Sunday, November 4, 2012

Must Sherlockiana be single-thread?

Nothing I love more in fan world than a Sherlockian symposium. No book. No club. No movie. No single event.

The Sherlockian symposium is what we have had instead of cons, given our relatively small numbers. Other fandoms hold cons with attendees in the thousands, while we hold ours with numbers in the lower hundreds, when we read triple digits at all. And as a result of such numbers, we're very used to limiting ourselves.

Sherlockian symposiums tend to feature one slate of speakers, with very rare exception. If a particular one isn't to your taste, you either sit through it or retire to your hotel room to watch some HBO. That last choice may be blasphemy to some, but to others of us it is standard operational procedure. (A full day in a banquet-room chair can be a long one.) Other fandoms hold cons with multiple tracks, where every hour holds choices . . . but are they only doing it because they're bigger than us?

Last night I had the privilege of organizing a chautauqua at the local UU church. A chautauqua is something right out of Sherlock Holmes's era, and the only reason it probably never appeared in the Canon is because it is wholly American, started in Lake Chautauqua, New York, at about the time Holmes first appeared in print. Gathering together speakers, entertainers, and educators of all stripes, the chautauqua brought days of new thoughts to local communities before radio and television came along to kill the movement.

For last night's chautauqua, I simply asked people what they were passionate about, and asked them to discuss/demonstrate/lecture about that thing for half an hour. I would up with thirteen sessions to schedule and three times to do in in, which meant all of the sixty or so people in attendance got four or five choices to pick from in every one of the three half hour slots. Card games of the early 1900s. Growing herbs. The Walking Dead. The choices were as diverse as could be.

Sure, sometimes a topic you liked got scheduled opposite something else you liked . . . that was bound to happen. But you never got bored. In this day and age where information moves faster and we're all starting to run multiple threads in our personal lives, it might be time to reconsider the way we tend to do the Sherlockian symposium. There are so many fans of the Master Detective who can hold a podium or panel discussion with ease and so many ways of appreciating Holmes, especially now.

Some love historical Doyle studies. Some love old movies. Some love Laurie King novels. We're not all the same like Sherlockians seemed to be when the sixty original stories were all there was to talk about. If you're running four tracks with sixty people, you're going to get some discussions where only five people show up, but those five people are interested people . . . and they'd much rather be there than just enduring something they aren't really interested in, just because all fifty-nine people have to sit through the same thing.

I have suspicions that events like 221B Con, with its multitude of panels, might start helping lead that sort of change in the fandom, but we shall see. Like I said, I love Sherlockian symposiums and the gathering of Sherlock Holmes fans they summon up. But the times, they are a-changing, and we might need to consider a few changes there ourselves.


  1. Point taken. As the creator and organizer of A Scintillation of Scions, a Sherlock Holmes symposium along mostly traditional lines, my vision for the event started from a very different place from what you propose. I have been to many s/f and mystery cons which have different tracks as you suggest. That is a wonderful way to pursue that for which you have the most interest. The Scintillation was created from a vision of, for lack of a better term, a Sherlockian family reunion. Though we all have different avenues through which we approach Holmes and Watson(even more now with the films and TV shows and younger fans), we still have those two characters, of any incarnation, in common. That which may divide us also brings us together, and so the Scintillation was designed with many opportunities to socialize, including our traditional English afternoon tea.

    Though many symposia have themes, the Scintillation never has done so, as I maintain we each have our own passion (as you rightly point out) and so our speakers should present that for which they have a passion. Rather than limiting the scope, I try to broaden it by presenter (last June we had Kristina Manente of the Baker Street Babes on the program, along with William Hyder) and topic. I'm very excited for 221Bcon (the organizer of that event attended the last Scintillation and asked for my guidance and advice for her vision of a Sherlockian con, which I fully support). It seems that Sherlockians have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the type of events offered to us for our entertainment and edification. And it is as it should be.

  2. As one of the organizers of 221B Con, I really appreciate your views on the subject. One of the things we hope to accomplish is to bring together the many worlds of Holmes and Watson. Whether your love is the Cannon tales, the e-published pastiche, Basil Rathbone or RDJ we want you to find a place that you can discuss it with other fans. And maybe, just maybe, if your interest only includes one incarnation of the famous detective you might just get turned onto another.

    Ms Morris has used a great phrase, a family reunion. And I look forward to attending A Scintillation of Scions in 2013.

    Thank you for thinking of us!