Thursday, March 21, 2019

Sherlock Holmes, electric light in a gaslit world

One thing I've always loved about Sherlock Holmes is the way he changed people's realities.

They'd come to him with a murderous curse, a bizarre society, or some other weird turn their life had taken, and when he left their lives, the world was back to normal.

We know, of course, that Sherlock Holmes didn't really change reality. As much as he might be called a wizard by an amazed client or his faithful companion, Sherlock didn't snap his fingers and alter actual physical forms or change history. No, what he did was much better.

He pulled away the curtain painted with a false reality that someone else wanted his clients to believe. "Gaslighting" is the popular term for it currently, when a narcissistic or otherwise ill-intentioned soul decides to roll out the false truths, manipulating another person to believe something that isn't the case at all, usually for the villain's own personal gain.

Windibank. Stapleton. Clay. Murillo. Gruner. Peters. The list is long, and the malefactors many levels of wicked.

Yet Sherlock Holmes stood next to each of their intended prey and emanated his bright light of reason, vanishing their shadow-play and bringing daylight to their stories. Showing the world as it actually was again.

It's fitting that in a world where gaslights were a literal thing, Sherlock Holmes lit up the world around him like the electric bulbs that would soon make those gaslights a thing of the past. And amazingly, even in a world well over a hundred years down the line, the consulting detective remain a beacon for us, an ideal.

Looking hard for facts to illuminate truths when villains want us to see otherwise. Giving others explanations that someone might be holding back. Seeing justice done at last.

That's all Sherlock Holmes. And one of the main reasons we love him. Worth holding on to these days, as much as in his own.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The sensitive side of John Watson

Yesterday, I was considering the first time we meet John Watson, as he tells Sherlock Holmes that "I object to rows because my nerves were shaken." Then today, on a totally separate quest, I came upon these words, "Again I had an opportunity of asking him a point blank question, and again my delicacy prevented me from forcing another man to confide in me."

John Watson cannot bring himself to ask his room-mate what his occupation is.

Even in Victorian times, this hardly seems like a breech of social protocol, especially if said room-mate is actually conducting business within your shared rooms. And, as always, Watson gives us something about himself that passes muster in the flow of a narrative, but considered by itself brings up real questions.

Was it his delicate manners or his delicacy of health that prevented him from asking? In the modern era, a man who had endured what Watson had might be quickly understood to have suffered some form of post traumatic stress disorder. But even that seems like it might not account for Watson's seeming reluctance to be even so harmlessly assertive with, as he says, so specifically, "another man."

Telling your occupation isn't usually a confidence, unless it's something society usually frowns on. Might Watson have added a red herring or two in that visitor list to prevent his true thoughts about Sherlock Holmes at that time from becoming apparent.

One thing a lot of folks used to the more traditional Sherlockian study might not fully appreciate is the way fan fiction has studied the minds of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and continues to do so. When trying to get a feel for a whole personality, it is fine to call out this characteristic or that, but putting the whole of a person through scenario after scenario, feeling out how they might react in this situation or another . . . well, its almost like the experimental method using the personalities of Holmes and Watson as lab rats in an assortment of mazes.

One can test how well one knows the characters and build upon that knowledge as one writes, going "this seems right," "this doesn't seem right," testing and re-testing with betas and reader comments, moving on to new scenarios based upon what was learned in other fic-scientist's scenarios. One could take a simple sentence, like the one I fixated on above, construct a situation to test Watson's "delicacy" at that point in the relationship, and let scenes play out until one of them hits the mark and shows us true Watson, bringing out potential backstories and feelings behind that line.

As with any Sherlockian scholarship that doesn't involve Conan Doyle and history books, exact, unarguable results are near impossible -- which is why the great game of Sherlockiana has lasted as long as it has. (Much like Ripperology which, with a slightly more solid Canon of evidence, continually produces results just as hazy as anything to do with Sherlock.) The fun is in coming up with your own answers to those unanswerable questions.

And Watson has left us with so many, probably because he was just too "delicate" to be straight with us. (Pun, unintended, but left in like it was.)

Bull pup season

"I keep a bull pup and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the principal ones at present."
-- John H. Watson, A Study in Scarlet

Most of us, thankfully, will never have the list of issues that got John Watson into the state he describes above when he first met Sherlock Holmes. Almost all of us, however, are going to get hit with a cold virus at some point that puts us in a condition much like that which Watson described at that point.

Getting up at all sorts of ungodly hours, extremely lazy from lack of good sleep, and just crabby enough from all of that to object to rows, maybe not because our nerves are shaken, but mainly because in the state a cold can put us in, we're not taking any crap. (Which can actually be a little useful to the less-assertive among us.)

Finding a certain sympathy for early-Baker-Street Watson is, perhaps, the only bright side to being inflicted with a "blah" head cold. It just has to be endured, and one hopes for a capable room-mate who can leave us alone while perhaps staying just interesting enough to distract us from our minor miseries.

I can understand that firearms enthusiasts like to argue that "a bull pup" was somehow a Victorian way of saying "gun," but the idea that Watson would tell a prospective room-mate, "I keep a gun and I object to rows," seems a little counter-productive. I, for one, certainly would not happily agree to room with somebody that threatening at the get-go. If that was the meaning, Sherlock would have surely looked at Stamford and stated simply: "NEXT!"

"I have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the principal ones at present," is a lovely and intriguing statement, and truly one that applies to head cold season as well. One would think Holmes might have asked about those, but he had probably made some deductions about those that he wasn't revealing. ("Gambles on horse races, can't remember if he's married or not at a given moment, drinks a bit.")

But, as with Watson's post-war state, the head-cold too will pass. And then back to our adventures with Sherlock Holmes.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The 221B Con Scramble starts NOW!

Less than three weeks to 221B Con, and the scrambling begins.

Indecision on badge ribbon choices outside of the must-do "Doyle's Rotary Coffin" is down to the wire. The last of the panel assignments seem to be in, and the prep for those ramps up. And then there's always that dream cosplay, whose assembled parts and pieces will need to come together now or never. What else am I not thinking of? That must be addressed as well, and soon.

On the badge ribbon front, it's a mix of how much fun a ribbon statement can be versus "Worth the cost?" The lack of a DVD release of Holmes and Watson has limited access to movie quotes and some of my favorite remembered lines need context ("IT'S NOT WORKING!" "We're American ladies!" "Toilet-sized chunks!"). On the non-Holmes-and-Watson, how hard do I really want to push "Named 'Worst Person In Our Hobby' 2019," which is kind of fun with no context, but is really dwelling on someone else's bad moment. (Stickers might be enough.) And there's always that podcast that I relentlessly don't promote. (Nineteen episodes and it's still a work-in-progress.) One year, I'm going to hit January flush with cash and go badge-ribbon-crazy, as I love those things.

As far as panels go, here's what I'm getting ready for:

Holmes and Watson. Having sat in the theater and watched that movie six times, I've got a lot to say about that movie and my love for it. 221B Con will be my chance to convert my friend Howard Ostrom to the One True Faith with some old-time Holmes and Watson evangelism, and if there was ever a panel to get a bit silly with, this is going to be the one. There may be props.

Sherlock Holmes AUs before there were AUs. "Alternate Universe" fan fiction has been going for a little bit, but how many pastiches, movies, and just-plain wrong adaptations took Sherlock Holmes out of the Canon and place him in an alternate universe before we knew what alternate universe's were? Basil Rathbone fighting those Nazis didn't just happen in Victorian London, nor with a ninety-something Sherlock, but nobody stood up in theaters and went "Alternate Universe!" So it's going to be fun gathering up some of those times and places and get into what made them AUs without an A03 "Alternate Universe" tag.

The Unreal Podcast. Did I mention that I don't promote my podcast? Well, this panel on fictional podcast is going to get into the joys and concerns of why you, too, can and should do a podcast that you don't promote. Joining me will be Mary O'Reilly from the Academicasaurus Podcast,  and since Mary and I first met while holding together a Sherlock Holmes discussion with a crazy man, I can assure you that we can easily fill an hour with some lively talk.

And then there comes the challenge of cosplay, the thing that has fallen off my list for so many cons prior to this. It's going to require a bit of crafting, given that I can find a key item to start with, but I won't bore you with non-details. Canny readers should be able to guess the direction I will be heading, though, if this comes off.

What am I missing? That's the part I have to figure out next. Probably not going to get life-sized Paget Sherlock in the car again this year, as I have to drop a human off in Nashville, and humans take up room. Also, the good Carter will be accompanying me this year, after a couple years off. And there's a cold that I just got and will need the three weeks ahead to shake.

But 221B Con is coming! And there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Canons to remember

Picking up a nearby copy of the Complete for a bit of reference last night, I got a surprise run-in with the past. You truly can't judge a book by its cover, as the cover of this particular book was a pretty common old Barnes and Noble edition.

Nothing fancy or unexpected there. In fact, the copy was so seemingly ordinary that I usually pick up one of the two on either side of it, a favorite Literary Guild complete or a well-worn, hand-noted Doubleday that once belonged to a good friend. As I flipped to the index, however, I got a bit of a surprise. The book was signed. Not by Christopher Morley who wrote the preface, or Conan Doyle, of course. It was much too new. But it was signed by every member of a road trip that the book had been purchased to accompany me on.

The road trip was a grand idea of Don Hobbs, who made a great effort to have it recorded for posterity in those pre-smartphone-video days, and I'm not going to go into describing it here, but the book made me realize what a great Sherlockian souvenir a Canon can be. Just as a family Bible often holds hidden history, a copy of the Sherlock Holmes stories can become a special souvenir in itself -- and one you can use for other purposes. (And maybe other souvenirs.)

I have a couple of other souvenirs from that trip that serve no useful purpose, other than to sit out and take up shelf space, a jar of dirt from Sherlock, Texas and a discarded railroad spike . . .

. . . but I think I like the autographed Canon better. It shares the names of all who were there when it was used, and sparks a few more memories than dirt or metal.

It's often said that books take us places, but returning that favor and taking a book somewhere might pay its own dividends later on . . . and maybe even surprise you. This one caught me as I was just about to plan a trip later in the year, to another place I've never been. And made me think that maybe I should contemplate which Canon I decide to let come with me on that trip.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"The worst person in our hobby"

"His relentlessly mean-spirited, adolescent, and even disturbing posts long ago marked him as the worst person in our hobby."
-- Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, the Facebook feed

Well, it may seem odd to those with greater curiosity than I, but when I see a long comment from someone who plainly doesn't like me, I don't always read the whole thing. A natural protective impulse, of course, and maybe over-protective. So until I was out to lunch today and someone asked me about a bit of online drama from earlier in the week, I hadn't actually read the sentence above. And, WOW!

Someone, it seems, has decided that I'm a veritable Charles Augustus Milverton, the "worst man" of Sherlockiana.

Their preface, "It's been a number of years since SHFD gave up on a specific blogger," tells me that they haven't been following this blog's ongoing journey through Sherlockian life, and that they were plainly sent a link to a particular post by someone in the "LOOK AT WHAT HE WROTE!" club. I've had a lot of non-readers over the years who get passed a single post, and they are invariably the most incensed, coming at the words with an already-established preparation for furor. And limited information is always the best way to demonize another human being. So I kind of understand how they came to this place. I'm easy to disagree with, and if you ignore everything about me but a few select opinions, I am horrible.

But "the worst person in our hobby?"

I mean, that's a wee bit extreme. Instead of arguing any of my points, which are well able to be debated, they went straight for, not the jugular, but to elevating my very being to the pinnacle of bad Sherlocking. And seemed to say that I've held that post for a very long time, unbeknownst to me.

And that, that sort of reverse superlative demands a response, a response which I did not make on Sunday when I only glimpsed the last lines of the diatribe, since I didn't see it. And, truly, there is only one proper response to that statement:


A comment so extreme is going to have a few possible effects. One might be to drive someone from Sherlockiana never to return. Another? Weelllllll, it could be that, having been cast in such a role, left with no obvious path to redemption, and no way to lower the opinion of an authority so important as Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, a person might feel that certain restraints had been lifted. And that one could freely be expected to behave as, indeed, the worst person in our hobby.

So if I embrace this new title of "the worst person in our hobby," it could mean a real perspective enhancement. Because if I'm the worst person in our hobby? The rest of you guys are pretty special, and I will need to be sure to treat you as such. Good on you, you beautiful mother-Sherlockers.

But while we're at it, what are the outer limits of "our hobby" these days? I need to get a better idea of my new domain. Some of us might have a broader definition of that term than others, so while one might be the worst person in a very small pond, maybe they're not so bad for those who see the larger "ocean" view of the hobby. I mean, I'd hate to start making claims and run into the guy who is actually the worst person in our hobby. He might want to fight or something, and yikes!

I just don't know. It's just a lot to digest when you suddenly discover such a statement has been made about you. And it really makes me wish I could afford to attend a few more Sherlockian weekend events out there this year, just to remind people I'm still the same clumsily pleasant fellow they knew back when. But, hey, when you're the worst person in the hobby, you just don't get to as many events as the better Sherlockians. (Hey, I think I'm discovering side benefits to this title -- catch-all excuse!)

But really, my biggest takeaway from this whole debacle is that we all have to continue to try just a little bit harder in such fractious times. Not to be sure to make everybody happy by being as non-controversial as possible, but to continue to try harder to express the potentially disruptive ideas clearly. (Yes, "Nazis," obviously a trigger word, even in a seemingly fitting context. I should know that by now.) The ad hominem attack favored by the propaganda outlets remains a problem we all may have to deal with at some point in a disagreement -- it's just too easy. Sometimes you just have to take the hit and move on. And best of all, as with all Sherlockiana, just try to have a little fun with it.

"Worst person in our hobby."  Thanks, Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, whoever you are these days. Here's a little outro music for you. I'll save a karaoke number for you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Age of the Monstrous Book

Lately I've been reading a book that I can't yet properly review, European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss. It's a lovely book with Sherlock Holmes in it, like its predecessor, The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter. But I'm only about a quarter of the way into it, which is still a goodly distance, as the book is a hefty 708 pages.

Goss's incarnation of Irene Adler has recently showed up in my reading, and I'm loving her depiction, as with all of the book's characters. The Athena Club books have a charm that was lacking in Alan Moore's shock-jock Victoriana of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and I don't begrudge it the pleasant pace of its ensemble cast ramble. But the sheer heft of picking up the book makes one consider what brought us to this point.

Sure, super-popular authors like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling have been allowed to take books to extreme lengths in the past by their publishers. But I think the digital age is leading us to a place where massive tomes are not all that unusual. If the writers want to go for it, and a large share of readers are buying the book to read on their smartphone or tablet, where weight isn't an issue, size doesn't really matter as much as it once might have. And no one is going to complain of getting to see too much of favorite characters. Some of the massive ongoing fanfics out there amply demonstrate that.

Ross Davies' Baker Street Almanac is demonstrating that the big, fat book isn't just limited to the fiction shelves, though its PDF is a whopper that your device might groan under the weight of, if such things could groan. As the government and tech industry discovered with gigantic manuals, ink-and-paper isn't always the most cost-efficient means of getting the words out, but there are still enough book lovers out there that some things will always need to get that classic treatment.

And that means some of us will be wandering the house, strengthening our wrists as we read in the early morning hours . . . which is, at least, some exercise for a devoted bookworm.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hug A Holmesian Day, 2019

Well, here we are, Hug A Holmesian Day, 2019! Caught me by surprise this year, but I'm always glad to see it come around. March 11th is quickly becoming my favorite day of the Sherlockian year, since the holiday's inception.

On this special day, we honor the great huggers of the Canon, good and bad, who remind us just how important hugs are.

  • Alexander Holder, who hugged the recovered stones from the Beryl Coronet to his bosom, helping us to treasure our friends, those gems who crown our lives.
  • Hall Pycroft, hugging himself over his new five-hundred-a-year position, reminding us that our full potential awaits, and should be embraced with gusto.
  • Black Gorgiano, the Krampus of Hug A Holmesian Day, who hugged Emilia Lucca with a bear-like embrace, showing us plainly that the #MeToo movement should have started long ago, and that non-consentual hugs can get you stabbed, really hard.

Sometimes we might overlook the hugs of the Sherlockian Canon, as Doyle and Watson preferred to write about "huge" things -- so many huge things! But the hugs are there, whether in the silent "h" hug-boys Hugh Boone and Hugh Pattins, or the uggo huggos:  Hug-o Baskerville, Hug-o de Capas, Hug-o Oberstein (or is it "Oberstain?" Curse you, Mandela effect!"), or the Norman Hug-os.

Hug seedlings planted in the original Canon have grown and flowered over the years, to bloom in the Sherlock of the day, where, sure, a lot of the hugs are naked hugs, but still, hugs!

So if you can find a Holmesian (or a Sherlockian, as like St. Patrick's Day and being Irish, we're all Holmesians on Hug A Holmesian Day. Just be sure not to be a Gorgiano or bad Hug-o and get that all-important consent first, even if you're pulling a Hall Pycroft and just hugging yourself.

You've got a few hours left, so have a happy Hug A Holmesian Day, everybody!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The pies were nice.

I spent my afternoon making pies. It was an easy day, with little on the agenda, so I got a little creative with one recipe, tried something else new (apple with cinnamon roll crust), and stuck to a couple of old favorites. My key lime is excellent.

What does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Nothing, and for that, I apologize. I try not to go too many posts without writing about the man himself, or something else drawn from his Canon, but this week . . . ah, this week, I broke my own rules. Partly because I've been writing about Sherlock for another purpose that will eventually see daylight, partly because it was a very involved week at the job, and I was just seeing what spilled out at the keyboard.

So, pies. Had all my pies done and set to take them to a nice family dinner with some of the best humans I know, and I finally got around to checking Twitter, where it seemed, I had become the topic of discussion. And we all know that's not usually a good thing. If people have to discuss you, well, somebody out there probably isn't happy about something.

I suspect that over the course of my Sherlockian life, I've had more people angry with me than any other part of my existence. In the real world, as one might call one's daily existence, people do take offense upon occasion . . . but we work it out, have a laugh, and know that we all mean well. It's this distance between us in our fan lives that catches us. That and the fact that Sherlock Holmes, and all the culture around him, becomes a part of our identity. Which makes us vulnerable, susceptible to getting a bit hurt.

So, when one comes off a nice afternoon of pie-baking, and finds a fellow Sherlockian suggesting that one is mentally ill and needs friends to step in, simply for having a different perspective, well, one has to assume that someone felt a little bit hurt by something one said. Which hurts in turn, as no one wants to see other people hurting from words that weren't intended to sting . . . just explore some ideas. It makes a writer feel like the writing didn't quite work the way it was supposed to, as well.

But we all come to the Sherlockian dance with our own history, our own biases, and our own reasons to get angry at what our own eyes see as an attack on something or someone we hold dear. We just might want to try to control our tempers a bit, when the red haze starts moving in, just in case what we saw wasn't really intended in the manner in which we took it.

So, not the best day to be yours truly on the old Sherlockian Twitter (didn't engage any of it on Facebook, which I keep pretty pared down). Thanks to everyone who took the time to ponder the matter or send a kindly thought.

The pies did turn out really well, too.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Letting the new show you its stuff.

I miss Holmes and Watson.

This weekend the latest much anticipated Marvel movie came out, and I saw it and enjoyed it a whole lot. But even with that buzz going, hearing a bit of soundtrack movie from January's Sherlockian cinema of dispute set me wondering when its DVD was going to be available. I truly don't think a lot of folks understood how much I just loved that movie. It might even be my favorite Sherlock Holmes movie of all.

Which brings me back to Captain Marvel, that latest superhero blockbuster. There's a moment in it, without giving away any spoilers, where one character tells another something like, "You haven't truly won until you beat me the way I say you should beat me!"

It's one of my two favorite moments of the movie (the other involving a cat), because it's demonstrating that perpetual old-guard tactic that gets thrown out to help them retain power against the new and different. "You shouldn't just protest the system, you should politely and respectfully work within the old system to get what you want." Which is great if you're a part of that old system and don't want any waves from the new kids.

We saw a bit of that sort of thing a lot as Sherlock Holmes fandom saw a new wave of Sherlockians deciding to make their own fun. How often did we hear "We should welcome them to our banquets!" more often than "We should go see what their ways of celebrating Sherlock are!" It wasn't done with any malice, just that age-old notion that the familiar ways are the best ways, and that if the new kids could do things like we always did, they'd have the fun we had.

Except they're not us. Heck, we aren't even us anymore. Becoming a Sherlockian in the 2000s isn't quite the same as becoming a Sherlockian in the 1980s. We didn't have Will Ferrell in the 1980s, we had Jeremy Brett. (And despite what it may seem like at times, not all of us were that fond of Brett's Holmes.) We had the post office instead of the internet. And Sherlockians who were interacting and creating outside the scion society system? Not all that many.

221B Con is coming up in less than a month, and often I'll hear an old-school Sherlockian who discovers it think it needs a banquet, or more Victorian history presentations, or something else that the old style of Sherlockian symposiums do just fine. But 221B Con's strength has always been that it's bringing a new style to the table. It's variety brings attendees that may be only mildly interested in Sherlock, but see enough other things of interest to come in and give it a try -- and those are potential new Sherlockians who would never attend a flat-out all-Sherlock symposium. But at 221B Con, they have a chance to sample, enjoy a little Sherlock with a more familiar con experience,

The team who created 221B Con could not have done what they did if they started as investitured B.S.I. or folks who had otherwise been indoctrinated into the old ways. We got something delightful and new because they did it their way, and even as more traditional Sherlockians start to come on board, it remains a fresh influence on our Sherlockian culture.

Just like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly's Holmes and Watson, the DVD of which comes out the day I get home from 221B Con.

2019 is looking like a great Sherlockian year.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A hand-picked Sherlockian society

Let's be a bit controversial today.

If you pay attention to the political world at all, you might have heard a bit about the current administration and its party attempting to get as many young ideologues into judge roles as possible while they have the power. Nothing to do with Sherlockiana, though we do have a few judges within our ranks. But that sort of move does shine a certain light on a practice within our own hobby that's been cheerily going on since the last century.

The last head of America's main Sherlockian group retired from the role this year, after a term of over twenty-five years. And in that very lengthy term, he was the final judge of just who got to be a member of that august society. At eight or ten new members a year, that means the current membership roster of the group was largely chosen by that single individual. Well over two hundred members, at the very least.

We all have friends within those two hundred plus folks, and we do know a lot of nice sorts there, as we do in the Sherlockian population as a whole. So it's easy to ignore that gatekeeping bottleneck aspect of the society, and, heck, it's been nearly thirty years since it was used to keep women out, so we're all fine, aren't we?

Unless you're that one fellow who had an untrue rumor whispered into the ear of the guy in charge, and you suddenly aren't getting an invitation. Or maybe that single individual doesn't like the color purple, and you just love wearing purple. Keeping out an entire demographic is a fairly obvious-to-all sort of thing people notice. Nit-picking a single individual out of ever joining can be easily hidden among the "so many deserving that not everyone can get in."

John Bennett Shaw used to proudly tell of getting two people black-balled from the BSI as "one was a son of a bitch and one was a Nazi," or something like that. Many a Midwesterner of the Baby Boomer generation remembers the Nazi, and Shaw, as ever, might well have been justified in telling the head guy of that time about his concerns. How bad a son of a bitch the other guy was, it's hard to say, as a son of a bitch or two still made it into the group in olden times. As with marriage, some people behave differently before and after the ring is on their finger. (And if anyone wants to point at this writer with regard to that statement, feel free.)

The point is, the membership mechanism of America's main Sherlockian society could probably use a little daylight and a little more democratic process at some point. The "benevolent dictatorship" thing is all well and good until someone not so benevolent sneaks in, perhaps cozying up to some aged and feeble predecessor to get the nod before letting their full agenda to be know.  And if one can pack the membership with hand-picked members for twenty-five years, maybe that agenda doesn't even have to be a secret. Pull in enough secret Nazis over that period, and you've got a club that can go full Nazi eventually.

We live in a time when people are starting to look closely at what our future will hold, and how we can deal with changes that will come whether we like them or not. Is it a time for looking clearly and directly at some of the old things of Sherlockiana as well?

Just a thought.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Don't talk to me about the "olds!"

Man, you know these inter-social media-webs, and the ruckus that goes on there.

I catch a lot of it on the periphery, and don't dive in too deep to these things, because, man, there are some real troubles afoot and none of them actually have to do with Sherlock Holmes. But every now and then, a topic comes up that really cranks my tail-spine, y'know, and I just have to say a few words about it.


I hear there is some ruckus about the "youngs" of fandom not appreciating the "olds," and kind thinking they get in the way. Well, as you probably know, I'm one of those and I have some opinions.

The olds really are a pain to us youngs. I mean, how many times do I have to hear Vinnie effin' Starrett going on about how the world is going to explode and just Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson will be the only ones left? We had better hope they're gay, because otherwise, the nights are going to get a little cold on those fragments of London left floating in space. Vincent Starrett, you're a hundred and thirty-one years old! Give it a rest with your apocalyptic tales of our fandom's demise!

Sherlock Holmes fandom has SUCH freakin' old people in it!

Christopher Morley . . . a hundred and eighteen years old and still making people WALK to some kind of NYC oyster bar in the middle of winter! HEY CHRIS! Jimmy Buffet is seventy-one and you know what he gets people to do? EAT CHEESEBURGERS IN PARADISE!!! PARADISE!! Arriving in tropical ports and not smoking Havanas, eating bananas, or drinking daiquiris! Eating cheeseburgers! In paradise!

Oh, and it gets worse.

Our fandom's old people are so durned old that the crossover fanfic has Solomon, Socrates, and Confucius with Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I'm talking about you, Bangs. One hundred and fifty-six years old and using a hair-style your forehead could not even produce as your fanfic pseudonym! (Though I guess "John Kendrick Skinhead" would not have aged well at all.)

And yes, I'm leaving the old ladies of fandom out of this, because they can be just MEAN. If you don't like their opinions, they'll put them in books and title the books Unpopular Opinions, just to get a dig at you for not liking their opinions.

Our olds never seem to go away. It's almost like Sherlockiana is keeping them alive with blood transfusions from the immortal Sherlock Holmes himself! (Wait . . . is that a master vampire thing? I might want to get in on some of that action eventually. I should probably quit kav. . . )

Never mind. Going back to the periphery now. Let's just keep this post between us.

Friday, March 1, 2019

What's the deal with Lestrade?

Discussing a story with our regular crew at Peoria Library's Sherlock Holmes Story Society is always a mentally profitable venture for me, and our latest outing, on "Norwood Builder," gave me a new appreciation for that often-overlooked, but completely brilliant tale.

Before the gathering, I had theorized about the tale giving us a secret return of Moriarty, who could have been responsible for Oldacre's crazed plan, but not Oldacre screwing it up by trying to add a detail Oldacre himself forgot, late in the game. But then we got to talking about it, and I got a hard look at Lestrade.

"Norwood Builder" flows so wonderfully as a story because Sherlock Holmes has a roller coaster of a trajectory in this investigation. He's up, he's down, he's up again . . . and Lestrade! Lestrade is acting like this is the chance of a lifetime to finally get one over on Sherlock.

"It is Lestrade's little cock-a-doodle of victory," Holmes says bitterly at one point in the story, after the Scotland Yard inspector sends a telegram saying "Important fresh evidence to hand. McFarlane's guilt definitely established. Advise you to abandon case."

It's a bold move for Lestrade, very different from the guy in A Study in Scarlet who wanted Holmes's view, but didn't seem 100% sure of the consulting detective's results. No, the Lestrade of "Norwood Builder" knows full well that Holmes is the man to beat, having been made Strand Magazine famous by John Watson. And Lestrade is going for it.

But, as we know will happen, and does so enjoyably in this tale, Sherlock Holmes vindicates himself gloriously. Lestrade's response? When the missing Oldacre is firmly in hand, Lestrade tells the constables to take the old man downstairs, and once the other policemen are gone, he says this:

"I could not speak before the constables, but I don't mind saying in the presence of Dr. Watson, that this is the brightest thing that you have done yet, though it is a mystery to me how you did it. You have saved an innocent man's life, and you have prevented a very grave scandal, which would have ruined my reputation in the Force."

Just how great is Lestrade's reputation with his fellow policemen in 1894? Do most of them even know Holmes is back, and whatever esteeem they had built up for Lestrade during Holmes's hiatus from London was going to take a solid blow? Lestrade's act of sending those other cops away before speaking his mind is a very telling detail, and one that there has to be plenty of story behind.

The relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Scotland Yard's most Holmes-friendly inspector definitely evolved over time, but the place we find it in "Norwood Builder" is perhaps the most fascinating point of all, and one more mark of this tale's distinction.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Nor bury, nor wood.

The introduction to "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" is a little different. Remember the start of "A Scandal in Bohemia," when Dr. Watson goes on and on about Irene Adler, a remarkable character we'll meet in that story?  We get very used to all the introductions where Watson goes on and on about Sherlock Holmes later in the series, but Irene was first. Irene was special.

And outside of Sherlock Holmes, we don't get a Watsonian emphasis on anyone other than Irene at the start of a story, as the word limit of these short stories demands such a start means said person needs to be a very important part of that story. Which brings us back to "Norwood Builder."

In the opening to "Norwood Builder," we learn more about Professor Moriarty than any other story outside of "The Final Problem" and The Valley of Fear, both of which directly involved Moriarty's plottings and Holmes dealing with him.

"Petty thefts, wanton assaults, purposeless outrage -- to the man who held the clue, all could be worked into one connected whole."

"The faintest indication." "The smallest trace." Sherlock Holmes speaks of how subtle Moriarty could be in his machinations. That "purposeless outrage" as a tool of the criminal mind is something we're all becoming more aware of now, in 2019, but Moriarty was a century ahead of his time even in that. And while it was Sherlock Holmes who tells us the most about Moriarty in "The Norwood Builder," it is Watson who decided those words needed to be in the beginning of the tale, even though it is completely unrelated to John Hector McFarlane showing up out of the blue.

So why Moriarty? Did Watson just want to use Moriarty's name to gin up interest in a mediocre story to follow? Except "Norwood Builder" isn't exactly a mediocre story. It's a tale of . . .  [Okay, serious question . . . do we even do spoiler alerts at this point? Or do we just decide the freshness date of a given reveal and decide for ourselves? Anyway, back to Norwood.] it's a tale of a man who fakes his own death.

Let's repeat that, since I went off on that tangent: "Norwood Builder," which begins with the rare praise of Moriarty's remarkable abilities, is a tale of a man who fakes his own death.

Professor Moriarty is well known to be dead, thanks to John H. Watson and The Strand Magazine. And, according to Watson, when Holmes brings up London being more interesting with Moriarty around, the British public would much rather Moriarty remain dead.  If a man like Moriarty turned out to have faked his own death, and Sherlock Holmes could remove him from play a second time without the public's knowledge . . . and subsequent mistrust of any fact from Watson, Scotland Yard, or the public press . . . might Holmes not just go ahead and quietly remove the professor a second time?

Curious thing isn't it? Makes one wonder. Needs a little discussion.

Luckily, the Sherlock Holmes Story Society is having its monthly meeting at the North Branch Peoria Library tomorrow night at 6:30, and the story under discussion? "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder."

Podcast time!

I always blog a little less when a certain Peoria-based podcast is being produced. It's one more of those little points that always raising the question, why do so many people feel the need to do a podcast? There are an insane number of podcasts out there, all sharing the limited ear-time of the limited number of folks who have decided podcasts are a thing to listen to.

People have many motives for doing podcasts, but most probably also do it for one very basic reason: It's a broadcast medium that isn't hard to gain entry to. You don't have to join a network, be photogenic, have massive resources, or even that much skill. You don't have to be a talented writer if you've got a little personality or depth of thought. And the range of possibilities for podcasting is so very wide open.

I was really hit hard by this yesterday as I listened to Ron Burgundy talking to Deepak Choprah on a podcast. The former, if you don't know him, is a fictional news anchorman that Will Ferrell loves portraying at any given opportunity. The latter is a real person. So when an actor well known for playing Sherlock Holmes (at least this January) started crossing that fictional/factual line, my immediate thought was, of course, "Why doesn't Sherlock Holmes have a podcast?"

I was told there is fanfic of Sherlock being a podcaster, but like Barbie, fanfic Sherlock seems to do every job. I want to hear the actual voice of Sherlock Holmes doing an ongoing podcast, commenting on the world, interviewing real people, coming out on a regular basis that one can listen to like morning radio. (Which is how I take in most of my podcasts.)

Think about this: whoever played Sherlock Holmes on a podcast, as with radio, doesn't even have to look like him. Just get the voice close. (And if the accent on recent Sherlock or three is any indication, not even get the accent right for American audiences.)

The hardest thing about Sherlock Holmes doing a podcast would be for the producers to keep the cleverness level up, because a dullard Sherlock would be just . . . well, we've seen enough dullard Sherlocks trying to solve mysteries in pastiches over the years, and the first rule for any Sherlock Holmes is that he has to seem smarter than the reader/listener. And even faking smart can be a very hard thing for some. (Insert political comment here.)

But now that I've had the thought of Sherlock Holmes doing a podcast, and seen that the likes of Ron Burgundy can do it, I have a new item on my Christmas/bucket/wish list: I really want to hear Sherlock Holmes podcasting. It's way beyond my own meager podcast skillset, but surely someone out there has the skills to pull it off.

And I hope they do.

P.S. I hope John Watson is on the podcast, too!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Conan Doyle, as a baby boomer and science denier?

Here's a question that treads upon all sorts of dangerous ground: If Conan Doyle were alive today, would he be a celebrity anti-vaxxer? How would he feel about climate change?

The answers are impossible to make with any certainty. T'were Conan Doyle born in 1959 instead of 1859, and a Baby Boomer at that, he would not have come out nearly the same man he was back in the day. The whaling adventures would have been off his resume, and his medical training would have been a very different thing. We would hope he would still be a doctor and writer, and not a child who succumbed to watching Gilligan's Island incessantly at a young age.

So why do I pose this question?

In looking for some entirely different information, I came upon a couple of lines from Doyle at the end of the sixth chapter of Daniel Stashower's Teller of Tales:

"For what is science? Science is the consensus of opinion of scientific men, and history has shown it to be slow to accept a truth. Science sneered at Newton for twenty years. Science proved mathematically that an iron ship could not swim, and science declared that a steamship could not cross the Atlantic."

Admittedly, these are the words of a narrator whose sole purpose is to convey a certain feeling in the reader at the story's end, empowering the mystic threats of faraway lands. They are the words of a character Conan Doyle created, just like John Watson, Charles Augustus Milverton, etc., and as Conan Doyle himself wrote in "To An Undiscerning Critic," "The doll and its maker are never identical."

But as Stashower used those lines to lead into the subject of Doyle's transition to spiritualist beliefs, that context does leave one to wonder.  But there are a great many aspects to Conan Doyle's personality that make one wonder what he would be like as a contemporary. Leaving spiritualism and fairies behind,  trying to guess what form Conan Doyle's socially active nature would take, what causes he would champion, what investments he would have poured his profits into . . . this was not an easy man to predict, even in his own time.

A Conan Doyle born in 1989 would be far different from even the same man born in 1959, and a Conan Doyle who could take selfies by age eight? Who knows where that kid would be headed?

It makes interesting dinner conversation, if nothing more. Each of us can only attempt to live our best lives in the era we're born into, and we have to trust that Conan Doyle did that very thing. The celebrity gossip machines of our current era, however, would surely have love that guy whichever direction he went.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

"Holmes and Watson" wins a "Lazzie" award

Walp, it's awards weekend, and bad comedy is in full bloom. Whether it's the badly-read cue card jokes of Oscar presenters or the announcement of the Golden Raspberry awards by some ex-UCLA film students. And the latter, known as the "Razzies," for short have targeted our friends Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson this year.

More specifically, the Razzies named the Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly comedy Holmes and Watson as their "Worst Picture of the Year," along with calling John C. Reilly "Worst Supporting Actor," director Etan Cohen "Worst Director," and giving the movie "Worst Remake, Rip-off, or Sequel."  The only reason Will Ferrell probably didn't get the win for "Worst Actor" was that he was up against Donald Trump, and Trump-hatred understandably trumps everything right now, even in parody awards.

Some Sherlockians will surely agree with the Razzies, but some Sherlockians don't go to the movies all that often, and don't really have a complete view of what movies appeared in theaters throughout all of 2018. To say that Holmes and Watson, a to-your-tastes comedy that only showed up in the last six days of 2018, was the worst movie of that entire year is plainly a symptom of either no long-term memory, strong anti-Ferrell bias, or both. 2018 had some really awful movies in it.

Looking at various top ten "worst" lists for the year, one sees some very different results. WatchMojo gave Sherlock Gnomes a dishonourable mention, but ignored Holmes and Watson. The Rolling Stone completely ignored both Sherlockian movies and only put one comedy on its list, The Happytime Murders, which made a lot of lists, and actually made this Sherlockian walk out of the theater for sheer boredom and the chance to spend the remaining minutes doing something more entertaining like shopping for groceries. Time ignored Holmes and Watson. CBS News placed Sherlock Gnomes at 29th worst movie of 2018 in a list of sixty-one bad movies that didn't include Holmes and Watson. And IMDB even made Sherlock Gnomes its 19th worst movie of 2018 in its list of ONE HUNDRED MOVIES, and ignored Holmes and Watson.

The Golden Raspberry people plainly jumped on an internet bandwagon at year end, as they attempted to come up with the most click-baitable nominations to get attention, rather than fully considering the year's full menu of bad films. If one were to hand out a "Lazzie" award for laziness in award-giving, they would surely be nominated.

All this does bring up a burning Sherlockian question, however, once one considers such 2018 classics of badness like Uncle Drew, Gotti, and A-X-L: Was Sherlock Gnomes quietly the actual worst Sherlock Holmes film of 2018, overcome by the volume of the Holmes and Watson lynch mobs? I certainly don't think I could have sat through it six times in a few weeks and had as joyous a time as I did with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. (And, just so I don't miss this point: Calling an American treasure like John C. Reilly "worst anything" is just sheer foolishness.)

Still, any year with two theatrically-released Sherlock Holmes movies in it is still a banner year for Sherlock Holmes fans, no matter what the final judgment on those films winds up being. And for that, I'll give 2018 Sherlockian cinema a big thumbs-up.

The Sherlock Holmes part of your identity

There's a viral sort of ailment that has reached epidemic proportions of late, and interestingly, one that Sherlockians have carried longer than almost anyone. It's there in the word "Sherlockian," so we can't even come close to denying it. The ailment? Attaching one's self to a product or other commercial entity so closely that it becomes a part of one's identity.

Okay, okay, one immediate argument against that statement would be "but Sherlock Holmes is not a commercial entity, he's a literary one." If one happened to save the receipts on all the money one spent based on one's love of Holmes last year, that defense goes right out the window. And Conan Doyle got paid, The Strand Magazine got paid, even Columbia Pictures and the other producers of that beloved film Holmes and Watson got paid . . . something.

But what's the harm in letting such things become a part of one's identity? Hobbies bring us pleasure, right? And fandoms bring us community, right? Good things!

The danger comes when one cedes any part of one's identity to an entity completely outside one's control. Take the fanboy attacks on any major film franchise that goes a direction said fanboy doesn't like. It isn't just that our example fanboy didn't like the turn a new movie in his fave franchise took. It's that the turn involved felt like an attack on his identity, that part of him built around the tropes and original elements of an earlier part of that work. And out comes that crazy-looking rage and ridiculous statements like "They ruined my childhood!" or "Anyone who likes this isn't a valid human being!"

When the battle over character rights started freeing up Sherlock Holmes, many a Sherlockian felt a sense of relief for just this reason. No corporate entity would have the potential to command Sherlock's story to their choosing. Yet even at that point, Sherlockians had developed a certain immunity toward the pains that come when one makes an external creation a part of one's identity. So many Sherlocks have come and gone over the last century or so that no single Sherlock Holmes, not even the one in Doyle's sixty stories, commands complete control over what any of us feels Sherlock Holmes is. Ideally, we can headcanon Sherlock all day long and not feel too threatened by any other variation, because we should have been inoculated by a thousand other Sherlocks over time.

But that's not always the case.

Newer Sherlockians may not immediately have this immunity. Season four of BBC Sherlock hit hard because, despite all of fanfic's beautiful variety, it was a painful hit to versions of Sherlock internalized from previous seasons. Older Sherlockians aren't automatically immune either -- and often the worst ragers of all when a new Holmes dents the view of Sherlock Holmes they've made a part of their identity. (Have I lost my anti-Elementary reputation yet? Surely not, because I still could go off at any minute, even though the therapy seems to be working.) Any time a person confines themselves to a strict diet of one kind of Sherlock over the years, or even just a personal views that they've built up over time, they are also going to feel very vulnerable when Sherlock Holmes starts doing something he never did in their identity-221B.

The slogan "All Sherlock is good Sherlock" might seem a little naive at first, but at least attempting it as a credo is like getting an annual flu shot so your body can adjust itself to viruses it might encounter down the line, so you don't spike a fever of outrage when an unexpected and unwanted Sherlock comes along. You can go into a little quarantine group of folks who adhere to exactly your identity's Sherlock Holmes and try to hold out as long as you can, tucked away from the world, but that just does not seem like a healthy strategy. Eventually, we all have to leave the house.

Because there are some really good Sherlock Holmes bits out there. Really good. Good enough that we can't help making them a part of our inner and outer lives. We just have to be prepared for the inevitable infection of those other Sherlocks, Sherlocks we might be allergic to, and the carriers of those Sherlocks, who could be pretty nice people.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Starting with The Sign of the Four

You'll have to forgive me as I blunder through this particular blog post. The subjects involved just make me a little stupid with their looks, a failing many of us have.

We come to Sherlock Holmes via many different doors. And this week, a Sherlockian of note pointed out another one, even though his focus was on something fascinatingly non-Sherlock, yet totally a part of what made Sherlock Holmes what he was.

I'm speaking, of course, of the second episode of Mattias Boström's podcast Talk About Sherlock. I'll let you discover the fresh insights Mattias has to offer on your own, but suffice it to say that it sent me digging through my own little collection of ancient volumes, looking at title pages, dates, etc. with new eyes. One particular little volume I'd forgotten about caught my attention, a pretty little edition of Sign of the Four, as the cover reads.

Which, it turns out, wasn't even the edition I wanted to write about. But I have to show you anyway, so you can see how this might not be my best attempt at writing a blog. Anyway, there was this other attractive little number.

Inside the front cover is Mrs. W. Miller's name, along with some initials, and a date of Xmas '94.

After listening to Talk About Sherlock, I came to muse upon how many Americans may have actually started their reading of the Sherlockian Canon with The Sign of the Four and not A Study in Scarlet or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. There was that period of time, in the early nineties, when one was very apt to just discover that single book, The Sign of the Four, without realizing that Sherlock Holmes had already appeared in another novel, or that short stories of the detective were being published in periodicals. Matching sets of Sherlock Holmes books were not as common as they would later become, and the character Sherlock Holmes? A fellow in "a" book, to so many who encountered him. Yes, Mrs. W. Miller's book was given to her in 1894, after Holmes was starting to bloom and boom, but could Mrs. W. Miller have been one of those folks who came to Sherlock as a character in The Sign of the Four first?

To my mind she had to be.

But, as with all minds, we are often given to cherished non-proven theories before all the facts are in, and, apparently, I once organized my books by title. A little further into my library dig I discovered this:

What? Had Mrs. W. Miller been given a set of Holmes books in 1894 after all? Well, not entirely ...

It looks like A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four were a "couples" gift. Mr. W. Miller got the first book of Holmes, while Mrs. W. Miller got the second. Since I probably picked up both books at the same place, the chance that they were split up in a divorce settlement isn't very likely.  But did the Millers know that there was an order to the books? Or did they sit down one evening a couple days after "Xmas" and each start reading their own gift ... in which case Mrs. Miller did read The Sign of the Four first. And what an interesting conversation that would have been between the Millers, with one meeting Holmes in STUD and one meeting him in SIGN, simultaneously. I'd have loved to be a fly on that wall, back in the day before anyone's knee-jerk reaction was to scream "SPOILERS!" and shut down a conversation to protect their own novel virginity.

It's hard to imagine just what encountering Sherlock Holmes was truly like in the early 1890s, but I'm very appreciative of Mattias Boström's latest musings upon Holmes and the lights it shined on that era. Now I finally understand why I have this stack of what I thought was a minor Doyle novel called Micah Clarke. (If a keen eye spots the Longmans in the stack, that's something like the eleventh edition from the four years following 1889.)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Tiger-men of the Canon

It would seem that Victorian London . . . and maybe the world . . . was once populated by tiger-men.

One need only look to the evidences of the Watsonian record to see that it must be so. San Pedro had a tiger of a man ruling it for twelve hard years. A ferocious youth named Tiger Cormac prowled the mining country of Pennsylvania. Yet less obvious are those fellows with the tiger-spring in their legs. Jack McMurdo, Philip Green, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

That later set of tiger-men serve the side of good, and at least two of them bring out their tiger-springs due to caring for a woman. The other for the love of a friend, and also for justice, as do all three, really. The latter of those tiger-man even uses his tiger ability to take down another whom he recognizes as a tiger-man . . . perhaps a case of the younger, stronger cat taking down an old rival.

"The empty house is my tree and you are my tiger," Sherlock Holmes said to Sebastian Moran after leaping upon him like a tiger himself. Moran is a known killer of tigers, it is true, but we see the tiger-man metaphor used so much in the Canon of Holmes that one has to wonder if Moran's prey weren't fully bestial at all. When he's caught in "The Empty House," he's stalked and killed at least one two-legged prey and is attempting to take down another.

John Watson, whose military career met setback after setback in the land of tigers seemed to connect himself more with the tiger cub than the fully grown version of the beast, and when Sherlock Holmes quotes "There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub . . ." one must wonder if he is musing upon Watson's departure from Baker Street. The second part of the quote, ". . . and danger also for whoso snatches delusion from a woman," might be Holmes cautioning himself against revealing some truth to the woman who took Watson from Baker Street, and nothing to do with Miss Mary Sutherland at all.

Watson is well aware of the tiger-men of England, as he lets on in his write-up of their night-time vigil in "The Adventure of Black Peter."

"What savage creature what is which might steal upon us out of the darkness? Was it a fierce tiger of crime, which could only be taken fighting hard with flashing fang and claw . . . ."

Does Watson see himself with those fangs and claws, or is it his companion, the man he has already spoken of as a tiger, knowing that Sherlock Holmes is the alpha tiger in whatever may come?

The use of men described as tigers in the Canon of Holmes happens enough that it is no mere happenstance. And the tiger-man who appears most often is easy to see -- he's the star of the show, as such a tiger should be. It makes for an interesting meditation, as we don't see nearly so many of that sort these days. Being a tiger-man probably isn't the most conducive thing to having tiger-babies, as a quick survey of the Canon will also tell you.

But at least we have some prose evidence that they did once exist.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The real challenge of being a Sherlockian

When the founder of "Doyle's Rotary Coffin" first lured us in with fine membership cards to make vows to honour the code "All Holmes is Good Holmes," I think we all took a lot at the actors whom we didn't think should have played Sherlock and went, "Okay, maybe I can tolerate that one."

A sacrifice, yes, but with the promise of working toward universal acceptance among our fellow followers of Sherlock Holmes? Not nearly that great an act of self-control. So off we went, down that happy path, agreeing that all attempts to portray Sherlock Holmes on screen must have some merit.

But even a simple and clear statement like "All Holmes is Good Holmes" can have a monkey's paw of fine print hidden within it. Do those words say anything about actors? Characters in one medium or another? Are movies the limit? Is television? Novels? Short stories?

What about socks?

I have these socks. A thoughtful gift from wonderful kinfolk. I'm sure you might have seen them in your favorite bookstore or perhaps online. A nice little addition to the Sherlockian collection. But I'm addicted to cotton fluffies. Thick, comfy socks. So when the subject of such novelty socks, which are typically of the thinner variety, came up, along with the suggestion that any Sherlockian should own seven pairs of said socks . . . well, I reacted . . . poorly.

Further consideration suggested that I'm more of a Sherlockian t-shirt sort of fellow than a Sherlockian sock fancier. So I put out a little Twitter poll to see if I could find comfort in the validation of a few more t-shirt Sherlockians, a primary use of social media.

And then I remembered that little oath repeated at the top of this essay. "All Holmes is Good Holmes." Such a challenge. In fact, those words might be the greatest real challenge in the history of Sherlockiana. Not the quizzes. Not getting an article or book published. Not attending some event or visiting some far off place. Just accepting all of it. All the non-harmful silliness that Sherlock Holmes has managed to cause since he first stepped off the page.

With all of the serious, serious matters facing us these days, all of the disagreements that have actual consequences, all of the fights that we actually need to fight to make the world a better place, is there anything having to do with Mr. Sherlock Holmes that we can't just let slide on our way to doing the real work of life? And maybe just accept that whatever the thickness of their socks, other people are enjoying Sherlock Holmes in their own way just as we are?

Well, there's only one way to find out. Good luck to every one of you stalwart Sherlockian heroes willing to take up that challenge. Because wait until you see what Sherlock Holmes has coming for us next . . . .

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Cults within cults within cults

If one does any study of cults that become established religions, one notices a certain pattern. There is the core figure, the one who comes up with the idea, and then there often next comes the organizer or organizers, that person or persons who build the structure around that figure and their ideas to create something that lasts and grows.

This came to mind as I watched another happy Sherlockian jumping on board the new society called "Doyle's Rotary Coffin" this morning. Paul Thomas Miller came up with the society and gave it the most positive credo in Sherlockiana (or Holmesiana, given that he's on that side of the pond): "All Holmes is good Holmes." Although some might disagree with that optimistic and hopeful approach to our hobby, that simple motto is the sound base upon which much could be built.

At this moment, Doyle's Rotary Coffin is still just a sprouting seed of a society. If you do a Google search of the name, you the main results are still "Doyle Coffin Architecture" and "Doyle Rotary Engine" ahead of the prophet's name with "Paul Thomas Miller on Twitter: 'You know what will make him really . . ." (Which is a tweet about a Trump balloon for some reason, so, as with all such mystic origins of a future cult, is open to interpretation.)

All that Doyle's Rotary Coffin needs now is its zealous adherent to build the first compound or gather a band of the disenfranchised whose spouses he or she can sleep with as a part of some later-applied cult rules. (That always seems to happen. One suspects that it's a real motivator among such cult-builders.) I'm not bringing this up as an incentive to get folks to apply for the job, mind you. "Just sayin'!" as the sayin' goes.

All this, of course, is just my own very optimistic outlook on the future of what Paul Thomas Miller has created with Doyle's Rotary Coffin. The society's originator and prophet seems to be meditating upon the growing movement's future at present, and I'm eager to see where it heads. Will it be cult status?

Well, we won't make that call until someone starts asking to sleep with spouses, but maybe a little cult-like enthusiasm here at the start wouldn't be a bad thing.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The smartest of all the Sherlock Holmeses

Measuring intellect is a tricky thing, as someone will surely explain to you when the subject of "I.Q. tests" comes up. Gauging the brainpower of another human being, just from our own perceptions is even harder. What can one use as objective criteria? How much does their similarities to our own style of thinking enter in? Despite all of these roadblocks, I foolishly decided to do a couple of little Twitter polls this week, just to see what those with enough interest and energy to click a radio button thought on the matter.

The results, from forty-nine such voters, were Jeremy Brett taking the lead at 49%, followed by Benedict Cumberbatch at 31%, Jonny Lee Miller at 12%, and Basil Rathbone at 8%. Since Twitter only seems to allow polls with four options, I dumped Robert Downey Junior into a much less popular poll, where he beat our Matt Frewer, Michael Caine, and Will Ferrell by the sort of margin one would expect in such an unbalanced poll. (The Matt Frewer fans were a bit of a surprise, pulling him 15%, while Caine got a single vote and Ferrell, not a one.)

My initial reaction was to put the results down to just plain popularity, as the thought that Jeremy Brett could be perceived as that much smarter than the infallible Rathbone did not seem at all right. And, I have to admit a personal prejudice -- Cumberbatch had to be the greatest genius as far as I was concerned, factoring in his age alone. By the time his Sherlock was the age of Brett or Rathbone's Sherlocks? That guy would blow either of them out of the water.

There was also the Eurus factor. Cumberbatch's Sherlock had a sister that was insanely more brilliant than any character in anyone else's video canon. By association alone, baby brother had to gain brainy points. And if that wasn't enough, a later poll I ran for brightest Mycroft gave his other sibling a boost: Mark Gatiss's Mycroft at 37% over Charles Gray's at 27%, with Stephen Fry at 19% and Christopher Lee at 17%. Admittedly, the Gatiss Mycroft got more screen time, more fanfic, and is generally more beloved than any other Mycroft. (We shan't speak of Rhys Ifans's incarnation, the Baker-Street-exploding, Watson-bedding, not-so-genius of Elementary.) But having a larger family of great intellects, could be seen as a fairly objective support for the Cumberbatch case. (And, other than Rhys Ifans's Mycroft, the Baker-Street-exploding, Watson-bedding, not-so-genius of Elementary, helpful to Miller's as well. Papa Morland and girlfriend Jamie give the non-Moore Sherlock of New York some credits there as well.)

Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes is harder for me to rate in intellect, I suspect, for the same reason others might rate him higher: He's just SO Canonical. The familiar lines, the familiar deductions, are bits of genius that a well-travelled Canonical fan might be more numb to than a more fresh viewer. And I had already read those tales a whole lot by the time Brett came along, creating pet peeves with his delivery of certain favorite lines.

But did I miss a truly brilliant Sherlock in my hitting those Sherlockian high point incarnations? Is there any possibility of coming up with an objective rational for rating one Sherlock above the others, or is that an impossible quest?

Maybe we'll have to find the greatest genius among Sherlockians first to get an answer to that, and I don't think that person is creating or taking Twitter polls, but I definitely could be wrong. If that's the case, let me know. I have many more questions for you.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The 2018 Baker Street Journal review

Okay, let's be honest, there are some bad Baker Street Irregulars out there. Don't go to the annual dinner, don't subscribe to The Baker Street Journal, don't contribute to the various endeavors of the group. Not really calling anyone out here, just describing the fellow who is going to write what follows, for the sake of full disclosure. He's a bad BSI.

So . . . a little extra discretionary cash this year, and that 2018 Christmas Annual of The Baker Street Journal on the 1951 recreation of 221B, etc., looked really tempting. The only way to get it? Be subscribed to the BSJ for 2018, or just catch up on the whole year's worth of issues at once. The annual came first, then the winter issue, and today, the rest of the year's bundle. And with it, the opportunity to do a review of the year's BSJs all in one fell swoop. And since it had been a few years, a fairly fresh look.

Taken all together, these squarebound beauties are almost an inch thick, making them basically a book. For around forty bucks, you'd usually get hardcover in a book, but five chunks of postage for the year-long rationing of a subscription, well, it's the price of nostalgia. Bought a magazine in the store lately? Yep.

So, anyway, Volume 68, Issue 1, Spring of 2018.

Past a couple of ads and on comes the start of the issue, "The Editor's Gas-Lamp," that odd little random musing that usually doesn't seem to have to do with the issue, and always makes me think about the ones Edgar Smith wrote back in the day. This one's a movie meander, which drops one right into an article about WWI tin boxes adapted from a paper at the 2018 BSI dinner by Ross Davies. It's followed by articles by Liese Sherwood-Fabre and Monica Schmidt, hitting the areas they go in both talk and print, so, representative of current state of Sherlockiana. What seems to be Martin Edwards's talk as the 2018 BSI weekend's Distinguished Speaker talk follows them. Sonia Fetherston comes next with the historical holders of her BSI investiture, "The Solitary Cyclist," and we are already on to the regular news features that will fill the remaining chunk of the issue. This being the first issue after the BSI weekend for 2018, there's a lot of reporting on those events once we pass "From the Editor's Commonplace Book" and "Baker Street Inventory." Oddly, the main article seems to be written by a character from the 1970s TV show, The Night Stalker. I'm not sure why he was writing the article, as it pretty much sounds like most Sherlockians reporting on the weekend -- an ever-doomed endeavor, as no reporting can ever truly reflect the full experience of being immersed in that mad social whirl. The annual overlong poem, the obituaries, and the issue is over, with no real surprises. Tradition cements a lot of the BSJ firmly in place, for better or worse.

On to Volume 68, Issue 2, Summer 2018, and the hope that leaving the January weekend behind will bring something fresh. More articles this time, to be sure. A good mix of articles, with a couple of two-article themes going, some humor (thanks to Paul Thomas Miller), but almost all historical research, whether it's on the Doyle side of the fence or the Watson side of the fence. Is the BSJ, in its own way, really a historical journal? That aspect seems to be shining brightly in this issue, coming to it with fresh eyes after a hiatus.

But in Volume 68, Issue 3, Autumn 2018, the lead article is on textual variations, so maybe we're getting back to the literary side of things. And we do, for a time. The autumn issue has a fascinating transition from the literary to the historical as it moves from article to article, rounding off the articles with a strong sense of deja vu as the Scott Bond cartoon turns out to be the same one published the previous issue.

Volume 68, Issue 4, Winter 2018, also history-heavy, leaning toward the Conan Doyle side of the coin. Seems the articles end early, like the first issue of the year and it turns out it's for much the same reason -- event coverage. The scion reports and an article on a symposium are bulking up the features section. A few more obituaries and we're on the index for Volume 68. The year is done.

The Baker Street Journal has been called "the journal of record" in recent years, and it rather suits that title. It collects and records a great many facts connected with Conan Doyle, the Victorian era (and sometimes after), and the Canon itself. Almost all serious and solid work, the journal is a Sherlockian edifice that defies casual criticism. And yet . . . .

Look, before I write anything that's going to get me those sorts of protestations that mean I've dented someone's reality, let's get back to my original disclaimer: I've been at this grand game of ours for a good forty years and outside the BSI establishment for most of that. Makes one a little jaded, so my personal perspective does not exactly align with either the diehard loyalists or the newer recruits discovering the joy of the Canon's depths for the first time. So take what follows with many grains of salt.

The joy of digging up history tied to the world of Sherlock Holmes is a great personal adventure. I love it. But the presentation of one's results . . . well, sometimes it could be a little more entertaining, y'know? There was a whimsy to the early BSJ that seems missing in all the historical reporting of the modern journal, which, to be fair, reflects many a modern symposium presentation. I'm sure a few of my "old school" friends have wondered why I wander through all the Holmes-and-Watson-love-each-other fanfic of late, and comparing that to the Journal's content, I can see it's because there is whimsy there. Joy in playing with Holmes and Watson, the characters and their world, over documenting the past of our own with a few connecting links.

After over a hundred and thirty years, Sherlockiana has a ton of history to revel in, which is why I bought all of the last year's journals, just to get the Christmas Annual on the Sherlock Holmes exhibition of 1951-1952. But all of that history exists because someone was having fun. (Or maybe trying to make money, but that's always another story.) And we continue to have our fun, which is why this hobby is still around. Capturing that fun with the written word, however, will always be an ongoing challenge, especially following after some of the folk that have always existed in this hobby.

But as Sherlock Holmes himself once said, "Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior. We can but try -- the motto of the firm." And if you can find the fun in trying, well, that's what has made this hobby a great place to be all along, even if our jaded older members do get a little bored and critical now and then. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Watson strikes a bibliophile!

The pavements of Victorian London on a given spring evening. Several obscure books, dear to the owner, fall to said pavement in the various ways books fall to the ground. To the ground. The spring, Victorian London, city pavement ground. You know the muds that a keen eye can spot on the shoes walking those pavements. You know what the horses pulling the cabs are dumping on those streets, getting dragged up to the pavements that aren't streets by those same shoes.

John H. Watson, M.D., did that to those books.

That same Watson is a quite popular author at that moment. At least four volumes are enjoying nice print runs due to his creation. When it comes to books, Watson is a god of books, a creator of so many books that his casual wounding of a few old specimens takes nothing from his karmic balance with the Parliament of Books, one might think.

Yet those books had brethren, those books had creators, those books had a caretaker . . . family, if you will. None of those would look kindly upon Watson's treatment of their kin. Except . . . except . . . well . . . that poor bibliophile who was carrying them when John Watson committed his crime of carelessness. One might even blame said bibliophile, whose later shift of personas might lead one to believe that he did not truly love books at all. Did he see Watson and allow the books to mingle with the pavement waste, just to give an excuse for future sympathies? Or was he as Watson perceived him -- just another accident of crowded London, who dashed away from the accident as soon as he was able, rather than deal with the man who devalued his rarities?

From the point of view of the books, there are no friends in this scene, playing out in "The Adventure of the Empty House." Even after the accident, the book-collector, whom Watson calls "strange" tries to sell his precious books away to Watson at first, then disregards them completely once their use to the supposed bibliophile is over.

Attentive scholars know that John Watson did not even give accurate titles for those books, not caring enough for them or remembering his crimes enough to know what was printed on their covers or title-pages. With gaps on his shelves and no known books that we are certain of his ownership of, did this creator of books even care so much for their ilk as his fans might suppose?

He doesn't even report helping pick those books up off the pavement.

Perhaps it's not all that surprising that the books turned on John H. Watson en masse and decided to carry his literary agent's name on their covers thenceforth rather than Watson's own. Books can be a vindictive breed, which is why the technocrafters undoubtedly invented the e-book, so what happened to John H. Watson and others like him might not happen e'er again.

Be careful out there on the pavements, my friends.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Jefferson Hope Murder

"I assure you, Holmes, that I marvel at the means by which you obtain your results in this case, even more than I did in the Jefferson Hope Murder.""
-- John H. Watson, M.D. in The Sign of the Four

Time to listen to the 'member-berries for a moment (with all apologies to South Park):

'member when Jefferson Hope made those two guys poison themselves?

'member when Jefferson Hope died in jail from a "burst aneurism?"

'member how Dr. Watson wrote of hearing a "dull humming and buzzing noise" in Jefferson Hope's chest which he diagnosed as an aortic aneurysm?

So Jefferson Hope murdered two men. And Dr. Watson diagnosed an aneurysm from a very weird symptom, unlike what would be expected from the condition. And then Jefferson Hope died.

The phrase the "Jefferson Hope Murder," with its definitely singular tense, could suddenly become a point of questioning to a strict interpreter of the Canon, when those facts are considered. And a newcomer to the Canon, entering by way of The Sign of the Four could easily mistake Jefferson Hope for the victim in such a description, rather than the criminal.

And maybe he was, after all.

I mean, are we to believe that Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss made up their . . . [OLD SPOILER ALERT!] . . . ending to BBC Sherlock's "A Study in Pink," where John Watson murders Jeff Hope completely out of the blue?

As it was, this old man with the fragile "aortic aneurysm" busts half-way out a window and fights off four men "again and again" while bound in handcuffs, only being brought down after being choked out with his own neck-tie. And even then, his four captors have to each pin a hand or foot to the floor to keep him secured. (Though, after they "had pinioned his feet as well as his hands," they all "rose to our feet breathless and panting. So how did they "pinion" him? Nail him to the floor?)

There is so much that doesn't make sense in the capture of Jefferson Hope, that one has to be a little suspicious of our only witness testimony. Especially when one considers the papers found in the belongings of that same witness's late literary agent that told a very different story, in which Jefferson Hope died in a different city, a city where John H. Watson was also present, even though it was a continent and an ocean away.  

There's a mystery to "the Jefferson Hope Murder" that still needs solving, I think. Someone might want to work on that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Baker Street Digressions

The Sherlockian world is full of odd little remnants. In the digital age, they seem almost silly, the little pamphlets created for a handful of friends. The idea of publishing something in a run of 221, much less the ultra-limited 17, seems almost like the work of a publishing hermit, who doesn't really want to be read. But thanks to collectors and archives, one always had hopes that such bits might eventually reach a few more readers, in that age before the internet gave us a place to spread our words.

Early on, I remember concerns that digital works did not hold the permanence of paper. But electromagnetic pulses and fires seem equal threats, and both of those fates are far outweighed by the mild-mannered fate of simple disinterest. As much as we might love the book in theory, there are those members of that species who never get looked at again, even if they have a nice secure shelf home in the most climate-controlled of vaults.  Ah, but don't let me get to cheery here.

For the joy of any written work was never its longevity, but the moments of creation, the moments of connection, the moments of discovery, and, maybe, those moments of remembering. If I seem a bit philosophical this evening, it's due to being reminded of some of that printed residue that I've scattered in my wake over the years, a group of items produced under the banner of "Baker Street Digressions."

Not really a publishing house, but a logo I'd throw on party favors for friends, Baker Street Digressions put out small monographs, pamplets, one odd little attempt at hand-making a hardbound book, some weird translations, and even some fanfic inspired by the X-man Wolverine. (Hey, it was the 1980s. "Things were different at the time." Actually, no they weren't, we just did what we could with what we had.) The earlier half of these things were actually printed with ink down at the local PIP Printing outlet. The latter took advantage of toner copying, so those words will probably fall off the page faster at some point. But the words had to get out somehow.

Anyway, below is a photo of most of these paper remnants of my Sherlockian past, followed by a list of what I still remember. You never know what I might have forgotten over the years.  

Concerning the Later Life of the Maid Agatha, with some Sidelights on the Disposition of Another Canonical Figure of Note, a mini-monograph, December 1981, limited to 50 numbered copies.

"Very Hansom of You, Mr. Holmes"by Brad Keefauver, standard BSD format, September 1982, limited to 100 numbered copies.

HOLMES!, introduction and prologue, standard BSD format, December 1982, limited to 17 signed copies. 

The Adventure of the Drowned Carp by Henry Watson III, standard BSD format, undated round robin by Tom Simpson, Bob Burr, George Scheetz, Alex Ciegler, Janet Ciegler, Brad Keefauver, Kathryn Carter.

HOLMES! the serial novel by Brad Keefauver
Standard BSD format, published serially, one chapter at a time. 
Prologue and chapter one, May 1983.
Chapter 2, July 1983.
Chapter 3, September 1983.
Chapter 4, November 1983.
Chapter 5, February 1984.
Chapter 6, May 1984.
Chapter 7, August 1984.
Chapter 8, October 1984.
Chapter 9, February 1985.
Chapter 10, April 1985.

The Seventy Proof Solution: The Simpson-Burr Debate over the True Condition of Dr. Watson by Tom Simpson and Robert C. Burr, standard BSD format, September 1884.

The Laundrylist of Sherlock Holmes, standard BSD format, collection of mini-pastiches by Bob Burr, Brad Keefauver, Kathy Carter, Tom Simpson, and Ed Connor.

The Annotated John Clayton, 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 format with pullout map, September 1988. 

Trapping the Neighbors on Baker Street by Brad Keefauver, BSD format, May 1995.

Highlanders: The Pocket Fanzine,paperback, May 1994.

Coffee with Mr. Sherlock Holmes,standard BSD format, limited to 9 numbered copies, 1994.

A Pocket Full of Sherlock Holmesby the Fore of the Scions, paperback, September 1996.

Another Pocket Full of Sherlock Holmes by the Fore of the Scions, paperback, September 1997.

The Adventure of the Dancing Men by Arthur Conan Doyle in Dancing Men Code, 4 1/4 x 11 format, undated.

The Weekend at Baskerville Hall book, 1999.

The Palimpsest of Gloria Patri,The Scott Edition, Translated by Dellon P. Arthur, Mitchell O' Conan, Paster Johnson Doyle (a Hudson's code translation of "The Gloria Scott"), limited edition of sixteen, uncorrected proofs edition, June 2001.

The Rest Is Legend: The True Facts and Tall Tales regarding John Clayton, Cabman, 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 format, September 2001.

Who Are the 4? The Ancient Secret Society Hidden in the Pages of John H. Watson's The Sign of the Four by Alex Bernstone, 2005.

The Sherlock Texas Diaries: Expedition Notes and Commentary from Mike Miller, Don Hobbs, and Brad Keefauver, 2005.

A Study in Scarlet, Part Two, Chapter Three, Deseret alphabet edition, 2005.

The Watson Discontinuity, 2017 221B Con handout for "Arthur 'Continuity' Doyle" panel.

Dr. Watson's Little Book of Problems, 2018 221B Con handout for "Arthur 'Continuity' Doyle" panel.

Sherlock Holmes is Real, podcast beginning in November 2017.