CBS made up a Moriarty-ish father for Sherlock to make up for losing their Moriarty star to a major HBO series . . . and finally got to the Hound.

The Unmade Episodes of Sherlock HolmesNobody. (0 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Four: Mycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Culverton Smith. (265-ish?)
Elementary, Season Five: Shinwell Johnson. (1032-ish?)

And then comes the fifth season. (And yes, I counted that Christmas special as a season, because a case could well be made.) Fifth seasons are the uncharted country of TV Sherlocks. In the 1950s, Ronald Howard only made it to one season. In the 1980s, Jeremy Brett made it to four. CBS, keeping to their standard procedural format, has now showed that they could keep going indefinitely, if they promote one Canonical character per year as they did with Shinwell Johnson. And BBC looks to make the Sherlock-John-Mycroft-Mary soap opera their driver, with previews featuring Mrs. Hudson calling Mycroft a reptile spelling ominous things for the happy family dog-walking stills we've seen all over the web.

Charting uses of Scotland Yard officers, Mrs. (or Ms.) Hudson, Watson's career path, and drug use in the assorted shows could also be an interesting run -- the fact that we now have three television story cycles to compare makes for available Holmes fan discussion points like never before. And since like inspires like (and I've ignored non-US/UK shows), there's sure to be more on the horizon to add to that discussion. (Even now, I'm dying to find a way to break the Rathbone movies into seasons to see how they line up with the ones above.)

So much entertainment value in Sherlock Holmes, though, no matter how you deal the cards.

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Bacon" my way to Sherlock Holmes.

More than one Sherlockian I know likes to play "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" with Sherlock Holmes, a parlor game where you connect any given actor to an actor that has played Sherlock Holmes via their movie co-stars.

Here's an example from Don Hobbs's yearly attempt to connect Oscar nominees to Holmes from 2006: "Heath Ledger is up for Brokeback Mountain. In the film A Knight's Tale, that also starred Mr. Ledger, James Purefoy portrays Sir Thomas Colville/Edward, the Black Prince of Wales and he was James McCarthy in the Granada series Boscombe Valley Mystery."

This year, however, my love of comic books has taken that little game an entirely different direction, as I found myself connected to Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself in many degrees less than six.

It all starts with a couple of pictures.

Over the course of the past twelve months, I somehow managed to see magicians Penn and Teller on three separate occasions. And since those generous fellows always kindly do a meet-and-greet at the end of every show, I had the chance to get my picture taken with them. Simple enough.

And then came the eleventh issue of a comic book called Spiderman/Deadpool, in which Penn and Teller switch partners with Spiderman and Deadpool. "AH-HA!" I thought.

Teller teams up with Spiderman, who teamed up with Batman in a 1995 comic book mini-series called Spiderman and Batman: Disordered Minds. Batman and Sherlock Holmes have teamed up a few times in comics, and even had a rap battle on YouTube. So with a few simple comic books, I now could connect myself to Sherlock Holmes himself with only a couple degrees of separation.

That number shrank even further when I then remembered Deadpool Killustrated issue number 4, in which Deadpool tried to kill Sherlock Holmes. Since Penn Jillette teamed up with Deadpool in the same Spiderman/Deadpool issue, and I had met Penn on a couple of occasions now, the Sherlock/Deadpool/Penn/Keefauver chain eliminated on extra link.

With both comic books and magicians about anything is possible, so it shouldn't have surprised me that putting the two together would create a cosmic connection to our old friend Sherlock Holmes. And as great as it is that an actor can be connected to another actor who played Sherlock, I think I'd rather just link up to the real thing.

Black Friday and some easy Sherlock Holmes deals.

"As to money, well, so far as a fiver, or even a tenner, goes, you can always look to me."
-- Godfrey Staunton's skinflint uncle

The topic of money comes up a lot in the Sherlock Holmes stories. While love or vengeance may be much sexier motivations and stir the blood more, the ebb and flow of money motivates more action in the tales than possibly anything else. Even the love stories of the Canon, be it John Watson and Mary Morstan or Mary Sutherland and Hosmer Angel, all have a strong influence of financial status to them. But I don't think we've ever seen the subject of money come up in casual Sherlockian dealings quite so much as we do these days . . . not just to buy the more expensive collectible, but just to take a chunk of your money and give it to someone or something for Sherlockian reasons.

As it's Black Friday, the ridiculous day of consumer money-moving anyway, it seemed like the perfect spot to review where you might pour some cash if you don't feel like spending it on what will inevitably be someone's garage sale items a summer or two down the line.

First, the oldest of Sherlockian spots to donate to, given a GoFundMe makeover this year, the John H. Watson Fund. Established by the Baker Street Irregulars some decades ago to help club members anonymously help fellow Sherlockians whose attendance at the annual Sherlock Holmes birthday dinner in New York was impaired by cash flow issues. Since that time, the fund annually expends itself to help all it can, and needs replenished, as the costs of meeting other Sherlockians in the largest city in America are not cheap. 'Tis a fine sort of blind camaraderie which inspires this one.

Second, and also on GoFundMe, is the newest item on this list -- a benefit to help Sherlock Seattle settle its bills from last year's con. An unexpectedly large drop in attendance for a con that has tried to go all out to make a great weekend for its attendees hit them hard last year, and Sherlock Seattle still has great potential as an ongoing center for annual Sherlock fan fun in the years ahead. There is a measure of both appreciation and hope for the future to this one.

Third, just because it's an old favorite of mine, is the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota. The U of M Libraries has created perhaps the finest non-private repository of Sherlock Holmes history and artifacts on Earth, and I am not being hyperbolic in the slightest. If you ever get the chance to attend one of their conferences, or just arrange a visit to the collection, you can encounter Sherlock Holmes in a way you will nowhere else, and the possibilities for research abound. There is no more solid investment in our Sherlockian future than the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at U of M.

Fourth, since we're on the topic of university collections, is the Baker Street Irregulars Trust. Geared more specifically toward America's oldest Sherlock Holmes fan club's history and the documentation of its historic membership and doings, this Harvard archive has already made a good number of the Baker Street Irregulars' documents available online, and has Irregulars working toward adding to the paper parts with oral histories. The Trust keeps a window open to a very special part of our Sherlockian past, and offers the opportunity to help that cause.

Fifth, there are specific Sherlockian services one can support these days, as in podcasts! "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" is on Patreon. The Baker Street Babes take direct PayPal donations. The Three Patch Podcast has a Paypal "Donate" button as well. While you can listen to any number of podcasts for free these days, with hosts happy just to have your listening, microphones and such still cost money and showing artists (because truly, podcasters are recording artists) you appreciate them with a few bucks on a regular basis can be a real "feel good" way of literally giving back to someone who gives you something you enjoy.

Sixth, and not to be forgotten, is the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection who support the Toronto Public Library. If I wasn't ballyhooing the University of Minnesota collection as I did above, I'd be writing about this one first. The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Public Library is just as much a North American pilgrimage site for a diehard Sherlockian as the Minneapolis one. You never know what amazing thing you'll see there, and their years of solid Sherlockian work makes them a solid investment in the future of Sherlockiana, as I said about their American cousin.

There are so many places one can be a Sherlockian angel to that I'm sure to be missing some very important ones here, and new ones spring up all the time. Support your favorite journals, writers, artists, etc. by picking up their output, of course, but when you want to just put some goodwill out there for Sherlockian culture itself with no personal return, we have some great places to do just that.

In fact, when you're making out your list of Christmas gifts to give this year, putting a few (or all) of the above on that list, if you've got the free cash to donate, is some giving that is about as stress-free as you can make it. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Pilgrims of the Canon . . . the choice!

One of the best things about the American art of Thanksgiving is that the requirements are very few. Cook a meal, eat a meal. Some overly sentimental sort might ask for everyone to state something they're thankful for to put some kind of seriousness to the event, but therein lies a dangerous path to the fact we're celebrating a kindly act from indigenous peoples who later got seriously screwed over. Better to just cook the food and eat the food.

But if you want to go with pilgrims and are truly Sherlockian, you've got one of two ways to go . . .

"Pale-faced, meek-looking women; strong, laughing chidren; and anxious, earnest-eyed men" -- the great Mormon pilgrimage that crossed John Ferrier's path in his time of need, shouting "Forward! On, on to Zion!"

Or . . .

"A cargo of Malay pilgrims . . . a rum crowd" who Jonathan Small and Tonga settled in with on the way to Jiddah, a Saudi Arabian port on the red sea. "They had one very good quality; they let you alone and asked no questions."

So as you gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can go one of two ways as a devout Sherlockian who lives their life by Canonical example: Religious fervor on the topic of your choice or just leave everyone alone and ask no questions.

Two completely opposite approaches, but you'll note in those passages from the first two Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, both groups of pilgrims are inclusive and take in a pair of mismatched travelers for the journey ahead. And that is the best lesson to take away. No matter what the eventual outcome of your relationship with those you make your passage of the holiday with today, being a true pilgrim is accepting the travelers who are with you on your journey.

Because a happy (?) Black Friday awaits us all tomorrow in any case. Sales on Black Peter. Black Giorgiano, a Blackheath rugby player, the Black Swan Hotel . . . or maybe those just start later this afternoon. But for now, as wacky ol' John Wayne would say, have a good day, pilgrims.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Two winter's nights with a story from Sherlock Holmes.

It's the 1880s. Nothing is on television, because television doesn't exist. No smartphone, no laptop, no endless internet of divertissement.

On a cold winter's night, you sit beside the fireplace with the rest of the household, doing whatever small task the lighting and your skillset allows.

If you're Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, such a night could mean one thing: story time.

There are two little biographical sketches in Watson's writings about Sherlock Holmes that have nothing at all to do with a case at hand, and we find them in the opening paragraphs of "The Gloria Scott" and "The Musgrave Ritual." Both are set on a winter's night at Baker Street, and one can easily surmise that the scene in "Musgrave Ritual" comes first.

Sherlock Holmes has finished pasting clippings into his commonplace book of compiled data for future reference on cases, and John has suggested that Sherlock start cleaning up all the loose papers that are stacked about the room. Holmes then drags out a large tin box to start putting the documents into and discovers the souvenirs that lead him to a reminiscence about the Musgraves and their ritual.

It is easy to see this clean-up going into a second evening, when Sherlock Holmes stops to tell John H. Watson about a second set of papers he has come across, going to a drawer to pull out a souvenir whose importance is special enough that it's not kept in the tin box with the Musgrave trinkets. And thus begins the tale of the secret survivors of the sinking of the Gloria Scott.

When did this evenings take place?

Before Holmes goes missing in 1891, to be sure. Before Watson moved out in 1889, also a pretty definite deduction. Watson has already made a start to collecting his own write-ups of Holmes's cases, as evidenced by Holmes's wrap-up of "Gloria Scott" with the words "Those are the facts of the case, Doctor, and if they are of any use to your collection, I am sure that they are very heartily at your service," as well as Watson's reference to "these incoherent memoirs" in "Musgrave."

If Watson still considers his memoirs "incoherent," he plainly hasn't had the validation of a literary agent or publication yet, which puts the winter in question prior to 1887. And yet both Watson and Holmes seem to be pretty invested in the idea of Watson as biographer, like he's been taking a lot of notes. And Watson's mention that Holmes files his documents "only once in every year or two," if taken similarly as a thought of that period, means he had been with Holmes a few years.

Thus the winter of 1886 seems, perhaps, the most likely time for both "The Gloria Scott" and "The Musgrave Ritual" to be an evening's entertainment for Holmes to occupy Watson with. They are fascinating stories in that neither of them is actually told by Watson . . . he just writes the stories of Sherlock Holmes telling him the stories. One could almost imagine Watson intending to do an entire volume of tales Sherlock Holmes related to him over several winter nights in Baker Street, only to have real investigations come along that were much more engaging.

But it is those two stories that really give The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes its title, and give us a window into a completely different sort of Canon that might have been. For as much as we talk about finding Watson's tin dispatch box for entertainment value, that larger tin box that Sherlock Holmes drags out of his bedroom in the opening of "Musgrave Ritual" would be the true treasure trove for the Sherlockian scholar.

And if you also had Sherlock Holmes to narrate the tales of what was in it, as Watson did on cold winter nights by the fire . . . what Sherlockian could ask for anything more?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Seventeen years, just like the seventeen steps to 221B Baker Street.

Revisiting the entire Canon of Sherlock Holmes, as one does reading the appreciative essays of About Sixty, one gets reminded of some pretty wonderful passages of the Watsonian narrative. And one key piece lies at the beginning of the little tale called "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger":

"When one considers that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to co-operate with him and keep notes of his doings . . ."

A very interesting passage in many ways.

First, seventeen years of Holmes and Watson working together.

Of January 1903, Holmes writes in "Blanched Soldier" that, "The good Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife . . . " which follows Watson's statement that "Creeping Man" in September of 1902 was "one of the very last cases handled by Holmes before his retirement from practice."

So we know from Holmes's return in "Empty House" and the following tales that 1894 through 1902 were eight of the years that Holmes and Watson worked together. The nine that remain?

Well, we know the first run definitely came to a close in May of 1891. And we've got nine years left to play with. A straight calculation would put May of 1882 as the time the Holmes started allowing Watson to keep notes of his cases. And that fits in with the bulk of Watson's case writings, that, for the most part, are dated 1887 forward, with one set in 1883.

That one, which is definitely included in "my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes," as Watson writes in its opening, is "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." He also writes that it occurred "early in April in the year '83."

So we are left with an eight year span between 1883 and 1891, where Watson took notes of seventy-odd cases . . . leaving us to assume there was one year when Watson was not allowed to "keep notes of his doings" as mentioned in "Veiled Lodger," but still "studied the methods," as stated in "Speckled Band."

But just because Watson wasn't specifically keeping notes of Holmes's doings during that period does not meant that notes weren't being kept. Recall the subtitle of A Study in Scarlet which reads "Being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D." Pre-1893, Watson was just keeping notes for his own auto-biography.

June of 1889 through May of 1891 could be the two missing years. as Watson is married and in private practice, and the one case that definitely takes place in that period is "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," in which Watson is only stopping by Baker Street and actually tells Holmes he'll wait in the next room until Holmes is done with the client.

So the seventeen years of prime Holmes and Watson partnership roughly 1882 to 1891 and 1894 to 1902 . . . and then four years of Holmes operating solo before that, indicating an 1878 start on Montague Street.

It's a fun little mental exercise to work through, stumbling through a few bad calculations and the occasional little side-jaunt into other bits of Watson's writings. So many Sherlockians have worked through the above since the 1930s, but it doesn't take away from the fun of doing it yourself, if you're of that sort of mind. Hope I didn't spoil it for you with this little walk-through, but this, of course, is just the start . . . as anyone with a true mind for chronology knows.

And anyone with that sort of mind, well, they're already picking this essay apart in any case. The only problem is, once you start focusing on the numbers, you start skipping the rest of it -- I was actually intending to write this blog about that weird phrase "allowed to co-operate" and what it said about the relationship between Holmes and Watson. What about the years Watson wasn't allowed to cooperate? What was going on there?

Well, since I wasted all this time on numbers . . . whoops.