Saturday, September 11, 2021

A quick report on September's Parallel Case Meeting

 Yes, you can always get the full scoop on the latest Parallel Case meeting from their own blog in a few days, but as I enjoy live-blogging an event, oh, what the heck. Here's some early notes.

The Zoom meetings of St. Louis's Parallel Case always start with a round of self-introductions, so it's fun to hear where everyone is from as well as what their Sherlockian pleasure points are. Twenty-six folks, from coast-to-coast America, along with an across-the-seas Sherlockian or two, which is about the right number for everyone getting a word or two in. Societies from the Noble and Most Singular Order of the Blue Carbuncle to Doyle's Rotary Coffin are represented, as well as many Parallel Case, Harpooners, Occupants, and Hansoms . . . the near-St.-Louis Sherlockians, of course.

Rob Nunn, the meeting's host, always allows a little time for promotion of attendees' various Sherlockian pursuits, and we get:

A film discussion group:

A Moriary podcast:

A great publication with a deadline in four days:

A Sherlockian specialty club:

A chance to recognize a teacher:

The discussion of the story for the meeting "The Missing Three-Quarter" always starts with Rob summarizing the events of the story, but this time he barely gets into the client showing up when the attendees go off on the mystifications of rugby to the American mind. A point gets made using the phrase "those who play the game that Watson actually wrote the stories," and I write and delete a few comments out of the chat before I hit "enter." One has to be diplomatic with those Sherlockians who enjoy that whimsical study of Watson's literary agent as somehow important, and quippery can often be misconstrued. But the rugby talk continues. And continues. But there's a baby in one frame of the zoom screen, so that entertains the chat sidebar a bit.

When things move on, I'm surprised that Lord Mount-James offering Holmes "a fiver, or even a tenner" was actually the rough equivalent of eight hundred to a thousand bucks in modern money -- over the century, the old miser has become much more miserly in a modern reader's eyes. I always looked at it as "five or ten pounds" in modern pocket change.

The personality clash between Holmes and Dr. Armstrong comes up. Watson's lax knowledge of the medical community comes up.  And with those, the story places itself in a very different sort of period in Holmes and Watson's partnership, one that I'm going to have to follow up further -- and perhaps throw something together for the next issue of The Watsonian. One thing that bears remark is the balanced conversation of the Parallel Case -- it seems like everyone is getting a chance to contribute. 

Not going to get too far in detail, as you'll want to read the full Parallel Case report for that when it comes out. Holmes's use of "Sleepy Hollows" brings up a question of whether or not that was a reference to Washington Irving's classic story or just a general rustic town. (Or slang that arose from that much-earlier stories.)  Mark Twain enters the conversation, and since this is a St. Louis based group, not that far from Twain's Hannibal, Missouri, that's to be expected.

It was a good meeting. I almost got so distracted by an e-mail on Sherlockian chronology that I forgot to post this, but such is my curse. Looking forward to the full Case recap.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Not gonna die on that Hill

 Let's be honest. While a firm believer in each of us keeping their own head-canon to fill in the blank spaces Watson left us, there's particular phrase that I always tend to react unpleasantly toward, and that is "sub-text." The idea that Conan Doyle was laying a separate, under-the-main-text layer of story that only those with the right-colored glasses can see. "Sub-text" is a claim of knowing authorial intent, of presuming to understand a talented mind so well that their hidden constructions are plain.

And I will admit, perhaps I'm just holding a grudge against an ineffective high school teacher or two and their "theme of blood" during some banging on Hemingway or somesuch. But then we come up against the likes of Pope R. Hill, Senior.

A few of us in the Sherlockian chronology game have been vexed in the past month by Mr. Pope Hill. In 1947, Hill published a pamplet called Part One, in which Hill claims to have an unpublished eighty-thousand word manuscript titled Dating Sherlock Holmes, in which he blows previous chronology out of the water by exposing the secret key to Conan Doyle's works. Then in 1952, Hill publishes yet another pamphlet, The Sherlock Holmes Hoax, claiming his unpublished manuscript has grown to one hundred thousand words, and further explaining the theories proven within that mass of unseen text.

His theory is based on three supposed facts:

1. The Canon is full of errors.

2. The chronology of the stories makes no sense.

3. Pope himself had worked out alternate plots for each of the sixty stories from the clues within said stories.

Conan Doyle, therefore, did all of that on purpose, creating a new kind of detective story that offered the reader a second layer of mystery. Serious subtext. 

In 1951, Clifton R. Andrew called Pope one of "the authorities in the chronology." Seventy years later, Brian McCuskey surmised that Pope suffered from "the fundamental belief in yourself as Sherlock Holmes," based on how seriously he thought the mathematics professor took his theory of that hidden layer of Doyle's creation. The thing is, Hill seems neither an authority on chronology nor a Sherlock Holmes, as his 1955 article "The Final Problem: An Exemplification of the Substructure Theory" in The Baker Street Journal truly shows.

Pope R. Hill, Sr., was what he truly was: a mathematics professor, with all the Sherlockian baggage that designation entails. His 1955 article, showing the world Doyle's hidden "substructure" beneath "The Final Problem," comes to one very dark conclusion. And that conclusion was that Sherlock Holmes did actually die at Reichenbach Falls. And the professor of math lived.

Pope Hill's subtext, in what he pridefully placed before the Irregulars as a proving point of his unseen hundred thousand words, turns how to be something he has every reason to headcanon just to snuggle into his relationship with the sixty stories of Sherlock Holmes.

I kinda like Pope R. Hill, Sr. He had that quality some call "co-bit-ment," the dedication to committing one's self to a running gag (or "bit") past all sense or logic, which makes it all the funnier to the trickster and all the more puzzling to the observer. (Which then makes it even more amusing to said trickster.)

Whether he's going to prove a worthwhile study for the Sherlockian chronologists among us, however? Well, maybe there's some subtext I can find in his work.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Watsonball Run

 Let me start by saying this: I hate quizzes.

Not that fond of trivia nights, either. This is 2021. In 2021, the sheer width and breadth of human knowledge is greater than ever before, and our little brains just can't hold it all. They haven't been able to do that for a long time. And, you know what? Simple memorization is over-rated. I was always good at it as a kid, repeating things, drilling things into your head. But these days the real skill isn't what you can hold in your head, it's what you can access quickly. Sherlock Holmes had the right idea with his brain-attic, lumber-room thoughts.

Which brings me to the John H. Watson Society's annual Treasure Hunt. Rich Krisciunas came up with a pretty good one this year, the key to any good Hunt being that a person can understand the questions, for the most part. Yes, I few I didn't quite get what he wanted, but there was a reason: I was doing a speed test. A race. A "Watsonball Run."

Where as the JHWS Treasure Hunt is supposed to be a month-long affair, my own procrastination whittled that month to a single day. And for me, a habitual procrastinator, that sort of tight deadline is where the fun starts. Did I have all the info in my head? No. But were there enough clues tucked away in the gray, gray matter of my brain to navigate the Sherlockian highway at a high rate of speed?


But it's not just the driver, it's the tricked-out car in these things. Apple's "Preview" software has a pretty decent PDF search capacity it turns out.  And the true secret weapon of this race: a little (actually large) book called The Canonical Compendium by Steve Clarkson. "But that's a concordance," one might protest. "Searches made those obsolete." Yeah, you'd think that. Who needs Doubleday page numbers any more?

No, what you do need, however, is a list of every newspaper mentioned in the Canon and the story it appears in. A list of every surname in the Canon and its tale. Amounts of money. Housekeepers. Details you can scan and hope it triggers a memory or is something you can plug into that damned search engine and bring up the passage in question to see if it's the thing you need.

It's a new day in Sherlockiana, but the old tools have uses.

And you know what's really fun about racing through an open-book quiz on the Canon? You get to see so much of what makes those sixty stories fun, fit, and fab, and maybe catch some new thoughts along the way. Even though a one-day race through as much Canon as I could pass to get as many answers as possible might seem to be about the goal, it's the high-speed journey that was fun. There'll be time for leisurely appreciations on other days.

So thanks to Rich Krisciunas for putting together this year's Treasure Hunt, and I hope you had the chance to enjoy it, however you dealt with it. It's still on the JHWS site if you just want to peruse it. Just scroll down a bit. 

Oh, and I definitely did not come close to one hundred percent. Fun comes from knowing when not to do certain things, as much as what things to do. Have fun!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Batman/Sherlock Holmes crossover nobody needed

 Sherlock Holmes and Batman have crossed path more than a few times in comic books or idle Sherlockian chat. And of all those times, perhaps the worst crossover was the one that occurred . . . as many a bad idea does . . . in the mind of a sixties advertising executive.

Familiar with the movie A Study in Terror from 1965? 

If you watch the trailer for the movie, it comes off as straight horror.

"If you are a woman, you walk these streets at your peril . . ." it begins, and for the first minute of the trailer, it doesn't even mention Sherlock Holmes and just goes straight for pure fright. And even then, as the narrator goes "Sherlock Holmes, the original special agent, forerunner of today's thrillmakers" you have to wonder if he's referring to James Bond. But after that, back to frightening, shock music as the word "TERROR" fills the screen in blood red, followed by "PREPARE YOURSELF FOR SHOCKS!"

The last words you hear in the preview?

"You'll never see anything like it this side of Hell!"

(Quiet down, you Holmes and Watson haters!)

But that was the movie's trailer. Have you ever seen its poster?

Whoever was coming up with the advertising for the American release in August of 1966 went, "Hey, that new ABC show Batman is hot stuff with the kids! Let's make it like that!"

"Here comes the original caped crusader!" might have been enough. But noooooooo, they had to make absolutely certain you thought Sherlock Holmes was like Batman by adding a bunch of burst it sound effects, borrowed straight from what you saw twice a week when Batman and Robin punched out crime: "BIFF!" "POW!" "CRUNCH!" There's even an "AIEEEE!" next to a cleavage-leaning victim, which makes it really weird.

Because in 1966, TV's Batman was a campy, comedic goof-fest that the kids loved. And I was one of those kids. Did my parents take me to see A Study in Terror, and chance the coin-toss of whether I'd become Holmes or the Ripper as a result? No, they did not.

Truth be told, at this point, I can't exactly remember if I ever saw A Study in Terror. But I'm pretty sure it didn't have Holmes and Watson in a brawl with the Ripper's henchmen while comic book sound effect popped out with every punch and kick and peppy fighting music played. And I'm really certain that "Elementary, my dear Watson!" didn't pop out on the screen in a similar manner, as it does on the poster.

But somebody was high enough to come up with this poster in 1966, and somebody else (whom I can't help but picture chomping on a big half-smoked cigar) went, "Great! Run with that!"

To this day, I still wonder -- did somebody actually take their Batman-loving kids to this Victorian nightmare just because of this poster? And how did that turn out?

Perhaps I'll have to let my inner child watch a double feature of some Batman episodes followed by A Study in Terror and find out one of these days. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

The worst Sherlockian thing you can ever create

 Let's talk about the monkey's paw of Sherlockian creations. The art form that we all want to try, yet in its very practice is a devil's bargain, a deal with a price beyond what any right-minded person would pay. Yes, the worst Sherlockian thing you can ever create.

Now, I know there are people who will argue with the preceding paragraph. And I would wager those people have not made this devil's bargain. Perhaps they are people who have feasted at the table of one who did, or just are so deep in our little cult that they can't see . . . well, really, maybe they're just positive, happy individuals whose dark side does not run as deeply as mine. (I just finished watching a couple episodes of American Horror Stories, so I might be tainted at the moment.)

In any case, I was out for a stroll with a friend tonight, walking a long local trail with a canopy of trees, looking so much like Sleepy Hollow in its daylight form. And, curiously, at one point in the trail a voice out of the foliage said, "Hello, boys!" And the gleeful trickster of my office appeared out of nowhere to greet us, which was very weird during a four mile trek, that he should appear at the moment we passed his portal to the trail . . . but that wasn't the part where I became accursed.

No, that part was the sign at one of the trail crossings that read "No equestrians on trail."

"No equestrians," I thought aloud. "But what if I was to ride a cow up the trail. That's not equestrian . . . no, that's a . . . bovestrian!"

And then my Sherlockian brain went click -- click -- click.

"And what is your conclusion?"

"That it is a remarkable cow which walks, canters, and gallops."

Yes, "The Adventure of the Priory School" and its remarkable cows, cows ridden by bovestrians.

Only, wise Sherlockian that you are, you're probably going, "But those weren't cows, they were horses with special shoes!" And I would say, "Yes, but did we ever see those horses doing that?" And I am also being mildly influenced by an ancient text by Pope R. Hill, Senior I recently read that contended most of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories had an alternate subtext of a plot that Conan Doyle coded in. (Such a pity that Pope Hill came along before YouTube. He could have fit right in.)

And, having tripped upon the concept, what was my first thought as how to use it?


Have I ever told you the story my mother tells, of when I was a lad of about six or seven, and I gathered up a bunch of papers and insisted she take me to my club meeting? I couldn't say what the club was, where it was, or what the papers were for, but I was very bothered that she wouldn't take me. To this day, I don't know what was going on there, but as you can see, I have a long-lived passion for clubs that do not exist.

So, "the Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw." Such a perfect name for a Sherlockian society.

But what would they do? Why would they sign the roster?  Well, given certain other paths I have been following lately, it only makes sense that it would be a society for alternate readings of the Sherlockian Canon, such as bovestrians appearing in "Priory School" would imply. But another scion society?

Didn't I just pull together the Sherlockian Chronologist Guild with Vincent Wright, and aren't I currently dog-paddling with John H. Watson Society zooms and podcasts, trying to keep my head above water? But this is the monkey's paw aspect of Sherlockian society creation . . . we all wish to be connected with like-minded Sherlockians, even if it's with more tendrils of connection to people we have already connected with, like some network of cyanea capillata sharing a bay.

"And still, poor soul, I had this morbid hanker for inventing clubs," Christopher Morley once wrote in "On Belonging to Clubs." He goes on to describe how successful on of said clubs came to be, and all the various encumbrances that now needed performed to serve said club, but ended the brief essay with those happy words, "But not be me." Christopher Morley escaped his own little deal with the devil of Sherlockian societies, by creating one with enough allure that he could tempt others to adopt and raise the thing. Of course, like any new parent who displays the joys without the burdens, Morley inspired others to give birth to societies as he did, which means we now have more of them than there are folks willing to adopt. 

And I've already left some society orphans in my wake, which haunt me to this day. So you will forgive me for certain metaphors and tone in this particular blog post. I was, in truth, exorcising a demon. Clutch your Canon tightly to your breast, and hope he doesn't look your way.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The monkey in the room

 Our local library group met again tonight to discuss "The Creeping Man," via a mix of masks, vax, and Zoom, and I really think we isolated the problem with any discussion of that particular story.


It's the monkey thing.

Once you bring up the fact that Professory Presbury was a man-monkey, a discussion group just can't take their eyes off it. We tried. We tried hard.

The college, the fiancee a third of his age, the client, the daughter, and that perpetual Sherlock Holmes story favorite, the dog . . . all fell by the wayside as we just couldn't help but stare silently at the fact a man was injecting himself with monkey serum on a regular basis. Even our biggest proponent of the goodness of any Sherlock Holmes story was going, "Good for the first two-thirds, then the monkey serum came in!"

As I wracked my brain to find a way "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" felt like a true Sherlock Holmes story, it kept turning black and white in my head, with Basil Rathbone's Holmes turning up. How many times did Rathbone face a weird, scary monster of that era? The Hound, the Creeper, the Scarlet Claw . . . a rampaging man-monkey lurking in the shadows was perfect for the world of Rathbone's Holmes. Had it not been for patriotism and those damned Nazis entering the picture, perhaps we would have gotten a film titled The Creeping Man out of Rathbone and Bruce.

It's the perfect medium for that mess.

Not that the writing in "The Creeping Man" isn't clever, with such wonderful lines as "Come at once if convenient -- if inconvenient come all the same." It's just that plot driving straight for a spectacular monkey-splash of a crash. And it all started so well, too. We don't even notice the horrible contradiction Watson throws at us:

"Mr. Sherlock Holmes was always of opinion that I should publish the singular facts connected with Professor Presbury, if only to dispel once for all the ugly rumors which some twenty years ago agistated the university and were echoed in the learned societies of London."

(Okay, first -- why not "of the opinion" and "once and for all?" Was it lazy Terrence's day to typeset The Strand?)

But here's the thing. Even though Watson still has "reticence and discretion," if you're trying to clear up ugly rumors once and for all, wouldn't you put the actual name of the university, instead of "Camford?" If Professor Presbury is so famous, people would know. And if you're talking about a sixty year old that got mauled by a dog twenty years ago . . . oh, wait.

Oh. Wait.

This story is about sex, isn't it?  

When explaining the story to Watson, Holmes goes "He is, I gather, a man of very virile and positive, one might almost say combative, character." Why is Holmes gathering that Presbury is so very virile? Something Watson used discretion to leave out? And what was the point of the monkey serum in that sixty-one-year-old's life anyway? Smoother skin? Longer life? No, this is 2021, we know that the men of his era were just waiting for Viagra. And Lowenstein of Prague was probably all about finding the horniest monkeys he could.

If his final moral lecture of the story, Holmes points out the trouble humanity would have if "the sensual" get to prolong their (sex) lives. And the detective is all over finding an inn in town with clean sheets, so you know that he's a little tired of getting hotel rooms after "the sensual" have been trysting about. But here's the thing -- Holmes leaves this case with a vial of monkey serum in his hand and a desire to make contact with Lowenstein. And then he retires. And then, in the very next story in Casebook, we meet Maud Bellamy, a young lady of whom Holmes writes, "Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart, but I could not look upon her perfect clear-cut face, with all the soft freshness of the downlands in her delicate colouring, without realizing that no young man would cross her path unscathed."

Why is Sherlock Holmes so suddenly having the mind of a young man? Could he have worked with Lowenstein, intent on perfecting a serum to extend the life of his mental faculties, and gotten a very libidinous side effect out of the bargain? Maybe he didn't start courting Maud after "The Lion's Mane" (though my money is there), but how else to you explain that weird Mary Russell stuff that is rumored to have gone down after that time? Just which ugly rumors was Holmes trying to dispel?

Is that truly the "monkey in the room" of "The Creeping Man?" When old guys start going after young girls, the word "creep" always does come up in some fashion, and perhaps that title, along with the way Watson wrote it up, was not actually discretion about Presbury but an admonishment to Sherlock Holmes himself to keep his thoughts off the young ladies of Sussex. There was probably a perfectly lovely, age-appropriate Violet Hunter still out there somewhere, who might enjoy a little bit of monkeying around. 

And Watson would know.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Irish

 You'd think this would be a time to blog about Afghanistan, but it actually might be more timely, in a Sherlockian blog, to write about the Irish. Like many a Northern-European mutt, Ireland made it into my bloodline, so I've always had an interest in the Irish. As, plainly, did Arthur Conan Doyle. It was in his blood as well.

There is so much of the Irish in the Sherlock Holmes stories, from "a devil's brew of Irish civil war, window-breaking Furies, and God know what" to McMurdo having "an Irish tongue in his head." Famous soldiers, "dancing Irish deviltry" in a lover's eyes, and Sherlock Holmes going Irish to foil a German plot. As much as Conan Doyle depicted South Americans as all hot blood and good looks, the Irish are shown in all their passionate loves and hatreds.

I remember a piece I read some time back about how the Irish tendency toward certain addictions was actually genetically bred into them over time by being a land constantly fighting occupation. Century after century of rebels gave birth to a breed of folk born to charge into battle, and when no battles existed, they had to so something to quell those furies. It seemed to make sense.

This morning, I happened across a piece in The Atlantic by a man whose military service was years of listening to the other side communicating with each other on the radio, and what he learned of that people, who, much like the Irish of old, had been fighting occupation for a very, very long time.

I don't know about you, but when things really get bad, especially when I was younger, I'd tell myself things to puff up my spirits and keep myself going. Whether it was that I was stronger, smarter, or better looking than I actually ever was, I'd tell myself whatever little lies were needed to get out of bed and on to the next thing. And that is what the listener to that adversary heard. The spirit of a people that had to do whatever they could to keep going. And it reminded me a little of the Irish of old. Something that seems to show up sometimes even in the blood of an American mutt like myself.

Of course, centuries of war also keep people from evolving socially when they're busy fighting, so when the fighting is done, you're left with some pretty messed up people. And what comes of that isn't pretty. Lord knows the Irish have been a troublesome bunch over the years. Even though Conan Doyle didn't portray Professor Moriarty, the great criminal mastermind, as Irish, he does still have that very Irish name, doesn't he? Messed up indeed.

There are times when we like to think of our enemies as something less than people. Even among our own countrymen, right now, we look at some who call themselves "patriots" and see something lesser. Some of them are waving the flag to line their pockets, of course. But some are telling themselves what they need to tell themselves what they think they need to get through another day, even if it's taking them down a very unhealthy path. The human race remains much as it has been, which is probably why the stories of Sherlock Holmes always ring so true to us, even now, connecting us in ways we don't always understand.

And we all keep doing what we can, dealing with our fellow man as best we can. Like the man once said, "We can but try -- the motto of the firm."