Thursday, October 22, 2020

C'mon, give us a little Holmesoween treat!

 Hey, everybody! Let's all get published!

Yes, yes, you can get something printed in a collection of essays or short stories pretty handily these days. But you know, even the most hungry of editors and publishers have some gateway level of quality and length required, and who has the time, self-esteem, and talent to spend jumping over that bar of entry. Writing is great fun, and you shouldn't have to be good just to practice, let it flow, and just enjoying discovering what words are in your head.  What you do need, most times, is just an excuse!

So here's your excuse.

Our good friend Paul Thomas Miller is publishing Holmesoween short stories on the Doyle's Rotary Coffin site like filling a trick-or-treat bag with candy. There are already eight tales of "terror" out there, having something to do with Sherlock Holmes and/or Doctor Watson, and this being the web, there's room for a whole lot more.

At 2500 words or less (but not even strict about that), and seven more days until the final Holmesoween deadline, you couldn't ask for an easier writing task. We're not talking Nanowrimo, which starts a few days later, and it's 50,000 word goal. Heck, this could even be your Nanowrimo warm-up exercise, if you're planning to hit that. And you don't even have to submit it to Doyle's Rotary Coffin at DoylesRotaryCoffin@outlook.com with your real name attached. Use a pen-name, if you're concerned about ruining your future career as a Pulitzer prize winning novelist or diverging wildly from your expected output on AO3.

The whole point of this Holmesoween writing effort is to have some fun and fill Doyle's Rotary Coffin's trick or treat bag with literary candy. It doesn't have to be good for you at all, just something that brings a moment or two of joy in the giving or the getting.

Because it's HOLMESOWEEN! And writing is fun! Also reading!

That's https://sites.google.com/site/doylesrotarycoffin/home/articles/holmesoween-2020 !







Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Universe without the Voice

 The good Paul Thomas Miller has set out another little writing prompt for Doyle's Rotary Coffin -- "Holmesoween" tales for October enjoyment. And, as anyone who reads this blog now and then knows, I can't help but put words together -- furor scribendi, my old neighbor used to call it. But as I set out to come up with something for the DRC this time, I really noticed a problem area I have.

The story I started writing, and may yet finish, was a more traditional pastiche, written as Dr. Watson. It's the path the other three contributors to the project have followed, and it's the more traditional Sherlockian path. These stories are the source of our pleasure, so why not imitate them? Makes perfect sense.

And yet as long as there have been Sherlockians, there has been a struggle to capture Watson's written voice. Something that came so naturally from the original author is nigh impossible to replicate. It's why we're all not Stephen King or Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway -- every writer's voice is their own.

And yet Sherlockians struggle and struggle to replicate Watson.

During the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium, one of the speakers raised the question: "Is it easier to write in someone else's fictional world?" Most of those present said "yes." But I suspect the difference between those who said "yes" and those who said "no" was that they were answering different questions.

Is it easier to write a story that takes place in a universe someone else has already fully formed? Well, the mass of work that fills Archive of our Own should answer that question. Of course it is. You can move right to creating the story, without worrying about characters, settings, or timeframe. Writing a story based on a world created by a television show is wonderfully convenient for such work -- you get the world to write in, but no existing prose to compare it too. We don't expect a story to feel exactly the same as watching a TV show or movie, so the writer gets a bit of a break.

Sherlockians, however, have traditionally set themselves an impossible task -- not just writing in the world that Conan Doyle created, but writing in his voice -- Watson's voice -- as well. Why do we torture ourselves so? Even the most successful and skilled among us will still get their best work met by a "Well, it's not Conan Doyle" from some grumpy Gus. It's like our love of those sixties stories has put a curse upon us: "Ne'er will ye write that which ye so desire!"

Fans of Star Trek were never cursed this way. Those who came through the BBC Sherlock door after 2010 have less of this curse upon them. Their Sherlocks get to be mermen or rock stars or whoever they feel like being and their stories wind up being better stories. I mean, I'm sorry if I offend anyone here, but if you take all the BBC Sherlock stories and match them against all the ACD pastiches ever written with some fairly objective way of measuring quality . . . I think the former would win hands down. Their writers did not start the process shackled by trying to speak in a voice not their own.

We're all better when we just write with our own voice. And, yes, mimicking another is a great way to start out in finding your own writer's voice. I couldn't tell you all the times I tried to imitate a writer I admired in voice but not world. Dashiell Hammett, William Goldman, Andrew Vachss . . . the more distinctive a voice one admires, the more one has to try to mimic. And in that case, it's usually attempting to use the voice without borrowing the universe, so no one knows it's fan fic unless both your pen and their reading ear are good enough to communicate style.

Writing is hard at the start, and it's interesting when we choose to make it even harder by trying to do Watson. For Holmesoween, I got lazy, threw Watson out, and just wrote in the universe without his voice. I'll probably go back to my little Watson-voice experiment for the holiday celebration, but, man is that the harder route to go.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Plane trees, wooden gates, and bow windows

One of the problems with being a rabid Sherlockifan like myself is the distraction.

Paul Thomas Miller almost sabotaged the start of my workday with the revelation that he was in agreement with Bonnie MacBird's theory on the location of 221B this morning, and my inner old Sherlockian immediately went "Harrumph, I say! Gray Chandler-Briggs, burfle, burfle, burfle!"

Paul liked Bonnie's evidence of the plane tree in a particular yard, which sent me into researching plane tree longevity and finding that London had its own particular variety of pollution resistant plane trees called "London Plane tree." So you know, head canon immediately gravitates to that one for Mrs. Hudson's backyard tree out of sheer London-loyalty.

Gray Chandler-Briggs, in addition to sounding like a character from TV's Friends, hinged a lot of his own  theory on a wooden gate leading to his theoretical location for Camden House, Moran's chosen sniper post.

Plane tree or wooden gate? And what about that thrice-damned bow window?

And that yellow brickwork across the street with the sun shining so brightly off it that the yellow brick had to be on the west side of the street.

Was 221 Baker Street really 72 Baker Street? 111 Baker Street? 61 Baker Street?

Ah, the simplicity of Watson being wounded in shoulder, leg, both, or neither. Only four options.

Baker Street was a whole street.

And it's a rabbit hole that I've managed to avoid, even though I fell a long way down the chronology one, probably for one reason and one reason only . . . the thing most of the Alices for this particular rabbit hole have in common? They've been to London. The Baker Street that exists there is a real thing to them, as in they've felt the solid pavement under their seats. They believe in London's city plans.

I'm just still not convinced that 221B Baker Street wasn't just 221B Baker Street, and I'll tell you why.

Consider Sherlock Holmes, a man who came to London and went, "I'm not doing into the existing profession of doctor, Scotland Yard inspector, government clerk, musician, artist . . . no, I, Sherlock Holmes am going to create my own unique role in this great metropolis!"

If anyone in the world was going to move into Baker Street and go, "These are nice numbers, but I need to have 221B as my home address. Here's a few extra pounds, Mrs. Hudson, buy two twos and a one and put them on the door. A couple of days and the delivery men will know where we are," it was Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

And, y'know, if I published a book titled Watson Does Not Lie, I might have a little faith in that fellow and his choice to advertise Sherlock Holmes's address in The Strand Magazine as 221B Baker Street.

Of course, I guess we would still have to discover which house on Baker Street that Sherlock Holmes decided to designate as 221. Well, FUUUUUU . . . .


Saturday, October 10, 2020

The room party

 There's a thing that happens at Sherlockian weekends that's never on the program, sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes big, sometimes small . . . the room party.

A few friends decide to gather in someone's hotel room after the official program is over, do a little Sherlockian gossip, and just chat with a few like-minded folk, often into the wee hours. And while our newfound Zoom-based weekend programs have replicated the cocktail hour with some free-form chat rooms, nobody has really come up with a substitute for the room party yet.

Having a private online party might come across as gatekeeping to some, which is a big difference from the "whoever happened to be around" sort of gathering at a hotel-based event. You aren't expected to announce to the whole joint, "Hey, everybody! Party in my room!" because that could just be a disaster. Plus, you've suddenly hit cocktail party level again.

Sooooo, it you're going to the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium today and you're reading this blog, I'm going to invite you to my room party after the symposium is done. I want to record a little audio for the Watsonian Weekly on the symposium, but the recorder isn't going to be running the whole time, as there are always things to discuss we don't want on the record. I'll be starting my little room party at 8 PM Central Standard Time, and I'll send you the Zoom details if you email me. If you don't know my e-mail address, you can try "podcast at johnhwatsonsociety dot com." (Not making this easy, am I?)

This is something of an experiment, to see if we can get just the right number of folks for a proper post-symposium room party. There's a few hours of cocktail party chat before 8 PM CST, so I don't think most folks will feel the need for more. Heck, nobody at all might show up. I have no idea how many people are going to today's event, what time zone they're in, or who reads this quick enough to know this is going on.

But, hey, that's what make these things fun, right? And we're all still figuring out the tools for remote Sherlockian connection that we'll probably be using long after this pandemic is over.

So, long distance room party? Let's see what happens.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Oh, yes . . . Irene . . .

 One of the most annoying things about the modern comic book industry is multiple covers upon a single issue of a comic book. Have I bought a comic a second time, thinking I missed an issue? Yes. Is my collection of Titan Comics Adler a incoherent mix of variant covers? Yes.

Peoria is not a town where smaller comic titles are well stocked, and something as specialized as Adler has to come in from your pull list to make sure you get it, and you get what you get. The first two issues had as little cover art on the version I got as a 1970s Baker Street Journal. (Really! Just one small silhouette as the only actual art on a tiny part of the cover.)  The third issue's artist had a style that didn't really suit the rest of the book, and the fourth, while closer to the interior art, wasn't the one by the guy who draws the comic itself, which is all I really want from a comic book.

Nobody wants to start reading a comic pissed off, as the form is short enough that it takes one great story to change your mood in the time allotted. And as I can't remember reading issues two or three at this point, this seemed like a good time to sit down and read all four issues of this Irene Adler book.

I remembered Adler as being League of Extraordinary Gentlemen done with literary ladies. Irene doesn't show up until eight pages in, with Miss Havisham introducing battlefield nurse Jane a few pages later after Irene is done beating up one of Moriarty's assassins. Sherlock Holmes and Watson are off in Dartmoor dealing with the hound of the Baskervilles, so it appears Irene and Jane must fill similar roles.

But the tale soon forgets about Sherlock Holmes, veers sharply away from the familiar Holmes Canon, and gives Moriarty an underworld full of Sherlockian and non-Sherlockian crooks . . . until they aren't Moriarty's any more. There's an overabundance of characters in this book, and we see so much of them that if the comic was titled Havisham or Ayeesha, one might not know the difference.

After four issues, I'm still not sure who Irene Adler is, other than "fighting adventure gal" and none of the characters has really stuck. Ayeesha is kind of an evil Victorian Wonder Woman who is very proud of her abs. Miss Havisham comes across as a brothel owner/scientist. And in 2020, you really have to wonder why a comic book full of women from literature and history isn't being done by female creators.

Enola Holmes has come along and set a new bar for Sherlockian spin-offs since Adler first began its action-movie styled run, and, well, you just don't bring in Jack the Ripper in issue two for a cameo and then . . . kind of just ignore him? (They kill a random cabbie a couple of issue later that I think might have been him, but this comic just has a lot of random things going on.)

I don't know if Irene Adler would be helped by a good adaptation at this point, or if we should all just quietly back away and let her lead her happy wedded life with Godfrey Norton. (Who does not appear in Adler, like Sherlock Holmes, btw.) She's been through enough, and a good deal of it in Adler.



An unsung hero of Sherlockian publishing

 We've seen a few Sherlockian publishers come and go. Publishing has never been the best of businesses, and Sherlockian publishing? Not the best of markets. It's a tribute to Wessex Press that they've lasted as long as they have -- probably in part because they didn't start as writers trying to publish their own stuff, as some others have.

We've had the notoriousness of Jack Tracy and the quality of David Hammer, but I don't think either had the importance to Sherlockiana of Magico Magazine, run by Rabbi Samuel Gringras out of New York City. Full disclosure time: Magico published my first three books way back when, but that's not the reason I'm singing his praises this morning.

When Paul Thomas Miller and Rob Nunn got into a Twitter discussion of Moriarty as a horse, it immediately put me in mind of Robert S. Morgan's "Spotlight On A Simple Case, or Wiggins, Who was That Horse I Saw With You Last Night," a privately printed monograph from 1959. These days you can find it on AbeBooks for fifty bucks. In the 1980s, though? Good luck!

Yet I have a copy of this rarity due to Magico Magazine reprinting it during the 1980s.

While Magico did print a goodly number of new things, like my own magnum opus of my beginning years, one of the best things they did for us was making all those rare classics of Sherlockiana available in reprint form. Without their work, the field of Sherlockian chronology would be practiced by even fewer than practice it now. (Would that be a good or bad thing? I'm not sure.) 

Mysterious Press would come along and later reprint some of our hobby's classic books, but the little monographs and things like Julian Wolff's maps weren't anything a book publisher would touch. Items like that Morgan monograph would never have been seen by most Sherlockians just twenty years later without Magico's sizable catalog of works. Their main output may have been books on stage magic, a field where the enthusiasts might even by more ardent than Sherlockians (and able to attain a little more fame and fortune in their top tier), but we never got slighted in Magico's output.

The publisher had its critics -- all publishers do, working with such a sometimes persnickety breed as writers, but they provided a service to Sherlockiana that few have matched. Were I to have to choose between all of Magico's reprints and all of the BSI manuscript series, I would have to say I'd definitely take the former, as prestigious as the latter might be. They've been an important resource in my Sherlockian life since they came out, one I might not have otherwise had, putting so much into circulation that otherwise might have been reserved for the wealthy or determined few.

There were those who used to xerox old Sherlockian stuff and quietly pass those pirated copies among their friends, even going so far as to bind the xeroxes like a book if they had the resources. Sherlockians are a hungry breed. But occasionally someone sets us out a fine table to feast upon, and Magico Magazine was one of those someones. And for that, I think they deserve a great many more plaudits than they have gotten to date, but hopefully that day will come. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

How important is Sherlock Holmes?

Let's  start with a statement that might be a bit controversial:

One thing any fan does, from the most sticker-laden convention-goer to the most footnoting academic, is  to exaggerate the importance level of their chosen fandom over the other parts of life. 

Of course, I'm not talking about you or me, just those folks. You know the ones.

We can get a bit carried away. 

Over the last century, Sherlockiana has been lightly compared to a religion time after time. We have our sacred text. We let our following of Holmes makes certain life choices. We have our little "cults" and, definitely, our fanatics. Yet none of us would outright say "It's definitely a religion!" because we know, in our hearts, that Sherlock Holmes was a story created by a man named A. Conan Doyle, not a messiah.

And yet, the parallels between our hobby and a religion are often useful. For example, when debates over religious freedom come up, the same arguments apply to controversial Sherlockian topics. Does our Sherlockian fervor allow us to freely have a negative impact in the lives of other people?

Can you be a real jerk, but it's okay because you're such a devout Sherlockian?

It's an interesting question, as our community, like many a church, is welcoming and accepting. We often welcome and tolerate Sherlockians whose social skills might be appalling enough to get them rejected from a normal social circle. They scratch their back with a fork at the dinner table or persistently smell of unchanged cat litter, and yet no one tells them they can't come to our banquets or meetings. But in that tolerance, we often have tolerated assholery along with the merely off-putting. Because . . . well, Sherlock Holmes.

As Sherlock Holmes, his legend, and lore all serve as a necessary diversion in our lives, we can become a little too diverted. We can dive our head into that rabbit hole like a cartoon ostrich and lessen the noise that's just too loud around us. And that's okay at times. We need that for our mental health.

Burrowing into our personal Sherlockian lairs has become an effective tool in a time when we need to limit contact to protect our communities from the spread of a pandemic, I think. The percentage of Sherlockians struck down by Covid might hopefully be less than the general populace due to our bookish natures? I don't know. But even if that were the case, we still have to use those Sherlockian powers for good.

We have to pay attention to people and things that aren't Sherlock Holmes related. This may seem like a really stupid statement to the average person, but for some of us? Well, speaking as someone with two Sherlockian podcasts, a blog, a journal to edit, and a book in the works . . . occasionally I need a splash of cold water or a friendly hand from outside the Sherlockian world to pull me out of my burrow and engage the rest of the world.

Was there a point that this little morning ramble was coming to? If there was when it started, I don't remember it now. But I will say this, if you haven't heard it enough already:

Figure out how you're going to vote, if you're American, and get out and then do it. If there was ever a moment to forget about Sherlock for long enough to get a thing done, this is it.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Adventure of the Dying Defective?

 Last month, our local story discussion hit "The Adventure of the Dying Detective," and just a week later, I find a friend or two, as well as one documentary film-maker, suspect someone they think is very clever is pulling the Sherlock Holmes maneuver from that story.

If you recall, as surely you do, Sherlock faked an illness that has been fatal to others in order to inspire a confession from one Culverton Smith, who had been letting that disease kill people on purpose.

In our discussion of the story, we came to the conclusion that Sherlock Holmes's clever ploy was actually quite flawed, depending upon a whole lot of other people behaving exactly as they needed to, and a whole lot of things just had to work out perfectly.

And that is exactly the flaw with so many conspiracy theories. For the proposed theory to be true, a whole lot of things would have to work perfectly and a whole lot of people would have to cooperate in perfect harmony . . . which people don't often do. It's the plain truth that hits me in the face every time I watch one of the National Treasure movies: The heroes find some immense repository of treasures that took hundreds of people to build, and we're expected to believe those hundreds of people all managed to do the required work in complete secrecy, with all of them being entirely competent in a crazy level of engineering and not keeping a map or any of the treasure for themselves.

Perhaps it's my view of humanity's general level of ability en masse that might affect my lack of belief in most conspiracy theories. The real conspiracies out there are usually by an established group working together, like a business or other enterprise operating in the open with nobody paying that much attention, often something we eventually know is happening, like gerrymandering, but are unable to stop.

And one of the most common conspiracy theories of late has been that we have a Moriarty-level mastermind manipulating everything around him while having problems reading, judging what a basic human response to a question might be, and generally seeming like a windbag with nothing to offer and no one close to him willing to even point out the toilet paper is stuck to his shoe.

Ah, but that toilet paper stuck to his shoe was the detail that proves his true genius, wasn't it? Staging minor goof after minor goof takes a truely disciplined actor beyond even Sherlock Holmes's level, and, wow, isn't it amazing that he's thinking that many steps ahead.

Even Sherlock Holmes in "The Dying Detective" couldn't get Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson, Billy the page, and Inspector Lestrade to all fake having the same deadly disease along with him, just to throw his rivals off the scent. What a genius someone must be to pull that off!

But, as we all know, even if we knowingly pretend not know it, Sherlock Holmes was fictional. Not a real human being, which is actually how he accomplishes a lot of what he does -- his author bends reality to make his schemes work. Because in a fictional reality, there is an order to the universe that was placed there by the hand of a single being.

There's a certain faith behind conspiracy theories, a faith that the universe is an ordered place, where improbable things are happening through someone's plan. It's almost like that need for an ordered and plotted universe transcends the need for belief in a higher power, or that the higher power behind the order in the universe is this person or group. Even when one wants to deny the actual, perfectly logical ordering of the universe.

Sometimes, people who don't do the common sense things get sick. It's the way the world works. Sometimes, "a cigar is just a cigar." And somebody out there is is more clever than Sherlock Holmes himself?

Pshaw.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Dwelling in one's own past for a bit, instead of Sherlock's

This evening seemed like a good time to absent one's self from the vexations of the world, leave social media and the thousand channels a-streaming behind, and visit an old friend in a year long past.

I remember when e-mail started killing off the letter, before social media started killing off the e-mail. It suddenly struck me that I was never going to get a six pages of single-spaced thoughts from an engaged Sherlockian mind written just for me. And I was not going to respond with same.

Knowing that you couldn't pass your written thoughts along with a trip to the post office meant you spent a little more time on said thoughts -- you could always drop off a letter on the way to work the next morning, so why not spend an evening on it? An essay for an audience of one.

There were years back in the eighties when a single year of letters from one Sherlockian friend could be as thick as a paperback novel. And I was lucky enough to have a few of those friends, probably because we had thoughts to exchange about Mr. Sherlock Holmes and the people who love him. "The Sherlockians I know seem to share a love of five things, in varying order," one friend wrote, "Holmes, drink, food, books, and gossip." Personally I might have gone, "Food, Holmes, gossip, books, and drink," but there was plenty of letter-writing material to be found in that list. And with a whole evening to write, you didn't have to just stop at the first or second.

I was sorting through some boxes and taking a few notes when I decided to just spend the evening in the company of one friend's thoughts from a single year -- a very important year in my Sherlockian life, when important decisions were being made. But it wasn't anything about me that made this evening worthwhile. No, it was all the other people we wrote about, the lives we were all leading then.

So many names of much-loved Sherlockians long gone, and even one recently gone, wander into the paragraphs, with little stories of their words and deeds that make one smile and feel their loss. Friends you've lost touch with, for reasons you simply cannot remember. And even parts of yourself you'd let slip away.

The daily mail delivery was like a little Christmas morning every day on a good week, during parts of my correspondence years. And really, I could probably tie the waning of a few friendships to the rise of e-mail and fall of the letter --  we just didn't all adapt to the new tech at the same rate. I have to wonder what life would be like today, had not the internet age happened? 

Ah, but that's the nostalgia kicking in, isn't it? Or maybe just the weariness at the current state of things.

Perhaps I'll pick up that book that came in the mail today, rather than getting close enough to Facebook or Twitter to post a link to any of this. Finding any excuse to step away from the current vexations for a while is not exactly a bad thing these days.

If you're paying attention, you usually know when a winter storm is coming. Wrapping yourself in a blanket to get through the night is nothing to be ashamed of, and can be kind of nice. Because when the morning comes, you'll be ready to get out and shovel the snow.

Because there's a lot of a four-letter word that begins with "s" to shovel off the world's driveway right now. And all the things that an eight-letter name that begins with "S" has brought to our lives are there to help.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Shersneetchiana

 There's an aspect of many a hobby that we don't like to talk about too much.

We're attracted to a thing for the joy it brings, we do a thing because there is pleasure in it. And then, at some point, it can take a turn, and we start wanting it to fill other needs. other gaps in our lives. It can give us purpose and meaning that our primary occupation might be lacking. It can give us a hope that we will be remembered when we're gone. It can give us power, or at least the perception of power, that we might crave.

That last one is a bit of a trouble spot. In every fan cult, there are always a few who want to be cult leaders. That doesn't usually happen, of course, as Sherlock Holmes fans tend to have an independent streak. Every time somebody starts trying to hand out awards, degrees, black belts, etc. in Sherlock, though, I start giving them the ol' squinty eye. 

Perhaps I was overly influenced by Dr. Seuss's story of "The Sneetches."

But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, "We're the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they'd snort
"We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!"

I can think of a few Sherlockians who surely never had that book as a child, so I don't think that was a bad thing. 

"We're afficionados," they'd sniff and they'd snort.
"We're nothing like that regular fan sort!"

Yes, definitely never read Dr. Seuss.

And in that tale, along comes Sylvester McMonkey MacBean to cash in on that desire to be a special, star-bellied sneetch. Because like we have our fancier sneetches in Sherlockiana, we also have our Sylvester McMonkey MacBeans, who want to stroll in and sell us a machine to attach stars to our bellies. They may not be asking for cash in payment for their machine, just simple acceptance that they have the power to attach those stars.

We have a lot of clubs and such where you get a free nickname with membership, which is open to all. We did that with our local Sherlock Holmes society for its run, but there's a big difference between a whimsical practice that's open to all and any mechanism that declares this Sherlockian better than that Sherlockian. We all know who the better Sherlockians in our lives are because of their words and deeds, words and deeds that can be their own reward. We're not Hollywood stars who need an Oscar to boost the ticket sales of our next picture. The Sherlockian community is not so large that good work can go unseen. The word gets out.

As a result, almost all newer attempts by Sylvester McMonkey MacBeans to work across the Sherlockian world don't go on for all that long. Some fade out with the loss of interest of their founder, some become increasingly insular as the outside world moves on without giving them traction. Only one has ever had real success, but I'll let that one lie for the moment.

Shersneetchiana is just something we have to deal with every now and then, as someone comes along thinking it's an idea worth trying, people being people. Dr. Seuss was a good one with certain timeless truths in his kids books.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The one we never saw coming

 Enola Holmes is sitting at a "Certified Fresh" of 92% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. It's number two in popularity on Netflix in the U.S., and number one elsewhere. And it has its own fans, at least one of who suggested basing a new religion on the movie, which is a very cult-Sherlockian thing to say.

So far, Enola seems to be the most successful Holmes since BBC Sherlock in the English-speaking side of the world. And here's the big kicker . . .

Enola Holmes is the most successful Holmes besides Sherlock, ever.

Think about that. Mycroft has had a few books, but no movies or television of his own (and don't say "Mr. Mycroft," as that was pseudonym-Sherlock, and just TV at that). Basil of Baker Street had a movie, but c'mon, he was a mouse and a mouse who copied Sherlock, which puts him in the category of Mr. Data and Solar Pons. 

Enola Holmes isn't just "girl Sherlock," a little sister carbon copy of her brother. She's an original who was influenced by not only Sherlock, but the household that grew Sherlock as well. You could call her a spin-off, but spin-offs that do this well are far and few between.

Did any of us in the Sherlockian world see this coming at all? Our eyes constantly focused on new Sherlocks, maybe enjoying the myriad Holmes-related books out there . . . Nancy Springer's six novels might have gotten lost in for most of us, if not for Millie Bobby Brown. It's a very crowded field, with Brittany Cavallaro's Charlotte Holmes having caught my readership long before Enola.

But Enola dared to go Watsonless (unless you hold to my theory of the audience-Watson for the movie). She doesn't have that drug issue. She makes a definite statement about a point in history, and I'm not talking Victorian times here. Despite her origins in the Holmes family, Enola now seems to have sprung forth as an original character, worthy of her own franchise, and showed that Sherlock Holmes can be a mere supporting cast member if you make the main character engaging enough.

Think about that one for a second. How many times have we seen a creator try to steal the spotlight from the legendary Sherlock, only to see it gravitate straight back to him?

Irene Adler, Mary Russell, Shadwell Rafferty . . . they all made it to several novels, but none escaped Holmes's gravity enough to become the titular character of a movie. Sure, Enola benefited from her brother as a booster rocket, but, you know what? I'd watch a movie with Enola Holmes and no Sherlock. at this point. And the books certainly dodge him as much as possible.

Enola Holmes is something special, and a next-level moment for Sherlock Holmes in our culture. That's something to take a moment and appreciate.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Diagnosis: Murrrr . . . errrrr . . . .

 Perhaps it was the zoombombing of our latest Sherlock Holmes Story Society discussion that put me in a rather persnickety mood with "Dying Detective." Or perhaps I was just thinking too much this time, and the story is like one of those movies that entertains while you're watching it, but the minute you leave the theater and have time for your own thoughts, it falls apart.

The zoombombing was probably due to the library posting the Zoom details on Facebook and it's website. The movie comparison, I think, was the thought of Amanda in our group, after four of us made the leap over to a private Zoom meeting. It was a very good point about "The Dying Detective," however, as it is one of those stories that you just have to go along with.

I mean, that "hide behind the headboard" thing. I mean, really. Been in any bedrooms lately?

But the more I thought about the whole disease this story centers around, now that we're in the Covid era of disease awareness, the more it falls apart.

Holmes calls in Watson, a doctor, and goes, "I, a detective, have somehow diagnosed myself with a very rare disease that I picked up at random on the docks." Watson, a doctor, goes, "Okay."

Doctors are more familiar than anyone with hypochondriacs who self-diagnose. And Holmes, who is also demonstrating signs of being out of his head with random info dumps on oysters and coins, has no real reason to know how he could have a specific fever from a specific place just from catching something at the docks. Has Holmes beat Watson down so much over the years that he just gives into anything?

And how did Sherlock Holmes, great detective that he is, wind up trying to solve the mystery of a young man who got sick and died? Young men get sick and die occasionally, and probably a lot more often in Victorian London with all the polluted fogs. Who was his client, and how did that person known enough about Culverton Smith's favorite disease to know Victor Savage died from it?

"The Dying Detective" is an easy-in, easy-out, BOOM-it's-over story. We're so charmed by Mrs. Hudson's appearance, Holmes's antics, and the fact he has tricked Watson yet again that we just take it at face value and don't delve . . . unless we're trying to proving his bogus Tapanuli fever or Black Formosa corruption were more real than that swamp adder.

It's a very weird story, anyway, with disease-based crime, which is basically germ warfare ahead of its time -- remember how Culverton Smith had a whole array of deadly germs on his shelf. The tale is also ahead of its time with Holmes basically using Watson as a tape recorder to catch the killer's confession. And very much like a movie or TV show, which makes one wonder why Doyle went with "The Mazarin Stone" to do a short play and not this one.

It's almost fan fiction, as it the whole mystery is about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, with no client, no victim that we really get to know, no murder scene, just Holmes and Watson in what's almost a goldfish bowl of a Baker Street tale. Almost.

I'm still glad "The Dying Detective" is in the Canon, but tonight . . . I was just feeling a little persnickety about it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Enola Holmes's Watson

 As the host of a podcast called "The Watsonian Weekly" and editor of a journal called The Watsonian, I find myself of late being rather Watson focused. And today, with Enola Holmes arriving on Netflix, one might think, "How sad, no Watson for a Watsonian to fuss over in this Watson-less film!"

But after two viewings of that very delightful film, I have decided it has one of the most remarkable Watsons any movie has ever given us.

And, no, it's not Tewkesbury. Come on, now. Tewkesbury. Pshaw.

No, the movie Enola Holmes gives her a Watson that embodies exactly what John H. Watson has often been at his best, what Conan Doyle gave us with the original John H., and what many a Sherlockian has seen Watson as over the years: an everyperson.

Watson is us, finding Holmes remarkable, hearing his thoughts that no others hear.

And in the case of Enola Holmes, her Watson is, very literally, us.

I was delighted to see her fourth-wall breaks in the previews, so much like Deadpool and with Millie Bobbie Brown showing all the charm of a Ryan Reynolds in talking straight to the camera. But what I didn't realize then was that the movie was going to use that technique to make us her Watson.

Enola Holmes lets us accompany her throughout the adventure as your silent companion, giving us her side comments and sometimes just a look. The audience was entirely meant to be her Watson, and I'm amazed that no one has tried it before. Or maybe not, because John Watson is so fitted for Sherlock. But a new kind of Holmes deserves a new kind of Watson, and director Harry Bradbeer made a brilliant choice in using the fourth-wall breaks to give Enola that Watson.

There is a lot to love about this new Holmes film, and what more could any Watsonian want than to get to be a Watson for an adventure like this?  Bravo to everyone involved.

It's Enola Holmes Day!

 "It's a jolly holiday -- Enola!
"Enola makes the world so bright.
"None of us still own a Victrola,
"But Enola entertains just right!"
                  -- Re-lyricized Mary Poppins song

No spoilers, no review, just a few words to celebrate the best September holiday of 2020, Enola Holmes Day! 

Didn't you get the day off work where you are? Well, did you ask for the day off? These holidays gotta start somewhere, chums! 9/23/2020! Enola Holmes Day! Hurrah!

And like my typical Christmas morning look at Santa's gifts under the tree as a child, I was up at 4 AM watching Netflix. And, after hitting the store to get the ingredients for tonight's Enola Holmes Day feast, I went for an envigorating constituional, followed by this bit, cleaning up, and then heading out to deliver the Enola presents to all the good little Sherlockians. (Or at least those I needed to take some duplicate Sherlockian books to anyway, and, hey, I got the day off!) (Also, sorry, Rob, you live just too far away to fit into my Enola day. Maybe I'll pay you compliments of the season two days from now . . . oh, but that's Friday, I have to work . . . sorry.)

Can you tell I'm just filled with the Enola Holmes Day spirit?

Still working my way through the book series, but today I'm also reading the IDW's Euro Comics adaptations today . . . which means I now have three versions of Enola Holmes in my head.

There's so much I want to say about that character and her supporting cast of characters, but the day is still young and at least one more viewing awaits. So in any case . . . .

HAPPY ENOLA HOLMES DAY, EVERYBODY!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Sherlockian generational wealth

 This morning, I subscribed to a year of Sherlock Holmes Magazine for fifty-eight dollars and seven cents. A reasonable price for a big, glossy, well-written magazine coming all the way from Great Britain, but at the same time, spending that much on a periodical always gives me pause. Not that long ago, I remember having to make the decision to forego a year of The Baker Street Journal due to a post-Christmas budget crunch, even though I'm a fairly successful member of the tail-end-of-the-Boomer generation.

I look at that luxury item I just bought, realize how many of the other Sherlockians who will be buying it come from a generation that didn't have to take out something like a home loan just to attend college, many of whom got no-longer-existing retirement packages that let them quit working in their fifties, and that doesn't even include those folks in our realm who inherited enough from their folks to go full-geek early on. I know, I know, most of us have jobs, earning what's available at the time we're living in, but if I look at all the Sherlocking I did in my twenties, like subscribing to every single Sherlockian journal available, and try to imagine doing that now?

Hard enough to imagine living the lifestyle of my 1980s Sherlockian self in the 2020s with four times the income . . . but if I was at the relative income level of my 1980s self now? No way would I be living the Sherlockian life I had then.

Sherlockiana is a bubble of sorts, where we have always intermingled with folks from all walks of life, and it's easy to think, "Oh, Sherlockiana is the same as it's always been," when, like every other part of the world, it's slowly evolving. Sometimes so slowly that we can pretend it's staying the same.

Should membership in a Sherlockian society be based upon the subscription price to a journal that might have been the ambitious project of the well-off Sherlockian that started it? That's a question I've raised and will be raising with the John H. Watson Society, as I think we need to start taking economics into account as we move forward as Sherlockians. You might not think that the game is rigged, that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, or that folks like Jeff Bezos raise their income by taking income away from the middle class and below. You may think that even suggesting that idea is "politics," the word for any part of reality there might be room to debate. But our little bubble of Sherlockiana isn't an air-tight biodome or terrarium. The outside world affects us.

It's easy to take pot-shots at country club Sherlockians who think that an annual trip to New York is the baseline cost for being in their club. But sometimes we have to step back and look at our own parts of the hobby, and how generational wealth might be tilting things toward a certain market of buyers rather than actually spreading the legend of Sherlock Holmes far and wide as we might prefer.

The game may be afoot, but I'm sure we'd rather it wasn't fixed, wherever the opportunity to even up the playing field can exist. There's enough corruption and bad-actor gamesmanship in the outside world right now working against our younger Sherlockians, so opening doors wherever we can, making things more affordable wherever we can, in events and publications, is probably something we should think about.

Especially in a hobby based around two guys who had to share rooms because they couldn't afford to live without each other.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The impossible, the improbable, and the impractical

 One of my co-workers added this little inspirational tag to their profile last week: "Nothing is impossible, only mathematically improbable."

Any longtime Sherlock Holmes fan has to have an immediate, almost instinctual, reaction to that statement. "Nothing is impossible? What can you eliminate, if that's the case? How do you get to the truth? "

Because, as Sherlock's dictum tells us, time and again: "Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

I was surprised at how strong my feelings about the impossible were. If not for the impossible, I would constantly be jumping into the air, hoping that I would fly on one of my attempts. If not for the impossible,  my list of personal goals would shoot through the roof and form a ladder to the moon -- because that wouldn't be impossible any more, either. The impossible makes our lives livable, because we're not sitting at our work desks with a crucifix and a crossbow, ready for potential daytime vampire attacks. (This is probably on my mind as I work at an office -- when I'm in my office -- full of crucifixes. No crossbows though, because no daytime vampires.)

We live in a time when many of the things that Sherlock Holmes would have ruled impossible are now possible. What, you woke up, travelled a thousand miles, had lunch, travelled a thousand miles back, and slept in the same spot you work up in? Impossible in 1887, not so impossible now. We all carry magic genies in our pockets, and our personal list of "possibles" has increased to an exponential degree from what was available even to Queen Victoria during Sherlock's time.

While it becomes tempting to say things like "Nothing is impossible," the thought is, at the very least, impractical. We can't do everything. We can't perfect everything. But as Sherlock Holmes said, "We can but try." And we also really need to eliminate those pesky impossibles in looking for possible explanations for things. As Holmes also said, "No ghosts need apply." He plainly placed them in the bucket for "impossible."

And why not? Otherwise, the minute ghosts entered the equation, anything becomes possible and there's no reason to keep looking for actual explanations. How does this blender work? Ghosts! Why doesn't the mailman show up until two in the afternoon? Ghosts! Who killed Sir Charles Baskerville? Ghosts!

While Sherlock Holmes might have called himself "the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather," he was not nearly as lazy as the person who stops at the first imagined explanation for an event, a.k.a. ghosts, not to be picking on ghosts all the time, but . . . ghosts!

We've got enough intellectual laziness out there right now without letting the ghosts apply.

Is believing in the impossible a thing now? Another side we have to choose? Well, as I have just proven to myself the impossibility that twin versions of me are sitting next to each other typing this by alternating one-finger pecks on the keyboard, I think there might just be such a thing. While it might still seem improbable, yet possible, to the reader, I think you should trust me on this one. Twin blogging Brads looks pretty impossible on this side of the screen. So I'm going to eliminate it, myself, but you do you.

Good luck figuring out your own impossibilities to eliminate. 

And P.S. . . . don't eliminate these guys. They were my first favorite rock band.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Last dance with Quizzy Jane

My friends down in Southern Illinois never did quizzes in any capacity with their club, the Occupants of the Empty House. I always kinda envied that. They were like monks that way, choosing to live their lives without a particular Sherlockian vice. And after forty years of indulging, I think I've finally decided to join that philosophy and take a vow of living without the Sherlockian quiz.

I should have done so after the locally notorious night of unending tie-breakers back in the eighties, when three of us memorized a story so completely that we couldn't miss a question. A little competitiveness is okay, but when you've hit that point, there might be a problem. But I grew up with siblings, and you tend to get a little competitive from that. And when you're a newbie Sherlockian, trying to prove your mettle, quizzes seem like something that can do that, even though they never seem to impress anyone, really.

The key to any activity is purely how much you enjoy it, and I don't think I've ever really enjoyed scrabbling at the Canon for details to answer queries posed. The casual impromptu verbal quizzery at a picnic or party is fine, if done with a sense of fun, just to see what you hold in your head at any given moment. But to pound away at an obscure question, requiring you to go beyond mere empathy to try to figure out what another human was thinking when they wrote the wording of a question before you can start to look for an answer . . . who has the time? Not I.

So, as one of the two quiz masters of the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt for 2020, I found myself split into two people: The kindly fellow who wanted to spare my fellow Sherlockians the grief of a quiz and the evil mastermind who had to come up with challenges for those who actually want to fight the battle. And so, with my partner in crime in agreement, I came up with a second quiz. A friendly quiz, for those who wanted to be a part of the proceedings without taking on an obligation they might never finish.

Still, the harder part had to be written, and during that, I started to feel like a victim of abuse who was turning into an abuser of the next generation. Because coming up with a tough question in the age of search engines can take you to a very dark place, especially if you're short on time and can't fully test out a question with human trials.  Merely posting a disclaimer like "Some side effects may include confusion, begging for an explanation, or loss of interest" seems hardly enough. Warnings still seemed necessary, and would be applied.

And yet, even that was not enough. I think we might have broke some people this year.

Had it not been for the pandemic, 2020 would have seen two happier versions in a similar realm: Pub Trivia. Both 221B Con and St. Louis's "Holmes in the Heartland" were to feature something I put together called "Alpha Inn Goose Club Trivia Night." The con was the hour-long test run, and then St. Louis would have featured the full after-dinner entertainment. And the difference between pub trivia and the standard quiz? The former is meant to be live and social. A good pub trivia question is entertaining even if you don't know the answer. And there's also room in the format to put something fun in there for everyone beyond just answering questions, which can be a lot like a game show from earlier days, where there it's just fun to watch someone taking part. There was going to be a goose!

But, alas, none of that got to happen, and here we are in September, with the final winners of the John H. Watson Treasure Hunt about to come out. Anyone who got a hundred percent score probably has hacked into my computer, because, looking at the answers now . . . this was insanely hard. No one could reasonably be expected to interpret a few of the answers. The final four who actually turned in answers deserve a medal of valor. Look for those names on this week's episode of the Watsonian Weekly, and on the John H. Watson Society website.

As for me? No more quizzes. I'm retiring from creating or taking them. This pub trivia thing, though . . . when the pandemic has calmed, my friends, we are going to have some parties.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Sherlockian pancake fever

 How much do five-year-olds know about pancakes? 

That non-Sherlock-Holmes section of A Study in Scarlet is our only Canonical reference to pancakes, that king of breakfast culture. And that one reference is weird.

"I'll bet she meets us at the door of Heaven with a big pitcher of water, and a lot of buckwheat cakes, hot and toasted on both sides, like Bob and me was fond of."

Little Lucy, last name unknown, is thirsty, so that pitcher of water makes sense. But those dry, crispy pancakes? No butter, no syrup, but somehow important that they are "toasted on both sides."

Who toasts their pancakes on only one side? Who leaves one side of their pancakes raw, wet, and bubbly?

Of course, little Lucy, last name unknown, is wearing a pink pinafore in the middle of a barren wasteland, having just been told that everyone she knows has died of thirst, which she somehow was sheltered from, as if she was just carried into existence by a weather-beaten old guy she didn't know too well before he decided to raise her. Maybe we can't expect her to make much culinary sense.

Now sugar maples grow throughout the part of the country where Lucy surely came from  -- "down in Illinois." Maple syrup could be had, as well as butter. To not think of those two things, and just hope that your pancakes are just "toasted on both sides" is rather sad. Lucy does talk about the trees that the current barren wasteland is missing, so she was familiar with those big plants that make the syrup juice. 

But she doesn't mention the syrup . . . maybe at age five she thought it was an automatic part of the pancake. Or maybe in the 1800s, with no Cheerios to give toddlers to chew on, Lucy's Southern Illinois clan just gave the tots silver dollar pancakes to keep them quiet. Mom could carry a buckskin bag of the things around with her to calm a hangry Lucy.

We never hear what happened to brother Bob. (Which concerns me a little bit, because I can think of a couple Sherlockian couples who were named Lucy and Bob, but weren't siblings, still, we hate, therefore, to think of anything bad befelling a Lucy and Bob. Especially if they liked pancakes.) He did like those double-toasted pancakes, though.

There's just a lot of weirdness going on with that Lucy kid in A Study in Scarlet. And the pancake issues seem to get right to the core of it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Sherlockian cobitment?

There's a phrase in certain circles of comedy known as "cobitment." A mash-up of the words "bit," as in comedy bit, and "commitment," as in sticking to a thing. It is basically an expression of committing one's self to continuing a joke or gag long past when others might have given it up. The thought of cobitment came to me this morning in relation to this game Sherlockians have been playing for so very long.

Whether one considers it "the grand game" or "the great game," a game is what we call the exploration of the sixty stories found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes as history. Real, factual history that intertwines with those things we find in other historical records of the era, requiring research, documentation, and all those things normally reserved for serious minds doing serious things.

It's not really a gag or a joke. We're not looking to lead anyone down a Watsonian path and then suddenly go, "Ha-ha! Fooled you!" It's not a joke made funnier by repetition or extending it out, as one would think when using that "cobitment" idea I started this train with. So what is our game?

It's really a sort of "let's pretend," where we gather up the like-minded scamps and indulge ourselves with an imaginary landscape for a time, laid over the world we know. We can peruse the theatrical records and look for traces of Irene Adler. We can take old maps of London and hunt up Saxe-Coburg Square. We can take a safari thought J.G. Wood's works for a glimpse of cyanea capillata. And with each foray into such adventures, Mr. Sherlock Holmes becomes a little more solid, a little more real in our minds.

Now, occasionally the adults on the porch are going to shout, "ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE! ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE!" and call us in to quite playing for a while and deal with serious matters. I always have found that a little irritating, but then, I'm not so mature nor well-behaved as some of the other children. Sometimes, the other kids go in for a dose of proper medicine, whilst some of us stay out in the yard, chasing Garridebs. Is that sticking with a gag that has gone on too long? Our just wanting to stay up and play just a little while longer in that world that hides all around us.

Writing our own tales of detection and romance can be fun, letting Watson's spirit flow through our fingers into the keyboard, creating worlds where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson roam where we'd like them to. But that thrill will never match finding that one sentence in that one old book that tells you, "Yes, this thing I read in 'The Bruce-Partington Plans' is actually a real thing!" or finally putting your hands on a bullseye lantern and feeling that surface that Sherlock Holmes once felt. 

If that was committing to an ongoing joke, that little thrill would not be there. That little moment of impossible possibility that the legends could be somehow true. It's ironic that I've actually heard Sherlockians express fears that our game might lead someone to believe that Sherlock Holmes was real, and that Conan Doyle was a mere literary agent, somehow losing all deserved credit for his work. For I think Conan Doyle saw the magic in crossing into "that fairy kingdom of romance" for a time, and had he not found himself dead center of the Holmes hurricane, would have enjoyed the game.

Perhaps, rather than a joke we're committed to, our game is a opiate that we're addicted to. Perhaps there should be warning labels for us, rather than those we're in danger of tricking with our games. But that's for the surgeon general to decide. 

Me, I'm going back outside to play.


Monday, September 7, 2020

The legacy load

 Here's something in my basement.


It's the official podium of the Hansoms of John Clayton, the Sherlock Holmes society of Peoria, Illinois.

Built during the heyday of the Hansoms, it once moved from house to house, meeting to meeting, and from behind it, toasts were given, presentations were made, and the Clayton Ritual was responsively read. It was the centerpiece of Sherlockian functions in Peoria for decades. And here it sits.

I've started and abandoned a few Sherlockian societies in my day. Who knows? They might still exist, on hiatus until some air-gun crime of fate lures them back into town. But I did not start the Hansoms of John Clayton, and its slumber weighs more heavily on me for that very reason. Even though one of the original founders still roams the Earth, somewhere other than Peoria, I was the one left holding the reins when it quietly came to an end. Once the meeting attendance dwindled to four people in the early 2000s, and the only two regulars lived in my house, it came time to call it "on hiatus."

A legacy Sherlockian society will always weigh heavier than your own personal attempts that fail. You never know the limits of what your locale or speciality will bear until you try, and all trial holds that potential for failure. But that other thing, that thing someone else started and had a good run with, before handing it off to you, whether or not you actually wanted it . . . well, nobody wants to be the one to turn off the lights on their way out the door.

Now, before you go, "But Brad . . . !" in a burst of Sherlockian fervor, let me get to the other side of that coin, our enthusiam. When people get fancy with our hobby, they like to call themselves (and us, just because they don't want to seem to egotistical) the exotic sounding words "afficianados" or "devotees." The better fancy word might be "enthusiast," because enthusiasm is what drives us, our enthusiasm for all things Sherlock and John.

New ideas give you enthusiasm. 

"Hey, let's start a club!" 

"Hey, let's print a journal!" 

"Hey, let's do a weekly podcast!" 

"Hey, let's have a month-long quiz every August!" (Did I get too specific there? Maybe.)

And every one of those things is great, especially that first time. And the second or third. And maybe for a while. But every new idea ought to have an automatic term limit built in, because even if you're someone who loves ritual and routine, eventually you're going to hit your life's term limit and someone else is going to have to continue that repetition, playing your greatest hits night-after-night as the cover band with the same name as the original.

Now, Sherlockiana has had some really great achievements in carrying on traditions in some areas, but has also paid the price for some of those as well, when holding on to past glories has stunted current potential for new glories. It's a very hard balance, keeping enough of the old to have some sort of continuity while keeping things fresh enough to make it interesting for those who aren't into the security of the same-old, same-old. A lot of times, that's accomplished by passing a duty from hand-to-hand-to-hand. But we can't just expect people to carry things on in exactly the fashion they were before like robots. Even that mega-corporation McDonald's, the king of comforting sameness, couldn't keep things how they were forever.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday, as he was contemplating taking up a new Sherlockian task. I might have been exactly the wrong person for that conversation, being a little burnt-out on some things at the moment -- there are some of us who cycle burn-out and enthusiasm as if we're the cylinder of an internal combustion engine. But that's Sherlockiana. That's any creative endeavor. You're gonna have high energy moments, and you're gonna hit rock bottom. But if you find a fuel line to keep the motor running, you'll be okay.

Okay, got lost in my metaphor for a moment there. The point is, as much as Sherlockiana is a joy and a light in our lives, there can also be a laborious side to it, where hard choices have to be made and that beautiful idea someone had once does not get to go on forever. As any creative person knows, you get idea after idea after idea, and if you jump from one to the next constantly, you'll never accomplish any of them. But at the same time, we can't beat a dead horse at the cost of getting those new thoroughbreds out on the track. (Gone from engines to horses. Metaphors!)

Today is Labor Day in America. We don't usually stop and think about folks who labor at the tasks that keep our world running, both inside and outside Sherlockiana. Podcasts like "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" and "The Tree Patch Podcast," publications like Canadian Holmes, The Serpentine Mews, and those ones with "Journal" in the title. The Baker Street Journal and The Sherlock Holmes Journal probably get the least respect in terms of the labor that goes into them, as we can easily look at institutions like those and just think they magically exist because they always have. But there are people behind all those things who are carrying a load, a load they bear in addition to their normal workaday lives, if they aren't retired folks, which so many aren't.

We are enthusiasts. That's what starts us out, that's what drives us. But no matter what you do in Sherlockiana that isn't just taking it all in, there's going to be some labor involved eventually. So, on this Labor Day, here's to you, all you laborers in the Sherlockian and Holmesian fields past and present. This oft-irritating blogger loves you all and the work you do, the work you try, and even the work you occasionally fail at and have to quit. It's all part of our laborious "game." 

But I've rambled on enough . . . time to get back to work.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Hot characters of the Sherlockian Canon

After the recent discussion of hot Sherlocks, perhaps we should turn to our much-respected Canon and see what the citizens therein thought was hot and what was not. Being Victorians, they were not like Paris Hilton in her heyday, pronouncing every other thing as "so hot." Yet they did seem to have a few opinions on the topic, from which we might learn a thing or two. What were they?

"He was so hot that I think he would have thrashed Drebber with his cudgel . . ."

               -- Jefferson Hope on a man his was obsessed with, in A Study in Scarlet

"So hot was I . . ." 

              -- John H. Watson, The Sign of the Four

". . . the scissors-grinder, who was equally hot. . ."

            -- John H. Watson, also The Sign of the Four

". . . he was hot . . ."

            -- John H. Watson, regarding Sherlock Holmes in "Beryl Coronet"

"I have reason to think that they are hot . . ." 

           -- Sherlock Holmes, regarding Moriarty's gang, in "The Final Problem"

"I think that we are particularly hot . . ."

          -- Sherlock Holmes, upon himself and Watson, in The Hound of the Baskervilles

"Well, Jack, you are very hot."

         -- Beryl Stapleton, about her brother/husband in The Hound of the Baskervilles

"He has a reputation of being hot . . ."

        -- Mycroft Holmes on Cadogan West in "Bruce-Partington Plans

". . . I was hot . . ."

      -- John H. Watson, looking for "Lady Frances Carfax"

In any survey of the Canon, we're always going to get John Watson's opinion first and foremost, and the preceding quotes do tend to hit him the most. John Watson apparently thinks he himself is hot more often than he thinks Holmes is. This would correspond to the longtime idea of Watson as the looker of the two, the serial lover of the two, and . . . well . . . that moustache. 

Holmes seems to favor the criminal element in what he finds hot, Mycroft likes a young government clerk type, and . .  well, Watson has a scissors-grinder kink. (Oh, wait . . . scissoring . . . grinding . . . NEVER MIND!) There is info here for further investigation, to be sure.

These are actual quotes from the actual Canon after all, whatever the context police might want to tell you. I'm just reporting. It doesn't answer our ongoing questions about Jeremy Brett, but I'll leave those to his stage-door jennies and loyal followers.



Saturday, September 5, 2020

Hot Sherlocks

Excuse me while I take out my figurative long cherry-wood pipe ala Sherlock Holmes. The mood this morning is "a disputatious rather than a meditative mood."

Ahem.

Okay, we all know the world is pretty messed up right now. You don't need me to go into details, we all know. SO messed up. But there are lines, folks. There are lines that once we cross them, we're just going into cloud cuckoo land and never coming back. And today, I think I saw some folks happily stepping over that line, and even though it may risk me getting cancelled, I'm going to call it out.


A troubling poll

Somewhere out in the Twitterverse -- let me run the math here -- one hundred and fifty-four followers of The Baker Street Journal on Twitter have something odd going on where they don't quite understand what the word "hotness" means.

Where I come from, it has always meant "someone who sexually excites you." It does not mean "someone who is your favorite at what they do." I get the feeling a lot of older cis-het guys were skewing the numbers on this one. Cis-het guys have long been the mainstay of The Baker Street Journal, and I doubt they all went, "Well, since I'm not attracted to Sherlock Holmes, I'm sitting this one out."

Yes, I have met women who found Jeremy Brett attractive in the day, some who prefer older men, etc., but they've usually been the outliers. Sherlockians, as a whole, do react to most stimuli in the variety of ways that non-Sherlockians do, and presented with that list of four, I don't think you're going to find a sudden variation from those norms just because someone was a Sherlockian.

I mean, seriously. Do people not have Netflix accounts?

Cumberbatch is cool as hell and is the man that actually brought sexy Sherlock to the world. Not just to fans of Sherlock Holmes who were staring at Rathbone anyway when the mood hit, but the guy that caused folks to actually go, "Wow, Sherlock Holmes in nothing but a sheet is something I was ready for."

Robert Downy Jr. is one of the world's most charming human beings. His bod may not be in the best shape all the time, but that guy can get it done.

And Henry Cavill? Henry Cavill? Superman? The Witcher? The baddie who does that cool shoulder-cocking move before helping Tom Cruise destroy a restroom in Mission Impossible: Fallout?

I am sorry, but I'm calling total BS on the idea of a majority of actual humans putting Jeremy Brett over those three lads in any true "hotness" contest. Hell, I'm 98% straight, but I'd stop to think about if one of those three propositioned me. Jeremy Brett, at the age he played Sherlock? Well, we might have a lovely tea.

We all know (I hope) that we shouldn't base our current view of reality on Twitter, where chaos is constantly reigning and K-pop fans rule the Earth. Same goes for Facebook, which skews whatever way it thinks you need to be skewed to make their ads effective.  There are certain subjects we need to step back, observe as objectively as Sherlock Holmes himself would, and look for the facts behind the spooky tales of demon-dogs, Peruvian vampire-women, and Jeremy Brett's hotness.

I mean, Sir Ian McKellen. Sir Ian McKellen.

Really. Put those DVDs away and watch some stuff.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Bruce-Partington pastiche

 Tonight was once again Sherlock Holmes Story Society night here in Peoria, and where I usually come away with a variety of different thoughts from our discussion, new perspectives, etc., this time I came away with just one, and it haunts me.

The story was "The Bruce-Partington Plans." The haunting thought?

I don't feel like Conan Doyle wrote this one.

We've always had the odd little authorship theories with Sherlock Holmes, be it our purposefully fantasy of Watson's work, the Fletcher Robinson business, or that one or more of his wives took a hand in it. But I never really felt like a tale has all the elements of a pastiche in it as much as "Bruce-Partington Plans." It is written well enough, yes, but it's written a bit too thoroughly.  

Yes, yes, it's practically the focus of Vincent Starrett's poem "221B" -- 1895, yellow fog, and all that. But when you compare it to other stories, the author spends a whole lot of time on details that he would not have dallied over in earlier times, entire visits to characters that seem unnecessary. And did we need one more "Violet?" Nothing cries out "pastiche" like a Violet.

Miss Violet Westbury, Mr. Sidney Johnson, Colonel Valentine Walter . . . one one starts down this path, those three all have the blandness of pastichery characters. Another mark of the pastiche? Here comes brother Mycroft. How about a Victorian celebrity? How about the Victorian celebrity, Queen Victoria herself, who practically waltzes into Baker Street in this tale. (Though she is, sadly, kept apart from her greatest admirer John Watson. Holmes and Watson headcanon -- catch the fever!)

Holmes decides to do burglary and doesn't know if Watson will go, even though we've already seen the two as burglars in "Charles Augustus Milverton." When Watson says he will go, Holmes jumps up to shake Watson's hand and looks in his eyes with "nearer to tenderness than I had ever seen." Some real Johnlocking going on there, because you know the writer had to be thinking "KISS! KISS!" and pulled back, knowing his editor wouldn't allow it. Okay, perhaps I went too far on that one for old school readers, but just look at some of the lines in this puppy:

"What do you think of it,Watson?" Holmes asks of the idea West's body was atop the train.

"A masterpiece," Watson exudes, "You have never risen to a greater height."

Really, Watson? Were you around for the other cases?

And that last line where the author actually gets in the title: "I have little doubt that the emerald pin will forever recall to my friend's memory the adventure of the Bruce-Partington plans." I mean, who writes cheese like that except a fan? 

Let's take this theory a step further. In 1904, Conan Doyle finished writing the stories that were collected as "The Return of Sherlock Holmes." After four years, in 1908, he supposedly writes "Wisteria Lodge" and "Bruce-Partington Plans." then he goes another coupe of years before the very excellent return to form with "The Devil's Foot" in 1910.  

"Wisteria Lodge" has its own problems, but at least in Brian W. Pugh's A Chronology of the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Pugh records that "Wisteria Lodge" was written in April, then published in September and October. "Bruce-Partington Plans" is recorded as being published in December of 1908, but no mention of it being written by Doyle is ever made. The manuscript for the story is said to exist in an "unrecorded location." Perhaps the team behind the BSI manuscript series had clearer knowledge of its whereabouts, but if it is ever subject to our scrutiny, what might that handwriting look like? Jean's? That of young Inness with embellishments by his father?

Something has always seemed a little off about "Wisteria Lodge" which came out during that 1908 island of the Canon. But with "Bruce-Partington Plans," the oddity is almost the opposite of the earlier tale -- it's' just a little too cozily fitting in that "just like a Holmes story" niche with a little more loving detail added in than Doyle usually took the time to add. It is a curious thing.

Any takers on this theory? Or just another wild conjecture from Peoria?


 


The clubbable Sherlockian

 There's a word out there that comes up in certain Sherlockian circles that I find rather questionable, and that word is "clubbable."

"Suitable for membership of a club because of one's sociability or popularity," according to Oxford.

"Fit to be a member of a club," according to Dictionary.com.

The actual meaning of "clubbable," of course, depends upon the club in question, or more specifically, the person or persons deciding who should get into that club. It's a vague term used in exclusionary situations where someone wants to get by without setting specific qualifications and would rather keep things at "only letting in people we like." Because if "clubbable" is about getting along with the club members appropriately, we all know who we get along best with: people we like.

"Clubbable" is one of those old white guy words you can hear coming out of the mouth of a stuffy cartoon high-society caricature of the sort that our current fictions tend to do better than. Racism and sexism get called out specifically. Bias against those who are specifically different gets spoked to specifically. "Clubbable" has certainly covered a lot of sins in its time, and maybe it's time we stopped using it to cover up any future transgressions.

It's 2020, guys, time to be as honest as we can, because lord know the dishonest are taking their game to whole new levels, and we have to be able to recognize truth, even in settings where nice people are doing nice things. It's kind of what Sherlock Holmes was all about, wasn't it?

Some folks are concerned with "cancel culture," and we've seen it raise its head in Sherlockian circles, right or wrong. But we shouldn't pretend it wasn't always here in a more subtle, backroom fashion. The Sherlockian holding a grudge against a few other Sherlockians and quietly taking shots in private settings has been with us for a long time, while that person maintains a public face that keeps them oh-so "clubbable." Others of us are not quite so shy with our opinions, for better or worse. But at least it's on the record, which will probably keep us "unclubbable" if the gatekeepers of clubbiness disagree.

Objective standards for any job candidate are the norm for businesses, and if a club is taking a more business-like model, qualifications and best-candidate traits make perfect sense. You hire for the best employees to get the job done you want done. For an actual social club, though? We all get to pick our friends, but if you want to claim to be something more and rise above the mediocre, sometimes you have to allow some differing opinions in. Maybe let yourself be challenged a little bit.

I doubt Sherlock Holmes would have found much use for the imprecise nature of "clubbable." And probably wouldn't have worked to fit into the mold of any club that demanded such. (Ah, good old crabby Diogenes Club.) It also sounds a bit like you're someone who wants to do nasty things to baby seals, but I'll let that alone for this diatribe.

I've probably clubbed enough for the moment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Enola's coming out party

 Well, if you haven't seen the big Netflix preview of Enola Holmes, and are not a "I don't do movies" sort, get on that right now . . . I'll wait.

After decades and decades of Irene Adlers, female Watsons, Mary Russells, and other women in Sherlock's orbit who complemented, competed, or co-existed in his shadow, it looks like we're about to get the cultural breakout of a female character embodying all the fun of Sherlock while being her own person. Not to downplay any of those ladies of the past, but this movie is giving us something new. Intended for a big-screen theatrical release in a pre-Covid world, Enola Holmes looks like she's going to make a splash, and possibly a bigger one with a Netflix release than she would have in theaters.

After Sherlock's last big-media sister, Eurus, was such a dark mess of a human being (with aspects that possibly did not reflect well on her male creators' thoughts on women), Enola comes across as a real bright and shining star of a Sherlockian movie character. Having the character portrayed by an actress who has already made her name with the Netflix show Stranger Things only boosts her visibility from square one. 

The fact that Henry Cavill, coming off his Netflix Witcher popularity and playing Sherlock Holmes, looks solidly cast as a supporting character in the preview, is also a plus. This doesn't look like a movie where we're going to be constantly waiting for Sherlock Holmes to show up again, with him being the only reason we wanted to watch it -- I'd watch this movie if it were "Enola Poirot."

It seems to have the pace of a Robert Downey Jr. film, the breaking-the-fourth-wall fun of a Deadpool, a touch of recognition of the past with a Paget-altered drawing, Helena Bonham Carter . . . and could Hole's "Celebrity Skin" be a better rocker to put behind that preview? Nice attitude.

What we have here is a thoroughly modern Sherlock Holmes film based on a well-thought-out book series, that looks like somebody was a.) paying attention, and b.) looking to have some fun.

And these days, who doesn't need a little fun?


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Sidekick abuse

 Contemplating some recent events in the world of comics as I watched another classic sidekick put through the wringer just to give his hero a story, I couldn't help but think of our Watson.

We never really total up the abuse Watson takes for the sake of Sherlock Holmes from day one.

John H. Watson literally takes a bullet just to meet Sherlock Holmes.

And worse than that, he gets a horrible abdominal illness that wastes him away and ruins his health so that he can do nothing but lay on the couch for months and watch his room-mate. Since he has no medical practice, his true calling, he's readily available when Sherlock Holmes gets a whim to invite him along to his first murder investigation.

Watson cannot have a happy marriage due to Sherlock Holmes. He can't help out his wife's friend without running into Sherlock Holmes and not coming home that night. And when Sherlock Holmes turns out to have faked his own death and needs to come back to London, the great author-god reaches down from the heavens over Baker Street and snuffs Watson's wife. (Or causes something so terrible that she leaves Watson for eight years, your call, neither good.)

Watson takes another bullet to see Sherlock Holmes cares whether he lives or dies. Watson is almost poisoned by deadly fumes just to see Holmes's heart, but never can explicitly tell us what he sees there. And those are just the big hits -- the little zings and stings of daily life with Sherlock Holmes must be accounted for as well.

While Conan Doyle never went so far as to have criminals kidnap, torture, or threaten Watson for their ends, most others who have taken Watson's pen in hand have given into that temptation. Put Watson in a Guy Fawke's bonfire just to get Holmes to save him. Let Moriarty torture Watson to mindlessness just to get Holmes's reaction. Make Dr. Watson the stupidest human in the 1940s just for a weak touch of comedy. Give Watson a failed affair with one of the poorer Mycrofts, just to test Holmes's jealousy. On and on the list goes.

While Sherlock Holmes takes some hits in his life, his personality, looks, gender, age, etc., etc. are never changed so dramatically from appearance to appearance. Does Watson feel pain from such wrenching shape-shifting on a regular basis, almost like the repetitive torments of a soul in hell itself? I certainly hope not. He/she/they has enough pain in the narratives themselves to consider his/her/their suffering in those interim limbos between appearances.

Feeling a great urge to write comfort pastiches for Watson now, where he just gets warm fuzzies and treats during the whole case. Is there a market for worlds where Watson gets to write in loving comfort?

I sure hope so.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The comfortable feel of a local Sherlockian group, even now

It was surely sometime in the 1990s when I last attended a meeting of the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn, the Sherlockian society of St. Charles, Missouri. St. Charles might be called a suburb of St. Louis, but it's also a picturesque river town all its own, so it was a great place for the good Carter and I to make a weekend getaway back when my first visit occurred.

Tonight was my second Harpooners meeting, and you know why: Zoom connectivity. Some of the same faces we saw in the nineties were still there, their "Blue Whale" Michael Bragg among them. J. Andrew Basford ran a good meeting, and it reminded me very much of the local meetings we used to have in Peoria: Toasts, some current news, a presentation on the story of the evening and some discussion of it. Probably similar to many a Sherlockian society, but being back to doing in on a Friday night at 7 PM Central Time, the time when Peoria's own Hansoms of John Clayton would meet on the third Friday of every month . . . it really brought a very familiar vibe that hadn't hit me on Zoom meetings just yet.

A good many go for the middle of the day on weekends, to expand their time zone reach, if they weren't doing that already. The evening meeting definitely cuts down on faraway attendees.  But even though the Harpooners did get one Canadian this time, and the two fellows you see everywhere these days, Steve Mason and Rich Krisciunas (not complaining, guys, you are enriching things wherever you go), there was still a distinctly local feel to it. Maybe because almost everybody was familiar to me, being just a few hours away, maybe due to their familiarity with each other.

It made me start to wonder if this might be the time to revitalize Peoria's old group, in this time when a few ringers can add to the local crowd via our new practice. But would a new version of our old local group add anything new to the mix we're seeing now? There are already an embarrassment of riches for the Zoom-happy Sherlockian, and most of us can't keep up as it is.

But I seem to learn something new from every group I visit, and the fourteen who gathered for tonight's Harpooners meeting were no exception. And such meetings always make me wonder where we're going in the future as Sherlockians. The Harpooners still have hopes to go back to in-person soon. But this "new normal" probably won't disappear when that day does come for many a function. And we may start to have groups with a "local" feel that are composed of people who are from all over the world.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of time," the famous first line goes, and I'm starting to see how that might work.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

The strange bond between collectors and scholars

 On the latest episode of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, the head of the Baker Street Irregulars was talking about the BSI publishing business. Publishing is the biggest public-facing side of the group, all in all, and one big facet of BSI publishing these days is the ongoing attempt to publish reproductions of all available Doyle manuscripts. The discussion brought up the Irregulars role as a "literary society" and how the publishing of the manuscript reproductions was of great use to the study of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Can't argue with that, right?

But as someone who owns several of those volumes, as well as some Doyle manuscript reproductions done before the BSI took up the task, I was a little bit suspect of a completely scholarly motivation for reproducing the original manuscripts of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Having been around Sherlockians for forty years, and being an avid one myself, I know that certain other factors drive us with far more energy than pure altruistic scholarship.

Like collecting. There's a certain Pokemon "got to catch 'em all" aspect of the BSI Manuscript series that can't be denied. Once you start down that path, the lure of completing the set will always be there, even if you aren't really interested in what words Doyle crossed out and replaced in a given story. Or how the handwriting is different in some places than others. Just having a full set on the shelf drives one's obsessive/compulsive traits at some point.

But if you think about it, that's always been the case with collectors, who often don't care what something actually says as much as the fact they own it and can claim to have read it. Am I being hard on collectors here? Maybe, but they serve a very important purpose, however pure or impure we personally view their motives. They are the archivists, the ones whose personal mission it is to gather and preserve all of the data around Sherlock Holmes, even if they are so busy collecting they don't have time to fully explore what they have. That remains for others to do, especially if said collection goes somewhere like the fabulous libraries of Minnesota or Toronto.

John Bennett Shaw gained a reputation for being the greatest collector of his age, the great Sherlockian evangelist of his age as well, but not the greatest scholar, which was fine. He aided and abetted the scholars, like Ron DeWaal and his cataloging efforts, by just having that collection. There's a symbiosis between collectors and scholars that benefits both parties.

Not saying that collectors can't be scholars, or that scholars don't become collectors, or that we don't have other motives for owning a Doyle manuscript reproduction. There is a totemic quality to holding a copy of Conan Doyle's original creative act, putting the words to paper to conjure the genie, that makes those works magical in a way that even just owning one, especially for a favorite story, gives you the feeling of a bond that transcends time. There's a wizarding quality to the Sherlockian hobby that we don't consider nearly often enough as we toss Sherlock's magic around, and certain items become imbued with power beyond the mere paper and ink that built them.

It's the magic, I think, that really gave us collectors and scholars to begin with, as well as the writers, the artists, the performers, and all who roam the paths radiating from that central point of 221B Baker Street. All intertwined, all a part of that grand composite effect we call "Sherlockiana."

One has to wonder if Sherlock Holmes, were he alive and in his Sussex cottage right now, might be studying that great hive of a hobby that he inspired and trying to segregate a Sherlockian queen, however that metaphor plays out. Because it is one hell of a hive.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Fifty year old Sherlockian 'zines

 Sometimes, even and older fellow like me gets surprised at how far back some parts of Sherlockiana go. As long as somebody is able to reproduce type, stories of Sherlock Holmes appear in print. This afternoon I was taking a little time to sort a few things out and ran across an especially nice piece of our history.


September of 1971, and a Minneapolis Sherlockian named Ruth Berman is collecting Sherlockian material from other zines, and, with permission to reprint, collecting it into her own fanzine called SH-sf Fanthology and letting folks have those collections for a mere fifty cents a copy.

"The Martian Who Hated People" by Edward Ludwig, from a 1955 publication called Inside. "A Letter (Mycroft to S.)" by Jon White, from a 1968 issue of Fistula. "Moriarty and the Binomial Theorem" by Doug Hoylman and Proper Boskonian #6, and February 1971.

The next year, she was back again with a third issue.

"The Adventure of the Second Narrator, or The Case of the Doctor Who Had No Business" by Dick Lupoff from Pok-Pik '66 Souvenir Booklet. "Annotations in Afghanistan, a discussion by members of Apa-L" by Bill Warren, Len and June Moffat, Don Fitch, Ted Johnstone, Joyce O'Dell, and Dan Goodman from seven issues of Apa-L (numbers 258-264). A limerick from a 1971 Despatch, as well as art by Mary Ellen Raboglatti. The classic "Holmes was a Vulcan or 'Mr. Holmes, where have you lived?'" by Priscilla Pollner, which first appeared in Son of a Beach's first issue in 1970. And Ruth Berman's own "Sherlock Holmes in Oz," which had already seen print in the first issue of Oziana two years earlier.


I'm not sure how they were originally reproduced, as I didn't get my copies from Ruth Berman until the mid-eighties, when photocopying on plain paper was more common than in 1972. I know a lot of fanzine creators paid the high price for offset printing of their typewritten works back in the day. Things were a wee bit different almost fifty years ago. But, like I said at the start, people got their Sherlock-works out there any way they could. 

Science fiction fans have always loved Sherlock Holmes, I think, and that's one reason he could be seen creeping into fanzines before he ever had his own (unless you want to count The Baker Street Journal as a very high quality fanzine when it first came out, and a case could be made). And one can see both genders represented from early, early on, despite the "old boys club" feel some Sherlockian history gets, despite women like Dorothy Sayers being right in there with the best of them.

It's good to get a glimpse of what came before now and then, just to remember that the current version of the Sherlockian world didn't invent crossovers or fan art. (Though, man, is it at a whole 'nother level now!) And get reminded that Sherlock Holmes as a Vulcan has been a thought that's been with us for half a century as of this year. Half a century!

(And by the by, anybody ever ask Nic Meyer if, when Spock quoted his ancestor and comes out with a Holmes line in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was Spock quoting a human ancestor or a Vulcan ancestor? Mr. Spock had both, so the question was kind of left unanswered.)

Hold on to things, kids. Fifty years from now, somebody's going to need material to tell the other Sherlockians about, and it might just be you.

And one other thing. All of these goodies got distributed by the United States Postal Service. A service provided to everyone by the country in which we live for the completely reasonable cost of a few stamps. Not a goddamned business with profit motives governing choices. A public service like fire departments and libraries and the National Guard. Sorry for the sudden dark turn at the end, folks, but some bad shit is going down out there and we can't stick our heads in the sand. It's gonna get a lot uglier before it gets better, you gotta know that on this mid-August day of 2020.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Victorian England of our minds

The Scylla and Charybdis of writing Canon-based Sherlock Holmes stories, if I was going to venture a guess, would have to be how you portray Sherlock Holmes and how you portray the Victorian era. Because even if you have a really good feel for our hero, the times in which he lived often seem an unfathomable mess, just as any culture in any time period, for one reason and one reason alone: One size does not fit all.

In earlier days of my Sherlockian life, I remember writers finding some etiquette book and claiming the rules therein applied to everyone in London. Growing up in a time when Amy Vanderbilt was still the acknowledged American authority on proper etiquette, with books on the subject in every bookstore, I knew that to be complete BS. Why should our working-class Victorian counterparts follow book rules when nobody I knew did?

Sherlock Holmes's clients were definitely not all manor-house types. And even the murder mysteries did not all happen to the upper classes, as the trope-iest of murder mysteries since his time do. And even among the manor house class, the rules for any given house depended entirely upon the personality of the person who ran the house. If the person who ran the house threw his false teeth at his wife at the end of every meal, as is mentioned in the Canon, you know that the rest of the rules were probably loosely applied as well.

Human beings fudge their way around actual laws as much as possible. The thought that we're going to all agreeably go along with proper etiquette dictums is absurd. And that's an idea that needs to be applied to most things we know about Victorian life when it comes to populating a Sherlock Holmes story, now that we are so far divorced from that era. Take anything you read, think about the way an actual human would react to that idea, and go from there.

Think about all the articles that have been written by Sherlockians on "My Fifteen Rules for Writing a Pastiche," then think of someone in the future, who never read a pastiche of a Holmes story, finding one of those articles and going "Sherlockians of that era followed this strict set of guidelines for creating their fiction about Holmes." Usually those articles are one person's personal reaction to existing stories they've read and not a reflection of reality at all -- the reality was usually all those things we are told not to do.

In reading the works of Victorian writers, I am consistently amazed at how they were thinking the same things we were thinking, having the same problems with their fellow humans that we are having, and how certain things have never changed, despite the drastic differences in tech, hygiene, and entertainments. Those very human things -- love, anger, isolation, logic, mob-think, etc. -- are carried with us through the ages, and why certain story structures do as well. We crave the same thing from books the Victorians craved, which is why Sherlock Holmes still exists.

That point alone connects our present selves to the folk of Victorian England and reminds us that they weren't all that different from who we are now, as much as we'd like to put on airs of being all "future and evolved." They got addicted as we get addicted. Their hearts broke as our hearts break. And they loved a guy who could walk into a room and make the mysteries of life plain and simple, just like we do now.

They just got to do it with gaslamps and Hansom cabs.