Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bernie

There was a weird little sense of deja vu this week, when the latest little social media controversy erupted over a Sesame Street writer suggesting that muppets Bert and Ernie had always been gay.

Hmm, where have we seen this scenario before, and, question number two, why don't we just get everyone on board with the term "headcanon" and leave it at that?

But what these debates always bring out isn't anything about the characters in question, but the characters of those in the debate itself. The histrionic claim of "My childhood is ruined!" The personal views of a given word's definition. ("Puppets can't be gay, because they can't have sex.") And the jokes. The cavalcade of jokes, some of which are usually pretty good.

But while the jokes can amuse, there are those who actually go to war over these ethereal concepts. While this silly little puppet sexuality debate flared, elsewhere on the internet, folks were brining up the damage done by the Johnlock Conspiracy. (Should I say "allegedly," since it hasn't been put to trial yet? No, I suspect any disagreement is probably on level of damage, but, really, what do I know?)

CBS's Elementary ended its year with its two main characters each having conceded that they "are two people who love each other." Romantic love? Familial love? Platonic love? They don't really say, and, if that had been the show's end, we were all left to decide for ourselves what the love between them actually was. (Me, I was going romantic, because I'm an old romantic at heart.)

Love is love.

Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are much like Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson . . . I think we can all agree that they love each other. I would worry about anyone who saw absolutely no love in that relationship, and be a little sad for them. (Or frightened. They could be a literal machine in human form.) Bert and Ernie are the same. They plainly love each other at this point.

Romantic love? Familial love? Platonic love? You choose. Unless you're making up their legal papers, planning for their offspring's future, or any of those other things that fictional characters can only do fictionally, but somehow doing them for real . . . well, it doesn't really matter.

And, as with Holmes and Watson, if you're somewhere and you see them start kissing or something, just cover your eyes if you don't want to look. (I was covering my eyes a lot when Joan Watson and Mycroft Holmes were doing icky love stuff on Elementary.) Keep your own headcanon your own, just don't do it in a crazy, kidnapping sort of way like Herbert Blount in the movie Director's Cut. (Currently on Amazon Prime. Worth a look if you like wacky R-rated experiments in film.)

Puppets and other fictional characters are just shells we bring to life with our own experiences, emotions, and reactions, even if other people create those shells to begin with. Sometimes it's easy to forget that someone else's Sherlock, John, Bert, or Ernie is filled with someone else's inner life . . . the same sort of essence you filled your version with, just not exactly the same, and not negating yours either. All headcanon people are created equal, really. Maybe more equal than real folk, and yet we try to believe, at least in American lore, that all folk are created equal.

I doubt I have the arguments available to persuade anyone who believes otherwise, but laying it out in a blogspace for the rest of you lovelies is a pleasant hour spent. May all your folks love each other in the best way possible. Your call.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The other writers of the Canon

When we talk about the other people who wrote the sixty-case Canon of Sherlock Holmes besides Dr. Watson, we normally bring up the usual suspects: Sherlock Holmes himself, who wrote "Blanched Soldier" and "Lion's Mane," and Conan Doyle, who most likely takes the blame for all of the third person narratives added in along the way.

But what of the other people who wrote part of that Canon? The people we actually know the names of, at that!

I realized this fact during a re-read of "A Scandal in Bohemia," where we come to the end of the tale and get to read a full letter written by Irene Adler. Ah, what a great Sherlockian collectable that would be -- the original letter possessed by Sherlock Holmes, written in Irene's own hand!

"My dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes," followed by three paragraphs of Irene Adler Norton's very own words. She writes well, with perhaps a wry humor in spots, as when she tells that "it was hard to think evil of such a dear, kind old clergyman." And her respect and admiration for Sherlock Holmes is well-documented in her words as well.

Paging through a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, one finds a lot of words that were not written by Watson.

The words on a sign by John Clay. The words in the diary of Elias Openshaw. The words in a letter from Tobias Gregson. And all of those letters from clients explaining things, like the lord who just signed himself "St. Simon" or the lawyers who ganged up with the signature "Morrison, Morrison, and Dodd, per E.J.C."

Even villains have written their bits of the Canon: "Will call at 6:30 -- C.A.M."  "AM HERE ABE SLANEY." "Stuff awaits you when goods delivered. Pierrot."

The turncoat Fred Porlock sneaking out tips. Local officer White Mason, writing to Scotland Yard's MacDonald. The note from Grace Dunbar that seemed to be evidence that she was a murderer. All sorts of details written by all sorts of writers.

Robert Ferguson wrote what might be the longest letter in the Canon, explaining the vampire business, but I have not been too thorough in my research as yet. The length of his note makes one want to take the matter a step further, do word counts, and create a mammoth pie chart breaking down the Canon by individual writer's percentage of the complete hundred.

There is something I heard, however, a small psychological fact that surely guarantees that I'll never be the one to do the work on that. Apparently saying you'll do something, or just explaining how it could be done, can potentially give your brain much the same pleasurable chemicals as actually doing the thing. So anyone wanting to follow up on this line with the full research feel free. A craftsman with pen and paper recreating every letter, note, sign, and other handwritten bit in the Canon might be another excellent way to spend one's days. But bloggers blog, and tomorrow I'll be on to something else.

Still, this thought of the other writers whose words fill the Canon, just intrigues me.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A happy ending for Elementary, if it could really end here.

At the beginning of this past weekend, I saw Searching in my favorite local theater, a great mystery starring John Cho. Some twists, some turns, and a solid story told in a unique format that worked. And tonight, I watched the last episode of season six of CBS's Elementary. (Yes,there will be spoilers! HUGE SPOILERS!!! FLEE OR BE SPOILED!)

Entitled "Whatever Remains, However Improbable," it starts with the ham-handed accusal of Joan Watson by an FBI special agent who is a little too determined to take Joan to jail for the murder of a serial killer by beating him to death -- the very episode after we saw him nearly beat her to death.

Her partner, whom I like to call "Mr. Elementary," decides to work outside the rules to solve the case, and spends a lot of this episode making an ugly face that seems to indicate determination at his friends at NYPD. Our first suspect in the case is the very FBI agent who is accusing Joan, as no other characters have really shown up yet. And I was starting to suspect Elementary of losing its touch of adding random tittilations for seasoning when a man who is aroused by bees is referenced.

Jonny Lee Miller can't seem to give up scowlilng like he's doing a bad Popeye impression, making that ugly-face as he questions folks along the way, and at the halfway point through the episode we get the big shocker . . . could Captain Gregson be a part of whatever's going on?

So, Mr. Elementary makes a mess in Gregson's house, sits and waits for him in the dark . . . probably not a good move with a cop who carries a gun. "How much do you know?" Gregson asks grimly and the two sit down at the dining room table.

Between the two men, they talk out who actually killed the serial killer, walk through how she did it, and basically give us a solution that was not set up for, not led up to, and was just inserted to provide a reason for maximum drama between Captain Gregson and Mr. Elementary.

"She's my daughter . . . and my best friend."

Hannah Gregson is the killer. Mr. Elementary yells at Gregson with all the same points the FBI agent yelled at Joan Watson earlier in the episode. Then Mr. Elementary yells at Joan Watson as they debate letting Hannah Gregson's going away. He brings up the fact Joan wants to adopt a child.

"WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE PARTNERS!" he yells.

"We are . . . so be one," Joan calmly states back.

This show is all about the relationships between its characters, but who are those characters? Whatever they need to be in a given scene. Twists don't come organically, they come with all the sudden pop-up of a deus ex machina, one after another. A fan of this show might be watching this episode thinking that it's showing how much the characters care about each other that they'll try to save each other (or their loved ones) from taking the fall for a crime by dramatic self-sacrifice, but for the viewer coming in cold late in the season, there is no one in this wild caper of  . . .

Excuse me, but in the last commercial break, the face of the man the good Carter and I bought our house from appears on the screen. He defends criminals for a living, I wonder what he would make of the mess the Elementary crew has gotten themselves into.

The part past the commercial break is the big scene this episode has been leading up to: Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson saying good-bye as he returns to England, taking the blame for the crime in question and escaping the law to be protected by MI-6 for some reason. It's a very emotional good-by, full of gratitude and admissions of love . . . what? They can't mean "in love," as that was the one thing the show runners swore they never did.

So Mr. Elementary winds up with an office and Lord St. Simon coming to his office with the classic "Noble Bachelor"  case . . . and he's back in London at 221B Baker Street, next door to 221A Baker Street, and who lives at 221A Baker Street?

Joan Watson. And they're "two people who love each other" solving crimes in London. A wonderful happy ending for the series. Man, I hated this whole episode, but the last five minutes was a happy, ridiculous bit of fun, as much of a tribute to the actual Sherlock Holmes as this series has ever done, and . . . wait, there's going to be a season seven. Could it possibly take place in London?

After all the grim New York garbage trucks and precinct houses and park benches, a shot at Elementary in relatively exotic London? I don't believe it. They just let a murderer walk free without giving us any real justification other than that she killed a bad man and her father loves her.

This show!  Very curious how they top this ending when they actually end the series after season seven . . . unless there now isn't going to be a season seven.

Onward.

Checking in with near-the-end of season six Elementary.

On the topic of Sherlockian subjects some people just don't get -- in preparation for the season finale, I watched the penultimate episode of CBS's Elementary for season six today.

In under two weeks we come to the sixth anniversary of that show's first appearance. In under two days, it's much-delayed sixth season winds up. It seems to wind down about a million in viewership each year, but CBS has seen enough syndication value in Elementary to give it a full seven season run. It gets the nod of a panel or three at 221B Con, hundreds of works of fanfic, and the occasional talk-up on one of the usual Sherlockian news feeds like the Norwegian Explorers Facebook, so it definitely has its fans.

But, man, I still don't get it.

Watching "Fit to Be Tied," which brought back the serial strangler who posed as an addiction-group friend to Elementary's Sherlock, who had brain damage at that point, early in the season when last I watched . . . well, it might as well have been a random show in another language. I just didn't see the Sherlock Holmes in it. Police procedural, yes. Those New York precinct rooms are unmistakeable. But Sherlock Holmes?

And when the episode got done with all its quietly talky parts, there was this whole Jason Voorhees/Michael Myers part where the serial strangler attacks Joan Watson and slowly stalks her through her house, vanishing the minute she connects with a desperate stab at him with a broken airplane propeller (?), that had I not known the character, would have mistaken for some standard TV movie damsel in distress.

So I went in search of what people enjoyed about this episode. First stop, IMDB, where no user comments had been posted yet. The second, at TellTaleTV.com, written by someone who is plainly on the side of the show, expresses frustrations at the primary mystery, a necessary suspension of disbelief required by the plot, and holds out hope for next week's episode improving upon what happened in this one. TV Fanatic's review gets into all of the character soap opera details from the season that's winding down, makes a few observations on the main mystery as well, and then gets into the same unlikely-seeming cliffhanger the episode left us with. Rotten Tomatoes had nothing on the episode, but did have five critics willing to give it a "Fresh" rating, three after the first episode of season six, one a few more in, and one in August.

The thread one can see running through all of this is that the characters of Lucy Liu's Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock have their fans. The mysteries may be better or worse from episode to episode, but it seems like it's the characters that people enjoy about this show. And the season finale is definitely about those characters, as they try to prove Joan's innocence from a charge that makes no sense to viewers of this week's episode, mainly through quietly talking about things, if the promo scene with Joan's lawyer is any indication.

But again, I just don't get this show, nor its relation to Sherlock Holmes as we have known him. How did that "Fresh" critic on Rotten Tomatoes from the Hindustan Times put it?  "Will this show ever stand up and be counted among the best Sherlock productions ever? Probably not. But it sure is going where other Sherlocks are afraid to step."

Yes. Yes, it is. On to the finale.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The last great unbranded hero.

Staring in the mirror at my Marvel Studios t-shirt after five minutes of Pokemon Go mixed with a YouTube video from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, I realized what an amazing creature Sherlock Holmes has become at this point: The last great unbranded hero.

No corporate entity owns him. Creators of all sorts can develop their vision of him. No stans can rebel against any new tale of him, because the original Canon was cemented in place nearly a century ago and all new Sherlocks are created equal.

Once the concept of intellectual property came our way, entertainment companies started rounding characters up like cattle and branding them with copyrights and trademarks instead of the classic hot iron poker with a symbol on the end. Sherlock Holmes and his herd had some corporate cowpokes try to round them up, but a couple fans of free range Holmes came riding in and thwarted that effort. Sherlock Holmes escaped by the tweed of his deerstalker.

Other old heroes still roam free. Robin Hood. King Arthur. Beowulf. But the thing that makes Sherlock Holmes different was the way, just as the branding world came after him, he leaped into the modern day and demonstrated the ability to exist in any place or period. He was not only free of corporate control, he was free to find new adventures outside of the Victorian era. A particular new story with specific new actors can lock down their view of him in a particular place and time, but both history and the future are open-ended. Holmes can roam.

Laws can still be changed. Tyrants of industry can still make moves to corral our free-running literary mustang. And Sherlockians, as a very minor minority, might not be able to stop that if and when it does happen. But for now, we really have to appreciate just what a wonder Sherlock Holmes is and the special place he's found in 2018.

Even a corporately-held character like Winnie the Pooh can get shackled and hidden away by an authoritarian regime after being used as a symbol by rebellious folk, as we've seen recently, and maybe Sherlock Holmes's freedom might someday put him in a similar place, joining a movement against a dictator or other power-mad authoritarian. One could easily understand why you might want Sherlock Holmes on your side, whatever the cause. (Conversely, then, an authoritarian regime might also take Sherlock as their team mascot. He's versatile.)

Who knows what could come tomorrow? But for today, we have Sherlock Holmes with us, with all of us.

Let's make the most of it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Angry days in the old happy hobby

Thursday I got a pretty blistering e-mail rebuke for a blog post I had put out that morning. Much of the heat I took was based on a tweet I quoted, and then proceeded to admit that I could in some degree sympathize with where that person was coming from. The friend . . . and I do want to emphasize that this angry response did come from a much-loved friend . . . felt personally attacked by the whole thing, and responded hard, with all the skills of a talented writer. It was probably the best-written angry letter I have ever gotten, and I've gotten quite a few.

Sherlockiana, being a place of our joys and fun, leaves us all even more vulnerable when the knives do come out . . . and, as much as we'd like to think otherwise, they occasionally do. Passionate folk being passionate about something will have that now and then. Even when you're expecting something from somewhere, it's easy to get blindsided, and that sudden surprise punch in the gut always hurts. If Sherlockiana has never brought you pain, well, keep up whatever you're doing. I'd like to be you, but we choose our own paths for our own reasons.

So, after taking a step back, I'm going to try to write something in follow-up. It's not going to be fun, but I can't just quietly go on writing about the Elementary season finale or whatever like nothing happened.

I don't name names in my blogging. Sherlockiana is not that big a community, and I like letting people make their own judgment calls about our fellow citizens. So in my writings, I sometimes do what we all do now and again: make the blanket statement. Like "old white guys."

It's kind of ironic that when I was growing up there was a common descriptive phrase that went "He called him everything but a white man." These days, while all the other racist, sexist, and other group-slagging verbal options still exist, one group who didn't know what it felt like to be on the receiving end any more is now painfully aware of what it feels like. We didn't grow up feeling people had it out for their kind, like brown folk or non-conforming other sorts. So having that sudden "oh, this is what it feels like to be unfairly lumped in with a group-assigned trait" is a new pain.

Now, I've probably made somebody angry with those generalities, too, because I wasn't talking about one specific person, even though I was. I was talking about Brad Keefauver. There, I named a name, so if you were worried I was talking about you, you're okay. I am afraid to say things that might offend someone these days. I remember the things I got away with saying in my twenties in the workplace that you just don't even consider saying today. But everybody was smoking at work back then, too. We all need to watch what we say these days, because it's not 1967, and complain of "political correctness" all you want, it's just fucking good manners.

Oops. I shouldn't really tell anyone to mind their "p"s and "q"s with that mouth! We are curiously all over the map these days when it comes to our "do"s and "don't"s.

We don't name names often enough, and that could be one part of the problem. "Those old fart gate-keepers." "Those  privileged jerks who don't even see their own privilege." "Those entitled young snots who think the world should be handed to them on a platter." It's like the old joke from a comedian we don't mention any more whose father said "Eat your vegetables, there are starving children in China," to which the comic claimed to reply, "Name one!"

If I specifically called out a gate-keeper, someone blind to their own privilege, or an entitled young punk, everyone except that person and their friends might just go, "Yeah, that person is a complete [insert epithet here]!" and not feel like you were attacking them and their entire club. Maybe I should use specific names when I want to talk about a gate-keeper or someone who makes a specific statement, even if it feels like a trend. It might keep folk like my angry correspondent from calling my every example in that previous blog "a straw man." Because they weren't. I just don't like naming names.

But it was certainly not "fake news." (Lord, don't we wish that phrase would go away.) The idea that there could be one actual Sherlockian as aggrieved as the one I quoted did not fit my friend's view of the world, which in examples given, was pretty much based on the New York weekend and mainstream "old school" Sherlockiana. But my experience says differently. Even the Twitter debates that followed my blog post said differently.

We all have a path and a story, and while we do have some spectacular liars in the public eye of late, most people have a story of their own that's true, even if we don't get it. On every spectrum, be it age, race, gender, orientation, mental style, body type . . . you name it. And I can't hope to fully understand what a gay black woman is going through in America right now, in 1960, or ever, because I'm not one. But if a specific gay black woman says to me, "Those old white penis-havers are going to kill me!" I might want to try really hard to see what's making her feel that threat before immediately shouting "NOT ME!" at the top of my lungs. Because maybe it was me. We shouldn't be afraid to say things, but we should think about them a little bit first.

I'm kind of an idiot that way. That's not self-hate, that's just experience. I blurt, I step on toes, both figuratively and literally, I forget that my brain works a little differently than most sometimes, because, like most humans, I do make mistakes. And I never stop trying to figure out how not to. Though I've been using this quote a bit lately, Sherlock Holmes definitely said, "Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for last." But I try to write what I'm currently seeing as the truth, even if I'm going to get called on the carpet for it later. We have to do that. And admit when we're wrong. As well as hold fast when we're right.

Sherlockiana may not be in for a Civil War, but it definitely could split off into denominations one of these days, if it hasn't already. There is the biggest generational gap in Sherlock Holmes enjoyment that has possibly ever existed, a product of both age and gender factors. A whole lot of Sherlockians can't see why certain other Sherlockians do what they do or don't do . . . or even figure out where they're doing it. But once you encounter them, you can't deny that those other Sherlockians exist for some reason that must make sense to them, and maybe they want to do what they want to do and not what you want to do.

 And if they're aggrieved about a particularly thing, it might be good to wonder why for a bit. There might be a good reason. You'll catch me making statements about old, white guys on occasion, not because I hate the now-old white guys I came up with, but because when I was a young Sherlockian, old white guys gave me fits. And I've personally watched a beloved middle-aged white guy turn into a real pain-in-the-butt old white guy . . . kind of like I might be doing any second here, if it's not too late already. The emotions can start flowing more freely as the body starts to wear out, and life becomes like one of those Star Trek episodes where Kirk suddenly realizes he's got the malady that's been taking out the rest of his crew.

So, in conclusion, what am I saying here? Like I told my angry correspondent, I'm just trying to process. Trying to process a lot these days, a lot more than ever before. And if you want to vent at me about whatever, feel free. It's a part of the dues one pays for opening one's mouth in public. I may be sorry, I may apologize, or I might just ramble on and on until I wear myself out, fall asleep, and wake up to a fresh new day.

And on we go.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Emotions Sherlock didn't show.

We all know the popular myth that Sherlock Holmes showed no emotions. But his smiles, his laughs, his concern for Watson's well-being, all of those present easily accessible to the contrary without going into deeper analyses of his pride, compassion, guilt, and all else. Yet there are emotions we see others indulge in as Watson's relates his cases, emotions that Holmes never gets to.

Fury, for example. Fury is a criminal's emotion in the lives of Holmes and Watson, an emotional onslaught so great it often results in damage, and mortal damage at that. Sherlock Holmes never shows us fury in the Canon. Had Killer Evans shot Watson to death in "Three Garridebs," one has to think it might have happened, but Watson wouldn't have been there to write it, would he?

Lust is another we don't see Holmes indulge in, or do we? "Lust of the chase" comes up in "Red-Headed League," and then gets taken a step further in "Boscombe Valley Mystery" with "His nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase." And as sexy as that nostril-flaring could sound, sexual lust isn't really something that appears in the Canon at all, unless we're talking about Baron Adelbert Gruner and his famed "lust diary" or the pig-like Ronder who made a bride of a poor circus girl seemingly the minute she hit puberty. Again, an emotion that mainly is in the realm of the villains.

Sorrow, on the other hand . . . while Holmes doesn't indulge, he speaks of it in the way of a man who has known sorrow. He speaks of "that schoolroom of sorrow where our earthly lessons are taught" in "Thor Bridge" and when you combine that with his advice to Watson in "Empty House" that goes, "Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson," well, ponder that for a moment. Sherlock Holmes was a man who threw everything he had into his work from a young adult age. Was he so intent on his work as a constant relief for an enormous sorrow that dogged his steps from before his career? We never see Sherlock Holmes in sorrow, but that evidence . . . .

These are emotional days, with more fury and sorrow in them than lust for most of us, I'd wager. (But if I'm wrong about you, well you'd better be a good-lusting soul and not a Gruner or Ronder, who just used it to create more fury and sorrow.) Is it the fact that Sherlock Holmes held back on the worst of them that makes his tales such a good palate cleanser after a hard, emotional day of our own?

After a few strong reactions to yesterday's blog, as well as a few kindly ones, it's good to step back to 221B for a moment and catch a breath. Because so many more investigations await!

The maintenance that keeps things in our hands.

'Tis a curious thing when two thoughts enter your end in the course of a few days and start to interact. First was a notable tweet from Rowan MacBean that read "Talking to tiny fans about the cishet white dude gatekeepers in SH fandom: 'But soon they'll be dead, and then Millennials will rub their queer little hands all over everything those dudes held dear.'" A bit of a pot-stirrer, but a basic sentiment that's hard to disagree with -- time will change things. The second thought was a line on a podcast from DeRay Mckesson about everything built by man needing maintenance to survive. Every building, every institution, every law, every creation of humans . . . it all has to be maintained to last.

Over the years, I've heard many an overly optimistic Sherlockian exude that Sherlock Holmes, Sherlockiana, a particular Sherlockian club or tradition, etc. will be as it is forever. It's a very immature thought, the kind a kid has who has had much of the furniture in his home existing for his entire life. A fantastic feeling that was is will always be. A secure and wonderful feeling. But you get a bit older, live a bit, and realize how much we take for granted.

As responsible sorts, we try to see that and make sure our basic needs are going to last as long as we do -- food, shelter, etc.  Sherlock Holmes, and all those things that surround him, this very culture of Sherlockiana we enjoy . . . slightly less of a priority, but still requiring both maintenance and attention to last. Have you seen what water can do to a book? Fire is bad, and sure, it will destroy a book, but water . . . oh, it will torture and deform a poor book in ways that are more awful than burning. A library, one of those basic Sherlockian loves, requires protection and maintenance, whether it's five books or five hundred. You don't keep books in your basement if you can help it, or take a lot of care of that basement.

A society, a podcast, an ongoing publication, an annual event . . . they require even more maintenance. Nothing lasts forever, true, and just making something ongoing last five years, ten years, even just two or three years, takes work. A lot of work, most times. That's why we celebrate anniversaries and should probably celebrate them harder than anniversaries: it takes work to get to anniversaries. Birthdays, you just have to not die.

Maintenance. It's not pretty, it's not fun, but it keeps all that is man-made existing, and not reclaimed by the Earth.

Which brings me back to Rowan's original thought, to which I'll add one especially dark realization that came to me early in life: It takes people a very long time to die. This might seem apparent to some folks, but after losing a parent early on, as a child I expected people to die a lot more often than they did. And sometimes, the people you think should really be dead by now just keep on going, and going, and going . . . just look hard at Congress sometime. Which means that getting your hands on their stuff can take forever. And forever means a lot of maintenance has to go on for that stuff to be around when you finally get your hands on it, at which point it might even not be something you really want anymore. The world is a funny, shifty place.

And ideas, traditions, man-made items can die a lot faster than people.

Everything we hold dear, whatever your age, race, or gender, could be a completely different thing tomorrow without proper attentions. Sherlock Holmes lasting this long in a recognizable form is a wondrous thing, and has taken legions of fans of all stripes to keep him in the public eye. There are those Sherlockians who enjoy the old things in the old-fashioned way they were made. They are the ones who preserve certain old man-made things, maintain them, research to preserve more knowledge about them, and carry them forward. There are also Sherlockians who create new variations on the basic Holmes things to enjoy in new ways that inspire us to carry the great detective on further through our lives.

And those aspects, items, tales, etc. that we just don't care about? 

We will let them pass from existence, letting them go from lack of attention. What I'm getting at here is that putting your energy into those things that you enjoy, maintaining them, carrying them forward, is what gives future generations something to take in their hands and enjoy as well . . . if they choose. If you don't enjoy it, don't put your energies into it, it will be up to someone else to carry forward, and if that someone is out there, it will go forward. Until that day when no one picks up that book, that idea, that way of doing things any more.

Even things stored forever in a climate-controlled shelf in a library vault are only carried forward if someone in the future cares to look at them.  Why do we look at those things?

Because somebody enjoyed them once, shared that enjoyment with us, and led us to share that enjoyment with someone else. I can understand raging against the bull-crap that the old white dudes in any culture can throw around, especially when their chosen fetish is threatened. I really, really, do, which is why I do sympathize with Rowan more than a bit. Entrenched enthusiasm without awareness of a changing world can be problematic. But how does that saying go? "Living well is the best revenge."

Living well and sharing the things we love and enjoy so others can live well, too. And maybe, just maybe, carry those things forward in a fashion that means something to them as well.

Monday, September 10, 2018

So who gets offended in Holmes world?

Sometimes a blogger has to wonder if they're offending people. And sometimes, as I cruise social media, I sometimes have to stop and wonder if I should be more offended at all the stuff laid at the doorstep of my generation or gender on social media. (I'm not . . . having been born into a segment of the populace lets you know them better than anyone, including their offenses.) Humans can offend the heck out of other humans, and what might offend or has offended is always worth a look or two.

After examining my own deficiencies today, however, the topic of taking offense made me want to look back at our Canonical brethren and see what offended them . . . and who it was who was getting offended. And the Canon starts off with a truly choice one:

"I have said all I have to say," said Gregson, in an offended voice.

Good old Gregson! I knew he had it in him, and in A Study in Scarlet, he brings it, as does a certain other group in that novel.

"There was one way and only one in which he offended the susceptibilities of his co-religionists."

Yes, religion is always a reason for people to get offended. And as Jefferson Hope was offended a particular sect because he refused to display hetero-normative behaviors, well, no surprise there. But let's talk about someone who was only truly religious about his profession: Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

"He did not seem offended," Watson reports in The Sign of the Four after Watson complains to Holmes about the detective's drug use. Holmes did worry about Watson being offended by his trick of playing ill in "The Dying Detective," a question Watson does not answer. He also doesn't want to offend Watson's intelligence at the end of "Devil's Foot," but that might have just been a lack of wanting to explain things in dull detail.  Watson was not above faking being offended, however, as he did when dealing with Baron Gruner in "Illustrious Client."

Holmes definitely thinks he would be sorry to offend Holy Peters, the kidnapper of Lady Frances Carfax, but that was surely for a different reason. Peters was one nasty-looking dude. (A regular Danny Trejo of his day!) Holmes suspects women might be more offended by a some little thing than a murder, but Violet DeMerville has him stymied when he says that, so we might forgive him that once. (Up to you, ladies.)

Sherlock Holmes doesn't seem to get offended much, and a woman some suspect of being his sister does likewise. Violet Hunter is not offended by being asked "to sit here or sit there," or by being passed by her employer without him speaking a word.  As far as who does get offended, there are a few folks in the Canon, often for good reason.

Lord St. Simon is "a picture of offended dignity" when he finds his bride was already married. Mr. Blessington is offended to be asked about why he's scared all the time. An American secret society was offended by John Douglas, and then Cecil Barker was offended by the questions Inspector MacDonald asked about John Douglas's wife. (Even though MacDonald admitting meaning no offense.) But then The Valley of Fear has a lot of offensiveness and offenders, probably due to all those Americans being involved.

Perhaps the worst example of someone getting offended, however comes in "The Blanched Solider."

Colonel Emsworth handled getting offended by James Dodd inquiring about his son by saying "Many people, Mr. Dodd, would take offence at your infernal pertinacity and would think that this insistence had reached the point of damned impertinence." That, however, is kind of a haughty way of not even owning up to your own emotions while plainly reacting badly to a situation. In fact, it sounds like a certain loser we hear far too much from these days who likes to use the "many people think this" or "many people didn't know that" instead of admitting his own deficiencies.

In the end, one has to find Sherlock Holmes or Violet Hunter the better role models in terms of not taking offense at honest or irrelevant things, as well as Holmes in caring if something seems it might offend your best friend. Good old Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Heroic hounds of Sherlock Holmes

A photo Rob Nunn took of his dog considering his Sherlock Holmes books got me thinking last night: What would a dog enjoy reading in the Canon?

My first thought, of course, was The Hound of the Baskervilles. It begins with the legend of a super-hero vigilante dog that uses its powers to end the evil life of a true villain. A canine reading of the text would discard the human bias it shows and discern the obvious truth of the legend: That heroic super-dog was the pet of the yeoman's daughter and this was his origin story. He's like the Ghost Rider of dogs.

And how does the rest of the tale go?

As with every dark vigilante superhero, dark rumors swirl up and the latest incarnation of this mysterious hero is falsely accused of a crime. A dog-loving detective named Sherlock Holmes comes to clear his name. And yet even while the local humans hate and fear Ghost Bounder, or whatever this hero dog is called, he still protects them, tracking down and ending Selden the murderer . . . the villain that most of the locals are actually living in fear of.

Now, the ending might not seem too dog-friendly, as the detective and his friends put down a Ghost Bounder imposter, but all we need is a shot of the true Ghost Bounder, standing proudly atop a tor and looking down at that crew before bounding off into the darkness, with Sherlock Holmes shaking his head in approval, and The Hound of the Baskervilles becomes completely dog-friendly.

"The Adventure of the Creeping Man" is similarly dog-friendly from the jump, with Roy the Newfie saving the neighborhood from the villainous monkey man, whose intentions for college girls were definitely not going to stop once he claimed his first victim.

More problematic is "The Copper Beeches," where Carlo the mastiff takes down the villain only to have the naive Dr. Watson run up, and in a thoughtless moment of prejudice, commit a graphically-described killing of the poor animal. Due to said graphic nature, I won't even quote it here, as I don't want to ruin my breakfast and there might be puppies among my readers.

"The Copper Beeches," is, of course, a tragedy, and such tales of a misunderstood hero meeting a fatal fate do occasionally get written. But the point of all this is that, outside of that imposter Ghost Bounder, who was duped into playing a role by Stapleton, the dogs of Sherlock Holmes's life were good dogs, and their stories should be read to the dogs of your pack if they have problems turning the pages for themselves.

Because The Sign of the Four and "Missing Three-Quarter" aren't the only stories you can share with them . . . you just have to understand a dog's point of view. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Saturday soapbox for Watson and Clark Russell.

A sleepy Saturday morning with no caffeine in sight, where to turn?

Well, initial thoughts were upon CBS's Elementary, where that unimaginable sixth season is slowly winding to a close with the promise of shocking new revelations. Last year, Mr. Elementary got brain damage -- this year? A severed limb perhaps? Watson revealing herself to be Von Bork after all this time? But then, out of nowhere, Canada launched a targeted drone strike on Watsonian candor.


As you can see on Twitter, I was quick to respond. But Twitter, even with its expanded word limit, offers far too little space to mount a true defense of friend Watson, so I'm bringing the case to Blogger. Ahem. 

Ladies, gentlemen, and other lovelies of the jury, Canada's Sherlockian journal of record, speaking upon our public social media, has leveled what I find a shocking accusation at one John H. Watson, M.D., a fine upstanding citizen of the United Kingdom. A man so stalwart and true that he might, as we all well know, but a fair and impartial jury just like yourselves. 

Canadian Holmes, a publication that can be bought for the very low price of twelve dollars Canadian for a single issue, has leveled the charge against our good doctor Watson that he actually had read no books by the author Clark Russell and was simply pandering to the public with the pretense that he liked what they liked.

"I think if it was a Russell sea story he would have said," this less-than-book-length publication wrote, in the wee hours of this morning.  But Watson did say "I was deep in one of Clark Russell's fine sea stories until the howl of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain to lengthen into the long swash of the sea waves."

Note Watson's direct reference to "the text" and his commentary on how "fine" the story was, a judgment he could never have honestly made without actually reading Clark Russell's work. Are you or I or Canadian Holmes going to state frankly that John H. Watson was a dishonest man? Nay, that "H." in the middle of his name might well have stood for "Honest," his character is so beyond reproach!

John H. Watson was a man of literature, a fact no one can deny. His writing ability connotes a reader, and a well-read reader at that, so why not Clark Russell? And as a fellow author, would not Watson be knowledgeable enough in the field of books sales to know that specifying a title, such as My Watch Below or The Romance of a Midshipman, would just promote one of Russell's book, while the phrase "one of Clark Russell's fine sea stories" promotes all of Clark Russell's work? John Watson is a kind and generous man, why should those qualities not extend to his treatment of fellow writers?

Hundreds, if not thousands of Sherlockian scholars have one or more Clark Russell novels upon their shelves thanks to Watson's recommendation in "The Five Orange Pips," and plainly, they all have believed John H. Watson over the years. This sudden and controversial claim by Canadian Holmes can plainly be seen as modern media trying to drum up attention at the cost of the good name of Watson, and I tell you, ladies, gentlemen, and other lovelies of the jury, we should not stand for such an outrageous blot on a good man's escutcheon!

"This time it was probably just some popular novel, nothing more . . ." Canadian Holmes writes, flailing its pages against a computer keyboard in some remote Beauty and the Beast enchanted Canadian castle where the animated Sherlockiana sings and dances the day away. Nothing more than a popular novel? What were Clark Russell's books if not popular novels? Chopped Christmas goose liver?

We do not even need to bring the literary agent into this conversation, as his trust in Watson was surely greater than anyone's. And by now, I am sure that such an enlightened quorum as you fine folks can see the truth of this matter and can render your verdict with a satisfied ease. I would ask that you go lightly on your sentencing of Canadian Holmes in this matter, and maybe even have the goodness to subscribe to that journal and see that it's not usually so troublingly accusatory of our friend John Watson.

As for me, well, I will rest my case here, and thank the prosecution for helping me wake up this morning.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

People get weird . . .

People get weird . . .

People get weird when the topic of sex comes up, for a lot of reasons. And we often won't even admit that we do get weird, which just makes it weirder. So I have to congratulate the Three Patch Podcast for making it to their sixth annual "sexpisode." It's a podcast about Sherlock Holmes. And they've done six episodes, each about three hours long, about sex and Sherlock.

Remember that fandom we used to hear was going to be a flash in the pan, way back when, from the hoi polloi? Them and their porny fanfic! A blip on the radar!

Whoops! No, it's not.

It's fascinating to look at what male fans had done with the sex lives of Sherlock Holmes and company before female-dominated wave of Sherlockian sexual orientation came along, because for men . . . well, for men, they just didn't seem all that interested in sex for once. Sure, John Bennett Shaw could double-entendre the heck out of Canonical quotes. And there was a very private Doyle-Canon porn writer or two out there, sharing their work with only close friends. But other than that? Larry Townsend's The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Chris Redmond's In Bed With Sherlock Holmes were the two big sexy Sherlock times you could have on your shelf, and only the former was porn.The latter had footnotes, a bibilography, and an index.

Yet I always love that Chris Redmond ended that book with the line "Go and read Sherlock Holmes, and do it soon; but first, go and kiss somebody. Sex comes first; detective stories are only meant to model the way men and women really are." But that was 1984, long before sex advice columnist Dan Savage would coin the more flat-out slogan for holiday dining celebrations, "Fuck first." And it's in a world with Dan Savage in it that Three Patch Podcast is doing their thing.

Sherlock Holmes is now fostering sexual exploration in his fans, as well as explorations of logic and detection, in ways that would go far beyond making Vincent Starrett blush. (But might, however, make a few of our famed Sherlockians of yore come out of the closet, were they around now . . . not talking about anyone in particular, but c'mon. Probabilities.) It comes from a place of relationship in most cases, and not pure carnal novelty (though that factor does enter in), and that is where it always comes back to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. And Mary Morstan. And Mycroft Holmes. And James Moriarty. And Mrs. Hudson.

To some, this might be like imagining your parents having sex. And yes, there is a reason that the Three Patchers, like most in these areas of fanfic, use pseudonyms . . . especially in an era when someone might not like your politics and try to weaponize one isolated part of your work to try to ruin your job or your life. They're a bit like the underground that comes before any revolution. (Ever notice that "the sexual revolution" of the sixties and seventies didn't really finish the job?) Perhaps taking the guilt and shame out of a basic human function is a battle we humans will always be fighting, but at least Sherlock Holmes is on the front lines for this war, just like he was in "His Last Bow."

So, congratulations, Three Patch. When I say "people get weird when it comes to sex," you bold folks are definitely not the ones I'm talking about, and I wish you many many more years of just doing what you enjoy best and explaining it to the rest of us.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and the Controlled Reaction

At this point, seeing a headline like "People React to Xxxxxx!" is just laughable clickbait, and possibly worse, some supposed news professional trying to pass scrolling through Twitter as actual journalism. Because people react to things, always have, and there's somebody out there who is going to react strongly to any damn thing. (Like my reaction to that headline, for example.)

How does this connect to Sherlock Holmes? Well, remember first how Watson liked to right about Holmes, those statements like "You really are an automaton, -- a calculating machine!" or "All emotions . . . were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind." Then recall all the times we actually saw Watson describe Holmes displaying emotion. Why the disparity?

It is all, I believe, about the reaction. Consider it in internet headlines.

"Watson Reacts to Beautiful Woman!"  Okay, fairly mundane. But look at what Watson is going for.

"You Won't Believe What Sherlock Holmes Did NOT React To!"

It's kind of like Holmes himself once said, "Crime is common. Logic is rare."

Reactions to certain stimuli are common. Refusing to react is rare.

And Watson plainly wanted something out of Holmes that he wasn't always getting: Reactions.

Sherlock Holmes, of course, had what might be considered valid excuses for not putting on a reaction show. His professionalism, his ability to reserve judgement until all the facts were in, his damned Vulcan logic . . . well, scrap that last one, as "logic" in the "ranting Dr. McCoy" sense is just another way of saying someone has some understanding of a situation or thing that the person expecting a reaction does not . . . an understanding that means they don't have only the superficial view to react to. But did Holmes need an excuse?

No, because we all get to react based on our own lights, not to the expectations of others.

Watson's reaction that Holmes was "an automaton -- a calculating machine!" didn't do anyone any good, and might have even harmed the relationship, if Holmes took it too hard. One might even consider Watson to have been trying to be a little manipulative with his outburst, if one tends toward Team Holmes.

To react or not to react, that is the question. And with Sherlock Holmes, that question gives us a . little more to think about than a clickbait headline.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Conan Doyle is Satan, apparently.

It was somewhere close to midnight on Friday night, when I was finishing the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt quiz, in an unexpected last minute burst of Sherlockian vigor. And I came to the last three questions . . .

"From [Tottenham Court Road] find the item whose value could not be conjectured."

Okay, simple enough. Already in "Blue Carbuncle" for that last answer and how does Holmes describe the carbuncle?

"It is absolutely unique, and its value can only be conjectured . . ."

Well, like I said, it was close to midnight and the word "conjectured" was there, so I answered "The blue carbuncle."

Next question: "With the splendid us of [that item] in mind, find the red connector."

What was the use of the blue carbuncle? Well, as Holmes was describing it, he called it one of "the devil's pet baits."  And, hey, the devil is red, isn't he? So the devil is the "red connector," obviously.

Next question: "The final treasure -- find the [answer to previous question] who runs through all the sixty adventures of Holmes and Watson, although he is mentioned only once in the Canon. Who?"

Well, there's only one devil mentioned by name in the Canon, and then only once: Satan.

Imagine my surprise when the official answers were given out today and that final answer, according to the JHWS Treasure Hunt officiary was . . . prepare yourself . . . Arthur Conan Doyle.

Now, in "Devil's Foot," we know the vicar came running in going "We are devil-ridden, Mr. Holmes! My poor parish is devil-ridden! Satan himself is loose it it!"

That's an actual mention by an actual character. And all the crime, all the human suffering, all the mistaken identities running through the Canon, could, if you are of that religious point of view, be attributed to Satan. Kind of an evangelical turn for a Sherlock Holmes quiz, but to each their own, I say.

Conan Doyle, however, isn't mentioned in the Canon itself. He signs his name to the preface to Casebook, but his name is on the title page too . . . do we count the title-page as Canon? I suppose that's a religious doctrine choice as well, given "Canon." But the inserting of "Conan Doyle" in a place that obviously belonged to Satan, well, I guess he did kill Sherlock Holmes with malign intent, but putting him on equal footing with Satan still seems a little extreme a conjecture on the part of the John H. Watson Society as an official body.

But, as you might recall from that first question in this little adventure in quiz-taking, some things can "not be conjectured." And I suppose that is what shows the difference between Conan Doyle and Satan and the paths to either. Or why I might have made a mistake with horrific consequences in that near-midnight hour on Friday.

The John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt continues to be an adventure which can lead to madness for the unwary Sherlockian who ventures upon that path alone. Maybe next year I had better team up again to avoid the demonic pitfalls that awaited this time around.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Embracing my Sherlockian failures.

Welcome to the last day of August 2018.

I have been weighed, I have been measured, and I have been found wanting. Lunch today featured a selfie at a local bar with a tenderloin in hand, which is where my rock bottom lies, since I don't really do alcohol as most do. And why? Why have I come to this over-dramatized pose of despair and failure?

Today is the deadline day to turn in the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt. And my answer sheet is missing about a third of the answers. We're looking at about a "D+" at best on a grade school test. That score that gets you held back a year. I've got my excuses: Going it alone. (Pride fail?) World of Warcraft expansion release. (Addiction?) That St. Louis weekend and its attendant projects/duties/added efforts. ("Professional" distractions? Trying to go kind of Sherlock-y with the excuses, as you might have noticed.) But even with excuses, there is still going to be a grim acceptance that has to happen to hit the "send" button on the e-mail to the quiz-commander.

And it makes for a moment to stop and look at every other failure in my Sherlockian life. The scion society that died under my watch. The website full of data I killed. The opportunities I said "no" to that were big mistakes (and continue to do such). The friendship (or two) that I completely destroyed. Being kind of a dick about a TV show some people love. And let's not even get into my life as a Baker Street Irregular. Man, I just suck.

And yet . . .

I'm very lucky in that, with all that, I don't suffer from true depression or another of life's real issues. I can put on a good show of despair in a dark moment, but there are "humble brag" aspects to all of that whining above, and I'm actually doing okay. I can sit in a bar and compare Sherlockian "battle scars" like Quint in Jaws with the best of them. And I'm still moving. Because every failure offers an opportunity to rise up once again. Some wonderful folk have the ability and perseverance to just keep rising in life (or at least give the appearance of such), and some of us get to enjoy getting knocked down and rising up to the same height over and over again, maybe gaining a few more inches each time. Or not.

But just to be still standing, at some point, is enough. Turning in a partially finished Treasure Hunt challenge tonight is a statement that, "Yes, I'm still here, still a Sherlockian. And I'll be back again for the next thing, whether it succeeds or not."

So it's the last day of August. See you next month, when we're all having at something else.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sherlockians! Make this our final National Bow Tie Day.

On this, our nation's National Bow Tie Day, I would like to make a heartfelt plea to my Sherlockian brethren. Or a maniacal rant, depending upon your point of view.

There has been a rise of bow tie usage among elder Sherlockians in recent years. Some would say that it has always been a part of our culture, that it's a harmless practice that does not lead to harder fashion choices, and that it has something, somehow to do with Sherlock Holmes if you wear a bow tie of the correct colors . . . . if you've ever tried to hold a bow tie intervention, you know all the excuses. But it is time, with a new generation of Sherlockians moving into leadership and a fresh chance to help our less fortunate brethren, to end this visual vice once and for all.

They say that no one hates smoking as much as an ex-smoker, and, full disclosure, I am a reformed wearer of the bow tie. It took decades of self-reflection, the concern of caring friends, and just seeing the sad outcomes of those chose the bow-tie path. Living in Illinois, one can't help but be haunted by what that bow tie cost Senator Paul Simon when he ran for governor against a future prison inmate and lost. But I'm not coming from a place of shame in my past, but holding out the hand of hope.

A flirtation with the bow tie is almost a regular part of the geek/nerd developmental arc. As said individual learns to integrate with actually good-looking fashion motifs, the bow tie will typically fall away, save in those who double-down on the practice rather than admit their mistake and moving on. Society, however, has not been helpful to those poor souls, tossing them the occasional cultural bread crumb, as in the notorious "new Doctor moment," two incarnations ago.

Early in his run, Matt Smith's Doctor Who quipped, "Bow ties are cool!" and the fans went wild. But a Sherlockian must ask themselves the following questions:

a.) Are you Doctor Who?
b.) Are you cosplaying Doctor Who?
c.) Are you confused about which fandom you are in?

If the answer to any of the above is "yes," one might be excused for wearing a bow tie on appropriate occasions. But as a life choice?

Sherlock Holmes would not wear a bow tie, lest it was the white collar-decorator of the "simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman." It's hard to imagine him tolerating a tuxedo, that single mainstream acceptable use of the accessory. And does it somehow make one look more literary when combined with eyewear? Add a fluffy-feathered quill pen, and maybe so.

Vests, watch chains, tie-pins, maybe French cuffs . . . all acceptable nods to Holmes in fashion. But that bow-tie? Seeing a friend don a purple/mouse/blue Cub Scout neck scarf might be less disheartening than seeing them fall into that bow-tie fashion spiral of doom!

Yet what can we, the concerned, do to help our poor Sherlockian brethren lift themselves up from that dark place of the throatwear?

Can we find something more visually palatable that they might be drawn to, to wean them off the Devil's bow? The cravat, perhaps? Holmes did cravats! Watson did cravats! Even Lestrade did cravats! The cravat and smoking-jacket -- or better yet, dressing gown! -- combination might have that classic suave look that could lure the most single-minded of bow tie wearers away from their addiction. Sure, it might seem more of an around-the-mansion look, but better to keep them indoors for a time whilst the general public forgets their unfortunate past fashion choices. You can tell them about the outdoor uses with ulsters and pea-jackets eventually.

Social change of this magnitude takes time, I know. But we are a hopeful people, and one day . . . yes, one day . . . one, bright and sunny day . . . you know where I'm going with this . . .

We may see the last Sherlockian to put on "his last bow."

(Cravat Day is October 18. Let's see what we can do.)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Canon of drafts.

Think that this Sherlockian blogging business produces a lot of words on Sherlock Holmes?

Doing a little online housecleaning this morning, I saw that I currently have sixty unfinished blogs in my draft folder. The dates show that they've built up over the past three years, and usually my unfinished drafts are only a line or two of an idea that didn't pan out. But, you never know, so this lazy Sunday morning seemed like a good time to see what thoughts I didn't follow up on, see if there are patterns, etc.

The first is only a title, but the title shows it was intending to review a third season episode of Elementary. Late spring of 2015 was about the time I had decided to give up on the constant Elementary reviews, so this makes sense. Two drafts later, an actually pretty well developed entry titled "The Epic Failure of Joan Watson" sitting in the bin confirms this, as it looks like I still had some thoughts on the matter, but was willing to start letting them go.

Shortly after that is the start of another piece of Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs fan fiction, a fandom within a fandom that blossomed beautifully for a time, but now has mostly gone silent. Alas.

Some blog posts get basically finished but never published, and when on comes to one where the topic is a political mixture of the Conan Doyle Estate, Steve Dixie, and Confederate monuments, it's easy to see how a reluctance to miss the mark on tone could hold up hitting that "Publish" button.

In an odd bit of synchronocity with today's headline, the next on the list was inspired by the moment Donald Trump claimed that John McCain was no hero, entitled "Was Sherlock Holmes a Hero?" I apparently got only two sentences in and never bot back, but those two sentences are enough to identify exactly what inspired it.

Hypocritcial Sherlockians, the quiet kids, Zen Sherlocking, BSI shillings, the hundred dollar sandwich, Mary Morstan versus the patriarchy, bullets in a jar, worms in apples, "Mazarin Stone," hardships of Sherlockian pioneers, personal Facebook rules, "racing engine," the chosen fans, stewards of our community, tweetalongs, words, a Sherlockian's Sherlockian, Ichneumon GO!,  whisteria . . . a lot of partial essays out there in that file.

But then, blogging has always been as much an exercise in the doing for me, rather than the response. It's basically an open diary that I throw out on the web in the hopes that it might be of use to someone else. Since it's open, however, some entries do hit a point where they seem to have no possible benefit to anyone else . . . or just lose my own interest before they reach any kind of conclusion or natural stopping point. And those are the ones that wind up in the draft file.

If you think about Sherlockiana as a whole . . . the pastiches, the researches into minutiae, the social gatherings . . . most do follow a similar pattern to my blogging habits. We enjoy Sherlock Holmes in the way that works for us, then delight when our fellow Sherlockians come along for the ride. Perhaps their company does give us some motivation, but there is a good amount of this that I suspect we'd just do anyway. Sherlock Holmes is our excuse.

And no matter what your approach to enjoying Mr. Sherlock Holmes, there is always going to be collateral wastage. Whether it's books you didn't really need, interesting facts you pick up along the way, or just a weird statue of a duck that stares at you as you type, even now . . . . yipes.

Discovering a Canon-amount of drafts out there wasn't a real surprise. Just how much thought had gone into them, then was left behind, however . . . that was a bit of a shock, even with a decent understanding of the thought behind each abandonment. Yet it's just a result of the richness of this hobby.

Sherlock and Sherlockians never fail to fascinate.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Ferrell and Reilly

And here we go.

With the release of the new poster image for Holmes and Watson, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, the prejudgments and the prejudices are starting to roll out, and with all the negative connotations to those words, in this case, I have to let the haters off the hook, despite the fact that I am, quite honestly, looking forward to loving this movie!


I've been a fan of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, together and separately, long enough to know that a whole lot of people just aren't going to go for any comedy they put together. Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was the gold standard for wacky comedy, and even it has haters. Holmes and Watson, I have every confidence, will probably be more of a Bewitched of Semi-Pro. The director,  Etan Cohen, who directed Ferrell in Get Hard, is working with his own script for the first time, though, so who knows how that will go . . . and yet . . . .

Comedy.

Most good comedies come in around 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, and when a comedy gets anywhere close to a hundred percent on that site, you know it may not be as funny as it could be. Critics like messages and relevance and the best comedy is both irrelevant and not worried about making sense, which are Will Ferrell's movie strong suits.

Yet Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlockians, tend to be about making things make sense, so this movie is going to have a hard climb with the Sherlockian fan base. (You know how "the base" can be. Chanting "LOCK THEM UP!" about Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly at a Holmes film gathering does not seem out of the realm of possibility.)

I would come out and already predict it won't have a sequel, but how many seasons has Elementary had at this point? You just never know, as it's the non-Sherlockian world that decides these things, not us. Yes, I know, some Sherlockians like Elementary, but the dead silence about it from the larger share says something. There's a kindness there that I don't think we'll be seeing applied to Holmes and Watson.

But, hey, Sherlock Gnomes made it through the big-screen mill without Sherlockian rioting and vicious web-troll attacks, so we shall see come December.

I, for one, can't wait!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

An appreciative reading.

I am having the best time with our local library discussion group. Each month bring some truly fresh insights to those age-old tales of Sherlock Holmes, and after tonight's meeting, the good Carter made a very interesting observation.

"I read the stories in a different way for this group."

I had been comparing the discussion group nights to the meeting's of Peoria's Hansoms of John Clayton, which met bi-monthly at member's Holmes for what was a mix of Holmes worship-service and a cocktail party. We had rituals to be followed in a pattern at every meeting like clockwork: The Clayton Ritual, the toasts, the announcements, the speaker, the quiz, Starrett's "221B" . . . I'm going to have to recreate the whole pattern exactly one of these days, as there was a bit more too it, but those things happened reliably each meeting. The key focus on the story (or two for a time) each meeting was the quiz, testing the members' knowledge of the tale . . . which meant you read each story for memorizable details.

Our groups, like the Occupants of the Empty House down south of us, forswore quizzes from the start, and looking back, I can see where they were right. Quizzes caused more friction in our ranks than any other part of Sherlockiana, and like I said, you read the stories to prepare for the quiz . . . a very different read than a read for enjoyment. It also had the side effect of members not reading the stories if they didn't plan to take the quiz, and thus were there just to socialize and talk about whatever was on their mind on that particular evening.

We had some good times, don't get me wrong. I don't want to hindsight critique a program that worked very well for its time, for many a club. But even then we often complained at the group getting off the topic of Holmes so much of the time, and I think the quiz-targeted story reads really had something to do with that.

Reading the story for the current group, with no set purpose in mind, one can light upon some little detail like the "bachelor quarters" at Watson's house and wonder at it, knowing it will make for a lively share with the group . . . and that quite often, someone will bring it up before you do! Did Henry and Nancy eventually get together for a final few years? Why was Colonel Barclay so afraid of the dark? What did the actual Biblical story of David have to do with a name whose actual purpose was theorized but never verified?

I never have time to follow all the rabbit holes I see before me walking out of the library every month these days, but that is a problem I don't mind having. After decades upon decades with these same old stories, they've become very new to me of late, and I have our local library discussion group to thank for it. It took us a little while to really get off the ground, but just over a year and a half in, we're doing well enough that I'd highly recommend starting a Holmes short story club at your own library if you have half an inkling. You might be surprise at the Sherlockians who come out of the bushes in a town you might have thought was Sherlocked out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Discovered Sherlock Holmes fragment, fresh.

Let's talk some speculative potential adventure for Sherlock Holmes, shall we?

First, Watson will narrate:

"It was the week before my marriage, when wedding plans were being made in earnest and the job of the groom was simply to stay as far away from the process as a close companion might take him. In my case, that companion was my friend Sherlock Holmes, and the place was Yorkshire, where . . . "

Now, we want to start hitting some triggers here, so let's get right to the big guns:

". . . Inspector Lestrade had recently found a calling card upon the body of an ill-fated Beowulf scholar. The name upon that calling card, which was at that time unknown to me apart from the quite familiar surname, was that of "Mr. Mycroft Holmes."

Okay, so we have Lestrade for familiarity, Mycroft for intrigue, and Beowulf for something new to the lore. But why? Why are we going through this exercise, repeated by so many writers for decades?

Why, indeed. But Holmes needs to do something detective-y now, so we'll have to ponder that later.

"Sherlock Holmes had spent a full hour in the gardener's shed of Crosswick Manor, which was notable in that no gardener had been employed at the old country house for nearly a decade. He had instructed me to go carefully over every inch of the staircase upon which Professor Melbury was found with that fatal secateurs wound having pierced his femoral artery."

Sadly, that sounds like someone was just playing Clue and reporting their game-winning theory. We need something remarkable about this case to put in the title, like some podcast waiting for the one clever line they can sell their episode with.

"When Holmes emerged from the shed, he was not alone. Wrapped in his great wool coat and protectively shepherded with one arm was what looked to be a creature of some woodland fairy tale, an unnaturally pale creature with large eyes and a crown of holly and ivy. Holmes was speaking to this curious being in a tongue I did not recognize, save for the name 'Watson' which caused the creature to nod in a seeming wise agreement."

Now we're talking. "The Adventure of the Yorkshire Faerie" or somesuch will make a great title, before Sherlock ruins it all by explaining that he/she/they are an albino from Andorra who . . . well, we can't give alway all the goods at this point, can we?

"'Watson, I trust I can commend our new friend to your care, and that you will not allow Lestrade to take this poor soul into custody in my absence,' Holmes said, and as soon as the remarkable creature under his arm seemed comfortable standing beside me, was off and down the lane toward the main road."

Yes, yes, Holmes and Watson need to interact more, but this seems to be an outline of sorts. And actually, it's just a before-bed ramble at the keyboard, so any hopes of this being solved in this blog post are pretty non-existent and a hope for another day.

So with that . . . .

Poof!

Monday, August 20, 2018

The last lesson.

Viewing lines from the Sherlockian Canon in isolation is always a marvelous thought experiment, and nothing isolates lines from the text like Twitter. This morning Scott Monty dropped this classic quote from "The Adventure of the Red Circle:"

"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for last."

In a pawky mood of the moment, I replied with "Always sounds grander if you don't think of the last lesson as 'Whoops! Shouldn't have done that!'" But once I was set on the course of actually thinking about that line, I couldn't stop. I mean, we usually assume he means "insert your afterlife here" and take that as the greatest lesson. But is the afterlife necessarily a lesson?

My mind immediately shot to that scene from the South Park series where the director of Hell was explaining to the new arrivals, "I'm afraid it was the Mormons Yes, Mormons were the correct answer."  So in the South Park universe, the last lesson for most was that you should have been a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. But for Sherlock Holmes?

The emphasis of the quote is really on life-long learning, and not what comes after, but it does reveal something of Holmes. I like to think of "Red Circle" as occurring on Sherlock Holmes's birthday due to his other actions in the case but that line sounds like the sort of birthday contemplation one might have as the years pass and one feels mortality's full weight.

We know that Watson's literary agent, Conan Doyle, was heavily concerned with matters of the afterlife, so he would have seen death as a doorway to an existence he was very curious about. Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand? When you think about his work, and all of the death scenes he got to have a look at, Sherlock Holmes's final questions might have taken a different tack.

What did death feel like? How did the murder victim look upon his killer in those last moments? Was there an awareness, an ability to observe that which the eye did not normally see? Thinking about how much focus Sherlock Holmes put upon his profession and how he seemed to apply all lessons he learned in life toward that art of detection, might he not have see some detective purpose in in that final act?

"It is a series of lessons with the greatest for last." In Holmes's mind, we are going to learn something in passing, something greater than everything we have learned before . . . and, apparently, were to learn after. The last lesson would have to be the one where a person gained all knowledge, so no further lessons are necessary . . . plainly the greatest lesson, gaining all knowledge.

There's a concept I always like to play with that I call "God's library," where books and publications exist that contain all the unknowable facts. Want the actual statistics on how many toilet paper rolls in private homes are installed with the paper coming over the top of the roll versus under the bottom? With graphs by month and year since the invention of toilet paper? It would be there. Roger Ebert reviews of every movie ever, even the ones he never saw? It would be there. Tasteful nudes of all your high school teachers painted by Tiziano Vecello (or "Titian" as the English like to call him)? That would be there, too. A mind palace greater than the universe itself, containing all that is or ever could be . . . that would be the dream of a man like Sherlock Holmes. Maybe even his heaven, unless you consider the dark side of all knowledge. (Maybe your high school teachers didn't look as good as some of mine.)

Perhaps we should all just concentrate on the series of lessons that Holmes was really emphasizing with that quote and let the greatest one just come when it does . . . but now and then, you just have to wonder about it, as with everything Sherlock.

Which is part of what makes this such a great hobby. So many lessons.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sylvnado? Sylvius Week? Sylvius Tank?

As I'm finally getting around to seeing The Meg today, as a new Sharknado film premieres on the SyFy network this evening, it seemed time to discuss the greatest shark of the Sherlockian Canon.

If you go by the gazetteer that Sherlock Holmes pulled down from the shelf in The Sign of the Four, you'd have to go to the Andaman Islands to find an actual shark in Holmes-world. But London was not without its human sharks, as with any metropolis, and foremost among them might seem to have been Moriarty, of course. But Holmes only used that parallel to explain Porlock's relationship to Moriarty, in The Valley of Fear, also citing the lion and the jackal.

The real shark of the Sherlockian Canon, the man whom Holmes can't help but compare to that killer of the sea a full four times in one short story, is the man they call Count Negretto Sylvius.

They call him "Count Negretto Sylvius," of course, because he seems a lot like Colonel Sebastian Moran with a pseudonym. And like Moran, he's a killer that Sherlock Holmes actually appears to be afraid of. In Moran's case, Holmes seemed to stay away from London for years to avoid the Colonel's vengeance. In the matter of Silvius, Holmes is just giving Watson the Count's address so the good doctor can send the police there should Holmes get killed by Silvius . . . a route Holmes takes on no other occasion.

If Sylvius and Moran are truly one in the same, which seems likely as they look alike, share the same talents, and seem to have the same habits, this opens up several possibilities. Did Holmes encounter Moran once when the Colonel was running a scheme under a false identity, prior to seeing the whole Moriartian big picture?  Or was the name change a sign that the anonymous third-person writer of "The Mazarin Stone" still felt a great fear of Moran, even decades later? (And who was in a position to both write that tale and be very afraid of the very thought of Moran so long after? Billy the page, definitely.)

It's hard to imagine that the police grabbing Silvius/Moran at the climax of "The Mazarin Stone" went off in as civilized a manner as that recounting seems to tell, and one has to wonder if "Silvius" escaped to vex Holmes another day in another country, then returned to London when it was clear Holmes was wandering. His capture at the climax of "The Empty House" seems much more appropriate for the killer shark Holmes knew him to be.

Whoever "Count Negretto Sylvius" actually was, he was definitely the one true shark in Sherlock Holmes's rogues gallery. And one worthy of his own Asylum Films movie with Sherlock as well.

"I rather want to see my shark without his seeing me . . ."
 -- Wise words from Sherlock Holmes

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Using the Press.

"The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it," Sherlock Holmes advised in "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons."

We like to throw quotes around whenever the topic is relevant, here in Sherlock-land. Most times, the spirit of the quoting is a simple, "Hey! Sherlock said something about this topic!" Sometimes, Sherlock's words are to the point regarding the matter at hand. And then sometimes . . . well, sometimes they bear a little more consideration. Which is the case with the quote above.

The context for that line is definitely worth considering, given current trends. Sherlock Holmes spoke those words after delighting in the fact that a newspaper reported that he and Lestrade were in complete agreement that a crime was surely committed by a crazy person, because there was no other sense to it. Which wasn't true.

Sherlock Holmes purposefully let the reporter involved in the case have the wrong facts. And then delights in "using" the Press.

It's a time-honored tradition in police and detective fiction, letting the newspapers print something false in order to lure the criminals into a false sense of security. And it's really just an expansion of Sherlock Holmes not telling his friend Watson everything he's thinking about a case until he is certain of every detail . . . only this time, instead of just not telling Watson, he didn't tell a newspaper reporter.

Yet the line doesn't ring as happily virtuous in a day when both the corrupt and foolish are obviously lying to the press at every turn, just to keep their fan clubs happy.  "Using" the Press . . . or whatever social media outlet communicates with a mass audience most effectively . . .  has become a troubling hobby for trolls of all levels. The Press is a valuable institution -- that is a fact that even its current foes must privately acknowledge, or else they wouldn't be so dead-set on knocking down the segments of it they don't like.

The second part of Holmes's statement, "if you know how to use it," is not just a statement about the technique of using the Press. It also has an implied, unstated meaning . . . that Sherlock Holmes was using it in the good work of the detective in revealing the final truth of the matter at hand. Any weapon or tool doesn't just demand knowledge of how it works. It calls upon us to know what it's real purpose is.

You can hit people on the head with a wrench all day long, but head-smacking isn't what gives the wrench its greatest value. No, that is for the tightening of screwed objects. (No jokes about how we are almost all "screwed objects" these days.) And when Sherlock Holmes said "The Press, Watson, is a valuable institution," he was speaking of its proper purposes as well.

A good many Press outlets were making a public case for their importance to society this week, something that should be a real no-brainer. And yet, apparently, the example of a brain like Sherlock Holmes is something we still need in America.

And giving his words a full consideration now and then is a valuable institution as well.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A rare Sherlockianly satiated state.

There have been moments, in writing a Sherlockian blog, when no topics would come to mind.

And there have been times when so much other Sherlockian writing is going on that the blog gets a back seat and nothing gets written for a while.

This week, however, is the rare convergence of a Sherlockianly satisfied fullness, following the "Holmes in Heartland" weekend, with a deluge of non-Sherlockian occupations. Work projects, a family wedding, a big game expansion release . . . the sort of week when days can go by without a thought of Sherlock Holmes, even sitting in a room filled with books and iconograpy of the man himself.

Yes, there are always times when non-Sherlockian life gets in the way . . . but this week?

This week, all the creative output from the week before combined with all the friends seen over the last week, whatever normal inner urges that drive Sherlockian output, whether they be duty, narcissism, need for connection, or the pure love of Sherlock Holmes . . . all those urges find themselves in a rare satiated state.

Which is bad, because I still want to finish the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt, and the winners are already starting to cross the finish line for that event.

So, for the moment, I find myself obnoxiously blogging about just being satisfied with the Sherlock Holmes part of my life. Except for that one thing. But that's how the cravings always start again, with just the one thing.

Somehow, I doubt that this state will last very long.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Those great Sherlockian friendships

This weekend, "Holmes in the Heartland" brought a curious mix of pleasure and regret when it came to my interactions with other Sherlockians. But it demonstrated something to me that I also think was rather illuminating.

The pleasure: Getting to see some long-time friends and remarkable folk again, whom I hadn't seen in a while.

The regret: Not getting to talk more to some of the remarkable newer friends and fresh acquaintances that were at the event.

A much-beloved old friend has the gravity of a planet . . . you can't help but be pulled into their orbit, and you tend to stay there. This happens time and again, and even just one especially good friend, as happened to me at a Vegas convention once in non-Sherlockian life, can make you miss dozens of opportunities to chat up new acquaintances. It's a fine and happy thing while going on, but as things come to a close, I wind up going "Hey, wait a minute . . ." and realizing what I've missed.

But that's life, you can't do everything. Choices always have to be made, and few choices come without a regret or two.

What I realized this weekend though was a commonality about the best Sherlockian friends I have. And if you've wandered the Sherlockian world and made a few fast friends, you may have noticed it too. And that commonality is this: The best Sherlockian friends you'll ever have are those that travel well.

Think about this for a moment. What is one of the best measures of how good a friend someone is?

To me, it has always been "Can I go on an extended trip with this person?" If you can happily spend the long hours that travel involves with someone, if they don't irritate you or make you want to hide after days of traveling together, you've got a great friend there. And who do you find at Sherlockian weekends that aren't in the town where they live?

Sherlockians who travel well.

Sherlockian weekends have always been where I've met a goodly share of the greatest people I've ever known, and the people you meet at those weekends, again and again, are the same gypsy roadshow of Sherlockians who like to get to everything and are always looking to that next big event. The travelers of Sherlockiana. The ones who are comfortable almost anywhere and with the greatest variety of people. And those folks make some really great friends to have.

Still, I'm not saying those who don't travel as much can't be great people. Lord knows I travel a lot less than some. And fresh faces have to start somewhere. Like I said, I really hated not getting to talk as much to everyone I wanted to chat with in St. Louis this weekend -- some really bright lights down there. But I had this really good excuse . . . so I hope they'll forgive me.

So that was one of my takeaways from this weekend. The best friends are ones you can travel with, and Sherlockian events will bring you great travelers to be friends with.

The world just makes sense sometimes, if you let it.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

That last part of Holmes in the Heartland

Sometimes you just wind up with six people in a car that seats five.

Ain't none of us teenagers any more, but when you need to get from point A to point B in a town that's notoriously short on parking, you do what you have to do. Which was why my car wound up filled past capacity with out-of-towners for the Saturday night banquet at "Holmes in the Heartland."

It was a little like driving a cocktail party around St. Louis, with multiple conversations, one of which always having to be "What's my next turn?" Eventually we wound up on "the Hill" and at Favazza's, where our cocktail party on wheels found the very last possible parking space in the very last possible parking area. Apparently this restaurant is quite popular on a Saturday night, we immediately acknowledged. The door to the banquet room, however, was the first door we came to, so we didn't get to view just how popular, going inside to see the familiar faces we'd seen all day.

Four kinds of appetizers brought 'round on trays and an open wine bar set the meal off to a good start, and the entrees were in enormous portions. The lasagna choice was about the size of two bricks laid side by side, but I tried to be a little bit healthier and went with the eggplant parm and cavatini (the latter of which I had already dived into when the pic below got taken. (Yes, it's the internet, so we must have food pics, for some reason.)



And, no, the salad course didn't come second, I just threw that in after the main for no good reason, other than it was a nice salad. Dinner was followed by a lemon Italian ice and an exotic cookie assortment, which was about right since we were already stuffed. And then the game was afoot!

Literally. We just started playing games. Sherlockian games. The success of this venture, I think, depended upon having at least one game enthusiast at your table, to guide and introduce the play a bit. Our table started with a Sherlockian adaptation of "One Night Werewolf" using cards I made up just that morning.

After a little initial unforeseen confusion (for the purposes of the game, Moriarty and Baron Gruner are not criminals . . . as they weren't, to the general public, when Holmes first encounters them), night fell upon London, nefarious things happened while the players had their eyes closed, and then deductions had to be made when everyone was "awake" once more. After trying to root out criminals who hadn't done their crimes at Moriarty's behest as yet, we converted to classic "Werewolf" or "Mafia" play and started letting the criminals kill a victim each night, and things didn't go so well for Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, or Mrs. Hudson after that.

Next we tried out "Moriarty's Web" for those who have never had that pleasure, and it was literally the shortest and most remarkable game I had ever seen. When we came to our Sherlock Holmes, he was actually about to connect all of the crimes to the clues, then Mrs. Hudson connected Moriarty to the crime/clue chain and GAME OVER!!  It was amazing, and also, a happy result, as Don Hobbs was already trying to pickpocket my car keys to get himself back to the hotel at that point.

Some people just aren't gamers, but a lot were, and if Holmes at the Heartland is in a central hotel next year, rather than scattered options like this year, perhaps a Saturday night pizza and games night for those who are into those things, while the rest head out to a restaurant, might be a fun option. (Personally, I think the old banquet idea is a little played out. More on the "whys" of that in a future blog.)

But it was a fine evening over all, and I was happy when my mobile cocktail party was back in the hotel district and squeezing my car into the last tiny parking space there. Parking was the one constant issue during this whole event, and caused an ironic end to it all for this weekender.

When it came time to sign up for the tour of the Becker Medical Library and afternoon tea, the Sunday portion of the program, I took one look and went "A tour that starts at 9 A.M. on a Sunday? With me enjoying a leisurely hotel morning? No way!" But the parking issues at the Hotel Majestic were so vexing that I was in my car and leaving shortly after 6 AM, just to get my car out of parking purgatory. I wound up hitting Peoria at 9 AM . . . so maybe I could have made it up in time for that tour.

And then, I walked in the front door to find a full-grown bat flying circles in my living room.

DUN-DUN-DUHHHHHHHHN!!!

Holmes in the Heartland Postscript:

Okay, I really want to end on that cliffhanger, but it's not really fair. The good Carter was upstairs and blissfully unaware there was a bat in the house, so instead of a Ricky Ricardo "Honey, I'm home!" she got "THERE'S A BAT IN THE LIVING ROOM!" Her reaction? Dive back in the bedroom and close the door. After some initial failed attempts at netting the creature, just to get my blood pumping, I retreated back out to the car to don my beekeeper's suit and get serious about dealing with Count Dracula. Upon my return, however, he had fortuitously flown into the sun porch, which I quickly shut him it, then slipped in from an outside door, opened up all the outside doors, and waited for him to leave. Which it took him a while to do, as bats are just not smart. But he did, Carter emerged, the cat remained uninvolved . . .  by sheerest chance . . . and all is now well.

All in all, a very memorable weekend. More words to come.