The reasons are numerous and, at this point, intertwined and convoluted enough not to try unravelling them here, but whilst so many of my Sherlockian brethren were off at the latest weekend of education, camaraderie, and shopping, the Master of Detectives was not going without proper tribute in good old Peoria. T'were the great and powerful Sherlock an angry deity, I would hope that my humble offering would have been enough to appease him . . . but you never know.
I mean, the venue for this particular tribute to Sherlock Holmes was a chautauqua night, featuring speakers on a variety of subjects, ranging from rain gardens to the different sizes of infinity, sessions were thirty-five minutes in length and the title of my spot in the program was "The Real Sherlock Holmes was . . . Sherlock Holmes." And the description ran thusly:
"When history and fiction collide, you get something with a lot more truth in it than what you see on some 'news' networks. Come find out what the greatest detective who never lived (and so can never die) has been up to for the last one hundred and twenty-five years."
Of course, all that was not based upon a well-prepared and outlined talk. That was just me coming up with something I could talk about. And as the weeks passed and the event neared, it became more and more clear that there wasn't going to be a well-prepared and outlined talk.
Now, in most cases, this would be considered a horrific dereliction of one's duties and an insult to the person organizing the program . . . and maybe it was . . . except that the person organizing the program was me, and I just added my Sherlock talk to make for a round number in the last session of the evening's program.
And, with no free time whatsoever, in the days leading up to the chautauqua, my complete preparation for the talk wound up being a walk through my library in the hours before and throwing books in a backpack.
Which brings up an interesting question: If you suddenly had to do thirty-five minutes on Sherlock for a not-overly-large group of people, what books would you throw in a backpack?
No matter which annotated edition you dearly love, they're both far to heavy as compared to their show-and-tell value. My first choice? The bound volume of The Strand Magazine that has "A Scandal in Bohemia" and the beginning of the first short story run. I had used a Beeton's facsimile for talks in the past, but for up-close-and-personal Holmes history, you can't match the Strand.
A copy of The Baker Street Journal from its second year in existence, 1947. A book of photographs from London in Sherlock Holmes's time. One of the Sherlockian encyclopaedias. A copy of "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" in dancing men code. Some Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stickers along with that great Kickstarter storybook version of Moriarty's tale from the second season of BBC Sherlock.
As I said, I didn't put a lot of time and thought into this . . . just ran into my library and grabbed things. But those things wound up being my touch-stones to weave a thirty-minute talk around.
A very interesting thing happens when you find yourself with a good audience and a nice period of time just to talk about our friend Sherlock Holmes without a plan . . . you hit the basic historical points, yes, but what's really fun is the occasional response from your audience that inspires a sidelight that you didn't see coming. There is just so much to Sherlock Holmes that one can go all sorts of directions, and find something to keep just about any audience happy.
At least for thirty-five minutes. I was definitely not as sensational as the guy who popped out of a full-sized outhouse replica wearing a tuxedo to start his presentation, but thanks to our good friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes and a life spent in his company, well, there's always material to keep people interested.