Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The obligatory look back at 2013.

And so, a banner year at Sherlock Peoria comes to an end.

With well over two hundred and fifty posts this year, I've managed to set a new batting average of .698  for 2013. Almost 70% of the days this year with a post. Highest average since the blog began in 2002.

And what have I learned this year, based on my readership stats?

It's all about the love.

The hottest post of the year, by far, was "Love: A Finale," back on May 16. As much about Star Trek: Into Darkness as Sherlock and Elementary, that combo pack won 2013.

In a very impressive second place came "And sometimes, after a case, they cuddle . . ." on April 21.  Starting talking slash fanfic and you tend to draw a crowd.

Third place, curiously, goes to "Mrs. Hudson arrives," the April 7 write-up of the only episode of Elementary to show their cleaning lady. One critic recently suggested that I bash-blog about Elementary to get more readers, but Miss Hudson appeared in my favorite episode of the first season, and the one I was most positive about. (And as any web-Sherlockian of experience knows, it's Sherlock and the Baker Street Babes bump that will get you readers. And I'd fanboy about those two topics even if it got me nada.)

Love, sex, and liking seemed to be the top three draws in a year that surely had everything. Or at least a lot of everything. For instance . . . .

My nearest and dearest Baker Street Irregular passed on. A former BSJ editor got a taste of fangirl wrath. Our local Sherlockian society, the Hansoms of John Clayton, had a new beginning. The "Free Sherlock" court case got filed and finished. 221B Con made a splash with more Sherlock Holmes fans than I've ever seen gathered in one place, by a multiplier of three. A winery got upset with me. Holmes slept with Moriarty and Irene Adler, at the same time. The Armchair Baskerville Tour had an online sequel. The podcast I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere used a blog on the movie Bad Grandpa for its closing reading.  There was a previously unheard-of thing called a Sherlock Holmes "minisode." If this blog ever got boring in 2013, the fault certainly has to rest with the writer, because there sure was a lot of excitement to be found in the Sherlockian world, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Where do we go in 2014 after all that? Upward, I hope.

The early run of Sherlock season three is apt to start the year off with the sort of peak that could leave a lot of folk with a bad case of post-excitement-drop come February, the gloomiest month of the year. We don't get the highs of January without a little low to follow; it's just the price one pays. But then? Inspirations planted in the darker days of winter will start to pop as sprouts come spring. And from then, the cycle should really kick into gear.

We're going to have a little fun, we are. Because in the end, in 2014 it's still going to be all about the love. Of Sherlock. Of Watson. And of this little Game we play in their wake.

Happy New Year, my friends.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Watson legally gets a second wife.

This a few days back  in The Guardian . . .

When I first read that headline and the article that followed, I thought the "second wife" business was mere extrapolation . . . journalism not being what it used to be, these days. As any good Sherlockian knows, the number of Watson's marriages has been theorized and disputed by students of the Canon for years. Personally, I think he had six wives over the course of the stories. More traditionally minded folk sometimes go with just one. There was no firmly established second wife for Watson that I'd ever heard.

Looking for answers, I quickly headed for the Free Sherlock website to read the actual judicial ruling in the case of Klinger versus the Doyle Estate, Ltd. There, in the midst of a very legal summary judgment, I found the words, "Dr. Watson's second wife, first described in the 1924 short story 'The Illustrious Client.'"

Dr. Watson had a second wife, described in "Illustrious Client"?!? What the hell?

Sure, Watson writes, "I was living in my own rooms in Queen Anne Street at the time," but the only wives mentioned are the past and future victims of Baron Gruner. One has to suspect the court got "Illustrious Client" mixed up with "Blanched Soldier," where Holmes specifically said, "The good Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife, the only selfish action which I can recall in our association." But that 1926 story's statement is interesting in its words "only selfish action," which some even believe indicates it was the same wife Watson originally had, and not a second one.

Where once we just had our own interpretations of Watson's marital situation, now it seems we have a legal document in American court records that tells us he had a second wife. And what's more, she is described in "The Illustrious Client." There are only two women described in that case, Miss Violet De Merville and Miss Kitty Winter. And who did Watson spend the most time with in the course of dealing with Baron Gruner?

Well, Watson does write, "I arranged with Johnson that evening to take Miss Winter to a quiet suburb and see that she lay low until the danger was past." And six days pass. Now, one may think, upon a first, hasty reading, that Johnson was the one taking Miss Winter to the suburbs, but we know that Johnson was always the point of contact for getting in touch with Kitty Winter. And Watson, being the noble gentleman he was, would surely have felt obligated to guard a woman in danger while his friend pretended to be a death's door and had no better use for him.

And after six days in the suburbs, would one be surprised if something developed between the sympathetic doctor and the "slim, flame-like young woman?"

I'd like to thank Chief Judge Ruben Castillo, Les Klinger, and the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. for bringing Watson's second wife to our attention through their legal proceedings. Kitty Winter wasn't on my list of six at all.  But now it seems that she and Watson are legally wed, at least in this country.

Congratulations, Dr. Watson. I always knew hoped you'd squeeze Kitty in there somewhere.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The most economical television show of 2013.

I was reading a recap of television's best shows for 2013 this morning and came to an interesting realization. For all the impact Sherlock had on us in 2013, it really wasn't a 2013 television show. The last series appeared in 2012. We did, however, get a full seven minute minisode of Sherlock on December 24th, so technically, Sherlock was a 2013 show. Check IMDB if you doubt it.

221B Con. Kickstarter projects. A goodly presence at San Diego Comicon. YouTube music videos. Fanfic drama. And that looming specter hanging over every episode of its American aftershock, Elementary. Sherlock has been with us all year long.

And yet, we only got seven minutes of it in 2013.

When compiling "Best of 2013" lists this week as we prepare for 2014, I'm sure most TV critics will leave out Sherlock and its seven minute runtime for this entire year. But if there were a category for "Biggest presence with the least screen-time for 2013," I'd say Sherlock wins that award hands down.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The trope of the connected villain.

One of the things I've always hated about Hollywood's approach to superhero movies has been one of their techniques for condensing things into a two hour story. In order to explain a superhero and their arch-enemy in such a short period of time, they simply make them both come from the same place.

Superman has to fight Kryptonians. Batman's parents were now killed by the Joker. Spiderman suddenly got bit by a spider that worked for the Green Goblin. The Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom go up in the same rocket that got hit by cosmic rays. On and on it goes, when there are plenty of adversaries for any given superhero whose origins aren't linked to the hero at all. In fact, the best villains are those who come from a completely different place than the hero, just so they can be so much more . . . evil.

Sherlock Holmes has gotten the same treatment from Hollywood and its writers. Inevitably, Professor Moriarty has to be Sherlock's math tutor or professor, as in Young Sherlock Holmes. The Seven Percent Solution even took it a step further, making Moriarty's affair with Holmes's mother the catalyst for him even becoming a detective. Elementary undoubtedly gave it the craziest spin by making Moriarty the lover who "died" and caused its "Sherlock" to dive into his drug problem . . . although there is a strange parallel to 2002's A Case of Evil, wherein Moriarty faked his death and then addicted Holmes to heroin.

What is it that makes screenwriters want to link Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty somehow? If that's something audiences enjoy so much, why not just have Sherlock Holmes born to a family of criminals and have him spend his career hunting down cousin Grimesby, cousin Sebastian, cousin Charles Augustus, and the like? Do we actually enjoy the hero-villain connection that much, so is it just a matter of screen time economy?

Personally, I'm a big fan of letting the villain have his or her own story and their own character development. Some stories have hero-villain connections at their core, like that of Thor and Loki. But adding them after the fact never seems to work out well, other than perhaps for novelty the very first time it's done.

Now that Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty have both been freed up in court (interesting how Moriarty always winds up free after a day in court, even in our world), I hope future creators will let them keep their separate backstories. There is so much more material, and fun, to be had there.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The second morning call.

"I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas . . ."

Christmas is done, Boxing Day is done, and we finally get to the Sherlockian holiday of the season: Blue Carbuncle Day, Compliments of the Season Day, Call Upon My Friend Sherlock Holmes Day . . . I don't think we've ever really settled on a name for it. But it's a special day in Holmes world, and always more memorable to me than that arguable birthday (whose celebration seems to depend upon dinner weekends, much as presidential birthdays depend upon Mondays).

And in honor of this special day, this year, I'd like to pose a few questions for your consideration. One question, really, but with a few angles to it. So here goes:

If you were going to call upon Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, which Sherlock Holmes would you call upon?

Gillette? Rathbone? Brett? Downey? Cumberbatch? Miller?

First, consider it as a social call, as Watson is making upon this post-holiday holiday.

Got your pick?

Now consider it from a client's perspective. You're really in trouble, you want the best help you can get -- who's the first Holmes you summon?

We often talk about which incarnation of Holmes we enjoy, or which doesn't seem right to us. But we never really talk about which one we would depend upon, were he in our world and we'd come to a crisis. Maybe he's the same one to you in every case. But maybe not.

Looking at the six names above, I have a couple "definitely go-to" guys, one "I'd go but wouldn't like it," one "put him on the case and generally keep my distance," one "Thanks, but I can handle matters myself!" and one "I think I'll need some references."

And then there's that Holmes-in-my-head. You probably have one, too, especially if you started enjoying Holmes via reading before the movies or TV caught your fancy. That guy I'd move into 221B Baker Street with and write up his cases in a heartbeat. (Yes, I know, there are Watson fans out there who'd miss the guy, but they'd learn to like me eventually, just like we do with every new Dr. Who regeneration.) Any true blue Sherlockian would do the same.

So on this second morning after Christmas, take a few moments and go calling upon the Holmes or Holmeses you'd like to pay compliments of the season to, at least in your imagination. It's good to touch base every now and again to see what he's like these days.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

And the gate swings open for Sherlock Holmes.

Well, there was this on Twitter tonight . . . .

If things weren't wild and wooly enough with season three of Sherlock so close upon us, Les Klinger has declared victory in that key court case challenging the "Conan Doyle Estate Ltd." and its claim to owning Sherlock Holmes, body and soul. We're still awaiting details from free-sherlock.com, of course, and there'll be much sorting out of exactly what it all means and for whom, but it still is one fine day . . . except for that it's night . . . but still, something to babble on a bit about.

We're still eight years out from the final ten Casebook stories by Conan Doyle being in the public domain here in America, but Sherlock Holmes himself, that fellow whose best years were behind him when those ten finally appeared, gets to spend those last eight years with a bit more room to flex his legend. Of course, lawyers being lawyers and investors always wanting to protect an investment, there's probably going to be some more maneuvering and dodging and the like.  But for now . . . for now . . . .

Sherlock Holmes takes one more step away from eventually getting a bloody "TM" tacked on him for all eternity by some corporate entity.

And one more step toward being owned by the world, as a part of our common legacy.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The return of the best and wisest.

In my happy meditations of the new Sherlock minisode, which brilliantly sums up modern Sherlock's Great Hiatus in seven minutes, I once again come 'round to that topic upon which I tend to displease a few folks, so here is my usual disclaimer: Elementary fans, you might not want to be reading this. Here's a link to a lovely extended version of the show's opening credits music you can go to and then forget to come back. That is my Christmas gift to you.

And a few one-one-thousands to give them time to wander off, and . . .

The new Sherlock minisode, "Many Happy Returns," not only brings happy anticipation of season three of that original modern Sherlock Holmes adaptation, it . . . in seven minutes . . . reminded me so well of why that guy in Elementary has never been Sherlock Holmes for me, and doubtless never will.

"Many Happy Returns" has two parts. The first shows us Sherlock Holmes without showing us Sherlock Holmes. He is a faceless figure doing what he does best, because "he can't stop himself." We see a bit of the climaxes to three solved cases, as relayed by Detective Inspector Anderson, one of Sherlock Holmes's biggest antagonists at Scotland Yard, now acting the bearded prophet and what almost seems Sherlock's biggest fan. Without ever seeing Sherlock Holmes, we see the greatness that is Holmes, that ability beyond all others, that enthusiast in the art of detection who can't stop being who he is, even when he's roaming the world to get away.

That guy in Elementary? After his "Moriarty moment," he had a total breakdown, went complete drug addict, then had to have his daddy buy him a minder after he fled to New York City. Does that sound anything like Sherlock Holmes to you? Maybe you can still squint and see it. Not this little black duck.

But the Sherlock minisode also somewhat explains why we have that weird Elementary alteration of the character with its second half: the cut footage from Watson's birthday video. Even I have to admit, Moffat and Gatiss have altered the character of Sherlock Holmes for their version as well, playing up Sherlock Holmes's social awkwardness due to his genius and his penchant for brutal honesty. People often don't feel comfortable with the bald truths of life, which Sherlock is all about. This BBC version of Holmes plays up Watson's trials in being a friend to such a man, eliciting teary sympathy from viewers much more than Doyle ever had a mind to, but here's the thing: In making Holmes a bit of a social bastard, they don't reduce the character's powers or make him a lesser detective just to add viewer sympathy.

The guy in Elementary has others solve his cases. He's living off his daddy's money. He has weakness after weakness added in because the show's creators seem to go along with the American TV model in such cases: If you show a smart and successful person that might seem to wound the ego of Joe Average, you have to make them an awkward nerd, or in some other way show that those very intelligent people come with flaws that make them no better than the rest of us. Probably even lesser than the rest of us for all their book-l'arning and big-brain IQs. Probably a psychopathic killer, too . . . you know how smart they always are!

But Sherlock Holmes was created in a time when a true genius, a man at the top of his field, didn't have to be a psychopathic killer or a nerd. As we move toward the world of Idiocracy more and more with every passing day, we need more Sherlocks and less Elementarys to fight the rising tide of the lowest common denominator being our standard-bearer.

Just my opinion, perhaps, but I suspect even Detective Inspector Anderson can see that need coming. (And I never thought I'd like that guy quite so much.) It's amazing how much we got in one seven minute minisode this time around, and it has raised an already high interest level in the new series even further.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Minisode day!

It's seems like only yesterday that a whiney commenter on a past blog was calling me "anti-American" for writing about how much I like BBC's style over PBS. Well, today I definitely have to give the Brits points over our slow-witted American television networks and the audiences they feed . . . yes, Duck Dynasty fans, I'm insulting your fellow beard-fanciers . . . because it's Minisode Day!

Minisodes have been one of the great treats of watching Doctor Who, little video confections that come along when you're missing your favorite show, completely in the Canon of the show involved, completely separate and different material from anything that will be shown later. Generous extras for the fans, and what did Sherlock Holmes say about extras?

"Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers."

Flowers, minisodes . . . it is only goodness that gives us extras, whatever form they take, and I think we have much to hope from minisodes.

And now we have a Sherlock minisode. Thank you, Providence, or BBC, or Moffat and Gatiss. It is goodness.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Peoria Blue Carbuncle dinner.

On Friday night, a full seven days before the second day after Christmas, the Hansoms of John Clayton met for dinner at the home of one of our brightest lights. I don't record too much here of Peoria's revived Sherlock Holmes society, as we're still a pretty small and maturing group, and I'm curious to see what develops without all the pomp and circumstance societies often record their every event with. Suffice it to say we met to celebrate "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle."

Goose was not served, but a fine ham was, and since ham was what Christopher Morley reported could be found on the sideboard at the inn called Alpha some years after Sherlock Holmes stopped there, it seemed a fine enough feast to go with our celebration of that December tale.

We discussed "Blue Carbuncle" over drinks and sugar-cinnamon pecans, with many a challenge posed and answered, a number of good points made and mulled over, a review of the tale's cinematic and audio adaptations from Barbara Roden's compilation in the excellent Case Files series, and the eventual wandering to other topics, before we eventually wandered out into the winter night.

And for those of you who have awaited my giving some ground on CBS's Elementary, this was the first occasion I've had to meet some excellent folk who started on Holmes's path by enjoying that show, moving on to BBC Sherlock, and then starting to read the original Canon itself. I don't know if we'll consider this Christmas miracle enough for me to throw open the window and shout down to a passing urchin, "Boy! You know that boxed set of Elementary DVD's they have on display at the local Wal-mart? Take this credit card and go buy the biggest one, then run it over to Bob Cratchit's house!"

But it is, as "Blue Carbuncle" tells us, the season of forgiveness. So maybe I'll just forgive Elementary its foibles for the season.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

How Sherlock Holmes changed a world.

I suppose it bears note that a special entitled How Sherlock Changed The World played on PBS this week, to mixed reviews. Coming eight years after How William Shatner Changed The World, I think that it's not only overdue, but a little bit sad that William Shatner was somehow eight-years-ahead more inspiring than Sherlock Holmes. And the lack of the detective's last name does tend to indicate a more BBC Sherlock inspired reason for its existence.

But none of that has anything to do with why I didn't feel compelled to watch it, this week or any time in the future. For one, and not to be arrogant about it, after nearly forty years in the hobby, the slim possibility of new information doesn't outweigh the irritation factor of things they might not get quite right. But more importantly, I don't really need a television special to tell me how Sherlock Holmes changed my world.

When I think of all the cities I've been to, things that I've seen, and people I've met, simply due to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, his presence in the world is much more impressive than some possible inspirations to the fields of forensic science and policework. I've only been to Santa Fe, New Mexico once, but that was still more times than "criminals in my life needing to be caught by advanced police methods." Of course, perhaps the fact that all such criminals were caught by Holmes-inspired methods before they got to victimizing me or mine has quietly changed my world more than I know . . . but I don't know that.

What I do know is that the library at the University of Minneapolis is a very impressive place. I know that New York City is an intricate mass of concrete and steel that doesn't suit my fancy, despite a thousand places of interest there and odd, surprising moments like seeing Grandpa Munster through a restaurant window. And I know a lot about Mormons. What port wine tastes like (as well as Petri). That some places don't need screen doors. How an Arby's roast beef sandwich can be special. What it's like to be solicited by a Toronto prostitute. At least three techniques for making a book. A certain comfort level for public speaking. And I know Don Hobbs, though I don't see him hardly enough.

I could spend all day making a list of the ways Sherlock Holmes has changed my world. And I can't think of many that fall under the category "for the worse." Even the less than pleasant parts of a Sherlockian life have been growth experiences. (Insert obligatory Elementary quip here.)

So this week, with all holiday festivities and other obligations filling up my time, I didn't really feel a completist urge to add How Sherlock Changed The World to my schedule.  Simply going "I agree!" seemed like enough.

Sherlock Holmes has changed a lot of worlds. Mine included.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Seven hundred miles for a secret.

June is still a long way off, especially with the snow thick on the ground here in Peoria at the moment. And there are a lot of big events before Summer Fun 2014, part of which will be the Scintillation of Scions on June 6-7. And yet, among the Yuletide, the impending and current Cumbercraze, and a dozen other joys of the season, a little bit of June's magic has already started . . . for me at least.

As question was asked and answered, and I now know what purpose I'll be going to the Scintillation of Scions for. After all, one can't just go all the way to Maryland without a purpose.

And that purpose is currently going under the name "The Secret of Watson's Six Wives."

It's the next step in an exploration that began back on the Hounds of the Internet in September of 2000, with something called "Chronology Corner." Given the task of sparking the Hounds' weekly discussion of the Canon of Holmes, I started working my way through the details of dating the sixty stories. And unlike certain other chronologers who seem to like to twist facts to fit theories, I let Dr. Watson be my guide, come what may.

One of the after-shocks of that little trip was a revelation about John H. Watson having six wives.

Sound a little ridiculous? Watson getting away with that many wives in a time when divorce was hard to come by and being that many times a widower would be a very nasty bit. But John Watson's six wives, it turns out, had a secret. A secret that makes all the pieces fit.

What's the secret? Well, it wouldn't be a secret if I told you (he said annoyingly), would it?

And I've got six months to enjoy that secret, explore that secret, and generally have some fun before the cat comes out of the proverbial bag. I won't be teasing it here too much after this, but I did want to give you a little bit of a heads up.

Because I'll be traveling well over seven hundred miles to reveal that secret come June, so it must be something. And you might just want to be there to hear it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Never mind.

Well, there comes a point when even a brazen blogger knows it's time to shut his mouth.

But y'know, you still just want to make some notes about a current event in the world of Sherlock Holmes, acknowledge that something happened, maybe even openly ponder it a bit.

But, wow . . . .

Sherlock fandom is scaring me right now. Nothing directed at me, mind you, and I truly appreciate the explanations given by commenters on my last blog. But, man, don't send me any links to editorials on the Caitlin Moran situation. Because I might read them and actually want to make a remark or two . . . and then feel all courage drain from my body.

Because a.) I have XY chromosomes, and b.) While I'm a big fan of fanfic, and have actually written some back in the days of the printed 'zine, I'm not a part of the current Sherlock fanfic community. And right now, expressing an opinion from either of those positions feels a lot like it might get a flamethrower pointed in your direction.

I've had people mad at me in the Sherlockian world. I've had some uncomplimentary things said or written about me on occasion. But even my worst day was nothing compared to the radioactive intensity of what's going on out there at the moment. And it doesn't feel like it's all focused on Caitlin Moran, some of it seeming like she was just the spark that set off a lot of pent-up feelings that were out there already.

So I'm not saying nuttin'. Except what I just said. Which I probably shouldn't have said.

Never mind.

Perhaps I should just go do something a little gentler on my nerves . . . like preparing to give a talk at a con full of rabid Elementary fans.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In the very public press.

Well, this never happened with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

Sunday wasn't the first time Sherlock fan endeavors were used to torment Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Apparently the panel discussion after the BFI premiere of Sherlock season three, however, crossed new lines of humiliation for both the actors and fans, especially the writer of the fan fiction in question, as the actors were asked to read a particularly kissy scene between their two characters. The reaction in fan world was strong enough to get reported in The Telegraph, which, like the reason for the incident to begin with, was probably just there because nobody's reporting what was actually in the long-awaited resurrection episode.

Usually we tend to think of old school Sherlockians who just don't get full implications of our modern world, but I think this particular incident demonstrates that even the next generation isn't entirely ready for our newfound technological powers.

I mean, the poor humiliated fan in question published her fan fiction on the internet. Remember the internet? The very public internet? Where, if I write how much I hate Elementary in great detail, week after week, I shouldn't be surprised if a producer from CBS television walks up to me and goes, "So, I hear you don't like Elementary." Which did happen in one mildly uncomfortable moment. Not nearly as uncomfortable as having your demonstration of fondness for a characterization of Holmes used to ruin the moment of the person who helped create that characterization, of course. And not even the most uncomfortable moment I've had being read by anyone who gets pointed this way.

But here's the thing: as much of a (insert your preferred profanity here) as Sunday's BFI panel discussion's chairperson was being by mocking someone's Sherlock creative effort, there's a side to this that was hitting the fandom lottery. At the end of the day, once the emotions have lost their potency, somebody got their words read by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and has that story to tell for the rest of their life. There's a reason we have the phrase, "We'll laugh about this one day." Because what else are you going to do? Live in a bell tower the rest of your life?

Nobody wants to be the cautionary tale for the rest of the Sherlock fan universe, 'tis true. But there is a cautionary tale to be seem there. Anybody can read our stuff on the internet. Our friends, our foes, utter villains who may use it in ways we never could have conceived of. It's something we all have to consider as we put electronic words to server.

Because we're playing a whole new game these days, boys and girls. Some of it may seem like the same stuff that's been going on for decades, but there's these wrinkles to it we ain't never seen before.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

And so it begins . . .

Finally, this weekend, we were treated to the return of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman combining their talents again -- though some more than others.

Here is Peoria, as in most of the world, it was on the big screen's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which also featured a certain Mycroft from another Sherlock Holmes franchise. But while most of us were seeing the hobbit and the dragon do their stuff, there were those lucky few who got to see the first episode of Sherlock, season three, at the BFI National Film Theatre in London . . .

. . . which means there are people out there like ticking time bombs of spoiler devastation, otherwise lovely souls who are now targets of bitter jealousy, and a whole lot of patience and avoidance testing for the rest of us.

Seventeen more days for residents of the United Kingdom.

Double that for those located in the United States. Thirty-four days.

Thirty four days of deciding whether or not to dodge the normal internet trails Sherlockian news and opinion. The holiday season may make that easy for the first half, but once early January and the UK premiere hits, then things really get obnoxious. And while there are those Sherlockians who are probably about as concerned about the new Sherlocks as I am about last Thursday's Elementary (that I still haven't gotten around to watching), I'm not one of them.

Thirty four days.

Going to be an interesting time.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

An uncollectable age?

Just for fun this week, I went out browsing the reviews on Amazon.com of Conan Doyle's assorted works of Sherlock Holmes. Didn't know what I might find there, some creative comments, some unexpected insights from random readers . . . but what I chanced upon was something like looking up at the sky at night. A vista of unimaginable breadth. Maybe the Amazon listing for Sherlock Holmes isn't quite as countless as the stars in the universe, but for all practical purposes regarding my little brain, rather similar.

Looking at the little write-ups, wondering about how their authors came to be inspired to spend time describing Conan Doyle's classics, I was struck by how ephemeral they all suddenly seemed compared to how well collected similar commentaries in print would have been only a few short decades ago. Scrapbooks, file folders, boxes of clippings -- it wasn't just books that Sherlockian collectors gathered.

Now, I suppose the collecting bug will never go away. Deep in the hunter-gatherer DNA lies something that will drive some of us to try to complete sets, to catalog categories, and to fill shelves. The old Sherlockiana is still out there to collect, of course, with its self-published print runs of 221, myriad journals and newsletters from pre-internet days, but a lot of that is very had to come by. In most cases the current owner has to actually die for anyone else to get their hands on it.

So what do you collect if you've got the collector bug and you're starting now? Well, there are pastiches a'plenty out there, I suppose. And there are more Sherlock Holmes t-shirts than ever. But so much of the greatest stuff, the things produced by ardent fans, tends to be digital these days. Videos, art, fan fiction . . . one could have a collection bigger than that of the biggest Sherlockian collector in the world in 1980 and store it completely in the cloud. Theoretically, you could be the greatest collector of Sherlock Holmes materials on Earth, and no one would ever know it by walking in your home.

It almost seems to be an uncollectable age, a day where the prominence of the collector in the hobby of Sherlockiana loses stature next to the creator -- and the internet loooooves creators. Sherlock fandom seems to be creator-heavy, but it's a little early on that one to see the big collectors emerge. Collectors always wind up being the first historians on any subject, and they are out there, starting or continuing their archives even now. Given digital rights and all, some of that collecting may even be technically illegal. But I remember the illegal nature of the first copy of The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes that I ever got my hands on back in the days of print, via the "don't tell anyone where you got it" network. Collecting and collectors is a force that's very hard to stop.

Even in an uncollectable age.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Making the mistakes of a true Sherlockian.

I don't think the Holmesians of England will ever truly understand how much Sherlock Holmes can ruin even an American English major's ability to spell.

If one reads the words of Conan Doyle enough times, memorizes lines, studies passages, and generally ingests the Canon of Holmes as totally as possible, one starts to think like Conan Doyle, at least in one aspect.





The British spellings start creeping in, and I find myself backspacing to get rid of the "u" every time I type "behaviour . . . behavior." Did it in an e-mail just before I left work today.

Jacquelynn Morris brought the subject up on Facebook today, when she caught herself using "postman" instead of "mailman." (Which, it turns out, is still acceptable in American English.) Still, as Jacquelynn and many another American Sherlockian has surely noticed over the years, Doylean English starts creeping into your American whether you like it or not. Some Sherlockians affect it on purpose, to be sure, but even if you don't . . . spend enough time in the hobby, and you might as well have spent a few years in Britain, in some respects.

Sherlock Holmes knew the feeling.

"My well of English seems to be permanently defiled," he comments after catching himself using the word "stunt," after his American spy days leading up to "His Last Bow."

Well, if our country corrupted Holmes's verbal skills, he has certainly had his revenge on the Americans in his fan following.

Better living through Elementary.

Well, Mr. Elementary may not be the Sherlock Holmes I want or need, but apparently he's raising somebody's standard of living. A mention by Stephen Colbert on last night's The Colbert Report brought the thought up.

In her article, "Who Needs a Raise When You Have TV?" Virginia Postrel writes on Bloomberg.com:

"Too tired for an intense cable drama -- which you prefer to experience in immersive weekend marathons of at least three episodes each -- you stream a first-season episode of 'Duck Dynasty' from Amazon.com, then run last week’s 'Elementary' from your DVR queue." 

The argument Ms. Postrel uses that example to start making is that modern standards of living are not being adequately measured as the all of the fabulous video we now have at our disposal is not being factored in. Being poor isn't as bad as it once was, it seems, because we now have more TV to watch.

"Yeeeee-haaawwww, Ma! We'uns got Duck Dynasty and Elementary!" (Sorry for characterizing the economically challenged as hillbillies. I grew up on The Beverly Hillbillies . . . which seemed entertaining enough for our standard of living at the time.)  The classic "bread and circuses" metaphor from the Roman empire comes to mind, though I don't know where Virginia Postrel thinks the bread is coming into her equation.

She also apparently thinks Elementary is what you watch when you're "too tired for an intense cable drama," and then only after you've squeezed in a Duck Dynasty and are probably getting really sleepy. Not sure how murders make you sleep better, and I'm not sure how many people actually put procedurals into the part of the evening usually reserved for Leno and Letterman. Perhaps Virginia Postrel's imaginary person is a big Lucy Liu fan who sleeps better just knowing she's still in the universe every night.

But then, Sherlockians have considered the ripple effect that Sherlock Holmes has had on our world as a beneficial force for over a century. So in the end, I guess even Elementary raising standards of living should come as no surprise.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The dream teams.

On January 1 in England, BBC Sherlock brings what some would call their dream Sherlock back for season three.

On January 2 in American, CBS Elementary brings an entirely different sort of Sherlock Holmes dream back from mid-season hiatus to finish season two.

You can call Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman "dreamy" after looking at the pics released for their upcoming show, but those fairly mundane shots don't come close to matching the dream-like quality of a single still released from Jonny Lee Miller's franchise this past week at EW.com. It's been haunting me like some nocturnal vision of disconnected elements one's subconscious concocts from the day's events.

In the photo, we see Sean "Sherlock" Holmes visiting Jamie Moriarty in her obviously non-prison place of residence, where she seems to have painted a giant portrait of Joan Watson, the sort one usually reserves for memorial services.

A trip out to The Futon Critic for details on the episode makes things stranger still. Moriarty apparently has a henchman, Joan has a date, but is that John Clay from "The Red-headed League" I spot in the cast list? All for a kidnapping case on which Jamie Moriarty is brought in as a consultant, which as you may recall, is the job title of the two main characters.  Detective Bell, we are told, still struggles with his recovery from being shot, which is the only part of the whole description which seems to follow logically from previous data. (Poor detective Bell. Can't help but feel he just got screwed in the subplot department.)

That giant painting of Joan Watson, though, is like something the Joker would have in his lair. (Put some bright red lipstick on Natalie Dormer who plays Moriarty and her exotic looks can have a bit of a Joker-esque quality.) She's obviously focussed on poor Joan after her seeming rival for Holmes's attentions outfoxed her last season with a twist on the ol' "Dying Detective" trick, but probably not the "you're so unique I can't kill you" sort of attention Jonny Lee Miller gets. It doesn't bode well.

Why is Jamie out of prison? Is the unfinished concrete of the room's walls a sign she's still in prison? Why do the most important women in Mr. Elementary's have "J" names? Why is his mug of tea sitting five feet away from him? Why doesn't the EW interviewer think Moriarty has any power in her situation with Watson? What is it with giant paintings, anyhow? They don't look good on a standard sized wall, do they? Will Mycroft show up for a surprise cameo and sleep with Moriarty, too?

Well, we have to wait until January, Elementary fans. Just one day longer than the British Sherlock fans, but their country has seniority after all.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The strip-tease continues.

These days, one might think the art of the strip-tease is long gone. Warrant's in-your-face "Cherry Pie" has replaced David Rose's wait-for-it "The Stripper" as the signature tune for portraying strip club music in the media, and identifying the modern incarnation of Gypsy Rose Lee seems nigh impossible. Tonight, however, I would like to nominate the gang behind BBC Sherlock as the likely successor to Gypsy's throne.

A handful of pictures last week, an interactive preview today, a mini-sode coming on Christmas . . . one could do a time-lapse video of the promotional roll-out of Sherlock season three, put David Rose's classic tune behind it, and Voila! The strip-tease is back.

The key to the strip-tease is two-fold. First, obviously, is the slow reveal. A little bit of something here. A little bit there. Rearrange the bits, let slip a little bit more. And second?

You have to have something your audience really wants to see.

And no gang of college boys was ever so eager to see a nightclub dancer get to her naughty bits so much as fans of Sherlock are about the upcoming "Empty Hearse." The current movie-level status of its two leads. The puzzle we were left to solve at this Reichenbach hiatus. I'm tempted to say "the moustache," as I don't ever remember such ado about a moustache, but instead I'll say "the fans themselves." The sheer love that gets poured out for this incarnation of the master detective stands alone. (We saw the portents of it with Jeremy Brett, and maybe his fans could have matched this level had they the internet to work with . . . but that is a blog discussion for another day.)

Anticipation can be one of life's keener joys. And as much as I will be happy to get to see season three of Sherlock, I will certainly miss this little period in our Sherlockian lives when it's done.

The Sherlock strip-tease. If it only led to Lara Pulver strolling around in a Cumberbatch-Freeman remake of the "Blurred Lines" video, then . . . well, excuse me for ending the blog here, my mind just went blank.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mr. Elementary on trial.

Dear fans of CBS's Elementary,
    The following is written for Sherlockian non-fans of Elementary, who like an occasional update of what is going on with that show they don't watch. You might want to do yourself a favor and just close your browser now. I'm really quite a nice person and don't want to ruin your day. Go find another site and write about everything you enjoy about the series. You'll be a much happier person for it.
     The Staff and Management of Sherlock Peoria

I remember a day when a fellow who called himself "Sherlock Holmes" was a consummate professional. The very top of his field. A man so admired by the men of Scotland Yard that if he came down to that London institution the day after a certain case, every man there "from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable" would be glad to shake his hand.

These days, there's another fellow who calls himself "Sherlock Holmes" on the CBS network, who seems to be the very opposite of everything that the name used to be represent. He's not professional. He's not good with people. He's not at the top of his profession, depending heavily on the work of others to obtain successes in most cases. And if that difference was not entirely clear before, this week's episode of Elementary, "Tremors," went out of its way to lay out its main character's deficiencies for all to see.

For much of this season, Elementary seemed content to play out wacky comic soap opera scenarios of its main character, his brother, his partner, and their mix-and-match sex partners. But that light touch has been left behind of late, and this week Mr. Elementary's incompetence actually cripples one of his closest associates. And the NYPD then proceeds to put him on trial . . . a trial which he actually loses. Unfortunately, he doesn't go to jail or even lose his job as a result. Pity.

One might say, "Isn't it great to have a show that explores the premise of Sherlock Holmes being a complete failure at so many things! It makes him so human!" But Sherlock Holmes was very human back in the day when he was created as a successful professional . . . and that is was what made him such a great character. This dismal wretch being trotted out on Elementary each week would have left Arthur Conan Doyle totally dependent upon his medical skills, had he been written this way to begin with.

I understand the show has its fans, a fact I just can't entirely wrap my head around. In fact, it was one of their very positive reviews that inspired me to watch this week's episode, as I was well into considering giving it up for a month or so. We've got Sherlock coming on again soon, and why drive through McDonald's on your way to a favorite cafe?

So if you are wandering the internet, discover one such review and get tempted, you know better. Remember why you're not watching Elementary to begin with. And go spend that hour on something you'll enjoy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hat's on to Benedict Cumberbatch!

The word is spreading acrossing the internet lines . . . the deerstalker may be in for a big-time comeback in season three of BBC Sherlock.

The deerstalker.

That completely ridiculous, "Hey, I'm a nerd!" hat that I've never felt good about putting on my head since day one as a Sherlockian. I've owned one forever, sure, but actually wearing the damn thing, even if I'm dressing as Holmes? Give me a top hat any day!

A batch of pictures appearing today show quite a few deerstalker shots and Martin Freeman himself tweeted, "The deerstalker looks like it's a 'thing' now."

And all I can hear in my head is a paraphrase of a Matt Smith Dr. Who line: "Deerstalkers are cool."

Deerstalkers are cool?

Maybe not yet, but if Benedict Cumberbatch actually wears the thing for a decent amount of time in the next season of Sherlock and makes it look cool?

If the guy pulls that one off . . . well, I know this might upset a few fans of this actor or that actor, but . . . I'm totally giving him the Basil Rathbone crown of Sherlockness. (Yes, I'm a Rathbone guy at heart. At least until B.C. makes the deerstalker cool.)

The damned deerstalker hat. Who'd have thunk it?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The December one. And why it's just one.

Welcome to December, the month with one Sherlock Holmes story.

While we all know that "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" is the story for the season in the days ahead, the thing we don't often stop to think about -- much like the dog who did nothing in the night-time -- are the stories that aren't taking place during December. Like every other one of them.

With a Sherlockian Canon of sixty stories taking place in a twelve-month calendar year, one would expect an average of five cases in a given month, and that is what the average is. August and September meet that standard, going by my personal chronology, having five cases starting in them. The rest of the year varies from nine cases per month down to three cases per month.

Except for December.

December, by my reckoning, only sees the start of one case in the chronicles of Sherlock Holmes.

That case, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," is so perfectly holiday-ish that it must have begged to be told, but without it's existence, well, it's almost like Dr. Watson had a moratorium on publishing cases that began in December. Every other month has at least three published cases starting in it. December is a blue carbuncle away from zero.

It could be coincidence, sure. But sometimes things are the way they are for a reason, even if it isn't obvious at first. Sherlock Holmes has taught us that above all else.

So why might Watson have avoiding December stories? Well, it doesn't take much of a search on mentions of the month of December in the Canon to see one potential reason.

On December 3, 1878, Dr. Watson's one-day wife lost her father in one of the most traumatizing ways imaginable: he vanished, taking nothing with him, and leaving no trace of whether he was alive or dead.

The one other time outside of "Blue Carbuncle" that Watson mentions the month of December is in an 1895 case that was published in 1903, well after the time when most biographers consider Mary Morstan Watson to have died. And "Blue Carbuncle" itself, with its comic elements and non-violent themes, is the one case that Watson might have even presented to a troubled spouse to try to cheer her during a holiday season that had to be a major source of sorrow to her every year. It's no wonder that Watson doesn't call upon Holmes in that case until the second day after Christmas -- the good doctor would never leave his wife behind during such a troubled time. Especially after she'd had one loved one go missing during that chilly month.

Fortunately for her, Mary Watson didn't have to suffer through a holiday season alone filled with downer Muzak like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" (didn't come along until 1944) and "Blue Christmas" (1948). She didn't get called "Grinch" or "Scrooge" for not showing the requisite cheeriness to the holiday police. She just got the company of good old Watson in front of a cozy fire, until the month was almost over, and she could happily look forward to the promise of New Year's.

And so, as we enter December and anticipate the latest coming of Mary Morstan this January on the BBC, let's honor December for the month it truly was in the lives of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: the month where the domestic partnership of ex-army doctor and ex-governess took precedence over the partnership of the biographer and the detective.

It's Dr. and Mrs. Watson's month. And if you want to throw a goose into that, feel free.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

First to die.

Watching tonight's episode of The Walking Dead, I realized that there is one thing about Sherlock Holmes I will never experience.

Like many of the more intense television dramas these days, The Walking Dead has a reputation for killing beloved characters. And that reputation is so well known that "Kill Daryl and we riot!" has become a popular slogan with fans of a certain crossbow-wielding zombie fighter. The fans are constantly aware of the mortality of the series's characters, but even in that state, a sudden death comes as a shock. They're in zombie world, being alive at all is a minor miracle, and yet seeing one of them fall is still so very hard to take.

Which is why it's almost inconceivable to me how fans of Sherlock Holmes felt in 1893, when the star of their favorite monthly serial suddenly fell off a cliff . . . and was gone. Not "seemed like he was gone, but was standing hidden in the graveyard a few minutes later in the show." No. Dead. Gone dead. Not coming back dead. Really quite completely dead.

And when Sherlock Holmes did it, it was a complete and utter surprise. The serial short story was a pretty new thing, Sherlock was the guy who solved the occasional murder, not supposed to be the victim. It was as horrible a loss for the readers as anything that wasn't a part of their real lives and families could be.

But by the time I got to Sherlock going over Reichenbach Falls, the mere fact that there were still five books I hadn't read was pretty much a giveaway that he wasn't really dead. Pick up the next book and keep reading, and there he is! And while the BBC Sherlock episode "The Reichenbach Fall" really came close to making me feel what that loss would have hit the unsuspecting reader like, the certain knowledge that Reichenbach is always temporary kept even that well-constructed drama from having its full effect.

So, ironically, I'm winding up feeling the loss of characters from The Walking Dead more than I'll ever feel the loss of my favorite character of all time, Sherlock Holmes. But once upon a time . . . yes, once, Sherlock was one of the first in a series to die.

And thus, thinking of a particular character from The Walking Dead tonight and transferring some of that emotion back to sympathize with folks in 1893, I have to say, "Rest in peace, Sherlock Holmes."

P.S. Kill Watson and we riot!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Playing games with Sherlock.

Sherlockians have always been a fun crowd. Sure, we have a few "oh, this is seriously scholarly business" sorts who get their heads too far up their asses to be truly fun on occasion, but over all? It's been fun, fun, fun. From Ronald Knox to John Bennett Shaw, from Stout's declaration that Watson was a woman to Holmes Peak expedition medals, there's been a lot of good fun to be had. Which is why it's grand to see the folks behind BBC Sherlock just playing with the fans.

Reading the Twitter feed this morning was like going over the messages of some wacky intelligence organization trying to stop a plot by a happy sort of terrorist. Stakeouts were being set up at key locations. Specific communication points were closely monitored for the slightest change. Pigeons and trucks of dirt were reported in as eager eyes watched for any sign of what was coming.

Eventually, as anyone with a Twitter feed knows by now, a hearse rolled up at St. Bart's with "SHERLOCK 01 01 14" spelled out in flowers. The perfect touch for a returning suitor, showing up with flowers for those whose love they enjoy. And at St. Bart's hospital . . . the one location that has been in the hearts of Sherlockians as long as there have been Sherlockians.

The crew behind BBC Sherlock's promotion do these things because they have a TV show to build excitement over, yes, but they also do it because they know they have fans out there who will get excited and play these games with them. And have fun doing it.

A few creaky old Sherlockians holdouts can harrumph and go, "Well, they're not going to show up at our meetings!" all they want, but if it walks like a Sherlockian and talks like a Sherlockian and has fun like a Sherlockian, well . . . guess what? Anyone rapturously fanatical about Sherlock Holmes to get out on a chilly London street and watch for an empty hearse is a lot more Sherlockian in my book than any Mr. Same-old-same-old who demands others do exactly what he does to be called "Sherlockian."

Congratulations and thanks to everyone involved in both sides of our latest little Sherlock event. The world needs all the fun it can get, especially when it involves our friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Without understanding a word.

Happy Wepnok Xonmc to you!

Not sure, but I think those words, in approximated Western characters, say "Sherlock Holmes."

With the advent of a new Russian TV series featuring Sherlock Holmes, along with the immediacy of the internet, I'm finding myself in a very new position this week: watching foreign video without subtitles or dubbing. Long-reigning Sherlockian video queen Jennie Paton sent the link along, and it's been quite a puzzling experience. Sherlock Holmes has always been about words for us, if you think about it, and suddenly being deprived of any words at all is quite strange.

You find yourself going, "I think this is The Sign of the Four . . . but it's obviously not."

I like the look of the series, thought the Sherlock Holmes is another one of our recent "Sherlocks who don't look like Sherlock." The Watson is very good, but Watson has always been a bit easier to capture on film. His everyman qualities give him a lot more room for variation. And this new Russian Holmes brings up a very interesting point: the Russians seemed to think a Holmes set in his actual period would be worthwhile.

Current British Holmes . . . set in the modern day.
Current American Holmes . . . set in the modern day.
Current Russian Holmes . . . set in the Victorian era.

But the British had the Jeremy Brett series in living memory, so one could understand them bumping it up in time. And America really doesn't do period television on major networks unless that period is  the future, now that the Western is all but gone. But one still has to give kudos to the Russians for going for it.

As an episode of Wepnok Xonmc plays on, one starts making conclusions like, "Hey, they're talking about 'Morstan' and 'Small'  . . .  this is The Sign of the Four. Except Watson seems to have been in the Four or something." And it sure seems like something cool is happening. But words! I need words!

I'm trying to think if I've ever seen Sherlock Holmes regularly wearing glasses before. Or Mrs. Hudson with a level of frizzy hair that American TV would never allow in a sane person. And there are those old ladies who I've heard now live at Baker Street, as apparent comic relief. Without any words to frame what's going on, one finds one's self focusing on odd little details, trying to make observations like Sherlock Holmes himself . . . which adds an unintended Sherlockian element to the whole affair.

Still, I can't really see myself following the whole series until someone releases it with English subtitles or dubbing. (Pity Cumberbatch and Freeman are so booked-up these days -- having them dub it would be kind of fun. Having Miller and Liu dub it would be even more fun, but poor Watson doesn't need to be made more of a laughingstock than Nigel Bruce ever was with a girlish voice.)

So for now, I'll just say Happy Wepnok Xonmc to you in my clueless American fashion, and go back to anticipating the return of the B.C. period of Sherlockian video and the M.F. that accompanies it. Because even though those initials aren't words, at least I understand what they mean.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A little holiday crooning.

With turkey day a'coming, I've had Bing Crosby running through my head all day. The good Carter's annual tradition of watching Holiday Inn just has turned me into a Pavlovian jukebox around this time, and Bing's rendition of "I've Got Plenty to Be Thankful for" plays on and on. But, as usual, I find myself changing the words as the day progresses. This year, a particular theme quickly became apparent, and so, I wrote out what follows for your Thanksgiving entertainment.

Maybe someday I'll turn into a YouTube performer and do such things live . . . but for now, I'll just let the Bingle do the job in your imagination.

Maestro, if you please  . . .


I've got Sherlock to be thankful for!
I haven't got . . . a son named Wat
To run with on the moor . . .
Still, I've got Sherlock to be thankful for.

I've got Sherlock to be thankful for!
No rare Beeton's, no grand meetin's,
No local fine bookstore . . .
Still, I've got Sherlock to be thankful for.

I've got eyes to watch with . . . breath to gasp with . . .
Ducts to tear with, voice to cheer with . . .
Telly to adore.

Why is Elementary such a bore?
On PBS, says in the press,
We'll soon get some more.
Oh, I've got Sherlock to be thankful for!

(And I do.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Day of the Watson.

Suppose there was this doctor who went on all these adventures with his companion. And suppose that sometimes, because those adventures were very dangerous, which all of the most exciting adventures are, that doctor became mortally wounded. And then our doctor went on having adventures anyway, but he was just a little different from what he was before.

That story might be familiar to you, especially if you're celebrating the very special holiday that is today. How long has Sherlock Holmes been around now? One hundred and twenty-six years? Well, today, for many folks, it's what 1937 was to Sherlock Holmes fans. And in honor of that holiday, I'm going to propose a little theory . . . a theory about our doctor.

The very first book in which we hear of Sherlock Holmes begins thusly: "Part 1, BEING A REPRINT FROM THE REMINISCENCES OF JOHN H. WATSON, M.D., LATE OF THE ARMY MEDICAL DEPARTMENT." (This was, of course, long before we would see those all-caps words as being yelled at us.) In the page and a half that follows, we get as much clear biographical data about Dr. John H. Watson as we will ever get about him, as he quickly turns his attention to Mr. Sherlock Holmes and just quits writing about himself as the center of his biography.

The last time we see Watson, decades later in "His Last Bow," he is a thickset chauffeur who doesn't seem to be writing up the case as he once did. He speaks of feeling as though it were twenty years before, which would be 1897, when Holmes asks how the years have used him. And Holmes comments that he hears Watson will be joining them with his old service, with no specific reference to who "them" is, or what that service is. We make patriotic assumptions, of course, but do we know anything for certain about Watson from that account? Is his first name even mentioned?

No. Our Watson becomes more and more vague to us during his time with Sherlock Holmes. He starts with mention of a specific military service. He soon after becomes engaged to a very specific woman. But past that? We are more and more left to speculate on if he was still married, who he was married to, and what even his physical limitations are. Does he have a limp? Or can he run as fast as anyone?

Their was a movie comedy back in 1988 that proposed a very interesting theory: that Dr. Watson actually solved all the crimes and that Sherlock Holmes was just an actor hired to fill a role Watson had already created with his semi-autobiographical accounts. Today, just because of what day it is, I'd like to turn that theory on its head.

What if Sherlock Holmes didn't just write a couple of the sixty stories we have of him, but almost all of them after the first Watson died? Or more plausible still, what if Holmes took what handwritten reminiscences he had from that first Watson to a struggling young writer named Doyle and commissioned him to make them publishable as a memorial to his friend the Afghan veteran. And then they worked out an arrangement wherein Doyle just kept writing up Holmes's cases, no matter who was serving as Sherlock Holmes's Watson du jour. 

What if Sherlock Holmes did have a "Watson of the day" as his companion? Some leaving Holmes's side tragically, via poison dart, bullet, or fumes of burnt radix pedis diaboli. Some leaving voluntarily, and perhaps rejoining Holmes later, as with the "His Last Bow" Watson. They all retained the title "Watson," whether their first name was John, James, or Henry, as a tribute to that very first Watson, who took lodgings with Sherlock Holmes after the ravages of war had left him a physical wreck.

So, for today, just suppose with me a bit.

Suppose there was this doctor who went on all these adventures with his companion. And suppose that sometimes, because those adventures were very dangerous, which all of the most exciting adventures are, that doctor became mortally wounded. And then our doctor went on having adventures anyway, but he was just a little different from what he was before.

Except they didn't call him "doctor." They called him "Watson."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Living in the big, big world.

The Sherlockian world is bigger today than it has ever been. A new Russian Sherlock Holmes TV show. A leading online retailer listing 23,940 separate items having to do with Sherlock Holmes, with 14,000 being books (as opposed to 916 in movies and television, and 139 in video games). The ability to set up a personal Sherlock Holmes news feed that pulls up dozens of stories at an average of two a day. There is so much to see, so much that the idea of one man cataloging all existing Sherlockiana like Ronald B. DeWaal did back in the 1970s is ludicrous.

Yes, in the early seventies, one man armed with index cards and a typewriter, could make a fair attempt at cataloguing everything that had to do with Sherlock Holmes in the world. He didn't get it all, sure. There were a lot of foreign editions nobody in the English-speaking world even knew about back then, and other odds and ends that got missed. But I'd wager DeWaal got most of it.

These days, though? Like I said, none of us is even going to attempt to collect it all, much less document it all. The world has changed, no one would dispute that. And it's big. So very, very big. And where does it leave us?

Well, here's the challenge we're still faced with: interpreting our view of that giant mass of Sherlockiana.

It's kind of like a Rorschach test, really. There is so much Sherlockiana out there that you can pretty much justify a lot of different interpretations of the world as we know it. Based on the few facts I began this blog with, one could say that more people are reading Sherlock Holmes than experiencing him in any other medium . . . which would, of course, be a faulty interpretation, ignoring box office and TV ratings. One might surmise that Sherlock Holmes is as popular in Russia as he is in England or America, two other countries with current TV series running. Again, probably not the most solid deduction. Or that, if news feeds exist, we are better informed of Sherlockian happenings than ever before. (I'd say Peter Blau's Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press still has Google beat there.) But one could still try to justify any of those slightly faulty conclusions.

When faced with as much data as the current Sherlockian is every day, it's tempting to limit the range of our view just to make it easier to process. But in doing so, we do make it easy to theorize without having all the facts.

Add to that the real temptation, as one grows older, to start seeing the end of life as we know it in everything, and one can really get into trouble. It's not a wrong perception -- life as any one human knew it is always ending. The content of each of our lives is a unique and time-sensitive thing. But future generations somehow keep the world going on, not only surviving, but thriving, and enjoying things previous men and women didn't have a chance at . . . things that more than make up for the past things that went away.

The Sherlockians of today have opportunities we didn't even dream of just twenty years ago. And it's already altering their interactions with Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian culture. In twenty more years, who knows what it will all look like? (Well, probably with a brand new actor playing Sherlock Holmes with their elders going, "He's no Benedict Cumberbatch!" That's been going on since William Gillette, and will keep going on as long as there are successful Holmes interpretations.) The Sherlockian world is undoubtedly going to be bigger that ever, as it snowballs on, adding new bits to the old with each passing year.

And to see it all, we have to just keep looking, and looking with eyes open to the far and the wide -- an activity at which we can never stop, and why would we want to?

It's a big, big Sherlockian world out there. And getting bigger all the time. Yay.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Is Watson obsolete?

I like John H. Watson. I really do.

But I started watching Dexter, finally. You know, the show about the serial killer who kills serial killers? Kind of like a detective's detective, in a way. Dexter Morgan, the unusual anti-hero of the show, narrates the show himself. He's a psychopath, sure. He's isolated from humanity, unable to connect with other people, and yet he make an engaging storyteller for an hour of TV drama.

He reminds me of Michael Westen from Burn Notice, another master of his trade -- the spy game, who narrates his own televised story as well.

And if those two very disparate personalities can narrate their own television shows without a Watson, well, why couldn't Sherlock Holmes? He's a consummate professional, like Westen. And you certainly can't claim his personality is too far from normal to do it if the psychopathic Dexter is doing it.

And if Sherlock Holmes was narrating his own television show, the writers would have to actually be smart enough to write smart. The great thing about Sherlock Holmes when Conan Doyle first wrote him up was that his methods did not seem like something he was getting away with simply because he was a storybook character. He did things that were very possible, if you could just think of them yourself. Having him explain his tricks to the viewer would put the viewer in the place of Dr. Watson, a position that most of us would love to be in.

Yes, we might miss the friendship between Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, but I'm sure there would be someone in the show for him to interact with. Scotland Yard is always there. Or Mycroft . . . the real, smarter-than-Sherlock Mycroft . . . has been a character we've wanted more of for a very long time.

I actually think an excellent television show could be made these days without Dr. Watson's chronicler and room-mate accompaniment. A truly daring and innovative show might try that one of these days, when faced with the possibility of being just-another-modern-day-Holmes.

And when things get slow in the second or third season . . . then you bring in a wounded warrior kicker of ass named John H. Watson, M.D. Which would just be all the more fun!

Because even the best Sherlock Holmes creators ever couldn't ignore Watson forever . . . .

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Girls and guns.

Elementary's odd choice of head-thwacking singlestick has been on my mind of late. The impractical side of martial arts in an age of handguns comes on strong with that one, especially when the Holmes-imitator captaining Elementary seems to insist his Watson needs to know it above all other self-defense measures. Because when one thinks of Dr. Watson and self-defense, one usually thinks guns.

Dr. Watson has packed heat since the start.

"I have my old service revolver and a few cartridges," Watson offers in A Study in Scarlet when Holmes lets him know a killer might be coming to their place. He doesn't get to use it in that tale, but when BBC's Sherlock updated it as "A Study in Pink," the good doctor definitely showed he was more than able with a gun.

When CBS created Elementary, much ado was made about their shiny, new female Watson, and as much as I've criticized their Holmes for not being Sherlock Holmes, I've always left Joan Watson alone. The sexism charges were flying fast and furious back at the show's start at even a hint of displeasure from critics regarding Joan Watson. And I do like Lucy Liu a lot. Just the chance to see a favorite actor at work like that will always get a few free passes. 

But this goofy singlestick thing just makes Joan Watson's lack of a gun stick out all the more. And one has to wonder if she doesn't get to use a gun just because she's a girl.

While the choice of a female Watson might be all non-sexist, putting her in short skirts and not letting her be armed in a role that puts her in constant contact with murderers is sexism in the extreme. And if one is going to have a female Watson, for Doyle's sake, let her be freakin' Watson.

Watson is the solid friend at Holmes's back. He or she is everything a consulting detective needs in a partner. Including someone who can deal with dangerous men in a way other than smashing some porcelain over their head, in that stereotypically girly self-defense ploy. And Watson gets to use a gun.

Now, I'm not talking pro-gun or anti-gun here for society as a whole. Just Dr. Watson. A classic character who's been around for a very long time. What's a little amusing is that our modern British Watson is a gun guy in a country with gun control, while the modern American Watson is non-gun in what seems a pretty gun-loving country. One would think it would be the other way around . . . except for that girl thing.

Is this American Watson not getting to shoot people just because she's a girl?  Adding that factor to her complete failure as a medical professional, her total income dependence on the Holmes family, and the possibly-too-short-for-her-age skirts (though I may just be an old fuddy-duddy on that one, if the use of the term "fuddy-duddy" hasn't already closed that case), it would seem like changing Watson so much along with the sex change is the most sexist route of all.

What I'm not writing about this week.

Blogging about the world of Sherlock Holmes multiple times a week sometimes means scraping for ideas, as anyone who has read Sherlock Peoria on a regular basis can tell. And yet, there are enough Sherlock Holmes related happenings and material out there that things never get too desperate. And certain lines that actually don't get crossed.

The world of Sherlock Holmes is one of enthusiasms and enthusiasts. Sometimes our enthusiasm outreaches our talents, and sometimes even the most talented among us doesn't perform to suit all tastes. A Sherlockian jazz musician, recording a 221B inspired track, is probably not going to come up with something I'd write about here, no matter how great their talent. My musical tastes don't run to jazz.

On the other side, we more often see some "What the hell?" productions, despite your taste. One hates to shoot down the enthusiasm, but a certain level of sheer wrongness about some thing that makes it a very attractive target for some not-entirely-nice musings. And while some of our best Sherlockians can make lemonade out of lemons all day long, I get a bit blog-tied when my honest reaction runs counter to the limits of  . . . well, just being nice to one's fellow Sherlockians.

So here I sit this weekend, with a couple of topics I can't write about . . . and blogging on how I can't, just to purge them from the mental queue.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Positively Elementary S2E8: Spoileder alerts!

Elementary is just getting weird.

First we learn that the goal of Elementary's version of singlestick is actually thwacking your opponent atop the head, which the Holmes brothers practice using eggs as the target. The impracticality of this singlestick head-thwacking as a martial art in the era of mixed martial arts is just plain silly -- having much the same effect as if a modern Seal Team Six marched into Pakistan in formation, along a popular highway, wearing red coats to look for Bin Laden.

And then the word "borborygmus" comes up pre-credits, which was my neighbor and Sherlockian friend Bob Burr's absolute favorite word. That made that moment more Sherlockian for myself and the good Carter than the body falling on a truck immediately after, vaguely echoing "Bruce-Partington Plans." Of course, Bob would never have heard his favorite word on Elementary, not being a fan of any of the modern claimants to throne Holmes.

Elementary still likes its random odd details, so when milking mooses comes up in conversation during the investigation (and having nothing to do with said investigation), it's not really a surprise these days. Like I said: weird.

Less weird are the guest stars: Margaret Colin a favorite since the TV series Now and Again is a welcome sight (and a tribute to her role as Jane Watson in that earlier TV modern day Holmes movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes). Had her husband been played by Michael Pennington, instead of William Sadler, who has been a familiar face since Die Hard 2, it would have been a complete coup.

And then we get to our character development for the episode. Mycroft tells Sean "Sherlock" Holmes that their father wants him to come back to England, and that their father's displeasure risks Sean's trust fund, which is apparently responsible for all of Joan Watson's income at present, if nothing else. Sean and Joan must weigh the option of returning to London to please the father and keep the money rolling in, or stay in New York and try to scrape by. We also learn that consulting for NYPD is not paying them as much as private clients, and Sean prefers NYPD cases for some unexplained reason.

It's interesting to note that limited incomes were what pulled London's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson together to share lodgings, if not necessarily careers, while New York's Sean Holmes and Joan Watson could be split up by suddenly losing their full incomes. I never was fond of the fact that Joan was paid to be Sean's companion in this show, and it's even more uncomfortable now that Joan has slept with his brother, who is the one voicing the threats to her income.

And Mycroft isn't just threatening as a voicebox for their father . . . an end-of-show phone call from his restaurant (named Diogenes, of course) to someone who is plainly not their father shows that Mycroft is conspiring against his brother somehow. (One almost hoped his only evil plot was to sleep with Margaret Colin's character, so he could have added one more Watson to his harem with Joan and Nigella Mason.)


But the longer Elementary goes on, the weirder it's going to get. Each new season is going to mean more plot space to fill, and as far off the Canonical rails as the show is already, the demands of offering its audiences more shiney things to look at is going to take it to some very strange places . . . on that you can depend.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Are we reading the same book?

The official Sherlock Peoria chronology of the Holmes tales gets me the occasional e-mail, and this week came a curious note from Michael Miranda that read, "I noticed that in your chronology of The Sign of the Four, you have the post mark as July 7th, when really it's ". . . Post-mark, London, S.W. Date, September 7" in the canon."

Given how long that webpage has been up, and given the persnickety eye for detail that so many Sherlockians have, I was a little surprised that I had a mistake that had never been caught. A quick check of the Mr. Moon text confirmed my July date, which I passed on to Michael. He in turn, showed me his copy, a Barnes & Noble Signature edition, with the September date.

My first thought, when hearing of a textual variation in The Sign of the Four, is to hit up my copy of Sherlock Holmes Among The Pirates, Donald Redmond's masterwork on that subject. Of course, the pirate publishers, though they liked to change Beaune to claret and do other curious things, never really helped Watson out with his dates. I enjoy a chance to revisit the Redmond work, and especially stop by the dedication to Newt and Lilian Williams, whom the good Carter and I had a splendid English breakfast with once when we were young. But I digress -- I was going to have to look elsewhere.

So I went modern, seeking out Les Klinger's New Annotated. Still "July," with no mention of fixes. Turning those pages, of course, turned of the names of several friends I haven't seen in a while . . . the curse and the joy of being an aging Sherlockian: you know most of the Game's players.

I grabbed my own pretty Barnes & Noble edition, but it was and older one, reproducing the Doubleday Complete, complete with Morley preface. As I'm still not old enough to have known Morley, no break for nostalgia with that one.

Apparently this latest change in the text of The Sign of the Four is fairly recent, carrying on that long history of publisher tweaks of the tale. One has to wonder how far they went in cleaning up Watson's dates . . . is "Wisteria Lodge" finally in a year that makes sense? Do the marriage stories line up? I suspect they didn't go that far, but perhaps one day someone will.

And there will still be those people like Newt and Lilian Williams who seek to find what all the differences are when we all think we're reading the same book.

Because we just never quite are, even now.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no crazy, crazy opinions.

If you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you might want to skip this installment. Much as I hate to do it again, I just have to discuss the Baker Street Irregulars, a topic that doesn't interest everybody, and for that, I apologize. But back to the Irregulars . . . you know, the invitation-only dinner society that most of you probably won't see the inside of, for two reasons: a.) There's too many of you. b.) The eldest members of the society are often loathe to give up reliving their memories of the past by changing too much, and respecting one's elders, as the B.S.I. kindly do, is a two-sided coin . . . I can already see the need for a disclaimer.

When I'm critical of the Baker Street Irregulars as an organization, I hope no one thinks I don't sympathize with the fellow who has to run that institution. I do. No matter who has held that post, they've had to deal with some horrible flack, no matter what they do, from some of the crankiest bastards you'd care to meet (present company not excepted). And it's certainly a "don't hate the player, hate the game" situation if ever there was one. When I write critically of certain B.S.I. traditions, it's definitely hating the game, and even at that, I don't really care to go on and on about it.

But one person in particular, Mr. Paul Herbert, B.S.I., has insisted that I give specifics on my suggestion that the Irregulars open up their membership to all. Where would such a dinner be held? What would the entertainment be? What would I do when all of the Investitured Irregulars fled the scene because they would have no part of such an open event?

Well, Paul is not going to like my answers, which is why I was hesitant to answer him at first, because they involve one thing: change. Big change.

I've constantly heard that finding a venue for an open B.S.I. dinner is an impossible task. Now, I don't know New Yawk City that well, so maybe it is impossible there. Here in simple old Peoria we can serve a thousand people in the nice new banquet room in our Civic Center. But then, our hotel rooms also tend to be a little larger than those in NYC, so maybe their space is just that limited. Am I suggesting that the B.S.I. dinner be moved to Peoria? Of course not. I would rather move it to Las Vegas. If that town was good enough for Jack Tracy, Sherlockian publisher, writer of The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana, and suspected murderer, it should be good enough for a very wide variety of Sherlockian personality types.

What would such a huge dinner have for entertainment? I'd have to call the Baker Street Babes to consult on that one. Their event-staging abilities get greater all the time, and they never fail to please. (Nobody said I couldn't delegate.)

And lastly, what would I do when all of the Investitured Irregulars fled the scene? Well, I strongly suspect all of them wouldn't. That's the thing about a tradition, some people will continue it, no matter how times change. They implemented assigned seating at the B.S.I. dinner, people kept coming. Tuxedos became common at the B.S.I. dinner, people kept coming. They let women into the B.S.I., people kept coming. It's the spirit of the thing, not the specific practice, which is what sticklers for the same-old, same-old often forget. If New York got nuked during this year's Birthday Weekend and Manhattan became an irradiated wasteland that could not be visited for centuries, there might be a few changes to the thing, but I have no doubt that it would go on. (But man, I hope it would go on somewhere other than Chicago . . .  sorry, downstate Illinois prejudice coming through.)

As in every part of our world, we will always have the full spectrum of radicals, liberals, conservatives, and reactionaries in the Sherlockian set, each playing a part in the exchange of ideas that keep us growing as a culture. Some would like to take the B.S.I dinner back to what it was in the 1940s, a few others would like to take it to what it will eventually be in the 2040s. And a great many are happy to just enjoy whatever comes each year. That last batch are definitely the happiest, and will continue to be, no matter how the wind blows.

Though they might have an even better time in Las Vegas. Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Positively Elementary S2E7: Delusions and sexy time.

At this point, I suspect that anyone who insists that the main character of CBS's Elementary is Sherlock Holmes is just being stubborn. And I can appreciate stubborn, though, so I can sympathize.

Perhaps my sympathies are coming, in part, because Elementary is actually much better at doing what it does this season. The complete revisionism seems to have found its home reality and gotten comfortable there . . . pity they insist on calling Sean Holmes "Sherlock" and his brother "Mycroft," which still gives it a touch of cognitive dissonance. But Jonny Lee Miller started winning me over this week. Why?

His pre-opening credits soliloquy in this week's episode, "The Marchioness," was a touching, vulnerable portrayal of a man who knows that there's something very wrong with his place in the world. He feels like he would have been a healthier, more complete individual had he lived in another time. He blames our data-overload world for his addiction issues. There is an odd self-awareness to the character in that scene that almost makes one think that he's about to admit his pretense in calling himself "Sherlock Holmes."

Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal of this flawed, troubled individual is actually making the thought of him as a delusional Sherlock imitator a valid way to watch the series. Of course, one has to enjoy a soap opera, as one starts to wonder if the series is eventually going to climax with huge orgy in its series finale one day.

Let's review: Sean "Sherlock" Holmes has slept with Mycroft's former fiancee, Nigella Mason. Mycroft has slept with Sean's current partner, Joan Watson. Sean Holmes has slept with at least one of Joan's best friends. Sean Holmes has slept with Jamie Moriarty.  And to bring it full circle, Mycroft surely slept with Nigella at some point.

Now, I don't want to slut-shame the entire cast of Elementary, but they seem quite intent on making up for the lack of sex in the Victorian stories of a different character named "Sherlock Holmes." And the fact that the only woman who has currently slept with both Holmes brothers has a name that evokes Nigel Bruce and James Mason is both oddly disturbing and perhaps an omen of Joan Watson's eventual fate. Let us hope it's not a three-way, though at the rate they're going, who knows?

If Elementary actually took the time to portray all of the sex that is spoken of in the show, it would have to be on HBO instead of CBS. The core of this week's "Silver Blaze" inspired mystery is even horse sex. And lines like "Why are you poking me with your single-stick?" from Joan Watson in her bed are worthy of an old Three's Company episode. (That's an old American network TV sex comedy, for you youngsters out there.)

This week's episode may be my new favorite episode in the entire series, for what are probably all the wrong reasons. I like soap operas better than I like police procedurals. And silliness. And Olivia D'Abo, the title character and crux of all the soapy drama. But do any of those things have to do with Sherlock Holmes?