Saturday, March 6, 2021

The spot where Sherlock Holmes stood

I have a little puzzle for my Sherlockian site experts out there.

When visiting downtown Indianapolis on a trip long past, the good Carter and I had the chance to go to Monument Circle and climb the towering Soldiers and Sailors Monument there. Inside that aged edifice's little observation deck at the top, the small space once visited by Arthur Conan Doyle makes one realize a rather significant thing: At some point, you have to be standing where Doyle himself once stood. It's too small a space to miss doing so, if you move around at all.

That experience made me wonder something more elusive. With all the Sherlockian sites that we know exist, and we know Holmes was at during a given case, Simpson's, Bart's, etc., is there any place in London or elsewhere that you can go to and know, yes, this is a spot where Sherlock Holmes himself once stood!

Cumberbatch's Holmes, yes, you can do that. Other TV and cinema Holmeses as well, I'm sure. But the Canonical original? Is there a place we can definitely say he stood?

As I write this, my mind left England and has started to wonder about that precipice at Reichenbach Falls. Is that the best option? It surely seems like his native land would hold at least one site, and you don't have to go all the way to the place Watson (and surely one or two Moriarty brothers) thought was the scene of a great tragedy. And London would seem to have to hold some such space.

Perhaps the best candidate for a spot Holmes occupied would be the door to a building or room. While be could be or not be anywhere in a decently sized room, everyone has to pass through the same doors. What a great photo collection that would be, too! Doors Sherlock Holmes passed though, with you yourself standing in each one. We really don't give doors the credit they deserve, do we, just taking them for granted.

Doorlock Holmes is a character in some Lego thing, I see, after searching for Daffy Duck's incarnation, which was spelled "Dorlock" in "Deduce You Say." But "Doorlock" would also make the nice name for the practice of taking pictures of doors Sherlock went through, or studying same. (Oooo, he had to touch the knobs, too, didn't he?)

Any other ideas on places one can specifically say that Sherlock Holmes took up space? (And if you want to be the wag and say "He didn't because he was as fake as WWE wrestling!" well, I'm sure there are some very muscular sorts that would like to talk to you, as they do when such things are said.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Why is Sherlockian chronology so much fun?

Getting a major project over and done is always a relief, and the start of the next thing can be a lot of fun. But the choice of next thing for me this January was one of those aspects of Sherlockiana that has long haunted me, more of a feeling of obligation to finish something than just a choice for pure fun. Having purged myself of my 1980s demons with a book on the subject, it was time to deal with Sherlockian chronology, what seems on the surface like one of the more boring topics in the entire hobby.

"I find any chronology the stupidest sort of reading among the writings about The Writings," James Montgomery wrote in 1953, and I can't say I disagree with him entirely. Maybe not the stupidest, but the one that's the least fun to read. Sherlockian chronology is not a niche for those whose joy is reading alone. Not stupid in its content, perhaps, but stupid as a choice of reading material.

So why dive into it, assemble chronology Avengers into a Sherlockian Chronologist Guild, and start putting out a monthly PDF newsletter on the subject, which many, like Montgomery, might consider "the stupidest sort of reading?"

Because the fun in Sherlockian chronology isn't in the watching the sport, so much as getting down on the field and playing. You have to have a certain sort of mind, I suspect, one that likes to put things in order and obsess over small details. The serious Sherlockian chronologist is probably not your cocktail party gadabout, as they're probably going to go quiet into their own thoughts at a given moment and leave the conversation. (I'm guessing and stereotyping here, so don't take this as a hard-set opinion.)

But what is any part of Sherlockiana other than an entertainment to take us away from our day-to-day troubles? 

This week, I had a little bit of a tooth issue for a few days, and I noticed in that time, I was having some real fun working with the chronology of a couple of cases and all the thoughts on those cases from past chronologies. The chance to deep dive into such a simple part of the Canon, ignoring everything but the line of time itself, was the perfect thing. In an era that stimulates attention deficit at every opportunity, finding a focal point to anchor one's self for a time . . . well, that's a genuine treat.

Walking through the writings of John H. Watson with the slow deliberation that serves chronology best seems. to serve as an antidote to the hyperactive consumption of media that's so easy to fall into, multi-tasking with things like binge-watching a TV show while playing a video game and having a text conversation, all at the same time. And, personally, I find pleasure in that alterative, as Watson might call it.

Sherlockian chronology isn't fun like fun things are fun, if that makes any sense. But there is something joyful to be found there at the right moment. And I seem to be having that moment right now.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The mystery of Cadogan West

 It struck me like a bolt of lightning tonight that we have a very curious crime in our Sherlockian Canon, and a flash of insight zoomed into my brain. So listen.

Technical papers are stolen from the Woolwich Arsenal from a secret government project that will give the British Empire elemental superiority. We are told that it was all about a submarine, something that history tells us failed and failed again for the British Navy of that time. Of course, why would Mycroft Holmes, or that government that he was imbedded in the heart of, allow a detective story writer reveal such secrets just over a decade later? Wouldn't Watson just substitute some other mildly futuristic-seeming secret for the real deal?

And what if the submarine was that substitute secret?

And what if the true secret was something much more incredible, and the crime that took place an even higher level of incredible?

Cadogan West, it seems at first, was thrown from a train. "It could only have come from a train," the old railway man at the scene says. West's head is crushed as if by a horrible impact born of speed.

Cadogan West was a man keeping a secret from his fiancee, Violet Westbury. And on the night in question, she says, very specifically, "Suddenly he darted away into the fog."

He darted away. 

Now, I'm sure by now there are a few among the readership who are picking up traces of where I'm going with this. Secret researches and experiment. A man whose last name is West who speedily dashes away from his fiancee upon seeing something she doesn't. And a family line with connections and enemies who are known for traveling through time to change history by eliminated key turning points.

Yes, I'm going to say that Violet Westbury might have been pregnant at the time her fiancee died. And in keeping that matter socially acceptable, moving somewhere else as a widow named "Violet West" would have made perfect sense. Her child grew up, had a child of their own, and so onward . . . until we get to a young man named Wallace West.

Here's the point where anyone who is not into DC comic book continuity is apt to be leaving this essay. Thanks for letting me tease you along this far, have a nice rest of your web surfing. Because I'm about to say that Cadogan West was the ancestor of Kid Flash (later the Flash proper, successor to Barry Allen), and that the government resource that Mycroft was having Watson call "submarine" was actually the speed force, and that Cadogan West was the first Victorian speedster, killed, not by a spy, but by a speedster from the future named Zoom who hoped to end Wally West's bloodline right after it first picked up a connection to the speed force.

It fits all the patterns one sees time and again in Flash comics: A speed force connection being passed on from generation to generation. Villains who like to alter the timeline. And while traditional lore might try to say that Wally West just happened to get hit by the same random chemicals and lightning bolt as his eventual uncle Barry, after finding himself drawn to the Flash for years before, it makes more sense that the speed force was always in that West line, just waiting to be triggered again after Cadogan West being a part of that long-before government experiment.

Cadogan West being killed in a super-speed battle by a more experienced speedster from the future is a crime that Sherlock Holmes could never hope to solve -- or admit the truth of, if he did solve it. Spies would serve the story, as would the submarine, when Watson wrote it up, and the British government's experiments in hyper-acceleration of the human body would remain a secret, and a secret process destroyed by that same villain from the future as well.

There are a lot of histories out there, and one never knows which ones will rub up against the Sherlockian Canon so nicely. If it turns out a "Flash-y" one does, I think I'm okay with that.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Fans versus diversity

There's a thing about the follows I've chosen on Twitter and the way the site's algorithm feeds me tweets: Time after time I see a huge social media backlash to something I don't ever see, or can even identify the source of. This week, it all swirled around something someone somewhere wrote about the casting of Royce Pierreson in the new Netflix show The Irregulars, coming this month, as well as the Baker Street Irregulars themselves.

Apparently that someone somewhere prefers their Watsons, their Irregulars, and probably all of Victorian Britain as white and predominantly male. And they defend that stance with "it's historical," not factoring in that the history books were written for the most part, by white guys, and we live in an age where a lot of folks are just figuring that out. It to HBO's The Watchmen for a large share of America to learn of the horrific Tulsa race massacre, an event that should have been in every history book, so it's not surprising that folks of varying non-white skin tones are starting to slip into our Sherlockian fictions as well.

We've got a lot of catching up to do.

And in Sherlockiana, what might be the oldest fandom outside of those that became religions, we've definitely got catching up to do. Because fandoms might be the worst at accepting change, simply because of the basic premise of fandom itself.

I enjoyed this thing. I enjoyed it so much I want to repeat the experience. And I want to enjoy it as much as I did that first time. And for many fans, fandom becomes ritual: In order to enjoy that thing as much as I did then, it must be exactly as it was then. It's a very primitive, superstitious instinct that we apply to a lot of things: Pizza. Sports. Coffee. You name it, there's someone out there that it insists the only way to do it is the way they enjoyed it most. My old friend Bob had that mindset about eating chili, of all things.

Fans can be the biggest picky eaters in the world, metaphorically wanting chicken strips and french fries at every restaurant they go to. Ironically, fans can also be inspired by that thing they love to be the chef in the kitchen and try to mix new flavors and create new recipes for cooking their chicken and potatoes, discovering ways to eat them that they end up loving better than breaded chicken white meat and deep-fried bars of potato.

But nobody can dig their heels in deeper than a fan, fighting for something they love specifically the way they love it. Sherlockiana has had those issues since its early days, when the Baker Street Irregulars supposedly threw Rex Stout into the snow outside for merely suggesting that John Watson was female. And that act being played as the grandest jest for decades to come -- and said club wouldn't allow female fans to attend their meetings until the 1990s, so the misogyny pretty much fit their rituals of the Game.

But the bigger trend we've always seen in Sherlockiana has also always been "Sherlock Holmes is like me." Golfers wrote essays about Sherlock as a golfer. Members of any given religion would try to show that he was of a similar mindset. And those takes were accepted. So why can't we just open it up and let Sherlock Holmes be like everyone? Sherlock Holmes can be the black detective hero for a black Sherlockian. Sherlock Holmes can be a trans detective hero for a trans Sherlockian. Sherlock Holmes can be a fashionista detective hero to a fashionista Sherlockian. And none of those things hurt anyone's love of Jeremy Brett in Jeremy Brett's TV show.

Sherlock Holmes is . . . and I hate to say this, due to my own Sherlockian leanings . . . a fictional character. Holmes was many things, even in Conan Doyle's original writings, and Sherlock will be many, many more by the time the rest of the writers in the world are done with the character. Every new incarnation not only gives us a new way to look at Holmes, but also the chance to bring others in and see something of what we love in this special human.

I really love the fact that I've seen more reposts and agreement with @_TheAntiChris 's original post on the topic than I've seen anyone disagreeing with it. Sherlockiana is moving in the right direction. Some of us have just got to get over a few of the classic foibles of fandom first.

We'll always have chicken strips. Let people have coq au vin.

Friday, February 26, 2021

That height thing

 It's funny the things that tweak your Sherlock Holmes triggers.

Overly handsome Holmes? Never had a problem with it. Henry Cavill followed in Roger Moore's footsteps, who followed in . . . well, let's not debate handsome, as I know there are plenty of folk who find Brett or Cumberbatch so, even thought they're more character actor than traditional leading man in the superficial beauty department. (And I probably shouldn't even say that.)

Holmes of a different race or gender? No problem there, just get that personality right. Miss Sherlock was a marvelous proof of that.

But there's just this one thing . . . well, two things, but we'll get to the second soon enough.

Something about a Sherlock Holmes who is noticeably shorter than Watson just bugs me somehow. Robert Downey Jr. really stood out in that area. Sure, he looked like Tony Stark a little too much, but it was always the fact that he was shorter than Watson that just seemed odd to me.

Is it because Holmes's biographer looked up to him, as do we, which makes you think "tall" for some deep reasoning of the human brain? Or the Canonical "rather over six feet and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller" that Watson gives us so specifically?

I don't know, but when I saw the photo from the Netflix's The Irregulars, their Sherlock looked short and I went, sadly, "Oh . . ."

Looking up the actor on IMDB, however, I found that Henry Lloyd-Hughes was listed as six foot one, so not so short . . . except his Watson, Royce Pierreson is six foot three. He just has a tall Watson.

Hmm, tall Watsons . . . perhaps as we raise Watson in our esteem after escaping the Nigel Bruce years, he gets to be taller now. Seems fair.

For now, I won't get into my second trigger of an instinctive "not my Holmes," but it's nice to see that our next one fits Canon, even if that wasn't what I first thought.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Watson's favorite author

 John H. Watson doesn't tell us too much of himself in his chronicles of Sherlock Holmes. Favorite foods? No. Details of his marriage or possible offspring? No. What his club was? No.

But he does tell us of one stormy evening when he's enjoying a nautical novel by William Clark Russell, indicating that he's read more than one by calling it "one of Clark Russell's fine sea stories." Watson doesn't tell us about reading any other authors, but we know he likes Clark Russell and his tales of the sea.

Clark Russell himself was less than ten years older than Watson, the son of British composer. The author was born on Broadway in America and went to private school in England where he got to be friends with the son of Charles Dickens. But here's where it gets weird.

Looking for a life of adventure, as all boys imagine, Clark Russell joined the Merchant Navy at the tender age of thirteen. Thirteen. Headed for the worst summer camp ever, where Clark Russell stayed for the next eight years, his health, as Watson would later write about himself "irretrievably ruined." And like Watson, that health-ruining experience would set off his entire career as an author. Those eight years gave Russell the raw material for the rest of his life of writing.

He got married a few years later and started having kids, but it would be a good ten years after he left his service as a seaman before he would start writing sea stories. He worked as a journalist and an editor, writing novels for women under female pseudonyms, thinking stories of life at sea could not compete with writers like Herman Melville. 

Having gotten a good bit of writing experience and building up some steam before his second sea novel, The Wreck of the Grosvenor, became his breakout hit. (Russell's seems to have liked shipwrecks as the best way to get drama in his sea story plots.) The Wreck of the Grosvenor was initially published anonymously and was most popular in America, which was big on -- ironically -- pirating books back then.

My favorite Clark Russell novel, The Frozen Pirate, came soon after in 1877, and I favor it strongly as the book Watson was reading in "Five Orange Pips," especially considering that in some universes Watson's ancestors have to deal with frozen Sherlocks, including one that Watson helped put into that state. (Possibly getting the idea from The Frozen Pirate? Very well could be!)

Russell lived until his late sixties, but pushed out nearly a hundred books in his lifetime, so Watson naturally had to admire him not just for his novels, but for his productivity as an author, as well. And I'd be very curious about when their paths might have crossed -- something that might make a nice little pastiche. 

Maybe that's for Clark Russell's next birthday, though. For this one, his spirit just has to settle for a hearty "Happy Birthday!" from fans of his fan.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

And now, a rant about "mouse"

 Tonight, I hit a real crisis of Sherlockian faith.

Dressing gowns again. Earlier, you may recall, I worried that Sherlock Holmes was some sort of trophy-collecting serial killer because he had a gray dressing gown and the man he might have killed, Grimesby Roylott, had a gray dressing gown on when he was killed. But I was wrong.

Sherlock Holmes did not own a gray dressing gown.

He owned a mouse dressing gown.

An in looking into that color called "mouse," I discovered tonight that it is truly a pale taupe, a mix of brown and gray that often gets mixed up for one or the other of those colors.

But the BSI necktie is purple, blue, and gray. Bill Mason's monograph Deeper Shades: The Dressing Gowns of Sherlock Holmes and the Psychology of Color spends much time on the meaning of that dressing gown being gray. The rubber mouse that I have for no good reason is gray.

And now I find that the color in "mouse-coloured" is actually taupe?

TAUPE? Rhymes with "soap?" And "nope?" And, also . . . "dope?"

That's very close to the sombre grayish beige dress that Mary Morstan wore when Watson first was crushing on her. Did Watson buy Holmes this taupe monstrosity of a dressing gown because he was into taupe?

Light taupe is an awful color for a dressing gown, especially Sherlock Holmes's dressing gown, sure to show stains from whatever chemical experiment he was working on. (And don't tell me he was too tidy to spill -- remember his hands when Watson first saw them? "Discoloured with strong acids." If he's doing that to his hands, his clothes aren't getting special treatment.)

I liked gray. Gray was the color of Holmes's eyes and who doesn't want a dressing gown to match their eyes? And Watson could wear the purple dressing gown and they'd color-coordinate. Gray was fine. Gray was great. I liked gray.

A light taupe dressing gown. What a fool I have been.

The Sherlockian world as I knew it is upended. I just can't believe in anything any more.