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.