Monday, September 26, 2022

The landscape we call "Sherlockiana"

Early in 2018, Rob Nunn started a regular feature in his Interesting Though Elementary blog called "Interesting Interviews." It has evolved a little bit over the years, but the question that has led off every one is this: "How do you define the word 'Sherlockian?'"

It seems like such a simple question, but in an age of both gate-keepers and boundary-challengers, it's can become complex and argued very quickly. Being a matter of identity for the Sherlock Holmes fan, it also becomes personal very quickly as well, from an early place in one's fandom. You enjoy Sherlock Holmes, in one incarnation or another. You find there are other people who do as well, who have studied and created to express their enjoyment, and those people call themselves "Sherlockians." (Or "Holmesians," if you're British.) And then there's a moment . . . perhaps one you don't even notice in passing . . . when you realize you are one of those people.

The thing is, Sherlockiana is a many-headed beast.

For every part of this hobby you look at and see folks like you enjoying Holmes as you do, you'll see a dozen more doing things you cannot do. Whether due to talent, funding, or even just plain comfort level, none of us can do it all. Oh, we may flirt with doing it all in our early years. We may become ambitious in our later years. But, trust me on this: Sherlockiana has become far too big for any single person to be a part of it all.

Of course, one can be a bit of an ego-maniac and try to redefine Sherlockiana so it's small enough for one to be the wonder-Sherlockian of one's dreams, but that never ends well.

Do we all become niche Sherlockians in the end? 

Art. Scholarship. Pastiche. Fic. Media. Even the greatest gadabout among us, who seems to be everywhere, can create a gadabout or socialite niche. But none of us are even limited by those. Identity is a very complex thing. And perhaps "niche" isn't even the right word.

One could come up with a crude scoring system and say "Rank yourself one thru five on each of these categories of Sherlockiana," but even that can't capture the totality of any one of us. This morning I watched an Italian politician passionately trying to score points by claiming that people who thought identity was more complex than three or four binaries were attempting to steal everyone's identity. It was a passionate, engaging speech but also a perfect example of someone actually preaching the very opposite of the words coming out of their mouth, a thing we see a lot these days.

Because none of us are simple. We may follow well-marked roads to ease the decision making process day-to-day. But none of us is a train, bound to a set of tracks built by the Sherlock Holmes Railway Company. We can jump a fence and run rampant through forests or fields of Holmes at any given moment.

For being a Sherlockian isn't a job, like plumber, accountant, or nurse, requiring a specific duty to be performed. Being a Sherlockian is more like being a Midwesterner, a European, or an islander of any sort -- it's a place, a whole land that we have to explore, a big country with all sorts of people in it.

And there's always some fool who wants to say what "a real Sherlockian" is, just as with "a real American." A statement that's more about their own insecurities than actually knowing the landscape, and a sign that person needs to get out a little more and see what a diverse and expansive place their own homeland really is. I suspect that Rob added the question "How do you define the word 'Sherlockian?'" way back when because some fool or the other had been acting up with their personal definition and he wanted to bring other views to the table, to show we, as a culture, are not limited by the boundaries of one insecure individual or another. Rob's a good guy that way.

I originally started this post with the title "Boutique Sherlockiana" because I was trying to ponder my own current place in this world of ours, thinking it a "niche." But at this point, it seems a lot like "the place I'm standing right now, before I mentally wander somewhere else."

 Sherlockiana is truly a country of the mind, and one we all have a lot left to explore.




Thursday, September 22, 2022

The greatest foe of Sherlock Holmes, on a personal level

 While we often think of Professor Moriarty as Sherlock Holmes's arch-nemesis and greatest victory, I was given cause tonight to consider if, to Sherlock Holmes, perhaps that wasn't the foe that was most important to him on a personal level. And oddly, that train of thought began in our local library discussion of "The Yellow Face." You remember "The Yellow Face," the story where Sherlock Holmes doesn't do much? Where the client kind of charges into a house and solves his own case?

Yeah, that one.

In our talks tonight, we came upon the part of the case that didn't occur: Sherlock Holmes's investigation. He went to Norbury to investigate a case. He even had an idea of what he was looking into, and the reason he made the trip: "There's blackmail in it, or I am much mistaken."

Sherlock Holmes was going to try to foil a blackmailer in "The Yellow Face." And what does he tell Watson before they set out? 

"I would not have missed the case for worlds."

Worlds! Not sure if Sherlock Holmes is revealing himself to be from another planet, whose knowledge of other worlds is solid, or if he was really of a sect that believed in multiple planets for whatever reason, but Sherlock Holmes would not trade this case for the sum total of multiple Earths.

Why? 

Well, the blackmail of course. What was Sherlock Holmes's very first crime, the one that set him on the path of criminal detection? Hudson blackmailing Justice of the Peace Trevor in "The Gloria Scott." And who does he hate worse that any of the fifty murderers he's dealt with in his career at the point he goes up against him? A blackmailer -- "the king of all blackmailers" -- Charles Augustus Milverton. And what excuse does Holmes use in The Hound of the Baskervilles to ensure Watson believes that his friend is definitely not leaving London? A blackmail case.

The Scowrers? Blackmailers. The Red Circle? Blackmailers.

Lady Frances Carfax is feared the victim of blackmail. And even a villainess who foiled Holmes in her way, Isadora Klein, is given a warning by Holmes of her vulnerability to blackmail.

Blackmail was a crime that Holmes, along with the rest of Victorian England, hated more than anything. Sherlock goes to extraordinary measures to deal with Charles Augustus Milverton, and even though, as in "The Yellow Face," his full efforts are foiled by the sudden direct action of another person, had Holmes been allowed to deal with the threat on his own, perhaps we would have seen a criminal duel as extensive as that with Moriarty. And who's to say Moriarty's gang wasn't brought down as a part of, or resulting from, Holmes's quashing of Milverton's entire set-up?

Because even though Moriarty gets all the hooplah, when you come right down to it, Charles Augustus Milverton might have been Holmes's greatest foe, on a very personal level, as a criminal whose particular crime Holmes hated from the start.


Saturday, September 17, 2022

And the Empty House is now unoccupied.

 Today marked the end of a forty-five year era in Illinois Sherlockiana, the time of the Occupants of the Empty House.

Most Sherlockian societies don't know that their last meeting is their last meeting as it occurs. There's just a next meeting that never quite happens, and that last meeting was their actual very last meeting.

And nobody wants a good thing to end, but as Bill Cochran explained today it's sometimes better to call it quits while it is still good, and not drawing matters out until things just don't work. Societies are made up of people, and people are limited in their span, as much as we should hope for more.

Saying good-bye to the "queen" of Illinois scion societies in the same week as Queen Elizabeth II seems to match up somehow. We'll let some Chicago scion claim Kingship, and maybe it's my downstate loyalties, but I shall always think of the Occupants of the Empty House as the best of our state's Sherlockian societies.

I was first introduced to the Occupants in meeting and getting to know Newt Williams at a John Bennett Shaw workshop up in the Chicago suburbs in 1983, about five years into the group's existence. He invited the good Carter and myself to come visit their group at some point, which we did soon after. Getting to know Bill Cochran and Gordon Speck, the group's traveling goodwill ambassadors, eventually followed, along with getting to the required two-consecutive-meetings to become a member. The Occupants' meetings were a five hour drive during the era of 55 MPH speed limits, and usually required an overnight stay, but they were always worth it.

Today's final dinner meeting began at 3 PM, and with a four hour drive there (stopping to pick up Rob Nunn a couple of hours in) and a four hour drive home, it made for a day of mostly driving just to attend one dinner meeting, but for the very last meeting of a group whose contributions to my Sherlockian life were pretty darn huge -- not a problem.

There were about fifteen of us in attendance for the last meeting of the Occupants of the Empty House. Members who had been there from the club's early days, St. Louis friends of the club, and all the rest enjoyed some stories of days past, an excellent Alongi's dinner, and a chance to applaud all that came before. And then, as ever, a long drive back . . . but always worth it.

The Empty House of Southern Illinois will now go un-Occupied. But, hey, it was a really good run, and I'm glad they got to see their finish line and recognize it, rather than looking back in regret once it was long past. 

Thanks for everything, Occupants.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Out in the margins of Sherlockian things where the fungus grows

 Some weeks you're totally immersed in the hobby, and other weeks . . .

Well, Sherlock Holmes and company will find their way to pop by and wave at you, in spite of all the distractions. Characters in deerstalkers, of course, as appeared in Star Trek: Lower Decks and Batman Vs. Robin at the comic shop this week. (Well the latter was just the blood-stained deerstalker of a character who normally wears it.) And then there's the really odd bits, as Mary O'Reilly tipped me off you this week.

I'm not going to promote the actual product -- as we have too many things out there that probably, in truth, have "placebo" as their active ingredient. But this particular product was claiming it would help your memory, raise your attention level, and make everything just so perfectly clear. They didn't say "make your brain work like Sherlock Holmes" specifically, but all the qualities this product claimed it would bring to you were very much Holmes's own.

And what was this magic ingredient?

Lion's mane mushrooms. Hericium erinaceus

Mostly found on dead trees, it is said that its flavor, when prepared correctly, is like lobster. Seems like it should be more in the jellyfish taste spectrum, but not that many of us know what that taste would be. Not as easy a metaphor.

So what else is out there? "Blanched soldier. mushrooms?" "Golden Pince-nez toadstools?" "Devil's foot roots?" Oh, wait, we had that.

Perhaps there are culinary experts and fungi-philes out there to whom a "lion's mane mushroom" doesn't evoke the greatest detective, just as there are marine biologists who see the lion's mane for strictly its jellyfish qualities, but we are not those.

Just as 2:21 comes up on the digital clocks for us once per day and once per night, such other tidbits always pop up for the Sherlockian obsessive. And that is a happy thing.

Monday, September 5, 2022

The three American regions of Sherlockiana?

 This week's "Interesting Though Elementary" interview with Jonathan Tiemann had a little tidbit that I found worth pondering a bit. There was question asked that I don't remember Rob asking before, due to Jonathan Tiemann's experience living in different places: "How do you feel that West Coast Sherlockiana is different from those in the Midwest or East Coast?"

While we all dislike being pushed into categories (unless we go there voluntarily, with a personality test or a horoscope reading), the regional breakdown that Tiemann's answer laid out rang pretty true.

West Coast: "More likely to regard screen adaptations, especially of Canonical stories, as legitimate Sherlockiana."

East Coast: "A somewhat more academic approach to Holmes scholarship."

Midwest: "More likely to focus a bit more closely on the original text."

Now, we can call out individuals who defy those patterns every day, but they kind of feel correct. California is going to be more movie-biased. Boston/NewYork/Washington/etc. have traditionally had more access to source materials. Peoria? Well, we've got The Complete Sherlock Holmes sitting right there on our shelf.

But I think we're going to see all of that change, if it hasn't changed already, thanks to the internet. Where you live doesn't matter quite so much any more. Economic levels are more likely to be a deciding factor, as what you can buy and where you can travel will enter into things a bit. Which brings up England and Canada -- where do those folks fit into the picture?

Sherlockiana is, of course, a world-wide phenomenon. And of all places, England has always had the greatest advantage, as it's citizens got all the first editions first, can spend a weekend looking for Canonical sites, and, basically, they own Conan Doyle historically. You could see where screen adaptations aren't going to be their go-to with all that at hand. Canada, if I were to guess, would be seen as having the Midwest America problem with resources, but they have had some great scholarship and Doylean studies in North America owe much to Canada, as that country dominated them a few decades ago.

I'm curious as to how the Sherlockian scene would be described in countries that don't have English as their primary language, like Japan or Sweden. Our view tends to be skewed by the writers who produce English materials, so it's a little harder to see.

Like I said, though, the internet has thrown it all up in the air. You can be whatever kind of Sherlockian you want from wherever you want. And are internet Sherlockians a whole other category of Sherlockian? So many pastiche writers out there, you have to wonder if that's not the internet's special domain, whether their stuff comes out in book form or on A03. Pastiche writers seem to be the oysters of the internet, to use Sherlock Holmes's "Dying Detective" style rant: "Indeed, I cannot think why the whole shelf-space of every library and bookstore is not one solid mass of pastiche, so prolific their creators seem."

"Ah, I am wondering!" to get back to the real quotes. "Strange how the brain controls the brain! What was I saying, Watson?"

Thanks to Rob and Jonathan for that little diverting thought this morning. Check out the full interview if you haven't already.


 

Saturday, September 3, 2022

A Press Release from the Fumbles Fight Night Biscuit-Hitters

 AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT
ON HOUNDAMANIA FROM
THE FUMBLES FIGHT NIGHT
BISCUIT-HITTERS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

The Fumbles Fight Night Biscuit-Hitters, being the predominant Sherlockian film society centering upon the classic Sherlock Holmes film, Holmes & Watson, is filing a protest today against the Legion of Zoom for refusing to include the movie Holmes & Watson in their competition "HOUNDAMANIA!"

The Legion of Zoom has thus far made no public comment on their reason for this offhand dismissal of the greatest exemplar of theatrical Sherlock Holmes adaptations in recent years, and the Fumbles Fight Night Biscuit-Hitters president, also known as "the Chair" after John Watson's weapon of choice in their favorite film, has raised several points as to why Holmes & Watson should have been included in HOUNDAMANIA.

Described as "a virtual Battle Royale to determine the best version of the classic Hound of the Baskerville (sic) story by Arthur Conan Doyle (more sic, it was Watson who wrote it)," this tournament of film and video, HOUNDAMANIA, includes such supposed "adaptations" of The Hound of the Baskervilles as episodes of Elementary and Sherlock that have less to do with the novel than Holmes & Watson. Does Inspector Lestrade appear in The Hound of the Baskervilles? Does he also appear in Holmes & Watson? Of course! 

The Chair has said that there is an obvious prejudice against Holmes & Watson by dog-lovers who feel an unreasonable antipathy to the character of Millicent, who was raised by feral cats. "Ham dogs" are prominently mentioned in the film, which in some countries, is basically the equivalent of the term "hell hounds." Worst of all is the fact that HOUNDAMANIA is being promoted as guided by the lights of professional wrestling -- whilst leaving out the only Sherlock Holmes movie featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson fighting a professional wrestler.


Until these cinema tyrants recant their obvious omission from their tournament and admit their obvious fear of Holmes & Watson overshadowing some lesser old Sherlock Holmes movie that they're maniacally fond of for some perverse reason, the entire membership of the Fumbles Fight Night Biscuit-Hitters has no recourse other than to boycott this HOUNDAMANIA event in protest. Even if you hear rumors that their spouse is calling for a birthday celebration that conflicts with the time the tournament is running, do not let that lessen the impact of this very important boycott protest. 

The Chair, however, encourages all non-FFNBH members to attend this  HOUNDAMANIA  and make the absence of Holmes & Watson on the card for this event known to the Legion of Zoom through protest signs, chants of "HAM DOGS! HAM DOGS!" or whatever physical gyrations they are inspired to perform in the moment.

Justice for Holmes & Watson!

P.S. Does Billy Zane appear in any of those other films being celebrated? I think not.








Friday, September 2, 2022

Bad people trying to twist the facts, the late 1893 version

 Lately we've been treated to a whole horde of scumbags trying to tell us that crime isn't crime, almost like it's a trending fad. Is this new? Oh, heck, no! Criminals and their close friends and family are always trying to tell you that their crimes aren't such a big deal. It's what they do -- even in Sherlock Holmes's day.

John H. Watson's best friend died at the hands of Professor Moriarty in May of 1891. He's spent a year and a half grieving, and then, what happens in the late autumn of 1893?

Colonel James Moriarty starts some crap in the public prints claiming the greatest criminal kingpin London has ever known was just an innocent professor who was wrongly ruined by Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

We don't know the details of Colonel Moriarty's letters to the newspapers, or even if "Colonel James Moriarty" was real and not Colonel Sebastian Moran posing as a Moriarty brother. But we do know that John H. Watson was angry enough at the false portrayal of the events at Reichenbach Falls that he picked up his pen to write a story he did not want to write.

Penning "The Final Problem" was reliving a time Watson did not want to relive, a year and a half later, after he had attempted to move on, and worse yet, was probably dealing with his wife's health issues (or a pregnancy taking a turn?) that would result in a notable bereavement. And yet, this Colonel James Moriarty forced his hand by trying to change history by rewriting the events of Holmes and Moriarty's mutual demise.

Nobody wants to dwell on the damage that a criminal act causes. Victims don't want to revisit their worst times. But when the prospect of future crime is enhanced by those associated with the criminal trying to whitewash their crimes? Good men, like John Watson, do what they have to do.

We can't be sure just what Colonel James Moriarty or Colonel Sebastian Moran had up their sleeves if they were able to whitewash Professor Moriarty's crime. Did they want to revive his criminal empire, and needed to change public opinion to get specific connections open to them again? And was that goal the thing that truly brought Sherlock Holmes back to London to deal with it eventually?

Maybe so.

But the first line of defense against whatever criminality that brother Moriarty and/or brother-in-crime Moran had planned? John H. Watson, wearily putting the truth into The Strand Magazine for all of London and the rest of the world to see, doing what he could in honor of his late friend.

Criminals are always going to try to keep their criminal options open, by trying to distort the truth wherever they can. It was true in Watson's time, and it's true today. And while we all wish for a Sherlock Holmes to put a solid lid on matters, sometimes, all we can do is be like Watson and call out the truth.

Because "The Final Problem" might not be the thing that happens at the waterfall. It might just be dealing with the aftermath, and stopping the villains from rewriting history so they can do it again, or worse.