Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Old man Watson.

Things may have changed a little bit in the latest generation of Holmes/Watson pairings, but if you look back through the past century, you'll notice an ongoing theme: John H. Watson as an old man.

Sure, Sherlock Holmes isn't all that young himself. TV and movies of the past seems to be all aged white guys. But Watson, good old Watson, always seems a little older. (And in one or two notable cases, practically suffering from dementia.) And there's a certain sense to that, when you think about it.

Part of John H. Watson's role is to stand next to Sherlock Holmes and admire his genius and energy.

Put two early-twenties males side-by-side and you're going to get a testosterone battle, even between friends. They're chemically charged for competition. For one friend to just accept that the other is a superior specimen is not that easy a go.

Put Holmes at 30 and Watson at 50, and the balance quickly changes. Their primal natures aren't subconsciously competing to impress the female of the species any more, and the elder of the pair can actually look at the younger with a pride at what the younger accomplished. There is a naturalness to having an older Watson that makes his job easier. Just look at the amount of conflict between Downey and Law playing younger, more vital Holmes and Watson. It isn't just because Holmes is so "eccentric." It's in part because they are peers, seeing each other with an eye that says "why can't you be more like me?"

One might argue that the Watson who meets Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet was not an old man, but remember such lines as this: "My health forbade me from venturing out unless the weather was exceptionally genial." John H. Watson may have not been old in years, but he war wound and subsequent illness, to say nothing of battle experience itself, had aged him much in spirit.

Is it a mere coincidence that many a classic Sherlockian of old seemed to blossom more fully in Holmes fandom at a later age? At a time when it might be more natural to admire the energy of a younger Sherlock Holmes with the pride of an older kinsman who recognizes something of himself in the next generation? The love of a younger Watson didn't really start to play into Sherlockian fandom nearly so heavily until the massive female Sherlockian spike that came with BBC Sherlock. The feminine view of an ideal Watson is quite a different thing than that of the male. Of course, he's younger!

Yet our heritage of old man Watsons lives on in our past, if maybe not so much in our futures. But he'll be back, as we head into a day when Watsons, like Sherlocks, come in all genders, ages, shapes, and sizes.

"The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up," as a very wise man once said.

Don't take Sherlock's job, Americans!

Here's a disturbing headline: "7 out of 10 Americans want Sherlock Holmes's job."

Look, I love my countrymen as much as the next guy, but come on, America. Seventy percent of you are not capable of doing Sherlock Holmes's job. I'd also wager that seventy percent of you couldn't actually give a fair assessment of what Sherlock's job actually is/was. Sure, it looks like a lot of laying around the couch all day, but there's some serious brainwork going on there. Necessary brainwork.

As a human being in the potential client pool for a modern day Sherlock, I'm sticking with the guy who trained himself in observation, deduction, criminal history, tobacco ash, perfumes, disguise, code-breaking, boxing, inner role-play, the city of London, chemistry, anatomy, brain storage, stimulants, etc., etc., etc., and NOT hiring an American from the 70%. The rest of you 30% who surely include much of my canny readership, well, we shall discussion qualifications. But I warn you . . . I do know what the real deal is when I see it, and I really want to hire Sherlock Holmes.

The fact that these same people polled would want to have been taught by Charles Xavier or Albus Dumbledore also makes a certain statement: They have a death wish. Both of those fictional schoolmasters have an unreasonably high death rate among their student bodies.

So do we want a bunch of suicidal Americans who have probably watched more Elementary than they have read Conan Doyle charging into the consulting detective business? Hell, no!

That 70% also picked Sherlock's job over Richard Castle from TV's Castle, most likely due to pure name recognition, but perhaps they even realized that Castle was a best-selling author as well as a mystery-solver . . . which means they'd have to spend time writing things, in addition to solving things. Extra work!

Which gets me to the real point in all this: Apparently Sherlock Holmes has made detective work look very easy over the last 123 years. People seem to look at it as an exciting, high-pay, high-respect, low-effort career choice. I suspect the first time they smelled that room full of flies that contained Black Peter's harpooned corpse, they might change their mind. Or if they had to put in the time, focus, and study to achieve Holmes's skill set, even if they were born with a Holmes-level I.Q.

To magically be Sherlock Holmes, with all the skills and insights, is one thing. Just to take on his job?

Don't do it, America. If you think I was a tad insulting about that prospect in this blog, you really don't want to see the one I write when you do take Holmes's job.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A possible element from one Sherlockian's primordial ooze identified?

Let's face it: Not all of us cut our detective baby teeth on Sherlock Holmes. Most eight-year-olds are just not yet possessing the mental wiring to fully comprehend or appreciate the greatest detective the world has ever known, nor should they be. And even as adults some of us still need a more ele . . . but I digress.

Thanks to some rights issues that were finally settled a year or so ago, I finally got around to re-acquainting myself with my first favorite detective this past week, a character so absolutely silly that it's almost impossible to place him next to Sherlock Holmes in anyone's detection Hall of Fame. And yet, there he was, so prominent in my past, the detective whose fandom I was a full-fledged member of back in 1966, a full decade before I dove headfirst into the great sea of Holmes.

Was "1966" enough of a clue?

Yes, before I was a Sherlockian, I was a Batfan. Not a fan the grim, dark, gutteral-voiced guy we know today -- no, a fan of the Adam West incarnation of Batman, who called his teen-aged Watson "old chum" and who had the best announcer voice of the 1960s narrating his every cliff-hanging adventure.

The most remembered parts of 1966 ABC Batman may be the "BIFF! POW!" fight scenes, but at the core of each story was Batman's detective work. The very beginning of the series has a Sherlock Holmes-like start, as the heads of the Gotham City Police Department all stare at a clue from the Riddler, and Commissioner Gordon is asking each of his men, one by one, if they can solve it. None of them can. So Gordon goes to call in the city's highest authority in detection: the man at the other end of the light-up red phone, the Batman.

Sixties TV Batman is more consulting detective than vigilante justice warrior. He goes to crime scenes in broad daylight to look up clues. He listens to recordings at police headquarters to recognize background sounds. He tests evidence in his personal crime lab. With his brightly colored surroundings and clearly-lettered signs identifying each device or switch, Sixties Batman feels a lot like a "Playskool" version of a consulting detective, but a consulting detective he most certainly is.

Going back and watching those old episodes after decades away was like finding a missing puzzle piece for me. Whether or not it would have come about anyway, my later love of Sherlock Holmes was surely set up to some degree by this cartoonish detective version of Batman. "What, you say his headquarters is Batcaver Street? I'm on board!" (Okay, maybe that's pushing it. But the beats of both sets of tales are close enough to make one wonder.)

One last odd little coincidence to think about: Sixties TV Batman has 120 episodes in it's Canon . . . 120 episodes that tended to be two-parters, as I remember it, making it very close to a 60 episode Canon. Not a bad number at all.

We never know the exact mental formula that turns us into Sherlockians. And not that many of us have the ABC Batman series figuring in our formative years (though now that it's available on DVD, we can start running experiments on available children, right?), the fact that it seems to owe more to Sherlock Holmes than Zorro, despite the costume, is a very curious thing.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Meow-lementary, my dear Watson.

There was a teensy bit of Sherlockian cat conversation on Twitter today, which eventually came to a comment from Lyndsay Faye that read, "God, we all do have cats, don't we."

And my mind went straight to a certain fellow's "cat-like love of cleanliness."

Because we all have cats. Even John H. Watson.

Yes, yes, Watson tried to be a dog guy. Gets along great with Toby, kept a bull pup . . . though probably keeping it for someone else, which, thankfully, gets it out of Baker Street alive. But in the end, John Watson had a cat.

Yes, just google "Sherlock Holmes was a cat" and you get pictures of cats in deerstalkers, cat Sherlock fan fic, as well as Conan Doyle's "The Story of the Brazilian Cat," which made me wonder for a moment if it might have contained a were-panther Holmes a la the movie Cat People, but the cat's name was "Tommy." And all of this reminded me of The Serpentine Muse's Annual Birthday Challenge (open only to Muse subscribers, but you may subscribe now to enter) to write an under-300 word story to go with a Laurie Manifold illustration of Baker Street populated by cat-characters.

Of course, Sherlock as a Cat People were-panther has me going down a road that doesn't really fit the cutie kitties of the Muse art. In fact, it just meandered me off an entire blog-post that was supposed to be about comparing Sherlock Holmes to a cat.

Well, you know, Sherlock Holmes was kind of a cat. He did cat stuff. There.

Sigh. This is why I'm a blogger and not saving any of these golden words for marketing somewhere. "I am the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather -- that is, when the fit is on me, for I can be spry enough at times," as Holmes said of himself.

Kind of like a cat. See?

The Sherlockian feline of the house.

Since the storm was had awakened us both this early Monday morn, the world's most Sherlockian cat and I had to dig through his toy basket to find something different to play with. And there we came upon a memory.

Now, I know there are a lot of Sherlockians out there with cats. Cats named "Moriarty" or "Violet" who play with homemade Sherlock cat toys and drink from Sherlock water bowls, so one might think my claim to owning "the world's most Sherlockian cat" might be a bit exaggerated. And it probably is. But indulge me.

Mister Tinker, as we call him, when he's in trouble and needs a full name, was not named after either Canonical tinker reference, but he has moments when he might fit "a tinker's curse" from "Illustrious Client" . . . such as this morning, when the storm outside has him frustratedly unable to go outside and he's feeling bite-y from boredom. (A Sherlock-ish trait, I'm sure.) The reason I call him such a Sherlockian cat, however, has nothing to do with his name or personality.

Mister Tinker is a Sherlockian cat because he's only here because I am a Sherlockian.

Here he is playing with his oldest toy this morning, a Sherlock silhouette key ring tied to a frayed old cord. The toy came with him from his previous owner a good three years ago this January. Mr. Tinker is a Sherlockian legacy cat, you see.

While I prefer cats, with their self-cleaning, no-attention-required bathroom habits, and ability to leave one alone most of the time, to dogs, I am not exactly a cat person. Or a pet person, really. And yet here he is, this easily-bored, fiesty tooth-and-claw predator now taking a nap on the floor not far from me, because he wandered on to the patio and into the life of my Sherlockian neighbor Bob Burr. And when Bob passed away, he had to go somewhere.

There's a whole story there about Mr. Tinker that is reserved for telling over drinks, but are there any other cats out there who have been owned by two Baker Street Irregulars? Given the Sherlockian world's friendships, I would be pretty sure there must be felines whose path has taken them through multiple Sherlockian households.

But for this morning, I'm giving old Tink the title of "world's most Sherlockian cat."

The box office champion, then and now.

Sometimes, like the old song says, "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." Or maybe just forgot. Entertainment Weekly reported this weekend that "The Force Awakens secured the biggest Christmas day [box office] of all time, raking in $49.3 million and more than doubling Sherlock Holmes' 2009 record of $24.6 million."

So for six whole years, our favorite master of all detectives has been sitting with the record for most popular Christmas Day movie of all time. And since it opened on the day it set the record, that means that the record was set because people really wanted to see Sherlock Holmes on the big screen before they knew whether or not it was a good movie.

Which makes one wonder . . . if Sherlock Holmes had been a movie franchise instead of written fiction back in the 1890s, just how popular would The Hound of the Baskervilles have been in box office records?

That novel, like this year's Star Wars movie, brought back characters that a loving audience thought it might not ever see again. Unlike Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson had gone out at their most popular, with no questionable-quality prequels in the ensuing gap. That gap was only eight years, as well, with Conan Doyle giving in much quicker than George Lucas. (Perhaps if Lucas's mother had been a fan, like Doyle's, he might have been pushed to move a little more quickly.)

Since it's another medium entirely (although showing up in some theaters later), this week's upcoming Sherlock New Year's Day "Christmas" special won't be measurable against The Hound of the Baskervilles or the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes, but once again we find ourselves eagerly welcoming Sherlock Holmes back after a long absence.

Something we hope will continue to happen again and again.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Meet Sherlock and Watson.

Christmas. Yeah. Christmas.

Ya never know what it's gonna bring.

I mean, ya might get a new Sherlock Holmes book.

Or ya might get the new The Sherlock Holmes Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained.

Or, to simply explain that title, "Sherlock Holmes for Dummies," but not that, as that title has already been used in a series of books. (Really, if Sherlock Holmes is a "big idea" that you need explained in simple terms, you should probably just avoid him altogether.)

The Sherlock Holmes Book is a beautiful textbook. I saw it in the store, mentioned it to a particular Christmas shopper, and received it happily as a lovely gift. Now that I'm getting the chance to dig into it, however, I'm starting to wonder what its purpose is. If you're unfamiliar enough with Sherlock Holmes and his stories that you need the synopses given, you should probably just read the stories themselves first. I remember always feeling the same thing about The Sherlock Holmes Companion by Michael and Mollie Hardwick, with a goodly share of its contents devoted to summaries of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories. I bought it, I have it on my shelf, but I never use the darn thing for anything. But as a product, it was a success, I guess. I did buy it, which is what publishers generally publish books for . . . to be bought.

As compendiums of Holmes data go, books like The Sherlock Holmes Book are more for the newbie (which we have plenty of at the moment) and not for the old-timer who has seen most of the data it compiles before. The curse of growing old in a hobby is that feeling that, as Holmes once said, "There is nothing new under the sun." Still, it will be fun paging randomly through this book over the next few weeks and see if there's anything that has slipped by me over the years that needs to be looked into further beyond being "simply explained."

And, while I enjoyed finding The Sherlock Holmes Book under my tree, there was something in my stocking I have found myself even more attached to . . . quite literally. Not many gifts are as transformative as this particular Sherlockian set, and as a result, I'd like you to meet Sherlock and Watson.

Sherlock is, of course, a straight left, good for use against slogging ruffians. Watson, as always, is a good right hand. I didn't know that my upper extremities had names before today, but once tagged, they seem to have taken to answering to "Watson" and "Sherlock." Not being a fan of tattoos, I think the nameplates shall do quite nicely.

To me, this shall always be the Christmas that Sherlock and Watson came calling. I hope you were as happily surprised.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Something amiss with that "Blue" Christmas? Or finally getting settled?

'Tis the time of year for both Dickens and Doyle, for both Cratchit and Peterson, and for both a goose stuffed with sage and onion and a goose stuffed with a blue gem. The more popular of the two features a fellow whose heart is turned by spirits of the holiday to join in the festivities of Christmas day. And in the other?

You know. And I almost hate to say it.

"I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season."

The second morning after Christmas. And Watson seems to find it very important to tell us from the start of just what his intentions are. A little too important, one might say, almost as if he didn't want us to suspect what his true intentions were. Does a man, intent on wishing his dear friend a merry Christmas, a man filled with the courage of his Christmas cheer convictions, enter meekly with a . . .

"You are engaged -- perhaps I interrupt you."

Watson sounds utterly and completely like a man who has readied himself to scurry back down the seventeen steps, should he find his presence unwelcome. Like there's some bad blood between Watson and Holmes, and it has yet to be fully ironed out. What bad blood? Well, for a clue, attend to their next bit of conversation regarding the hat:

". . . there are points in connection with it which are not entirely devoid of interest, and even of instruction," says Holmes.

". . . homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story linked to it -- that it is the clue which will guide you in the solutions of some mystery, and the punishment of some crime."

Do their different perspectives on the hat sound at all familiar? They should.

"You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales," Sherlock chastises Watson in "Copper Beeches."  Holmes sees his work as something to be used to teach. Watson sees it as something to be used  to entertain. And why would they be arguing over that little difference in the times before "Blue Carbuncle" Christmas?

Look at something Watson says: "Of the last six cases which I have added to my notes, three have been entirely free of any legal crime." And that is where it gets interesting. One of the cases Watson refers to is "A Scandal in Bohemia," plainly dated March 1888. A second is "The Man with the Twisted Lip," just as plainly dated in June 1889. There is well over a year between those two stories, yet taking Watson at his exact wording, we are to believe he only took notes on four of Holmes's cases in the intervening period?

I think not. Especially when one realizes that Watson isn't referring to "notes," he's referring specifically to the six stories which he published first in The Strand Magazine in 1891. Note that I said "published" in 1891, in the summer after Holmes disappeared over Reichenbach Falls. Watson had plainly chosen those six and written them up before Christmas of 1889, certainly with hopes of putting them before a publisher.

And Holmes? He's still plainly thinking his cases should serve as lessons. And he and Watson have not come to a harmonious agreement on what should be done with them. Perhaps even to the point of some bad blood pushing them apart at Christmas time.

But Holmes can still draw Watson in with the puzzle-lesson of Henry Baker's hat, and once Peterson brings the Countess of Morcar's blue carbuncle into 221B, they're off on another adventure, out having a couple beers, falling back into their old friendly habits and patterns like there was no difference of opinion about what should be done with publishing the cases.

We are almost certain to believe that Holmes's final lines in "Blue Carbuncle" refer to John Robinson . . . er, James Ryder. But perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . Holmes is speaking of Watson and himself.

"Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which also a bird will be the chief feature."

And with that dinner invitation, they lived happily ever after . . . until one "died" and the other's wife probably went, "It's okay, dear, he would want you to publish them now." And of course, by letting the thief go, Holmes was also deviously making it so that Watson wouldn't expect that he could write up the case without implicating his friend in the crime of concealing a criminal . . . which wouldn't matter once Holmes was, again, spoiler alert, "dead." And then the whole thing could be the seventh story in Watson's series . . .

In my personal chronology of the cases, "Copper Beeches" comes next, and as the earlier mentioned quote tells, their little dispute over Watson's write-ups continues, but it continues as a friendly debate Watson can bring up with a smile on his face. And I think that friendliness we see in the spring of "Copper Beeches" owes much to the "season of forgiveness" in "Blue Carbuncle."

Holmes and Watson forgiving each other provides a much better lesson for us in this yuletide season than the allowed escape of Ryder. For even friends can have those moments when they have to find a reason to overlook a difference of opinion and come back together. And what better season to sit down over a bird, or some Chinese food, or hot chocolate, and do just that.

Compliments of the season, my friends. And trust me, if you are engaged, I will still interrupt you to say so.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sleepy-time related Sherlockiana.

Ah, the Baker Street Irregulars of New York and the upcoming Holmes birthday weekend.

This morning, I awoke from a dream where a particular dedicated member of that organization had imprisoned me on a gothic spaceship to Mars, in a perversely forced relationship with a woman he longed for but suspected liked me better. That was the first BSI-related event that amused me today.

The second, which came a bit later, popped up in my Twitter feed:
The mere fact that that sentence could be constructed by a modern mind delighted me no end. There is something a touch "Alice in Wonderland" about it that tickles me, in the context of that Grand Old Organization. 'Tis the season for many a Holmes fan to make the pilgrimage to the old country of American Sherlockiana, and this year, there's going to be a "pyjama party" amongst the events.

"The Daintiest Thing In A Dressing Gown Pyjama Party and Charity Ball" being hosted by the Baker Street Babes is a marvelous thing, with an auction catalog that's truly fabulous. The fact that the whole thing is to raise money for wounded war veterans (like our old friend Watson) just pushed it over-the-top in sheer coolness, where it has been for a while now.

The "pyjamas" just make me laugh, as I first attended the Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in New York when the invasion of tuxedos was just starting to establish a beachhead at the BSI dinner, to the dismay of many an older member. (Most new things at the BSI dinner have happened to the dismay of an older member or two, but that's just the nature of change.) And that particular evening of the weekend didn't get any less formal when the evening gowns started appearing in the nineties, so it's great to see another part of the larger event go "bedroom casual." Especially as a dressing gown would fit perfectly with that sort of attire. (Can you imagine an "all dressing gown" event? Oh, there's the scion society I want to join!)

As Caroline's tweet implies, nobody is getting any traction to BSI membership with a hedgehog onesie . . . yet. But the fact that such a thing exists and has a place to be worn, all Sherlock-related, makes that "yet" an appropriate word to use, despite the shouts of "NEVER!" that would surely come from some corners, t'were they to hear it. (Dismay of many an old member -- like I said, a constant.) There was some fun going on with the members of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes once upon a time that no one thought would lead to BSI membership one day either. 'Tis the spirit that counts, and holding on to that spirit, in spite of whatever is going on in more established territories of Sherlockiana at said time.

Sounds like a lovely year to be in New York. In one's pyjamas.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Baker Street Bash in Peoria.

One would think anyone who is Sherlockian enough to write a blog about Sherlock Holmes would do something as obvious as promoting a Sherlock event that they were speaking at . . . at least with their blog.

But there's the run-up to Christmas, and work projects are coming due, and a new Star Wars movie is finally coming out, and there's a winter solstice event to be planned, and then there's actually getting a presentation and display materials ready for the Sherlock event itself . . . well, you get the picture. Plenty of excuses, but in the end, the time comes and the event is going to happen no matter what you did or did not do.

Happily, I had a great time speaking at the Peoria Public Library's "Baker Street Bash" this Saturday, and participating in the goings-on there. Jamie Jones, the branch manager of the library's McClure Branch put on what was basically a Sherlock mini-con that afternoon, with trivia, photo ops, prizes, a scavenger hunt, cool Sherlock crafts, and a decent speaker (that would be me . . . I don't think it's putting on too many airs to rate myself a "decent"). It was a great little event, and I'm already looking forward to the next one, which may occur just before the fourth season of Sherlock comes out.

Here's the local newspaper article link to The Peoria Journal Star article on the event.

And here's a couple of pictures the good Carter took . . .

Yes, I went informal with the "Sure-lock and Wattson" t-shirt I'd picked up on TeeFury some time ago. I considered the Three-Patch "221B or not 221B" shirt, but it may have been in the laundry. Since the shirt actually got newspaper coverage, I kind of wish I had found the Three-Patch shirt, but as with air travel, the days of suit-and-tie Sherlocking are well behind us. 

As I said, it was a fun event, with some good planning behind it, but as is usually the case, one of my greatest joys was the unplanned and unexpected parts. Four different former members of Peoria's Sherlockian society, the Hansoms of John Clayton, all showed up at the event: Jim Ludwig, Norm Kelly, Cy and Kay Fahnestock, all folks the good Carter and I had not seen for a decade or two, and it was good to catch up. We met some new Sherlockians at the event, too, and as every Sherlockian who has been to very much knows, it's the fans of Sherlock Holmes in attendance that always make these events, large or small.

Speaking at the event was a very delightful duty, as I got to spin off from the upcoming BBC Sherlock Christmas Special to talk about how well Sherlock connects not just to the Canon, but to the past one hundred and twenty-eight years of Sherlock Holmes lore. That show makes it pretty darn easy to dive deep into even things like Sherlockian scholarship with its love of all things Sherlock.

As I said, though, the Baker Street Bash's organizer, Jamie Jones, did a great job of putting it together, and even if I wasn't speaking, I'd still have had a great time Saturday afternoon. Like the name of the blog says: "Sherlock Peoria." Because Peoria always has a place for Sherlock Holmes.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The mandatory attempt to tie a pop culture thing to Holmes Canon.

Viewing the world from the perspective of a particular fandom, when done with a properly fanatic intensity (which is why we're called "fan," of course), means looking for ties to said fandom in even the most unlikely of places. And while I've already done one blog on Sherlock Holmes and Star Wars, the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just taking off in theaters, so I'm going to bore you with one more.

Three new main characters in the world of Star Wars, Poe, Finn, and Rey -- how many of them are mentioned in the original sixty tales of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle?

Well, none, of course. Doyle did talk to the spirits a bit, occasionally about the future, but even Pheneas of Doyle's wild and wacky spirit communication work Pheneas Speaks never saw Luke Skywalker coming. But the names are these, as either a well-studied Sherlockian or a search program can tell you.

"Poe" reminds one of Edgar Allen Poe, the one mystery writer whom Sherlock Holmes actually talks about.

"Finn" takes one to the Finns who crewed the barque Lone Star, along with some Germans, a fact Holmes cites in "The Five Orange Pips."

And "Rey?" Not a common Victorian word or phrase, but I'd call it short for "Reynolds," the artist mentioned in The Hound of the Baskervilles. (And if you want a complete geek-out moment, just theorize that "Rey" in Star Wars is short for "Reynolds," and that she shares the bloodline of Firefly's Malcom Reynolds.)

Unlike Star Trek, where Benedict Cumberbatch shows up and Spock has alluded to having Sherlock Holmes in his ancestry more than once, Star Wars just isn't too eager to be connected to an Earthly detective. (Although a very bad attempt at pastichery could set up R2D2 and C3PO as Holmes and Watson, inevitably insulting whichever one got assigned C3PO, the English dandy of a droid.)

And if you want to spend all day trying to tie one of the actors in Star Wars: The Force Awakens to a Sherlock Holmes movie, I wish you luck. The best I could do there was Andrew Jack, a dialect coach from the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes. I don't remember if his character, Major Ematt, had any lines, but you'll definitely recognize him from the resistance base planning sessions.

But that's all the Canonical blood I can squeeze out of this particular pop culture stone for the moment. Anybody able to squeeze it any harder?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Your Krampus gift from Sherlock Peoria.

"For future reference, when I say I agree with you, it means I'm not listening."
-- The Elementary t-shirt, 30% off pre-Christmas price!

Ah, if Elementary were only a mere 30% off on Sherlock Holmes.

It's been a pleasant last half of 2015, as my newfound philosophy of "If it ain't got nuttin' to do with Sherlock Holmes, don't watch it!" has helped me lose weight, gain inner peace, and generally be a better person. Some of the show's diehard fans still seem a little bitter about the fact that I ever judged it what they would call "harshly," and I would call "accurately," but that's what fans do. Go fans! I don't know if any abstinence from writing about the show will redeem my past sins in their eyes, but I know there are a few people out there who do miss a more "objective" commentary on the show that they don't watch, and you know what? It's Christmas time.

A time for Santa Claus. And also Krampus, the anti-Santa who comes for the bad children.

So let's see if Elementary is still on the naughty list this year, shall we?

Apparently I'm not the only one giving this season a pass, as the ratings have fallen noticeably, but, that said, the rate of descent does seem rather similar to last year's. This has never been a show that grows in popularity, and bringing in Mr. Elementary's father, the guy who originally paid for Watson's services and basically triggered the whole show's basic set-up, doesn't seem to have helped.

This week's episode was written by Jason Tracey, the Elementary writer who deals best with the hand he was dealt, so it seemed like the least painful spot for looking in on the fourth season. So on goes the television . . . .

Hey, it's Two Broke Girls! I love the two broke girls. Oh, wait they're over, and here's the season summary. Apparently Watson and Papa Elementary have been having a little tug-of-war over Jr. Elementary this year.

A rather charming-looking sniper is picking off what seems to be random citizens -- pity it can't be Moran, since he's already been used. Junior Elementary is playing wizard dress-up for his fake Anonymous puppeteers. But that's okay, because Papa Elementary has come to end playtime and put him on the sniper case. Oh, Elementary, you just never fail me, do you? Remember that guy named Sherlock Holmes pre-CBS who was master of his profession, his destiny, and any problem, not necessarily murder, you brought to his door?  It sure ain't this guy! The other kids boss him around. Big Daddy E. bosses him around. Joan Watson is surely waiting in the wings to get her dibs in.

And here are our friends from NYPD, Gregson and Bell, looking quite natty, actually. They're telling Watson to get Junior Elementary on the case, so her bossing time is coming. But Papa Elementary is doing a great Mycroft impression and working Junior. And people are impressed to meet Papa Elementary -- great character actors I've enjoyed on other genre shows, too. Points for casting, Elementary!

Damn, Papa Elementary IS this show now. Junior is trailing him around like a quiet shadow, and even when confronting a suspect, he's subdued, not the brash whacko from season one.

"Detection is an exact science -- or ought to be, and should be treated in the same cold unemotional manner," Junior says at one point, coming darn close to an exact quote from The Sign of the Four. And in his more subdued state, it actually comes out passable. Points! (Yes, I've apparently watched @Midnight with Chris Hardwick lately. Very Holmes-related name, "Chris Hardwick.")

Hmm, Junior is using a cab-whistle. Interesting Canonical point -- Sherlock Holmes only whistled for a cab once, when Moriarty's men were looking for him. The rest of the time, he hailed them. Watson was the cab-whistle guy. Oooo, cute plumber's widow. Very dramatic, though. Junior Elementary is being positively sweet under Papa's watchful eye with her.

You know, one thing that always bothered me about Elementary early on was the way Junior always ditched Joan Watson for much of every episode. With John Noble as Papa E. being his new companion, replacing Kitty Winter in the job from last year, one wonders if Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have issues getting along . . . or maybe running them on separate tracks is just a way to fill more showtime. It's nearly a half hour into this episode before they're in the same room.

But Gregson and Bell are getting some exciting SWAT break-in stuff to do, and that makes me happy for them. Joan Watson gets her detective-work quota in with Junior Elementary in the evidence room. Let's see: Joan is a detective, Junior is a detective, Papa is a detective, Gregson is a detective, Bell is a detective. It gets a bit crowded when the inferences start flowing. There are actually more detectives than non-detective characters still alive at this point in the episode, so when four of the five dicks gang up on a fellow in a room at the precinct fifteen minutes before the end of the hour, you pretty much know the other guy he hung out with must be the real culprit. The guy that Papa Elementary is just about to confront.

Lex Luthor from TV's Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, John Shea! Of course, he's the baddie! (The guy from Doll House just wasn't evil enough on that show.)

Is "leverage" pronounced with a long "e" anywhere but Papa Elementary doing an accent? Oh, well, momentary distraction.

I miss Sherlock Holmes when I watch Elementary. The mastery, the control, the understanding . . . the way I didn't ever get his lines confused with those of the other characters. Papa Elementary is lead detective one minute, Junior is taking the lead the next, zeroing in on the particular variety of a blade of grass. And in the final confrontation with the baddie, Junior, Joan, and Gregson tag-team the accusatory explanation, which they do quite often. There's a certain detective socialism on this show, spreading the solving around.

Oooooo, Papa Elementary is hiding a secret subplot. And he's about to take out an attempted blackmailer in the final moments of the show. Threatening children even. Mycroft and Moriarty in one! And his drippingly evil last line: "Call me 'Mr. Holmes.'"

Sorry, Papa Elementary, I'll call you "Sir Ian McKellen" if you want! You're scary!

Well, that was fun. Elementary is still something of a mess, and doesn't really depict a character one would call "Sherlock Holmes" if other people weren't saying the name when he was in the room so often. But, hey, they're getting comfortable doing what they do, bringing in some interesting guest stars, and maybe Papa Elementary could be the new TV Sherlock Holmes if he just weren't so last-minute EVIL.

But for me, I'm going back to that happy land where Thursday night means Heroes Reborn, Scandal, and The Player, and letting detecting dogs lie until . . . oh, maybe the season finale.

Merry Krampus-time, everybody! Be good, or . . . you know . . . .

Monday, December 14, 2015


Watching the aging Trekkers complain of the Beastie-Boys-backed trailer for the new movie Star Trek Beyond on social media has been tremendous fun today. Since Benedict Cumberbatch has moved on from the second Trek to the second Zoolander now, it would seem that event has no Sherlock-related value. But it just reminding me of my own personal peccadillo so much . . . you know the one.

Star Trek's latest translation to the big screen, over two-and-an-upcoming movies, has basically been the same as Sherlock Holmes's translation to that same big screen. And what works on the big screen when a studio wants to make big money?


As we see the return of Star Wars to the big screen this week, it's easy to be reminded of what it brought back to theaters in 1977: action serial cliffhanger excitement. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo at their best aren't sitting around having character development. They're heading into the heart of enemy space, falling into garbage compactors that have a resident monster, falling into a coliseum cage with a resident monster, strolling into a dinner where the resident monster is at the head of the table . . . and that's in between the firefights and chases.

We don't usually consider Sherlock Holmes an action hero, despite some of his more thrilling adventures. Interestingly, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution going to film in 1976 took the same course as the Downey Jr. movies in part . . . for a story about kicking drug addiction with Sigmund Freud, there was quite a lot of chases and near-death escapes. Even Sigmund Freud cannot escape getting into action scenes when it comes to the movies. It's just what movies like to do. (Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett is going to be fighting zombies now, if you hadn't heard. That's how deep the rabbit hole goes.)

And, for better or worse, I do like big, commercial, Hollywood movies, too. So I can be very forgiving when it comes to translating Sherlock Holmes to the big screen with a character more like a quirky Tony Stark in a steampunk version of a typical action movie. Much morseo than a typical evening detective procedural on television. At some point, it gets very hard to separate out our personal tastes from what does or does not make a worthwhile Sherlock Holmes.

And, personally, I would definitely go see a Sherlock Holmes movie with a Beastie Boys tune running through its teaser trailer instead of a violin score. I might have had a better time with a certain television show if it had taken bigger risks and pushed the Sherlockian envelope a little further. The thing about big risks -- sometimes the farther you stray on purpose, the stronger you make the tethers that tie you to your home base.

But, hey, nothing makes everybody happy. Ever. So sometimes, you gotta just sit back and enjoy the caterwauling. Who knows, after whatever the latest punk-disco-rap-dubstep-club phase of music finishes up, caterwauling might be the next big trend in listening pleasure . . . .

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sherlock Holmes's War of the Stars

Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds, by Many W. Wellman and Wade Wellman, will always have a special place in my heart, along with all of the fun Holmes paperbacks I plowed through during the seventies after picking them up in the campus bookstore. Crossover Holmes was having a bit of a surge back then, after Sherlock teaming with Sigmund Freud made the bestseller list. But the combination of a Twitter mention of that book during the onslaught of hype for the big Star Wars return next week.

Sherlock Holmes mixing it up with H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds plot makes a certain sense, as their time and place pretty much coincide. But the Victorian period was a time for science fiction of other worlds, not other star systems, and certainly not "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." And as much as we've loved a good mash-up in the Sherlockian world for about as long as we've had Sherlock Holmes (A House-Boat on the Styx, anyone?), sometimes there's just a bridge too far.

Which brings us to Star Wars.

Star Trek has always fit hand-in-glove with Sherlock Holmes. Same Earth, time travel, Vulcan logic, and all that. But Star Wars?

Outside of misappropriating quotes about "the Force," there's really not a good link to hitch them up with, despite the light sabers in the recent RocketJump "Fan Friction" video.  "The Wookie of the Baskervilles?" Naw. "Darth Moriarty?" His sorcerer's ways wouldn't fit at all. Fencing, single-stick, and light sabers? Well, that might get Sherlock Holmes into padawan kindergarten with the younglings, but, no, no, no. What do you need keen powers of observation for if you have a keen sense of the force pervading all existence?

Mycroft the Hutt. Jefferson Solo and Leia Ferrier. Old Ben Hudson, who lives nearby. None of it works.  "You never heard of the Aurora? It's the boat that made the Thames run in twelve parsecs!" Worse still.

I might give you Tonga as a Jawa. That has a certain sensible feel to it. A Jawa with a crashed spaceship on the Andaman Islands, befriended by Jonathan Small, whom he later flew back to England on his "boat." Of course, Watson could write about Tonga shooting people with a blaster, so the blow-gun would have to suffice. But man, is that a reach.

Some legends just need to stay in their own backyards. Sherlock Holmes, Star Wars . . . definitely two good examples.

Except maybe for Tonga the Jawa.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Least faithful.

In preparing a talk for a local Sherlock Holmes event coming up later this month and considering the many Sherlocks we've seen over the years, a particular phrase popped up in my head, and it went like this:

"[Blank] stands as one of the least faithful adaptations of Sherlock Holmes in one hundred and twenty-three years."

That's a pretty bold statement to make about any representation of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, as one hundred and twenty-three years covers a whole lot of ground. And there have been some pretty wack Sherlocks out there on occasion. But even wack Sherlock can still be faithful.

Take the 1978 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Awful movie. Comedy at its worst. (And yet, still, with a laugh or three, in between the wincing in pain.) But it follows the basic outline of the classic Baskervillian story. It contains most of the characters you'd expect to see in a movie of that title. It does have a degree of faithfulness to it.

On the other hand, one can look at a more accepted film like 1985's Young Sherlock Holmes, which completely breaks Canon by introducing Holmes and Watson at a boys school and putting them through an Indiana Jones style adventure, complete with tripping on hallucinogens. I mean, a devoted Sherlockian fan of that film could cite Professor Moriarty's inclusion, Holmes's fencing, and even tie the hallucinogen to Devil's Foot root somehow, but that's all an act of love, sanding down a square peg so it fits in our round-holed pegboard. Looking at it with cold logic, Young Sherlock Holmes is not even close to a faithful Sherlock Holmes recreation.

And it isn't that a new story can't be told using Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and still have it be faithful. Many a teller of Sherlock tales has moved outside the Canon and yet still kept the two characters in synch with the original sixty stories. Adapting Holmes and Watson into a new adventure can still have a whole lot of faithfulness to it. Putting them up against Jack the Ripper, for example, is always an exercise in bringing in the Victorian serial killer while staying faithful to the characters of Holmes and Watson, as has been attempted in A Study in Terror and Murder By Decree.

From James D'Arcy as Holmes in A Case of Evil to Basil Rathbone's Holmes in The House of Fear, there are plenty of adaptations bringing Sherlock to the screen that wander pretty far afield from the sort of Holmes adventures we know and love. And yet, so many of them give us at least a modicum of familiar Canonical details. ("Modicum" -- another word I would never use if not for a certain Holmes re-creation.)

So what comes to your mind when filling in the blank in "[Blank] stands as one of the least faithful adaptations of Sherlock Holmes in one hundred and twenty-three years?"

I'd be curious to know.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The other Sherlockian spirits of the season.

Looking of the sixty cases of Sherlock Holmes in December, it's hard to avert your eyes from that bright Blue Carbuncle, shining atop the Canonical tree. But if you do, and the afterimages of it leave your mental retina for long enough, you might just glimpse bits of some other tales.

Just put a little Temptations music on and you might start to hear one of them . . . .

"It was the third of December
That day she'll alway remember, Mary will
'Cause that was the day, that her daddy disappeared, but his luggage didn't, and the Sholtos said they hadn't see him which was a big ol' lie even though one of them eventually started sending her pearls 'cause he felt so guilty . . ."

Yes, that parody song barely even needs rewriting, so on to a happier Yule treat, from another December tale. Put yourself, for a moment, in the place of a couple of South African gold-men who come back to England and look up the spinster daughter of a deceased associate. One of the two men, they think, is going to have to marry this gal, but . . . miracle of miracles . . . it turns out she's not such a bad-looking dame, and someone an older guy could spend pleasant December evenings with, if his gorilla pal doesn't show up and try to make smoochies with her. (Sorry, had to turn 30's gangster just to get that sentence out.)

There's a side to "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist," which has a lot of Christmas carols to it, if you think about it. It's December, the music teacher, the ten-year-old girl, and her father are entertaining themselves after dinner . . . what else is going to happen there?

And that scene sure beats Krampus coming to steal your rare blue gem at Christmas time, as happens in that other story. I mean, as far as the Countess of Morcar is concerned, it might as well have been Krampus who got the treasured jewel.  And was she an evil "Mor" like Moran or Moriarty or the corrupt Captain Morstan? (Yeah, yeah, don't give that last villain any slack because he has a doe-eyed blonde daughter . . . he was a right traitor to the Crown.) Maybe Sherlock Holmes was acting in the spirit of Krampus and punishing the evil children with threatened whippings and keeping their blue carbuncles.

But all of that beats having a Julia Stoner Christmas. Sure, you mean the man you want to marry, but unless you're fluent in Parseltongue . . . not a good time.

But I bet old Bob Carruthers and his daughter would always remember the December they got to spend with the graceful Violet Smith, singing songs in the evenings while she played.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

We Never Mention Aunt Clara, 2015 edition.

Playing with the old toys is perhaps the very basis of Sherlockiana. Sherlock. John H. 221B. And sometimes bits from other places as well. A particular song written in 1936 has been one of those toys, a little ditty called "We Never Mention Aunt Clara." Its history is a bit winding, but once it was given a merry tie to Irene Adler, it has been in Sherlockian circles for many a decade.

The thing about "Aunt Clara" was that, coming from the 1930s, it was about a rather prudish mother who would not speak of her sister's randy exploits. Things are a little bit different, almost 80 years later. And so, I give your:

"We Never Mention Antclara!"
(Sung to the tune of "We Never Mention Aunt Clara," of course.)


So we never mention "Antclara,"
The nom that mom writes fanfic by.
Though her Sherlock and John live at Tara,
Mother says it is writ by some guy.

Her Sherlock wears curtains and eats turnips raw,
Her John says, "I don't give a damn!"
Her Irene loves Mycroft and blah-blah blah-blah,
Moll Hooper is somehow Big Sam.
The Civil War seems to be all about sex,
As Lincoln set Omegas free.
And so many muscles her Watson can flex,
Both real and imaginary.

Mom works in a cubicle all through the day
With numbers just filling her head
But at night something wicked comes that same way
When she takes her old laptop to bed.
She bangs on her keyboard at quite a pace
Rarely letting out a sigh.
But reading it later is another case
The neighbors have thought she might die.

We hope to see some of that "Fifty Shades" cash
If out of the closet she comes.
Her Betas all tell us she would be a smash
Though they might just beat their own drums.
We'll change "John" and "Sherlock" to "Harry" and "Joe"
To escape the old Doyle estate
And sell it to movies, or perhaps HBO,
Where the nudity's always first-rate.

Final chorus:

So we never mention "Antclara,"
Until the contracts are all signed
Though its Harry and Joe now at Tara
Mother really isn't gonna mind.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sherlock roaring out of the Twenties.

Here's a question for the first time-travelling Sherlockian to get around to at some point: Could we have had Sherlockiana without the Roaring Twenties?

The 1920s were a virtual primordial soup of Sherlock Holmes fandom.

We often think of that time as all flappers, jalopies, bathtub hooch, and jazz. A period of prosperity between World War One and the Great Depression, the 1920s saw Art Deco and Al Capone, movie theaters and baseball stadiums. Things were definitely not the Victorian era any more, in some very big ways.

And in the world of the Sherlock Holmes fan, who had yet to club together with any fellow fans, it was an amazing time as well. Conan Doyle was still alive, and the stories we now know as The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes were being trickled out over that decade, seeming almost as a reluctant fan service. William Gillette had already made his play Sherlock Holmes a hit, with a Sherlockian like Gray Chandler Briggs of St. Louis happily having seen it eleven times, and revival tours were happening throughout the decade.

Eille Norwood was the Benedict Cumberbatch of his day, coming out in forty-seven Sherlock Holmes films that actually set Sherlock Holmes in the 1920s, with cars and telephones. And these were Holmes movies that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually went to a movie theater and watched at least one of. It was a decade of celebrity celebrated, and both Doyle and Holmes where solidly in their celebrity by the Twenties.

Sherlockiana as the old school Sherlockians know it came out of the 1930s. The big clubs formed. Books were published. Letters were written. (Hey, letters used to be the bloodstream of the Sherlockian world, kids. Do not diminish the importance of letters.)

But the Roaring Twenties . . . that's when the tires that motorcar Sherlockiana would drive on were being inflated, the gas tank filled, the crankcase oiled. Had the Great Depression happened immediately after World War One, with no Twenties in between, who knows what path Holmes might have taken?

If those time-travelling Sherlockians I conjectured in the first bit ever get to messing about too much, maybe we'll find out one day. But until then, I think we have to give that decade a little credit.

The Sherlockian city of Las Vegas.

We all know that London is a Sherlockian city. It was/is Sherlock's home base, after all.

But past that? Some Americans will obviously argue for New York or Chicago as Sherlockian cities, and while they have their bona fides, once you get past London, what is it that makes any city a Sherlockian city?


Some have more Sherlockians on a given day than some others, but any city that a true-dressing-gown-blue fan of Sherlock Holmes wanders into can be a Sherlockian city. I've seen it wandering remote parts of Texas with Don Hobbs. I've seen it in Colorado mountain towns with John Holliday. Minnesota. Iowa. Missouri. The list goes on and on. Who would have called Santa Fe, New Mexico a Sherlockian city until John Bennett Shaw took up residence there?

So, after getting away for a few days in that over-stimulating city of Las Vegas, home to every sort of convention except . . . possibly . . . a Sherlock Holmes con.

Vegas was the last home of the author of The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana, Jack Tracy, where I've found books of his Gaslight Publications in a second-hand bookshop. I always think of Jack, and is curious time on this Earth when I wind up in Las Vegas. But that's times past.

I could write of my considerations of Penn and Teller as a Holmes-and-Watson duo. ("Why, you are like a magician!" -- Beryl Coronet)

I could write of certain stirrings that rose up when perusing Bauman's Rare Books at the Palazzo. So many fine specimens -- no Sherlockian ones in plain sight, but I didn't stop to ask -- that one couldn't help but realize the price one might actually pay for just that one right book. I'm not even sure what that book might be, but for me, it would have Sherlock Holmes in it.

I could write of Bucket Show improv and compare the Scoop community to the Sherlockian world.

I could write of a few things with a Sherlockian bent, but it was a proper vacation, full of total distraction from normal life and recharging for a fresh return.  Plenty of other ideas that will be hitting the blog soon.

Because vacation's over. Back to work.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sherlock Frankenstein.

This weekend brought an interesting bit of Holmes-related cinema to theaters with Victor Frankenstein.

"But Dr, Frankenstein is around fifty years older than Holmes," one might protest. "And classic literature in its own right!"

Well, yes, but one can't see this latest movie without thinking that it owes much of its existence to the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr.  The London of Victor Frankenstein is as beautifully detailed in steampunky elegance as that of Sherlock Holmes, for starters, and the connections don't end there.

James McAvoy's Frankenstein has a Sherlock's energy pushed past the limits of any social skills. Daniel Radcliffe's Igor is a Watson pushed past all normal limits of tolerance. And then there's some of those familiar names in the cast: Andrew Scott, Mark Gatiss, Louise Brealey . . . and director Paul McGuigan (which makes the casting a little less coincidental).

Andrew Scott's Detective Inspector Turpin is Frankenstein's nemesis: a moralistic detective who at first evokes Holmes and then shows more and more madness, eventually evolving into a more serious version of Kenneth Mars's Inspector Kemp from Young Frankenstein. An interesting flip of his Sherlock nemesis role, but I think I'd rather have seen him as the doctor himself.

"Chiswick Cross Hospital" plays a part in the movie, evoking the Charing Cross version in Canon and reality. Victor Frankenstein also carries his brother's watch, with "Henry Frankenstein" engraved on it, just as Watson had his own brother's "H.W." watch. Coincidence? (It should be noted, of course, that "Henry" was the name of the doctor in the 1931 Frankenstein.)

My movie-going Watson (or Holmes, depending upon one's point of view) and I both agreed that Victor Frankenstein was not a great movie. We couldn't decide if it was the basic bones of the original story than held it back as a film, or something in the execution. Good actors, good production values, ideas that seemed like they should have been a part of a good movie . . . and yet it was still missed a certain emotional connection. The movie seemed to want Victor and Igor to be buddies while still making Frankenstein a "driven-beyond-all-reason-or-nicety" genius, which is something a good Holmes and Watson have in spades. The "buddy cop" film trope would seem to work better in detection than monster-building, at least if this film is any evidence.

Still, an interesting trip to the theater for a Sherlockian, and I'd recommend it just for that.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sexually segregated Sherlock books.

When one is up at four in the morning with a stuffy head, sitting in front of a Sherlockian bookshelf, wondering what to do with one's self, one can't help but wonder about minutiae. What might have passed for years as an unnoticed commonplace can suddenly jump out as a glaring curiosity of an earlier era's attitudes. Take these beauties for example:

The Boys' Sherlock Holmes from 1936 and Conan Doyle's Stories for Boys from 1938. To give those books a little historical perspective, consider this fact: women got the right to vote in America in 1920. And yet, sixteen years later, Howard Haycraft, the editor of The Boys' Sherlock Holmes, and his publisher, Harper & Brothers, didn't seem to see a point in marketing Holmes to girls.

In his worthwhile opening essay to the book ("worthwhile" because it really gives a great overview of Sherlockiana at that point in time), Haycraft writes:

"A number of individual Holmes stories are to be found in general anthologies, and from time to time there have been haphazard and short-lived 'collections' of a few unrelated tales. But until now there has never been a really adequate or comprehensive selective edition of the adventures.The present book is planned to fill this need. It is intended to give younger readers their own edition.suitably priced and illustrated . . . selected for their juvenile appeal as space will permit. While the stories have been chosen with boys and their interests in mind, it is hoped that some older readers, as well, may find the volume a convenient selection to have in reach."

Haycraft goes on to say that they've left out the Mormon segment of A Study in Scarlet, as well as some details in The Sign of the Four (probably the drugs) as a part of his choices for "boys and their interests" and his other story selections are as follows: "Speckled Band," "Noble Bachelor," "Beryl Coronet," "Copper Beeches," and "Blue Carbuncle."  Apparently boys like snakes, cowgirls, jewels, and nannies.

What don't boys like, based on Adventures stories omitted? Adventuresses, gingers, fiancees, Australians, the Klan, beggars, and engineers.

Two years later, when publisher Cupples and Leon (plainly the "Peaches and Herb" of books) came out with Conan Doyle's Stories for Boys, their un-named arranger made some different choices. Boys now needed to know about the Mormons in Study, as well as the drugs at the end of The Sign of the Four. "A Case of Identity," "The Red-headed League," "A Scandal in Bohemia," and "Boscombe Valley" follow those two novels, in that curious order, like Cupples wanted to build the boys up for getting to the adventuress and the Australians.

Haycraft might call his later competitor "haphazard" as he did previous collections, but here's the thing about that set: it evolved. In 1960, that same collection was published in that same order by Platt and Munk (the "Flatt and Scruggs" of the book world) under the title Conan Doyle Stories. No gender checking at the cover.

Time and attitudes move forward, leaving behind their curiously biased artifacts, though now we do still have to wonder: If a female Howard Haycraft of 1936 had been selecting The Girls' Sherlock Holmes, what choices might she have made? Would Jabez Wilson still have been left out in the cold, with ginger discrimination still in place? Would Irene Adler have been chosen over Violet Hunter? And what of those folk who come from a land down under?

But I guess we can't blame too much on the male version of Haycraft, given a little ditty by Conan Doyle himself:

"I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who's half a man
Or the man who's half a boy."

Doyle, of course, did not specify what the other half of that boy or that man was, so perhaps he was far more ahead of his time than The Boys' Sherlock Holmes.

Because the times, they do change. Eventually.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Content-avoidance skills.

If you spend any time on the internet at all, you might have just possibly heard of an upcoming Christmas special of BBC's Sherlock called "The Abominable Bride."

Just possibly.

And you might have consumed every morsel of set pics, promo interviews, teaser trailers, actual trailers, background articles, theater release announcements, gossip, and anything else you could of that ninety minute television show that's still over a month away.

A ninety minute television show that has already generated hundreds of hours of internet content before anyone has even seen it. And it's not even Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Advertisers want fan eyes on their ads, and when a known fan base exists, as for BBC Sherlock, it almost seems like no factoid is too small to rate a headline. But if you just want to watch a thing when it comes out, without any pre-conceived notions or spoiled treats, you'd almost wish you could voluntarily choose to watch a stream of ads in a devil's deal to keep all that content out of your head.

Content avoidance is becoming a very necessary skill these days, as one can't depend on the world being all fan-safe and full of gentle **SPOILER ALERTS**.  I suspect we may have even evolved past the spoiler alert, coming to accept a more "get in early or just don't read/listen to things
involving anything you want to consume later" mentality. A good friend or co-worker is now one who takes time to be aware of what you've seen and haven't seen, making casual conversation less of a minefield.

Perhaps the best tactic for those who want to remain truly spoiler-free is just to follow shows that no one cares that much about. If either a.) no one you know is watching something, or b.) it's not a show that really has much excitement going, without any big twists worth caring about, you can glide through life spoiler-free. Of course, then you're just stuck with mediocre (or worse) entertainments, but, hey, we all have to make choices.

Happily the Christmas season can be a very distracting time in any case, so ignoring all the pre-show content for BBC Sherlock's "Abominable Bride" should be made a lot easier. But we still have to be a little wary.

It's just the way of the world these days.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Uncollectable Collectables.

I have always been fascinated by Sherlockian artifacts that don't exist . . . at least in this universe.

The first that come to mind are the magazine that Watson mentions in A Study in Scarlet that contained Sherlock Holmes's uncredited article, "The Book of Life." Another, from the other end of his adventures would be that small blue book with the title Practical Handbook of Bee Culture imprinted upon its cover. Reproductions are attempted, but the real thing? Never gonna get it.

So I was delighted when I ran across this gem:

A comic book that doesn't exist.

I had to add it to my mental collection. It's from an ad within a-comic-book-in-a-comic-book in Marvel's  The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl number five from May of this year. And it features Squirrel Girl tracking "the Reverse Detective," who seems to be a very sinister version of Sherlock Holmes.

For those of you who need a current-events tie-in, Squirrel Girl is the new Netflix series character Jessica Jones's babysitter in her comic book incarnation. No Squirrel Girl in that series, of course. And no Sherlock Holmes either.

But somewhere out there in the ether, some wicked version of Sherlock is doing "criminality" . . . yeah, it's no "Book of Life."  But you know how collecting goes, imaginary or otherwise.

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Sherlock Holmes.

Sometimes, it's just beyond words.

I have an aging banana. Its name is Sherlock Holmes.

See, it says "Sherlock Holmes," right there.

But, it's my Sherlock Holmes. I actually own it. Or at least fifty percent of it . . . no pre-nuptial agreement, you know.

I will probably eat Sherlock Holmes in the next twenty-four hours, so as much the unique incarnation of Sherlock Holmes as my banana Sherlock is, he really isn't much of a collectible. Doesn't really do well in a story either. Seems a quite pointless Sherlock Holmes.

And yet, for now, he is a most special banana. How special?

Well, I took a picture of him and put it on the internet. And I only did it because Sherlock Holmes exists.

Sherlock Holmes, the banana, that is. And I am his biggest fan.

And why not?

Because sometimes, it's all just beyond words, isn't it? Beyond words.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Sherlock Holmes superfans.

When you think of the biggest Sherlock Holmes fan in the world, who do you think of?

"Superfans" are usually people we think of who go overboard in their home decor, their clothing, all the superficial accoutrements of displaying their love of a sports team or TV show, like the Chicago Bears or Star Trek. With Star Wars preparing for another resurgence, I expect we'll be seeing that sort of superfan all over the media push that's already begun.

And Sherlock Holmes has his share of that level of superfan. Those who convert one room of their house into a replica of 221B Baker Street. Those who costume and podcast and arrange events-within-events whenever fans gather.

The thing about Sherlock Holmes fandom that one finds a little different from many a fandom is that some of the biggest Sherlockian superfans take things to a whole 'nother level. Like the guy who got a very big hill renamed "Holmes peak." Or those folk who establish university archives centering on not only just Sherlock, but on a group of fans of Sherlock. Or bigger yet, those fans of Sherlock Holmes whose conflicting interests spawn a court battle that very nearly is argued in front of the Supreme Court.

How does one even wrap one's head around that level of fandom?

Every now and then I get reminded it's out there, when an article like this one from a local Santa Fe paper pops up.

Sherlockians just aren't the sort to sit in their basement wearing Sherlock t-shirts, surrounded by their memorabilia, and watching old videos . . . well, partly because we all know books don't do well in damp and keep our stuff out of basements where possible . . . but still. Something about Sherlock Holmes moves people to bigger things.

I'm not going to claim that Sherlockians have the exclusive claim to that level of superfandom. I'm sure one of the "Star" franchises is well on its way there, especially with "Jedi knight" listed as a religion on some nations' census surveys. Sherlockiana has been around a lot longer, so it's had a head start in building such fans, some of whom were Sherlock Holmes fans before Star Trek was even created, much less Star Wars. Those fandoms will get there, if they're not on the verge already.

And as they do, maybe we'll come up with a scale of measurement that can tell us who the biggest fan of a given mythic universe might be at any point in time. People magazine hardly does a "Sherlockiest person alive" issue every year.

But they're out there. Boy, are they ever.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Prehistoric Sherlock shipping.

Twitter has some lovely little gems some days:

Some people are just born romantics. Even among the fans of the master of coldy logical detection.

They may not have written entire Harlequin romance novels about their pairings back in the day -- the printed word was costly pre-internet. A writer had to use available venues, and novel-length production required a publisher's agreement that your words were worth print, even if you paid said publisher for that agreement.

But would Isaac George have been so invested in a Holmes/Hunter pairing that he would have traded his nine-page argument for Violet Hunter's romantic pursuit of Sherlock Holmes for a full-on epic tale that moved beyond the Canonical bounds, given the opportunity? Well, in 1949, perhaps not, given that the Sherlockian Canon itself probably still didn't feel fully explored -- plenty of places to go without leaving its pages over-much. The thought of Sherlock and Violet as mer-people swimming about the Atlantic was not yet a length they had to go to for entertainment.

Still, even within the bounds of safe, Canonical, heterosexuality, the shipping urge was there.

One might even make a case that shipping can be seen in William Gillette's famed request of Conan Doyle, "May I marry Holmes?" (Which, in itself smacks of Gillette/Holmes shipping.) Like the name "Violet," the name Alice appears multiple times early in the Canon, and the "Alice Faulkner" Gillette winds up using is not that far off in name from the eventual "Alice Fowler" of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches."  Too far a reach?

Everybody wants to work a romance into the career of Sherlock Holmes, even Dr. Watson, something Holmes accuses him of from the second published case.

"But the romance was there," Watson protests. Later, we even see the good doctor disappointed that Sherlock Holmes shows no romantic interest in Violet Hunter -- actually going so far as to write it out in the case itself: ". . . my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested no further interest in her . . ."

Watson was even the shippiest shipper -- he was really wanting Holmes and the actual person he had met to get together, not just his own head-canon version of Violet.

Poor Sherlock Holmes. All he wants to do is solve mysteries. And the one and only time he actually romances someone -- seemingly in service of his detective purposes, yes, but still . . . ROMANCE!  -- he takes crap from Watson for doing it.  We only want what we can't have, which is why you don't see tons of Sherlock/Agatha shipping out there. That one actually happened. Too easy, right? No, let us find a way to hook him up with Tonga, across Victorian gender, cultural, racial, and size barriers. Love is so much better when it has to overcome hurdle after hurdle. (Yeah, you didn't believe Tonga just fell into that river and disappeared forever, did you? SEE! Now, I'm doing it!)

Well, I guess it's better than us having to having Sherlock Holmes fight every single person in the Canon to the death. That would be a very unpleasant genre of fan fiction to see explode upon the world. (Though I think Marvel Comics has done that with one or two of its characters.) Sherlock Holmes, standing tattered, bloodied and alone, overlooking an emptied London . . . .

Better we're born romantics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Sherlock Holmes escape room.

"Escape rooms" have become a trendy little amusement -- a group of people locked in a room with an hour deadline on solving how they get out. It's a great idea, and like any entertainment, varies in quality. The one the clan Keefauver beat a few months ago was mostly number puzzles, had fairly unimpressive production values, and I walked away going, "That wouldn't be too hard to come up with for a party."

At the time, however, I didn't really think about how easily the escape room genre could be adapted to the world of Sherlock Holmes. And maybe even improved upon as a result.

My first thought, based on my experience with the single escape room I was locked in, was that you'd need to obtain a series of Victorian locks. Sure, you could eBay search and maybe come up with those, but then I realized the true imprisonment device of the Victorian era: the great big thug.

Just put a great big thug in a chair in front of the door, and let the entire escape room mystery be trying to figure out just what to tell the great big thug to get him to let you out. He's a Moriarty man, of course, loyal and even a bit frightened of the Professor, so he's really not going to want to let you out. And maybe it's even his room you're trapped in with him, with enough personal effects lying around that your could piece together enough of his story . . . oh, even through observation of his person as well . . . that you come up with the line that ensures your freedom.

Coded and uncoded messages from Sherlock Holmes secreted about the room or in plain sight. Tie-ins to the Canon, both in objects and the mystery itself. Oh, a Sherlockian escape room could be a marvelous thing!

It would be a lovely addition to a Holmes symposium weekend . . . or maybe better at a con, where schedules are a little more flexible, and you could sign up for a time. And at a con, multiple parties could even come up with their own Sherlock-based escape rooms.

I really think I'm going to have to create one of these, to fulfill a promise to my brother, if nothing else, but I'm loving the fact that anyone could do it. The escape room adds a new wrinkle to the classic murder mystery dinner where someone has to pose as a corpse. It's still a mystery, just without the whole death thing and surrounding tropes.

You get to tell a Sherlock Holmes story with it, that people can live out for a time, and then actually see the people enjoying the tale (if you find a way to infiltrate the room -- or are a great big thug). What could be better than that?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The damn hat.

For the past week, my news feed has held on to the same annoying story whose headline begins "'You're Sherlock Holmes, wear the damn hat,' Freeman's Watson says for fans . . ."

Most of us are familiar with that line from the Christmas special preview at this point. But after a week of seeing that headline day after day, it finally struck me how ludicrous it is.

Why would fans ever need Sherlock Holmes to wear that deerstalker cap?

The deerstalker is to put on people who aren't Sherlock Holmes, to say "HEY! THIS PERSON IS PRETENDING TO BE SHERLOCK HOLMES!" The deerstalker is for symbolizing Sherlock Holmes when only inanimate objects are present.

And, to be honest, after all these years, the person who springs to mind when I see a deerstalker?


It's so much of a cartoon trope that I can't help but associate it with the little plastic action figure of Snoopy with deerstalker and magnifying glass, that always sat next to the little plastic figure of Garfield with a deerstalker and magnifying glass, that sat next to Mickey Mouse with a . . . .

The deerstalker is the way most children encounter the fringes of Sherlock Holmes's legend for the first time. From Daffy Duck to Angelica Pickles to Pinkie Pie, the deerstalker is passed on from one cartoon generation to the next. It's such an outlandish piece of headgear that you practically have to be a cartoon character to comfortably wear one.

Even Sherlock Holmes has a hard time making that thing cool any more. Want to say the Cumberbatch Holmes made it cool? Well, Kitty Riley quickly took that down, posing as a Sherlock fan with one, quickly enough.

I'm wandering now, but the point of this whole rant is that there is not a Sherlockian in the world who needs the deerstalker hat to recognize Sherlock Holmes. Putting that cap in "for the fans" is the most ludicrous statement I've heard in a while, as it isn't the fans who take to the deerstalker -- it's the non-fans, who recognize Holmes by iconic symbols alone.

Watson going "Wear the damn hat" in the upcoming Christmas special is a cute line, but what the Christmas special is doing for the fans isn't the hat. It's the entire Victorian era.

That hat? Even Conan Doyle and Sidney Paget working together couldn't sustain that one.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sherlock Holmes is fire.

There has been a lot written about the cozy hearth of Baker Street.

That familiar sitting room, with good old Watson sitting in the chair opposite, with Mrs. Hudson bringing up something nourishing, while Holmes pulls down a book from the shelves, and the clients bring their problems to the well-known detective. People just love that literary womb, a place to mentally snuggle in and anticipate adventure to come.

Were 221B Baker Street the primary draw of those famous five dozen stories we call the Canon, however, I doubt they'd still be with us today.

We love that scene, yes. With its wicker chair, bearsking hearthrug, and cluttered mantlepiece. With its friends and familiars. But that fire that burns in the fireplace? It might as well be a cardboard facade with a flickering red light bulb behind it. Because it's not the flame that warms our blood, nor the fire that makes all of London glow brighter with its light.

You know what it is that blazes hot at the center of that flat on Baker Street. And it's not passion.

It's Sherlock Holmes.

He settles into our hearts like we're just hansom cabs waiting outside that famous address, with our mental cabbie hearing him call out a destination like a hunting horn's blast. He sets our wheels spinning and our horses galloping, and what comes after that . . . well, Sherlock only knows, because adventure is an unpredictable tour guide.

It's easy to get lost sometimes, in the smoke and old ashes generated by that marvelous fire called Holmes. Easy to poke at the unsatisfying cinders when the flames seemed to have died down for a moment. But like any fire, if you poke around intently enough, you'll find that coal that still glows bright orange, ready to kindle something bright once more.

And sometimes it just warms the soul to remember that thought on a cold, rainy night. And even prepares you for that next great adventure . . . outside of the printed page or video screen.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Writing about the other.

These are indeed challenging times, for all of us.

As I write this tonight, large scale terrorist attacks have Paris locked down, and words are flying across the web, as they do. Words of outrage, sympathy, horror, and also of confusion, misunderstanding, and foolishness. No matter how important or insignificant the topic, we are challenged, every day, to see how our fellow man could possibly perceive matters in a way other than the way we ourselves do.

A lot of times, our first reaction is anger, and to attack. It's true of the big things, like a terrorist attack, and of smaller things, like a single sentence in a blog post about Sherlock Holmes. That comparison seems quite silly, putting such a difference in scale side by side, but humans being humans, well . . . we don't have that many reactions in our palette or quiver (depending upon whether your reaction is to interpret or fire upon).

There are times when you even have to wonder if you should comment honestly upon anything that involves anyone but yourself. Television shows, publications, podcasts, novels . . .  no matter what you write about, you're going to possibly encounter someone who feels you have violated the safe space of fandom by writing something that doesn't continue their ongoing parade of happy. Or maybe some others, just spoiling for a target to rid themselves of some build-up of ill humours.

Because with a potential random readership pool of billions out there in internet-land, you're going to hit somebody whose life experience has set them up to be triggered by what you've written. Especially when their friends send them links they know will stir them up. Especially when you have a bit of the devil in you to begin with. And especially when the world can be so foolish and just begging for it sometimes.

As I've written this blog, I've gotten both the standard internet "Why don't you just kill yourself?" (Curious how the internet has found a way to make what is basically a murderous desire non-actionable.) and the thoughtful, long considered letter which deals in such complex emotions that it takes months to write a response. Each comes as a challenge to see just where the writer is coming from, and as with this blog itself, sometimes that job is done better than others.

November has been quite a month for reader reaction, and as a result, there are some Sherlockian topics I've added to the "do not write upon" list until I have a better handle on them. (Possibly not the ones you're hoping for, trust me on this.) But being a fan of such a grand, wide-spread character as Sherlock Holmes, I'm lucky enough to have many other topics at my disposal.

I mean, that Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film, running currently on TNT as I write this, was there ever such a beautifully Sherlock Holmes-ed movie that seemed to place a too-recognizable actor in his own holodeck fantasy of being Holmes? I love that movie, but Downey . . . Downey will just never fit entirely, as much as I enjoy him on the screen in any movie.

And you know what I also love? Anyone who reads this blog for reasons other than that their friend sent them a link just to stir them up. It makes me think you get it more than you don't, and I appreciate you sticking around past the times the thoughts get a bit . . . challenging. Even if you're just reading because, as with NASCAR or presidential candidates, you're waiting for the spectacular crashes -- you, I really love, because you're letting my words into your head even though we're not on the same page, like clicking on a random Eastern European website download, who knows what you might pick up?

As one of my favorite Holmes quotes goes, "We can but try." All of us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Strand-ed in a pizza parlor.

It was in October of 2015 that the good Carter and I found ourselves in a garish Italian restaurant in Yorkshire (Plaza, Kickapoo, at least in the mistaken mind of the iPhone photo location assignment). Whom we were waiting for there, and the outre events that followed their arrival, must remain among my unpublished notes of those matters which had little to do with Sherlock Holmes. But as we reflected upon the events of the morning, I noted the framed cover of a familiar publication on the wall behind us.

The November 1902 issue of The Strand Magazine.

"1902?" I thought. "Wasn't that the year The Hound of the Baskerville was serialized in Strand?"

Of course, the lack of depth to the matted and framed magazine strongly suggested that even in Hound had appeared in that particular issue, it did not lay behind that cover any more.

A closer examination revealed that it was the international edition of Strand. And the above-the-border fiction being touted was either "The Sorceress of the Strand" or "A Spirit of Avarice" . . . neither of which would probably have been there if chapters of The Hound of the Baskervilles was inside to be touted.

But even though it was just one sheet of that entire issue, even though it was a perfectly improbable candidate for containing Holmes material, it was The Strand Magazine. I had to know whether or not a cover from the first North American appearance of that famous novel was absolutely not hanging on the wall of a Peoria pizza joint.

First stop for the quick info: . The handiest Sherlockian reference point on the web.

Second stop to make absolutely sure the North American edition didn't run differently: A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle by Richard Lancelyn Green and John Michael Gibson. (The tale of how Jack Tracy, the author of The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana, wound up paying for my copy of that book always comes to mind whenever I pull that particular tome down from the shelf, but that's for another day.) There I confirmed that Hound was over in that magazine in May of 1902, six months before this destroyed issue hit the news-stands on its way to the wall of a Monical's Pizza restaurant.

Being a Sherlockian always has its little moments of obsession. And sometimes they come upon you when you least expect it . . . even when you're waiting for a pizza.