Saturday, March 25, 2017

Fandom gender-ations.

There's been much talk of  "the elephant in the room" in Sherlock fandom over the last few years. And following the trail of that particular elephant can lead one, especially one who has a certain gender identity beginning with "m," to an even larger elephant.

Contemplating the topic of "Fandom Generations" for the panel of that name at 221B Con this year, that larger elephant gets pretty hard to ignore, and yet, like all such beasts, must be delicately dealt with. Because looking over the decades at what as gone on with Sherlockiana as a whole, we're not just looking at generational changes due to age and influences of a particular decade. We're looking at major shifts due to gender as well.

When the model for Sherlockian societies was built back in 1934, it was a boys club. Yes, female Sherlockians existed, and some good ones at that, but like most of society at the time, soooo male-dominated. And with it taking until 1991 for America's flagship Sherlock group to let women participate as full members, it's safe to say it was male-dominated for a very long time. Waves of enthusiasm came and went, Rathbone, Meyer, Brett, each helping bring surges of new fans, but the culture remained very much based around that 1930s model.

Enter the Cumber-"batch." And a new model of Sherlockiana started to arise. It wasn't new to planet Earth, just new to Sherlockiana . . . this model that has no problem calling itself "fandom." Star Trek fans were there well ahead of us, being a more progressive, and for whatever reason, more predominately female. This new wave of Sherlockiana was just as active, just as savvy, just as enthused as any generation before, but with new technologies and numbers previously unseen in Sherlockian culture. And predominately a girls club.

While the 1900s belonged to the boys, the 2000s are looking to be headed an entirely different direction. When you think of major Sherlockian events, the less ancient ones are run by women. When you think of the most popular new Sherlockian professional fiction, it tends to be written by women. And when you get to fanfic . . . well, they've owned that realm since long before it came to Holmes.

But when you come to gender, the differences can be felt so deep they might as well be in our very bones. Take season four of Sherlock, for example. Made by a couple of male show-runners for a mass-market audience, the boys did some basic boy things: Fast cars. Explosions. Pirates. Icky sister trouble. One can argue whether or not such things belong in a Sherlock Holmes story, but the numerous editions of the very gender-specifically titled Conan Doyle's Stories for Boys from a bygone era make one think they just might, from a certain point of view. When hearing Johnlock fans' utter shock at season four's finale, it's easy to think of the fable of the scorpion and the frog. In the end, the boys creating Sherlock could not help being boys.

The same goes for fan fiction and its dominantly relationship-based themes. A man can disdain the quality of it all he wants, but in reality he's probably not spending much time looking for the really good stuff, because he isn't into the subject matter. It can be hard for an old boy, grown up in that old world dominated by male writers to try to digest fiction created by and for women. Great fiction transcends things like gender, yes, but so many times we write for our own, even without purposefully doing so. Girls will be girls, just as boys will be boys, and sometimes a guy has to just accept that certain things were not written for him.

The trick, of course, is to step back and take the long view. Taking each new wrinkle to an evolving hobby as a personal afront does no one any good, whatever gender you are. Sherlockiana has had its "new Ghostbusters are ruining my childhood" types, but in my experience, they're the outliers. Most of us, male and female, are good folks . . . it's a part of how we came together under this banner of Sherlock Holmes. It's what female Sherlockians held on to when they were still barred from certain male venues. And it's what many a male Sherlockian must remember as they venture into more Sherlockian venues that come from a non-male place.

So . . . this elephant . . . how do we discuss generational changes in Sherlockian that could be related to gender without treading on the toes of our fellow Sherlockians of different ages or genders?

Well, the first thing I'd guess is to let each tell their own tale.

Perhaps follow a particular method of Sherlock Holmes and ask our questions without theorizing in advance of the facts, then listen carefully to the answers. We all spend a lot of time alone, even when we feel like we're with our fellows typing words into the internet, and in the absence of the actual present human being, it's very easy to develop our theories of what people are about before we actually meet them (or sometimes after we've already met them and forgotten parts).

But as Sherlock Holmes said, "It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts."

And, yes, the man was Sherlock Holmes. But even that paragon of intellect made some statements about the opposite sex that were pretty bone-headed on occasion. And we forgive him for those, for the most part. There is always a little patience required in dealing with any human being, even ourselves, especially when the elephants come into the room.

As Sherlock also said, "We can but try."

Friday, March 24, 2017

"J.H. is in Europe."

Since I wrote about John H. Watson appearing in only a handful of stories by that name, I remembered another curious detail. In A Study in Scarlet, the first of the few John H. stories, we find a telegram in one murder victim's pocket that reads "J.H. is in Europe."

Stranger still, the first two initials "J.H." figure in three other cases as well.

True, one is the Scowrer bodymaster of Chicago in 1875, J.H. Scott.

And one is the "J.H." monogram on Joseph Harrison's locket. Why does Joseph Harrison seem to carry a locket with his own initials on it? Hmm.

Lastly, of course, is a "drab-coloured notebook" with the initials "J.H.N." and the date "1883" on the very first page. Hmm again.

The year 1883 is of interest as it's the year of the first case Watson undertakes with Holmes outside of A Study in Scarlet, and we don't hear of another case mentioned specifically by year until 1887. A notebook that starts with the year 1883 immediately puts on in mind of Dr. Watson's own notes, which probably started at that time. (A Study in Scarlet's case being such a surprise to the doctor that he couldn't have been prepared to take notes.)

What makes the phrase "J.H. is in Europe" so interesting is that among Watson's literary agent's papers was found a certain account of John Watson and Jefferson Hope in San Francisco. One of them gets the girl and the other one dies, and the villains of the piece are the very ones who meet their end in A Study in Scarlet.

Having said that Watson wasn't taking notes at the time of A Study in Scarlet leads one to conjecture that he might have "improvised" certain facts in the case. And once on that trail, Pandora's Box opens up to a curious Sherlockian mind.

What if the "J.H." who was in Europe was not a live Jefferson Hope, but the spectre of a man who died in San Francisco haunting those who contributed to his demise? A spectre who was embodied by a living man whose very name took on the spirit of vengeance he carried with him? 

A man named "John Hope Watson," perhaps?

Reconciling the manuscript entitled "Angels of Darkness" with the published record A Study in Scarlet has always been a challenge for Watsonian scholars, even if John H. Watson was an innocent participant in all of the events documented. But if he was not so innocent, and his first case with Sherlock Holmes was one where the detective lured his prey to Baker Street, not by calling a cab, but by looking for a room-mate . . . well, things really get interesting.

This is all mad conspiracy theorizing off a few slender threads of coincidence, of course. Nothing to see here, right? We can all move along in our love of . . . that guy BBC Sherlock had murdering someone in the very first episode . . . did Moffat and Gatiss know something we don't and were hinting at a conspiracy much deeper than Johnlock?

Hmmm, again . . .




Thursday, March 23, 2017

Saving Mary Sutherland.

One of the joys of a good Sherlock Holmes discussion group, as met at the North Branch of the Peoria Library tonight, is the perspectives you get from other Sherlockians that can actually improve a story for you. Tonight we were discussing "A Case of Identity," a minor light as mysteries go, but a tale ripe-to-bursting with delicious Doylean detail.

"A Case of Identity," you will recall, is that weird little tale of step-daughter Mary Sutherland who is conned by her step-father . . . and her actual mother, her selfish cougar of a mother . . . into staying single by breaking her heart so they can keep her income coming into the household.

It's a plot we see play out a few times in the cases Holmes takes -- men trying to control the inheritance of young ladies, who were not so far out of Jane Austen times that they had much power over their own destinies without a husband. And the ending to Miss Mary Sutherland's case is especially unsatisfying that way.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson get to feel all manly and good for chasing the step-father out of 221B and watching him flee down Baker Street, but you know when he gets home, James Windibank and his wife, Mary's mother, can just go back to living the lie they built to keep Mary and her income willingly trapped in their greedy little household.

Sherlock isn't going to tell her about the con job that was pulled on her, saying she wouldn't believe him anyway. And he's got ten or twelve other problems at hand, one of which involved identifying bisulphate of baryta, which seemed to be more in the forefront of his mind that Mary Sutherland's case. But if you go back a few pages to a paragraph before Sherlock Holmes solves the case, you find a rather interesting letter "s."

"It is just as well that we should do business with the male relatives," he tells Watson. And yet by the end of Watson's narrative, he has only dealt with "male relative" singular. Who else was Holmes planning to deal with? Mary had no other male relatives, right?

Posing this question to the discussion group, an answer came 'round quickly in Mary's own words: ". . . we went, mother and I, with Mr. Hardy, who used to be our foreman, and it was there I met Mr. Hosmer Angel."

While not a true family member by blood, Mr. Hardy was a part of the Sutherland business family and plainly a loyal friend of Mary's father who was familiar enough to take the widow and daughter of his old boss to the gasfitter's ball. Since Mary's mother had sold the Sutherland plumbing business entirely, she had no power over Mr. Hardy,  and a foreman who managed working men was not the sort of guy who was going to put up with a little weasel like young Windibank's scheming.

As Watson's following of this case was based on social calls, he was probably not around when Sherlock Holmes went to talk to Mr. Hardy, the one man who could be trusted to straighten out Mary Sutherland's bogus fiancee issues and give her the facts. So it makes sense that part might not make it into the published account. But that one line from Holmes, "do business with the male relatives," makes it clear that Windibank wasn't the only man he planned to talk to before he considered this case wrapped up.

Coming to that conclusion made tonight's discussion of "A Case of Identity," which had a lot of great and fascinating points in it, one of the most valuable talks I've participated in on that matter. Despite Mary Sutherland's rather ridiculous plight, I now have a good feeling that someone was looking out for her, and that the case had a much more satisfying end that I got from previous readings.

While we can't consult with Mr. Sherlock Holmes on these cases, sometimes consulting with his followers can do a pretty good job of it as well. Pretty darn good.

The next meeting of Peoria's "Sherlock Holmes Story Society" will be April 27th, and I can't wait to see what we get from "Boscombe Valley."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sherlock Holmes explains writing mysteries.

There is a very meta conversation in the opening of 1891's "A Case of Identity." On the surface, it seems as though Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are discussing crime. Holmes is arguing that reality, with all "the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations," would "make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable."

Watson does not agree. "We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is . . . neither fascinating nor artistic."

"A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing a realistic effect," Holmes replies. "This is wanting in the police report, where more stress is laid perhaps upon the platitudes of the magistrate than the details . . . ."

In other words, isn't of showing you what happened, the magistrate is telling you what happened. And "Show, don't tell!" is an old writing dictum said to go back as far as Anton Chekov.

Holmes is defending his statement that basically, truth is stranger than fiction -- a line Mark Twain would write about six years later: "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." And, interestingly, Sherlock Holmes is saying that the police reports don't produce "a realistic effect" in their writing . . . which is odd, since they are about reality.

What Sherlock actually seems to be doing here is giving the fledgling writer Watson some tips. The discussion occurs a few weeks after the two dealt with "A Scandal in Bohemia," the first short story Watson ever published, so that thought may well have some merit. Watson does not chronicle what conversation was going on between them when Holmes first states that "life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent." Was Sherlock trying to talk John out of writing up "Scandal," as it wasn't that interesting?

The opening of "A Case of Identity" is very interesting in that it isn't a discussion about crime, it's a discussion about writing. And one with some great advice contained within.

For those in or near Peoria, the discussion of "A Case of Identity" continues this Thursday night at the North Branch library at 6:30. Join us if you're in the neighborhood!

The silo versus the whole farm.

In contemplating the possibilities for the "Fandom Generations" panel at 221B Con, one starts noticing some very pronounced differences in the way Sherlockian fandom as a whole is discussed.

The first way is that oldest sense of Sherlockiana, one that comes from entering Sherlock Holmes love as a first fandom. Before Trekkies, before comic cons, before most, there was Sherlockiana. And to many a first-fandom Sherlockian, being a fan of Sherlock Holmes seems as unique now as it was then.

The second way is that of a Sherlockian who may have migrated into Holmes world from another fandom, with a strong awareness of the fan universe that Sherlockiana exists within. Sherlock Holmes exists in a personal fan pantheon . . . a "fantheon" of favorites . . . and even though he may be atop it all, the knowledge of those with similar passion for other characters cannot be denied.

It's not a binary system of course. There have been Sherlockian Trekkies, Sherlockian comic book fans, Sherlockian Trekkie comic book fans . . . but a few decades back, side fandoms were not nearly as much in  the foreground as now. The thought of a Sherlock Holmes weekend like 221B Con having an hour devoted to Hannibal or British quiz shows in the programming was unheard of . . . programming time was limited, so the focus had to be entirely on the guy who brought us all to the party.

To say a being a Sherlockian in 2017 is the same as being a Sherlockian in 1977, even for those of us who existed as Sherlockians in both years, is, to steal a term from data management, to silo Sherlockiana. Siloing Sherlockiana away from other fandoms, isolating it in its own private fan sector, was a lot easier for someone coming into the hobby in 1977. In 2017, Sherlockian doings happening at something like Comic-Con in San Diego make one very aware that it exists in a much greater fan world these days.

That's not to say the followers of Holmes don't have their own special spin on things. But the tools we use, the methods to our madness, the resources we use, all can oft be shared with other fandoms, giving us bleed over in both directions. Much like Sherlock Holmes gathering his detective tools from every discipline he came in contact with, the modern fan has a goodly array of potential ways to express their fandom, which makes for more enabled Sherlockians. One might argue that it waters down "pure Sherlockiana" slightly, but everything has a price.

Sherlockiana has been around a very long time now, and has been touched by every era in which it has existed, which is part of its allure. What comes into it from the current generation is something well worth discussing . . . even if it can be hard to wrap one's head around, as this wandering little essay might show.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Let's talk about the Watsons.

It's time we had a little honest talk about the Watsons.

What follows may come as a shock to the membership of the John H. Watson Society, whose numbers might descend upon me with righteous furor after this, but it has to be discussed. A simple fact that affects Watsonians, Elementary haters, monogamous Watson defenders . . . really, the entire Sherlockian world, when you come right down to it. And that fact is this:

John H. Watson, M. D., was only involved in three of the sixty known records of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

The seminal A Study in Scarlet. The potentially spurious "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge." And the classic "The Problem of Thor Bridge." How the John H. Watson Society will be able to go on, knowing their entire enterprise is based upon only those three records, I do not know.

But those are the only three stories where John H. Watson is specifically mentioned.

"Don't be silly!" you might protest. "John Watson is mentioned all over the Canon!"

"Nope," I would reply, standing fast. "'Watson' is mentioned. 'Dr. Watson' is mentioned. But 'John,' in reference to Sherlock Holmes's friend Watson? That's it."

So if you consider the preponderance of evidence, fifty-six stories to four . . . Elementary's Joan Watson is practically as Canonical as that guy in BBC Sherlock who goes by "John."

You might notice I said "four" in that last bit instead of "three," because there is that notorious case where Watson has a completely different first name: "James" in "The Man with the Twisted Lip."

So we have a James Watson. We have a John Watson. We have thirty three cases in which Watson is specifically noted as being a doctor. And then we have a whole lot of records where the guy hanging out with Sherlock Holmes is just a "Watson."

She could have been Joan. He could have been the elder brother whom we only know by his initial, H. They could have had a lot of other first names. They could have included a married Watson visiting Baker Street one month, and an unmarried Watson living there the next. They could have included the Watson wounded in the shoulder, and the Watson wounded in the leg.

One could even drift into that dangerous territory of thinking that Sherlock Holmes just called whoever his latest companion was "Watson," in memory of the original John H. Watson who died early on. In that case, even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have been a Watson . . . not a literary agent after all, just the Watson who wrote up the cases from the notes of Holmes and the other Watsons.

But all this is merely conjecture at this point, left to the researchers who diligently follow the path of the great scholar Backnecke from the early 1900s when he theorized about a proto-Watson and a deutero-Watson. How many Watsons might one find in that one thick volume called The Complete Sherlock Holmes? Only those willing to dig deep will be able to tell us.

As a mere blogger, resigned to scraping the surface of things Sherlockian, I doubt I will be one of those brave Jacques Cousteaus in the ocean of Sherlockian scholarship. But I wish them well, and hope they are greeted as the heroes they truly are when their work is done.

Because this "Watson" thing . . . when you realize facts like that he was called "James" out loud more often than he was "John," well, who knows what other accepted truths about Sherlock's best pal might also be in doubt?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Kitty and Porky together again?

"Hell, London, gets me every time. Same address for Porky Shinwell. We're old mates, Porky, you and I."
-- Kitty Winter, "The Illustrious Client"

It's been a while since CBS's Elementary crossed my television threshold, but this March, with word on the streets that Kitty Winter was returning, it seemed a good time to catch up with that old debatable. It had plainly been a while, as Mr. Elementary himself had taken on a new look, with a suit and his hair clippered down to the stubble, making him look more like a Jason Statham character than his typical . . . well, his typical Mr. Elementary look.

"She's a detective now, Watson, so she's one of us," Mr. Elementary tells Joan Watson, regarding Kitty, and Kitty Winter is detecting all over the place as she joins her old crew from a couple seasons ago to solve a string of murders that may place herself and Mr. E. as upcoming victims.

Joan and Mr. Elementary's new friend, Shinwell Johnson, whose name comes from the same original Sherlock Holmes story as Kitty Winter, didn't seem to be in the first part of this story, March 5's "Wrong Side of the Road," even though he was very much present in the previous episode. Kitty's the one bringing a baby to Elementary, rather than John and Mary. Little Archie has a good Canonical name just like his mother, though unless his father is Watson's old pal Stamford, it's probably in first name alone.

The episode ends with that old cliche, the guy who can't tell you all the answers over the phone only to meet his end before the appointed rendezvous for revelations. But this is just part one of Kitty's return, so there's still one more chance to see Kitty Winter and Shinwell Johnson on screen together, just for some small tribute to the story that birthed them both.

The final moments of the show is shot in front of the awning of an Owens Funeral Home, so a little Google Earth detective work can show you the neighborhood where the "221B" of Elementary is located.

The March 12th Elementary episode, "Fidelity," starts with Mr. Elementary under arrest by some clandestine U.S. Defense intelligence agency, looking a bit old, tired, and haggard. Morland Holmes gets a mention, but as the show's budget seems to only afford one guest star at a time, Morland will have to continue to hang out off-stage like Shinwell Johnson seems to be. But Mt. Elementary is quickly freed and running to pee (Really.) so there's no time to dwell on that. Well, sort of . . .

Kitty Winter's return with baby Archie seems a lot like one episode's usual plot has been stretched to fill two weeks' episodes, and Kitty's presence seems to be just spending two hours getting around to telling Mr. Elementary about her baby and that Archie will be the cause of her retiring from detective work. That subplot even climaxes with a scene between Mr. Elementary and Kitty that is pure cheese, complete with the sort of soppy piano soundtrack that usually denotes cancer or another terminal diagnosis. The fact that Mr E. is giving Kitty grief for being another guest star who doesn't stay in touch is rather ironic, given the show's treatment of cast outside of the main four.

But, all in all, the show's very relaxing, and probably makes an effective sedative if one is having a stressful life. But for a Sherlockian hoping for something other than in-name-only references, Elementary continues to be an arid desert of New York scenery and chatting. (Yes, I know, Kitty Winter kicks a guy in the nuts to make him double over and not get shot by a machine gun, yet somehow Elementary even takes that in its sleepy stride.) Hopes of seeing Kitty Winter and Shinwell Johnson on screen together, even passing in a doorway, as a nod to the stories CBS supposedly based this series on fade quickly.

One does have to give the show credit for one thing, as the ratings dwindle in the latter half of its fifth season: Consistency.

Consistency, if not as the episode title says, "Fidelity."





Wednesday, March 15, 2017

221B Con Panel prep time!

Well, the great sorting hat that is the "Cathy-and-Taylor-Program-Director-Panel-Machine" has spoken, and those who volunteered to be on 221B Con panels are finding out just what they're going to be talking about and who they'll do it with.

Things have improved a lot since the first 221B Con and the panels that awaited us there. Did we discuss ahead of time? Did we even know who we were panelling with? The memories are fuzzy, but I remember thinking I was just horrible on the panels I was on, and not prepared for the sudden shift in Sherlockian fanning that us older Sherlockians discovered at 221B Con. Missed the sophomore year of the con, then came back in 2015 doing zero panels and just enjoying sitting and watching (Sherlock and Dinosaurs Year! Excellent!). Last year I did a single Watson's wives bit on my own, which was okay, but that "alone" part doesn't stir up much fun.

So this year, knowing full well that it means I'll miss some other panels that I will surely will wish I had watched, I applied for about seven panels and wound up on four. What four?

Fannish Estate Planning. Not a lawyer, but I've executed a fellow fan's will and experienced some of the practical parts of what happens when a fan passes on. And the e-mail discussions with my fellow panelists are already yielding some great questions. This one should be interesting even if you aren't planning on dying soon . . . and who is? Having the end in mind can help guide a fannish life in surprising ways.

ASH Panel. As I said, not a lawyer, but through the graces of better Sherlockians than I, I am an Adventuress of Sherlock Holmes. Definitely won't have as much to say on the subject as my fellow panelists, not being a very active ASH, but if agreeing with them in a deeper voice helps the cause . . . . ASH things tend to be fun in any case, so I'm betting this panel is just a good time.

Fandom Generations. Never was a panel more ripe for triumph or tragedy. The largest panel that I'll be on, covering that tender subject of the differences in fandom then, fandom now, and the fandom that lies ahead of us. Worst case scenario: "These kids today will never know the joys of smelling that mimeograph ink on a fresh fanzine! They need mimeograph training!" Best case scenario: What bonds the generations and how we can all help each other moving ahead with Sherlock Holmes, just like the denizens of Table 19! (Saw that movie this morning, loved it, just had to stick a reference in.) The fact that Sherlockiana has noticeable generational divides these days just fascinates me, and there's much meat to chew for the five panelists on this one.

Arthur Continuity Doyle. Oh, how I love the continuity problems of the original Doyle Canon -- questions that will never have definitive answers. Watson's wound. Watson's wife/wives/beard/beards. The dating of the stories. "Wisteria Lodge." Moriarty(s). Sherlock(s). Billy(s). There's no problem Doyle posed that can't be answered by a Sherlockian theorizing on the fly, and when you get a room of them together, potential secrets of the Canon start to be unlocked. If this panel doesn't spark some brand new ideas, I'll be very surprised.

Panel participation has a strange way of starting 221B Con weeks before the actual con starts, as panelists e-discuss what they'll be discussing live at the con.  The fun is starting, and even though the con will get here all too soon, I'm sure, I can't wait.





Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Too much Canon, too little Canon.

The telling of a Sherlock Holmes tale is a little like adding chili powder when making a chili soup -- with the original Canon of Holmes as the seasoning.

Too much yields a conglomeration of Canonical characters having escaped from their original stories to recombine for a sort of "Canon team-up" crossover like one would find in a comic book. Too little results in a story where taking away the names "Holmes" and "Watson" would leave the tale unrecognizable as something involving our literary friends. (The name of a certain television show comes quickly to mind, but we won't go there.)

How much Canon is "just right" for a tale of Sherlock Holmes?

Ah, but that is the eternal question, is it not?

It probably depends on one's purposes. If one is trying to emulate Conan Doyle, it should be remembered that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are really not the main characters of the story, but the framing device. The true story is about the client and the case, with our detective duo first learning the "mystery" version of the story, then eventually finding the true facts of the story, one dramatic bit at a time. The main character bits for the detective and the doctor occur in the opening, where we see something familiar enough to recognize our fictional friends, yet not so much that they appear as Halloween costumes of themselves.

Of course, if those Halloween costume versions of the two are "sexy Sherlock" and "sexy Watson," the tale plainly has non-Doylean purposes afoot, and much be taken on the grounds of its alternate universe premises, much as we take Basil of Baker Street or its movie counterpart, The Great Mouse Detective. Sherlock Holmes is a mouse, from there on in, we know we're in a non-Canonical world all its own.

If Sherlock is a mouse or a Hoka, there's a certain comfort in seeing that fact from the start. We don't have to wonder if the writer is attempting Conan Doyle or not. Reading a pastiche that approximates Doyle, however, there is always that initial uncertainty, like entering a swimming pool whose temperature we are unfamiliar with: Is it going to be a comfortable immersion into 221B Baker Street? Or so noticeably warm or chilly that we jump back out of the pool?

It's a very tricky thing, which we've seen done at so many different degrees of success and failure over the years, and will surely see done a million times more before humanity is over Mr. Sherlock Holmes. It is definitely a feat worth the attempt, however, so one has to cheer on anyone who does it purely from the love of those characters that we love as well.

We just have to hope they recognize that they're making chili and not chicken noodle, and season with Canon appropriately.

Monday, March 13, 2017

An embarrassment of Morans.

Okay, let's talk about that "Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" weirdness.

Dr. Watson is writing it, but pretending it's not him writing it. He's still the guy whose point of view tells the story, "It was pleasant for Dr. Watson to find himself once more . . . etc," so we know it's him. But it's almost like he's embarrassed to be putting this one to paper.

Sherlock Holmes is also using the very same wax-dummy-to-bait-a-sniper trick he used in "The Adventure of the Empty House," the case where he caught Colonel Sebastian Moran in an exciting ambush during an assassination attempt. Colonel Sebastian Moran, who was a tiger hunter that favored air-guns for his city work. And in "Mazarin Stone," we find "Count Negretto Sylvius," a lion hunter who favors air-guns for his city work . . . to potentially shoot the same Sherlock wax dummy that Moran did.

Now, most folks pondering this situation just see "Mazarin Stone" as a cheap knock-off stealing pieces of "Empty House" for a more theatrical piece that may or may not have been created by Watson's literary agent. It's a very believable thesis. But like Sherlock Holmes, we must always consider other possible options before settling on one particular theory as fact. So what might another option be?

Well, let us suppose for a second that we've had these two tales reversed all along.

What if the "Mazarin Stone" gambit was actually the way Sherlock Holmes caught Colonel Sebastian Moran at the end of his hiatus, and that the dramatic "laying in wait for a murderous sniper" part was Watson's literary agent going, "You can't bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead by having him catch a criminal so stupid he can't tell a real person from a wax dummy, when the person is so close they can snatch a jewel from his hand!"

I mean, even Sherlock Holmes had to be a little embarrassed, having avoided London for so long, thinking Moriarty's second in command was a capable second, with a cunning mind all his own, when Moran's lights were only reflections of Moriarty's, on a shiny Nigel Bruce of crime.

With his glorious writing comeback in "The Adventure of the Empty House" half based on fraud, Watson would have been haunted by that guilty secret. So haunted that years after he put his Holmes chronicles to bed with "His Last Bow," Watson wanted to publish the true facts of the Moran capture to ease his conscience, even though "His Last Bow" was supposed to be the end of it. Between his literary agent and The Strand Magazine, that spark was fanned into the flame of an entirely new set of stories, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, and the true Moran capture tale disguised with some false details . . . details that still made Watson feel so guilty he wouldn't allow the tale to be published in the first person, something to leave a clue for future readers as to his true feelings on the case.

Yes, the previous tale, "His Last Bow," from four years earlier, was in the third person as well, but it was a tale whose telling required that mode -- Watson wasn't present until the last. But "Mazarin Stone" is, in its shape, a normal Watsonian sort of tale. Except for the "It was pleasant for Dr. Watson to find himself once more in the untidy room of the first floor in Baker Street," which sounds a lot like his return their after the Great Hiatus, doesn't it?

It is said that a group of pandas is called "an embarrassment of pandas." If this theory proves correct and "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" turns out to be the actual record of the capture of Sebastian Moran, perhaps we'll want to borrow that term to refer to our Moran/Sylvius grouping of Moriarty lieutenants.

An embarrassment of Morans . . . for a lot of folks.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Less than a week to 21 days to 221B Con.

Sometimes I blog just to put a particular phrase in the title, like "to 21 days to 221B Con."

But the run up to 221B Con is still something worth writing about, as the month before has a level of Sherlockian fun to it all its own. This is the point I always wish I was better at working up cosplay or clever badge ribbons or any of those things I so admire in the other attendees. (Besides all the the raw and refined ideas, concepts, and perspectives that are the lake one swims in at the con.) The panel assignments have yet to come out, and, as with any 221B Con, there's a general excitement at the unexpected delights that await. Every 221B Con brings something I didn't see coming, and a happy surprise will forever be one of my favorite things.

This year's 221B Con holds all sorts of possibilities for the unexpected. How will Season Four of BBC Sherlock affect the panels, cosplay, and general spirit of the affair? What's first-time guest Curtis Armstrong going to bring to the mix? How can Three Patch Podcast top all of their previous successes at room decor? (And is that even possible?) What will people want Lyndsay Faye to sign since her claim that she will sign anything put in front of her? And, oh, the dealer's room. That never-the-same twice, never-enough-cash-to-get-everything-you-want dealer's room.

What to expect, what to prepare for . . . there are some people out there working very hard on those things right now. But whatever gets done between now and when the hotel check-ins start, once Sherlockians get settled into the Marriott Perimeter Center, it's just a matter of hanging on and enjoying the ride.

Because it'll be over far too soon, and Sunday night will see non-Sherlockians taking back the hotel. (The first time you step into an elevator and realize you have nothing in common with the other folks in there with you that night can be a shock.) For now, however, the anticipation is building, and I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A STUD without a woman.

As a part of the commemorations of International Women's Day this year, "Day Without A Woman" protests and strikes occurred around the world today, and as a result, it occurred to me to extrapolate a bit on the Canon of Sherlock Holmes without a woman. As that would be quite a major undertaking, and miss the actual day it was honoring for this year, I decided to confine my look at just the first novel of the Canon, A Study in Scarlet.

"How hard could that one be?" I thought, "there are hardly any women in Sherlock's part of the tale to begin with?" It seemed like an easy one, so I started checking off the characters.

Watson. Stamford. Holmes. Gregson. Lestrade. Wiggins. Drebber. Stangerson. A Study in Scarlet starts looking like a major sausage party very quickly. And the women that do start to show up?

"Miss Rachel," Lestrade's imaginary creation, a sure and sad sigh that there are no women around, when one of the guys makes one up. Gregson even does an impression of one Madame Charpentier and her daughter Alice, who are never actually on-stage in the novel. And then, when things get even more desperate . . .

"Mrs. Sawyer" . . . a man in drag, whose false address just leads to another man name Keswick.

Women appear in print. The Standard talks about the murder victim's landlady. There's a pocket edition of Boccaccio's Decameron, various tales of love told by characters who are predominantly female, but that just serves as a reminder of what is sorely missing in this novel: women.

Two men share lodgings, two Scotland Yard men pair up to work a case, two American men flee a vengeful murderer together (for a time). The couples of this novel are all men.

Even Mrs. Hudson, who is just "the landlady" at this point, is conspicuous in her absence, almost like she heard of the "Day Without A Woman" strike and didn't set up Watson's breakfast coffee the morning of the case. (Holy Canonical, Batman, this case starts in early March! Maybe Mrs. Hudson was protesting early.)

Are the only female humans in this story actually just the fashionably-dressed young girl or the elderly woman who came to Baker Street for short visits during that period when Watson didn't know what Holmes's business was or who his clients were?

If so, since those two are easily removed without affecting the novel in any way, shape, or form, A Study in Scarlet becomes the perfect novel for a "Day Without A Woman." It is a story of men playing tragic games with one another, using women as their motivation, as their disguises, and as their imagined solutions. It is a story of men turning to each other for companionship and answers, though they never really get a satisfying outcome: all of the principles of the inner drama die.

One might argue that I just ignored the whole second half of A Study in Scarlet, where women do appear . . . and are abused, enslaved in something nominally called "marriage," and worse. But that enters into an entirely different conversation, that a day without men might sometimes be more in women's best interest.

It is interesting to note, following the absence of female characters in the first novel of Sherlock Holmes, that he doesn't truly become popular until that story where "the woman" starts an entire series of short stories that will win him worldwide applause. Sherlock Holmes didn't really become Sherlock Holmes at all until women started appearing in his life. First Mary, then Irene Adler, Mary Sutherland, Alice Turner, Mrs. St. Clair, Helen Stoner, Hatty Moulton, Mary Holder, Violet Hunter . . . and those are just the ladies who make the first series of Sherlock's adventures at all possible.  Without them, the Canon as we know it would definitely not exist.

So, when you consider International Women's Day and the thought of a "Day Without A Woman," consider how the world would be if it had been left with only a little-known, man-centered novel titled A Study in Scarlet, and not all the more woman-oriented stories that came after it.

T'would be a different place entirely.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Hansom Cab Clock Club rides again!

As we humans first crawled upon the digital shores of the world wide web, one of the first things we noticed was . . . other humans. We suddenly were connecting with each other in ways we had never connected before over distances that made ham radio pale in comparison, at speeds that made mail service look static. (Even now, the very concept of ham radio and mail service seem like they were companion resources of the Pony Express.) Buyers with sellers, readers with writers, and even . . . people who bought a certain kind of clock with other people who bought that kind of clock.

Which brings us to the Hansom Cab Clock Club, a subset of the Sherlockian world tying together the current owners of a very Sherlockian-looking clock that once sold out of the Sears catalog. On the original Sherlock Peoria web site, you can find details about said clock as well as the nineteen members of the club when that site was still active.

The club began with the five people who owned such a clock at the moment Don Hobbs and I decided it was a thing. It seemed a natural spin-off of Peoria's own Hansoms of John Clayton -- we're all about the hansoms here in Peoria, though the city hasn't had one for a very, very long time, if ever. (Note to self: Find evidence of a hansom cab in Peoria.)

Eventually, as mentioned before, the membership grew to nineteen, and there it stayed until the past week, when two more name were added to those illustrious roles, yet were held up from being added to the old official pages as the computer that was used to administer the site finally gave up the ghost (and the lovely software that I was too cheap to replace along with it).

So here, for the first time on this edition of the blog, is the membership roster of the Hansom Cab Clock club, with our newest additions:

Bill Bain
Daniel Benson
Bob Burr
Ted Cowell
Philip Cunningham
Steven Doyle
Michael Ellis
Bruce Harris (having attained "Shipley" status by owning two H.C. clocks!)
Don Hobbs
John Holliday
Brad Keefauver
Herb Linder
Dave Milner
Gayle Lange Puhl
Tim Reich
Bob Robinson
Al Shaw
Monica Schmidt
Vincent W. Wright

Some have passed on (and passed their clocks on, surely, yet once a member of the Hansom Cab Clock Club, always a member. All you have to do is have a picture of your clock posted in some incarnation of Sherlock Peoria (and hope the whole site gets redone in a better fashion some day). So below you will find photos of Monica Schmidt and Al Shaw's clocks so you can see the magic of hansom cab clockery for yourself.


Monica Schmidt's clock


Al Shaw's clock

 
 

More of Al Shaw's clock

And now, the real piece de resistance of this ceremony, the Hansom Cab Clock Club's first animated GIF of a functioning clock, featuring Monica Schmidt's clock in actual whip-cracking motion. Viewers are forewarned that this being the first GIF created from a video by the staff of Sherlock Peoria, certain tightening processes to reduce memory size turned Monica's lovely video into a nausea-inducing bumpy ride if stared at for too long. Not that you need to stare at it for too long, but said GIF is not to be used as a hypnotic device, despite the seemingly mystic power of the Hansom Cab Clock itself.

Okay, steady yourself, here it comes . . .

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

Wait . . . 

Okay . . .

Now! Hansom Cab Clock go!














Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Chamber of Lucien-Anatole Prevost-Paradol.

Rob Nunn started a little discussion on Twitter tonight, about "the adventure of the Paradol Chamber," an 1887 case that Watson apparently wrote up but never published. Dr. Watson mentions in "The Five Orange Pips" that he has an account of the case among his notes and records, and pastiche-writers have been making hay with that much ever since.

Looking it up in Les Klinger's The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library (his original annotated), I found an alluring bit that read "A more serious effort is Klas Lithner's 'A Key to the Paradol Chamber,' which identifies the chamber as the residence of Lucien-Anatole Paradol . . ." And from there, I looked up the Lithner article in Ron DeWaal's The Universal Sherlock Holmes and found a little more description of the article with the Paradol Chamber being that room in which Paradol committed suicide in 1870.

And if you think I'm humble-bragging about owning those volumes, just wait . . . the page in Klinger's work passing on the Lithner info also mentions that I wrote something about it which I didn't even remember/understand: "Brad Keefauver gave semi, p. serious attention to the subject in an article on the untold tales." (Somehow I think a hyphen became ", p. ") So then I had to go look that up.

Some digging came up with "Regarding Order in the Universe, Untold Tales," and a Dangerous Club" in the May 1986 issue of The Quarterly $tatement." In that article, I pointed to the pattern in Watson's mention of unwritten cases -- he tends to do it in threes. Working upon that premise, I removed a few commas from Watson's full statement in which the Paradol Chamber was mentioned and got:  "Among my headings under this one twelve months I find an account of the adventure of the Paradol Chamber of the Amateur Mendicant Society who held a luxurious club in the lower vault of a furniture warehouse . . ."

From there I theorized that the Amateur Mendicant Society were playing Russian Roulette as a tribute to Lucien Anatole Prevost-Paradol . . . at the time, I must have read Lithner's article in the Autumn 1984 Baker Street Miscellanea, I find.  Now, however, we have this thing called Wikipedia, and more information about Prevost-Paradol is available at our fingertips. So I'm starting to theorize in another direction.

Lucien Anatole Prevost-Paradol was the journalist/essayist progeny of a tryst between an opera singer and a writer. He was very political and even imprisoned for being a liberal journalist in a time when it wasn't the thing to do in France. Later, he was appointed French envoy to the United States, which he eventually shot himself in Washington, D.C., just three days after France declared war on Prussia. Just two years before his death, Prevost-Paradol published La France Nouvelle, which laid out his thoughts on converting France to a more democratic government, as well as colonizing Algeria with Frenchmen.

The idea of a luxurious secret club with a chamber devoted to the works of a liberal political thinker from a few decades before seems like just the sort of thing that could evolve into a matter that Sherlock Holmes would have investigated. Of course, as with so many things Sherlockian, a true scholar could go deep into Prevost-Paradol's works and come up with something a little more solid than my rambling conjectures from a bit of Googling.

All this digging around distracted me from joining the original Twitter discussion, but I did note that a certain podcast didn't think they could get fifteen minutes on the subject of the Paradol Chamber. But I bet they could. Many a Sherlockian can squeeze gallons of orange juice from a single orange when they set their minds to it, and send you the pips the next day.

And I don't think Sherlockiana is nearly done with the Paradol Chamber, in any case.

Lucien Anatole Prevost-Paradol

The playground and the classroom.

My best times as a Sherlockian have always been those days when I came to the end of the workday and rushed home, knowing that when I got there, Sherlockiana awaited. School was over for the day and playtime had begun. It may seem a rather child-like way to view life, but I'll cop to that. Never having had to raise my responsibility game for the raising of children, well, I do tend to play more than most adults.

And the world of Sherlock Holmes is a great place to play.

It's also a great place for learning, as my friends in the educational field will tell you. But here's the thing . . . doing both at the same time isn't really the best approach for either. Facts are facts, and fictions are fictions, and blurring those lines is not healthy for anyone. Anyone.

Fiction can be an example, an exploration, an experimental laboratory . . . it's a safe place to play out ideas and potentials without direct harm to anyone. That's what makes it fun. It's a playground, like the sandbox environment many an IT company uses to try out software. The term "sandbox" even tells you that . . . go crazy, kids, build castles!

And the world of Sherlock Holmes is, for those of us on the recreational side of the Canon, a sandbox, a playground to build crazy pastiche-worlds, to concoct wild conspiratorial scholarship, to . . . well, to even build a sex dungeon, if that's your kink. And that's okay.

But every now and then of late, one sees someone taking the playground as something other than what it is. Attempting to apply the wild theories of the playground side of Sherlockiana to the classroom side of Sherlockiana. Proposing the sort of "Watson really meant . . ." theories to be "Doyle really meant . . ." facts. (And the "Doyle really meant . . ." theories, which have always been with us, have always tread a fine line, stepping over far too often.)

John H. Watson can be whatever you want him to be, mean whatever you want him to mean, as long as you allow that everyone else has the same right. Conan Doyle, William Gillette, John Hawkesworth, etc., should be treated with a little more care. And that is where the difference between the classroom and the playground can be seen most sharply. History is, properly written, what we actually were. Fiction is, properly written, what we hope to show about ourselves. The latter is allowed personal interpretation. The former? That is were we must struggle to hold on to the baldest truth possible.

As I said at the beginning, Sherlockiana has always been my playground. I love spinning off onto wild tangents like Sherlock Holmes lusting after ice cream. But every playground can get quiet when one of the kids goes a bit too far or there's a car wreck on the other side of the fence, and both of those seem to be happening on a regular basis of late, at which point, the first reaction is just to stop and stare . . . and then try to figure out what just happened.

And, eventually, get back to playing . . . .

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The coming of the Scooplockian.

"But there was something in the ice-cold reasoning of Holmes which made it impossible to shrink from any adventure which he might recommend."
-- "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge"

"Ice-cold reasoning." Reasoning upon that which is ice-cold. The sort of situation when ice cream is suggested as a dessert outing and cannot be argued with.

"I clasped his hand in silence, and the die was cast." After the statement above, Watson shakes Holmes's hand like Batman and Robin do after punching baddies in the cartoon intro to the 1966 TV series.


Perhaps I'm being a bit naive with my interpretation of an innocent handshake, and perhaps I'm being a bit fanciful in imagining them going out for ice cream on their way to finish an investigation. And perhaps "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," which Watson dates as occurring during Holmes's hiatus is flimsy evidence to base anything on. 

But when is ice cream ever a bad thing? It's ice cream.

And maybe, just maybe, I'm de-emphasizing the romantic possibilities of that "Wisteria Lodge" hand-clasp because I have a different shipping target for Sherlock Holmes . . . a rare pairing that is at once slightly bizarre and G-rated sexy. For what could Sherlock Holmes love with a raw sensuality that matches anything fanfic porn can pull off?

Ice cream.

Now, don't give me that "But Sherlock and John and ice cream have already had a three-way!" and refer to some mere ice-cream-as-edible-sex-toy fic. No, I'm talking a pure, man-and-his-ice-cream, fully focussed relationship. Tasty . . . .

Yes, yes, Johnlock, but that is sooooooo fifteen minutes ago. Scooplock is the new flavor of the month, the fanfic of the future. Now that Sherlock may be on permanent hiatus, going back to that churn is going to need fresh ingredients. And maybe some hot fudge. And nuts.

Mmmmm, Scooplock.

It's coming. Soon.