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.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Webb of Moriarty . . . or Holmes himself?

To the up and coming Sherlockian, a belief might easily arise that William Gillette was the first actor to take on the character of Sherlock Holmes, when actually, he was just one of those peaks that arises from time to time, be it a Rathbone, a Brett, or a Cumberbatch. Film footage of Gillette as Holmes finally let modern viewers connect with him across the an entire century, but as with all things Sherlockian, there will always be something still just out of reach . . . and in this case, I'm speaking of Gillette's predecessor, Mr. John Webb, the 1894 stage Sherlock of Glasgow.

While Gillette had Conan Doyle's blessing and an American tour, Webb had a pastiche of a script from a fellow named Charles Rogers that would surely receive the Sherlockian welcome of a modern Holmes and Watson, were it to be unleashed on the fans of today.

Watson with amnesia? Holmes charged with Watson's murder? Watson trying to commit bigamy while he wife and child look on? Watson getting an autopsy while he's still alive?

As always, our dear Watson seems to have been taking all the damage in yet another adaptation, but he's just so good at it, no matter the adaptation! Someone should make a list of all the outrageous abuses the good doctor has suffered over the years, whether it was a diving helmet full of killer bees, being the center log in a Guy Fawkes bonfire, or slowly lured into drunken dancing with male ballerinas. (Though that last one might have not really been abuse -- he did seem to enjoy it before his Victorian sensibilities kicked in.)

Curiously, the play ran from May 28, 1894 to June 2, 1894 . . . less than two months after Sherlock Holmes's return to London after the great hiatus. Such timing might even suggest that while William Gillette got Conan Doyle's blessing to produce a Holmes play, Charles Rogers might have gotten the go-ahead from Sherlock Holmes himself! What better way to distract the criminal element from news of the return of the great Sherlock Holmes than a theatrical return at nearly the same time -- "Holmes isn't back, mate, that's just the play of 'im they're doing up North!"

Whatever the case, whenever I run across a mention of the Rogers play, hope always arises that we will one day see a production put on from that original script, just to give the members of Doyle's Rotary Coffin something more to love and certain other Sherlockian curmudgeonly sorts something to get the vapors over. (Honestly, I did not picture any particular Sherlockian as a fainting Southern belle when I wrote this. Truly, I didn't. *wink*)

In the meantime, here is a link to at least one actor named Webb playing Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Watson's country walk

Rituals, those things that depend upon a repeat of a previous thing, be it in religion or football, have always been a tremendous bore to me. While re-reading a book or re-watching a movie again and again might be comfort food to some, my own personality continually drives me to the new. So why is it that I continually come back to the Canon of Sherlock Holmes?

Because, through some arcane process Conan Doyle ingeniously concocted words that seem to change with focus, revealing brand new stories every time.

This morning, for example, Scott Monty tied a little essay on the word "incorrigible" to a new cartoon from the Mason pater-and-filius team. John Watson and wife number whatever seem to have a servant girl named Mary Jane in "A Scandal in Bohemia" who is just incorrigible, which for some reason has always had a connotation of "cute" to me. Scott points out how incorrigible is like the word irredeemable in his essay, the latter definitely being the word to use for a non-cute habitual ne'er-do-well.

Watson's use of "incorrigible" has always made me wonder if he didn't have a thing for that particular made and the thought of a "Mary Jane Watson" is just too tempting to any fan of Spider-man comics or movies. But in revisiting the lines in which that word is used, once again this morning after hundreds and hundreds of previous visits, I saw this:

"It is true that I had a country walk on Thursday and came home a dreadful mess, but as I have changed my clothes I can't imagine how you deduce it. As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has give her notice . . . ."

Why was Watson going on a country walk?

Especially under such conditions that left him "a dreadful mess" -- the sort of day one would not choose to go for a country walk. Or was he just a dreadful mess emotionally from the thoughts he had during that walk? A country walk seems to imply Watson had to just get out of the house to think.

So, let's put it all together with the context surrounding that walk.  Something is troubling Watson, so he went for a walk. Shortly after returning from that walk, and his thoughts therein, he walks through Baker Street, sees "the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet." (Only two people getting together in that story, you may recall, and neither of them was named "Mary.") An adventure with Holmes ensues, and then John Watson writes it up with the opening sentence "To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman . . ." or "Hey, reading public! Sherlock Holmes is definitely heterosexual!"

To paraphrase that old faux Freud quote: "Sometimes a country walk is just a country walk." But the walk is there, and definitely an important enough point that Watson puts it in his chronicle, instead of just "my shoes got some mud on them the other day," which would have sufficed to explain the condition of his boots and Mary Jane's treatment of them.

Though it is hazy and half-seen, there is a story there, in that mention of a country walk. And the Sherlockian mind reads those words just a little more intensely once that story is glimpsed. It's a part of the magic that Conan Doyle imbued these works with, and a source of never-ending fun if one lets imagination dance upon them.

And one more reason that Sherlockiana is such a damned lovely hobby.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

One way to be a better Sherlockian

Perusing the web at lunch today, I came across something written a month or so ago at which I took some umbrage. I don't know if we can use that word any more without sounding villainous, thanks to J.K. Rowling, but I found the piece rather annoying in that sort of way that makes one want to take up the lance, mount the charger, and ride straight at the source.

All of which is just the fah-ncy way of saying, yeah, I'm pissed, you're full of crap, and now you're going to get an ear-ful.

But we're Sherlockians, we've long loved to go fah-ncy with our verbiage, even when posing for the effortless-looking riposte designed to deliver a surgically precise cut with maximum sting. And that's really a healthy mechanism, because if you're spending some thought on your words, you're giving yourself time to cool down a bit, consider the damage, and maybe even realize that your target is a human being whose road might have not been pleasant in taking them to this disagreeable place at which you have just encountered them.

Words are very helpful that way, and Sherlockians are a people of words, even if we come to the fold from movies or television. (In fact, I would even argue that those who came from a recent television show may have produced more words about Sherlock Holmes than any prior generation.) And we need to use our words now, more skillfully than ever before, so that is a very good thing.

 And yet, sometimes, we can still love those same words too much.

If you just spent two hours at the keyboard spewing out a tirade of righteous anger, with God and all his angels of goodness filling your sails and pushing you forward in fierce arguments and justice-wielding fire, well, it can be hard to just let those words go. To delete such raging children of our mental voice would seem a crime . . . and yet . . . should we unleash them upon an unsuspecting world? Diaries were once the perfect cage for those beasts, but now such innovations as the blog puts those cages in a public zoo for all to visit.

But still, we have to use our words. And we have to think about those words as we do use them. So, use those fah-ncy words wherever possible, just like such proper Victorians as John H. Watson, M.D., and his friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes. They might even cool a fevered brow upon occasion, just as the good doctor helped me with today.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

"The Sting of Death" watchalong

The watchalong and I have never really gotten along. 

Once upon a time, I attempted to follow that well-meaning commentary that accompanied the first episode of BBC Sherlock way back when, but the show was too good and any chatter from even an illustrious peanut gallery just seemed like unwanted static. 

Later watchalongs, based on Granada episodes didn't seem to do it either . . . either the tale was too familiar, or it just wasn't the right commentary crowd the nights I took it in. But tonight, in Super-Bowl-avoidance mode when Chris Redmond suggested the 1955 Boris Karloff TV adaptation of H.F. Heard's A Taste for Honey, well, having never seem it before, it seemed like a good time to give it another try.

This old TV episode from The Elgin Hour,  called "The Sting of Death," is quite a lively little thing, turning a serious mystery novel into a bit of a comedy murder mystery, when the murderer is never really in doubt from early on. And it's main character,  Karloff's "Mr. Mycroft" is a retired fellow who keeps bees, can make observations about the mud on a fellow's shoes, and can fall down in fake illness when he needs to check something out. In other words, this guy is Sherlock Holmes under an assumed name.

Mr. Silchester, who serves as both client, Watson, and victim, in this tight little four-actor play, is almost comically fond of honey. His housekeeper Alice is the queen of exposition, announcing characters dying off-screen when needed (and I think her -- Hermione Gingold's -- voice was behind the off-camera Mrs. Hargrove as well). The obvious villain, Mr. Hargrove is so Moriarty-ish in his look that there is hardly a moment of doubt who is behind it all. And Boris Karloff is about the creepiest version of Sherlock Holmes (despite the brother's name) ever, with some of his lines sounding more ominous than anything by Rathbone, Brett, or Cumberbatch.

"A Sting of Death" is a talky show, so full of verbal spillage as to make it impossible for a spoken Mystery Science Theater 3000, but a written one, as Twitter supplies, fits it perfectly. The show is goofy enough on its own to do with some accompanying commentary, especially when the 1950s language starts sounding full of double-entendres. 

But, basically, a watchalong is about community, and sharing in a Sherlock Holmes related bit of video that was new to most of us, yet of a sort that didn't want "full immersion" to be enjoyed, was the perfect choice for such an event. Chris suggested doing future watchalongs with some of the odder corners of Sherlockian video, and tonight's "Sting" was a good test of that. 

It's going to be a bit before Holmes and Watson hits DVD, or Elementary's final season airs, so why not?

Back to published manuscripts.

This January marked the end of Mike Whelan's era of managing the Baker Street Irregulars, and one of the hallmarks of his time in office has been the immense output of the BSI's publishing arm. So, in honor of this event, I spent a one of my cash Christmas gifts and picked up a couple volumes from the BSI Manuscript Series, which I had fallen behind on some time ago.

First was Out of The Abyss, the "Empty House" manuscript and accompanying materials. Since "Empty House" is a key point in the Canon, this was a no-brainer, and the volume contains several essays by writers I enjoy, though, sadly, none from The Occupants of the Empty House, the society whose members have written more articles on that story than any other.

The second volume was Dancing to Death, the "Dancing Men" manuscript, with an even more attraction list of contributors, and the distinction of being the only original manuscript I have ever met in person, one amazing weekend in Dallas with my ol' buddy Don, who contributed an essay to the book.

The Winter 2018 issue of The Baker Street Journal coincidentally arrived the same day as the pair, featuring an article by Nicholas Utechin on all the known Doyle manuscripts of the Canon and their published versions. The fact that such hand-written originals exist, complete with all the cross-outs and first thoughts, in a day when such things just aren't makes them all the more magical to our eyes. Bits and bytes in a word processing program will never have the same arcane properties, even though they are functionally much more "magical."

The non-manuscript parts of these volumes always make me a bit nostalgic for an ambitious series begun by Calabash Press back in the 1990s. Calabash was publishing collections of essays on each of the Canonical tales. The effort made it to at least four volumes, MUSG, SPEC, DYING, and BLUE, with an impressive array of Sherlockian writers of that era, and while we all hoped that the series would reach a full sixty volumes, we also knew that was perhaps an impossible dream. (Great while it lasted, though!) And since, as Nicholas Utechin points out in the latest BSJ, there are only 37 known Canonical manuscripts, the BSI series will probably not hit that dream number of sixty as well.

Still, we always wish for that which we can't have, don't we?

And the Manuscript Series, like the Beeton's Christmas Annual reproductions, gives us a chance at a simulacrum of something any Sherlockian would love to possess, even though the actual chances of doing so are, for almost all of us, nil.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The first Sherlockian chronologist

"We now pass on to the dating of the various pieces, so far as it can be determined by internal evidence, implicit or explicit."
-- Ronald Knox, 1912

Having a copy of Ronald Knox's essay "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" at hand for a regular re-visit gives one a good perspective on this hobby of ours and the wealth it offers. For the student of Sherlockian chronology, Knox spends a few short pages with history's first known attempt at that field of study. True, he was working with the forty-seven (or less) story Canon of that era. And it is extremely basic, placed next to later, book-length, entrants to the field.

But Knox was the first.

He dates A Study in Scarlet in 1879 without giving us his rationale. He also does this with several of the stories he assigns to 1888. But when it comes to The Hound of the Baskervilles, Knox starts bringing history external to the Canon into the calculation: Hound had to be before 1901, as old Frankland's lawsuit case is versus "Regina," indicating a female monarch was still on the throne.

Knox is the first of the Watsonian Monogamists, attempting to reconcile the order based upon the doctor's marital status. And yet, while he seems loyal to that concept, Ronald Knox still seems to allow room for theories that some of the Watsonian writings are completely made-up. That particular concept is one that Sherlockians were quick to leave behind, as it's a very slippery slope. 

Knox's 1912 essay is a very busy bit of work, and it's only right that the father of Sherlockian scholarship should be the father of Sherlockian chronology as well. Or at least that's the grander, historical way to put it.

A more familiar way might be to just say that, like so many of us that dive deep into Watson's writings on Sherlock Holmes, the Charybdis that is "trying to put the stories in order" pulled Ronald Knox down just like we who came after.

Friday, February 1, 2019

A tale of two hobbies

The economics of Sherlockian life sure take a lot more thought than they did in the 1980s. But then, it's not just us.

Before I got into Sherlock Holmes, my first love was Marvel Comics. As a kid with a five dollar a week allowance, I could afford to buy every superhero comic Marvel put out, every month. Now, as an adult with a good job, with many a Marvel Comic costing that same five dollars by itself, I can't replicate what I did as a kid without some major impact to the household budget.

And when I got into Sherlock Holmes in college, and came out of college with a starter job and a starter paycheck, things were much like they were with the comics. I could afford to buy every Sherlock Holmes book that was newly published without putting any real dent in my household budget. And as the eighties went along, I also started subscribing to every periodical as well. Not a problem. Now, making over twice what I did then, I subscribe to very few journals and choose my book purchases with care. I could probably do more by sacrificing some other things, but even the guy who writes about Sherlock every day he can isn't that obsessed.

This is a very different world from that of twenty or forty years ago, but not without some changes to fit the new landscape. While the older generation makes its literary mark by gathering and publishing the works of the past in volumes collectors can archive for reference, much of the younger seems to be following a different path . . . building up their writing and networking skills. Publishing fanfic in the internet, helping beta that work, and enjoying same costs not more than an internet connection. But whether it's the free side of the hobby or the collector-with-means side, I'd like to see the person who manages to read everything. Because there are surely as rare as hen's teeth.

We have more opportunities than ever before and less resources to take advantage of those opportunities, old and young alike. And our awareness of those inequities is greater -- we know exactly which of our friends is flying across country (or an ocean) to a Sherlockian event. So where do we go with this?

Well, for those of us that were around in 1985, acknowledging that the world is a different place than it was in 1985. Figuring out who we want our audiences to be and look at their situation. Maybe even just showing a little empathy toward Sherlockians who aren't in our immediate circles, and think a little less of ourselves as times get tougher . . . a direction they sure look to be headed.

Sherlockiana is a community, like any other, and the same principles apply. Common sense, 'tis true, but also something to think upon now and then.