Friday, May 27, 2022

Watson's Documentary Footage of the French Interpreter

 It has been many a month, but Talon King and Paul Thomas Miller have informed me that they're having another meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Realist Society to study the original Watson documentary footage of "The Case of the French Interpreter" this Sunday. 

It's actually a recording of their podcast Sherlock Holmes Is Real, and I'm a bit suspect of how societal this "Sherlock Holmes Realist Society" is and not just a ruse for drawing in guests or an audience for their recordings. But I guess one could investigate that -- personally, I will be otherwise engaged.

Their firm belief that John H. Watson was a pioneering documentary film maker, and that the videos found on YouTube disguised as a 1950s TV series are a true audio-visual record of Holmes and Watson's time together always challenges what we know from Watson's later, written version of things. And this week's discussion should be a big one, questioning the very existence of Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft, among other things that were not exactly as we thought they were.

It has been said that Sherlock Holmes Is Real and the Sherlock Holmes Realist Society is that very old Sherlockian game being played at another level. It has also been said that this might be the most delusionally silly corner of our entire Sherlockian hobby. (Though I can't imagine what dastard would even repeat such a slander . . . oh, wait . . . I guess I just did. Unless I just made it up now, and then I wouldn't be repeating it.) Anyway, they seem to believe the whole documentary footage thing, and if you are willing to encourage or at least quietly tolerate such behaviour, you are welcome to join the podcast recording this Sunday on Zoom.

The invitation runs as follows: 

When: May 29, 2022 01:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada) 

Register in advance for this podcast recording and meeting: 

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

And if you do, good luck to all involved!

Actual Photo of Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Reconsidering Moriarty Once More

This month's tale for our local discussion group was one we're all very familiar with, "The Final Problem." And as I considered it this time around, I found myself mentally breaking this short, short story into two stories: The London story and the Escape from London story. The latter always gains our focus, as the death of Sherlock Holmes is a turning point for the entire Canon of Holmes. But the first half, the half we often see as prologue to that big event, is where we learn of Professor Moriarty for the first time.

And it all goes by so quickly.

So very quickly. We don't often stop to fully appreciate what we're being told.

"My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration of his skill."

"Hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind."

"Dark rumours gathered round him in the university town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his Chair and come down to London . . ."

Now think of every villain who crossed the threshold of 221B Baker Street. Think of Watson picking up fireplace pokers and grabbing chairs, sensing the threats of the bad, bad men that wandered into the sitting room he shared with Sherlock Holmes. Now think of the one time Sherlock Holmes considers it necessary to have a gun in his pocket. And the one man Sherlock Holmes felt he needed the gun for.

This was 1891. A phrase like "horror" being applied to crimes has a high bar to get over, the Jack the Ripper murders being only two years behind London. And even then, on February 13, 1891, a prostitute was found with her throat slashed and the belief was that the beat constable had interrupted the killer's work. And what was it Moriarty said . . .

". . . by the middle of February I was serious inconvenienced by you . . ."

Maybe it wasn't PC Ernest Thompson who interrupted Frances Coles's murderer after all . . .

Consider this for a moment: A math professor comes down to London and criminals just suddenly start consulting him on how to get away with their crimes. A man like that must have some credentials to cite, some previous crimes he infamously got away with, right? You don't just come down to London and start a criminal empire from scratch -- maybe you start with one enterprise, like prostitution, establish yourself as a man not to be crossed by making some examples, and build quickly from there.

And if a man comes to your apartment you know for his horrific knifework, you do keep a gun in your dressing gown pocket. And if a maniacal genius thinks he's just going to take you out at Reichenbach Falls without a gun, well, maybe it's because the blade is his weapon of choice.

"Then will come the greatest criminal trial of the century," Holmes says of Moriarty's hoped-for capture, "the clearing up of over forty mysteries, and the rope for all of them."  

But only if Moriarty was captured. And only if all the evidence came to trial. And if Moriarty disappeared into a Swiss abyss, anything the British government (or the man who was same) decided did not need to be public knowledge was not made public knowledge . . . .

There's a very great mystery in the question of why Sherlock Holmes never worked the Jack the Ripper case, the greatest mystery of his time as a detective. And there have been multiple stories by multiple authors full of conjecture about him doing so. But what if Watson actually had already given us one, so very long ago . . . and we just didn't see it for what it was?

Dark rumours, indeed.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Watson's Room Behind Holmes's Bed

 "There is just room behind the head of my bed, Watson."

The discussion of "Dying Detective" led by Bob Katz at Saturday's meeting of the Sherlockians of Baltimore brought that line to mind again. And it baffles me every time.

The head of a bed traditionally is pushed up against the was, with a few inches in the gap at most. Turning the bed at a diagonal, so it creates a triangular space in the corner of the room, works to leave enough space for a full grown man, but it's a very impractical way to place a bed. 

We must assume Holmes had a solid wooden headboard and not just a frame of metal bars back there. Was it a single width or double? And if the bed was placed on the diagonal was there enough room for Watson to squeeze in and out? Such mundane, practical questions take all of the excitement out of Watson's hidden witness situation and almost beg for something more.

Watsonian apologists love to blame printing errors for problems with his dates and locations, but what if we took this tactic for this bed situation? What if the typesetter left a single letter out?

"There is just [a] room behind the head of my bed, Watson."

Okay, it makes no sense for there to be some little door leading to a little room behind Holmes's bed. About as much sense as it would make to somehow think that it was Watson's room, like he was somehow a little person who lived in the wall behind Sherlock's bed, and just popped out when Holmes would knock him up for a case. Yes, that theory makes no sense at all. 

But it has more charm that Watson's "Maiwand" being actually "space," and his "Jezail bullet" being "cosmic rays" which made his body all rubbery and stretchy and able to slide behind headboards. (That was a reference to the origin of the Fantastic Four's Mr. Fantastic, if you're not a comics person.) Or some theory about Watson actually being a life-size cardboard photograph of some apothecary advertisement doctor that Holmes became infatuated with and would slide behind his headboard when other people were around. That's not charming at all.

So you can see what a problem that weird "behind the head of the bed" line is. 

Was the bed on wheels, so Watson just rolled it out and rolled it back?

"There are the wheels, Watson," Holmes exclaims. "Quick, man, if you love me, crush yourself against the wall, and don't budge, whatever happens!" Okay, so I added the "crush yourself against the wall part." And the wheels were probably just a reference to the sound of the villain's carriage outside.

Watson never really describes how he gets out from behind the bed -- at all. So no help from the other end of that scene. Little hidden room, contortionist Watson, rolling bed? How weird do things have. to get to make that weird conclusion to "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" work?

I have to go to bed now. I sure hope there's no one behind it.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

DON'T SET THIS BOOK ASIDE! (An Important Warning)

 Like many a Sherlockian, I seem to have a little fetish about books. Book wallpaper, tiny books, extra large books -- decorating one's house in a bookish theme gets to be a point of pride, when one can do it. But have you seen those horror movies where someone's pride brings on the nightmare that will inevitably destroy them by the end of the movie? It might be a monster. It might be a curse. It might be a mystifying phenomenon that defies all logic.

Yes, that last one.

You see, the postman brought a package today. A book from Amazon -- you might have heard of it, A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller. The doings of that society are something of a legend, especially of late as they rejected the omni-present Sherlockian Rich Kriscuinas from being present at one of their meetings. (And he's, as I said, omni-present, as Sherlockian meetings go in my experience!)

But here's where it gets weird. I had just gotten home from work, had a full plate of evening activities, so I set the book aside. I watched Star Trek: Strange New Worlds with the good Carter, as is our habit this month. I finished the latest issue of Sherlockian Chronology Guild's Timelines for the assistant editor to proof. And then I went into our book themed guest half-bath to powder my nose. (Well, let's keep this out of the "you know," so I was powdering my nose, okay? It's worked for years for the one gender, so why not?)

Anyway, I looked at the decorative shelf with the itty-bitty books and saw this . . .

Why was there an itty-bitty copy of A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller in with my itty-bitty books? I rubbed my eyes and turned away. Unfortunately, I turned towards the book wallpaper that adorns the opposite wall.

And there I saw . . .

A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller was now a part of the wallpaper.

Had I accidentally eaten hallucinogenic mushrooms for supper? Had someone laced my mead with LSD?

I ran upstairs to the sanctum of my study, where I could shut out the world and regain my wits. I dropped in my chair, got my rapid breathing to slow to a calmer pace, convinced myself that everything was fine, all was good . . .

And then I turned . . .

A massive, monstrous copy of A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller had merged itself with the very furniture. Did I scream? Did I half fall down the stairs trying to reach the copy of A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller that had come in the day's mail, to start reading its records of the Shingle of Southsea, the world's greatest Sherlock Holmes society and mystical source of some ancient and terrible power that will curse you if you don't pay attention to it?

Yes. Yes, I did. The first line read, "And in 2017, the great and powerful Paul Thomas Miller decided he wanted what other Holmesians had . . ." 

Apparently the great and powerful Paul Thomas Miller has also decided that I must pay attention to his book as well. So, this night, I will read until sleep takes me and hope that is enough for this book's insatiable desires for attention, and that it lets my dreams alone and allows me to go to work in the morning.


May the Force be with you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Gregson? Gregson? Anyone seen Gregson?

 Sherlock Holmes dealt with a lot of Scotland Yard detectives. The ever-ferret-like Lestrade. The young and promising Stanley Hopkins. The big man, Bradstreet. And then there's the guy who gets TV parts, pastiche roles, great name recognition, but Canonically? Just not really present. And that man is . . .

Tobias Gregson.

He's got a first name, unlike Lestrade. He's got a premiere appearance as Lestrade's buddy cop (well, of sorts) in A Study in Scarlet. And he's "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders," according to Sherlock freakin' Holmes. The smartest!

Yet he never really comes around 221B Baker Street like G. Lestrade or some of the others.

Sure, he writes a nice letter to Holmes just before we first meet him:

"My dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes," it begins. Gregson then writes up the "bad business" in an efficient, yet detailed manner (Note, this was the original adventure of "the empty house.") and explains why it's "a puzzler" worthy of Holmes's time. Gregson gives the time he will be at the scene, that he is holding the scene "in status quo" waiting for Holmes, and closes with, "If you are unable to come I shall give you fuller details, and would esteem it a great kindness if you would favour me with your opinion."

The "Yours faithfully" that follows all that sucking up stays true to form, and one has to almost wonder if Gregson wasn't being a little sarcastic. His relationship with Holmes is definitely a rather intriguing one.

"It reminds me of the circumstances attendant on the death of Van Jansen, in Utrecht, in the year '34. Do you remember the case, Gregson?"

Note that Gregson and Lestrade are both standing right there. Yet Holmes quizzes "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders," like he thinks Gregson might know the answer. In The Valley of Fear, Holmes counsels Inspector MacDonald on reading crime history, and I'd wager Mr. Mac wasn't the first to be given such advice. Was Gregson an early adopter of Sherlock Holmes's lessons, and had done some of that study?

Unlike Lestrade, outside of A Study in Scarlet, Gregson never comes to Holmes for help. Holmes says Gregson has in the past, in a line spoken in The Sign of the Four. But in "Red Circle," Holmes just ran into Gregson as they both followed separate trails to the same crime scene. In "Wisteria Lodge," Gregson follows a suspect to 221B Baker Street. And in "Greek Interpreter," a case in which Sherlock surely wanted to put his best foot forward since his brother Mycroft is really his client, Holmes brings Gregson on board for official help himself.

Yes, when it's important to Holmes, poor needy Lestrade gets passed over for "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders."

It becomes plain very quickly why Gregson doesn't appear too much in the Canon past he early appearance -- he doesn't need Sherlock Holmes nearly so much as Lestrade does. He might have actually taken Holmes's example to heart and become a better detective to reach that point in the early 1880s. Or he might have just been pretty good at the old-school Scotland Yard investigative style of going around asking folks if they saw something. But Holmes gives us hope of something better from Gregson.

"Well done!" Sherlock Holmes tells Gregson after asking him for his theory on the case, "Really, Gregson, you are getting along. We shall make something of you yet."

There's a hopeful tone there, something we don't see Holmes using with every Yarder. Did Holmes make something of Gregson in those early years that Watson barely chronicled? Did Gregson graduate from calling Holmes to crime scenes like Lestrade, to just getting the occasional advice that didn't require Watson tagging along taking notes? 

But when Mycroft presents Sherlock with a case, who does the world's best detective call?  

Well, he wasn't around for more than three of Watson's cases, but . . . Tobias Gregson.

How Bad Can You Hurt Them?

 "In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and fired two shots. I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh."

-- Conan Doyle putting the pain to Watson

A lot of Sherlockians really enjoy seeing Watson get shot in "Three Garridebs."

You know why -- it's not the cry of pain that Watson doesn't put into his account, it's Sherlock Holmes's show of concern for his friend. (It's kind of a stupid show of concern, if you really think about it, as Holmes goes "For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!" and Watson's truest reply should be "Dammit, Holmes, he shot me! It hurts like a $#%@%!") From an author/character point of view, Conan Doyle had Watson take a flesh wound just to show Holmes's reaction and give the readers a little treat. It's what writers do, abuse their characters for our pleasure.

It's one thing when a character's creator does it, but what about when a fan does it?

If you are a great fan of John Watson and you love the character dearly, how much pain are you willing to put him through to give yourself and your friends a jolly time in your writing and their reading?

Ever since I first read Star Trek fan fic in the eighties, I've been aware of fan writers doing damage to their characters to get an emotional result. There was actually a known sub-genre of Trek slash fiction called "hurt/comfort" that involved damaging a character so another character could get emotional in caring for them. Mr. Spock, being a lot like Sherlock Holmes, required some prodding -- and sometimes painful-to-someone-else prodding, and some horrible future-tech sort of damage prodding at that.

With Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, I've always had a real problem with putting the pain to the boys. I like them too much. I can fall into denial about the level of Holmes's drug problems very easily, and have never really liked Meyer's revisionist text (which also steals a true Moriarty from us). Watson can have marital troubles, a few hallucinations from pre-existing trauma, sure -- I've done both in my writings. But he's never suffering too much from either, having Holmes as his happy place in both situations.

It's an interesting alchemical formula, this mix of how much one loves a character versus how much pain one will put them through to see them behave in a way one wants them to. The black market of fan fiction has always dealt in the "Let's see what we weren't shown!" of things. And if Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson never did anything but what happened in the sixty original stories, that's fine with me, because those stories offer enough headcanon that, like Steve Rogers, "I can do this all day" just elaborating on what's there. Horrible hansom cab accidents or Moriarty-run torture scenarios aren't in my wheelhouse.

For some folks, however, they are a fair price to exchange for an intensity of emotion, enhancing our friends to a new level of excitement. It would be good fun to run some elaborate study of Sherlockians with a barrage of questions, generating some numbers to correlate, generate, blah-blah-blah-cate, and all that data analysis stuff to see how we work as a culture. Some interesting questions there, I think.

How bad can you hurt them for a story? Or would you rather keep them in a bullet-proof glass case of Canon, safe from all harm? And how do we fall on that spectrum with Holmes and Watson from "Gruesome Slow Murder" to "Impervious Immortals?" There's an interesting curve there to be sure.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Sympathy for the King

 Okay, let's get controversial.

The King of Bohemia takes a lot of heat, the latest form of which has been a meme calling him a douche. Everybody loves Irene Adler, even if they don't want her to be Sherlock's one true love, and, naturally, the one person who has a bit of a disagreement with Ms. Popular is somebody we just have to poop on, right? I mean, he was a royal, and you know how those pompous royals are. Poop on him and all his kind!

But I had this little notion . . . what if the King's secret wasn't what we always thought it was.

The common thought was that he had a sexy little romp with the singer, was sure she was still in love with him, and wanted to stop his marriage. But, this tale being related in that measured Victorian manner, we don't really know that Wilhelm and Irene had a sexual relationship, now do we?

"Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back," Holmes says. And how are those letters proven to be authentic? There's a photo of Wilhelm and Irene together that shows they were close. Close.

But what if they were simply close, good friends, and the King was discussing his conflicts in his own sexuality, his desires versus expectations of him and his office? What if Irene was simply someone who supported the King's true feelings about himself, to the point where she gently threatened to out him if he was going to marry out of a sense of duty alone, opposite his true nature? And the idea of the King and Irene once being close and kindred spirits brings up other questions.

"But she could not love him," the King says of Irene's match with Godfrey Norton. We assume it's because the King thinks Irene loves him. But what if it's because the Irene he knew, his kindred spirit, wasn't someone who fancied men back in the day? Kindred spirits. But things change, and sometimes we can't accept changes in our friends so easily. 

My point here is, while we have a story, we just might not have the true story.

Yes, the King is bad at disguise. Yes, he has all the issues of a spoiled royal. But is he really a bad guy?

Just look how easily he gives in to letting Irene Adler go at the end of the story. He doesn't want to stay in contact with her because he harbors some great love for her. He trusts her assurances in the letter that she's going to leave him alone. He sees some echo of his old trusting friendship with Irene in that letter from their correspondence past. Irene's words are enough for him. That's not the way a bad guy reacts.

The King might not be a smart guy. Or a smooth guy. But is he really that bad?

Part of the issue with Watson's chronicles has always been that he's a man of his era and holding back so much about himself and the people he and Holmes were dealing with. Yes, the King was a bit of a doof, but he's also one of the best-dressed guys in the Canon. And soooo generous! Does he ask for any of his thousand pounds of gold and cash back? No. Does he give Holmes the ring right off his finger? Yes. Does he even give Holmes another very valuable snuffbox as a present after that? YES!

(Wait a minute . . . who was Wilhelm really in love with here? Side issue! Back to the thread.)

We've always known Watson probably wasn't getting the Sherlock/Irene dynamic correct in his intro to this story. But what if there was a whole lot more going on here that Watson just didn't want to pick up on, or admit to his readership? What if we were all just a little too quick to judge poor Wilhelm, as we all go fawn over the purdy lady as Watson so often does?

Milverton. Gruner. Roylott. There are some right awful sorts in the Canon. And occasionally Holmes even gets a baddie as a client, as with that retired colourman. But with Willie G.S. von Ormstein?

I'm not so sure any more.