Friday, August 30, 2013

Back to the moors, thirteen years later.

30 days hath September, 15 chapters has the Hound.

The Hound of the Baskervilles,
 that is. Probably the greatest of all Sherlock Holmes novels, re-created on film more than any other part of the Holmes Canon. A classic battle of the enlightened scientific mind versus the superstitions of old. And for me, it holds an even more special cachet.

Back in 1995, during a time when I was spending a lot of time with some very real friends in a very fictional pub called "The Dangling Prussian," the bartender of the place suggested I take a tour group through The Hound of the Baskervilles. Not a tour of modern Dartmoor. Not a book club sitting around reading the book. But a tour group of fictionalized tourists wandering around in the actual tale itself, trying not to bump Sherlock Holmes while he was doing anything important. (This was before the less careful Thursday Next started mucking about with all of fiction some years later.)

The transcripts of my tour guide narration from the trip was published under the title The Armchair Baskerville Tour, which hardly set the reading world on fire, but did make one more odd little collectable for the true fan of Hound to dig up. The purpose of such a trip? As I wrote then: "Even the most familiar book has things in it you never realized were there. Some of them will even come chasing after you, even after you've put the book down." The tour's intent was to poke around in that classic Sherlock Holmes novel and just see what was really in there . . . and, I must admit, things got a little weird that first time.

But a lot has changed since I went into The Hound of the Baskervilles with that tour thirteen years ago. Now that September is fast upon us, bringing with it the season of The Hound, I'm hearing a siren call beckoning me back. So I've decided to make September the month of a second expedition into the novel itself, with a goal of exploring a chapter every two days. Every two days, you can expect a blog report from me of what I find there.

You just follow my progress from the comfort of your favorite web-browsing chair, you can read along in The Hound of the Baskervilles, or you can even just come back in October to see if the Hound itself didn't finally drag me off into the Grimpen Mire of madness this time. In any case, it sure to be more interesting than one more discussion of Miley Cyrus's latest twerking debacle.

30 days hath September, 15 chapters has the Hound. Time to start packing.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Big Book of Sherlock, Part Two?

When you come right down to it, we are a people who worship the words, we Sherlockians.

We call the sixty stories of Sherlock Holmes our "Canon," our "Sacred Writings," giving it a tongue-in-cheek Biblical status. Handed down to us by Conan Doyle like Moses handing the Ten Commandments down from the mount, etc., etc. But even the Bible wasn't always the Bible. You know there had to be a time when the Old Testament had been sitting there for a while, and along came the New Testament, causing the Old Testament Bible-ockians some serious grousing over their morning manna-flakes and milk.

What am I babbling about now, you ask?

Well, that Nashville Scholar of note, Gael Stahl, passed along a link today to Ariane DeVere's transcripts of the first two seasons of Sherlock, and seeing those words in print didn't just make a light bulb come on for me, the clouds actually parted and the Great Gaslamp of Baker Street shone its light of realization down upon me, imparting a single notion that just wouldn't go away. It was a notion that had popped up before in jest, but given what we've seen in the last couple of years, I suddenly found myself giving it more credence. I was far from the first to have the idea, and I definitely won't be the last. But there it was.

And I really hate to even utter the words, as I know the reaction that will definitely come from certain quarters, but we're reaching the point where it must be said. So here goes.

If the Doyle sixty is our Canon, the Moffat/Gatiss nine (at the moment) is starting to look like our New Testament.

Now, wait, wait . . . I'm not saying this out of pure fan love of BBC Sherlock, though I do have a certain fondness for Cumberbatch and company over all other modern incarnations. I'm saying it based on the ripples that one production has caused in our world. It used to be said that aside from Jesus and Napoleon, no man ever had more written about him than Sherlock Holmes. So let's take that a step further: in the history of Sherlock Holmes, has any set of new stories of Holmes had as much written, drawn, discussed, and created about them as the BBC Sherlock tales? Has any other set of new stories of Sherlock Holmes inspired the meet-ups, the media attention, and the actual events that BBC Sherlock has?

Jeremy Brett had, and has, his fans. Laurie King likewise. But no one has eclipsed and predominated this hobby in so short a time as the Sherlock of "A Study in Pink." No one.

Your tastes may follow a different path, to be sure, but can you honestly say that any other set of new Sherlock Holmes tales comes as close to meeting the qualifications for being "the New Testament of Sherlock Holmes?" Or has anywhere close to the same chance as being remembered as the second coming of Sherlock Holmes by Sherlockian believers in decades to come?

It's easy to dismiss video as ephermeral, mere photons coming from a screen, flickering and gone. But something about seeing the words written out gave that new Sherlockian text a weight in my mind that seemed to say, "This one is solid. This one is here for the long haul." Just an impression that came to me, and as it did, felt like something more than the light of a bonfire soon to burn out. 

Of course, being somewhat of a heretic, I hate to bring up the subject of bonfires and burning. We all know how these sorts of declarations go. But you just never know how history is going to play out. Could our current wave be more than just fleeting fad? I'm starting to wonder if it has some potential.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Do we need to "humanize" Holmes?

How we view Sherlock Holmes has always depended largely on how we view ourselves.

Ardent golfers have written lovingly about Holmes the golfer. Buddhists have made convincing arguments for Holmes following that religious path. Doctors view his methods with a keen eye toward his skill sets that match their own. And true romantics often pick out those qualities in him that they'd enjoy in a lover.

I've never had a problem with any of those views on Holmes. Usually they're just viewing the same facts that I am from an entirely different angle, which is what we humans do every day of our lives. Once you start stretching a few of the facts on Holmes ("Facts" being the original Canon of sixty stories, in this case.), you're always going out on a limb, and the further out you go, the more you have to give your audience a reason why you're so far out there, as for obvious humorous effect. And that can be okay in my book, too.

What starts to grate in our modern evolutions of Sherlock Holmes, however, is what some people like to call "humanizing" Holmes. Which makes me start to wonder about how different my view of "human" is from those folks. Sherlock Holmes has always seemed like a human to me, displaying all of the qualities I've observed in much-beloved friends (just maybe not all in one person). Conan Doyle wrote him really well, which is a part of the reason Sherlockians have been shoehorning him into actual history for a long, long, loooooong time. Actual human history.

The "humanizing" trend often seems to be about giving Holmes more weaknesses, which sometimes seems to me like someone hasn't really read their Canon well enough, if at all . . . like they made their impression of Sherlock Holmes based on an actor's interpretation of Holmes, which might have been based on a different actor's impression of Holmes, which was that actor's interpretation of a script adapted by a screenwriter who was interpreting . . . . and so the game of telephone goes on. It's no wonder that Holmes doesn't seem human any more after having himself moved from brain to brain like that, so I guess you can't blame them.

But I liked the original Sherlock Holmes. He touched something in me about the way I view myself -- that through focus, informal education, hard work, and really paying attention, a person can be very successful in a given field, even a field he makes up for himself. While personally I may not have become accomplished at that level, I still feel like it's within our grasp as humans to succeed as Holmes succeeded. And bring Watson along with us for the ride, because a truly great Holmes has a truly great Watson.

Too often, attempts at humanizing Holmes feel more like "loser-izing" Holmes to me. Maybe a Holmes that's more of a loser appeals to that share of the populace who feel like losers. Instead of attempting to bring ourselves up to a point where we can relate to Holmes as he is, it seems a little like some just want to bring him down to a level where we don't have to feel threatened by his skills, success, and genius. And maybe there's a market for that. Not with me as a potential buyer, though.

Sherlock Holmes was way cool and very human just the way he started. No real "upgrades" are needed. Bringing him into the modern day? Not a bad thing, and not really an upgrade. A true Holmes can work on Mars or in the lost city of Atlantis. 2013 is no real challenge for him. Location in time and space isn't really the issue. It's the man himself.

If Hillbilly Holmes becomes the new cable sensation this fall and you enjoy the new corn-cob pipe smoking, moonshine-drinking detective, you're welcome to him. Just don't expect me to give him a free pass and wave the "all Sherlock is good Sherlock" banner.

Because bad Sherlock is still out there. And it could well be coming soon. I'd just like to think we think a little better of ourselves than that.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Simon Pegg summer Sherlock bookends.

Well, summer's done. Simon Pegg has appeared again, and like the groundhog signalling the end of winter, we now know the season is done.

We last saw Simon as Mr. Scott in Star Trek: Into Darkness as summer began, with Benedict Cumberbatch pulling in a Sherlockian connection to that bit of fast-moving movie fun.

And now, in the last dregs of August, Simon Pegg has shown up as the memorable Gary King in The World's End. And with him comes Martin Freeman connecting us back to Sherlock and Sherlock.

Of course, The World's End being a great little film that gives everything its previews promised and more, it also has Eddie Marsen, giiving us Inspector Lestrade from Sherlock Holmes in addition to Sherlock's Watson. What more could any modern Sherlockian want? (Okay, Martin Freeman, Jude Law, and Lucy Liu, but let's not get greedy.)

It's been a summer full of big movies, many of which didn't live up to their promise, but I'm very happy to say  that Mr. Cumberbatch and Mr. Freeman got to play in two of my favorites this season, something to begin and something to end on. With a dose of Simon Pegg in both.

Now they just need to get him in an episode of Sherlock.

"How Sherlockian Dr. Who is . . . ."

Reading the much-esteemed Chris Redmond's guest blog over at Better Holmes & Gardens this morning, on his takeaways from the recent Minneapolis conference, I was struck hard by the line "I had not fully realized until last weekend how very Sherlockian 'Doctor Who' is."

Having been a Doctor Who fan and a Sherlockian both since my college days, it would seem that I would have a pretty solid understanding of what connects the two, much like Holmes and Star Trek's Mr. Spock, who have always seemed brothers in logical analysis. But it wasn't until reading Chris's words that it fully hit me just how close Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes are.

Sure, the Doctor has always had Sherlockian ties -- it's hard to be a time-traveller who spends a lot of time in London and not have Holmes bits. And Stephen Moffat has certainly entwined the two in the last few years, just by being Stephen Moffat. But at the core of their story arcs, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Who are practically the same guy. It's no wonder they have such fan overlap.

Sherlock Holmes has always been solidly based in Victorian reality, and his modern BBC incarnation is no different. Dr. Who is completely about fantasy and science fiction. Yet if you look at who they are and how they operate . . . well, they're the same guy.

Okay, easy first comparison: they both need a companion to be who they are, and aren't quite the same without that companion. Dr. Who, being immortal as far as we know, has to replace his a bit more often than Holmes.

Both are more than mere investigators into curious happenings: a key part of any successful Holmes or Who story is the undeniable feeling that no matter how bad things are, no matter how weird things get, the mere presence of this one special individual is going to set it all to right. Yes, that's what heroes have been doing since heroes first appeared in our culture, but with Sherlock and the Doctor, we find two heroes who walk into the strangest, most mystifying situations imaginable. The Hound of the Baskervilles would have been a different story if Dr. Who had walked out on that moor, but one can see it as an episode of Dr. Who just as easily as a case for Sherlock Holmes.

During a proper tale of either man, we have no idea what's going on in his head. They both do curious little things when they're investigating and can seem more whimsical than professional when dealing with the official forces. And in the end, we always get that whip-crack of an explanation, making all the weirdness make sense and helping people get on with their lives.

A good Dr. Who story and a good Sherlock Holmes story are practically the same thing, but Sherlock, being based in reality, has to be much harder to create. He has to be a genius within the confines of physics, human society, and Earth. The Doctor can summon up his conclusions based on fantasy-science, alien behaviors, and basically some very pretty deus ex Tardis-ina last acts. He doesn't have to play by the rules of our world, which is part of Dr. Who's escapist draw.

Seeing the similarities between Who and Holmes might just be something modern Holmes fans take in stride, as we old-timers once did Spock and Sherlock. But for me, it took a little push to stop and actually consider the matter. I like Who. I like Holmes. But until Chris Redmond's comment, I never stopped to think those affections might be coming from he same root.

Not a bad revelation for a Sunday morning.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The return of antique mall Sherlopping.

Okay, maybe Sherlopping isn't the best phrase for Sherlockian shopping. But nowhere is a better place for it, whatever you call it, than an antique mall. The mix of collectibles and actual period pieces from Holmes's time that one finds in the varied stalls of a good antique mall just can't be beat. And even though I'm trying to resist adding any more physical objects to the too-full confines of stately Sherlock Peoria Manor, running across such a place off the beaten path in El Paso (Illinois) today just couldn't be resisted.

Almost immediately upon entering, I saw a copy of Ron DeWaal's The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes in a glass case. As I've already got a couple copies of that one, I didn't even have the case opened to check the price. And besides, the real treats in the antique mall are the things that don't say "Sherlock Holmes" on the front.

Like a very old brass microscope, that looked exactly like something Holmes would have used, whether or not it was of Victorian vintage. ($300 . . . a bit out of my price range today.)

A wooden crate that once contained bottles of White Rock should hold interest for any member of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York who has read the Buy-laws was something you don't often see in Illinois, and was rather tempting at $35. But there's that whole space issue. It's a crate. A small crate, but a crate.

And then there was the 1910 printing of A Wanderer in London by E.V. Lucas with a soft black cover like a Bible . . . any view of London in Holmes's pre-war era is a worthwhile find, and at $7, the price had to be right this time, right?

Well, as I said before, I've become very careful about what I take in these days. And I found myself much more enchanted by 1913's The story of Crisco. Think about that for a second. Crisco was introduced in the United States in 1911. Sherlock Holmes came to America shortly after. The thought of Sherlock Holmes using Crisco vegetable shortening is just . . . .

Well, about as silly as the word "Sherlopping." But there it is.

You never know what you'll find at the antique mall.

Monday, August 19, 2013

One amazing rose by another name.

Perusing the Sherlock shelves tonight, I noticed a section where the dust was noticeably thicker than every other part of the library. I like a little dust in my library, a bit of a tribute to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, as well as a nod to every library of arcane lore on film, where that particular tome you were looking for always requires having the dust blown off the top after you pull it down. But to see a section of books that had been noticeably undisturbed, with no paths of any of its members having been slid across for a look in a long, long time . . . .

And after last night's consideration of the twenty greatest Sherlocks, those untouched volumes made me consider something else . . . the thought of a great Sherlock Holmes who wasn't named Sherlock Holmes. A Sherlock imitator who actually knew he was imitating the great Sherlock Holmes and still managed to inspire his own fan club that stood shoulder to shoulder with the Sherlock Holmes scion societies of its time. And a Sherlock imitator who actually inspired multiple pastiches of his own, once his creator was done.

That guy's name, of course, is Solar Pons.

Solar Pons and Doctor Parker have never made it to TV or movies, which is kind a shame, really. No comic books, no radio plays, no cartoons . . . but still, their accomplishments are unique among Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson's literary scions. One could even say they owe their creation directly to Conan Doyle himself, as a young August Derleth only began their run after being told by Sir Arthur that the author didn't really need a successor on Sherlock Holmes.

Solar Pons might even be seen as the greatest fan of Sherlock Holmes who never existed, re-creating the detective more perfectly than anyone ever did, in fact or fiction.

I'm hoping someone revitalizes Solar Pons as much as the BBC and Hollywood have recharged his mentor one of these days. It would be great to see the old guy back again, because his old stories don't see the love, on my shelves at least, that they deserve. I'm a hardcore Canon guy, and as much as I respect Solar, he's still not Sherlock. But still . . . something new would be nice, especially in the medium of stage or screen.

Heck, it might even make a great twist that instead of being a deranged Baker Street Irregular, Jonny Lee Miller's character in Elementary turns out to have really been named "Solar Pons." It would make for a great scene with Lucy Liu's Watson when she gets to compare notes with Dr. Parker, fresh off the boat from London with former landlady Mrs. Johnson and brother Bancroft.

No? Well, in any case, I hope we see Pons again one of these days. He's a Sherlockian treasure who deserves to have the dust blown off of him in more than just my library.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The damned click-through list, top twenty Sherlocks edition.

For all the time the web saves us, there still those moments when the web wants to steal it back. A prime offender, and I do mean offender, is the internet publications that use "top ten" type lists and give you their lists . . . ONE . . . ITEM . . . PER . . . PAGE . . .  in hopes you'll read more ads and give them more page hits to boast about.

Britain's The Telegraph came up with one this weekend, however, that piles irritation upon irritation, as they seem to have come up with their list almost at random, leading up to a top five that looks like this:

5. Robert Stephens
4. Robert Downey Jr.
3. Jeremy Brett
2. Basil Rathbone
1. Benedict Cumberbatch

Now, we could quibble about those top three at any Sherlockian gathering for hours upon end. Each of the three has their fans, and diehard fans at that. But here's the thing.

While The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is my favorite Sherlock Holmes movie of all time, Robert Stephens has never been a favorite Holmes. He's the Robert Downey Jr. of his era, a fine actor doing a great job in a role that I might have cast a little differently. Downey, of course, is the Robert Stephens of the current day: great guy, great movie, maybe just one that could have had a better casting choice for a truly perfect Sherlock Holmes. I'd keep both men in a top twenty Sherlocks list, but top five? No way.

The Telegraph's list includes people like Buster Keaton and Peter Cook, while leaving out Jonny Lee Miller. And as much as I truly, truly hate Miller's portrayal, even I'd give him a berth well above those two clowns. (And I mean clowns in the "things that used to make people laugh but are now just scary" sense.) And did I need to be reminded that Tom Baker once played Sherlock Holmes? Man, I love the Doctor, but seeing him in a deerstalker again with that hair just made me wince.

The Telegraph's heading simply reads "Sherlock: the 20 Greatest Sherlock Holmes," and gives no further explanation, proceeding into John Cleese's parody Holmes and Jeremy Irons in a Saturday Night Live skit as its first two candidates for "greatest." No stage actors are included, no animated incarnations are listed, and those two sources rate at least as highly as Saturday Night Live skits as a place to draw Holmeses from.

And personally, if we're doing "Greatest Sherlock Holmes" without specifying media, I'd have to through Sidney Paget's Holmes in there, if no other illustrators' versions. (And if you're including Peter Cook, you might as well include Slylock Fox, for heaven's sake.)

The thing about twenty Sherlock Holmeses that's most bothersome, however, is this: there is only one greatest Sherlock Holmes because there is only one Sherlock Holmes. He's not Doctor Who. Peter Cushing Sherlock is not going to team up with Basil Rathbone Sherlock to solve a case. Downey, Cumberbatch, and Miller are not going to be in a very special "Three Sherlocks" episode of Elementary. When you start grouping up bunches of Sherlocks, no matter which ones you collect, Sherlock Holmes loses something every time. Part of his charm is that he's unique.

And the love of Sherlock Holmes is a truly monogamous relationship, really. You can only enjoy one at a time, and if you're thinking about other Sherlocks when you're with a different Sherlock, you're not truly enjoying Sherlock Holmes to his fullest measure. An orgy of Sherlocks is just going to leave you as ruined as one of Baron Gruner's ex-lovers, and  The Telegraph's silly click-twenty-times list of random Sherlock is the worst sort of Sherlockian brothelpalooza.

Instead of looking for their site, I'd recommend coming up with your own list of twenty to share with your friends. You'll have a lot more fun, and you definitely won't catch anything unpleasant . . . like a look at that Tom Baker hair. Or maybe just come up with your list of one great Sherlock and go celebrate him (or her -- we're getting there).

Tribal badges.

Faith Wallis was looking for suggestions on creating a Sherlockian charm bracelet this week, and that set me off on a train of thought about how one would best wear one's hobby on their sleeve, so to speak.

While American Sherlockians have typically not been a cosplay lot in the past, there have always been Holmes fashion accessories to be seen at any gathering. And the one that best combines collecting and wearing most was, in the past, has been the cloisonne pin. Back in the eighties and nineties, coming up with a scion society cloisonne pin was quite the fashion, and if you travelled in Sherlockian circles at all, it was hard not to wind up with a dozen or more. True collectors sought out all they could, and worethem proudly on deerstalkers, vests, or even the occasional sash.

So far, this new internet age of Sherlock seems more button-oriented, but we're just getting started.

Embroidered patches never took off in Holmes circles, and trying to picture a Sherlockian who looks like a varsity team captain in his or her jacket, or a NASCAR driver in a patch-covered jumpsuit, seems almost inconcievable. Charms, pins, buttons, patches, what's left to us for proudly wearing our hobby for the world to see?

Oh, yes, tattoos.

As Matt Laffey tweeted last week, "The amazing #shmn13 has come to a close and I couldn't convince anyone to get matching Sherlock tattoos with me. Next time!"

You'd think as Canonical as tattoos are, somebody would have gone for a fish above the right wrist or a "J.A." in the crook of their arm. Unfortunately, if you charted the popularity of tattoos in American culture, I suspect their boom period seemed to coincide with a lull in Sherlock's popularity, and now that Holmes is cresting, getting ink done isn't quite as trendy as it was.

What I'd really like to see is an Elementary fan so dedicated that they get the full Jonny Lee Miller body art ensemble, since his tattoos have apparently become the tattoos of Sherlock Holmes in the minds of many. But we're only through the first season, and its fans haven't gotten truly hardcore yet. Or at least not tattoo-hardcore!

A Sherlockian tattoo might be one of the few tattoos I'd think about getting, but even I have yet to cross that rubicon, and I've shared an elevator with the head of the Baker Street Irregulars while wearing a gold BSI earring. Of course, I've never been at a con with Matt Laffey yet, either.

The perfect tribal badge of the Sherlockian has really yet to be discovered. Perhaps its that as students of the master of observation and deduction, we hate to set up any obvious clues for those scanning us for information. Or maybe we're just not as fanatical as we like to think we are . . . yeah, we're crazy, but we're not "#CRAY-ZEeEE*!"

Time will tell. (C'mon, Elementary fans! DO it! DO it!)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Just a book.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes is just a book.

Sherlock Holmes is just a character in a story.

Just a movie, just a TV show, just a hobby . . . . there are so many ways to belittle a person's enthusiasm for something, if their passion for it gets in your way. Don't get upset if something to do with Sherlock seems wrong to you, if someone is twisting that tale to suit their own ends, if some blowhard starts spouting ridiculous inaccuracies . . . it's just a silly set of stories after all.

It's amazing how often that sort of argument is used even in fannish circles, where both parties have spent a significant portion of their lives devoted to exploring a single subject like Sherlock Holmes. It's not like Sherlock is a cure for cancer or something, right?

As of this moment, however, we don't have a complete and total cure for cancer. We do have Sherlock Holmes. We've had him for well over a hundred years, and he's done a lot of good in that time. He's inspired forensic scientists. He's given several gifted writers a boost off the ground with a first novel. He's offered logical comfort in an often incomprehensible world.

Just a book. Now, saying The Bible is just a book doesn't quite give a comparison that even makes sense to most, as that particular book has risen beyond bookness in a couple of millennia or so. But let's take something from the dark side: Mein Kampf. Ever read it? Ever going to read it? Why not? It's just a book, after all.

A book, be it fact or fiction, begins as a set of ideas. And if ideas aren't powerful enough, sometimes a book becomes symbol of what those ideas can do, or did do. We tend to take the books sold on the "fiction" side of the store a little more lightly than the ones on the non-fiction side, but ideas are ideas, whether they're cast in dates and details or captured in a metaphoric tale.

Stories like those of Sherlock Holmes don't stay with us for more than a century because they're simply entertaining. We have all sorts of entertainments, new ones showing up every day. But the ones that stick in our craw, the ones we feel we have to tell others about, those stories touch us in ways we know are important, even if we don't know exactly what that importance is.

We don't just love Sherlock Holmes for no reason. Even if we can't put it into words, we know a reason is there, and it's an important reason, one we can feel deep in our bones. And if someone who doesn't feel the basic truths of Sherlock deep in their bones wants to say, "They're just stories," well, maybe they are . . . to them.

To the rest of us? Well, we'll decide those things for ourselves, thank you very much.

Just a book. Pfffft.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Both ends of August

Ah, August. Terrible and melancholy August. 

Terrible from Watson's introduction to "His Last Bow" in which he references the onset of the first world war with the words: "It was nine o'clock at night upon the second of August - the most terrible August in the history of the world." And melancholy, from the point of view of the Sherlockian, who both recognizes those words as the beginning of what will be the last we hear of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, as well as the month of the trope "stand with me here upon the terrace, " with which many a Sherlockian has been saluted in passing from this world.

But August is not just a time a terraces, it is also a time of sitting on the lawn on garden chairs, as Sherlock Holmes was doing just before he returned to London with a very great idea in his head.

August may be the last month of the Canon Sherlockian, but it is also the month of what might have been the first.

In "The Gloria Scott," old Mr. Trevor first uttered the words, "I don't know how you manage this, Mr. Holmes, but it seems to me that all the detectives of fact and of fancy would be children in your hands. That's your line of life, sir, and you may take the word of a man who has seen something of the world."

Sherlock Holmes himself claimed that those words were the very first thing that ever made him think he could have a profession as a consulting detective. They were, as any chronologer including myself will tell you, probably spoken in July. But the next month of his life, when Sherlock Holmes returned to his London rooms to work out "a few experiments in organic chemistry," took place entirely in August, and it's there that I would place the true beginnings of the detective's career.

Experiments in organic chemistry . . . like "the Sherlock Holmes" test that he was working on when he first met Watson, perhaps?

August these days comes as the end of summer fun, but it's also a time when we start rolling up our sleeves (if we dared wear long sleeves in August), for the work of the fall. It's a time of endings and a time to be thinking of beginnings.

And in the lore of Sherlock Holmes, we get a little of both.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The fire still burns.

Well, 3 Chic Geeks had to go and stir it up on their website this week.

They had this fun little idea of a bracket tournament of polling called "The Fandom Wars," in which they pitted fandom against fandom, Dr. Who versus Lord of the Rings, Firefly versus Battlestar Galactica, etc. It's a neat little way to bring traffic to their site, and some fun for fans of some of the newer fandoms. The Star Wars versus Star Trek bracket seemed a bit dated and done to death, but brackets for newer shows were actually pretty interesting . . . except for one.

They had to go and put BBC Sherlock versus CBS's Elementary.

The bracket battle is over now, and Sherlock has pulled out a 58.19% to 41.81% victory, but it was touch-and-go for a while, and a few of the comments from places like the Baker Street Babes' Facebook page were stark reminders of the strong reactions the CBS show has gotten since its first airing from some of us. Things get said, apologies have to be made. Or not.

Other fandom divisions in the bracket war live in separate fandoms. The truly passionate Star Wars and Star Trek people can hang out with their fellows, bitch about the other, and not get into too much trouble. If you're in a Star Wars forum, you expect some serious love of that universe and a little trash-talk of the others would not seem out of place. Yet here in Sherlock Holmes world, we've been given two distinctly different characters with the same name and are being expected to play nice and treat them with equal courtesy . . . all the while being passionate fans, which is where it gets tricky.

Reading some of what went on during the 3 Chic Geeks "Fandom Wars" stirred up some sympathetic responses that summer had managed to let me forget about. A simple "WTF?" appears to be all it takes to get a "YEAH! WTF?!?!" reaction even now, where a certain show is concerned. But that evil little bracket choice is played out for now, and we can go back to summer . . . for now.

Man, I am not looking forward to fall.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A bottle doth not Sherlockian society make.

 There's an oft repeated bit of Sherlockian folk wisdom handed down from John Bennett Shaw that states all you need for a Sherlock Holmes society is two Sherlockians, a copy of the Canon, and a bottle. And in a pinch you can do without one of the Sherlockians.

It's a gag as ancient as "Take my wife . . . please," and one can almost hear Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons going, "HA-HA! Sherlockians are drunks!" But when it got cited in reference to this weekend's Minneapolis symposium on Sherlock Holmes, I found it to be a little bittersweet.

A work conflict (that later failed to materialize) took this latest gathering in Minnesota off my calendar, and unlike the big SherlockeDCC party in San Diego, which seemed too far off and magical to even be real, I was very aware of what I was missing. Two of my favorite Sherlockians, Don Hobbs and Bill Mason, were actually the better part of the Saturday morning program. And I only single those two out because of their back-to-back presentations. I could go down a long, long list of Sherlockians in Minneapolis this weekend whom I've had great dinner conversations with, who have inspired great creative moments, and who have been kind and generous folk to everyone who knows them for decades.

Dispense with any of those folk and just have a bottle in their stead? Man, I love Sherlock Holmes, but I'm liable to just watch Breaking Bad before holding a one-man Sherlockian society meeting. Or, better still, go hang out with non-Sherlockian friends whom I dearly love, and can have great dinner conversations and little adventures that don't have to do with Sherlock Holmes.

I don't know if I'm just coming to appreciate my fellow folk more with age or what, but the concept of Sherlockian society to me is more about the bonds between friends than the sort of society with a name and newsletter these days. But many of those friendships started in societies of name and newsletter once upon a time, so I can't find fault in them whatsoever. But the idea of sitting alone with a bottle and calling it "Sherlockian society?"

This weekend, I can't quite do that. I just couldn't dispense with that other Sherlockian. (And this turned out to be a really great weekend!)

Now I just have to talk to some folks and figure out when the next Hansom meeting is happening in Peoria.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Corporate Sherlock wars.

Suppose there was one guy who decided he like a particular incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, say Robert Downey Jr.'s version, and didn't really want people to watch another incarnation, like Jonny Lee Miller's attempt. And that one guy could actually do something about it. And then did.

Seems like a fantasy concocted by an Elementary hater, something that could never really happen, right?

Well, thanks to a recent spat between Time-Warner Cable and CBS, we're actually getting to see the potential for such a thing to occur. In a dispute over what they're paying for CBS content, Time-Warner Cable recently pulled CBS networks from their cable systems, blocking viewers in Los Angeles, New York, and Dallas, among others, from being able to watch Elementary and other CBS shows. CBS retaliated by blocking Time-Warner customers from being able to see their shows via their web site. If that all holds out through this evening, that means no Elementary for a significant number of folks. Lucky for the fans, it's in reruns.

Now, Time-Warner Cable has been split off of the Time-Warner whose Warner Brothers division was involved with the Downey Sherlock Holmes movies for a while, but suppose they were still a part of the same corporate empire when this tussle went down. And suppose, instead of fees, the head of one corporation was just overly proud of his Sherlock and really wanted to be rid of that other corporation's Sherlock. As this little cable fee tussle shows, all of the mechanisms would be in place to do some damage there. Sure, they're probably not going to do it. But the ability is there.

What does this mean, in the grand scheme of Holmes?

Well, it's interesting to me that even as the "Free Sherlock" lawsuit could be pushing our favorite character into the public domain, big corporate entities will still control his fate no matter what the outcome. But then . . . why should Sherlock Holmes be any different than the rest of us?

PBS delaying Sherlock. Time-Warner blocking Elementary. The life of a TV Sherlock is certainly not an easy one.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

And then there were more omens upon omens.

Apparently I misread the omen of the "Hugo's Companions" t-shirt, of which I blogged yesterday. Rather than the herald of dog slobber, it was foretelling a comment from the legendary Sir Hugo himself, on my most recent post railing against PBS. And Sir Hugo's words held dire portent themselves:

"As for Sherlock, it's only a TV show, for Clapton's sake. There are much more important things to worry about in life."

I wasn't sure what he was talking about at first ("Clapton" must surely be an autocorrect for the Canonical "Clayton," for starters.) and then the news came over the radio this morning. PBS announced that Downton Abbey's new season is going to be delayed in America by PBS. That immensely popular show is much more important than Sherlock in the grand scheme of viewership, and if PBS is keeping America waiting for Downton, we fans of Sherlock Holmes have no hope for better treatment.

Side note: This just in from longtime Sherlockian Paul Herbert, Hugo Baskerville was never really a "Sir" in the Canon. Apparently this is something that has grown up in Sherlockian lore. Of course, given his resume, I'm sure Hugo got a "Sir" in the ranks of Hell, at the very least. (Not the Sir Hugo referenced in paragraph one, of course.)

But while we're on the subject of heralds of things to come, the BBC teaser for season three of Sherlock has been out for some time now, and for the longest time I avoided it, with that initial intention to keep the show as unseen as possible until its broadcast. Discussions popped up online of whether the teaser's footage was especially shot, or actually taken from the show itself. Confirmations of it being from the show itself came out, and all that focus led me to forget that single word "teaser."

Eventually I watched it, of course. And what facts were spoiled for me, about the next season of Sherlock?

Mrs. Hudson does dishes. Lestrade stands in what might be an empty parking garage. Mycroft reads in an opulent room. Molly gets into her locker. (Though her face is suspiciously hidden, which makes one wonder if one can judge a Molly by her lab coat.) And Watson is in a restaurant with a moustache.

It would seem that all these people are on the verge of meeting Mr. Sherlock Holmes, but actually what the teaser said to me was "Here are five people that will be in the show. And a moustache."

No dialogue. No actual activity. Nothing that would make me go, "Is this special footage or actually scenes from the show?" Ironically, while I thought about not watching the teaser to keep the show fresh, I hadn't thought about just watching it while it was fresh . . .  and thus found a decent teaser turning into a slight disappointment after the fervor of the fan reaction.

Ah, well. We all make our choices. And after all, it wasn't a teaser for Downton Abbey, was it, Hugo?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The ancient T-shirt of omen.

When you've spent decades filling a house with Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, sometimes it surfaces at the oddest times.

Take this morning, for example. The usual morning routine, getting one's self fed, cleaned-up, and appropriately wardrobed for another day of work. And then, at the last, that bit of conversation with one's fellow lodger about the evening's activities, tonight involving a dinner gathering whose last occurrence featured a herd of canines having a fabulous rumpus through the main social area.

"Hopefully, you won't be attacked by a pack of dogs this evening," I say to the good Carter, who responds with a look best described as a smirk, as she remembers being pinned to the wall in a desperate attempt to find non-dog space.

And then I look down at the T-shirt she's wearing: a light blue shirt with the logo of Hugo's Companions, a Chicago-based Sherlock Holmes society. As we aren't members of that club, nor have visited Sherlockian Chicago in an incredibly long time, I can't really say where the shirt came from, or how the good Carter came to be wearing it this particular morning. But a shirt centering on Sir Hugo Baskerville, being present when the question of dog rampages comes up?

Not a good omen. Not good at all. You remember . . .

"But it was not the sight of her body, nor yet was it that of the body of Hugo Baskerville lying near her, which raised the hair upon the heads of these three dare-devil roisterers, but it was that, standing over Hugo, and plucking at his throat, there stood a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon. And even as they looked the thing tore the throat out of Hugo Baskerville, on which, as it turned its blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them, the three shrieked with fear and rode for dear life, still screaming, across the moor."

When evening came and dinner followed, all dogs had been exiled outside, and good company and merry talk made us forget all about the morning's omen. I sat cross-legged on the floor, enjoying a fine muffaletta sandwich the hostess had favored us with. Gooey butter cake followed, and life was good. But then someone opened the patio door . . .

Bounding into the house came a great black beast of a size that could easily take down a Baskerville, a dog so the color of pitch that they named him "Onyx." And as I rose, his great muzzle turned my way, and his dripping jaws layed their slime across my shoulder.

"Ew, gross!" I cried, as my companions gazed in horror. Because that's the really bad part about giant black moor hounds. It's not the glowing eyes. It's not the great jaws and sharp teeth. It's the slobber.

The disgusting, disgusting slobber.

And so I commend and counsel you, as Baskerville legend did so long ago. Pay attention to omens, my friends, and forbear crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted (or sitting on the floor to eat your dinner).

You might get slimed by giant black hound slobber. Because it's gross. Really gross.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A hotel room Canon.

If you were going to try to bring as many random strangers happiness with a single book, what would that book be?

England's Damson Dene Hotel replaced all of its in-room Bibles with Fifty Shades of Grey, in what seems to be a very publicity-generating move last week.  Instead of spiritual comfort of the Judaeo-Christian sort, guests now are left to bondage romance to fill those empty moments of the wee hours when they've brought no reading of their own. And whatever one thinks of Damson Dene's choice, the fact that they made a choice raises an interesting question: What book would you put in every room of a hotel you were running?

This being a Sherlock Holmes blog, my answer has to be The Complete Sherlock Holmes, despite an initial impulse to go with The Princess Bride. Why Holmes? Well, in addition to being a classic crowd-pleaser, his resume has hotel experience.

In the 1930s, the largest hotel in midtown Manhattan, the Hotel Taft actually published books especially for their guests. They printed their own edition of A Study in Scarlet and a collection called Sherlock Holmes Detective Stories, each with art of the Taft Hotel on the cover and "Compliments of the Hotel Taft, New York" in the lower right corner. Inside the cover was a simulated bookplate with a "This book belongs to" line under which the guest could write his or her name and make it their own.

While "Tarry at the Taft" publishing also put out some other authors than Doyle, like Poe, Wilde, Carroll, and Balzac, it wasn't until decades after I saw my first Taft edition that I ever heard of that lot, or even considered that they might exist. After all, why wouldn't a New York hotel in the 1930s want to feature Sherlock Holmes?

So the idea of placing a nice edition of the Sherlock Holmes canon in every room of a nice hotel just seems like a natural . . . much moreso than Fifty Shades of Grey. Eighty years from now, do you think those hotel copies will be cherished in the hands of collectors? I think not.


Postscript: In reacquainting myself with the Taft editions, I got to pull out Ron DeWaal's The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and Don Redmond's Sherlock Holmes Among the Pirates, two reminders of great days past. It had been a while, and it was nice to spend a little time with books that felt like old friends.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Again, hating that PBS.

And then, there was this . . . 

First thought: Patton Oswalt having a Sherlock moment is some super-cool geek stuff.

Second thought: Goddamned PBS.

Nobody likes being Mr. Negative, especially when it comes to a "public" network that's supposed to be working for the good of humanity, teaching kids the alphabet and exposing us to fine arts. But this isn't the 1980s any more. We all know there are networks in Great Britain that have these TV shows that are made for citizens of the imperial island. We actually have a cable channel called "BBC America." We can buy their shows on iTunes and watch them on Netflix.

Well, at least I think we all know that. But we must not.

If we all knew that PBS was just slapping "Masterpiece" in front of Brit shows and calling them their own, then why the heck would anybody give PBS a dime for making Americans wait five or six months to see BBC Sherlock like they did on the last outing?

Anyone who watches both Dr. Who and Sherlock was painfully aware of the disparity last time out. With the Doctor, we can keep up with our Brit cousins without buying a region-free DVD player and ordering European DVDs from Amazon UK. We don't have to ignore Twitter feeds and podcasts and blogs for almost half a year, trying to keep some of the joy a fresh TV show brings when we watch Dr. Who. Thanks to PBS, though, series two of Sherlock made that spring a very irritating time to be a Sherlockian . . . just so PBS could stick to their outdated business model.

So to see PBS happily starting to put on the fake PR smile about "their" Masterpiece Mystery series once again is like seeing a driveway paving con man show up at your door for a second or third time. But at least we can slam the door in the face of that guy.

Still, cool about Patton Oswalt.

Live and let Sherlock?

Maybe I should watch a Sherlock Holmes movie when I want a Sherlock Holmes movie. Earlier this evening, I tried watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a James Bond film, which is surprisingly easy. After that, I pulled up Live and Let Die, and then found myself watching it as a Sherlock Holmes movie.

The movie opens with Roger Moore going on his very first mission as James Bond to New York City, which is probably what started the whole train of thought. After all, Moore's first (and only) mission as Sherlock Holmes took him to New York City as well.

There's references to voodoo, the Ku Klux Klan, and a prime minister . . . all things Holmes encountered at some point. "Mr. Big" seems to be the Moriarty of Harlem in this oddly blaxploitation Bond outing. I could put all those down to an overactive Sherlockian imagination. But when Bond's first overnight on the case involves someone sending a speckled band of a snake slithering down the shower hose to kill Bond in the tub, if becomes apparent that somebody behind this movie was definitely borrowing from Conan Doyle.

And then, in practically the next scene, when Bond's female acoomplice finds an ominous Baron Samedi hat on her bed, Bond dismisses it as "belonging to a small headed man of limited means who lost a fight with a chicken" in a fashion so close to a Sherlock Holmes observation that one has to wonder if it didn't spark his casting in Sherlock Holmes in New York three years later.

At that point, Bond's investigation has him making love to first the double-agent Rosie, then the card-reading Solitaire before the same day is out. It's hard to pull anything Sherlock Holmes-ish about an investigative technique centering on trading sex for information (unless one counts that odd little incident with Agatha the maid in "Charles Augustus Milverton"), so the movie quickly loses its Sherlock mojo.

There's a car chase involving a double-decker bus with the steering wheel on the right side, which at least brings a British note to the proceedings, but not necessarily Holmes-ish. The boat chase which eventually comes after it might spark a comparison to the boat chase in The Sign of the Faur, except for the fact that Bond is being chased and not doing the chasing. But perhaps The Sign of the Four isn't so far off after all, as there is a villain who seems to have lost a limb to a crocodile, just like Jonathan Small of that tale.

But from there it's all Bond-ish silliness, and extracting the Holmes from Live and Let Die becomes nigh impossible. Like I said at the start, when I want to watch a Sherlock Holmes movie, I should watch a Sherlock Holmes movie.

But with that "Speckled Band" moment hiding in a favorite from my childhood . . . well, sometimes Holmes just finds you anyway.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Murder is easy. And kind of wrong.

One of the things I've always loved best about Sherlock Holmes is his diversity.

Take the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, wherein he first hits his stride. An adventuress who may or may not be a blackmailer. Con artists who are also bank burglars. A step-father who's an amateur master of disguise. And then, a murrrrr-derrrrrr.

It took Holmes four episodes in his original literary series (the two prior books were "literary movies," so to speak) to get to the capital "M" crime. Four episodes. And out of the twelve episodes in that first series, that case is the only one he investigates that is pure "after-the-fact" murder. He has clients who come to him thinking they are going to be killed. He has clients who come to him because someone in their life has disappeared (and usually doesn't turn up dead). But filing The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes under the category of "murder mysteries" would be wrong. Dead wrong.

Murder has become the go-to crime in the mystery genre since Conan Doyle wrote Adventures, but it's a little like profanity in a stand-up comedy routine. It has it's place, but it's also an easy way for the less talented to get a reaction. Of course, these days, you not only have to murder someone, the lesser lights have to do it in increasingly grotesque fashions, make their killers that kind of crazed serial murderer who would fit very handily into a Batman comic book.

In real life, murder is a horrific, horrific thing, and it's hard to find entertainment in it once you've seen the devastation if can wreak on lives. On the other hand, in fiction, murder mysteries with a handy solution are almost like an assurance that death happens for a reason, the tidy solution explaining the murder giving the reader solace that death itself has reasons for occurring. Either way, is it something we really have to have?

In a culture where we are constantly being marketed with fear-pushing hype (Yeah, Weather Channel, tell us again why naming winter storms "Brutus," "Draco," and "Khan" is for our own good.), in a time when nightly serial killer plays are an entertainment staple, it would be nice to see more modern Sherlock Holmeses who could do as Holmes once did, and entertain without the body count. Just as Sherlock Holmes doesn't always have to fight Moriarty, he also doesn't have to always fight Jack the Ripper. (Sherlock versus the Ripper never seems to play out as well as you'd think it would, in any case.)

I've always enjoyed the fact that when death is hanging around in this world, I could still escape to Holmes's London for a romp around town in "The Blue Carbuncle," or a trip to a famous university town to look into "The Creeping Man" . . . and nobody has to die for that little entertainment. Only a little over half of the criminals found in the Canon of Holmes are murderers, so there's a lot of room to have a little non-deadly fun when you need it.

I hope future creative folk carrying on the legend of Sherlock Holmes remember that fact occasionally. Holmes can definitely be a lot more fun when his clients aren't the homicide division of Scotland Yard.