Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Sherlock Effect

This morning one of my feeds brought a nice little article from a learning and attention issues blog entitled "The Batman Effect: What My Research Shows About Pretend Play and Executive Functioning." The writer, a child development expert from good old U of M named Stephanie Carlson is writing about four-year-old children and what pretending to be Batman does to their skills at dealing with problems, and even though it may be a little unscientific to extrapolate from what she found, her findings do resonate a bit with my own experiences in the Sherlockian world.

I've heard it often said that there's something just a little better about Sherlockians than your average bear (to paraphrase Yogi Bear's standard claim of being "smarter than the average bear). And that could mainly be our bias toward liking people who like what we like. But after reading Carlson's thoughts on young children, I'm now wondering if there might be something more to our Sherlockian superiority. (Oh, does that sound horribly egotistical. But wait . . .)

Carlson found that a child pretending to be Batman helped him deal with tough, and even impossible, tasks. It gave him patience, it put him at a helpful distance from the issue, and it generally made him perform at a more mature level, like they were older than they actually were. And here's the best quote: "It helps him see different options for finding a solution."

Which suddenly reminded me of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. And . . . wait a minute . . . isn't Sherlock Holmes a more complex predecessor to Batman's detective side? And doesn't many a Sherlockian quietly and, unbeknownst-to-family-or-coworkers, internally play Sherlock Holmes now and then?

It's a little harder to test adults while having them play Sherlock Holmes, but from what I've seen of such creatures in the wild, I think there is evidence that playing Sherlock Holmes might have a similar effect. And being a Sherlock Holmes fan over the long term? Who knows what brain patterns that might develop?

But there sure seem to be a lot of highly successful Sherlockians out there. And that might just be due to "the Sherlock effect."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hollywood, the fan.

So many people are writing Sherlock Holmes stories these days.

Between being able to publish on-line, self-publish, get in an anthology, specialty publishers, etc., it would be easy to wager than more Sherlock Holmes stories are being written now than at any time in history.

And there's even a new big-budget Sherlock Holmes movie in the works . . .

Except, you know Hollywood, they never have any original ideas.

We hear that complaint all the time. Hollywood doesn't do anything original any more, all it does is remakes, reboots, and installments in known brands.

And Sherlock Holmes, of course, can be called a brand, if you're of that sort of mind.

But looking at all of the people writing Sherlock Holmes stories just because they can, if one imagines that more of us had $250 million dollar movie budgets, what would we be making movies about?

Sherlock Holmes.

As much as we complain about the lack of original ideas in our art forms, most of the humanity doesn't really seem to want original entertainments. We want to go back to that thing we're a fan of.

And who is a bigger fan, in the collective whole, than Hollywood?

So this morning, for a little bit, I'm giving Hollywood a break.

(Except for any part that might be connected to CBS television. One has to have standards. Smirk.)

(Words, the original emoticons.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Some whine and cheese from last night.

"Of all ghosts, the ghosts of our old loves are the worst," old Trevor stated in that early Holmes case known as "The Gloria Scott," and even though "no ghosts need apply" to the world of Sherlock Holmes, as he stated much later, that statement is still quite true, whatever the world.

And many a Sherlockian has an appropriate love of Conan Doyle, going far back.

I'd even venture to say there are some Sherlockians with a longtime love of Harry Houdini.

And as it was just Monday night, I'm sure you know where I'm going with this. Finding myself on a treadmill at the gym with an array of televisions in front of me, I saw two shades of long-dead individuals appearing before me . . . and did they seem "the worst?"

Well, it really depends upon your point of view.

If you're a big fan of campy local amateur theater, I could see how Fox's Houdini & Doyle might appeal. Seeing such spoofy versions of real folk, playing at dealing with the death of a real mother and the oncoming death of real spouse, however, just seemed a bit too far . . . and yet . . . not far enough?

As someone who enjoyed the Asylum film Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, I really like a bit of stinky cheese in my viewing, but tonight's revisit of Houdini vs. Doyle . . . oops, Houdini & Doyle . . . just seemed to have a little uncertainty as to whether it was taking itself seriously or not. Rather than go whole-sharknado, Sherlock-and-dinosaurs, y'alls-to-the-walls plunging into it, the Fox show likes to maintain its distance.

Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini seem to be debunking mystery solvers in that great Holmes-and-the-hound tradition, but when all is said and done there is that little spooky sort of twist I remember from the Jonny Quest cartoons of my youth and before. "All the abominable snowmen turned out to be guys in suits after all!" "But wait, what is that furry lumbering figure now howling on that far-off peak?"

Are Houdini and Doyle actually going to deal with the supernatural on this show, as it plainly seems to exist in their TV world? (Along with many a modern turn of phrase, like "he's messing with you.") And, yes, I did drop in on this show tonight after missing most of the season, but in that supernatural twist, it sure seemed to imply that Houdini's mother was in Hell, which was about to break loose had not paranormal expert Thomas Edison intervened.

Yes, paranormal expert Thomas Edison. And even though the notion of Edison's necrophone does tie to a real-life idea of the inventor's, to fill it out as an actual pursuit of his suddenly pushes things into Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies turf without that full Asylum commitment.

Which is too bad, really. Because it's pretty silly as-is.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Frankenstein begins with "F," and so does the name of someone else we know.

Okay, bear with me . . . I'm going to gush about someone.

I know, I'm the guy who crabs about Elementary and takes pokes at the hallowed institutions of Sherlockiana on occasion, but it's not all negativity here in Sherlock Peoria. It's actually optimism about the future that makes me so quick to give up some treasured golden oldies in our culture or upstart penny dreadfuls. The truly good stuff is still out there, and it keeps me an optimist.

So, I'm reading this non-Sherlockian novel this morning, about halfway through, and I'm so immersed in it, so deep into a complex scene of a landlady and tenant working out their relationship issues that I actually stop and go, "How did a single human mind create this? It looks like life."

That's the miracle of Sherlock Holmes that we find missing so often in tales from latter-day tellers: life. Conan Doyle . . . and any great writer, really . . . becomes Dr. Frankenstein with a pen and creates a virtual human being with something that very much appears to us to be actual life. Sure, it's just an illusion they're evoking in our heads, a magic trick of sorts and not actual life . . . as far as we know . . . but still. Life on a printed page.

I get suggestions from writers and publishers all the time that I read their latest Sherlock Holmes pastiche. And sometimes I even try one. But so many come off as Disney animatronic versions of Holmes and Watson on some slow-moving boat ride called "Detectives of the Thames" in Anaheim or Orlando, and I've apparently grown too old for such rides. But when that miracle of actual fictional "life" occurs? I'm completely on board. It's just so hard to find someone who can pull it off with someone else's characters.

As Conan Doyle and many another sage has advised a young writer, "Create your own characters!" Because that's the best way to pull off the magic. Though sometimes we have to give a writer at least one attempt to mimic a master just to learn the trade, the sort of thing that usually is kept within school days, yet in the writing world, such a pastiche can sell. There have even been a few writers whose agents or publishers won't let them leave the safe financial returns of pastiche for their own creations. But like I said earlier, I'm an optimist . . . out of all that, good things still happen.

Because sometimes we get Lyndsay Faye. The book I was reading today which inspired this post was her The Fatal Flame, third in her Timothy Wilde books. (I'm a bit behind, and actually started Flame and Jane Steele at the same time -- though Tim grabbed my collar and pulled me into that book before Jane got her hooks in.) Lyndsay did her Holmes book (and still does the occasional short story, I hear, though I'll wait for those to be collected), but managed to make the big leap and prove herself outside of the comfortable confines of 221B. She pulled off the same trick that Conan Doyle did once upon a time and has created some characters that seem like they surely must be walking and talking somewhere in the past, present, or future of this Earth.

And with everything else going on in the world these days, it's nice to see that such things are still possible, that humanity can produce such talents, just as it did in the past. It's the kind of thing that gives me hope for the rest. Sure, a big fat idiot can get more news coverage than any other human being on Earth on some days. But the Lyndsays are out there, in every field, quietly working away.

And it's good to be reminded of that now and then.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A five pillow problem.

We've seen Sherlock Holmes in a lot of different situations over the years, performing brilliantly in all sorts of ways. But this morning I was considering how sometimes he just sits and thinks, and other times he just comes up with stuff on the fly, and I had to wonder . . .

. . . was Sherlock Holmes better when he was moving or standing still?

With all of the various mental conditions he's been diagnosed with over the years, manic-depressive, addiction, etc., it seemed like the sitting still part might be problematic. Take the business of "The Man with the Twisted Lip" for example:

"I wish I knew how you reached your results," says Watson.

"I reached this one by sitting on five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag," says Holmes.

The implication is that since Watson saw Holmes in that position as he went to sleep, then saw Holmes again there with his tobacco gone when the doctor woke up, that Holmes spent the whole night sitting smoking and somehow that accumulated processing time gave him his answer.

Does that ever work? Sitting up all night cramming data into your head for a test, sure. Sitting up all night working out mathematical problems, of course. Sitting up all night conjuring up prose for a novel, certainly. But just worrying at a situation without any new input, as your faculties get more and more sleep-deprived, even with nicotine helping keep you awake?

One would almost expect Sherlock Holmes to have had better results if "an ounce of shag" took on an Austin-Powers-style interpretation (which does have origins in the late 18th century, according to one source). And . . . well, let's leave Mrs. Neville St. Clair out of this for the moment. And John Watson, who awoke seeming to have slept the whole night through. (Though sleeping with the missing man's missus could potentially have provided some data relevant to the case, but I'm not writing that fanfic. Having listened to "My Dad Wrote a Porno" podcast yesterday, I may have aged out of that field.)

Sitting on pillows all night long evokes either depression or drug abuse, or both, and just doesn't seem a way to solve a case. (And shagging seems like a much happier past-time, but mind out of the porno, Brad!)

Compared to a case like "Silver Blaze," where Watson is accompanying Holmes every step of the way as he gathers his data and has it all worked out by the time they take the train home, "Twisted Lip" seems more like a case Holmes was on his way to failing with than succeeding. But even when Holmes failed, as in "The Five Orange Pips," he had often worked the solution out from the details the client supplied. (That said, he was sitting still as the client supplied the data.)

Sherlock Holmes was all about the data. If he had insufficient data, he would wait to form any theories, even if it frustrated him as it did in "Copper Beeches," when he uttered that well-known protest, "Data! Data! Data! I can't make bricks without clay." And we know his brain was fighting to produce theories about Violet Hunter's situation, as he also muttered about not wanting to see a sister of his in such a situation.

That all-nighter in "The Man with the Twisted Lip" is an oddly vexing bit of Holmes-work, as it seems unproductively non-Holmes in a way, and more of a stereotypic "smart people just sit there and let their brain run until results pop out" sort of thing, without considering the need for input.

What was actually going on with Holmes that night? I'd really like to theorize, but I'm afraid I don't have enough facts at the moment. But I'm certainly not going to sit up all night smoking to try to solve it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Sorry, Vincent . . . have to disagree with you.

Well, overnight, I've lost all faith in Vincent Starrett.

You remember Vince, that classic Sherlockian writer and poet who gave us "221B," the Sherlockian Pledge of Allegiance to many generations of Holmes fans. He penned the words:

"England is England yet, for all our fears --
"Only those things the heart believes are true."

Those words used to be a comforting nod to how we'll always have the Sherlock Holmes stories and the atmosphere Watson/Doyle's pen evokes. But now?

"All our fears" has become a voting block that can do some really stupid things.

And "Only those things the heart believes are true?"

OH MY GOD, the bullshit that ideology is bringing down on our heads.

Fear and fantasy are turning the democratic process into a destructive force with the potential to set us on a course back to the dark ages, living in little feudal keeps stocked with weapons and no vaccines.

It was always such a joy to pick up a book and wander off to a place where "it is always eighteen ninety-five" when readers actually understood that it was not really eighteen ninety-five. But now?

Having watched the line between fantasy and reality blur itself into non-existence for so many folks that would rather believe a fiction than face a reality that disagrees with their childhood view of the world . . . .

I think we pretty much know for sure that no wise Mycroft Holmes is secretly steering the once Great Britain these days. And his brother Sherlock?

Well, he's always been a wish. And may become a stronger wish if current trends continue. A clear-eyed hero who can call out the truth of a situation will be just what we need.

Oh, and someone to write us a new poem. Sorry Vincent.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Harmonius Order of Flies and Bluebottles.

“All you need to form a Sherlockian society is two Sherlockians and a bottle. And in a pinch, you can dispense with one of the Sherlockians.”

         -- Rob Nunn, quoting the thing people say John Bennett Shaw always said, 
which is hard to find an original citation for, hence this double quote.

(Pictured: Left to right.) Bottle, moongazing rabbit, Canon, Martyrdom of Man,
moongazing rabbit, odd social action statement.

Given my true failure to organize a Sherlockian society meeting of late, this month seemed a lot like the "pinch" John Shaw spoke of many decades ago. This might be marked as my personal low-point, finally dispensing with a second Sherlockian and forming a society with just a bottle, but contingency plans like Shaw's were created by better minds than mine for, apparently, just such an occasion.

Allow me to introduce the bottle, a short-ish, green-blue glass specimen of his/her kind with
raised in glass letters on one side.

Chas, as I shall call him/her for short, is plainly a local. 

The meeting was called to order, and I proposed the name of our new Sherlockian society be "The Harmonious Order of Flies and Bluebottles," paraphrased from "Black Peter," as I was feeling a bit fly and Chas a bit bottle. The vote in favor of adopting the name was one vote for and one vote abstaining, so it passed and our Harmonious Order was officially identified. (Not sure what Chas's issue with it was in abstaining, even though transparency is a large part of his/her personality.)

I then began the featured presentation for the night, a sonorous listing of the bottles of the Canon. Since it was the first meeting, I thought I would pander to Chas.

"Countless bottles.
"Spotted bottle.
"Sherlock Holmes's bottle.
"Quinine bottle.
"Glass-stoppered bottles.
"Ink bottle.
"Picnic bottles.
"Spirits bottle.
"Another ink bottle.
"Champagne bottle.
"Second table bottles.
"Whisky bottle.
"Two whisky bottles.
"Penny ink bottle.
"Array bottles.
"Cobwebby bottles.
"Claret bottle.
"Brown sherry bottles.
"Nitrate of amyl bottle.
"Empty brandy bottle.
"This or that bottle.
"Rum bottle.
"Wine bottle.
"Same wine bottle.
"Same wine bottle again.
"Same wine bottle with dust.
"Same wine bottle opened.
"Same wine bottle without using a screw.
"Same wine bottle half empty.
"Same wine bottle full of beeswing.
"Same wine bottle violently agitated.
"Same wine bottle on the sideboard.
"Row bottles.
"Dust-covered bottle.
"Same dusty Imperial Tokay bottle.
"Litter bottles.
"Famous vintage bottle.
"Fresh bottle.
"Whole full bottle.
"Montrachet bottle.
"Small blue bottle.
"Whole evening bottle."

By the time the list was done, both Chas and I were silent and weary and the meeting came to a close.

Personally, I think John Bennett Shaw might have been mistaken about this whole bottle thing. I hope I get to socialize with some more talkative Sherlockians one day soon, within the boundaries of a society or not . . .

Monday, June 20, 2016

Holmes and the street con.

Man, do I love the Sherlock Holmes stories. Even after a good four decades of reading, they still pop up with little unexpected delights, as happened this evening when I was reading the latest issue of The Serpentine Muse, which arrived in the mail today.

Chris Redmond's article "Fun with Sherlock Holmes" to be specific. Chris was writing about parlour games as a sort of Victorian fun Holmes was sure to be aware of, citing the quote from "Three Students" that read:

"Quite a little parlor game -- sort of a three card trick, is it not?"

As Sherlock Holmes and playing cards has intrigued me as far back as at least 1985, when I wrote a little article for our local journal Wheelwrightings called "Holmes and Cards," my ears immediately perked up. This wasn't whist that Sherlock Holmes was talking about, as he hoped to play while awaiting the climax of "The Red-Headed League." It was "a three card trick."

But what "three card trick?" Some sort of magic trick . . . like . . . wait, Now You See Me: The Second Act, which I saw last week, had a thee card magic trick in it, based on the old street hustle Three-card Monte. Could Holmes have been talking about Three-card Monte?

"Quick, Watson, to the Wikipedia!" I exclaimed, and there it was . . . .

Though the real origin of the con is lost to history, as all truly successful crimes must be, "Canada Bill" Jones was traveling Chris Redmond's home turf, honing his Three-card Monte skills, as early as the 1860s. And Canada Bill was a Yorkshire lad who had learned many a con before heading to Canada. And as a British professor named Louis Hoffman published a work called Card Sharping Exposed in 1882 that translated an earlier French work on the subject (French surely being no handicap to Holmes, in any case) from 1861 . . . .

Sherlock Holmes most certainly knew of that three card trick.

And for Sherlock Holmes, whose main focus in his early career was focussing every bit of his learning and attentions on crime, Three-card Monte would be something his mind would pull up first as "a parlour game," since he probably spent very little time in actual parlours playing actual games.

Now one has to wonder how proficient Sherlock Holmes himself was at Three-card Monte, if he made a full study of it in learning of various cons -- con artists surely being a particular delight to a man who loved exposing the facts behind any situation. And that child within us that wants to learn chemistry, bee-keeping, and the violin just because Holmes did now has one more little excitement to pick up on.

Man, do I love the Sherlock Holmes stories. So much fun packed into such a compact package.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

All of Sherlock's boxes.

I have always resisted seeing Sherlock Holmes as an addict.

It's what we do with our friends after all, putting knowing blinders on purposefully, to enjoy the good in them without letting the sad parts take that good away. And yet, Sherlock Holmes might not have been an addict . . . one could see this as denial, were one intent on classifying him so. But Sherlock Holmes is also not many things.

He can't be completely gay, straight, or bi, all at once, and yet he is.

He can't be Christian, atheist, Buddhist, and a golfer all at once, and yet he is.

He can't be emotionlessly robotic as well as expressive, charming, and funny, and yet he is.

I've heard John Watson called an "everyman," and yet it is Sherlock Holmes who is our truest everyman . . . the best and worst of all of us in one limitingly-male package.  (Or maybe female . . . I don't think anyone has proposed that he was a true hermaphrodite.)

Sherlock Holmes, for all we know about him, is Schrodinger's cat in a box we call the Canon.

Labelling him, trying to put him in one specific box like the "addict" box, makes him not Sherlock Holmes, as every concrete label takes away some other aspect of all that is Sherlock Holmes. (One might cite the TV show Elementary as an example of putting him in a box that diminishes him, but I don't think that box was the addict box, but the "idiot box" as television has oft been called. There are other issues at play there.) And yet, temporarily putting him in those boxes lets us tell stories about ourselves and how we see and interact with our world.

As I said, I have always resisted seeing Sherlock Holmes as an addict. But then again, I have always resisted seeing him as any one thing. He could be an addict. He could be an atheist. He could be straight. But to claim any one of these, or so many others, is the absolute truth . . . .

Well, that might be the worst denial of all when considering Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The society of time.

Time lords and ladies sitting round that breakfast-table.

Most of those words come from "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor."

But after doing a rampage through some Sherlockian chronology this morning while the BBC National Orchestra of Wales played "I Am The Doctor" on an endless loop, I was inspired to add that one extra word . . . time.

Time is a fascinating thing. Measurable, yet subjective. Full of reference points, yet always just a little bit foggy on details. Always with us, yet non-existent.

And all of those things come into play when you find yourself the sort of person who can be referred to as a Sherlockian chronologist. Few Sherlockians devote themselves solely to the study of Holmes and Watson's flow of time. Most do it as a side-trip on their way to writing a pastiche or working out some scholarly issue. It seems ungodly boring to most. But, like many an enthusiasm, if you listen to one of its more ardent followers, you might catch a touch of the joy found there.

Of all the things I've missed at this weekend's Minneapolis Sherlock event, perhaps my biggest regret is missing Vince Wright's presentation on the subject of Sherlockian chronology. There aren't many active experts in that field these days, and if you enjoy the topic, such chances to hear one of those go on about it are rare.

Sherlockian chronologists have always been few and far between, and there has pretty much certainly never been a society dedicated to that genre of study. Which made me start wondering . . . .

Sherlock Holmes has become a bigger topic than ever before. So many fans coming at it from so many angles, connecting in so many ways and enhancing their ability to get things done by combining talents. Could Sherlockian chronology be due for a team effort, or at least a place of comparing notes? Like writing, it is a task best worked on alone, and one's results can be very personal . . . every head-Canon needs a head-chronology. But as we move ahead, with the study of Sherlock, a society of those working in the field might be useful to those who come after.

A "Gallifrey" of Sherlockian timelords, so to speak. For the first time in many years, it made me even think that a club newsletter might have a purpose . . . if there was such a club.

"But, Brad," one might argue, "there aren't enough of you for a club."

Ah, but remember "the League of Red-headed Men?" Sure, it was a scam, but part of the whole Red-headed League's cause was "for the propogation and spread of the red-heads." And while spreading Sherlockian chronology might not be as much fun as spreading ginger genes (you know Jabez had to be hoping the League might also get him a little propogational loving in there, in addition to the cash), there might be something worthwhile to come of it.

Perhaps I'm being a bit dreamy in my current state of missing Sherlockian society this weekend, but it also seems like an idea that might be worth putting some energy behind in the year ahead.

"Time lords and ladies sitting round that breakfast-table." It's not a scion society name, but it's a phrase I like for the moment, in lieu of a better reference for the idea.

Let me know if you have any interest in such a thing.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Minneapolis, I am not in you!

There's something really cool about reading an article from a newspaper four hundred and fifty miles away and knowing every single person mentioned, and some of them quite well. And also . . . more than a little bit sad.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune just ran a nice little piece entitled "Blurring fact, fiction is elementary at U Sherlock Holmes confab," and the names . . . Hobbs, Stinson, Mason . . . oh, the names!

Sure, Twitter had been slipping out dribs and drabs all day . . . Chris Redmond getting his schedule together, Vince Wright doing his usual bang-up job with my old favorite topic chronology . . . but somehow, just seeing that article practically splashing out the newspaper version of that classic exclamation, "Oh, my God, it's Don Hobbs!" which was first uttered in Watson, Oklahoma (Home of the Watson Tigers!) nearly eleven years ago.

At this point, it's been at least six years since my last Minnesota Sherlockian conference, and I have hated missing both this one and the one before, due to a variety of factors, primarily based around a career that somehow got more demanding in my later years than it ever was earlier. Now I am reduced to blog-whining and name-dropping, along with that horrible guilty feeling that I somehow could have made it if I just did something different.

Sherlocking is just not all joy, some days, and missing favorite events can be a real kick in the Watson. (I don't know what I really mean by that, other than no one wants to see Watson take a hard boot to the anything.)

But, hey, one of these days. One of these days . . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The difference between an unchangeable world and a changeable one.

This week, I'm getting a little nostalgic for a wonderful time in the past when all I had to rage about was a simple little CBS television show called Elementary. It didn't really matter to the world, nobody died because of it or would die because of it. And very few people cared about it enough to comment on the show's merits or lack of same. You could rage for or against the show, go do something else, and not have it come up in conversation or online.

Ah, the world was a happier, carefree place back then.

But the world changes. Unlike the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, where John Openshaw dies every damn time you read "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips," and Sherlock Holmes sends a letter and a cable he hopes will resolve the matter, only to have Nature herself maybe take care of it. Every time. Because the world of Sherlock Holmes never changes. Unlike our world.

John Openshaw? Doomed. Paul Kratides? Doomed. Mr. Blessington? Doomed.

Tadpole Phelps's childhood shins? Doomed.

Because they're all locked in a narrative that . . . quite literally literally . . . can never change.

Unlike the real world, which can and does change all the time. Looking at the world of Sherlock Holmes, which reflects Victorian England so well, shows us how much our world has changed.

Yet, this week, I've heard a lot of people resigning themselves to thinking the world is like something from a book, with a narrative that we can't do a thing about. The story will be the same this time as the last time, as the next time, as the time before.

Only we're not in a book. And this story is going to change. It is, whether we like it or not. To think otherwise is just plain lazy and being stingy with one's imagination. Nothing will stay the same. So why don't we rewrite the story to end the way we'd like it next time?

The world has been out of copyright at lot longer than all those Sherlock Holmes stories.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

This iteration of Sherlock Peoria, four years later . . .

Four years ago this summer, I shifted Sherlockian gears.

For the previous decade, I had been conglomerating Sherlockiana into a website at using mostly good old-fashioned HTML, a little PHP, and a thing or two otherwise. The four years prior hadn't been as robust, site-building-wise as the previous eight, which you can see in the difference between the 2002-2008 version of the site and the 2008-2012 version, both of which are still out there. The move I made in 2012, at the time, could be seen as an even further decline in my web ambitions, and some might even say, a further decline in my avocation as an active Sherlockian. 

But the reason for the change was simple: At heart, I am not a coder. Or a web guru. Or a graphic designer. (All of which can be seen by simply looking at the site.) I am a writer. Writing about Sherlock Holmes is what I do, for better or worse.

So, with some regrets, some feelings of personal failure, I abandoned site-building (and perhaps, poor Don, my blogging partner at the old site) for this Blogger outpost a month later. Prior to that, I'd put something together to post to the web every Sunday night. Once a week, and boy, some of those Sunday nights were tough. Blogging on Blogger offered the ease of whenever-I-felt-like-it posting, and the pressure was off.

No schedule. No routine. Just Sherlocking when the spirit called.

And how did that work out?

Well, after my first ten years of blogging every week on the old site, I had, at most, five hundred and twenty weekly posts.

This month, after four years of blogging when the Sherlock calls? By the end of next month, Sherlock Peoria Blogger-style will hit its thousandth new post.

It's not just the venue . . . from 2002 to almost 2010, things were different. Sherlock Holmes was not a major media darling. In the early half of that period, he actually have seemed like he might be waning.

And then, in the last week before 2010, an actual major motion picture hit called simply Sherlock Holmes made it to theaters. Seven months later, the BBC aired an even more simply named television show, Sherlock. And things started to get interesting.

American television tried to get in on the party. Sherlock Holmes conventions started up all over the world. More fan writings about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson appeared than in the entire previous century. Things got very interesting.

I haven't been blogging at a rate over two times faster simply because I wasn't messing around with HTML or Photoshopping pictures to web-worthy sizes, as I was with the previous version of Sherlock Peoria. I've been blogging so much more because there is just so much more to blog about.

And we're not done yet.

Not sure what my thousandth post is going to be, but I'm looking forward to it. These days, it could be any of all sorts of things . . . and that's a very happy thought.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A day without Sherlock Holmes.

I like to write a little something about Sherlock Holmes every day I can.

It might not be the best quality stuff -- one draft brain dumps aren't winning any prizes most days. But it's good to run Holmes through the brain and see what he's up to, providing a little relaxation and order to the universe. And it gives Sherlockians who don't take offense too lightly a reason to take a break with for a few minutes on blog days. Or something to get stirred up about, if they do take offense and are looking for such a Sherlockian irritant.

And then there are days when Sherlock Holmes goes away and it's impossible to write about him.

More serious problems take center stage in the not-always-1895 world, and Holmes must remain backstage behind the curtain.

When reality gets very real, we don't need a larger-than-life, over-the-top, fictional character to pontificate about the way the world should be. (Not that Sherlock does, but I'm not really talking about him now, am I?)

We need to deal with the world we are presented with, each in our own personal fashion, to the best of our own skill set. Reach out where we can. Lend an ear to those near us as needed. Maybe even just care a little more about other people's problems, even if they're not the headline. Every good and unselfish thing we do contributes to the overall health of the world around us, even if it might not directly affect a tragedy far away.

When the horrific happens, when a single malfunctioning mess of a human being makes our entire race look like monsters, it's the time we have to be a little better than we might otherwise be. To raise our game, not to where others think it should be, but to where our owns hearts tell us it needs to be.

We can't depend upon Sherlock Holmes to show us what a better human being looks like on some days -- some days, we have to show ourselves what a better human being looks like.

And we'll get back to Mr. Holmes eventually.

So I'm not writing about Mr. Sherlock Holmes today. And I wish you all the best as we finish out this day and move on to the next. Take care and give hugs where possible.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

All the Sherlock powers, all the time . . .

The time is World War I. An aviator known as "the Black Eagle" crashes his plane behind enemy lines on purpose to set up an espionage network. He does much good work for the war effort, and when the war is over, fakes another plane crash to go on hiatus in a remote part of the world and come back again later in yet another identity . . . a master of an Asian  "itsu" martial art with the ability to cause great fear in criminals.

But let me digress for a moment.

One thing that has always bothered me about the original Star Trek series were all the epsiodes where the crew of the starship Enterprise would make some incredible discovery -- something in the water that grants super speed. An injectable that gives a person telekinetic abilities. All sorts of very useful things. And then on next week's episode, they're back to struggling with some enemy and not even mentioning that they could try that thing they discovered the week before.

So upon reconsidering "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" this week, I entertained another thought: What if H. Lowentstein was onto something, and his work with animal serums did eventually have the ability to restore youth and strength? And what if Sherlock Holmes, a chemist who wanted to turn his studies to Nature in his later years, took that ball and ran with it?

Remember that mystery man out of World War I from the opening paragraph? He was always carrying a strange vial of purplish liquid that gave him strength immediately when he drank it.

And another thing Holmes ran across in his adventures . . . the devil's foot root, with its ability to cause great fear in a person. What if Holmes distilled it further to a more useable form he could have as another weapon in his arsenal for dealing with criminals?

Great fear as our mystery man caused.

Said mystery man also was said to wear a unique piece of jewelry given to him by a head of state. Sherlock Holmes had a unique piece of jewelry given to him by a head of state . . . and we know how tales change in the telling.

Where am I going with all this, if you're not well versed in pulp culture to have seen it coming a mile away?

Just look at what we find Sherlock Holmes telling John Watson at the beginning of "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman," the very last Sherlock Holmes story to appear . . . in 1926.

"But is not all life pathetic and futile? Is not his story a microcosm of the whole? We reach. We grasp. And what is left in our hands at the end? A shadow."

Sherlock Holmes's life was a masterful, ingenious back-and-forth with crime and mystery, and in that statement you can see frustration. He tried letting Scotland Yard do its thing, have the credit, but they were always lagging behind. What if a revitalized Holmes decided to start a direct war on crime and create a new legend for himself in a newer country, where crime ran rampant? He had visited there before World War I, after all, and had seen how much such a legend might be needed.

Could Sherlock Holmes have been the 1920's crime-fighter known as "the Shadow," immortalized in pulp magazines and radio shows?

Well, it makes as much sense as "The Adventure of the Creeping Man," and if Holmes actually kept and developed all the things he came across in his cases, perhaps he could have pulled it off.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Wait a minute . . . do you remember one of the cases that was completely cut from Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, where Watson and Lestrade faked an entire mystery by nailing the furniture of a room to the ceiling to keep Holmes distracted and off drugs? Or more currently, that fake Ripper murder scene created by Anderson to lure Holmes out of hiding in "The Empty Hearse?"

Let's step back and take a look at that very silly plot of "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" again. And consider who might have been the object of the prank this time.

There are some very odd facts about this case, even if you ignore the magical serum that makes a college professor take on an ape's personality. Such as:

a.) Sherlock Holmes really wants Watson to publish his write-up of this case.

b.) "We have at last obtained permission to ventilate the facts . . ." The "we" seems to imply Watson didn't get the word personally, probably meaning he got it from Holmes.

c.) Sherlock Holmes summons Watson to Baker Street with a false sense of urgency. He makes Watson wait in silence, then when the client suddenly shows up, says he wished he had time to explain the case, but, oh, darn, he just can't. The "client" even checks to see if Holmes has explained anything to Watson.

d.) Rather than let the "client" tell the full tale, Sherlock Holmes makes an excuse to explain the main details of the case and let the "client" fill in later details -- details which Holmes still has to prompt him on along the way.

e.) The "client's girlfriend" comes bursting into the room at just the right point in the story, to add her part to the drama.

f.) Mercer, Holmes's "general utility man who looks up routine business," apparently hired on after twenty years without the need of a general utility man.

g.) The strange dog attack, both called off by Bennett and wound partially dressed by Bennett, who just happened to have medical training. And that same Bennett then tells Watson a surgeon isn't necessary, and Holmes fervently agrees.

h.) Holmes says he'll deal with the business by writing a letter once they hurry back to London. No police. No surgeons. No fuss. No muss.

Sherlockians have always found the solution to "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" a bit far-fetched -- no serum concocted from any part of an animal is going to make a human being act like that animal. It casts a certain questionable haze on the story as a whole. But there is one perspective that suddenly makes this whole tale utterly down-to-earth realistic . . . that perspective?

That the entire investigation was a con perpetrated upon Dr. Watson. Hardly any actors required --  not nearly as big as that theatrical troupe Holmes rounded up for the street scene in "A Scandal in Bohemia." The trickiest part is getting the professor's fake throat wound past the good doctor, but let's recall how well Holmes fooled the doctor in "The Dying Detective." Why would Holmes do such a thing?

Simply a second attempt to draw the straying Watson back into his sphere of influence. His first attempt was surely writing up an entirely medical-based case called "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" and sending it to Watson, trying to interest Watson both with the medical curiosity and making him want to go back to writing to show Holmes how it was done. When that didn't draw any response from Watson, flat out commanding him to show up and presenting as weird a case as Holmes could concoct . . . with that whole date-based solution that just seems like something an orderly mind like Holmes's would come up with . . . would be a logical next step.

But a little time in Camford with Holmes was, alas, apparently not enough to pull Watson away from a wife and a busy practice. (At least until World War 1 itself provided ample motivation.) That separation between the two friends still makes this "Creeping" tale a little hard to bear, even when one dials down the fantastically silly notes in it.

Which is perhaps one of the reasons Vincent Starrett preferred it to be "always 1895."

1902 was just trouble.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Read if convenient, if inconvenient . . . well, I'm sure you've got better things to do.

"Come at once if convenient -- if inconvenient, come all the same -- S.H."

The paragraph that follows Watson's relating of that brief message in "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" is an interesting one. Watson speaks of their relationship being "peculiar." Holmes has "less excusable" habits and seems to find Watson irritating. The year is 1902 and according to most commentators, Holmes is approximately 48 and Watson 50, roughly the time in life when all the bad habits of a lifetime start to catch up to one . . . which can lead to the beginnings of crankiness.

As much as Sherlockians like to quote Holmes's summons with a wink and a smile, one truly has to wonder if Holmes's tone was more of a "Dammit, Watson get over here and let's get this over with!"

Watson is humble. Holmes is curled up and vexed. He makes Watson sit in silence for thirty minutes. Then, in the first minute of finally speaking, Sherlock Holmes is citing one of Watson's Strand Magazine story by the doctor's title choice. That doesn't seem to help Watson's mood, as the doctor is quickly shutting down Holmes's first thesis and moods and dogs.

"Surely, Holmes, this is a little far-fetched." Heck, Watson, it sounded reasonable to me. But Holmes just ignores him.

Peculiar relationship indeed.

I went back to look at that quote because I was considering how inconvenient it has been of late for me to get to most Sherlockian functions I've enjoyed in the past. But, man, after really reading the context of that quote again, this little essay took a turn.

Were the Holmes and Watson of September 1902 in a friendship much in need of repair? Holmes is still seeming a bit angry with Watson for "deserting me for a wife" in January of 1903, and when this case itself is done, he is anxious to hop the next train to London and be done with it, Holmes's sudden thoughts about "Copper Beeches" a good ten years after its publication are weird and, combined with the later deserting-for-a-wife comment, give a passing thought that Miss Violet Hunter might have wound up stealing Watson away . . . this tale just has peculiarity all around.

It was a different day from A Study in Scarlet, when Watson wrote that Holmes "always apologized to me for putting me to this inconvenience." (Sending Watson to his room when clients showed up.) By 1902 it was all "If inconvenient, come all the same . . . though I might not speak to you for a half hour when you get here." So weird, especially for those who believe in either a steadfast friendship or true love between the two men.

One might even find it convenient to declare the case a non-Canonical pastiche, were it not for the compelling and realistic mystery Holmes and Watson investigate . . . oh, wait, this is the story about the man who drinks monkey juice and starts to turn into a monkey, isn't it?

How convenient -- and if inconvenient, maybe we ignore it all the same.

(Just kidding! It's Canon! Canon, do you hear? Canon!)

(P.S. Yes, there is a syringe there, but we still don't know for sure that he injected the monkey juice . . . though he probably did and I'm just covering a slip-up. It is more amusing to think of him drinking the serum of langur, though.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Comic store Wednesday in Peoria.

Probably would have made it to Peoria's local comic store at lunch today, but there was a birthday to be celebrated and I don't like letting any soul willing to work on their natal day go unfeted. I really wanted to pick up all of DC's "Rebirth" titles for the week, as their decision to bring back my absolute favorite comic book character has them in my good graces of late.

Unfortunately, all of the "Rebirth" number ones were bought up by plucky souls who gravitate toward such things (and luckily, don't recognize an Action Comics #957 as being of equal value). I did, however, find that Hanna Barbera reboot Wacky Raceland was out, and then there was this . . .

Now, in spite of there being absolutely no new story there and a $4.99 price tag, that was just too pretty to pass up. Somehow manga-style art and that Cumberbatch face were just made for each other. And it's so refreshing to see a Sherlock Holmes cover without the damned deerstalker cap.


But perhaps I'm just in a grumpy mood for missing those number sold-out first issues . . . .

Turning to read "STOP! This manga is presented in its original right-to-left reading format. This is the back of the issue!" Now, I hate to be all red-neck Peoria and all, but if comic books are gonna come to this country and steal jobs from American comic books, well they should at least have their pages in an American left-to-right order, right? Wait, wait, I'm kidding, don't go all "manga is a cultural form to be appreciated for what it is" on me. I know, I know.

But then, I still bitch because sometimes because comics aren't printed on the cheaper newsprint paper any more, instead of slick coffee-table-book pages so comic book "collectors" can be all "la-tee-dah" about the art when no comic since the death of newsprint has really been all that collectable. See? Grumpy about missing those issues.

In any case, SHERLOCK's first issue of what looks to be a six-part adaptation of "A Study in Pink," was very nicely done. As I said, Cumberbatch was made for manga art. It's a loving, no-detail-left-out presentation of that much loved version of A Study in Scarlet, and really worth the five bucks, which is about as troubling to pay for a comic to us grumbly older types as paying nine bucks for popcorn at the movies.

In the morning, I should have a less personally grumbly post, about two other grumbly aging guys, but I had to mention the happy appearance of Sherlock on the week's comic book day.

Nicely done.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sherlock's Private Life was what it was.

In these revisionist times, it has been getting far too customary to read what one likes into other people's works. I suppose we've always done this to a degree, especially in the case of those deep, deep pieces that no one truly understands. But sometimes . . . most times, actually . . . a work is so honest and direct in its intentions that it takes an act of will to see it as something other than what it is.

Take, for example, the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

Love the film. Have watched it many, many times, as well as every late-discovered piece and promo reel that ever came my way. It's a perfect film, even in its abbreviated form, chopped down from the director's original epic, and I love the way it raises a question, then devotes the rest of the movie to showing us the answer to that question.

"Holmes, let me ask you a question -- I hope I'm not being presumptuous -- be there have been women in your life?" Watson asks.

"The answer is yes," Holmes replies. "You're being presumptuous."

Sherlock Holmes can't help but torture Watson a bit, as he does throughout the movie. The time is not so far removed from the influence of Rathbone and Bruce, and Watson has, at least, advanced to a more George Costanza-like Watson to Holmes's Jerry Seinfeld. But as the title of the film suggests, Sherlock Holmes is also keeping the details of his relationship with women private.

It has always been interesting to me that Wilder and Diamond's script uses "Gabrielle Valladon" instead of Irene Adler as lead female character of the story -- Irene and Gabrielle share a certain commonality of character -- but Irene's story was Irene's story, and Gabrielle's tale actually sheds light on Sherlock Holmes's affection for Irene. It's no coincidence that Stephen Moffat borrowed Gabrielle's fate for Irene's in "A Scandal in Belgravia" on Sherlock -- with a delightful twist, of course.

Gabrielle's final, unknown secret parasol message to Sherlock is much like Bill Murray's unheard whisper to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation, as incredibly romantic in being left to the imagination as H.P. Lovecraft's elder gods are inredibly horrifying for that very same reason. When Sherlock Holmes later learns of her death from his brother, along with one last bit of evidence of her regard for him, it is a truly heartbreaking moment, and we don't need words to know what he is feeling.

Which is kind of the way Private Life reveals its answers to Watson's earlier question . . . without words. Sherlock Holmes doesn't speak of his relationships with women because he is gay, as he feigns early in the movie to spare the aged ballerina's feelings after a chance remark gives him that idea. There is a deeper current about the sort of women he truly loves . . . one that even adds meaning to his entire choice of profession, why he holds back his emotions, and what a tragic figure he might have become without Watson's companionship to hold off the dark places it takes him.

The story is one of the best Sherlock Holmes tales we shall ever see on the big screen, with a depth and heart that one doesn't find when monstrous hounds are bounding across the moor to frighten us. It's Loch Ness monster might put us in mind of the hell-hound of the Baskervilles, but we are never given over to such fancy at Holmes's side, even a more human Holmes that usual, as Private Life presents.

It is a shame when some current writer decides to almost dismissively use it as "that movie where Sherlock Holmes was gay" to add more fuel to a fire capable of burning fine on its own. Such a pronouncement takes away from the beautiful depth, silent messages, and delightful ambiguities of Wilder and Diamond's piece.

For The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is what it is . . . and as with so many of the best things in life, that may be quite different to each of us. And art should be allowed to be just that.

Clayton season comes again.

Say hello and good-bye to William Cecil Clayton, John Clayton's evil cousin from the 1999 Disney animated movie Tarzan.

The reason for Cecil's moment in the blog spotlight is twofold: a.) The glue that held his plastic bubble to the cardboard backing of his original package had deteriorated to the point when he just had to free himself from it. And, b.) Beyond all expectations, one more attempt at a movie Tarzan is coming up on July 1 with Alexander Skarsgard as the ape-man in The Legend of Tarzan. And as our local Peoria Sherlockian society is called "The Hansoms of John Clayton,"  . . . well, we have some small connection to the whole business.

Sherlockians H.W. Starr and Philip Jose Farmer were both strong proponents of John Clayton, the cab driver from The Hound of the Baskervilles for which our society is named, being the eccentric grandfather of the John Clayton who became known as "Tarzan." This would mean that William Cecil Clayton, the toothy big game hunter from Disney Tarzan as well as the video game "Kingdom Hearts" is also the grandson of cabbie John Clayton.

Unfortunately, the name "Clayton" appears nowhere on the IMDB cast list page for the upcoming Legend of Sherlock Holmes, so both Cecil and the possible grandfather cabbie John, would seem to be disavowed in this new retelling.

Since Grandpa John (curiously, the namesake of a Peoria BBQ joint) has gotten his own movie parts when The Hound of the Baskervilles comes around every now and again, he's probably okay with missing out on this one. Poor cousin Cecil, however . . . well, maybe that toothy jerk needs to fade into oblivion, just like the glue that held his action figure's packaging together.

A few items of Clayton memorabilia

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Survival Guide to the World of Sherlock Holmes.

Given the wonders of virtual reality technology, fan-fueled industry, and general trends, it seems entirely possible that within a few decades, one might actually find one's self in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Being a forward-thinking individual, as I am, that thought led me quickly to the possibilities of inherent dangers in living in Holmes's world . . . and how we might have some initial casualties when the gates to Holmes-world are finally opened.

So in the interest of helping future humanity as only Sherlockians can, it seemed like we should start compiling a survival guide of sorts to the world of Sherlock Holmes, to protect newbies from having to learning everything the hard way. Here is my preliminary list:

Key Rules for Survival in the World of Sherlock Holmes

1. Do not force marriage upon any woman who does not want to join your religion.

2. If you have an aortic aneurysm, don't even go there. Stay in an era with heart surgery.

3. Do not steal treasure or let your relatives steal treasure.

4. Do not try to kill Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, or members of Scotland Yard. They will shoot you.

5. If you are involved in any sort of criminal enterprise that involves multiple people, find a way to dispose of the others before assuming any sort of new life. Save yourself all sorts of trouble later.

6. Do not let your mother re-marry. Step-fathers are bad news.

7. Do not marry a woman who already has children. Step-children can get you killed.

8. Don't date Celtic women. Or Greek women. Or Creole women. Or women of any nationality with an "excitable nature."

9. Do not mess with horses.

10. Don't let your sister go to England.

11. If you must practice crime, avoid blackmail.

12. Have no dealings with sea captains. Or seamen.

13. Do not put your hands upon the person of Russian women.

14. Don't go swimming, either on purpose or by accident.

15. Do not have affairs with the wives of chess players.

And the big one . . . .

16. In general, just don't kill yourself, other people, or attempt to kill other people.

This is, of course, just a crude starter list. T'were a complete handbook to be compiled on the subject, I'm sure Canonical non-survival rates could dwindle to zero if said handbook were followed.

Of course, the best thing of all is just to keep the world of Sherlock Holmes at a safe distance . . . say, the arm's length it takes to hold a book, and stay in a cozy chair whilst doing so. We don't have statistics on how many Sherlockians have met their end while immersed in the world of Sherlock Holmes while reading as they walked, drove, or performed other tasks needing more focus than accompanying Holmes allows. But even that can be a very dangerous thing.

So take care, my friends. Take care, however you visit Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Opinions of the Master.

"But I'm always ready to back my opinion on a matter . . . ."

We think of Sherlock Holmes as a man of facts, a man of logic, and a man of science. Yet he was also a man with an opinion.

"I simply wish to hear your real, real opinion," Mrs. St. Clair told Holmes in "The Man With The Twisted Lip." Many a client sought his opinion, his guidance . . . it wasn't that they expected an absolute solution to their problems from him, often just an opinion of their circumstances that they could use to carry on with their lives. Holmes's opinions had value.

Sherlock Holmes's opinion was that of the specialist, taking in the current data, running it by his years of study and carefully developed techniques, and coming up with is best diagnosis of what was occurring that troubled his client. The medical model that his unique profession was based on is fairly clear and much cited in Sherlockiana past.

Sherlock Holmes was no cookie-cutter solver of MURRR-DURRRRs. In many cases, Sherlock Holmes was a sort of "life doctor." Something weird got your life off course? Weird request from your employer? (So many weird employers in the Canon.) Go to Sherlock Holmes for his professional opinion.

Professional, because it had value. And you had to seek it out.

We've had the saying "Opinions are like [insert body part here], everybody has one" for a very, very long time. But what we didn't have until relatively recently was a constant, free-flowing tsunami of opinions, incited, amplified, and generally super-charged by a legion whose job or hobby it is to supply stimulation to the greatest number of people they can attract to their ongoing flow of opinion, reaction, or opinion-reference. Controversies flare and recede simply to supply opinion fodder. Why?

Well, the simple answer is that we are a world of faulty Sherlock Holmeses.

"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world."

"I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection. When Gregson, or Lestrade, or Athelney Jones are out of their depths - which, by the way, is their normal state - the matter is laid before me. I examine the data, as an expert, and pronounce a specialist's opinion."

Ah, those silly Gregsons! Out there in the world, running around out of their depths. How good it is to be Sherlock Holmes, setting them straight. 

Although we are not the only one in the world, and our sitting room is not 221B Baker Street . . . more like just the steps in front of the building, where we hope Gregson, or any client, really, will happen to wander along the sidewalk in front of us while we're talking about the case he is interested in.

"I am the only one in the world," Sherlock Holmes said, and indeed he was. For good reason.

So here's to Sherlock Holmes and those truly like him, and hoping their voices don't get lost in the din.

(This said as a card-carrying member of the din. Irony, it always gets you in the end.)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Shopping a street probably not named after the Borgia orb.

After an unexpectedly potent ferne de coca with lunch yesterday, I found myself in bookstores carrying both old and new tomes along Boulder's Pearl Street -- a moment much more colorful than my average Wednesday. Luckily, that bit of social lubricant didn't loosen up my purse strings or current collecting discipline, though more than a few interesting items were to be had.

The key difference between my buying habits now and those of thirty years ago seems to be a reluctance to add anything to my Sherlock Holmes collection that duplicates things already there. A different cover, a work collecting all sorts of information from books I already own, an extra Annotated for the "give this to someone in the future" closet . . . many of the rationales for vacuuming up Sherlockiana in the past have been well inoculated against. But still, the search goes on.

Somebody's apparently murdered Mary Russell, but I parted ways with that fangirl years ago. And since I strongly suspect her of a "Dying Detective" move like her husband, I don't trust the title. Plus, at this point, I'm still thinking her delusion of stealing Holmes away from Watson has fallen out of fashion.

And the Baring-Gould Annotated is still more likely to turn up in an old book store than the Klinger. I suspect that's because the only way most give up their Annotated is death, and Baring-Gould's buyers are many decades older than Klinger's.

Had the Out of Print t-shirt with the Adventures cover been in my size, I totally might have jumped on that -- it's a beautiful shirt. Although more people probably own the shirt than the particular volume of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes it is based on.

Browsing the magazine racks, wondering if the excellent Boulder Bookstore would go so far as to stock something as niche as The Baker Street Journal, I once again had magazine sticker shock . . . which was an odd reoccurrence, given my last bout was only weeks ago at seeing a special issue of Time offered at ten bucks. A new magazine all about Sherlock Holmes was priced at $19.95, and it seemed like more of a thinner coffee table trade paperback. Very pretty, very glossy, but something sure to get bent and dinged up unless one bagged and boarded it in the store. I tried to find it online to put a link here, but the words "Sherlock Holmes" and "magazine" are not going to do the job on Google.

I'm sure I missed a few things in my shopping -- Sherlock Holmes rarely gets his own section in bookstores (But boy do I love those stores that given him one.) and pastiches filed by author can get missed. The one thing I did miss, just because I forgot to get back to it on my way out of the store, was the Sherlock Holmes temporary tattoos. Of course, those would have been an impulse buy, and the ferne de coca had worn off after wandering all the way down Pearl Street, so the dreaded alcohol/tattoos combo was not a factor.

I left Boulder yesterday with two mysteries, and the one in paper form did not feature Sherlock Holmes. (Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim series has been a favorite, and apparently I had missed one.) The one that did feature our friend Sherlock was why a Benedict Cumberbatch cardboard stand-up was in the middle of a comic book store with a post-it note on his face. There didn't seem to be any comics having to do with Holmes around him, and the post-it was just to put a smile on his face.

I suppose, like me, cardboard Sherlock was just happy to be there.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The line we all know is there.

There was a time in Sherlockiana when "playing the Game" was the thing to do. "The Game," in that context, was a fun little pretense that we are actually living in the same world in which Sherlock Holmes did in those sixty classic tales, that John H. Watson did indeed actually write the tales, as his narration portrays, and that Arthur Conan Doyle was his literary agent.

And occasionally, in playing that Game, one would run into someone, even within our happy little fandom itself, who feared such a practice would lead to actual human beings who believed that Watson was a living author and that Doyle was merely an agent getting a percentage off the good doctor's works. I was never sure a.) If they really believed the majority of humanity was that brainless and Sherlockians that influential, or b.) what exactly the harmful effect on humanity would be if we were to wander down said path. A disrespect of the honored dead seemed, to me, to be the main pitfall, and while a shame, not exactly an extinction level event.

The thing, however, that I always found true among my fellow fans of all things fictional, is that unlike whatever sheeple that person who objected to the Game was referring to, we tended to know where the line between our fantasy life and our real life lay. No doubt about that in the slightest. We could write about Sherlock Holmes's connections to actual history all day long, but in the end was any of us ever expecting to discover that ancient fellow or his tomb? Not at all.

The real world was the real world, and that place where Holmes and Watson "dwell together still," as the Starrett poem reads, is something else entirely. Actual real-world fans tend to understand that. Mythical TV sitcom versions of fans, or stereotypes conjured for the sake of argument, do not . . . but, hey, they're mythical.

What we're becoming more and more aware of lately, however, contingents that is a lot like a fandom, but actually has a hard time distinguishing between the fantasy they wish were true and a very real world that is incapable of supplying their fantasy realm. When someone wants dragons flying in the sky, it's pretty obvious that isn't going to happen. Dragons don't exist. When someone wants a magical wall separating two parts of a continent, however . . . well, walls exist. Why not a magical cross-continent one?

It's fun to be a kid long into your adult years, playing with imaginary friends in the back seat of the car, but every now and then, you start to wonder, "Who's driving the car now? Wait . . . not the guy who has imaginary roads!"

Certain mindsets are great for recreation. Taking some time off from our real jobs and real work to indulge in a little play and relax. There's a line there that an experienced player knows, because he or she knows they're playing. But when that same sort of mindset starts creeping into practical matters . . . .

Things start to get interesting. And not the good kind of interesting.