Thursday, June 10, 2021

Unmatched in 2021?

 A thought occurred to me this morning that actually amazed me a bit. 

I know we Sherlockians are a dreadfully biassed lot in the. direction of a certain consulting detective, but think really hard and answer me this: In the 134 years since Sherlock Holmes has walked the ether of this Earth, has there ever been a detective to match him?

It's easy to just exclaim a knee-jerk "NO!" but give it a moment. Seriously dig into your mind and see if you can actually find anyone who comes close. I mean, you can find detectives that might come close in one aspect or another. Brain power. Teamed with the perfect partner. Just total cool. But all at once?

Sherlock Holmes is the perfect package. The icon. 

He's a prodigy when you need a prodigy. He's a person struggling with issues when you need an inspiration for overcoming weakness. He's a friend/partner/lover of whatever emotional degree you need to set the bar at. I really can't think of anyone in our legends or lore that compares. He doesn't just solve murders, he helps people solve their lives. (Well, when successful -- but then, his notable failures just make him all the more perfect.)

Part of Sherlock Holmes's perfection is that Conan Doyle has not been his only creator in all that time. Holmes as been interpreted, not just by actors, but by writers and fans, who have all done their best to communicate the Holmes in their heads. Some interpretations are better than others, of course, but they usually teach us something, even if it's shining a light on a missing piece that causes us to realize the importance of that aspect of the detective.

Perhaps his only flaw is that he could be a little more genetically diverse and a perhaps agendered, which I'm sure he will probably be more and more in future incarnations. His Victorian origins aren't going anywhere, and ACD Canon shall remain, even if the naysayers do a cry similar to the old "If you say Watson wrote the stories, people will forget Doyle!" The original texts aren't going anywhere. (I would love to know how many copies of ACD Holmes reprints exist worldwide at any given moment -- there are always multiple new editions in stores, and always a place for a copy on a household bookshelf.) But a good Sherlock Holmes being Victorian, male, or white is proving less necessary with each passing year.

So I still have to wonder: Has anyone matched our beloved Sherlock even in 2021?

I really don't think so. Let me know if you come up with any contenders.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

The untold tale that hides in plain sight

 "Eight of us, five convicts and three sailors, said we would not see it done."

James Armitage, Evans, Beddoes . . . those are the names we know of the original eight who escaped from the convict-ship Gloria Scott. Hudson, the burned survivor they picked up after, bedevilled them, but what of the other un-named five? We hear nothing of them. Or do we?

There's another little mystery of the bad ship Gloria Scott, which came up tonight during our discussion of "The Sussex Vampire" at Peoria Public Library's Sherlock Holmes Story Society, that of Sherlock Holmes's famous index.

"Make a long arm, Watson, and see what V has to say."

Holmes, of course, is not speaking of the hero of V for Vendetta, but his homemade encyclopedia. And in that "V" volume, he reads: "Voyage of the Gloria Scott. That was a bad business. . . . Victor Lynch, the forger. Venomous lizard or gila. . . .Vittoria, the circus belle. Vanderbilt and the Yeggman. Vipers. Vigor, the Hammersmith wonder. . . . Vampirism in Hungary. And again, Vampirism in Transylvania."

Everything in that volume seems to fit, with the exception of "Gloria Scott."

Wait . . . Sherlock Holmes read "Voyage of the Gloria Scott." And there's the "V." But such an ordinary noun, not a proper noun at all. Or is it?

It only took a few seconds of Google searching to encounter passenger lists from ships of the 1800s on Ancestry.com with folks whose last name was "Voyage." A few of them, actually.

And we have five un-named survivors of the Gloria Scott, two or three of them criminals. Is it possible, one of them was named "Voyage?"

"That was a bad business," Holmes says, "I have some recollection that you made a record of it, Watson, though I was unable to congratulate you upon the result."

Is that just a disparaging remark on Watson's published case "The Gloria Scott?" Or something more, a mention of a story that Watson actually couldn't form into an account worthy of publication. The story of Holmes and Watson's encounter with an unrepentant criminal name Voyage, still active after escaping the prison ship that was supposed to make sure he stayed in Australia.

A yet untold tale hiding in plain sight.

Who was this man Voyage, and how bad was his business? Did Holmes specifically track him down, along with the other mystery men of the Gloria Scott? Or was it just a chance encounter between the career criminal and the greatest detective in England, which is not so much chance given those two professions?

I am definitely intrigued.

The names we give ourselves

 Lately I've been working under the guise of a "Sherlockian chronologist" in playing with the dates of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories, and rather enjoying that term. We fans of Sherlock Holmes have called ourselves a lot of things over the years, sometime getting a little contentious or uppity along the way, but most of our labels, be they "Sherlockian," "Holmesian," "Watsonian," "afficionado," "enthusiast," or simply "fan," are self-assigned. But did you ever stop and go, "Why the 'ian' thing?"

One site says "From the Latin -ianus, in which the -i- originally was from the stem of the word being attached be later came to be felt as connective." And yes, we do occasionally make an ass out of ourselves for love of Sherlock, but "Sherlock-anus" seems a little extreme, doesn't it?

So why not something a little nicer?

I mean, I'm loving "Sherlockian chronologist," so why not "Sherlockologist?" Even though we do it for entertainment, the study of Sherlock Holmes is the thing for so many of us, designating Sherlockology as a branch of knowledge and calling its practitioners "Sherlockologists" makes perfect sense. (Okay, you UK folk can go with "Holmesologists," is you want, but you might have people thinking you're into homeopathy or something.)

And why couldn't one take it a step further and just be a "Sherlockist" practicing "Sherlockism?" Sounds a bit religious, and you might have to do some cosplay, but I'd like to meet a Sherlockist . . . oh, wait, would they be fun? Or very strict and too serious about their Sherlockism and its tenets. ("Come on, take the first cab! We're in a hurry!")

I liked that "Mare of Easttown" fans were going with "Mare bears," but rhyming Sherlock gets weird fast. "Sherlock jocks," "Sherlock warlocks," "Sherlockacrocs," "Sherberts," "Holmes loams," "Holmes gnomes." That last one is the best of that bunch in my mind, but the movie Sherlock Gnomes might make it way too confusing.

 We might be moving to more specific nicknames anyway, like those regulars of 221B Con, the "Bees." And the Doyleans might be about to toss some fresh new slang in at some point. ("Doylies" may not be it, though.) 

The "ian" thing puts a Sherlockian in a class with libriarians and vegetarians, rather that being a "Sherlocker" or "Sherlockor," which would put us with lawyers and authors. And as much as certain clubs had to split off female auxiliaries due to their membership practices in ancient times, we never got "Sherlockesses." (Though "Irregulars" and "Adventuresses" did give America both of those suffixes.)

Are there any other suffixes or terms for the hobbyists of Holmes that we have missed out on?

A moss rose by any other name would be just as much an embellishment of life, to borrow from Shakespeare and Sherlock.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The test we take without taking it

 Sherlockiana is a wide open hobby. At out best, wee can enjoy discussing Sherlock Holmes with someone who just walked out of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows as much as comparing the plots of "Red-Headed Leage" and "Three Garridebs." We do like to test ourselves and occasionally invite faux gate-keeping into our world, like Frank Morley's original BSI crossword or the Beacon Society's Fortescue Scholarship Exams, but none of those are ever seriously used to weed out the novices. Those are primarily for those of us who have been around a while and want to see how fast our Sherlockian car will go.

Yet there is one test that we game-playing Sherlockians tend to take without realizing it, a test that some have occasionally tried to keep away from the newbies for fear it will frighten them off. And yet the test remains, and eventually, most pass it without evening realizing they did. No degree, no applause, no ceremony. You just are no longer troubled by that longtime Sherlockian system we call . . .

The Jay Finley Christ abbreviations.

Four letters for each of the sixty stories in the Canon. ABBE, 3GAB, CHAS . . . each of them bring to mind a full story title in the mind of a Sherlockian seasoned in the traditional scholarship. It actually has two levels, too -- the first being when you recognize CHAS as "Charles Augustus Milverton," and the second being when you want to abbreviate "Charles Augustus Milverton" and go "Oh, CHAS," instead of "CHAR, maybe?"

We rarely lay out a list and go, "Put the title next to each abbreviation," or vice versa, but there can come a time when you're just comfortable with them. And it doesn't come quickly, the same as in learning any field's specific buzzwords. Do they frighten off fresh, young Sherlockians? I sincerely doubt it. If you're the kind of person who can't stand ENGR in an article about Victor Hatherley, you're probably not the kind of person who wants to read an article about Victor Hatherley to begin with. And if you love "Engineer's Thumb" enough to want to learn more about Victor freakin' Hatherly, the pet name of "ENGR" probably is just going to be one part of your intimate bonding to that case.

The Christ abbreviations have raised their four-letter heads up again big time with Paul Thomas Miller's "Chapter and Verse" version of the Sherlockian Canon. If just the abbreviations were going to frighten people away with their arcane nature,  "SIGN1:14" (Don't look that up, I picked it at random.) is going to make those same delicate folk soil their drawers. But that's okay. No shame on needing Depends in this day and age. You can still be a Sherlockian and we'll let you in.

But magic needs its mysteries, its hidden knowledges, and the tales of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are indeed magical. The mark of a certain sort of adept at one branch of that magic is knowledge of those silly four-letter codes. It's just a mile marker you pass along the way, and not a toll gate that you have to complete to pass through.

A test we sometimes take without knowing we're taking it . . .

What's out there.

 The plague of misinformation that hit us the same time as the actual pandemic last year was historic, and shows no signs of letting up. But is it possible that this isn't new and we're just discovering how ignorant as a species we can be?

Remember back in 2008, when a British TV station polled about 3000 people and found that 58% of them thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person? Well, I'm sure the advent of BBC Sherlock and Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes movies help fix that somewhat, with more people thinking of him as a TV or movie character, but the poll, which also had about a fifth of its British respondents thinking Winston Churchill was a fictional character (Well, he did meet Doctor Who!) did make a definite statement.

For some reason, this morning I was reminded of the time I was in Toronto for a Sherlock Holmes conference in the nineties and bought a unique collection of Holmes stories in a bookstore near a local college. The clerk was quick to tell me about Conan Doyle's opium addiction in great detail and with such authority that even though I knew not a word of it was true, I just let him go on to see where this was going. I was not a good steward of Sherlockian knowledge that day, and just left him with his beliefs, bemused at just how weird the whole experience was. Hopefully some other attendee of the conference set him straight later that day.

Over the years I have occasionally heard a Sherlockian object to "playing the Game" as pretending Watson wrote the stories is often called, expressing the fear that people might start to believe the jest. And every time, I would immediately react with "There might be one or two folks who get tricked for a moment, but people aren't that stupid."

These days, one starts to have doubts. If a certain network, a certain political party's "It" boy, and a few other folks all signed on to Sherlock Holmes being a real person whom history had conspired to turn into a fictional character, Sherlockian conferences would start to be an entirely different creature than what we've known in the past. Conan Doyle would be seen by at least 30% of America as the greatest hoaxter since PT Barnum (all the while ignoring the greater hoaxter who just pulled off this hoax). And the Flat Earthers would get a real run for their money.

The thing is, I still have a hard time ever seeing that happening, as purveyors of false narratives really don't want Sherlock Holmes becoming a popular hero of our time, whether he's real or not. The more folks who believe in Sherlock Holmes out there, whether they believe him real or a marvelous character of fiction, the more folks there are that believe in what he was all about: Exposing the false narrative. The demon hound is just a big dog. The devil in town is just the vapor of an African herb.

The gag of pretending Sherlock Holmes is a historical character finds its most piquant flavor in the fact that Sherlock Holmes himself would be all about exposing a historical Sherlock Holmes as a fake.

We are not a perfect species. Even the best of us has smarter days and dumber days. But do we have to worry about Sherlock Holmes escaping into reality in people's minds and destroying civilization as we know it?

I don't think so. We should probably try to help poor Conan Doyle get past those opium addict rumors, should they rise up in bookstores. Celebrity gossip is the worst.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Our risen energy levels and the next state of the world

 It's Sunday night, I'm exhausted, but I just have to push out one more blog post.

Because here we are.

The vaccines are starting to open things up in the U.S. and we're all starting to have to deal with two worlds at once -- the stay-at-home Zoom world we created to get by and some version of that old social meet-and-greet world we left behind. Saturdays that were full of Sherlockian Zoom meetings are going to find birthday parties for four-year-olds, sporting events, and everything else pushing in on that space very, very quickly, not to mention actual Sherlockian gatherings.

And beyond that, have you noticed the energy in the Sherlockian world that rose up during this pandemic?

TV shows, movies, and best-selling books have brought us influxes of new Sherlockians and the energy they bring in the past, but the new connections we were pushed to, the change in focus our lives took, and even the very hard possibility that death could strike a lot sooner than any of us expected, all swirled together to give existing Sherlockians energy levels we've rarely seen rise up for non-Sherlock reasons.

New societies, new creative ventures . . . so many things that have touched us all. And now the question becomes, how much of this can we sustain without burning ourselves out? If we do truly get covid out of our daily concerns, how much of it will stand the competition of everything else flooding back into our lives? 

This is such an exciting time to be a Sherlockian, and there's just something very pure about it. It's not just a single aspect of the hobby, like one new media excitement. It's all of it. The old, the new, the borrowed, and the BLUE.

Time to get some sleep, I think. We're all going to need it.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The pastiche experiment fails

 "It's not you, it's me."

There's a reason that break-up line became a bit of a trope years ago. While one person has tried their best to make a relationship work, the person that wants out of the relationship knows full well why it isn't working, but doesn't want to cause any more damage than they have to on their way out the door.

So, when it comes to new Sherlock Holmes stories, which are coming out by the seeming millions of late, I have to say it:

It's not you, it's me.

After avoiding Sherlock Holmes pastiches for a long time, I tried to go back, picking a popular book that seemed well-regarded among my fellow Sherlockians. I tried reading, losing myself to the narrative, riding along with Holmes and Watson for the adventure presented. But I kept getting kicked off the train.

I know the original characters and their sixty-story universe too well at this point. And I know Doyle's skills, and the things he could do that another author might be awkward at pulling off. Add to that mix forty years of headcanon -- everything that evolved in my own brain after repeated exposure to the original Canon. I just can't read a book where the little cartoon angel and little cartoon devil on my shoulders are both screaming "FAKE! FAKE!"

Fic based on TV shows doesn't bother me. AUs don't bother me. But anything that tries to adhere to the original universe and starts dropping in modern attitudes, obvious historical research, or take a character to a very weird place . . . WAH-HAH! Off the narrative train I get kicked. (Not sure who the metaphoric conductor doing the kicking is, but he probably looks a bit like me.)

At this point, those who still enjoy pastiches are a bit like my friends who enjoy beer. 

"Try this one," they'd say, "you'll surely like it!" I can't tell you how many dozens and dozens of craft beers I tasted before realizing it was just the hops and grain taste -- beer was just not my thing, and I needed to stick to ciders, meads, or other non-grain based beverages. At some point, you just have to accept your state.

I'm a little jealous of my friends who get to enjoy new Sherlock Holmes stories, just as I'm jealous of any person younger than me, getting to experience those things in life only fresh eyes can enjoy and having first-times the like of which cannot be repeated. But on the good side, Sherlockiana is a broad enough hobby that there is always some aspect of it that you ignored previously that still waits for you to enjoy at a later date.

My pastiche years were great years, and a good part of the reason I love Sherlock Holmes so much now. For a modern reader, they often act as a gateway drug to Doyle's prose which was written for readers that weren't living in 2021. I know they helped me enjoy his work more. But, sadly, I think those days are done.

So, as I leave pastiche behind again for a while, and lose myself in the work of a modern author and the non-221B world they have created, I just have to sigh and go, "not you, me," and dive back into Sherlockian chronology . . . which few Sherlockian chronologists even enjoy reading.

Life is weird, isn't it?