A long time ago, in a city far, far away (from here), a fellow named Christopher Morley received a letter from a fellow named Edgar Smith that asked, "Starrett also told me something of the Baker Street Irregulars. Is this band still operating, and is membership in it beyond the realm of my aspirations?"
That was 1938, before the sin of suggesting one's self for membership in the Baker Street Irregulars of New York was invented, along with many another hoop to jump. It was a simpler time, of course, a time when even a vice president of General Motors did not feel so privileged that he wouldn't ask a New York writer such a simple question without some decorum in a private letter.
Smith had heard about the club via actual word of mouth . . . a transmittal method where "viral" was not something that happened overnight. And Morley, at that time, was probably still happy at the mention of one of his little clubs. It's a little hard to imagine their perspectives at this late date, but one can see a bit of it in the distance with a mental squint.
But one has to wonder, upon thinking such thoughts, "When did the walls go up?"
When did Sherlock Holmes's followers become such a demanding legion that an annual dinner in New York City needed barriers to hold back the tide? Was it the 1960s, when William S. Baring-Gould's The Annotated Sherlock Holmes put a chapter on the group in the hands of baby-boomers and their patents nation-wide? Was it in the 1970s, when Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution made Holmes trendy enough that a non-Sherlockian might ask a pal to bring him along to the feast? Jeremy Brett and a television Holmes that non-readers could get worked up about in the 1980s?
The walls didn't happen overnight. Phrases like "private club" and "literary society" weren't used to defend those walls beginning in the 1940s. All of what we see today evolved over time to protect what someone along the way saw as an institution in danger of invasion, a culture under threat by immigrants who might cause change. You know, those "faddy" people.
Those darn Basil Rathbone fans. The people that just got excited by Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The Russellites. The Jeremy Brett stage-door Joanies. All of those people, who got all worked up about Sherlock Holmes for a time and were never heard from again.
Oh, wait . . . .
Sherlockian immigrant cultures are a lot like other American immigrant cultures. There are worries of their invasiveness at first, then eventually they add their strengths to our own and we go, "Hey, these guys are all right!" And as for "faddy" folk who come in with guns blazing and are never heard from again in five years, we get those from original Canon pedigrees just as much as from the other sources. Some of us just have shorter Sherlockian life spans than others.
Walls go up when we're feeling weak and afraid of something on the other side of that wall. The strong and confident don't put up walls or set themselves up as gatekeepers. Those things only come when you feel like you've got something to lose or something that can be taken away. They're not about moving forward into the future and opening up to possibilities, but settling into one spot.
As Sherlockians, and as human beings, we have to think hard when we start to put up walls. Are we keeping just one thing out or many? Are we protecting ourselves or boxing ourselves in? Are free-range Sherlockians healthier than carefully fed Sherlockians?
The world is big enough for us to see all sorts of Sherlockian growth taking place these days. There was recent news of a Sherlock Holmes convention attempting to organize in Minneapolis, a city that has been home to some really wonderful symposiums every few years. The idea that both kinds of Sherlock events could be happening in a town with such a long and storied history of Sherlockians is a wonderful one, as the two approaches could feed each other like a dream wrestling tag team. (Horrible mixed metaphor, I know.)
But as we've seen with the BSI and ASH in New York City, where one group arose because the other blockaded their kind of Sherlockian, walls will never stop Sherlockian expansion completely. Development will still happen around the outside of those walls, tunnels will be dug, neighboring towers will rise up, and the newcomers will have their own parties. (The "Daintiest Thing Under A Bonnet" Charity Ball, for one good example.) That growth isn't validation of the walls, it's just Sherlockian society dealing with an obstacle in the best way it can.
The Jurassic Park movies like a quote that goes "Nature finds a way," when talking about the fences in their dinosaur zoo that never work. In our own Canon, we have a similar quote from Sherlock Holmes that goes "When one tries to rise above Nature, one is liable to fall below it."
Walls are always an attempt to control nature, whether it's Mother Nature, human nature, or even Sherlockian nature. We have to be very careful where we put them up. Because even though that line from "The Creeping Man" was about a somewhat outrageous monkey-professor, there are much more mainstream ways to "fall below" nature with our walls.
Because it can easily quite being about Sherlock Holmes and start being all about those walls.
(As in, someone feeling the need to write a blog post about them!)