Saturday, February 17, 2024

Can a second Sherlock Holmes survive in a free Sherlock world?

Today I stopped in at the latest online meeting of the Praed Street Irregulars, the society dedicated to Solar Pons in the way the Baker Street Irregulars are dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. And there's a reason for that parallel, of course -- when Wisconsin writer August Derleth wrote to Conan Doyle and got a "no," he created a detective who decided to be the next Sherlock Holmes. His own Irregulars, his own "B" address, his own doctor companion, his own landlady whose name ended in "son," the whole kit and caboodle.

When I told a friend about the meeting, and its familiar Sherlockian speakers Peter Blau and Max Magee, they were a bit surprised that Peter was interested in Solar Pons. And then it hit me . . . to a Sherlockian who wasn't in the hobby decades ago, Solar Pons doesn't make much sense. Why would anyone need a detective who copies Sherlock Holmes when we have so much Sherlock Holmes?

I read all of the Solar Pons books back in the 1980s. In an era when the Holmes fan fiction was not coming hot and heavy and published pastiches were months apart, Solar Pons was the thing that got you by, not Sherlock Holmes but close enough and written well enough to do the job. We all read the Pons Canon back in the day. The whole Pons Canon even came in a boxed set of paperbacks.

Solar Pons has had a very loyal following for a long time. The Praed Street Irregulars who first organized in 1966. New stories have been written about him, new books are still coming out starring Pons. But like other ancillary Sherlock Holmes subfandoms, its numbers are a but a fraction of the main man's hordes. Yet they persist, despite never having a movie, TV show, or cartoon. (A character on Twin Peaks did get last-named after Pons, but that's as close as he got.) 

Would a CBS series starring some good-looking Brit as Solar Pons power him up to the next level? Could Pons survive a modern-day adaptation? How would a gender-bent Solar Pons work? Could he be in love with Dr. Parker? And could Solar Pons have his own Solar Pons, like a 1960s detective named Spellman Nonce with a partner named Dr. Halston living at 45B Cable Street?

With Sherlock Holmes free of his copyright chains and able to now morph into a thousand other versions of Sherlock Holmes named "Sherlock Holmes," Solar Pons remains more of a fixed point in a changing age than even Watson can now claim to be. Pons's copyrights are still in force with the August Derleth estate. It makes him unique.

And as today's meeting of the Praed Street Irregulars demonstrated, Solar Pons isn't done yet.

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Era of the Collected Work

 Sherlockiana has always come in waves.

A new screen Sherlock triggers a wave of fans. A best-selling pastiche teaming up Holmes with a historical character triggers a wave of Sherlock Holmes crossover books. Covid inspires Zoom use inspires online groups. And then there's the rise of the collection, once publishing a book became relatively easy.

Writing and entire book, especially and entire novel or nonfiction book on a single topic, is hard. Writing an essay or a short story? Not nearly such a mountain to climb. And if you get a bunch of people to do that easier task, and collect enough things to fill a book . . . well, you still have a book. And now, we have a lot more books having to do with Sherlock Holmes than ever before.

Sherlockiana has always loved a collection. Profile By Gaslight was collected by Edgar Smith in 1944 and remained a "must have" piece of Sherlockiana for decades, and is the only "many hands" collection to make it into Eckrich and Nunn's recent Canonical Cornerstones: Foundational Books of a Sherlockian Library. The 1990s saw a wonderfully ambitious series called The Case Files of Sherlock Holmes, where editors Christopher and Barbara Roden published volumes of essays where each book collected works on a single Sherlock Holmes story. (I'm a bit amazed no one has picked up that idea in the 2020s yet.)

But those are just the essays. Pastiches were held at the starting gate by certain Doyle offspring, with The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes being a rare exception to slip through the gate, collecting various authors works. Ah, but if those Doyle brothers could now see MX Publishing's The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, starting in 2015 and now up to at least 42 volumes -- well, that's a reaction I would love to see. Anthologies are now flowing steadily from various publishing outlets.

Our current wave of new Sherlock Holmes books is a bit overwhelming with all the available routes for publishing a book, including those that cost no overhead other than your own ability to format a file, and it shows no signs of stopping -- this wave has become a flood that will leave us in a virtual Waterworld of books on Sherlock Holmes. I always just shake my head at the enthused bibliophile claim that you can never have too many books -- tell that to the person who eventually has to clean out your house fifty years later. The only virtue of massive book collections is that their weight isn't the total back-breaker of massive vinyl record collections.

For both book buyers and anthology editors, selectivity has become a very necessary skill. Neither can have it all and would be mad to try. And time will sort things out somehow. As a movie fan, I'm always amazed at the amazing amount of movies out there that none of us have ever heard of, even though they came out in theaters nationwide at one point. Even movies we've seen and then forgotten existed. Yet some persist through time, either as classics or cult favorites. What will the classic collections be, fifty years hence? What will the cult favorites be?

Some of our younger friends might be influencing those choices as they wax poetically about the virtues of their favorites decades from now. If you're putting out a collection, you might want to consider sending them a free copy. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Case for a Modern Adaptation

 Okay, it's blasphemy time.

Today saw the release of the second part of Sherlock & Co.'s podcast adaptation of "The Gloria Scott," and I'll say it plain: This new "Gloria Scott" is better than the original. Here and now, in 2024 where we all live, Joel Emery has written a better version of the tale than Conan Doyle. 

And I will argue that point with anyone who thinks straight word-for-word adaptations of tales written for the denizens of the 1800s is what we all need now.

Yes, Doyle does get credit for the frame Emery hung his version upon, and the original is worth thinking about. But Joel Emery plainly did spend some time thinking about Doyle's "Gloria Scott," and what it would mean for the people in that story to be in the situation they're in. He took that, put it into modern words and a modern frame to best given a modern listener a feeling for what those events would bring forth in a person.

In the original tale, we are told how Victor Trevor was heart-broken and left England after the case was solved, but it's a postscript we don't feel. Sherlock Holmes is telling a story long after it happened, and it doesn't hit nearly as hard. Bringing "The Gloria Scott" not only to the modern day, but letting us listen to Holmes and Watson having to deal with the Trevor family in person puts us in touch with the drama in a way the original can't. Where the original is Watson sitting cozily in Baker Street while Holmes tells him a tale of his college vacation, we now get to listen in as the events unfold.

We now get a chance to really hate Hunter (the renamed Hudson) and feel badly for Trevor up close and personal before the twist hits and we find why James Armitage became a new man and never told his son about his past life. And this time, up close and personal, you can almost start to sympathize with the tale's Hudson when the truth comes out.

I don't think I was ever affected by the original "Gloria Scott" as much as I was by Joel Emery's modern adaptation. And while a Sherlock Holmes fan is always going to have a soft spot for Holmes's original detective origin story, having listened to why people think "Veiled Lodger" is a bad story this past weekend, I suddenly realized just how much "Gloria Scott" and "Veiled Lodger" are alike: More about somebody telling a story from the past than an actual investigation. Sure, there's that code bit, but how much investigation is Holmes looking at a piece of paper and in the next paragraph, going "Oh, it's really this." The code is just the woman in the mask to dress up the tale of a tale being told.

It's impossible for any human being to experience both Conan Doyle's "Gloria Scott" and Joel Emery's version for their first "Gloria Scott" to compare reactions. And you're probably going to find either one more interesting once if you enjoyed whichever one you got to first, unless a particular detail triggers your displeasure. A fan of the podcast might find Victorian prose a bit dull. A fan of the original story might get irritated listening to John and Marianna shopping. But if you're somewhere in the middle, and can enjoy both . . . well, go, you!

But it's 2024 and we are citizens of the twenty-first century, getting further and further away from that audience that the "The Gloria Scott" was written for with each passing year. An update that makes a story of our favorite detective resonate even harder with us right here and right now is something special.

So this week, I will be celebrating that something special. You have to take such moments when you find them.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

From the Shaw 100 down to the Eckrich and Nunn 17

 After their interview about Canonical Cornerstones: Foundational Books of a Sherlockian Library on the Watsonian Weekly last week, the book's editors, Peter Eckrich and Rob Nunn sold me on immediately ordering a copy from Wessex Press. It was a good interview, and the duo spoke highly of their notable list of writers. When the book arrived this morning, I was immediately struck by the slimness of its one hundred and twenty-five pages, even though that makes perfect sense for a book of seventeen essays and an introduction or two. But it set me to thinking . . .

Jim Hawkins is quick to remind us of John Bennett Shaw's influence on our hobby of late, and I was just reading some of Jim's notes on Facebook this morning, which brought the Shaw One Hundred to mind. Since the final version of Shaw's list, others have made some attempt at such a foundational list for a Sherlockian collector, but nothing gained the traction of Peter and Rob's new book, and it's succinct list of seventeen. And from one hundred down to seventeen? That's some Marie Kondo style housecleaning!

Shaw's list, as many of us know all too well, contained some rarities, some true collectables. Very hard to find and afford, all told. The Eckrich and Nunn list, while not cheap to buy all at once, is easily acquirable. Doing a quick online shopping trip, I found I could buy almost all of it for $255.14, not including The Baker Street Journal, which is either a whole collectable hard-copy quest, or a less challenging but still problematic search if you go digital with what's available. (There was also a particular item on the list that I made a substitution for that the author of the essay on might not consider perfect, so I won't call it out.) All told the most expensive item of the Eckrich and Nunn seventeen is the Les Klinger Annotated, which is in that weird niche of being newish and not yet reprinted.

Shaw's list was that great collector's opinion at each moment he came up with it. The Eckrich and Nunn list was concocted in a more democractic manner, surveying, asking, and asking again. And, with John Bennett Shaw being John Bennet Shaw, Sherlockians of a certain generation were not wont to argue with his choices. The Canonical Cornerstones, like any democratically elected group, is up for debate -- there is one item on the list that I actively hate. But Peter and Rob state in their introduction that their hope is that the book leads to discussion of what Sherlockian books are key for the enthusiast looking for something to add to their collection . . . and I'm sure that will come.

To look at the landscape of Sherlockian works out there, past, present, and still coming, as they never stop coming and think that even a hundred books form a perfect core collection is a bit mind-boggling. And Canonical Cornerstones: Foundational Books of a Sherlockian Library was published for and marketed to a particular, more traditional sort of Sherlockian. We do have our prejudices as a hobby culture and we do like to stay inside the box a little bit -- if you look across your own shelves, you might discover a favorite or two from folks you never hear of in our normal circles.

But we do like a good shopping list, a goal, a mile marker in our reading travels. This new, more travel-sized list, with sales pitches from those well qualified to give them, makes a much easier start than what we had before.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Sherlockian Ghosts of Past Selves

When you go to the movies, sometimes it makes you think about the topics involved for a while after the movie is done, and I see a few movies. And being an ardent Sherlock Holmes fan, I often put Sherlockian twists on those thoughts. Thursday, for example, I saw The Beekeeper, about a secret organization of uber-vigilante beekeepers and thought about Sherlock Holmes having something to do with its origins. Then on Saturday, being a bright and sunny day despite the cold, I ventured out to see the latest incarnation of Mean Girls, a musical tale of social orders and how we treat ourselves and others. Which I then cast around in a Sherlockian way as the evening went on.

Except I wasn't thinking about Holmes, Watson, and their friends. I was thinking about the Sherlockian life. One, hopefully, cannot find too strict a parallel between Mean Girls and Sherlockian life. I mean, the head of the Baker Street Irregulars isn't exactly Regina George, the queen bee of North Shore High School . . . unless you count the part about who gets to eat at what table. But the trials and tribulations of the characters in that movie do get you to reflect a bit on your own past, social flubs, toes you might have stepped on, people you actually hurt. If you're at all self-aware, that list gets longer with time, and the memories are helpful aids in not doing THAT again.

So, I put a little post on Facebook on how sometimes all that comes back to me, more unforgettable than Watson's original name (which I forgot last week) or that guy who did that one thing . . . you know! That one guy! Anyway, it seems that our memories tie to our feelings and thus we get the oddest little moments stuck in our head. For example . . .

The year was 1984. The place was Dubuque, Iowa. Someone introduced me to a Sherlockian of note from the east coast. The name was familiar, but I couldn't place it, right on the tip of my brain. I fumbled around trying to remember where I'd heard the name until the person I was being introduced to politely made and excuse and move on. I never really had the chance to talk to that person after that, and they eventually passed away, and I was just left with this really awkward memory.

A decade later, somewhere in rural Minnesota visiting the home of a lesser-known but incredible collector of things that went Sherlockian and beyond, I got over-enthused and cried out "[Insert name here] is God!" I mean, what does that even mean, but it sure horrifies proper church folk. And it has come out of my mouth on a later occasion or two as well. I mean, I don't think anyone I've ever met is actually George Burns (old movie reference, kids) God on Earth, but when you really get excited you can say some weird shit. And I do.

Have you ever completely pulled a website off the web because you didn't like the hosting service, when you had people who had regularly contributed to the thing? Probably not. Yeahhhh . . . there's little mistakes you have to live with, and then there's big ones like that. A scion falls apart. A friend gets their bridge burnt in the pain of a moment. And suddenly you find yourself treating a blog post like it's your confession booth and the internet is your priest . . . say ten "Hail Marys" and don't post it.Unfortunately, I'm not Catholic.

But, what I am is a Sherlockian. And this little cult of ours is such a gloriously forgiving place to be a social klutz, a cranky ol' grump, or even a misanthropic hermit.  And while a life may hold many memories of moments we aren't exactly proud of, this hobby also can give plenty of moments of hearty camaraderie, moist-eyed affection, and just happy memories to counterbalance all that. It isn't perfect, and none of us are certainly perfect, but a fandom, a hobby, a culture of friendship needs a little forgiveness and the opportunity to forgive on occasion, especially if we can find it in our hearts to forgive ourselves.

Because that's the person you have to look at it the mirror every day, until Dracula converts you or something. (Which starts to look like a decent option as the aging process moves along. Sorry in advance, future victims.) (Damn, didn't I say I was socially awkward! Almost had this thing wrapped up with a nice bow and started talking about draining people's blood for eternal youth. Apologies to everyone with blood in their veins out there. Warm, life-filled bl . .. STOP IT!)

Okay. Time to hit "Publish." Don't think I'll put this one's link on the socials, though. This one's for those of you that care enough just to read past the previous entry that had a link. Thanks for sticking with it!

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The self-discipline of the Sherlock & Co. Baker Street Irregular

Two things I really get along with came together this morning. The podcast Sherlock & Co. now has a Patreon, and a Patreon that offers some really sweet options. TOO sweet, actually.

My now-weekly excitement for the latest episode -- "Red-Headed League" this week!!!! -- has become . . . well, almost troubling with the embarassment of riches. I was enjoying the once a week thing, and doing our little podcast discussions on The Watsonian Weekly every two or three weeks when a two or three part story wrapped up. But now?

For six bucks a month, at their "Baker Street Irregulars" tier, you get all three parts of "Red-Headed League" the minute the first one drops. As a big fan of the podcast who does Patron and is not $30 a month rich, I immediately went for that middle-tier without hesitating. It's a great podcast, and I always think good art needs encouragement. But, having done that, I was immediately confronted with what previously was three weeks worth of Sherlock & Co. right there and available, transcripts and all.

Yes, I know it's unbecoming to whine about having it too good. Fitting yet another subscription into the budget when everything is now a monthly subscription isn't easy. But now I have to ration these beauties and have some self-control. On the good side, these are adaptations of the good old Sherlock Holmes Canon, so it's not like the endings of the mysteries are going to be spoiled if I don't listen immediately. But there is a lot going on with these that still could be. Moriarty sneaking in before "Final Problem." Marianna finally taking on a Mary Morstan place in John's life. All the little add-ons any adaptation brings along with it.

Sherlock & Co. has been a continual treat since its start, and offering its fans some really great Patreon benefits is a move that folks were asking for -- podcast listeners are probably more used to Patreons than anyone else. And here we are. This may not be a BBC Sherlock level wave of Sherlock Holmes fans entering the traditional spaces . . . yet. But I have a strong feeling about the show, and the podcast adding a solid Patreon to Watson's interactions with listeners is some next level stuff. 

Going to be fun to see how this goes.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Sherlock vs. Sherlock: The Barbenheimer Metric

 It's January, that time of year that brings back memories of theatrical Sherlock Holmes movies releases for me. One that did well with the public, one that did not so well with the public. But both had an impact, and both lead actors, our Sherlocks, have had ongoing success as actors on the big screen.

Rarely do we see two of our screen Sherlocks, however, go head-to-head in other roles in movies released on the same weekend. And rarely do we see two screen Sherlocks in movies of comparable quality released on the same weekend. Yet in the summer of 2023, we did.

One saw a worldwide box office success of $1,441,528,220 dollars. The other $805,600,000. Our two Sherlock actors played a part in the biggest movie phenomenon of the whole year, and both were notable in their performance and, while not starring, playing key roles.

Those two actors: Robert Downey Jr., playing Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer, and Will Ferrell, playing "Mattel CEO" in Barbie.

Yes, Robert Downey Jr. from 2009's Sherlock Holmes and Will Ferrell from 2018's Holmes and Watson. Both January movies that shall remain in my memory as ground-breaking Sherlockian films. Each has its haters among our ranks, but each brought something special and brought it to the big screen in the January's that followed their release.

And I don't want to be an internet troll here, except maybe to one friend in particular, but I'd like to point out that on the now famous Barbenheimer weekend, when two Sherlocks competed on screens everywhere, Will Ferrell's movie did better.

That is all. Happy January!