Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When Sherlock Holmes rose from the depths.

Remember all the times that Sherlock Holmes was falling apart?

"His iron constitution, however, had broken down under the strain of an investigation which had extended over two months, during which period he had never worked less than fifteen hours a day . . . ."

That was from "Reigate Squires." But "Dying Detective," The Sign of Four, even "Empty House, in it's way, all have Watson telling us of times when Sherlock Holmes was at a low point, a place when no one would have expected anything from a person in such a condition. Worn out, deathly ill, drugged, or even dead, in each case Sherlock Holmes comes back to be . . . well, Sherlock Holmes.

Logic, reason, and truth are all brought to bear on mystery and ignorance of a situation to win the day. Even when things look darkest for him personally, Sherlock Holmes rises to help, rises to make things better for the rest of his fellow humans.

In a life of looking to Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson for inspiration, I don't think I've ever found him wanting. A really good book can be like that, and Holmes and Watson are in many good books. But you know that.

This morning, waking up and looking at the goings-on of a country trying to find its way around a particular source of grief, mistrust, and an incompetence that's far too easy to just call "evil," a Sherlockian like myself is apt to turn in the direction of 221B Baker Street and say, "What have you got for me, Sherlock?" And like a golden nugget in a pan full of river silt, something shines up at me and reminds me that this is a stream worth panning.

Conan Doyle channelled John H. Watson, M.D. starting a hundred and thirty years ago, and the words he put on paper then still shine today. Sherlock Holmes could find light in darkness then, serve as an example of a person rising to find answers from their lowest ebb, and inspire us to do likewise, and he still does so now.

Reason. Truth. Attempting to help. Even though Sherlock Holmes was a man whose intelligence and personality made it hard for him to relate to others at times, he still knew what he had to do when the time came, and he rose to do it. And occasionally, he rose from some pretty dark depths.

A Sherlock Holmes fan named Nicholas Meyer and a composer named James Horner once combined talents to create a scene that lives in my mind to this day, the battle of the Mutara Nebula. A very simple trick, both as a part of the story and of the film, gives the viewer a glorious moment when a beaten and damaged starship rises up from behind its foe to seize the moment and win the day. The orchestral score of that moment is brilliant and brings the full emotional punch of it to bear.

If the Canon of Holmes had a soundtrack, I think we'd hear more than a few of those moments, and this morning was a good morning to remember they exist.

Sherlock Holmes rising to deal with what needed to be dealt with -- its a spirit that we are blessed to have passed along to us to this day, a day when we definitely need to look to better days ahead.

Monday, August 14, 2017

When one Baker Street isn't enough.

Sherlock and Sherlockians provided the best parts of the past weekend, I think.

My friend John Holliday, a great Sherlockian whose reclusive and mysterious nature means he's only been seen by a scant few Sherlockians, came to town for an Irish pub lunch and hanging out in the Sherlock library. (I have the good Carter as a witness, in case you should ever think he's a Tyler Durden figment of my imagination whom I named after a famous gunfighter.)

And the 221B Con commanders all went down to Atlanta to research the new hotel for this year's con, and the con's Homeless Network tweeted some great pics of what we can expect there come spring. As I had to tweet on Saturday, the reminders of all the love and inclusion that swirl around 221B Con were a healthy inoculation against the hate on display in one corner of the country, and a reminder that there are good, good people here in America, as well as those who act otherwise.

But when Sunday night came, and the last moments of the weekend brought that weary lack of accomplishment blues that come as the clock runs out, I found myself picking a book out from down in the pile near my bed, one I picked up at an Indianapolis horror convention, of all places, a few years back:

Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, edited by David Thomas Moore.

I dearly love that title, so much that I almost wish I'd come up with it myself. But as this was a three-hundred-and-some page paperback, what I found inside was merely fourteen stories of alternative universe Sherlocks and Johns, and yet . . . it was enough.

"A Scandal in Hobohemia" by Jamie Wyman turned Baker Street into a carnival, where ex-military man Jim Walker first encounters carny Sanford Haus. It was a colorful new world to be swept into, securely anchored by the knowledge that underneath their guises, these were two old friends.

The second tale, "Black Alice," by Kelly Hale, brought back the familiar names of Holmes and Watson, but place them a full century before their rightful place, the same yet different.

I don't review books very often here in the blog, as I don't finish most books in a timely manner, and don't like to talk about those I don't finish . . . not sure who's fault that is in a particular case. But in this case, just getting started with Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets was such a particularly welcome tonic of distraction at the end of mixed bag of a weekend. (Burying bodies from the household serial killer can be soooo depressing on top of everything else. Don't know why we let him live here.)

And a good reminder of just how much fun Sherlock Holmes and John Watson can be at the end of the day is always worth a mention.


Sherlock Holmes was so against boredom that he couldn't even say the word.

"It saved me from ennui," he replies  to Watson's compliments at the end of "The Red-Headed League."

Bored by social events. ("Noble Bachelor.") Bored even with his own explanations of his own deductions. ("Blue Carbuncle.") Bored with crime. ("Wisteria Lodge," "Copper Beeches," etc.)

Like fellow genius Rick Sanchez (who just might have had a deerstalker on for ten seconds in this week's episode of "Rick and Morty"), Sherlock Holmes is just so good at what he does that it just isn't fun at a certain point. He certainly didn't retire in 1903 to keep bees because crime and mystery had been eradicated from the world.

No, Sherlock Holmes went, "Gee, what's more interesting than crime? I know, bees."

And, sorry, bee-lovers, but bees more interesting than humans? Have a little species pride here. Bees only get anywhere close to equally interesting as humans if you've so mastered humanity's every move that they might as well be a predictable hive. Sherlock Holmes's retirement is actually such a diss on the human race that it's amazing he has human fans.

Oh, I shouldn't watch "Rick and Morty" the first thing on a Monday morning. Did I mention there was a character composed of a million bees on this week's episode? Sherlock Holmes might have liked that guy . . . since he seemed to head in that bee direction for retirement and not hanging out with Watson and the kids, or hunting up Irene Adler, or doing something for Mycroft . . . which, oh wait, he did do after he got sick of the bees.

And don't get me started on Mary Russell. She's imaginary.

Sherlock Holmes in retirement, without Watson to either admire his efforts or bring him down a notch, is pretty dull himself. "Let's squash a jellyfish with a rock!" dull. Oops. Sorry, jellyfishes. Crossed a line there.

Mondays. What are ya gonna do? Let's be on the side of Sherlock Holmes and go anti-boredom this week. Because otherwise . . . well, things get kinda dull.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Five. Orange. Pips.

Let's talk about "The Five Orange Pips" this morning, and contrast it with the modern day.

Not in terms of its writing. Not in terms of its Victorian detail. Not anything about Sherlock Holmes.

No, let's talk about how the Ku Klux fucking Klan had a sense of shame in that tale.

Now, I probably should apologize for using "fucking" in a Sherlock Holmes blog, where mannered British-isms might seem the order of the day, but we're just at that point here. I woke up this morning to read of torch-wielding Klan types in the news in 2017. And if that doesn't make you want to say, "Well, fuck that," you probably shouldn't be reading anything I write.

The entire reason "The Five Orange Pips" works is because Conan Doyle wrote the Ku Klux Klan as what it was . . . a secret society. Their threatening message, those five seeds from an orange, was remarkable in its ordinariness, a threat that the casual onlooker wouldn't see as terrifying. The Klan of that story worked in the shadows, made deaths look like accidents or suicide, and basically avoided the light like the cockroaches of evil they were.

The true Ku Klux Klan of decades before was more of a terrorist organization, burning and lynching so their works would be seen by the public, even if they were not. Their hooded robes hid their faces, as they knew that society was not behind them. They knew their agenda was not something that would stand the light of day.

And now, thanks to whatever factor analysis might cite . . . growing poverty, false entitlement, the inability to get a girlfriend . . . we're seeing a version of the Klan that, even if it doesn't use that name, wants to announce itself publicly with torches and uncovered faces. And just as much a threat in those torches as the five orange pips . . . the threat to burn the changing culture that so offends and frightens them. A changing culture which is people.

Despite what one blithering idiot might be saying to the world this past week, we don't burn people.

We. Don't. Burn. People.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes have always been a source for nostalgia, a longing for times of horse-drawn conveyances and guiltless tobacco smoking, etc. But I never thought I'd see the day when they'd also be a source of nostalgia for a secretive, sneaky Ku Klux Klan, that at least seemed to have a sense of shame about its evil nature.

And yet here we are. Time to pull a Sherlock Holmes and send those pips in the opposite direction, don't you think?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"John, Sherlock. Watson, Holmes."

There was a single cry of frustration on Twitter today that caught my eye, amid the feeds thousand other reactions today, and it didn't have the word "nuclear" in it. (Sorry to use the word, just emotionally time-stamping this blog.) It went like this: "STOP CALLING THEM SHERLOCK AND WATSON 2k17."

In a single line of protest, one could see so much of the current state of things Sherlockian.

Sherlock and John. Holmes and Watson.

Two men with two different forms of address, those two styles connoting source material, generations, approaches to their relationship, time periods . . . a virtual rabbit hole for deep-diving, but then Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson have always been an incredible cavern for exploration to those who "catch the distant view-halloah" as the Starrett poem says.

Even as I've come to use both given names and surmanes of the pair as the spirit moves me, those names still bring distinct pictures to my head.

"Holmes and Watson" are older gentlemen. The fellows you saw in every adaptation pre-2010, regardless of who the actors were. Even all the art of that time placed them as near-senior-citizens an ungodly percentage of the time.

"Sherlock and John" are younger, vital men. The age where men are actively coupling, whatever direction you want to take that, and they can actually still run with all the speed of youth. They are the age that A Study in Scarlet always handed us, yet no one seemed to want them to be.

One set of names is properly Victorian, the other modern casual, yet once you go "Sherlock and John," the two tend to remain on a first-name basis even when you return to the Victorian era. It's a cultural retrofitting that I suspect we'll never return from, unless a new Victorian age takes over . . . and these days, you just never know. Crazier things have happened.

One can even almost understand why the offending combination of "Sherlock and Watson" occurs -- "Sherlock" is the more distinct of the detective's two names, and "Watson" the more distinctive of the doctor's. It's a mismatch, to be sure, but you know how ham-handed the non-Sherlockians have always been with our favorite sons of Britain. (The phrase "No shit, Sherlock!" popularized over-familiarity with Holmes long before he and John were on a first name basis. And pretty rudely at that. Sherlockians definitely didn't start that trend.)

And as old school as my roots run, I really like that I've gotten comfortable calling the boys Sherlock and John. It's like we've all gotten to know them a little better. After a century or so, I'd say, as a fan culture, we have. Not everyone's preference, even now, I know, but not every shift in societal norms over time is an omen of the end times. Sometimes, it's just a sign that something brand new is actually happening for a valid reason.

We're kind of lucky that Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson have hung around long enough for us to get to this point with them. And where they go from here? Well, anyone that gets to see that will, I hope, be luckier still.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Really? John Watson's Island, season two, begins!

Nothing says relaxation like turning off your brain at the end of a hard day, flopping on the couch, and turning on a sitcom with a laugh-track that even takes the work out of voicing your merriment. But for the summer blogger, a serious evening's relaxation must go one step further: Converting episodes of the classic sitcom Gilligan's Island into a Sherlock-based comedy called John Watson's Island. Last month saw the end of the first thirty-six episode season of the show (Ah, how long things ran in the sixties!), and this month begins season two:

37. The Grice Patersons from the Isle of Oof-ah. A family of primitive Scots from a neighboring island show up and encounter John Watson in the jungle. After many comical communication errors, Mycroft informs John that they want him to marry their daughter, having come to the island in search of a mate for her. Mycroft interprets that John must past a marital test of manhood first, involving a caber toss and a hammer throw, and that Watson should do it so the Scots will help them get off the island. Lestrade offers to help John practice, but while tossing the caber, Lestrade accidentally kills the bride-to-be's mother. According to Scot islander custom, he must then take the mother's place in the family. After wacky attempts at Scottish maternal duties, Lestrade's new husband decides divorce is best and takes his daughter away from the island to get as far away from the Scotland Yard inspector as possible.

38. An Admirable Queen. When a newspaper washes up on the shore with a headline about the winner of the Miss British Empire contest, Irene becomes furious, as the winner was her understudy in the last opera she performed in, who also replaced her as star when she became shipwrecked. When Sherlock says that Irene is still the most beautiful woman on their current island empire in an act a rare chivalry, John argues that Mary might be the more handsome woman, and Mycroft then proposes that Inspector Lestrade is really the most handsome of all the castaways. Professor Moriarty proposes a beauty pageant to settle the issue. Since Moriarty is the only one without bias toward a particular candidate, he is asked to judge the contest, which sparks all sorts of hijinks as the castaways sabotage each other's chances. Moriarty finally decides that they all look so foolish that he is the only fitting queen of the island and places the crown upon his own head.

39. A Scandal in New San Pedro. Don Murillo, the Tiger of San Pedro, arrives at the island after being thrown off a steam launch by countrymen carrying out his exile. Murillo declares the island "New San Pedro" and announces himself the new dictator of the island nation. Mycroft explains that this is a democratic island in which every castaway is a member of the parliament that chooses their prime minister, and Murillo, realizing he cannot win such an election, starts promoting the merits of John Watson as prime minister, sure that he can connive his way into a spot as Watson's top advisor. No one thinks Watson can beat such brainy candidates as the Holmes brothers and Moriarty, but when the "smart" votes are split so widely between them, John Watson wins the election with three votes. (Sherlock's, Mary's, and Don Murillo's.) John has a whole weird dream about being king of the island, yet a puppet to Don Murillo, and wakes convinced to resign, only to find that Don Murillo has been mysteriously murdered during the night, which Moriarty confesses to and everyone laughs, deciding they don't need a government after all.

40. The Developed Footage. When John Watson discovers a downed hot air balloon with an aerial camera, the castaways decide they can repair and re-inflate the balloon to carry the camera back to London with pictures of them and a note to summon a rescue. After much debate and many humorous modeling sessions, the castaways decide to dress primitively to show their desperate straits. But after the letter asking for help is placed on the balloon, Watson decides to change something, accidentally releasing the balloon as he grabs the letter. When the camera makes it back to London, the geographers who funded its mission declare it a great success, as the pictures they find seem to be of a new tribe of primitive Britons living as they did before civilization. The geographers all then agree that those innocent natives should be left alone to live their lives.

41. The Gold Circle. Another newspaper washes ashore in a water-proof trunk, this time announcing that the missing John Watson is the winner of the Irish Sweepstakes. Professor Moriarty announces that his pub is now an exclusive club for the island's wealthy, whom he calls his "Baker Street Regulars." John, finding himself a bit lonely in the club, writes IOUs for 50,000 pounds to Irene and Mary, then later one for Sherlock, who passes it to his brother when he gets tired and is going to bed. Lestrade just comes in saying he had to investigate a complaint he had about the establishment, and Sherlock has a crazy dream about the old West and a town that only lets rich Americans in. Reading the new newspaper over his breakfast, he points out that it was John O. Watson who won the sweepstakes and not John H. Watson, and Moriarty opens the pub back up to everyone.

42. The Grossest Episode. When Professor Moriarty says his calculations of London sewage production from overpopulation is causing the Thames to rise, Mycroft decides the castaways must build a new hut on higher ground. All the castaways have ideas on how to improve the new construction, which they call 223B Island Street, and their solo efforts each wind up counteracting some others. The one part that does manage to get built is a crow's nest, from which John Watson spots a fleet of huge filthy prison ships headed for downriver for Australia, causing the river to rise and freely dumping waste overboard. Moriarty's theory disproven, they all retire to 221B Island Street and listen to Sherlock Holmes tell the story of the Gloria Scott one more time.

Well, when the seasons are that long, all the episodes can't be winners. (Have we had a winner yet? Winner implies contest, as well as that it's all over. Perhaps we need to declare a winner.)

Stay tuned for more John Watson's Island! (Or change the channel to one of those showing Sherlockian porn, as the stories are probably a lot better!)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The great composers of Sherlock Holmes.

Way back in 1996, Varese Sarabande produced a CD of music called Sherlock Holmes -- Classic Themes from 221B Baker Street. It led with Patrick Gowers's theme music from the Jeremy Brett series, which was state-of-the-Sherlock back then, and wandered through the musical filmography of Sherlock Holmes, hitting Stephen Sondheim, Miklos Rozsa, and Henry Mancini before it was done. Very cool for 1996. But twenty years have passed, and Sherlock Holmes really needs a two (or three) volume set now if he is going to be represented on vinyl or CD.

Seeing Hans Zimmer including a little Sherlock Holmes in a program of movie music he was doing inspired this little reverie. Zimmer's music for Robert Downey Jr.'s time as Sherlock has a marvelous feel to it, capturing Holmes in a way unlike any before him. (And got an Oscar nomination for score.)

We also now have the work of David Arnold and Michael Price on BBC's Sherlock, which won an Emmy award, as well as Sean Callery's theme for CBS's Elementary, which may not have won an Emmy but did get nominated.

There are some serious contenders for composer of "best Sherlock Holmes music" these days. Folks with some serious credits to their names coming in to do very good work. But being completist collectors, a modern compilation would surely not stop with those heavy hitters.

We'd also like to see a track from Chris Ridenhour's soundtrack to "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs," as it is affectionately known, from The Asylum films. (The guy did the Sharknado music, as well as a boatload of other such films.)

John Barry's score to They Might Be Giants needs representation. I mean, John Barry! Even if you forget Bond films, he was winning BAFTAs before most Americans knew what BAFTAs were.

And while that earlier CD I mentioned, did have a Henry Mancini track from Without A Clue, what about Mancini's work on The Great Mouse Detective, which one could argue had more real Sherlock Holmes than Without A Clue. Definitely need some of that on there!

An while we're talking animated, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century has a theme song that's an earworm which will not be denied. Eric Allaman is the composer credited with the show's music, and he also did the music for Sherlock Holmes and the Incident at Victoria Falls, so he definitely deserves inclusion.

What else? A bit of Colin Towns from Hands of a Murderer? Madeline Khan singing with Gene Wilder from The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother?  (With all the fuss over Eurus Holmes of late, how can we forget Sigerson Holmes? And damned if I wouldn't pay to see Eurus and Siggy in a movie together.)

 The music that's been created for and inspired by Sherlock Holmes over the years is a deep, deep rabbit hole, and one that deserves collecting in its own right. Actors may stand front and center for any Sherlock Holmes production, but the music . . . ah, the music is always what takes a production over the top. And Holmes has had some great stuff, even when the Holmes in front of it wasn't necessarily so great.

Perhaps one day, we'll see it all gathered in one place for a long, thoughtful tour of his tunes. I sure hope so.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Let us speak of CBS's Elementary.

Well, it's August, and the time when TV viewers start looking forward to the fall season, with all its new shows and returning favorites. Unfortunately for those desperate to hear the name "Sherlock Holmes" spoken anew from the surround sound on their fifty inch flatscreen, that's not really happening this year.

After five years of full-court press, CBS has decided to bench Elementary for the fall and bring it back in January with a thirteen episode run. (Twenty-four episodes is the norm.) Such a move makes one wonder if this might not be the end for that procedural Sherlockian fan favorite, and, given that potential . . . that CBS is just running out the clock . . . makes one wonder if the showrunners are just going to go for it.

Now, whatever else backseat screenwriters, disappointed Johnlockers, and grumpy Canon purists had to say about season four of BBC's Sherlock, no one can say that the showrunners weren't running hard at something for that potentially final season. They could have knocked out three comfortably status-quo mysteries where no babies were dealt with, no mommies were killed, no friends or lovers were mercilessly beaten, no homes were exploded, no landladies ran wild, no husbands were unfaithful, no dogs were delusions, no super-geniuses were operating from island fortresses . . . holy crap, they packed a lot into three episodes . . . but it cannot be said that the series creators were not trying to get the most bang for their buck out of their three latest chances to play with Sherlock Holmes.

So, come 2018, we might be seeing the last run of Elementary, and those who run the show are surely fully aware that this thirteen episode order might be the end. Do they go for it, or just wind down as they carried on for five seasons, handing out weekly procedural drama, with individual episodes often ignoring ongoing subplots in favor of the week's mystery?

Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock character will be getting a new recovering addict buddy named Michael in season six, and some medical unpleasantness is going on with his brain. (Could this Michael be the one stablehand in "The Sussex Vampire" who sleeps in the house? He's the only Canonical Michael.) And twelve episodes is a lot of airtime -- a full season for Netflix or some other cable channels. Will Elementary take the route of "living like it is dying?" Or will it cozy on down for a final twelve procedural cases and finish with a Jonny and Lucy hug sort of scene? Or wilder still, risk it all on the hope of one more season and end on a cliffhanger?

Whatever the case, we probably won't know until next year.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lex Luthor's favorite literary character

There's a scene in the latest issue of Green Arrow comics (issue 28, story by Benjamin Percy, art by Juan Ferreyra), where that classic Superman foe Lex Luthor asks Green Arrow if he knows who his favorite literary character is.

"Guessing Dracula . . ." is Green Arrow's reply.

"Sherlock Holmes," Luthor replies, "because he is always twelve steps ahead of everyone."

Lex Luthor then goes on to demonstrate his ample brainpower by making Sherlock-style observations about Green Arrow.

Now, it may seem odd that a classic comic-book super-villain has Sherlock Holmes as a hero, but Lex Luthor has gone through a lot of changes in recent years, and his most current comic book incarnation has a certain almost nobility about him. He's even on Superman's side quite a bit of the time, having seemed to have changed his mind about the Man of Steel, and Luthor even wears an "S" and a cape to deal with trouble.

And if Lex Luthor can find something heroic worth modeling in Superman after all this time, well, he was probably at Sherlock Holmes a long time before. He wouldn't be the first intelligent captain of industry to find inspiration in Holmes.

But it does bring us to the bigger question: Is Lex Luthor truly a Sherlock Holmes fan? Would he be a member of the Baker Street Irregulars of Metropolis?  For on Superman's Earth, are we so sure the B.S.I. began in New York? And if Luthor is an Irregular, who else in the DC Comics universe would head to New York in January as well?

Of course, New York has two doppelgangers on the world of DC Comics: Metropolis and Gotham City. And if there was a Baker Street Irregulars of Gotham City instead of Metropolis, what Sherlockian would we find there? While such a gathering might seem too frivolous for the Batman, his alter ego has often played the frivolous socialite. Bruce Wayne might have found a once-a-year banquet just one more easy activity to cover a true obsession with crime.

Of course, there was that time in the 1980s when Batman actually met Sherlock Holmes . . .

In Detective Comics, issue 572 for March of 1987, we find Batman in a rare condition: total astonishment. And what's he astonished at? Not that he has encountered an aged Sherlockian cosplayer in a deerstalker with a pipe. No. Batman has run into a person who not only shouldn't be alive, he's run into someone who shouldn't exist. And someone whose sudden existence appears to be very important to him. Like it would a proper Sherlockian.

So do we now find that Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor might have had something in common besides being two of the wealthiest men in Metropolis and Gotham City? Could be.

Sherlockians do show up in all sorts of places, something that should surprise none of us.

The unspoken observations, the other discoveries.

Not all detective stories are Sherlock Holmes stories, of course.

And fans of Sherlock are not necessarily fans of all mysteries. He's a special one, a rare individual with a particular way of dealing with the mysteries that come his way. Few detectives measure up. But that is what gives some of the stories their substance.

Take BBC's Broadchurch, for example, a streaming pick that I've taken up recently. The lead detective's inability to solve the crime quickly is what makes the story. As the search for answers drags on, more and more secrets from under the town's appearance of quiet normalcy start to come out. So many of the characters are hiding something, much of which has nothing to do with the crime being investigated. And those secrets are what turn the story into an ongoing series.

Sherlock Holmes's efficiency had him solving matters in fifty-six cases that could be recorded as "short" stories. And John Watson had a part in that efficiency as well, editing the investigations down to fit in a size The Strand Magazine could handle. But when you look at a detective story being told like Broadchurch and you think about how Sherlock Holmes would have looked at such a town and such a case, and what he would have seen there . . . and how none of it would have been reported by Watson in The Strand.

But Sherlock Holmes would have known.

Sherlock Holmes would have known. All the little details picked up by his keen eye. All the little truths exposed by those observations. All the secrets revealed in those truths. All the darkness that Sherlock Holmes kept inside and didn't let out. Except for the momentary flash . . . .

"It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

Sherlock Holmes states pretty clearly that those words from "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" come from personal experience. And they sound like it wasn't just a single experience.

Watching what comes out in the long investigation shown in the first season of Broadchurch, one could imagine all the similar things that Sherlock Holmes kept inside, the leads he followed when he was away from Watson, and those Watson left out.

When Sherlock Holmes said, of Copernican theory, "You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work," we tend to think he was just having some fun with Watson. But there's a truth behind those words, a rule that Sherlock Holmes had to live by, dressed up in astronomical clothes. When on a case, Sherlock Holmes had to stick to only those facts that had to do with his work -- the case at hand.

One can imagine him using a paraphrase of that with a overly helpful witness: "You say that Mr. Roundhay is stealing from the church coffers. If he was stealing the Crown jewels from the Tower of London it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work."

Adaptations often like to see Sherlock Holmes as "an automaton -- a calculating machine," as John Watson accused him of being in The Sign of Four. But as John surely knew better than anyone, Sherlock had depths, and some emotional depths at that. All of the things that he learned, all of the things that he saw . . . Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes touched on it as an overload of the senses, but there was more to it than that . . . Holmes didn't just sense more. He learned more. He knew more. More than he could ever reveal.

Did he allow his best friend in on that burden, to help carry the load? Were the hiatus and the somewhat early retirement both necessary retreats from all those secrets? Bees, for all their society, have no personal dramas filling the hive with backstories Holmes had to consider to care for the colony.

For all the years and all the fans, there is still so much to Sherlock Holmes we have yet to consider.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Jurys of the Canon.

It's the lazy days of summer, so why not just let the lines from the stories themselves roll over you and tell the tale themselves. (One could say I'm presenting the evidence and letting you be the jury, but naaaww. Just lazy.)

"I should be judge, jury, and executioner, all rolled into one."
-- Jefferson Hope, American

"How could I hope to make it good before twelve foolish tradesman in a jury-box?"
-- Arthur Morstan, British father of British Mary

"This explanation was borne out by the post-mortem examination, which showed long-standing desease, and the coroner's jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence."
-- Dr. James "Boring" Mortimer, Briton

"You and I know  that he died of sheer fright, and we know also what frightened him; but how are we to get twelve stolid jurymen to know it?"
-- Sherlock Holmes, looking to take a hound to court

"I had a complete knowledge of the whole business, but I had not a case which could go to a jury."
-- Sherlock Holmes, still working out the hound and the court

"Theories are all very well, but we have to deal with a hard-headed British jury."
-- Inspector G. Lestrade, a man who knows his job

"A single man could not have carried out two deaths in such a way as to deceive a coroner's jury."
-- Sherlock Holmes, thinking highly of coroner's juries

"I really think we have enough to go before a jury."
-- Inspector Gregory

"And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points which must be gone into before a case could be laid before a judge or jury."
-- Sherlock Holmes on his brother Mycroft

"That's for a jury to decide."
-- Inspector G. Lestrade, again

"I fancy that I have evidence enough to satisfy a jury, even if you are able to pick a hole in it."
-- Inspector Stanley Hopkins

"However, that is for a British jury to decide. Meanwhile I have so much sympathy for you that if you choose to disappear in the next twenty-four hours I will promise you that no one will hinder you."
-- Sherlock Holmes, making one less jury necessary

"Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one."
-- Sherlock Holmes, deciding he needs a jury after all

"The coroner's jury brought in the obvious 'Willful murder', but the parties remained as unknown as ever."
-- John H. Watson, reporting

"I knew the facts were true, but could I hope to make a jury of countrymen believe so fantastic a story?"
-- Leon Sterndale, about to disappear  into Africa

"That was the view taken by the coroner's jury and also in the police-court proceedings."
-- Sherlock Holmes, about to go in and prove otherwise

Did Holmes's view of juries evolve over time? Did Dr. Watson eventually follow the path chosen by Jefferson Hope and be the second man in the Canon to decide he was a jury, or does Holmes's appointment of him make him a more innocent jury-poser? In any case, it's the lazy days of summer, so don't think too hard about it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

That moment you loved Sherlock Holmes best.

When did you most enjoy Mr. Sherlock Holmes?

Don't answer right away. Let the full meaning of that question sink in.

At this point, nearly a hundred and thirty years after his creation, Sherlock Holmes is so much a part of the culture that the sixty tales with Arthur Conan Doyle's name on them is probably not your initial introduction to the character. Unless Doyle's work was thrust upon you in school (and you were paying attention), chances are you first saw Sherlock Holmes on television.

And while most of us anchor our love of Sherlock to a Canon, be it ACD or BBC, I would venture to say that our biggest lifetime thrill regarding Mr. Sherlock Holmes did not come directly from the ACD anchor-point any more. It is the holy source of all things Sherlock, yes, but that fan who traces their initial falling in love with Sherlock Holmes to a moment in, say, The Hound of the Baskervilles is becoming rare indeed.

And even if you truly bonded to Holmes after full ACD Canon immersion, I'd bet if we had hooked you up to any source of response-measurement machine for your entire life, your highest reaction point to a Sherlock Holmes stimuli would have come from something later, something that took you by surprise once you had developed your love of Sherlock Holmes over time.

Because I don't think we ever truly enjoy Sherlock Holmes completely until we know Sherlock Holmes.

It's like the concept of love at first sight. Sure, you might have a moment of "Wow, that person is amazing and I'm having feelings!" But if that's the peak of your relationship with that person, why even bother having a relationship. You'll always remember that moment, but, if things go well, you'll have a lot more moments you remember just as fondly, if not moreso.

So it is with Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

And when you consider the long term . . . like being into Sherlock Holmes for decades and decades, as many people are . . . you don't hang on that long without some high points along the way. It may be discovering other fans who speak your language at a Sherlockian event. It may be in something really good written by a non-ACD author. And it may be . . . heaven forbid . . . in a movie or television show.

To be honest, as much as I've loved Sherlock Holmes the character and drawn fun and frolic from the original ACD tales over time, I think that if I had to rank single moments of joy, BBC Sherlock topped the Doyle Canon in spots. Works by other writers, both pastiche and essay, have topped the Doyle Canon at times for sheer enjoyment. ACD's works are the fuel, but they aren't the engine, and they certainly don't press the pedal to the metal any more . . . that comes from forces outside those original sixty stories. Is that blasphemy at this point? I really don't think so.

A staple of Sherlockian essaydom has long been "what is it that we love best about Sherlock Holmes" or "when did I first meet Sherlock Holmes." But as Holmes has spread so far and wide in our culture, a new question to add to those staples might be "When did I love Sherlock Holmes the best?"

Because there's so much Holmes to love out there. And should love ever have limits?

Monday, July 31, 2017

The haunting of time-displaced Sherlock.

Following Rob Nunn's lead and starting a blog post with an Elinor Gray tweet this week is definitely a copycat move that's hard to resist:

Looking back on the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century with an eye to Sherlock's emotional state, as much as he might have tried to push it down, is, like Elinor says, devastating.

Waking up in the future after being stored in honey for centuries, Sherlock Holmes not only has to exist in a world in which everyone he knew is long dead . . . he is constantly followed by a grim mechanical reminder of the man he was closest to: A robot Watson.

Bad enough that he has an ancestor of Lestrade present and an actual clone of Professor Moriarty to deal with . . . both ways that Watson could have also made it to the 22nd century, but did not . . . Holmes gets a robot Watson that was surely not programmed to be the Watson he knew, but a Watson who's really just a compudroid cosplayer doing a fanfic imitation. You don't recreate a personality by reading someone's journals, you simply become a pastiche.

But Elinor's thought didn't just sadden Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century for me.  What about the 1987 TV movie, The Return of Sherlock Holmes? What about 1994 Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Returns? Back in the day when creators thought the only way to have a modern day Holmes was to physically haul him from the past to the present, the poor guy was in for a lot of sadness.

And every time he comes back, there has to be a Watson there to remind him of what he lost. He is a haunted man. Wherever Sherlock Holmes finds himself, a "Watson" must appear. Maybe not the Watson. But "a" Watson. It's almost like he has a curse upon him: "You, Sherlock Holmes, made John Watson suffer through your false demise and actual return, now you must suffer his actual demise and false return!" Gawd-awful, that is.

As we moved further from the Nigel Bruce era and into an age where John H. Watson is a fully-formed human being with real value, things have changed. Nigel's Watson was a little too easy to replace without looking back. Martin Freeman's Watson won't go as quietly in our hearts and memories, to have his role filled by anyone who happens to be around with a name anywhere similar to "Watson."

Perhaps we can end Sherlock Holmes's curse and just let him have the Watson he always should have had from here on in. After all, how hard is it to freeze Watson too? Or throw them both in a Tardis and fly them forward? Or just reincarnate them next to a London sandwich shop . . . .

"The world is big enough for us," Sherlock Holmes famously said to Watson, "no ghosts need apply." And those very words could apply to all future Holmeses from here on in. The world is big enough for both Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. No Watson ghosts need apply for that job.

It isn't vacant any more.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Holmes . . . or Watson . . . in every home.

Facebook is telling me that the people who like Sherlock Peoria haven't heard from me in a while. "Write a post," Facebook tells me.

Let's all agree right now not to ever get into the robot thing, okay?

Because you know one of the first generations of the mechano sapiens are going to be Facebook enabled, and I really don't want one of those showing up on a Sunday night, nagging me about my blogging responsibilities to Facebook followers. And here's the big question . . . are we going to get robot Sherlock Holmeses or robot John Watsons, and would either of those be a good thing?

Robot Sherlock Holmes.

You can see Robo-Sherlock evolving from Siri, as he starts out as the solver of mysteries. "Robo-Sherlock, where did I put my keys?" "Robo-Sherlock, what happened to Agnes Moorhead?" "Robo-Sherlock, why does my dog not love me any more?" He not only uses the internet, he can actually wander around looking for clues, interviewing other people, retrieving lost items. To be a true Robo-Sherlock, of course, we're going to have to install a disgression function to his personality so he knows when not to tell us the true facts of a matter . . . and perhaps let the culprit go free. But you're not just his client! Ask Robo-Sherlock to allow you to accompany him on an adventure, and he's suddenly a travel-guide into parts, people, and situations unknown.

That's where it gets interesting, and, perhaps, a little dangerous.

And while fiction has attempted robot Sherlocks, I don't think we have yet to see a . . .

Robot John Watson.

Your faithful biographer, accompanying you to turn every little adventure of your life into readable prose. He's an able, supportive robot companion, but just not smart enough to have any answers you are proud to come out with yourself. Good at looking after your physical well-being, whether it's with medical help or protective services. Doesn't follow you when you don't want him to. Great to chat with, but also comfortably silent when you need that. Robot John is an easy friend to have, and since he's a robot, he's not going to leave you for a wife! We can knock that part out of the programming on day one, just like possible drug addictions in Robo-Sherlock.

Of course, whether you choose a Robot John or a Robot Sherlock depends upon your personality. (We're not letting you buy both just to watch them go at it, in this scenario.) And that choice is certainly rather telling.

It's a choice that I hope we never get to make.

Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson were two of the greatest friends we know. And to attach yourself to a robot match like that, whether you're a John or a Sherlock, is apt to make you so comfortable with your robot pal that you make less of an effort to connect with your fellow human beings. And suddenly the fabric of society really takes a hit, as if it hasn't been dinged enough by events of late. Having a household appliance that relieves loneliness is a lot like those medicines that relieve pain -- good for the serious cases, but dangerous to rely on in everyday life.

Robots! Always causing come kind of trouble, whether it's in a cowboy-themed amusement park, taking jobs on the factory floor, or fulfilling a fan's wildest dreams. Perhaps we can put our robo-future off just a little bit longer.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Summer doldrums and the yearly letter.

I don't think of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York much since the coming of Cumberbatch.

Maybe three times a year. In January of course, and then in mid-summer and fall when the letters from Mike Whelan to the membership come out. And in mid-summer, I'm usually bored and looking for topics, so I have to make a comment or two here. So here we are again.

It always feels a bit like I'm getting a lecture when the letters come 'round. There's a lot of talk about accomplishments of the Irregulars, the journal, the trust, the events, what the suggestions for membership should take into consideration, as well as what a current member should perhaps do for the betterment of the Irregulars. They've accomplished a lot with those who are agreeable to the party line. And they should be proud of what they've accomplished. But the lecture part, well, I guess that's management's prerogative in any organization.

It's a minor irritation, and one that soon passes. Like I said, since the coming of Cumberbatch, I don't think of the BSI as much. There's so much else out there that commands the attention of a follower of Sherlock Holmes that turning to face New York isn't as necessary as it once was. Globalism wasn't something that just hit markets or other areas of thought. And if one isn't in synch with particular methods and goals of one part of the Sherlockian world, well, there are others. So many lovely choices.

I've known of ex-patriate Baker Street Irregulars for about as long as I've been a Sherlockian, and I'm sure there some were before that as well. Those fascinating old curmudgeons who made their mark in Sherlockiana then fell away from the fandom. And as Sherlockian numbers have grown, you see those who would have definitely been Irregulars in the 1950s or 1960s who now make their mark without ever seeing a shilling handed to them at a New York dinner. (As well as those who would not have seen said shilling in the 1950s and 1960s due to their gender, but would have certainly qualified.) Some of us, through some twist of personality or personal history, are never going to fit in as insiders. But that's okay -- it's a big world getting bigger by the day.

And in that big world, there are many, many more places for those of us that don't fit into a particular Sherlockian box. While a particular part of the Sherlockian world might not be as fully open and inclusive as a given individual might hope, the Sherlockian world as a whole is proving to be a very open space for individuals of so many backgrounds, abilities, and interests. If you want to follow the faith of Sherlock, so to speak, you have many denominations to choose from.

Even in mid-summer, when things are slow and easy . . . .

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Unusual Case of the Book That Was Reviewed.

This isn't normally a book review blog, but when a Sherlock Holmes related book manages to get past the finicky barriers of Sherlock Peoria reading tastes, it is worth noting.

The latest such book, The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss, is most definitely worth noting. It's an origin story of sorts, a happy lead-in for what I strongly hope will become a series. Sherlock Holmes appears throughout, and should appear in future books, but he and Watson are supporting characters in the lives of one Mary Jekyll and her friends.

If the name "Mary Jekyll" makes you think she's related to another fictional personage of that last name, you would be correct. And if you were to have heard that The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter follows paths already trod by Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or one of Kim Newman's Anno Dracula books, you might be correct as well. But Alchemist's Daughter is charming where the first of those two was dour and gruesome, and creating new characters where the second tended to stick more with the old.

Sherlock Holmes is not overdone and not underdone . . . if this book series adds one more feminine person of interest to his life, I might actually wind up approving. Unlike the Mary Russell novels, where his ties to Russell inevitably warp the Sherlock we know a bit to couple him up, Mary Jekyll has her own life to lead and plainly won't be working as a next-generation Watson. And the little "family" she builds would seem to give her much more important relationships to develop as her life goes on . . . .

. . . . or already has gone on. One of the book's little habits that came to be quite a comfortable occurrence was brief interludes where the characters would comment upon the novel as it was being written. Future adventures are referred to, personalities come out (even before you meet some of them for the first time in the narrative), and the sense of a family group comes in from the start. I wasn't sure if that technique would work at first, but it does, and adds a layer to the book that while perhaps not critical to the plot, sets a nice tone as things develop.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter is a happy book, even if some of the characters were quite literally born of suffering and horror. You'll find kin to old favorites in the world of monsters, as Mary Jekyll's name suggests, and perhaps a character you missed in your readings, as I did.

It's coming out in paperback on August first, so this is a good time to get on the fun a bit more economically if you missed this one's initial release.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Screw it! Mormormormormormor!

Okay, since all order and sense in the universe seems to be going out the window, let's just frickin' go for it. I'll even give you some background music to accompany it! Ladies and gentlemen and those who otherwise identify, the incomparable Andrea True Connection!

Did you think it was a coincidence? Did you?

Moriarty, the mastermind.

Moran, the assassin.

Morstan, the infiltrator.

When I wrote last time about the other enemy who was keeping Sherlock Holmes away from London besides Colonel Moran, Mary Morstan Watson, little did I realize how deep that rabbit hole would lead. I mean, Moriarty, Moran, and Morstan? They're like the dark Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman trinity of the Sherlockverse! Such a perfect matched set! And we like threesomes so much, surely we're going to stop right there and look no further, right? Right?

Well, fie on thee, you Mor-villains who thought we'd stop at three! These are mad times that call for madder theories, theories to surpass the flat-out insanity we're seeing play out in the actual news!

The man who coveted Sherlock Holmes's skull and drew him into a lonely trap over killer beasts and roaming murders . . . James Mortimer!

The man who came closest to killing John H. Watson after so many others failed . . . Morecroft!

The Scotland Yard inspector we only hear of when Sherlock Holmes is a dying detective . . . Morton!

The Mor-people weave through the career of Sherlock Holmes like a dark thread of death. Sherlock Holmes kept them in his commonplace book, like Morgan the poisoner. Old Frankland the crank fought one of them in court, Sir James Morland. And who even knows what that Countess of Morcar was up to, but we do know Sherlock didn't seem in any hurry to let her have her blue carbuncle back.

Now, for a moment, mentally do something we've always enjoyed doing -- get rid of that second half of A Study in Scarlet that doesn't have Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in it. What are you left with? Well, not that much about a certain religious affiliation. And a tale of a man devoted to stalking members of a cult-like organization whose mission ends with him being taken at 221B Baker Street and his death soon after. Watson writes it up with that whole second section, making it "Oh, Jefferson Hope was just after these two guys and they were Mormons according to him. Mormons! Not like he might have said 'Mor-men' and told us anything else . . . noooooo."

Perhaps, the events behind A Study in Scarlet didn't just set up the partnership of Holmes and Watson. Perhaps they set up the passing on of a mission of Hope, a mission that the two men took up and sought to continue, uncovering the secrets of the legions of Mor-men and stop whatever plans their underworldly schemes had hatching.

Was Alice Morphy so innocent in her inspiring Professor Presbury to experiment on himself with ape serum?

Was Annie Morrison's part in the Cunningham murder so innocuous as she would have us believe?

And when all of these people motorboated their fellows with their secret societal greeting, was the sound that of "MORMORMORMORMORMOR!!"

Okay, so maybe that last one is a little far-fetched, but the notion that Sherlock Holmes's career had a focus on a secret league of Mor-people has been suspiciously absent from all of the more available Sherlockian scholarship of the last century wouldn't you say? Makes you wonder why, doesn't it?

All I can say to that is: "Mor" to come. (And if you don't see me writing any more on this subject, well, that may just prove that the conspiracy of silence does exist, eh? Please be Sherlock Holmes to my Jefferson Hope and carry on the investigation, should that happen.)

Monday, July 24, 2017


Thinking of doing some travelling, getting away from it all, just relaxing for a time?

Your first consideration, probably the one that is so knee-jerk you don't even think about it, in choosing a destination is "What is my likelihood of survival?"

In a post a couple months ago, I mused upon Sherlock Holmes beginning his great hiatus with a visit to Victor Trevor in Nepal.  In his description of his travels, he starts by saying "the course of events in London did not run so well as I had hoped, for the trial of the Moriarty gang left two of its most dangerous members, my own most vindictive enemies, at liberty." Then he goes on to say he travelled for two years in Tibet, like he didn't decide to do that until the trial(s) were done. Passing the time with Trevor in Nepal was an excellent remote spot to wait out the criminal proceedings until word came from Mycroft that all was well.

But all was not well, and two of his "most vindictive enemies" seemed like a good reason for him to avoid London for a while. One of those, we assume, was Colonel Sebastian Moran. The other? We aren't told. But would you think Moran was scary enough to keep Sherlock Holmes out of London for all that time, rather than face the old shikari? Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock was not exactly biding his time in comfort and safety, if the much-abbreviated tale he tells gives us any clues. He was exploring the Himalayas as a Norwegian named Sigerson, making remarkable enough inroads to rate appearing in the papers Watson might have read . . . which was probably a pretty dangerous way to spend one's time.

What kind of enemy could pose a threat more frightening to Sherlock Holmes than the mountains of Tibet, to say nothing of his other travels? He was risking life and limb in those travels. What single man could keep him away from London like that? Moran? Puh-lease . . . .

But that other mystery man . . . oh, wait, did I say "man?" Forgive me . . . person apparently had to be captured, tried, or otherwise removed from the scene before Sherlock Holmes dared return to London. Because unlike Moran, Sherlock Holmes could not trap that person with a simple wax dummy. Someone who was in London earlier, but gone when he returned . . . hmm . . . perhaps someone whose family experience a "recent bereavement" when they passed on, just before Holmes's return?

If you recognize those two words, you know who fits that bill. Someone whose role as a Moriarty agent could not be exposed by Scotland Yard, and someone who could hold someone Sherlock Holmes held dear a virtual hostage while said person stayed loyal to their captor, never knowing any threat existed. Someone who Sherlock Holmes managed to avoid at the very start of bringing John Watson into the Moriarty business.

"Is Mrs. Watson in?
"She is away upon a visit."
"Indeed! You are alone?

"Then it makes it the easier for me to propose that you should come away with me for a week . . . ."

We know Holmes had two enemies keeping him from London. We know Moran was someone he could take down. And the only two people we know who seemed to die before he could return were Mrs. Watson and Ronald Adair. And one of them still lives with their mommy.

For now, I'm just leaving this little theory as a far-fetched fancy of the sort Sherlockians pose all the time. Someone has surely hit on this before. As with any criminal accusation, it's best to have all the evidence at hand before making your move (something I'm sure certain folk know all too well these days). Will that time come?

We shall see. But the full story behind Sherlock Holmes's great hiatus from London is one that we're still dying to know.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

That time Sherlock Holmes was an American.

An article in The Independent online has headlined Sherlock's "Britishness" as his key to international appeal this week. And it's a hard point to argue, as some very bad Sherlock Holmes incarnations have coasted by on merely a British accent and the name over the years. Quite a few, actually. The idea of a Sherlock Holmes without that accent is nearly unthinkable. In fact, whenever it's been tried, they had to give the guy a different name.

During one of our Sherlockian dark and desperate periods, when major media was ignoring our main man (Yes, there was such a time, as hard as that might seem to fathom now.), Sherlockians had to content themselves with TV shows like Monk and House. And for movies, we went to things like that American Sherlock Holmes, Daryl Zero.

The year was 1998. The movie was Zero Effect, with Bill Pullman in the Sherlock role and Ben Stiller as his Watson. It was very nineties, very much it's own thing, but there was no question as to what writer/director Jake Kasdan was going for: American Sherlock Holmes.

The nearest thing we had to a Sherlock Holmes adaptation in 1998 was the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, but despite good reviews from major critics like Roger Ebert (back in the days when we had major critics and not just Rotten Tomatoes), the movie never really found its footing. Was it that we weren't ready for a modern-day Sherlock Holmes back then, or was it that Sherlock as an American is just too . . . American?

When you think of how Sherlock works in Sherlock, he seems to stand out most when he's breaking rules, flustering Watson, showing up naked at Buckingham Palace, using his intellect as an excuse to subvert social niceties. That works wonderfully in Britain, but give all those qualities to an American and what do you get? Pretty much just another inappropriate American, who, without the British accent to imply class and brains to an American audience, probably not as smart.

Imagine Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary without the accent. Would anyone even go near the result as a proper Sherlock Holmes? Or would we write him off as just another inapproriate American and switch over to the more familiar John Munch on Law and Order? When the makers of Elementary set their show in New York, all of the main characters became American except Sherlock. No matter how many other changes they were making, that one thing was still a line that couldn't be crossed.

Zero Effect is an interesting piece of Sherlockian film history for what makes it  not Sherlock Holmes, even though it totally is Sherlock Holmes. And looking back on it now, I really have to agree with the slant Independent took with Steven Moffat's quote on Holmes as a totally British export.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Can't stop the John Watson's Island!

Turning every episode of Gilligan's Island into a parallel universe sitcom called John Watson's Island doesn't happen overnight. Can it happen over the course of one summer? We shall see.

31. The Diogenes Club. Since most of the castaways are not as used to John Watson writing his memoirs as Sherlock is, they start becoming suspicious about how they are being portrayed when he won't let them read his first drafts. Each of the castaways then decides to write their own version of episode fifteen's events ("The Newgate Squire") and we see those played out as if they were from the real episode, with Irene, Moriarty, Mycroft, Mary, and Lestrade each being the hero who saved them all from the Australian penal colony guard instead of John. Sherlock destroys each version by citing details disproving each story after they're told.

32. The Sighin' of the Two. When Mycroft Holmes splits the seat of his pants, he realizes that the island has taken his normal daily routines from him and that he's putting on weight. In order to keep on the strict regimen he prescribes for himself, Mycroft has himself handcuffed to Lestrade and orders the inspector to keep him on track. Much hilarity and awkward romantic moments follow that are network-television enough that the viewers are left to their own interpretations of what exactly went on in this episode. Fans have many arguments.

33. The Missing Tree-Forter. When a trunk containing a magician's act washes up on the shore, Mycroft suggests they use the props to frighten off any primitive Scotsmen who might wander on to the island. Irene Adler says she was a magician's assistant early in her career and can teach everyone some tricks. Moriarty wants to learn how to saw Sherlock in half, but Irene convinces him to learn the disappearance box trick instead, and Moriarty makes Sherlock disappear. Only when it comes time to make Sherlock reappear, the second half of the trick won't work. John realizes that Sherlock is taking another one of his "hiatuses" and comes up with a plan. The castaways make a wax dummy of Sherlock and start pretending it's just the same as having him there, which makes Sherlock, who has been watching from behind a large rock crypt, irritated enough to return.

34. The Resident Painter. After Professor Moriarty finds a freshly painted portrait of a child hanging in his bar one morning, the smell of cooking breakfast lures painter Jean Baptiste Greuze out of the treeline. Greuze claims to have faked his death and came to live on a nearby island where the magic waters have kept him alive to an age of over one hundred and seventy years. Seeing Irene, Greuze decides she is a muse sent by the gods and starts painting her portrait. Sherlock and John talk to Greuze while he paints and find he has a way off the island. Moriarty hears this, then tells Greuze he knows where some fabulous scenery is, takes him to the top of an island waterfall, and pushes him off, killing the painter. He tells the others it was an accident, but that Greuze's death means his collection of paintings will retain their current value, and that Irene's half-finished portrait will be a nice bonus for her.

35. John Hamish Moriarty. After John Watson pushes Professor Moriarty out of the way of a falling tree, Moriarty decides that he owes his life to John, and makes him heir to his fortune and criminal empire. Taking Watson as an apprentice, Moriarty starts teaching John in Crimelord 101. John goes along out of niceness, but soon notices Sherlock drifting away, Lestrade refusing to go fishing with him, and Mary telling him it is a poor life choice.  John tells Irene of his situation, who tells him what she thinks he should do. Moriarty starts noticing that Watson was much more stupid than he previously realized (and he acts a lot like Nigel Bruce), and eventually tells John he has changed his mind and that the criminal empire should die with Moriarty.

36. Ye Olden Punched Nose. John Watson comes up behind Sherlock while Holmes is experimenting beating the corpse of an island bore and gets hit square in the nose. John's nose swells up comically large, and the castaways realize that they have no medical knowledge to help the doctor if something happens to him. Watson decides to teach the castaways first aid, but Moriarty keeps using the lesson practices to try to kill Sherlock in various manners. Sherlock finally anesthetizes Moriarty with island-berry-ether he's concocted in case surgery is needed. Mary convinces John to let her put a mud pack on his swollen nose, but when it dries he has a rock-hard face mask that won't come off. John winds up sitting in front of 221B Island Street looking like a beggar and the other castaways bring him food out of pity. Finally, Sherlock gets tired of John's absence, gets a bucket of water and a sponge, and peels the hard clay mask off, telling them all that his time at medical school will suffice if John needs help in the future.

And so ends the first season of John Watson's Island.  Thirty-six episodes. Current seasons of CBS Sherlock Holmes comedies would only do twenty-four, but since even in its alternate universe, John Watson's Island could only hold out three years, making its total run still less than five and a half seasons of a modern show.

Conan Doyle, however, did pretty well without a writer's room for this two twelve-episode seasons of Adventures and Memoirs  in The Strand Magazine.

The "smoking pistol" controversy.

My newsfeed on Sherlock appears to have a bit of a battle going on this morning between The Smithsonian and The Washington Post.

The Smithsonian has been pushing an article all week that the Holmes Canon is responsible for the phrase "smoking gun," which seemed trivial enough that I never bothered to read it until this morning, when The Washington Post online decided to start arguing the point. And now that I've read both? They're pretty much pointless hoo-hah.

"Smoking gun" as we use it metaphorically means indisputable proof of someone's guilt. It's a metaphor. It doesn't mean the guilty party was actually caught with a smoking gun in their hand. Yet apparently, in 2003, word-guy William Safire wrote that the passage in "The Gloria Scott" where "the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand at his elbow" is where that cliche comes from.

Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes get credit for a lot of original things, but trying to give them their due for "smoking gun" in this instance seems flat-out silliness. IT'S A METAPHOR! The guy that first used it as a metaphor is the one who gets credit, not Doyle, and not, as the Post carries on this ridiculous argument, any prior person who wrote about gunpowder smoke coming from any projectile firing weaponry.

We really just have too much time on our hands these days. And I'm saying that as a blogger who just wrote a post arguing about an argument that started for no good reason, got carried on for no good reason, and continued here for no good reason.

But, hey, Sherlock Holmes!

Friday, July 21, 2017

"We are faddy people."

There are, perhaps, those who would suggest that Sherlockiana was a classier joint in decades past, before the Cumberbatch came to call. Take the 1980s, for example. Jeremy Brett was appearing on PBS doing Canon-faithful adaptations of "The Red-headed League," "The Copper Beeches," and "The Final Problem." All class, right?

What a grand year it was when those came out, 1985 -- so similar to 1895 -- and Sherlockians were serious, noble, and had . . .

. . . this.

The "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" sign. All caps with an exclamation point in that diamond of cautionary yellow.

There were a lot of those signs back then, based on the "BABY ON BOARD!" sign that someone saw in Germany and brought to the U.S., preying on that always-caring maternal market. You didn't want someone to choose to crash into your car if your baby was in it, after all. It was a couple of years before we had the term "road rage" yet, so the thought was that apparently, rational drivers would make the proper choice and avoid crashes with vehicles carrying babies. (Yet it came just about the time all fifty states had car seat laws put into place, so babies in cars were just on people's minds.)

Parodies followed, which was an odd thing considering child safety was the issue being parodied, and at some point late in the game, someone decided people might not want to crash into cars that held Sherlockians in them either. After all, we were all watching Jeremy Brett and, hence, worth of such no-crash considerations. Or, since 1985 was also the year Young Sherlock Holmes came out, maybe we were hoping the association of his baby-face would cause people not to crash into us.

As you can tell by the non-sun-bleached aspect of the one in the photo, my "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" sign never saw use in a car's back window. It was just another Sherlockian collectible picked up in an era of extreme collecting. And I think it puzzled me then as much as it puzzles me now, being based on the sort of humor used in the weak-tea likes of Epic Movie, Date Movie, and Disaster Movie where "Look, this thing is like another thing!" seems to be all that the makers think will bring hilarity. But perhaps its just an artifact from an alternate universe we've never seen.

Is there a parallel universe where "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" signs denote useful information for the regular folk to call upon said occupant of a vehicle to solve mysteries if they happen to be on the scene? Or dispense wisdom from the Sherlockian Canon as needed, or just desired?

"Look, Mom! There's a Sherlockian on board! We are saved!"

But who was ever really "on board" a car anyway?

Pardon me, I have to go listen to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, raise my pinky, and be all classy for a while. Being an elder Sherlockian takes gravitas, after all. Because we have to seriously work on forgetting parts of the 1980s.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Here's the thing about blogging . . . it is way too easy once you get in the habit.

You write, you hit "publish," you see if any comments come in. It's a routine, like any other. And enough people read it that you don't worry overmuch about trying to hit a single target. If one person out of a hundred gets some joy out of it, you can feel like you did something. But tonight, I broke out of my routine for a change.

The John H. Watson Society put out a call for submissions for its October journal, and having recently joined said society, submitting seemed like something I should do. So I concocted something a little different from what you usually read here, ran it through a few reviews, a few changes, and then sent it off. And this weird thing happened  . . .

I actually felt nervous.

More nervous than any public speaking engagement I've done in the past five years . . . those have actually gotten pretty comfortable. And definitely more nervous than tossing something out to those stalwarts who read this blog on anything close to a regular basis. Anyone who returns to this stream of words is probably familiar enough at what's coming to not get to outraged.

I suspect it was the fact that, unlike what I wrote earlier about blogging, I was sending a bit of writing off to a single target, an editor-in-chief with a respectable writing ability of her own, in an area where my own skills aren't really proven. (Leaving out details in case I do make The Watsonian, to keep it a surprise.)

Submitting a creative work to a journal, publisher, or any place where a thumbs-up, thumbs-down is expected is another muscle that exercise builds up, and I fear all this blogging has let that particular muscle atrophy in me, leaving it in need of physical therapy . . . like a few that show up needing that as one nears sixty. (It won't be my first.) I do need to exercise it more.

This blogging thing is just so darned easy.

Does a creator's intent matter?

Let's talk about writer Arthur Conan Doyle and film-maker Ed Wood for a moment.

I use Ed Wood in this instance, because while there are writers of his ability out there, they don't tend to attain the fame that he did. But Ed Wood and Arthur Conan Doyle were both creators who attained prominence for their creations, so I think he will suffice for the point I'm going to explore.

Ed Wood made a little sci-fi/horror movie called Plan Nine from Outer Space. I say "sci-fi/horror" because that was Wood's intention. What he actually created was a comedy that audiences have enjoyed for decades now as just that . . . a comedy. Which it wasn't made as.

So if a goodly number of people start enjoying Holmes and Watson as a gay couple, is it any more problematic than the legion of fans who enjoy Plan Nine from Outer Space as a comedy?

As long as I've been a Sherlockian, I've seen folks trying to claim authoritatively what Conan Doyle thought about this or that. Sometimes it seems on target, sometimes it seems like they're stretching some quote out-of-context to suit their purposes. In the end, though, all everyone is working from is the same set of words as everyone else and interpreting those words as their individual mind will. Piling on the words to have Doyle corroborate himself always gives us the best picture, but even at that . . . who really knows what's going on in anyone's head?

What we do have, however, is the product Doyle produced and handed over to the public for their entertainment, to enjoy as they chose. Just like Mr. Ed Wood.

Because of the quality of that product, as well as the fact Doyle is more "historical," having died longer ago, we tend to take Doyle a little more seriously. People raise the question of his intent and seem to think that should govern how we view his characters . . . out of respect for the dead or somesuch silly notion that gatekeepers enjoy trotting out in their seriousness.

But let's be honest. The only thing they're defending is their own worldview, and trotting out one more "how you should behave" to try to justify it. You know those people. (Heck, I'm doing it here.)

Conan Doyle was no Ed Wood, of course. Wood was a shlock film-maker who didn't make his horror movie horrific enough. Doyle was a great writer!

But step back and look at on part of Doyle's work: John Watson's marriage.

It's on again, off again. Mary Morstan never really returns as a character. A wife seems to die, then Watson seems to leave Holmes for a wife eight years later. Conan Doyle is horrible at writing an ongoing male-female relationship in the Canon of Holmes. One might argue that they are mystery stories, not "Watson's romance" stories, but at that point you're actually just flinging the barn doors wide open. If Doyle's point wasn't Watson's romance and he didn't care about it, an interpretation of a monogamous, Mary-faithful Watson suddenly has equal footing with an interpretation of closeted Victorian John who was in love with Sherlock. If the writer's intent isn't clear in the text itself . . . the interpretation of which can change over time . . . the reader can enjoy it however they choose.

Which is what audiences do.

Nobody is going to propose that you should properly enjoy Ed Wood's Plan Nine from Outer Space as a frightening horror movie because that has to be what Wood intended. And a big part of the Sherlockian game from its earliest days was the fact that Sherlockians were not enjoying the Canon as Doyle or his offspring intended.

Because in both cases, that's where fans found the fun was. And if a new generation of Sherlockians finds the fun somewhere new in those same stories, that'll be where the fun is then. It'll be their world eventually, they get to do that.

All we can do is enjoy what we enjoy and let others do the same.*


* This view may have evolved since earlier postings in this same blog about a certain American television show, which, quite honestly, the writer did not think anyone enjoyed. Still learning such things.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The logical synthesis of fanfic.

So little time, so much to read.

And every month's listen to Three Patch Podcast brings just a little more added to the "I want to get to that someday" list. They have some pretty solid recommendations if you listen for what seem to be classics of the form. But sometimes, their discussions themselves become just as much fun as a good read. Case in point, the "We Ship It" segment for July, featuring the Jolto pairing (John Watson/James Sholto).

While Jolto is definitely going to be a hard genre for me to get to (as much as I love movies, war movies tend to be on my no-fly list, and this is all about soldiers), the fans on this audio panel (Cookie, Vanetti, Monika Krasnorada, and Bree) find it very hard to confine themselves to existing storylines involving Watson and Sholto, and just start coming up with completely new possibilities for the characters interacting. While amazed that a character with so little air time and a seemingly dead-end relationship with John Watson could be so fascinating, they just keep making James Sholto moreso as they ramble on . . . which is some perfect podcasting.

John Watson's war years and military service is one of those areas, both in BBC Sherlock and Doyle Canon, where a few skeletal details set up legions of potential tales. And just as Victor Trevor comes from Sherlock Holmes's college days to inspire wonder at that duo's time together, James Sholto comes in for Martin Freeman's Watson. (In the Doyle Canon, we'd have to place Murray in that "old army buddy" role.) Attempting to flesh out what happened in that time, around the few details that are presented, is not only classic Sherlockian brainwork, but classic Holmes detection as well.

"I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them," Sherlock states during "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches." And what is an explanation but a story of how someone got from point A to point B, which Sherlock Holmes was constantly trying to work out. His results, when edited down to the one provable theory, were solutions and not prose narratives (at least until Watson got his pen going), but Sherlock was spinning fics about the characters of every drama he came across. Just like the "We Ship It" crew from this month's Three Patch.

There is a definite "new scholarship" angle to the work of fan fiction. Instead of going for dates and measurements to calculate the like of the Musgrave Ritual, there are explorations of personalities and relationships in ways that can only be done in fiction. And we have more of it going on now than any time before us in Sherlockian history.

It's fun to be able to hear some of that work coming together while doing a little cooking and washing up, especially for a Sherlockian who has been around long enough to have heard so many retreads of well-worn pathways over the years. And that was tonight.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Lady Sherlock Holmes.

Another fun day on the ol' Twitter, where the fuss and the counter-fuss spool up for a given newsbit. My favorite among today's early contenders:

Doctor Who is going to be female in the next go-round. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor is still a single-thread-continuity character, so the impact of his transition might be felt a little harder by his fans, but we all knew it was a possibility. So let's get back to Sherlock Holmes.

Just how would Sherlockians react to a full-fledged, major media female Sherlock Holmes? We've had some pretty great versions done on YouTube and elsewhere, but they weren't at the Downy/Cumberbatch/Miller level. And don't give me the "Well, Watson has been a woman!" excuse for Sherlockians being accepting. Watson has been Nigel Bruce. Sherlockians of the past have shown that they pretty much would accept a pig as a Watson if you keep your Sherlock close enough to their image of the Master Detective.

But Sherlock Holmes . . . ah, Mr. Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street . . . could Sherlockian culture as a whole accept him as a woman? And which would be harder of these two choices: Accepting Sherlock Holmes as a woman or accepting Sherlock Holmes as an American. Especially here in America where we tend to think a solid British accent brings intellect and class along with it. American James Bond knock-offs have never held a candle to that chap. And an American female Sherlock Holmes? Well, you might as well just make him a Martian with tentacles to many a Sherlockian.

But here's the thing about re-works, reboots, and re-imaginings . . . you can do ANYTHING and get away with it if the writing is good enough. ANYTHING. The problem we see consistently, especially in sequels and reboots of known properties is that the writers think they can slap a deerstalker, a pipe, and a few weak observations on a detective and he's Sherlock Holmes. Writers use successful known characters as a crutch, don't work at real characterization, motivation, or plot quite so hard, and the result is pretty awful.

But take something like Battle for the Planet of the Apes or Westworld (both done in 1973), give them to some thoughtful writers and talented directors, and you get something so much better than the original that an audience doesn't just accept, but welcome it. I'd propose that BBC Sherlock was much the same . . . taking the thought of Sherlock Holmes in the modern day, which had been tried many times before, and doing it so well that it never seemed like there was a question.

It's this part before we see the story that's so rough for some people. They just can't imagine anything besides what already is. And from my own experience, I definitely know that there are some things you don't want to explain to people before you can show them enough of the finished work, so that their mind can actually see the thing and go, "Yes, that's a great idea!" Letting a limited imagination try to fill in the blanks on anything is risky business, and on a creation that they're only given a single fact on, like a female Doctor Who, it's nigh impossible to get their buy-in. They only know what they know.

Changing Doyle's Sherlock Holmes into something other than a Victorian white man isn't a taboo, it's just a creative challenge, a test of the imagination, both for those who currently dream of it and those who will inevitably accomplish it in the mainstream. (And great kudos to those who have already achieved that goal out of the mainstream.) One day it will come, just as surely as Johnlock and every other potential Sherlock of worth.

I have more faith than ever in the creative arts these days. I just wish we could get our crap together on more practical matters.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

What is it that we love in John H. Watson?

One of those big-con moments I've always found unpleasant is the fan who steps up to the celebrity Q & A and decides to speak for all fans. It might be a simple expression of gratitude or love, most likely something positive, but it is that completely narcissistic preface that gets me every time: "I just want to speak for all of us and say . . ." Nice of you to appoint yourself our representative. I might have chosen differently.

In Sherlockiana, we tend to get equally positive, equally sweet attempts to capture some part of all of us and put it on display for others to nod at and, hopefully, agree. In 1946, a fellow named Edgar Smith did it in the classic intro to that spring's issue of The Baker Street Journal, in an essay he entitled "The Implicit Holmes."

"What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?" Smith asked in his opening sentence.

He then proceeded to wax nostalgically about the Victorian age at the start, with all the longing of someone who believes "Make America Great Again" is a knob we can turn to travel to a mythical past. Three paragraphs in, however, he gets to the meat of it: "there is more than time and space and yearning for things gone by to account for what we feel toward Sherlock Holmes." And then he goes for it.

Sherlock is "a symbol, if you please, off all that we are not, but ever would be." Or "more simply, that he is the personification of something in us that we have lost, or never had. For it is not Sherlock Holmes who sits in Baker Street . . . it is we ourselves." And that does account for a lot of us. Sherlockiana has its share of bright narcissists. But just as BBC Sherlock ripped the Victorian period away and proved, once an for all, that Sherlock Holmes can exist out of time, something else has been coming our way for a very long time now. Something, or someone, that Smith left noticeably absent from his 1946 essay -- a year marked by the premieres of the movies Dressed to Kill and Terror by Night, featuring a certain version of that very someone.

John H. Watson. Built in the 1880s publishing world, destroyed by a movie industry that didn't know what to do with him, and rebuilt in TV shows featuring actors like David Burke, Edward Hardwicke, and Martin Freeman. Being written about during all that time, but over the distance between 1887 and 2017, becoming more interesting, more developed than the mysterious everyman narrator we were first handed so long ago.

What is it that we love in John H. Watson? There is a question I would hate to try to answer for fear of being like one of those presumptious Q&A fans at a con. There are a lot of things to love about John Watson, probably more than there are about Sherlock Holmes, depending upon who you are and what you see him as. There are a lot of answers to that question. Too many for easy theorizing about our peers.

As John develops further over time, perhaps there will come a single definite answer: friend, lover, man of action? Sliding scales of each of those and more? Edgar Smith concluded that the Sherlock Holmes we loved was "the Holmes implicit and eternal in ourselves." Is Watson much the same, when we are not Sherlock inside? Or do they make a matched set?

"What is it that we love in John H. Watson?" is a harder question to ask than its 1946 predecessor, I think, but well worth the pondering.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The fascinating failures of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

We have The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We have The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. We have many a pastiche collection with a similar name, like The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes. The one collected casebook that we have yet to see, however, is The Failures of Sherlock Holmes, because we enjoy seeing Sherlock Holmes succeed . . . for the most part.

Having three half-written, failed blog posts sitting in my Blogger drafts bin this week (and, apparently thirty-nine undeleted since I started with this system), it seemed like a good moment to consider those times when things just didn't work out for our friend Sherlock.

We can talk about his "Norbury" moment, be it "The Yellow Face" or "The Six Thatchers." One, still enjoyable for the stories of the people he interacts with, the other existing to provide character development. We can also talk about Sherlock's "creator-failure" adventures, like Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stockings or "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs." So many of those still manage to entertain us, like a marksman clown, through just how badly they miss the target.

The failures of Sherlock Holmes all still manage to entertain us for one simple reason: He is so good when he succeeds. He may not succeed all the time, even when he is successful. Prime Sherlock is a very high bar, for both creators and Sherlock himself. The fact that he has reached a pinnacle where a screw-up on his part makes that mistake interesting to us is a great accomplishment indeed. Quite a different thing than me blogging about how I failed to get into a tweetalong . . . which has brought me to another revelation about the failures of Sherlock Holmes.

When it comes to failure, John H. Watson once again proves his vital worth in the phenomenon that is Sherlock Holmes. If Sherlock Holmes was just writing about his own failures, he would run a very great risk as just coming off as a whiner. "Oh, woe is me, I got another client killed when I should have protected them!" Or worse. "Another day of dark despair at Baker Street. Cocaine or morphine this morning after the daily pipeful of tobacco dregs . . ."

Having a friend or co-worker handy who has seen your successes and can, therefore, help you take your failures in stride is a very good thing. Failures suddenly become something to amuse and not another step into the deep valleys of depression. Watson plays such an important part for Sherlock Holmes within the Canon, and outside of the Canon, we ourselves take up that role when it comes to failed Holmes movies, novels, or television. The successes happened before, and they will again.

I really hope we never see a collection entitled The Failures of Sherlock Holmes (though I'm sure I've tempted fate by suggesting such a title here), as Sherlock isn't Sherlock if he doesn't succeed now and then, and succeed grandly at that. But a failure or two does not make him stop being a fascinating character.

And that is something we all need to remember for ourselves now and then.