Sunday, January 31, 2016

Where's Braldo? The four SH birthday dinners edition.

With January coming to a close, and the Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend festivities well in the rearview mirror, I'm finally getting to something I tried to do a few weeks ago -- dig up the four big dinner pictures from the Holmes celebrations in New York on four of the six occasions I made it to the big city. (The other two being a Baskerville Bash in 1999 and . . . well, another time that may be a memory glitch.) I was hope to find evidence of the notorious upside down table number from the 1987 BSI dinner that should have been a warning flag, but as you'll see below, no such luck.

You'll find a much younger, contacts-wearing version of me in the upper left corner of the picture. I was standing on a chair, as was Isaac Asimov, whom you'll see near the upper right corner of the photo. It was the first year of assigned seating at the dinner, and Asimov wasn't happy about it, gathering several of his friends at the table despite their assigned-elsewhere seats. Hence the upside-down table number I was looking for. But check out some of the moustaches in the lower part of the picture!

Two years went by, and I actually found myself at a table with at least a couple of people I knew.

Seated next to me in 1989 with the curly hair and moustache was Jim Duval, a Sherlockian we lost far too soon. His journal, The Quarter£y $tatement, was one of my favorites back then. There was a certain something missed from that picture and the previous one, which got me into a little bit of trouble that year. You may notice it in the next picture.

One might think getting seated in the corner of the room in 2001 was a token of falling out of favor, but if you look who else was in that general vicinity, you'll see some much more reputable Sherlockians than myself. And that previously missing element . . . ladies. The picture, you'll notice, was still in classic black-and-white.

That changed by 2003, and it may have just been to fully capture Scott Monty's boyish charm (lower left), but I think it was more probably to get Susan Rice's scarlet tresses in (Hear them both in this month's I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere! Free plug.). And I can't let this picture go by without spotting Gordon Speck in the upper right corner, a true prince among Sherlockians, who was at every one of these dinners (along with a whole lot of others). I don't know if I'd have ever gotten to New York with Gordon and his partner in crime Bill Cochran.

Forgive me this odd little photo indulgence, whose original point has been long since lost in the meandering thoughts sparked by so many familiar faces. One might understand, however, why my first impression of 221B Con a few years back was a little more positive than my first BSI dinner so many years ago . . . I am, alas, a rather superficial sort and one of those events was a lot better-looking than the other.

But onward and upward . . . .

Special Postscript for Howard Ostrom: A photo from the first 221B Con in 2013. The rest of the world got a lot younger all of a sudden!

Sunday morning with the podcasts.

The post-Sherlock's-birthday-weekend time is a good time for listening to Sherlockian podcasts. People have connected in New York in January and there are good interviews to be heard. And as I've found I enjoy listening to the major Sherlockian podcasts on the computer more than my phone, given the ease of sliding past the commercials for the same-old, same-old advertisers and the more meandering parts, Sunday mornings can be a good time to sit down and give them a listen.

The first advice I would give to anyone who has never listened to podcasts before is to start out by listening to as many different ones as you can. Podcasts are like the little conversational groups that pop up at a party. The best are like those people who are unbelievably cool and interesting, but somehow find you charming enough to welcome to their chat-circle. The worst are those droning bores that don't really care who's listening, as long as they have a target to speak at. And like the conversations at a party, you never know which ones will suit your particular tastes and which won't.

Sherlockian podcasts are few, compared to full population of the larger sea of audio they swim in, so it's pretty easy to touch base with the major ones now and then . . . like on an easy Sunday morning.

As Evelyn Herzog and Susan Rice were appearing on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, that was my first destination this Sunday. Two Sherlockians for whom I've had great admiration and respect about as long as I have known their names, Evelyn and Susan were being interviewed on the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes was a must-listen. I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere is always a good place to get a little Sherlockian history from those who participated in it, and no part of our fandoms's history still in living memory is as important as the journey of the Adventuresses. (Though I suspect the journey we're all going on right now will one day be a milestone in its own right -- we're just not into the "history" part yet.)

Some of their stories I had heard before, some parts were brand new, but good stuff and a solid reminder of how different things were fifty(? Really? Fifty?) years ago.

Zipping back to the present for a second podcast, the Baker Street Babes were talking to Bert Coules. In this case, I was coming in more for the Babes than the guest, as I am, sadly, not as Bert-Coules-aware as many of my fellow Sherlockians. That quickly changed as the podcast rolled along, as the Babes in full bloom can bring out the best in a guest. It was especially delightful to hear Kristina back on the podcast (she tends to wander off to Mongolia or some other remote destination), as her spark always takes a Babes podcast from good to great. Bert's observations about the Sherlockian Canon from an dramatiser's point of view bring points one would never get from one's own readings.

Bert's point that "the friendship is what the stories are about -- the cases are incidental" actually makes a real point about modern fanfic without directly addressing it. A lot of us old school Sherlockians are a bit taken aback by the romantic/sexual relationships between Sherlock and John that newer fans love to dive into, but if you consider Holmes and Watson's relationship to be the most important part of the stories, taking them down those more involved relationship roads seems quite natural, now that society is becoming more accepting of male/male romance.

Which brings me to the third major Sherlockian podcast I like to listen to these days, the Three Patch Podcast. If you want to go into relationships between Sherlock-related characters, Three Patch is definitely the place to go. It's a HUGE podcast and dives deep into BBC Sherlock fandom, so one has to be prepared for all of that. In their latest episode, they even discuss how they've drawn out an awfully lot of content for a series that only produced about ninety minutes of new content in the last year. I didn't start really listening to this podcast until I'd seen everything Sherlock fandom was bringing to the table at 221B Con, so I wouldn't recommend this one to a classic Sherlockian without some transitional airlocks to deal with the change in atmosphere.

To this day, Sherlock fandom feels more to me like we discovered a whole new planet of Sherlock Holmes fans, rather than just fans more focussed on a particular show like the Jeremy Brett days. They have a culture and customs much unlike the planet some of us came from, yet are definitely intelligent life forms and seem to be wielding more advanced technologies. I've heard the opinion expressed that, like the previous Brett wave, this new culture will lose its energy and wander elsewhere, with its few remaining members being absorbed by the old Sherlockian world, but as I said . . . a whole new planet. Something on that scale changes life as we know it, no matter what happens to that planet's own culture as time goes on. And I definitely don't see it going away.

I didn't get too far into Three Patch this morning, as like I said, it's HUGE. But will whittle away at it over time. There are a couple of newer podcasts I wanted to get to today, but only so much morning to go around, and I'll have to get there later. It is Sunday morning after all, and a time for a relaxing listen with no pressure.

Which is a nice way to start the last day of the weekend.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A very special edition.

Publishers like to come out with special editions of classic books. Barnes & Noble has a track record of putting out some quite lovely ones. Yet there are other editions of the Sherlock Holmes stories that become even more special to a Sherlock Holmes fan due to the circumstances that surround their time with that particular volume. A childhood gift from a parent. A first-encounter copy on a friend's bookshelf. Such special editions and their reasons are as varied as Sherlockians themselves.

And almost all of them have stories attached. The kind of stories that an aging Sherlockian might tell again and again, even if you're already heard it. And, of course, that means I've got one of those and I'm going to tell it again.

I found myself writing about a particular tale this week, and in selecting where I was going to re-read it from, I decided upon this humble little paperback:

And the memories started coming back . . . .

It was the summer of 1977. I had just finished junior college and was working my familiar summer job before heading to the state school down the interstate to get a B.S. I have a lot of good stories from that summer, but where this book comes in was after the invitation from my grandparents Keefauver to spend a week in a Minnesota fishing cabin with them, my brothers, and my aunt.

Now . . . fishing cabin . . . if you've read much of this blog, you might have developed a view of me as not a real outdoorsy sort, and you would be right. In the mornings when all of the family fishermen would load up the boat and head out on to the lake for a day's fishing, where would I wind up? Not in that boat. 

I'd head down to the beach and try to emulate Patrick Duffy's dolphin swim from Man from Atlantis, hang out with my grandmother, find something to eat . . . really just doing a whole lot of nothing. And that started to get boring very quickly. So on a trip into town to buy groceries, I found a spinner rack of paperback books in the grocery store and started combing it for a diversion.

Now, I already had been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes pastiche at the time, and had written a term paper on him that required a complete read of the whole Canonical sixty. But I was not yet enough of a Sherlockian that I carried a copy of the Canon with me on trips. Finding that paperback edition of Casebook, already a decade old even though it was being sold new (you used to find brand new old books in bookstores, back in the day), seemed like a minor miracle.

I took Casebook back to the fishing cabin and devoured it, then decided I would use it to fashion my own Sherlock Holmes tale. But what part of Holmes's life could I find completely detailed in that one lone volume without the rest of the Canon? His retirement to Sussex, of course, written up in "The Lion's Mane." So I picked through that story some more and wrote "The Sussex Irregular," the first thing I ever had published in a Sherlockian publication. A pastiche, of course, which is what we used to call our fanfic back in "fancier" Sherlockian times, but fanfic it was.

So it is that a Berkley Medallion paperback edition of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes with a lizard, a jewel, a vase, and a deerstalker on the cover became a very special edition to me. Some day maybe I'll write another pastiche featuring a lizard, a jewel, a vase, and a deerstalker in tribute to it.

(That lizard is the puzzling part . . . does it tie to "Sussex Vampire?" Who knows, at this point.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Morlamentary. Or Morland-momentary. Or OMMMMMMMMM.

If you blinked during the fourth minute of this week's episode of Elementary, you might have missed the abbreviated version of the Emmy-nominated opening credit sequence. That is, assuming you were watching and not just getting your reportage here as some do.

It's been a rather dull week, and I heard Mr. Morland Holmes was making another appearance on the show, so I thought I'd look in and see what he was up to, since he teased a whole lot of evil in the final moments of the mid-season finale. Sneak peeks on the internet today found more to tease about Mr. Elementary having both a fight and sex with someone he was questioning, but that tease was the show's tease, and he merely told Joan about his sexual exploits . . . as is about par for their relationship.

But here's the thing about Elementary . . . it is often the case that what they aren't showing you is more interesting than what they are. Mr. Elementary has a conversation with Papa Morland at the show's beginning about an attempt on Morland's life, then sets about investigating it, even though we never saw the attempt on Morland's life and Morland disappears as we head into the episode, so there's not a lot of tension worrying about future assassination attempts.

And there's the other murder procedural plot that Joan has to deal with on a separate track. And it's kind of a real snoozer this week. Halfway house call center, snobby rich people, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

Ah, 9:25, Morland Holmes is back.

Mr. Elementary decides "why you never asked me, the finest detective you know, for assistance" and accuses his father of suspecting Mr. Elementary of being the one who tried to kill him, then brags that Morland knows he didn't attempt patricide for one simple reason: Morland is still alive. Mr. Elementary seems to be channeling Donald Trump ego this week to make up for Trump not appearing on the Republican debates on another channel.

Okay, so we were left thinking Morland Holmes was so evil he'd kill children if it suited his purposes last month, and this month we find out his son could plausibly want to kill him. So he could take Morland's fortune to feed his heroin addiction? I'm just not getting that plot twist, but then, maybe the call center halfway house plot has left me dozey enough that it slipped by.

Wow, this is a really good Arby's commercial. They're selling something besides sandwiches and the announcer is pretty baffled at what that something is. One thing about Elementary, it really makes you appreciate the joy to be found in a good commercial.

Ow, I hope that's not my appendix. Probably a bad bit of beef. Oh, to drop dead during an episode of Elementary. I could become a Sherlockian urban legend and get a Snopes article. (Status: True)

At 9:44, Morland is back again. Maybe he'll explain something.

Everybody speaks so softly on this show. It's very soporific. Gently being lulled into slumberland. For a man suspecting his own son of trying to kill him, then deciding he was wrong and they should patch it up, even though he is kind of tossing that last part in as a passive aggressive parting shot . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Oh, Joan has headshots of telemarketers spread out on the floor. Things are really getting lively. Aaand a Powerpoint presentation. Mr. Elementary is hijacking a Powerpoint presentation. (The remote hijacking of a car last week had a lot more panache.) Wait . . . the turning point clue was a clan tartan?  Well, toss my cabers! And, the murderer in Joan's procedural was the snotty rich guy we knew did it from the moment he popped on the screen.

Mr. Elementary has a little more rough fight-sex off-screen (though we get to see the tough blonde this time, at least), and . . . .

At 9:56, Morland is back to get a new clue on his attempted murder from Mr. Elementary, and a promise from that "finest detective he knows" that he'll find his attempted murderer. Morland gets a funny look . . . maybe because he's actually evil, but who the hell knows at this point.

Sooooo . . . I started this by saying it was a rather dull week, right? And Elementary has gotten me stirred up on occasion, which might have been nice. I mean, here's a show referencing the name "Sherlock Holmes" and "Watson" with no other connection to the Sherlockian Canon whatsoever for an hour tonight, right? But curiously, it's been nothing but a calming influence, mellowing out any harshness of the week.

What am I doing here again?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Just between you and me.

Blogging is a very interesting experience, no matter what your subject.

You have your regular readers, your usual daily number of hits. And then you see a spike in the numbers, for no expected reason. Mention a group or person with a lot of Twitter followers, get re-tweeted, and the numbers spike. That sort of thing happens. But then there's this other thing . . . .

A few comments pop up, just to let you know that you're getting some new readers, and that some of those readers pretty much knew they disagreed with you before they even got to your stuff. Which means somebody out there is pointing at you and saying something. It's a devoted paranoid's dream.

But this, happily, is the Sherlockian world and not the larger one. We're worldwide, but not the world. We're a dedicated, ongoing group of fans, but we pale in comparison to those of any major sport. Even now, our community isn't nearly as large as it could be. Which lessens the impact of our teapot tempests a little bit, but still, to anyone who isn't a true sociopath (and not a TV character who merely claims to be one), you feel those impacts. We have no demons in our Sherlockian world, just people.

People with individual points of view. Individual. None of us speak for all of us, not the head of the largest and oldest group of Sherlock Holmes fans, not the most flamboyant member of the most popular podcast, and not any random Sherlockian who has an occasional moment that gets a bit of a firebrand tone to it. That last one is me, by the way.

This is where the blogging gets tricky. I want to write something that's just between you and me, even when I don't know who you are. And for those who come back to this blog, month after month, to check in, that's who I'm writing to. Those who come around for a post or two, go "I can't stand this guy," and zip off to some other part of the net . . . well, I can't write for them, because they're everybody. And if you try to write for everybody, you often wind up writing nothing worth reading by anybody.

So the disclaimer I'm trying to write here is simple, and one we should all know by heart. One blog, one opinion, one human being among billions on our planet. Just one. Not an army of old school Sherlockians who are rallying against you. Not a radical faction trying to tear down all the traditions of old school Sherlockiana. (It sure seems like I'm in the wonderful position of being intensely disliked by a few folks on both sides.) Just one person recording their reactions to the Sherlockian life just in case someone cares to read it.

Yes, yes, I do say things the wrong way sometimes. I'm married, I get that a lot in non-blog life.

But I pretty much just keep it here, where you can come see the verbal trainwreck if you want, and if you don't want, that's fine, too. I don't promote this, try to purposefully raise readership, any of that. Those who wander here and come back again for reasons other than stirring up their blood in place of morning coffee are much, much appreciated. And they're some lovely people who don't seem to mind that I . . .

. . .  don't really like Elementary.
. . . never have been into the way the Baker Street Irregulars is run.
. . . question commonly accepted things at random, like William Gillette's acting ability.
. . . use too damn many ellipses.
. . . change my mind on occasion, or contradict something I previously said.
. . . can come off as a tremendous asshole in print.

And I like leaving this here for those people. Leaving words laying around in public like this is going to get you in trouble now and then, as you never know who is going to find them. Someone looking to stir up sympathy for their own pet peeve. Someone who wants to foster a feeling that they're all out to get us. Or someone that just needs a weird kid in the schoolyard to mock for their friends.

That's the price of being able to write for those of you that do find a few thoughts you can empathize with here, or the chance to go, "Hey, it isn't just me!" But, as I've learned when the blog hits number goes up sometimes, it's sometimes better if we just keep this between you and me.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Please allow me to introduce myself, my name is Sherlock Holmes.

Okay, we've seen our share of almost-Sherlocks on television lately, but tonight's entry into the TV detective sweepstakes is freaking me out a little bit. He's just a little too much like Sherlock Holmes.

"What?" you ask, "How could any TV detective being like Sherlock be a bad thing?"

Well, what if our latest heir to the amateur detective throne was, himself, a bad thing.

A very bad thing.

As in Lucifer bad thing. As in formerly-of-Hell and making-deals-for-souls Lucifer.

But . . .

British accent, good at getting to people's hidden truths, amusing lack of adherence to social norms. Remind you of anyone we like a whole lot?

Lucifer on Fox is the latest in the terrific string of comic-book-spawned movies we've had lately, with the Devil leaving Hell to solve crime in California. Sure, he's not Sherlock Holmes, but think about it.

Who has a vaster knowledge of criminal history than Sherlock Holmes? This guy.

Who has a brother (or heavenly host of same) who works for the current "government"? This guy.

Who administers his own justice outside the courts on occasion? Okay, well, a lot of occasions . . .

This guy.

And this new TV Lucifer immediately finds a Watson to whom he's not sure exactly why he bonds with, but who helps with his humanity all the same. I'm certain this show will find its fans among the Sherlockian contingent of TV viewers, just as House, Monk, Psych, The Mentalist, etc., etc., etc.

But doesn't it bother you just a teensy bit that our hero, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, bears a little bit of a resemblance to . . . wait a minute, what was it Holmes said in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

"In my modest way, I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task."

Note the "perhaps." Sounds like he was thinking about it.

Crossover, anyone?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Those awkward aliases.

"No, no, the real name," said Holmes, sweetly. "It is always awkward doing business with an alias."

Yesterday, I mistook someone's real name for an alias. Why would anyone do such a thing? Well . . .

Sherlockians have liked their aliases for a very long time. Going back as far as the first issue of The Baker Street Journal, you can see Sherlockian founding fathers using a pen name on occasion. And once the Baker Street Irregulars started handing out investiture titles, the idea of Canonical nicknames among Sherlockian societies spread far and wide.

We like our Sherlockian nicknames, and they've been used in some odd places over the years -- one of the oddest was when an article in The New Yorker decided to spread dark rumors about a particular Sherlockian and use his B.S.I. investiture as a coy "we're not really saying his name" ploy. Which may have made their subject anonymous to the general public with no time to Google search, but to the rest of the Sherlockian community? Pretty obvious who they were casting aspersions about.

Because we never really hid behind our nicknames from the Sherlockian Canon.

Pen names still came up in places like the BSJ over the years, as some professionals felt writing about Holmes might reflect negatively on their professional lives somehow, but that practice went to a whole new level when BBC Sherlock came on the scene.

I remember the surprise at the very first 221B Con, both to many of the organizers and classic Sherlockian attendees, when a goodly number of the attendees wanted to be identified on their con badges by their Tmblr handles. The world of internet fan fiction, with so much of it "scandalously" erotic in nature, had brought a new reason for pen names, and many a new Sherlock Holmes fan was known only by a pseudonym. And that all made sense . . . in that circumstance.

But where it starts to get awkward, as Holmes would say, is when we start to deal with each other as human beings, outside of that specific context. If "carbunclebleucheese" suddenly shows up on your web doorstep with no bonafides, how seriously should you take them?

A few months back, I had a Sherlockian take issue with the way I expressed something in this blog, and, in addition to staying behind an alias, actually had their thoughts forwarded via a second aliased Sherlockian's e-mail, who added their own thoughts wrapped around the other alias's message, which changed the tone of the whole communication. What might have been one considered opinion turned into a couple of masked thugs jumping out of my e-mail to beat me about the head and shoulders.

It made things rather awkward in a situation that was awkward enough to begin with, and very hard to reply.

But one can't even single out the newer fans for the amount of alias-play strangeness these days, as one sees books and organizations expressing opinions and having personalities on Facebook and other social media quite a bit. Which, like the pen-names, makes sense to a degree . . . until it goes a bit too far and doesn't.

I'm not about to raise a cry to abandon aliases. They're a fun little part of our hobby. But like every other toy in our toybox, they have their time and place. But when one wants to be taken seriously, and have an honest discussion, the first thing one needs to be honest about is who they are. Especially when it reaches the point where one can not be sure what's an alias any more and what isn't, as happened yesterday.

Because as the great man once said, "It is always awkward doing business with an alias." Always.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sherlockians in amber.

I had been looking for a way to mention the new initiative by the Baker Street Irregulars to raise $250,000 over five years to digitize their Harvard archives. It's a pretty unbelievable concept -- a fan organization with a quarter-of-a-million Harvard archive, although one could probably see it coming. The value of the Sherlockian materials held by the Special Collections of the University of Minnesota far outreaches that figure, and a quarter mil just ain't what it used to be . . . though still not petty cash.

I just had a hard time wrapping my head around that one until I read a lovely blog post on "Monitoring the Media" about the writer's first time attending the BSI's annual dinner. The writer, "Anastasia" (I really have to do a post on this pseudonym trend -- coming soon), does a great job of encapsulating much of the Baker Street Irregulars experience. The starry-eyed first attending, the cherished anachronism, the upper-class venue . . . it really took me back to a time when I was much younger.

A time when I was not the only one that was much younger . . . the Baker Street Irregulars were also a much different organization than they are today. No Harvard archives, no Yale Club, not so many tuxedos, a Times Square that was kind of scary . . . and yet, all of what Anastasia describes about the BSI today was also very true back then. There has always been a large part of BSI culture that's been about looking back. To the Victorian era in its early years. To the 1930s in its later years. And to the . . . 1930s in its later years.

And to the 1930s in its later years.

And to the 1930s in its later years.

I don't recall much fuss about the Baker Street Irregulars of the 1950s. We don't really have a Sherlockian Fonzie to look back to to capture that era. Or the 1970s, when Nicholas Meyer was upsetting the apple cart and pastiches ran wild with crossovers. Or the 1990s, when women were first allowed to slowly be rationed into the Baker Street Irregulars, and Jeremy Brett was still holding the crown as the screen Sherlock. For in all those eras, the BSI would forever intersperse its loving gaze at Sherlock Holmes with longing sidelong glances back at the 1930s.

That charge was led by Jon Lellenberg back in the day, who remains, perhaps, the greatest devotee of that world before things went all . . . well, I don't exactly want to say "awry," but "very different." Despite the fact that he's not in vogue with the group's management of late, Jon is certainly responsible for much of the push for BSI history preservation we see today. The interest was always there, but I can't imagine anyone denying the snowball that he started pushing decades ago.

And I'll be honest here: As a rabid Sherlock Holmes fan, I've never been a big proponent of too much enthusiasm about the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. In places, it has always seemed to distract from the topic that I really wanted to focus on. Why sing "Aunt Clara" one more time when we could hear some tribute to Sherlock Holmes that could be the next longstanding addition to our Sherlockian history? My personal Sherlockian mantra might as well be the Moriartian "I'm *so* changeable!" because before ADD was even a buzz-acronym, I was there: "Forget that old stuff, let's see something new!"

And now, we've seen something new. Holy crap, have we seen something new. Sherlockiana has had its own version of climate change and the seas are rising. Not to imply our new Sherlockian world is a dangerous disaster -- it's brought some amazing goodness as well as some amazing badness -- there is just an undeniably powerful force behind the name "Sherlock Holmes" these days.

In such times, the urge to build up walls, secure the treasures, and lay in stores to maintain the life one once knew becomes stronger than ever. As Anastasia closes her blog about the BSI and its dinner, she ponders how that "preserved in amber" quality of the BSI will remain during all that's going on about it. The Baker Street Irregulars never had such a Sherlockian fandom at its gates as it now has. It's about to be changed forever, whether its more diehard members will acknowledge that fact or not, but that's the way life has always been. Changes is constant, even when we pretend it isn't there.

And that is why we find value in our historians. The keepers of the archives. It takes a certain religious zeal to be those people, as the monks of old demonstrate, and not all of us can, or should, be those people. Somebody has to be watching the horizon. But when the next generation comes along, that generation is always glad at some point that the records exist.

Which makes me really hope someone is hanging on to all the stuff that's happening right now. I think we have the 1930s down pretty well. But this current Sherlockian craziness? Who knows how that's going to look when the Sherlockians of eighty years from now look back.

Friday, January 22, 2016

And then there's always Mycroft.

2000, 1969, 1903.

William S. Dorn, Bruce Kennedy, Charlton Andrews.

Mycroft Holmes, Mycroft Holmes, Mycroft Holmes.

Active in only four out of sixty Sherlock Holmes stories, Mycroft Holmes makes for one of those tidy Sherlockian subjects one can write about without re-reading the whole of the Sherlockian Canon. (Which speaks more to my own laziness than any of the writers mentioned above.) And yet, as Sherlock Holmes's true "smarter" brother, his very existence lights the fires of any Sherlockian fascinated by his little brother Sherlock.

In 1973, when Charlton Andrews' 1903 Mycroft tales were reprinted in a 500 copy edition by Aspen press, the back of the booklet also held "Notes Toward s Bibliography of Mycroft Holmes," a listing of 24 items in print that would make a fine start for the collector focusing on Mycroft at that time. The number of Sherlockian books, movies, articles, etc. on Mycroft Holmes has expanded like the man himself since that time, and an aspiring completist could today build quite a little collection with Mycroft as its theme.

A crypto-historian, wishing to add one more record to that pile, could still delve deep into the life of a man that is largely unimagined where his brother is not concerned, yet so ripe and . . . dare I say it . . . plump with possibilities that no single novel could do it full justice. A man who "occasionally is the British government?" There is hardly a more intriguing character in all of the mysterious mass of words we call the Canon.

When Dorn looked at Mycroft's Many Faces in Y2K, he suggested among other things that Mycroft was the world's first computer programmer. Fans of Ada Lovelace's work in 1842 might find that suggestion a bit off, but that's the thing about Mycroft . . . no one is truly sure of all the pies he had his fingers in. His brother Sherlock had ranged so widely in his knowledges just focussing on crime and its solution that one can hardly imagine where a Holmes whose focus was the whole nation might have held in his brain.

Now that Mycroft has become such a staple of modern Sherlockian television and movies, it only seems a matter of time before he gets to split off into some solo effort in those media. And why not? He's always been the big man, more than big enough to carry his own story.

And just intriguing enough to make us always wonder just what he's up to . . . .

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The distances between us.

When I first became a Sherlock Holmes fan, way back in the ol' disco-1970s, the main thing that lay between Sherlockians was distance. I was in Morton, Illinois. You were in Chicago, St. Louis, DuQuoin, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Flower Mound, Santa Fe, Dubuque, Bloomington, St. Petersburg, Washington, Brooklyn, Boston, Jacksonville . . . etc., etc., etc. Geography was the primary challenge in initiating and maintaining Sherlockian friendships. It still is, to a degree.

But now we have all new distances separating us.

My attention was directed today to a letter written back in September of last year entitled "An Open Letter to Pan-Holmesian Fandom: Elementary Is Not Your Punchline." Posted by someone who goes by "language-escapes," it plays out a familiar song I've heard many a time since I started including the subject of CBS's Elementary in my blog-posts: "If you don't like Elementary, then just don't talk about it in your podcasts and blog entries." In other words, continue to be a Sherlock Holmes fan, but completely ignore a major network television program making its money off of the name "Sherlock Holmes" to create a safe space for those whose love of it could cause them offense or pain if you were to speak negatively of the show. Or laugh at its extravagances.

This week, Clyde the turtle is hibernating in the refrigerator, Mr. Elementary is commenting on Joan's lack of a sex life. And suddenly Papa Elementary is back to ask Joan out to dinner. Uh-oh. And Mr. Elementary soon seems concerned that since she slept with his brother, she may sleep with his father. Mr. Elementary and Detective Bell go to a strip club while that date takes place. Pardon me if I can't critique that silliness without a little laughter, but come on! I would, and have, mock a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur F'Conan Doyle if it had that stuff in it.

The "Open Letter" complains of podcast participants spontaneously using "At least it's not Elementary!" as a punchline, but it's not a punchline. It's the statement of comparison. And that comparison is, "At least this show didn't go as far afield from the original Sherlock Holmes as Elementary did." The part that makes people laugh is how far afield Elementary had gone without a solid tether back to its origins. The turtle. The strippers. Watson's bedding Mycroft. Robot dinosaurs killing prostitutes. Oh, wait, that was the Asylum Sherlock Holmes, which we all laugh at, wasn't it?

But Elementary goes on this week to a cat-cafe scene with a cat-cafe lady that is actually more endearing than anything I've ever seen on this show. She then helps Mr. Elementary catch this week's killer in a quite charming method. If they hadn't spent the first half of the episode, or the first three seasons, trying to suggest to me that someone as distinctly not Sherlock Holmes as Mr. Elementary deserved the name rather than something more suitable to the original character he is, I might just go "Oh, this silly show has its moments," and let it go at that. But no. This is "Sherlock Holmes," broadcast to ten million people during one of its big seasons, and thus a common reference point for us all.

And all of what I've written above puts some distance between me and some Elementary fans. I can't buy a plane ticket to remove that distance. I can't spend a couple hundred dollars on gas and cross that distance by car. No, the price certain Elementary fans ask to travel that distance to see them is to remain silent about something going on with the name "Sherlock Holmes" while they get to freely talk about that same thing as they wish.

Believe it or not, I've paid that price before. I've sat silently in Elementary panels at 221B Con, just to listen to what the ardent fans of the show had to say, and try to empathize with their position. I let them have their say, didn't argue against their points, either there or later in blogland. (But, oh, how I could have.) Their panels, their fun, I thought, why interrupt? But that silence didn't build any relationships. If one of us can't honestly speak their mind, the distance does nothing but grow greater.

(And it starts making me want to put ". . . but at least it's not Elementary!" on a t-shirt. Because when you tell people to shut up, the stuff that gets bottled up is going to come out somewhere.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Sherlockian life, phase two.

I now believe there are two phases to a Sherlockian life well-lived.

In part one, you just go for it. Collect, experience, dive in, and just see where it takes you.

In part two, you spend you time looking through your house going, "What the hell?"

Tonight was one of those nights. Looking for one thing (that I never did find), I kept finding other things. BIG things. So, like many a person in their later half of life, I've put together a slide show of sorts so I can show the Sherlockian "grandkids" my memories that they aren't all that interested in. Unlike most of the web, however, I'm not going to make you click through a page per item. (There are, occasionally, benefits to us old-school types. )

Here's a simple one, and not all that big: a chart.

Okay, it's a three foot wide chart with shows, as the caption says, the average number of times Holmes called Watson by name per story. It's not big enough to have been used at a symposium talk, so I'm thinking scion meeting talk. And probably from my "Holmes voice database" days, when I built a database of every line Holmes spoke in the Canon, a first step in a dream I had of creating a faux Sherlock Holmes artificial intelligence. That never got built, but since Moriarty says less things in the Canon, he got a little "Magic Eightball" program built on the web.

Next, we have a huge picture of the Houses of Parliament.

The cars tell you it's not really period Sherlockian, but there's just enough Anglophile in a Sherlockian's bloodstream that I could not throw it away once it made its way into the house. How did that happen? I have no idea.

But this one I do . . . a sign marking the little path to cross to my backyard neighbor's house, when he was calling our place "Baskerville Hall."

Another local talk, and a HUGE Paget drawing to illustrate the point. I went through a phase when I really liked blowing up Paget drawings.

Alex Bernstone, the conspiracy theorist and Sherlockian author of Who Are The 4? -- Alex was actually murdered twice, once in St. Louis and once in Peoria. He was one of those bow-tie-favoring Sherlockians. A few copies of his deeply flawed book are still available to those who know the right people.

Two nice graphic pieces that were either created by a fellow named Mike Cook for the "Weekend at Baskerville Hall" symposium or for a library exhibit. I really can't remember any more.

This one may look harmless on the web, but it's a postively MASSIVE poster from one of the "Gillette to Brett" conferences down in Indianapolis. I think it's Norwood, but will depend upon Howard Ostrom to correct me if I'm wrong.

And last, but certainly not least, is my old friend the life-sized Sidney Paget Holmes, pouring you a glass of water. Didn't I say I went through a "blowing up Paget pics" phase. Still don't know what to do with this guy, but had to drag him up to hang out in the library once more. He has travelled quite a bit in his day.

As the insightful Crystal Noll pointed out last time, some blogs are more about procrastination than the subject they purport to be about, and I think this was one of them. The Sherlockian house-cleaning continues . . . .

Monday, January 18, 2016

So . . . much . . . paper . . . .

With rumors of a prominent Twitter Sherlockian from downstate coming to visit this outpost of Baker Street worldwatch, I've set about the task of doing some cleaning and re-organizing Sherlock Peoria Central this week. And what did I encounter?

Paper. Tons and tons of paper.

Yes, there are books, of course, but they tend to be compact and manageable. It's all that other paper that was generated in the pre-internet Sherlockian world that takes up the space. Newsletters, journals, flyers, programs, notices, form letters, etc., all with just enough Sherlockian content to make them hard to throw away, yet not of much use once their freshness date has expired either.

I mean, am I ever going to go back and do a meeting retrospective of the Reichenbachian Cliff-divers when I never attended a single one of their functions? Probably not.

So many monographs, Christmas cards, and papers handed out at meetings, all with good Sherlockian information, but sorely in need of an indexing system just to make said data accessible. There might be some value in random access for inspiration at some point, or, I suppose, just making a hobby of cataloging them for some future Sherlockian to deal with.

And then we get to the letters. That thing that doesn't exist any more and makes you feel like you're a historical figure. The funny thing about letters is you just have the parts that everyone else wrote you. Who knows what you wrote them? (Well, maybe they do, unless they pitched the lot, like a sensible person. Me? Not so sensible.) E-mail is so nicely searchable.

So far I've cleaned up about three square feet, and am about to head into the deepest darkest part of the room . . . the place where the non-book paper Sherlockiana of a whole 'nother Sherlockian crashed into mine. But this is quickly turning into either a very dull blog entry or the worst humble brag ever. ("Hey, everybody, I have a bunch of vague stuff I'm not even going to bother to describe!") so I think I'll take a break from both the room and this, and go wash the dishes.

And I promise not to blog about that . . . .

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mr. Elementary and Sherlock Holmes fans in New York City.

Now that the Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend is winding to a close in NYC, and all of that mad social whirl is starting to loose its grasp on those fortunate enough to partake of its pleasures, the rest of us can start hoping for reports of just went on there. The tweets and caption-less Facebook photos that have been trickling in all week have been, at times, both intriguing and . . . well, how does one describe a bunch of old white guys in monkey suits sitting around a table while a couple of them look at their phones . . . mundane? Some things just cannot be captured in photos, though, as Conan Doyle learned the hard way from Harry Houdini, like spirits.

And spirits are a big part of that great celebration of Sherlock, to be sure.

Among those things that I'm curious to hear more about, as the dust settles on the 2016 festivities in New York City, is how a certain other New York City endeavor of a Sherlockian nature had its presence felt there. Think about this for a second: Every year, one of the biggest events in the longtime Sherlock Holmes fan calendar takes place in NYC. We also, for the past three years, have had a major network television show about Sherlock Holmes that takes place in NYC.

I'm still hearing about Sherlockians visiting a bar that Christopher Morley once favored. But what about the Sherlockians visiting locations where Elementary was shot?

Sherlock Holmes fans in New York. TV show about Sherlock Holmes in New York. Match made in heaven, right? Who needs London any more?

Okay, I'm being a bit silly there. We can never lose London. But still . . . .

I can see a day, decades down the line, when an aging Jon Michael Hill is invited to the BSI dinner to speak on that long ago time when Elementary was a going concern, but now? While it's actually on the air? Anything? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

So I'm curious to see if that TV show that's had some an impact upon at least this Sherlockian's Sherlockian life has made any inroads into all that is January in New York City.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Houdini and Borat . . . er, Doyle.

Coming home from an evening of Bowie, bondage, and inspiration (a rare and unusual night, indeed), I was immediately confronted with the first preview of Fox's new spring limited series, "Houdini & Doyle."  Now, we're talking Conan Doyle and not Sherlock Holmes here, so my sense of the man may be not so keenly honed, but . . . .

The "Houdini & Doyle" preview is full of quick cuts that have a slight tinge of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes to it, but it's definitely not Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini playing Holmes-and-Watson-ish characters, at least in what I got from the quick succession of scenes in the preview. That's a good thing. And although I don't know how Houdini fans will feel, but I like the way Houdini is being played. Quite the charming fellow.

The Conan Doyle, however?

That moustache makes me think of Borat, and . . . wait a minute . . . shouldn't he be Scottish? Just a wee bit? Did they not watch the interview?

The series looks like it could be a lot of fun, but calling that guy "Conan Doyle" . . . well, that might take a little getting used to. He seems a little skinny, a little too English, a little too all-about-the-moustache, and Conan Doyle in full spiritualist mode has, I'll admit, never been a fave so I do have a bias or two there.

Interestingly, IMDB has a Scottish actor named Ewen Bremner playing Sherlock Holmes in one episode, which makes one wonder if he'll be recreating a piece of a true Doyle tale or not, or just harassing Doyle in some mental figment way. I suppose Holmes had to show up for at least one episode.

As a six episode mini-series, it seems as if Fox might not be just taking a British main character in Doyle, but emulating a more British-style of TV series with one six-part story. It will be very interesting to see what they do with him in an American production.

On to see what the rest of the internet has cooked up for tonight . . . .

The Exploding Pajamas of Sherlock Holmes.

From distant Peoria, one would think that the Baker Street Babes' charity ball was practically the reason for the Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend celebrations in New York these days. It could be the slant of my particular Twitter feed, and it could be because the attendees of "The Daintiest Thing in a Dressing Gown Pyjama Party" are much heavier into social media than other events, but it always comes up as a gloriously charming event.

I mean, this year . . . pajamas. In New York City. At a traditionally tuxedo-or-at-least-suit-and-tie time of year. When you come down to it, tuxedos are just a dull form of cosplay anyway, so why not pajamas?

Another thing I love about the charity ball is that it connects with a good cause outside of the Sherlockian world in a very Sherlockian way. As a fundraiser for disabled veterans, it's the perfect way to help a part of the real world while personally commemorating dear old John H. Watson, the disabled vet who started our entire hobby. When the Babes first came up with the concept, it was a very refreshing change, contrasting the times when we Sherlockians get our heads too far up our own Baker Street butts.

The photos of onesies and dressing gowns coming onto Twitter really broke up the comments on the circus that was the thousandth Republican debate this year, and one wonders if having a pajama-themed debate might not have even added a little spark to those doings.

In any case, congratulations to the Baker Street Babes and all of their Thursday night friends for blowing up my Twitter feed once again. If you'd have managed to get Chris Redmond into a onesie, I think you'd have won the Sherlockian internet this weekend, but it's always good to have some challenges that stay just out of reach to inspire future endeavors.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The 1.5 billion Sherlockian.

There's a little bubble of time many a Sherlockian has been living in this week that's about to burst.

It probably has already burst for a lot of us already, but I haven't looked at the new, the numbers, or my ticket just yet, so I have a few more moments to dream. Because that's what we pay for when we buy a ticket to a big lottery like the Powerball drawing that hit one and a half billion dollars as its prize this week. We're paying a few bucks just for a single ray of hope to dream by.

Silly? A fool's investment? Sure. But if you're too practical to dream every now and then, or waste a few dollars on a conversational topic, well, just go away, you're probably no fun.

Oh, come back, I need all the readers I can get. I'm sorry.

But back to this lottery silliness. Was it a mere coincidence that the Powerball drawing hit this unheard of height just after we heard that St. Bart's Hospital was going up for rent? For a week or so, it was entirely possible that a Sherlock Holmes fan could get struck by impossible lightning and rent the single most important location in both the whole Sherlockian canon and the Sherlock TV series? 221B Baker Street has always been at some hazy, arguable location, as it should be, but Bart's?

Can you imagine the uber-Sherlockian setting up their HQ in the upper levels of Bart's with a good supply of spendable cash? Developing the hospital beneath into a full-on Sherlockian mecca? Well, a hospital might be a more useful institution, but we're dreaming here.

But Bart's is just one direction you could go, if you were going to be more Sherlockian than humanitarian with the mega-windfall. You could bankroll a major motion picture adaptation of Sherlock Holmes to suit your own tastes. You could just start attending a different Sherlockian event every weekend and often two or three times a weekend, jetting from place to place. You could hold the convention to end all conventions and fly in all the living superfans and stars and writers for some serious panels and events. You couldn't do it all, of course, as even 1.5 billion has its limits after taxes. But with a little focus and a single target or two, you could make a pretty big move.

In the end, you would probably be just a heightened version of the Sherlockian you are now, doing the things you like to do now at a much different level. (So I'd be blogging in a fancier font, I guess.)

But this little Powerball moment of dreaming is about to disappear, and I'm not entirely satisfied with any of the plans I've come up with as yet, so I suppose it will be okay if I don't win it . . . this time.

I hope you're having a very good week, though, in any case.

Sherlockiana changes for all of us, millennial and boomer alike.

With all the happy Sherlockian events this week, it was great to get word that the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes website got a revamp. Monica Schmidt did a great job at catching it up, always a constant concern with standing sites. (Pieces of Sherlock Peoria are frozen in time, probably until that webspace one day dies.)  Wandering the new site led me to a re-read of a great article by Heather Holloway and Taylor Blumenberg called "On the Care and Feeding of Millennials: Bringing a New Generation of Sherlockians into the Fold."

Heather and Taylor make some great points in their piece, And what fascinates me about it is the points they make that don't just apply to millennials, but many a Sherlockian outside the bubble of the traditional Sherlockian world. The world outside of Sherlockiana is constantly changing, and the slow-moving train that is the most traditional parts of the hobby is very slow to turn, especially with many of the passengers, in any given decade, going "Life is great inside this train! It can go on like this forever!"

But no moment lasts forever.

My parents, for example, retired in their early fifties, a good five years younger than I am now, not because they were wealthy, but because the world they lived in allowed that of certain middle-class jobs. They got to indulge their hobbies and grandchildren at that active age like few generations before and few after, just due to the moment they found themselves in. My wife and I came out of college debt-free, not because we were from wealthy families, but due to the world around us in that moment. That doesn't happen so much any more. Without getting too political about it, the robber barons at the top are finding ways to take a little more from everyone these days.

Which brings me to an admission I've resisted making, but seems appropriate this week in particular. When my household went from total D.I.N.K. (Double Income, No Kids) in the happy late nineties and early two-thousands to a O.R.I.O.F.L. (One Regular Income, One Free-Lancer.), our travel budget took a hit. Not only did the big trips, like New York in January, wind up on the cutting block, putting miles on the car for a decent sized road trip started being a serious consideration. And for a while, I went totally Spartan with it. I still had the web, after all. It wasn't like I was out of touch.

And yet, bit by bit, I was. Heather and Taylor cite three hurdles to Millennials slipping easily into traditional Sherlockian culture, and I began to notice them as well as I found myself slipping out. Traditional Sherlockiana can be pretty pricey. Just comparing the upcoming Minneapolis weekend symposium costs for two people to 221B Con's latest badge sale has me putting more weight on the price difference than I really care to in deciding which direction to head. But, hey, it's only money, right? If you're not rich, just be super-dedicated to the hobby and cut corners elsewhere. Fans have done it for years. But still . . . .

The second hurdle they mention is a social one,  and again, I think they're hitting a point that doesn't just affect the younger generation of Sherlockians. I noticed a long time ago that there were some pretty great Sherlockians who seemed to disappear from the map once they fell out of step with the mainstream of the hobby. Still great fans of Sherlock Holmes, but once they quit being involved in the prescribed functions, "poof." Gone. As Sherlockiana has been a hobby of small numbers until this recent surge, one could see how that could happen. The one or two proprietors of any Sherlockian society had enough trouble keeping up with the business of meetings, etc., for those who showed up, so any sort of outreach wasn't really on the agenda for those whose view of the hobby wasn't pretty much in line. The big, open world of convention fandom just wasn't here yet, and habits took shape based on that older world.

The third barrier cited, the technological one, doesn't just affect Millennials either. As a tail-end member of the Baby Boom, I've come to detest writing checks in this Paypal world, and sometimes I've put off writing a check for something Sherlockian long enough that I just move on to something else. (Interesting note, given the start of this piece: My annual subscription to The Serpentine Muse has been the sole survivor of that long check-writing battle.) But it isn't just paying for things. Like newspapers, I don't think traditional Sherlockiana has found its "killer app" on the web even now. Sherlock fandom was born on the web and probably has enough content there already to put any major Sherlockian collection to shame. Sure, it's all digital. But it exists, all the same. We have yet to even fully comprehend is the impact of e-reading on Sherlockiana, though it's definitely having one.

The one thing it's easy to miss when considering these differences between new Sherlockians and old is that it's not just a binary system. We like black and white, good and evil, old and young. We like to think that Sherlockiana as we've known it will absorb all Holmes fans and continue as a single-threaded hobby. But it's very possible, as with music streams of the current era, that Sherlock Holmes may not just have one fandom celebrating him and carrying the love of the great detective into the future. We're already seeing a certain amount of behavior between fans of one Holmes or another than seem a lot like political or religious divides.

Or perhaps things will settle down eventually, back to the point where the surviving enthusiasts are just happy to see anyone that likes anything to do with Sherlock Holmes. That is the joy of an convention or long weekend of gathering like the luckier ones are seeing in NYC this week. In a great big world, finding a bunch of fans of your favorite thing in one place is always a remarkable experience, which is why it's kind of a shame when hurdles exist, whether you're a millennial or the last remaining person who bought a copy of The Strand Magazine at a newsstand.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hate-watcher on trial.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client has been accused of the crime of hate-watching.

You might not be familiar with the term "hate-watching," as it has not been long on the books. Wikipedia describes it as "a neologism for watching a television show while simultaneously hating its content or subject." Google, on the other hand, describes "hate-watch" as follows: "watch (a television program) for the sake of the enjoyment one derives from mocking or criticizing it." As you can see, since this is a fairly new term, we, as a culture, have not completely settled on its definition yet.

My client, as you see him here, is a lifelong follower of Sherlock Holmes, raised among the Sherlockian faithful during a time before expressing a negative opinion upon a particular theatrical adaptation of that classic character became a hurtful attack upon anyone who stumbled into a critical review that disagreed with their own opinion. He also came into his Sherlockian majority during that era when the followers of Sherlock Holmes took great pride in considering Holmes as a real person, a historical character if you will, who existed before any actor took the stage endeavoring to counterfeit that illustrious personage.

A more political man might describe a particular Sherlock-related entertainment as a "boring example," one "that painstakingly want(s) to be original Holmes, but are made with such a lack of love that they surely miss the goal" and is "mainly just constructed mystery plots with an investigating cliche duo in the middle." Such a critic might wisely not identify the source material he is speaking about in the middle of broadly expressing his love of another Holmes adaptation and go scott-free of any accusation of wrongdoing. But my client, ladies and gentlemen, my client is no such wisely political man.

He once described being a Sherlockian collector as using a "vacuum" approach -- taking in anything that came his way that had anything to do with Sherlock Holmes. Yes, my friends, there was a time in our distant past when a man or woman could do that on a middle-class income, as hard as that is to imagine now. A time when a Sherlockian expressed his or her love of Holmes by gathering up any item with a deerstalker or featuring a character named "Irene Adler" or "Grimesby Roylott" despite the quality or actual pertinence of said thing to Sherlock Holmes. It was a different time, a time before the world-wide popularity of the legendary Cumberbatch, before Etsy, before CafePress, before all those T-shirt sites started producing items custom-designed to stimulate fannish cravings.

As a Sherlockian collector used to taking in all things Sherlock-related, what was my client supposed to do when a particular television company began to air a show with a character named "Sherlock Holmes" featured throughout? Plainly, the makers of the show wanted people who loved Sherlock Holmes to watch their show, to give them a ready-made audience, or else they wouldn't have named their main character "Sherlock Holmes." If I give a child a kidney pie and tell them it's a doughnut, I'm probably trying to get that child to eat a kidney pie knowing they like doughnuts. And that child, that poor innocent child, will trustingly take a bite before realizing that what they've been served is not a doughnut at all.

"Ah, yes," you might say, "but once that child takes a bite, they realize the ruse and will cease to eat the kidney pie."

But what if the world only has real doughnuts once every two years, and the kidney pie is served weekly, being called a doughnut every time? Will not this poor child who loves their doughnuts so, try that faux doughnut a second time? Might he not continue to eat the kidney pie as research to prove to that this so-named "doughnut" is kidney pie after all?

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a time when the term "hater" is thrown around as commonly as references to Adolph Hitler when differences occur. And as with the Hitler references, using the word "hate" in reference to another is typically an attempt to villify them, to make the "hater" a villain who is predisposed to the practice of evil. And once something is tossed in that "evil" category, we no longer have to consider its merits, do we? It's evil and will one day burn in hell, so we no longer have to consider that said point of view might just have a valid point or two.

We all watch plays, movies, or television shows that we find fault in, even after we spot the faults sometimes. The kids want to watch that silly cartoon. The spouse wants to watch that over-the-top drama. One's fellow Sherlockians want to watch a dull procedural. No one is stopping any of those folks we care about from watching their favorite shows. And occasionally, we might find ourselves in a situation where we watch along with them, out of concern for what they're taking in.

Does that make us Adolph Hitler for not enjoying said thing as much as they do?

Of course not.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm asking you today to throw out this ridiculous charge of "hate-watching," for not just my client, but all of the accused. Perhaps I have gone overlong in my remarks, perhaps I have strained a metaphor, or overcomplicated my arguments. But in the end, I hope you have seen the simple, even elementary, reasons for a verdict of innocent.

I rest my case.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Appreciating Dorothy Leigh Sayers.

For some reason, I decided to pick Unpopular Opinions by Dorothy Sayers off the bookshelf last night for a read. I've always liked that title, for one, being a spouter of certain unpopular opinions myself, and am, at this juncture, finding an even more splendid perspective in reading it.

After another healthy dose of Benedict Cumberbatch, one always sees a few comments from elder male Sherlockians dismissing female Holmes fans almost entirely for the large enthusiasm for the current screen Sherlock. Going back and reading Dorothy Sayers kicking Sherlockian scholarship ass in the 1930s, admiring her detailed reasoning and ability to call her Sherlockian peers on their faulty conclusions, one has a rock-solid reminder that the notion that gender discrimination belongs nowhere in the cult of Sherlock Holmes fandom.

Sayers' works collected in Unpopular Opinions, "Holmes' College Career," "Dr. Watson's Christian Name," "Dr. Watson, Widower," "The Dates in The Red-Headed League," and "Aristotle on Detective Fiction" were written in the prime of Sherlockian scholarship, some as early as 1934. She gave us Dr. Watson's best middle name, to oh-so-perfect "Hamish." She was a part of the original Sherlock Holmes Society of London at a time when their New York counterparts weren't exactly sure where they stood on female Irregulars. (Ever consider how one of the first "female" contributors to the BSJ was Morley's "Jane Nightwork"? Thank God he wasn't Norm MacDonald or we'd have been saddled with "Jane Crackwhore.") But I digress . . . .

. . . or do I? Also included in Unpopular Opinions is Sayers' talk "Are Women Human?" a fascinating take on women's rights that is still worth reading today. Sayers was a great thinker (do we have great thinkers any more?) and goes deep in considering the many aspects of an issue, whether it was a serious matter like a woman's place in society or something frivolous like Sherlock Holmes's choice of college.

Looking back on a day when a long, well-considered paper on Holmes was more common than four hundred word blog posts on our friend Sherlock gives one a sense of perspective to start with, but there is so much more to see when one goes back to our Sherlockian predecessors and their assorted works. It is definitely a trip worth taking, now and then.

The unicorn horn of positivity.

All Sherlock is good Sherlock to someone.

Even if it's just the person who created it. Even if that person only saw ten minutes of "Hands of a Murderer" and were so impressed by Edward Woodward that they turned off the movie and just started writing. Even if they weren't quite sure that the toaster was not invented in 1885.

Because all Sherlock is good Sherlock . . . to someone.

It doesn't matter what their reason is for loving Sherlock. It doesn't matter what their motive is for their involvement. It doesn't matter how far they've taken it.

Because all Sherlock is good Sherlock.

To Someone.

And all of us. Every single one of us. Enjoys those three syllables.

Sher. Lock. Holmes.

Just keep to that, you'll be all right.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

And now, a palate cleanser . . . that other TV show.

"Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective is absolutely everywhere on television, in ancestral DNA if not always in name (although of course there is also Elementary, though that tends to feel like a descendant who was named in honour of his grandfather)."
-- David Berry, "Why network television loves Sherlock Holmes," National Post

Now that Sherlock has established that you can do just about anything in Sherlock Holmes's mind palace with the right combination of pharmaceuticals, we have a whole new way to appreciate CBS's Elementary. It could be Sherlock Canon, if it takes place in Cumberbatch Holmes's mind, too, as he imagines his Victorian self's descendants living in the modern world.

Things have just gotten to be that strange.

So what's Sherlock Sherlock's imaginary past self's grandson Sherlock up to this week? And what about Sherlock Sherlock's imaginary past self's son, Morland? Let's look in on them, shall we?

Grover Ogden is apparently the Arthur Conan Doyle of Elementary world, we learned tonight, just before a gory wood-chipper moment. He's writing about Mr. Elementary and Joan under different names in a novel called The Heart Bled Blue. Gregson's sister is even reading it.

Wait! "Grover Ogden" is Joan's father, Henry Watson. (Sherlock Sherlock's imaginary past self's friend John's son? So does that make "Arthur Conan Doyle" the mind palace pen name of Sherlock's mental Victorian John Watson? Curse you, mind palace head trips!)

Side note: somehow a fellow in India has reviewed this episode on IMDB before it ever aired here, and the fact that he's calling Lucy Liu too wooden when tonight she really isn't at all, along with some other comments, make me wonder.

Elephant dung coffee.

"I am the basis for several characters, across multiple media," or something like that, Mr. Elementary says as he sips said beverage. He's taking the mind palace rabbit hole to a whole new level . . . claiming Monk, House, Psych, The Mentalist, even . . . Sherlock?  Bad enough that Christmas special left us wondering whether one Cumberbatch was a figment of the other, or vice versa, but now a BBC Sherlock inspired by Mr. Elementary?

Who needs drugs to get their mind a little bent with all this going on? If Mr. Elementary goes to sleep and dreams of Robert Downey Jr., I'm running into the streets singing "Columbine's New-fangled Banner!"

This week's mystery is pretty creepy on a lot of levels, and one of Elementary's better ones, sensational as always, but with a bit more life to it than previous seasons. The solution seems a bit obvious at about the thirty-five minute mark, but that's okay. Plenty of creepy left in getting there.

Wait a minute . . . speaking of creepy, it just sunk in that Henry Watson wrote a novel where his daughter is having sex with her detective friend. "I missed you, Joanie. That's the real reason I wrote about you." Why did I have to have that thought just before he said that? Why?

And speaking of creepy, Papa Morland Holmes, with his moment of evil in the last seconds of the previous episode, has been noticeably absent this week.

Oooooh, the devious Bagginses tricked me, they did! The real villain of this piece feels a lot like . . . oh, this episode "Miss Taken" is all about daughters, isn't it? And if a certain actress is currently too busy with a hit HBO show, a horror movie out this weekend, etc., then perhaps we have one more daughter here.


This has been one trippy week all around -- they say that a high tide raises all boats -- perhaps all the excitement over the Sherlock Christmas special will buoy Elementary's ratings this week as well.

"There is an element of self-worship in almost all Sherlock fans — only the truly clever among us can appreciate such a clever man cleverly getting his clever on all over the place." 
-- David Berry, "Why network television loves Sherlock Holmes," National Post

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Forgiving "Abominable Bride," the big screen experience.

Let's face it, even M. Night Shyamalan can't do M. Night Shyamalan any more.

There was a prime moment when that Shyamalan plot-twist-out-of-nowhere made his name and made you want to go back and re-watch his films to see all the details you had missed, the clues to the sharp turn you never saw coming, but were delighted in. But even he couldn't keep that pace up. Why was I thinking of Shyamalan tonight? Not because of the twist -- because of that re-watch his early movies made so enjoyable. One watch to be surprised, one re-watch to see all the clues you missed.

When I first saw Sherlock's "The Abominable Bride" on New Year's Day eve, I was hit by a different sort of plot twist out of nowhere . . . one that wasn't all that delightful. Instead of a happy "Wow, they pulled that trick off with such skill!" my reaction was, "What? Why did they ruin it with that?" I spent the next four days thinking of the Sherlock special as damaged goods.

But, being a Sherlockian means devotion to our man Sherlock, and devotion means sometimes doing things that aren't your first impulse. Like watching three full seasons of Elementary. Or paying fifteen bucks (about six more than the average Peoria evening ticket price) to see a TV show that I just saw four days ago. Sherlock Holmes is in theaters so infrequently that I think if Fathom Events put an episode of Elementary in a theater for one night, I'd pay fifteen bucks and go see that . . . just because I'm a devout Sherlockian.

Yeah. I know.

So I paid my fifteen bucks tonight, plus another twelve for popcorn and Coke (the drink for a Sherlock Holmes film), and went to watch "The Abominable Bride" for a second time.

First, big kudos to Fathom Events for their presentation -- Holmes trivia on-screen all during the pre-show, limited promotional ads, a little Moffet-led "Tour of 221B" before the episode and a "Sherlock Special" cast interview show after it. I really felt like I got my money's worth, and want to go see some of their other events.

But back to that "Abominable Bride." Watching it a second time, knowing all the tricks to come, knowing that when those odd words "a virus in the data" come out, why they're there, it was a much better experience. Sure, there is a whole prologue of Watson narration up until the point Sherlock declares his purpose in the case that makes absolutely no sense when you know what's going on . . . it's still a flawed episode, yes . . . but there is just so much worthwhile content in the damned thing that I think it will one day be one of the most beloved episodes of the show.

When I wasn't busy having my head angrily spinning at the twisty-turn bits this time, the Reichenbach Falls scene was something I looked forward to, and loved for the message it delivered: We all have our Moriartys. We also have our Watsons. I'm going to cherish that bit, even if it's something I'm over-playing in my own mind, because over-play or not, I got it handed to me by the Sherlock team and it's a worthy message. And there were a lot of other things, just as lovely, to enjoy when you are not getting pissed off at being banged about the bus by the driver jerking the wheel a bit too much.

Like good old Swift once said (Taylor, not Johnathan), "And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate," and I can respect that. If you weren't much of a fan of Moffat, Cumberbatch, and company before, and were hoping for a little retro Granada-Brett homage action, WOW, was this a poisoned pill to swallow. Sorry you got lured into taking it. If you're an Elementary fan who was just looking for weakness in a Sherlock episode to be able to feel better about that show, well, good luck with that. Hold on to this moment until Elementary's eventual musical episode.

But if you like the new BBC kids at all, I think the superfans who immediately rewatched "The Abominable Bride" over and over again actually had it right. This is the one you come to love despite its faults as you hang around it a little more. It's a real treasure chest.

Tonight was a good night. I got to see a crowd of a couple hundred Sherlock fans enjoying Sherlock Holmes on a goodly sized screen in Pekin, Illinois. And maybe it's the Coca-cola talking (my own mind palace kind of gets a little wild during the rare indulgence), but tonight, I've forgiven "The Abominable Bride" all its sins and looking forward to its long and happy inclusion in the Canon of Sherlock.

Headcanon of Sherlock, even. *snort* Yeah, Coca-cola. If I knew the recipe beyond caffeine-laden cola nuts and high fructose corn syrup, I'd be putting that on my list.

Critic-proof Sherlock?

Once we attained majority internet connectivity, we gained a lot of new terminology, and among them, this one: "critic proof."

"Critic proof" usually means something that's fan base is so strong that any poor reviews by critics will not affect its sales or box office performance. It may not be the perfectly appropriate term for BBC Sherlock's "The Abominable Bride," as its largest consumer base surely saw it all at once on January 1, before any critics could say word one about it. And even now, with it's American theatrical release tonight, the critic aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes has nothing to say about it.

But the fans? Those who make a product "critic proof?"

Well, in reading their reviews, it looks like the creators of Sherlock found a new way to may their show's latest incarnation impossible to pick apart . . . at least to those who would argue in its defense.

Oh, yes . . . spoilers . . . blah, blah, blah, spoiler alert, move along now, silly people who are reading things without having seen it . . . clear? Clear.

By making the entire episode happen in Sherlock Holmes's head, any flies in the ointment can be retroactively explained by some pseudo-psychological analysis of how Holmes thinks. At least the Victorian parts. The modern day parts . . . the character bits, the odd choice to mix a dreamy drug cocktail out of whatever was on that plane (or somehow brought with for who knows what reason) . . . are a little tougher, unless you go with that Sherlock and friends existing in the mind of Victorian Sherlock. The whole episode is a bit of a rabbit hole that way . . . and an interesting contrast to what happened after Sherlock "killed himself" in "The Reichenbach Fall."

After "The Reichenbach Fall," fans spent the next two years trying to explain what they had seen, and actually affected the narrative, making no simple mechanic for Sherlock's survival by the writers a viable option. Having learned that lesson, it's almost as though, this time out, they just dumped a bunch of random data into the episode so that fans could be content spinning their wheels for the next hiatus. "The Abominable Bride" would not exist without the fan interaction with the series of the past five years. Sherlock is, of course, a series ripe with "what ifs." What if Cumberbatch and Freeman had not gotten so much attention from it, and remained fully available for filming new seasons on a regular basis? What if the fans had not worked so hard on solving "The Reichenbach Fall?" And now, what if they had done a Christmas special based in the show's regular continuity, outside of anyone's head?

No doubt, "The Abominable Bride" is a pretty piece of work. It's kind of like another critic-proof property, the Transformers movies . . . quite the extravaganza of remarkable things. Give the center mass of fans such a great big wedding cake of an entertainment, and they'll be happy. "The Abominable Bride" definitely did that. Mission accomplished. We've all got something to talk about during the long wait until . . . well, after this, God knows what. I literally have no expectations for the next season. My Sherlock mind is blown, and not in a transcendent, hippie-tripping way.

There have been those Sherlockians past who, in analyzing the original texts, theorized that after Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock Holmes was not the same man. Literally, not the same man -- a stand-in Vernet cousin brought in by Watson or something. Of course those Sherlockians past may have all been in the head of one particular Sherlockian of the 1920s. Sound familiar?

Because we've all been here before. And Sherlock Holmes has been critic-proof for a very, very long time. Just take a look at some of the Casebook stories we accept as "Canon." Nobody can blame Moffet, Gatiss, or "the Cumberbitches" for those.

So on we go . . . .

Monday, January 4, 2016

Fat Mycroft and Steve Dixie.

Having read "The Adventure of the Three Gables" not long before seeing "The Abominable Bride" this weekend, I couldn't help but see a Canonical reference that I'm pretty sure all of the "spot the reference" listers missed: the connection between Mycroft Holmes and Steve Dixie.

Steve Dixie, of "Three Gables," is something we Sherlockians don't like to talk about. An African-American comic stereotype from a bygone era. Something most of us are pretty ashamed of now, even though we had nothing to do with it.  Perhaps because there might just be a tiny bit of it left inside us, lurking. Perhaps because it lessens our history heroes like Arthur Conan Doyle, to think they were prone to such cultural faults.

And now we have obese Mycroft Holmes. I'm going to be the last person to throw the first stone on that one, being quite guilty of playing with him as a comic figure myself in Action Sherlock Brain Theater, actually using an action figure of the X-men villain called the Blob to play him. And just like I've done, "The Abominable Bride" uses him for a cartoonish glutton, eating figgy pudding after figgy pudding while Sherlock calculates how much shorter his lifespan will be with each pudding.

Perhaps we excuse the fat-joke because we feel like that actor-in-a-fat-suit extreme is something any of us could go to, given a complete lack of self-control. Our constant battle with that last five pounds would seem to make us part of the group we're making fun of, but it doesn't, really. If you've ever known anyone with a true obesity problem, if you ever had a friend die far too young due to their weight, you know better. I sure do. And yet, the occasional fat joke comes out.

Which is why I don't want to be a complete buzz-kill in the wake of the latest Sherlock and all its quirky zigs and zags. But then I think of Steve Dixie.

I'm sure Steve Dixie was just hi-larious to some folks, once upon a time. Conan Doyle would seem to have been one of those folks, at some point in his life. But now, old Steve is an embarrassing relic of our past . . . and perhaps a reminder of how we might look to some future folk one day.

Watson doesn't make fun of Mycroft for his weight. He presents his friend's brother almost objectively . . . his size, the shape of his hands, the extreme motionlessness of his lifestyle . . . but not as a comic figure. Thanks to that choice, we may not ever have to be as ashamed to find Mycroft in the original stories as we do Steve Dixie. Our own works might be a different story.

Something to think about, as we move ahead in this post-Christmas-special world.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The fatal flaw in "Abominable Bride."

Massive Sherlock Christmas Special spoiler ahead.

Having slept on last night's episode of Sherlock, letting the brain digest the whole thing, I awoke with the conviction that there was only one flaw with "The Abominable Bride."

Just one.

I mean, sure, it was a bit of a lark. But we had a bit of a lark or two last season, which was met with mixed fan reaction. And the promos had prepared us for a Sherlock and John set in Victorian times. An alternate universe version. We were totally ready for that. AUs are common these days.

But here's the big problem I found with the way it was handled: I think what we saw last night was a writer too used to doing Doctor Who, a fantasy series where you can get away with any outlandishness, trying to bring a fantastic mechanic to what was, at least to some degree, a more "real world" series.

Truly, the episode might have as well been the "never going to do it" Dr. Who crossover.

Sherlock's "mind palace" gimmick got pushed to what I thought was it's furthest limit in "His Last Vow" in season three. Boy, was I wrong. Using it as the "it was all a dream" way for a modern Sherlock to solve a Victorian Sherlock case . . . too far. Too damned far.

And to even pretend that some magical drug concoction helped make that dream possible?

While I've never been a fan of the "Sherlock Holmes, drug addict detective" route, when it is done, drug addiction is a topic to be taken seriously, not used as a part of a fantasy lark episode. And for those magic drugs to make this magic-mind-palace Sherlock come up with Watson publishing short stories in The Strand Magazine at a time when serialized novels were the thing was pretty much the equivalent of Victorian Sherlock dreaming up an accurate replica of a Lear jet (or whatever brand that private plane was -- sorry, out of my price range).

Had they left out all the modern-day attempts to tie the episode in to the current storyline, I think I would have been completely satisfied with "The Abominable Bride." I was enjoying the Victorian romp for what it was, until the attempt to "it was all a dream" shoehorn it into the series continuity happened.

If only the creators had followed the gist of Holmes's "It is never twins!" comment. It should never be "all just a dream" either.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Must we be so many, all at once?

Today has been an interesting day. Corned beef and cabbage with my favorite aunt. A game of words with the accusation that only two of us were really playing each other. And then, the intrusive awareness that everyone else in the world was watching a certain television show.

Where gleeful anticipation should have been, there was the cautious avoidance of social media once the scheduled time across the Atlantic had come. There were the many reminders, when such caution was ignored for a moment or two, that one could have all of the company one wanted while watching said show. And then, even as the broadcast was taking place, the imagined version of what was happening on Twitter as the play unfolded.

"All that I have to say has already crossed your mind."

"Then possibly my answer has crossed yours."

I may not be Sherlock, and you may not be Moriarty, but both of us have a pretty good idea what references will be cited, what fan service will get a gush, once we've been in this realm long enough.

Even now that BBC Sherlock's "The Abominable Bride" has played, and anyone who could possibly see it has seen it, it doesn't even seem necessary to review it. So many reviews are being typed, have been typed, or shall be verbalized on podcasts. And so many are more politician than legitimate critic any more . . . "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all" is the new eleventh commandment, the twenty-eighth amendment to the American constitution (unless you're one of those comment trolls -- comment sections are the new lawless Wild West, of course). And who wants to do all the spoiler warnings called for these days, anyway.

Tonight, it felt not just like the makers of BBC Sherlock had set their sites on jumping an impossible shark with the Christmas special, but that fandom was perhaps making the jump as well. The success of any fiction lives or dies on its ability to completely pull one in to its reality, however fantastic, and make one forget that there is a fourth wall, even when a character breaks it. One has to leave the world as we know it behind and dive deep into the world presented. There's a reason we shut off cell phones in theaters -- so the real world can't wake us from the dream. Feeling the presence of the rest of the Sherlockian world watching alongside me tonight could be looked at as some weakness in the narrative . . . or possibly the state of fannish global warming.

It will be interesting to see how the theater experience stacks up Thursday night. But all in all, I'm thinking I found the pressure-free experience of the annual Dr. Who Christmas special much more relaxing this year.

The room wasn't quite so crowded for that one.