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?

The Mystery of the Silver Blaze Wikipedia entry.

A very handy site for the follower of Elementary who hates to miss an episode is the Wikipedia episode list for the show, which serves as a show-specific TV guide for what is happening on a particular week. Since I've been saving up episodes for an eventual marathon of powering through the latest batch, I went out and checked the page this morning and found this curious entry:

Usually the page gives a two or three sentence synopsis of what the characters actually did during the case, but apparently this week the writer found the "Silver Blaze" nod significant enough to ignore the characters and steer folks to the story. The weird problem with this is the use of "The Mystery of the Silver Blaze" as the seeming title and the conclusion that "the cases were otherwise unconnected."

As with all Wikipedia entries, this one will probably be updated, tidied up, or rewritten eventually, but I enjoyed the curiousness of its present form that I wanted to preserve it for posterity here.

(I will continue to look forward to watching the episode, however, just to find out what a "Marchioness" is.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

And an afterword on this year's Irregular invitations . . . .

Running through the comments on this week's blog on the BSI dinner invitations, a bit from Scott Monty caused me to ruminate a little further upon the subject. Scott wrote:

"I think part of the excitement behind getting an invitation to the BSI Dinner is that it's an exclusive event. The moment you make it an open event, that's when the shine will wear off of the wonder of receiving such an invitation."

And that is the whole thing about the exclusive invitation. And the cryptic membership selection process whereby the Irregular-in-chief picks a handful of people to announce as members each year. The exclusivity, the haves-and-have-nots, the chance to rise and be among the . . .  dare I say it . . . elite. Big thrills all.

But it's such a big thrill that the "who gets made a member this year" list is the biggest news to come out of the BSI dinner every year. It seems to eclipse and predominate the whole of the hobby on that one night, even above Mr. Sherlock Holmes. 

And yet, the sister society of the Baker Street Irregulars, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, seems to get by without all of that, existing just as long and just as well. Apparently Americans aren't nearly as well behaved as our cousins across the pond, and need more screening.

It would be very interesting to see what the Baker Street Irregulars of New York would look like without all the focus on who got invited and who got in. Who knows what might surface if all that mental energy got freed up for other uses?

I might have gotten off the subject with that thought, but Scott was also kind enough to put a link to my BSI blog in his "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" column, the link emanating from the words, "to sulk for those who don't receive an invitation." Which made me start to wonder if I hadn't received an invitation to the BSI dinner. Perhaps Scott knew something I didn't.

I checked the pile of mail that tends to grow in our entryway . . . you know how it is in the electronic age, all the good letters come via the internet. No invitation to be found. Which wouldn't be all that odd, if not for the fact that they used to send invitations to members of the Baker Street Irregulars. I say "used to," because I had heard a story last year of a certain Irregular who has often criticized the current management and got dropped from the mailing list, only to protest same. If the head of the Irregulars decided to clean out his Facebook friends, so to speak, I wouldn't be surprised if I got dropped from the membership mailing. I mean, have you read my blog? Heck, he could even be an Elementary fan. But no protests here. I didn't dig that deep into the mail pile looking for an invitation. A little bit busy this year.

Whatever my status of my membership in the Big Society of the Invited, I shall continue to be a (and perhaps the only) proponent of open membership for the Baker Street Irregulars. It's American's main Sherlockian society, I'm an American and a Sherlockian, and with even that little invested interest it just seems like the right idea to me.

Sneer a little sneer for me.

What does James Windibank of "A Case of Identity" have that I don't have? Sure, he was an amazing enough actor that he could fool his own step-daughter into thinking he was a completely different person. (Traditionally, Sherlockians blame the victim there, rather than praising his amazing talents, but we saw the girl -- she wasn't that brain-dead.) And maybe his acting skill was a part of why he could do something I can't seem to master. And what might that be?

James Windibank could sneer.

I've been trying to sneer all morning, and I'm just not getting it. Maybe a bad Elvis smirk. Maybe something that looks like disfigured comic book cowboy Jonah Hex. But no sneer.

The Jonah Hex thing may be the closest, because the hideous beggar Hugh Boone of "The Man with the Twisted Lip" had a repulsive sneer, and his lip was twisted and all. And I am not the only one with problems mastering it, either, as Professor Coram of "Gold Pince-nez" managed "something like a sneer," according to Watson's accounts, but just wasn't there with it, apparently.

Lord Cantlemere had a distinct sneer in "Mazarin Stone," but as with all things "Mazarin Stone," we have to wonder if that was real or not. That story's just a bit questionable all around.

If we take that Sherlock Holmes was good with a sneer, especially when the topic of "softer passions" came up, whatever they are, and add it to the rest of the data above, I really think one has to conclude that it takes an actor, or someone with good natural acting talent, to pull off a proper sneer.

Windibank, Boone, and Holmes were all masters of disguise/actors. They also could sneer.

I'm not an actor nor a master of disguise. I can't seem to do it.

Of course, in written text, especially in internet comment sections, people seem to be able to sneer very easily these days, like Scotland Yarder Athelney Jones who could sneer with his voice. But to get one to actually appear on your face? That either takes pure talent or the sort of life that I just haven't lived.

So give sneering a try and let me know your results. I am just not getting it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"It's a BSI invitation, Charlie Brown!"

Well, since I'm hiding from the comments section this week anyway, after another round of Elementary versus the world . . . I do that occasionally, being something of a cowardly blogger. But I am honest, which is why I'm going to tell you what I'm about to tell you. It's not going to score me any points with the Sherlockian world, but just needs to be entered into that giant data storage archive we call the interwebs one more time. It's like an annual Christmas special with a touch of melancholy that rolls around at the same time every year.

Another friend got invited to the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York this week. And as always happens when a new invitation finds someone I like, or an Irregular shilling is bestowed upon a long-waiting Sherlockian of my esteem, I found myself feeling a little sad.

The person in question is always delighted, congratulations shower down, and happiness abounds. I'm glad for their happiness, of course, in a distant sort of way. About twenty-five years distant, at this point, which was the last time I felt something close. One might compare it to an long-married crone considering a young bride, I guess. Or one might go with a different marriage analogy.

For me, it's a little bit like someone who'll be completely happy with weddings again when everyone can marry whomever it is they love. I'll be completely happy about someone going to the Baker Street Irregulars dinner for the first time again when everyone can go for the first time.

This isn't some whimsy I came up with last week, or tonight, in a desperate attempt to find something to blog. My hope for an open Baker Street Irregulars dinner started in a day when one particular gender didn't get invited, and then grew over time, as changing management suddenly dropped invitees who seemed on the verge of membership, as my own distance from the core membership made me a sympathetic ear for those frustrated with long years of waiting to see the inside of the banquet room. I've been writing and re-writing on this topic for so long that its a little same-old, same-old, and I should probably give it up.

But like beauty pageant entrants who must regularly hope for that maybe unrealistic dream of world peace, I have to annually voice a maybe unrealistic dream of an open annual dinner from America's elder Sherlockian society.

And so, with that annual tradition done for another year, I can go dream of sugar plums or Turkish delights or . . . whatever Sherlock Holmes liked instead of jelly babies. You know there was something.

Merry BSI invitation time, everybody!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Zismanian scholarship?

One of those things that attracted me to Sherlock Holmes fandom when I first encountered it in the 1970s was a little thing we like to call "the Game." Call it grand or great or whatever you like, the Game was a unique little thing Sherlockians did that caught my imagination: They researched Sherlock Holmes historically, approaching their work with the basic tenet that Sherlock Holmes existed just as much as Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, or any of those other folk mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

It made Holmes fans unique among the Trekkies, the lovers of Gone With The Wind, and all the other fandoms that existed at that time.

At that time. It's a different world now.

Blending fiction and reality has gone far, far beyond our little Sherlockian writings these days, as evidenced by a little film I saw tonight called Bad Grandpa. The basic premise of Bad Grandpa is that of a reprobate grandfather who transports his unwanted grandson across the country, having a lot of misadventures along the way. The grandfather, Irving Zisman, is an actor in make-up. The grandson, Billy, is a child actor. But the people they interact with along the way are all real people, living their everyday lives. Basically, it's the old Candid Camera show with a plot. (Though MUCH more offensive than the old Allen Funt half hour TV show.)

The premise isn't that new. Sacha Baron Cohen has done it with a couple of films. Johnny Knoxville's take in Bad Grandpa is much less flamboyeant, making Irving Zisman's fictional nature seem a little more like one more real person interacting with the real world a lot more often than Cohen's versions. In the end credits, Knoxville gives the game away, unlike Cohen, showing his practical joke victims getting let in on the joke, and making his tricks seem a little less predatory. The best Sherlockian scholarship never let the trick slip, and it didn't need to, as it never intruded into the lives of anyone who didn't invite it in.

And if somebody did think Sherlock Holmes was a real historical person, just like millions have even without our help? Well, what harm was in that? How could the existence of Sherlock Holmes be a bad thing, as his inspiring influence on forensic science and many great men and women over the years has shown?

Comparing the work of Father Ronald Knox with Johnny Knoxville may seem a little sacrilegious to the devout Sherlockian, but both men mixed fact and fantasy for laughs. The mediums and the level of brazenness may have changed with the times, but the similarities between the borderline realities of Sherlock Holmes and Irving Zisman do lend credence to one old adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or, if you want to go with Sherlock-wisdom: "The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. It's all been done before and will be again." And sometimes, that's okay.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A report from the front lines.

Well, I tried being positive about CBS's Elementary. Pretending it was a bit of harmless televised fun, "all Sherlock Holmes is good Sherlock Holmes," and all that. Go team. Rah.

But then a comment came in this week, reporting exactly what I knew was going to happen, way back when this ridiculous show began. T'was a tale of a Sherlockian who went to work on Halloween, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and it went like this:

Here I am, dressed as a classic Holmes, and all the people at work either thought Lucy Liu was Holmes or wanted to know where she was. A few said, "Are you supposed to be that guy, what's the name of the guy on Elementary?" "Oh, you mean Jonny Lee Miller." "Who? Is that his name?" No one person said Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey, Jr. or even Mr. Cumberbatch. I need to change jobs or move out of the U.S.A. Curse you, Elementary!

I sympathize completely with the writer of those words, as I've been in similar spots. While any co-workers I've had long-term eventually get a fair education on Sherlock Holmes just by the osmosis of casual conversation over time, there was always a starting point. Most people have had some contact with Sherlock Holmes over their lifetimes. Whether that contact was an obvious parody, like the Dudley Moore Hound of the Baskervilles or the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the Twenty-Second Century, you usually had a baseline of solid Canonical ties to work with. The basic story points were there.

And let's face it, as much as Elementary's supporters might strain to pull out Canonical detail from the show, would you rather encounter a new acquaintance who had never heard of Sherlock Holmes, or one that had only watched Elementary? Personally, I'd rather work with a blank slate than have to undo the web of weirdness that Elementary has laid over the top of our familiar story cycle.

"No, Professor Moriarty was not Sherlock's lover. He wasn't even cute, really. No, Watson was not a failed surgeon who solved half the cases. He was a great guy . . . yes, a guy. Sherlock's brother was actually more gifted than Sherlock . . . no, Sherlock didn't sleep with Mycroft's fiancee. Or Watson's friends . . ."

Given that most of these changes are the sort of lurid details added to feed the ratings beast with casual viewers, the sort that wouldn't be interested in Sherlock Holmes under normal conditions, Elementary's take on Sherlock Holmes can easily be judged as exploitative rather than adaptive. The story it's passing on to its millions of viewers is not the one Sherlock Holmes fans grew to love at some point in their lives. It's something much more calculatedly commercial, designed to appeal to a large television demographic. Which is why a number of Sherlockians actually like it -- it was built to be liked.

The question I still have to raise, however, is "Was it built to be Sherlock Holmes?"

I don't think so. And no matter how positive I try to be about that show, that answer remains solid, with more evidence supporting it every single week. Anyone who comes into the orbit of a devoted Sherlockian is going to learn about Sherlock Holmes. But having that first Sherlock Holmes talk with a new friend is like having a sex talk with your kids: you hope you don't have to undo a bunch of crap they learned on the streets. And Elementary at the moment, seems to be "the streets."