Monday, June 29, 2015

The Return of Deerstalker Duck.


Five times. Five times now. And every time I give him away, he just comes back.

I think I have a problem.

It's this duck with a deerstalker.

The Deerstalker Duck

He's a example of one of the worst symptoms of Sherlock Holmes fandom -- the urge to own things that have a deerstalker hat on, whether or not they have anything to do with Sherlock Holmes. But this mad-eyed mallard, often seen with a canteen, does not even own a particularly good deerstalker cap. And he's more interested in saving wetlands than investigating mysteries, being that odd sort of beastie who seems to be working against his own kind, hence the hunting headgear.

The non-duck Sherlock Holmes actually seemed to enjoy duck-hunting, if we go by the evidence in "The Gloria Scott," and he was surely no Elmer Fudd at the sport. Holmes probably exterminated many a member of Deerstalker Duck's kind, during that summer between college semesters. Which could be why this duck stares to balefully in every Sherlock Holmes collection he's placed in, displaying a bug-eyed terror at seeing sharp-shooter Sherlock so much in evidence around him.

I must not be particularly fond of this duck, as I always find some reason to give him away, as a prize, as a gesture, as . . . well, any occasion that arises.  And yet, when he turns up during my travels, as he did recently at the Pink Elephant Antique mall, for the reasonable sum of five dollars and ninety-five cents, I seem to automatically tuck him under my arm and march to the checkout counter.

And then here he is again.

Had I saved every specimen of Deerstalker Duck that I've encountered over the years, I could have hosted a lovely duck hunt of my own some summer. And I may yet.

But for now, the curse of the deerstalkered duck continues. I should just be thankful it's not a Baskervillian hound from Hell.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

You had just one job, Joan Watson.

Ah, the season cliffhanger. That final episode with the unfinished plot twist, leaving us to speculate during the hiatus between seasons on what just happened, why that happened, and what is going to happen next. As the summer moves along and my mind occasionally drifts to CBS's Elementary, however, it almost feels like the series is over, having come full circle and ended quite sadly.

To test that feeling, I decided to go back to the beginning and see if the circle was indeed complete.

The first thing we see of the main characters in Elementary's first episode is Joan Watson waking up. Alone and of her own accord. And then she goes jogging. As the series progresses, one of the running gags revolves around Joan Watson waking up . . . or being woken up, in some creative new manner.

Jogging Joan Watson gets a call during that first episode. Not from Archie Stamford, but from a "Hemdale."

"Hello. Yeah, I'm coming to get him in . . . I'm sorry, did you say he escaped?"

A second call, plainly to the voicemail of the father of the "him" in question:

"Hi, this is Joan Watson. In the off chance you haven't already been contacted by Hemdale, your son left rehab a little early this morning. I'm already at his house to see if he's here. I'll call you if there's a problem."

Prophetic words, those. "I'll call you if there's a problem." It took three seasons for her to make that problem call, but she did.

As Joan makes her way up the steps to what apparently is the place where "him" lives, she she's a rather seedy looking lady putting her clothes on in the entryway. Said woman does not want to talk to Joan as she passes . . . giving that "him" has had no time to build his network of emotionless sexual transaction partners that would come later, it's probably a prostitute, getting on about her business.

So "him" escaped rehab early, and has seen a prostitute already. This guy has "winner" written all over him, doesn't he?


"Excuse me, Mister . . . ."


"My name is Joan Watson. I've been hired by your father to be your sober companion. He told me he was going to email you about me. I'm here to make the transition from your rehab experience to the routine of your everyday life as smooth as possible, so I will be living with you for the next six weeks which means I will be available to you twenty-four seven."

"Do you believe in love at first sight?"

That line, and all of "him"'s first speech to Joan Watson are words he stole from a soap opera he had been watching on television. He is a young, tattooed problem child living in the "shoddiest and least rennovated" of his father's five Manhattan properties. And he's messing with the hired help from square one.

And people wonder why I hate Elementary so . . .

John H. Watson came to Bart's with a friend to meet a possible flat-mate and wound up meeting the best and wisest friend he would ever have. He found a place for himself in the world, as chronicler and partner in adventure, not just as an added tool for the police in catching murderers, but helping people with their lives. There is success at every point in this tale. Watson's life is better for meeting Sherlock Holmes, Holmes's life is better for having Watson in it. It's a good and happy thing.

Joan Watson, on the other hand, found herself literally thrust into the life of a spoiled man-child to handle a job she seemed to have little to no training for, after failing at the job she was trained for. She loses that job and becomes a paid "apprentice" to the man-child, has a failed relationship with his brother, sees another of her relationships murdered due to her involvement with that troubled individual, and eventually sees him relapse into the addiction she was brought in to help with. Not a good nor happy thing at all. Quite tragic, actually.

The third season cliffhanger to Elementary left us with "him"'s father returning to New York to deal with his son's heroin addiction once more. Why that man would let Joan Watson be involved with that process at all is beyond me, given her track record. Yet, in order for the show to go on for yet another season, she must be involved with the heroin addicted son and he probably has to somehow be over his addiction once more, which will probably come with more of the deus ex machina character-shoving-around that the show's writing has become known for, rather than some actual growth.

And what all this has to do with Sherlock Holmes anyway, is a question that has yet to find a good answer. That, as ever, will continue to be Elementary's greatest mystery.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Holmes and Watson in love: Then, now, and on the way.

T'was a big day in America today. But I'm not going to talk about that just yet. Maybe not even at all. Because this is what I was thinking about blogging today anyway, and y'know, sometimes things just line up.

At his point in our timeline of Sherlockian fandom, I know that there's many an old school fan of the master detective out there who considers Johnlock fanfic a weird little sideroad off the main Sherlock Holmes highway. True, among dedicated fan fiction enthusiasts, Johnlock sometimes seems so vanilla that it often gets taken for granted, but to the world at large, and elder Sherlockians in general, Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson aren't quite a couple.

They're partners, yes. No one will dispute that.

"I should prefer having a partner to being alone," Watson tells Stamford at the very start of the ACD Holmes Canon.

And the greatest of friends. No one can argue that.

"As to you, friend Watson, I owe you every atonement for having allowed your natural curiosity to remain so long unsatisfied," Sherlock comments in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"  . . . a story where he curiously refers to the doctor as "friend Watson" more than once, making one wonder what had recently gone on between the two to require such affirmation. But friends they are, indeed.

And love?

"Quick, man, if you love me!" Holmes exclaims to Watson in "Dying Detective."

Ah, but that's the cheaper one. Any good Sherlockian knows to go to "Devil's Foot" for the good stuff.

"You know," I answered with some emotion, for I had never seen so much of Holmes's heart before, "that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you."

This is the John H. Watson who truthfully called Sherlock Holmes "the best and wisest man I have ever known.

Oh, yes, there was love there. Call it a "bromance," call it what you will, but it was the greatest love two manly men could show for each other in that era. No woman was ever closer to either man than the other. They were true partners, to the last, or at least "His Last Bow," which is as last as it gets with those two.

So now that this next generation of Holmes fandom has taken to letting those two take it a step further in their fan fiction . . . to be partners, friends, and a couple. A couple as in -- dare I say what so many already have in so many ways -- lovers.

The only thing holding them back from being lovers before now was our own preconceptions of what a relationship between two men in polite society could and should be. And that, if you hadn't noticed the headlines today, is changing.

So wrap your head around this, and wrap it well: Within the next ten years or so, we're going to get at least one motion picture with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson as a same-sex couple. It's coming, as surely as babies being born.

What's that you say? "No way, that's fan fiction stuff!" Have you heard of a little film called "Fifty Shades of Gray," and tracked down its roots? Fan fiction today quickly becomes the mainstream media of tomorrow, and these days hungry, hungry producers are looked everywhere for the next new idea, especially if it spins off a marketable old idea . . . like Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Except they're in love.

It's coming. And the quality of that first attempt in the mass media will totally depend upon how good the Holmes, how good the Watson, how good the script, the director, etc., etc., etc. Because Dr. Watson finding Sherlock Holmes the most fascinating man he ever met, and Sherlock Holmes finding Dr. Watson a loyal and true partner, those are things that don't really change when the kissing starts. Or shouldn't have to.

It's a big day in America. But bigger days are ahead for Sherlock Holmes fans.

Get ready.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A subject that does exist, even here.

It really doesn't seem appropriate to discuss a subject as serious and complex as race relations in a Sherlock Holmes blog. The topic of Sherlock Holmes is, for most of us, an escape from the cares of our daily lives, a charming fantasy of reason winning out over chaos. And yet, a part of what we love about the Sherlockian Canon is its ties to our reality, its solid connection to our lives.

And in a year when assorted tragedies remind us that we still have some distance to travel in America with the issues that lie between our citizens of different ethnic backgrounds, the stories of Sherlock Holmes serve a different purpose . . . they remind us that we can't hide in a fantasy that all is right with the world, and that being human will always mean struggling with certain issues.

The Canon gives us the good of racial relations in a tale like "The Yellow Face." It also gives us the bad of that issue in "The Five Orange Pips" and "The Three Gables."

We'd like to ignore some aspects of it, like the character of Steve Dixie in "Three Gables." He's a horrible racist stereotype and we'd like to make excuses for Conan Doyle, the same man who wrote the beautifully acceptance-filled story of "The Yellow Face." But recognizing that even Conan Doyle had both good intentions and a racist side is a very important thing.

We're human. We have some horrible impulses, some not-so-good cultural traits, every single one of us. And yet most of us strive to rise above those parts of us. And that is where we are at our best. Not because we were born perfect creatures, but because we struggle to be so.

There is a move afoot, in response to our latest tragedy, the killing of nine people just because of the color of their skin, to remove the Confederate flag from stores and government venues. It's a marvelous gesture, given what that flag represents to most of us. It won't solve anything, to be sure, but it makes a statement than can't hurt: We want to rise above our past. Our past will always be with us. Our past can never be forgotten. But it is our past, and sometimes we must leave things of that past to museums and history books.

My first draft of this particular blog was about removing Steve Dixie and "The Three Gables" from our Canon, just as the Confederate flag is being removed from Walmarts -- the sort of over-the-top idea I'm very fond of in these pages. Steve Dixie is a true embarrassment to Sherlockians, a part of our beloved Canon we don't celebrate and ignore as much as possible. And yet that embarrassment, that little test of what we'll tolerate, serves as a reminder that we still have progress to be made, and that some issues were there over a hundred years ago are still with us.

If you read Conan Doyle's play "Angels of Darkness," which the author rightly hoped none of us would ever see, you'll see both Dr. Watson's first role and a whole lot of Steve-Dixie-type stereotypes. An African American, an Asian, a Brit, and a guy from New Jersey are all played as the worst caricatures of stereotyping. Yet two of those are meaningless to us now, silly remnants of past ideas that have no emotional impact today. We've grown beyond them.

And maybe one day, all four sterotypes from "Angels of Darkness" will seem equally silly and have no impact upon our current lives. Maybe one day, we'll all just look upon Steve Dixie as just a badly written character and no more than that. I truly hope that day comes. But that day isn't today.

The Canon of Sherlock Holmes reminds us that we still have issues that can't be ignored, even as Sherlockians. And it also reminds us that there is good in us, too, and reason to hope.

So we keep on trying. Even here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Was Grover Cleveland actually Jack the Ripper?

So I'm sitting in the bar at our local Old Chicago pizza-pub today. I had just seen Jurassic World, the sequel that combines words from two previous movies in its title, one word of which was inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. ("World" as in The Lost World.) And as I'm sitting there, a commercial comes on one of the dozen flat screen TVs prominently featuring Conan Doyle.

Not sure if that TV was playing a sports channel or a pub quiz, but what I saw was the following question:

"Was Arthur Conan Doyle actually Jack the Ripper?"

The ad went on to promote a book that I won't even mention here, as I really hate to publicize claptrap that a few lucky Sherlockians might happily otherwise miss. (As opposed to, say, a network television show.)  And the book really doesn't matter. What matters is that damned commercial, on a screen in a public place, where the thought being placed in the mind of any bored patron browsing the multiple TVs was this . . . .

Conan Doyle = Jack the Ripper.

Of course, most folks knowledgeable enough to know that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories probably aren't going to take such an allegation seriously. And it doesn't take much of a net search to find Doyle listed among the most ridiculous Ripper suspects ever. But you know there's some idiot out there who had a few too many beers and was liable to go home and tell his kids, "You know the guy who wrote those Sherlock Holmes stories was probably Jack the Ripper."

Or maybe I'm just being a pessimist, having had my lunch interrupted with such a stupid, stupid idea being used to promote a book.

Personally, if we're going to go silly, I think we should promote the idea that the U.S. president of that time, Grover Cleveland was really Jack the Ripper. Say he gave Britain some ground over Canadian fishing rights for a free hand at killing a few prostitutes in a country other than his own. (A bachelor president at first, Cleveland had only recently married a 21-year-old college girl, so who knows what bad habits he was trying to purge with a London spree.) Grover Cleveland needs a little juicy gossip added to his historical record, and Conan Doyle certainly doesn't -- fairies and ghosts cover those bases nicely.

The idea of Grover Cleveland as the Ripper may be pretty darned ridiculous. But we live in a world where the media likes to promote any goofball thought produces a headline, marketing people have even less scruples, and Conan Doyle just got publicized as Jack the Ripper in a Peoria restaurant bar.

Sherlock Holmes is becoming a better and better role model for us all the time . . . as a man who made it a point to find the truth behind every outlandish tale that came his way.

Because we're getting a lot of those these days.

Friday, June 19, 2015

"It's like the Avengers . . ."

The big prize in Hollywood these days seems to be creating a movie "pyramid" like Marvel Studios did with "Marvel's The Avengers," building a number of movies about individual characters then bringing those characters together in one final super-blockbuster of a movie. Let's ignore the decades of backstory and existing fans for those heroes, of course, and how hard it is to create just one successful film. There have been writer's rooms and corporate meetings out there like crazy, trying to come up with any possible intellectual property that could be built into such a model of success. Which makes you wonder . . .

Who out there is looking at Sherlock Holmes this way?

Sure, most  tend to think of Sherlock Holmes adventures being all about Sherlock and his supporting cast, but wait a minute. And list some of that cast.

Sherlock Holmes, the world's first and foremost consulting detective.

John H. Watson, M.D., late of the Army Medical Department.

Irene Adler, celebrity, adventuress, mistress of disguise.

Mycroft Holmes, the man who is the British Government.

Porlock, the one good man inside Professor Moriarty's criminal empire.

Hmm. Five movies there? Maybe. Porlock being the weaker of the set, one might want to give him Kitty Winter and Porky Shinwell as back-up for his film. In fact, there's a legion of characters out there to toss into all five of those characters' movies.

And then, after telling all five tales, then it comes time for them all to band together to bring Professor Moriarty down.

Possible? Definitely. Probable? Not likely.

Still, it is awfully fun to consider. And these days, you just never know what could happen, so it's not entirely out of the question.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Like throwing heroin in front of Mr. Elementary . . . .

You may call him "Howard Ostrom." I call him "Oscar."

Oscar, it will be remembered, is the character from Elementary's season finale who lured, pestered, and generally shoved the titular Mr. Elementary into returning to his old heroin addiction. My personal Oscar, Howard, tossed this tidbit out on to Twitter today:

Now, I am a firm believer that one of our great human failings is that urge from earliest childhood to exclaim "Again!" whenever something delights us, and thus eventually drain any happy surprise of its joy by regular repetition. So I fully expect bad things to come from trying a sequel set of captions to a photo of Mr. Elementary in a refuse area. But unfortunately, I'm willing to try, despite at least one "Can't we all play nice in the sandbox?" plea after that last attempt. Poking a needle into Elementary's veins has become an addiction that I'm just a little too susceptible to. So, without further ado, let's get to the captions for Howard's photo . . .

Well, it's not the worst thing I've seen on an episode of Elementary.

Swim to the sea like Nemo, Clyde. The lid is staying down.

Eli Stone's law offices became less and less prestigious as the visions continued.

Mr. Elementary begins his research on the 247 varieties of paper that one
might wipe one's posterior with. What that had to do with crime,
no one would ever know. As with most of his studies.

Eventually he found that with enough mental focus, he could teleport
his bodily waste through several layers of cloth and plastic.

Joan Watson pressed her face and hand up to the fogged window, as Mycroft
took her against the alley wall. Neither of them really knew why.
It was almost as if God was really bad at writing fanfic.

This month in GQ: What does your body language on the toilet say about you?

Yes, it is a tribute to Joaquim de Almeida in "O Xango de Baker Street."

"Here I sit, all broken hearted . . ."
So began the love poem that caused Jamie Moriarty to fake her death yet again.

Tirelessly, he worked on his interpretive dance choreography through every waking moment.

A few moments before the sink actually tore itself from the wall and walked off the set.

Captain Gregson and Detective Bell were actually supposed to be in this scene,
but Quinn and Hill believed the stagehand's  admonishing "Do NOT go in there!"

Okay, let's flush this bit and let it mercifully swirl away, as so many sequels should probably do. On to better things and the hope that "Oscar" Ostrom lets rehab work its magic.

And a late P.S., just because I forgot about this one . . .

Instead of doing "Speckled Band," Elementary decided to pit their consulting detective
against the horror legend, the Ghoulies. Somehow, it just seemed to fit.

Best and wisest, 2015.

One of those fab members of team Three Patch dropped a very telling tweet today:

We all know the quote from the original Canon and know it well, heartfelt words from Watson after the death of his friend in "The Final Problem":

" . . . if I have now been compelled to make a clear statement of his career, it is due to those injudicious champions who have endeavoured to clear his memory by attacks upon him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known."

And Sherlock Holmes was that best and wisest of men . . . once.

Caroline's focus is BBC Sherlock, who does have the occasional charmingly unwise moment. But if you were a person who didn't read, a person whose entire view of Sherlock Holmes came from Downey, Miller, and Cumberbatch, do those words still ring true?

Downey's Holmes has a wacky, impulsive side that really doesn't inspire "best and wisest."

Cumberbatch's Sherlock is pretty much there when he's on his game, but he definitely has some almost literally fatal flaws, like that compulsion to take the suicide pill at the end of "A Study in Pink."

And Miller's Mr. Elementary? Well, let's not even start on that one.

"Best and wisest" is pretty high praise, and one could put it down to Watson's grief causing a little hyperbole at his best friend's death. But for decade upon decade, Sherlockians have agreed with Watson on that point . . .  Holmes was the best and wisest, without doubt or asterisk.

Yet modern storytelling seems to demand Holmes be "humanized" with some personality defect or the other, for comedic effect if Watson isn't carrying that ball, for one added story element, or just maybe to make him more "relatable." It could be for many a reason.

Even with his little quirks, I still tend to give Cumberbatch's Holmes credit for being the closest to "best and wisest" of the current crop of English-speakers. But it would be a good challenge for future Holmes creators to start with that phrase as their central premise, at least from Watson's point of view, and see what they can build from there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pitching an American Sherlock show.

By now, regulars readers are not only aware of my opinions of CBS's Elementary, but surely a bit weary of them. The show's basic premise, "Ex-addict consulting detective is paired with a sober companion by his father and introduces his new partner to the world of murder investigation," just never rang particularly Sherlock-y to me. So, one might ask, what would I find a better premise for a modern day Sherlock show on American television?

Let's start with the obvious.

A small hamlet in Canada is rocked by beastly slayings that an aged local farmer attributes to his family curse. The local doctor tries to get a London criminal specialist interested in the case via the internet and does, only to have the specialist and his husband show up in the small town to disturb the locals even further with their unorthodox urban ways.

Fairly straight forward. Next up . . . ?

I Am Sherlock Holmes.
After disappearing during a climactic battle with a master crimelord named Moriarty, the world's most famous consulting detective travels the world incognito as Magnus Sigerson following the trail of his brother, an cornerstone figure in British intelligence who disappeared at the same time Moriarty was killed.

Something is still missing. A female character?

The Six Wives of Dr. Watson.
Dr. Watson, retired and living in Miami Beach, is kidnapped, a crisis that brings together all six of his ex-wives. In the absence of Sherlock Holmes (presumed dead), the six discover that together they embody all the qualities that made Holmes the world's greatest detective, and after rescuing Watson, they band together to form their own consulting detective agency.

Okay, maybe too many female characters. Irene is the go-to, right?

A singer's incredible popularity sparks a variety of adventures -- from the too-energetic pursuit of royal lovers to a willingness to help a fan in need. Her legal counsel Godfrey Norton is ever at her side and frustrated by her interest in Sherlock Holmes, a consulting detective who turns up in her adventures a little more than mere coincidence would demand.

And for those who think drugs are necessary . . . .

A Criminal Addiction.
A kingpin named Moriarty has come up with a new drug "seven percent," and isn't selling it on the open market -- he's getting the highly addictive substance into the hands of key individuals whose addictions he uses to build a network of pawns. A detective named Sherlock Holmes must enter those ranks to find just how far the network has spread . . . and what the true effects of "seven percent" are.

There's a lot that could be done with Sherlock Holmes that isn't being done now . . . even with all the pastiches being written, most traditionally published ones stick to the same old formula. But as we've seen, there's a lot more to Sherlock Holmes than a given time and place. And given all the ideas that are out there in the fan fiction universe, I'm betting we get some Sherlock shows so totally different in the next twenty years that they make the above seem practically Canonical.

But you know Sherlock Holmes. He was, quite literally, made to have adventures.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch, CBE, and Sir Christopher Lee.

A brief note came in from "he who shall not be named as a B.S.I." today with words that would be quite inflammatory in some parts: "How ridiculous that Benedict Cumberbatch is to be awarded a CBE at the tender age of 38, just as we learn that Sir Christopher Lee has died at the age of 93, having received his only 14 years ago."

And that says nothing of Jonny Lee Miller, now age 42, who seems to be getting a snub from Her Majesty (probably for stealing Sherlock out of London and putting him in New York City). Or that Peter Cushing at 89, only got an OBE (one notch down from the CBE) -- and he played Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Who. Which brings us to Tom Baker, who also did that double duty for the Crown, and he's still waiting at 81.

If only we could find a guy who could play Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, James Bond, Robin Hood, and King Arthur. That guy should just get to marry the Queen.

Roger Moore got a CBE at 72 and was promoted to KBE four years later, so you can see that being James Bond and Sherlock Holmes (and Simon Templar and Ivanhoe) will get you.

Robert Morley got an OBE at the much younger age of 48, before he played Mycroft Holmes, and then was offered a knighthood at 66, only to turn it down. (Probably feeling like he hadn't served his country quite enough by not playing Sherlock or James Bond.) Mycroftian actor Charles Gray perhaps missed out on honors perhaps for playing a Bond villain, which counterbalances the equation.

Michael Caine, a faultier Sherlock Holmes, got his CBE at 59.

The closest I can find to Cumberbatch's youthful honour for a Sherlock is Sir Ian McKellen, who was given his CBE at 40 years of age, and was promoted to full knighthood twelve years later. McKellen plainly didn't get his for service as Sherlock Holmes, since most of us have yet to see it, but was primarily a TV and stage actor at the time of his CBE.

Does age really matter? Olympic swimmer Eleanor Simmonds got her CBE honour at the tender age of 14. And if you do a little digging into that British honours list . . . well, you can do a lot of digging. There are a lot of names there.  I'm not even sure I've come close to hitting all the Sherlocks who made that list. (No Basil Rathbone nor Jeremy Brett, sad to say.)  Like every honor from the cult of Sherlock's own B.S.I. to the American movie Oscars, the British honours have their own whimsies, failings, and problematic parts.

But they sure do get folks excited every now and then.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ethical diversity in the Sherlockian Canon.

"In a modest way I have combated evil," Sherlock Holmes said in The Hound of the Baskervilles, "but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task."

Sherlock Holmes must be looked at with some measure of forgiveness as a man of his era, for not recognizing ethical diversity in the above statement. It is like many sexist, racist, or ethicist attitudes common to that time. In that one statement he portrays himself as at war with evil, implies that the Mother of Evil, the Children of Evil, and even the Grandparents of Evil would be something he could handle. But today let us not dally with the age-ist and sex-ist aspects of the Victorian detective, let us focus on the ethics-ist aspects of his words and behavior.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, for example, Sherlock Holmes is hounding a man who is ethically challenged in the areas of murder, kidnapping, fraud, petty theft, breaking hearts, mistreatment of butterflies, and a host of other areas. He refers to Rodger Baskerville Jr. as one of the "agents of  the devil" and eventually chases him into a bog and a fate traditionally reserved for "evil" moor ponies.

While "evil" is plentiful in the Canon of Olde, you can scrutinize page after page of that venerable text and never find the words "ethics" or "ethical."  You will, however, find the word "moral," a good many times. The difference? Ethics is a debatable field of philosophy categorizing right and wrong. Morality, however, connotes an invisible set of pre-determined rules of right and wrong. In an ethical argument, one might encounter shades of gray. In a moral argument, however? Black and white.

Heady issues, these, but when one considers the full range of ethical diversity after heading beyond black and white, the Canon of Sherlock Holmes offers a wide range of characters with which to populate a scale of ethics diversity.

Rodger Baskerville, Jr., was a fairly complex case involving many ethical spectrums. Taking another character like James Ryder, the attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan from "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." Ryder is a had man to place on any scale of ethical diversity as it was entirely possible that he was merely a pawn of Catherine Cusack (sure a generations-before relative of the Cusack acting family from which John and Joan later sprung).  Sherlock Holmes would seem to agree, chasing Ryder just out the door and not into a bog, as with Baskerville.

The only "evil" Holmes does cite in Ryder's case are those "evil influences" which have fallen upon Henry Baker, whose wife has ceased to love him and who may drink a bit much. In Baker's case, there is no chasing, however, just the gift of a nice fresh goose. So while Holmes does not speak of the scale of ethical diversity, he, as an evolving specimen of humanity, seems aware of it: On the "drinking a bit too much" end of the scale, you get a Christmas goose. On the "murder, kidnapping, fraud, etc." end of the scale, you get chased into a bog where you might find a moor pony on your way down.

Now, if you've read this far down the page, I really have to give you credit for your stamina. I'm not entirely sure what this essay was an attempt at . . . perhaps social parody? I'm not entirely sure, but it does stand as example of how well Watson's writings can be used to delve into any topic or concept one gets into one's head . . . like "ethical diversity." In any case, thanks for reading.

I'll try to come up with a topic I don't get bored with before the end of the essay next time.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Trippin' on Three Patch again.

In the mass of things on my to-read list, Sherlock fanfic remains a vast library that I've barely poked my head in the door of. There is just not enough time. And yet I love it anyway, from afar. Perhaps it's better that way, hearing Sherlockians enthuse about its high points without getting into the parts where penises and orifices become involved. And, yes, yes, there is plenty of fan fiction without the interaction of those two bits, but there's plenty of fan fiction of every possible sort, and where there isn't, someone is bound to get to it one of these days. And like I said, just not enough time.

Soooooo, the reason I adore fanfic so greatly from afar?

Three Patch Podcast.

I don't even listen to their "Spoilercasts," which, bless their hearts, is a completely wonderful concept for those of us that want to get to the next Sherlock somewhat untainted in our ability to enjoy it fresh.

Every time I start listening to one of their massive, multi-part, monthly episodes, it just makes me think. Three Patch Podcast is not one of those things one listens to to reinforce one's own view of the world, if one is a middle-aged white male whose Sherlockian education goes back to the Shaw workshop days. (It's funny to think that we once tittered over lines like "I heard a little sigh of satisfaction as he cuddled the butt into his shoulder," given the level of the new fanfic.) I mean, seriously, I don't get why Sherlock and John would want to !%#@ each other, in any universe. (Sorry, ghosts of editors past and present won't let me write "fuck" even now. Oh wait. I just did. But it wasn't in context, so maybe the internal censors let that slide.)

Didn't I say Three Patch makes me think? Perhaps too much.

The latest non-Spoilercast episode had me actually starting to think Sherstrade makes sense. Rupert Graves and the writers have done such an amazing job with that character that there's material to work with. And just as the Sherlockians of old analyzed the Doyle Canon to piece together an exact location for 221B, the new Sherlockian scholarship takes the Moffat/Gatiss Canon and pieces together the exact relationship between the consulting and government detectives. Only now it's in fanfic and podcast discussions instead of the printed page.

And that's cool. Once upon a time, all a fan could hope to do to communicate his or her thoughts was write -- letters, articles, full-length books -- and hope to get any one of those published so more people could share the thoughts than just those you could hand it to. It wasn't a superior medium, it was just the only one we had. So many more now, all equally valid ways to share one's thoughts.

And as much as one might like to complain about the quality of material that doesn't go through some gatekeeper filter and editorial improvement process, the amount of sheer creativity that is out there and being talked about on a very thoughtful level . . . well, while I still haven't read any of jinglebell's Merlock works, hearing her interviewed on same is fascinating. (Even though "Merlock" still sounds like "murloc," and man, do I hate murlocs. "HEH-ROOOOOOOOOOO!" Yuck!)

I'm sure Three Patch Podcast isn't for every fan of Sherlock Holmes, focusing mainly on Cumberbatch and company Sherlock, but if you've got a fairly open mind and some time to let some different point of views in, it can be a little trippy.

I mean, look how much I just babbled here, unable to really even start to express all the thoughts that pour in during on episode, on culture, on creativity, on . . . not more rain. I think Peoria shall wash away soon. Sorry. Like I said, trippy.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Superfight! Sherlock Holmes's first battle.

Though it's been out for a while, this week was the first time I had heard of Skybound Games's Superfight card game. Having had a lot of fun with their ever-popular Cards Against Humanity, and loving the description of Superfight, I ordered it immediately. And when the 500-card starter box arrived today, the first thing I did was flip through the character cards to see if Sherlock Holmes was there. And he was.

So just to see how the game works out, I laid Sherlock on my desk and had my trusted companion pull another character card from the deck: Polar bear.

Sherlock Holmes was going to fight a polar bear.

And now the next step of the game. My trusted companion picked a card from her three-card hand to add to the polar bears powers, and chose "frost breath." She then picked a second attribute card from the deck at random: "Wall-crawler."

Sherlock Holmes was about to fight a wall-crawling polar bear with frost breath. I would imagine him to be some demon bear from the Eskimo version of Hell, as the frost breath was definitely supernatural and wall-crawling is -- outside of Spiderman -- a creepy demon thing.

So I looked at my own three-card hand to see what powers I could imbue Sherlock with to fight this polar bear. Here were my choices:

"Wearing sharp stilettos." (Walking in those things is bad enough, and Holmes was no savate fighter.)

"Has no bones." (Pretty worthless against a freeze-breath bear.)

"Can teleport but goes blind for 10 seconds after each use."

That last one had to be my choice. A seemingly crippling handicap, yes, but if anyone could make up for the loss of sight with his other senses, it would be Sherlock Holmes. Hoping for a little help from the added card, I drew one randomly from the deck. What did I get?

"Can create a hologram of self."

Perfect. Holmes could teleport away and leave a false image of himself at the departure point, keeping the bear focused on the illusion for long enough for his sight to come back. The frost breath is pretty much neutralized.

The one issue I was left with was how, with apparently no weapons but his boxing and baritsu skills, was Sherlock Holmes going to kill a polar bear?

Teleport on to his back, close enough to get him in a choke hold while blind and choke him out?

I googled "Can a man choke out a polar bear?" which, oddly enough, brings up results. One story, purporting to be about a man choking a bear with his bare hands, turned out to be a tale of a man using an axe to nearly decapitate a bear. Another claimed there was too much fur and muscle for a man to choke out a bear. My own thoughts were no more pleasant as I realized that while a man can choke out a larger man with the right hold, a polar bear has claws that could rend the choking arm or leg useless in pretty short order.

The way Superfight is normally played, the two players who constructed the combatants plead their case to the rest of the players, who form a jury to announce a winner. Since this was just a test match, and no jury was present, more internet searching was in order for some hope of saving Sherlock in this match.

One uncorroborated tale told of a hunter cutting off a bear's blood flow by clamping his teeth on the bear's jugular until he passed out, then finishing him with a stick. Hmm, even if true, Sherlock doesn't have a stick. There had to be something else.

Teleporting himself a several stories in the air directly above the bear, and then plunging straight down into the bear, using his legs as spears? Risky, but with potential. Holmes could possibly finish the bear and be only somewhat crippled. Teleportation, while a powerful tool, is kind of a double-edged sword. Holmes could teleport into the bear and kill both of them, depending upon how his powers of teleportation worked. If his own molecules displaced the air or whatever at the point of his arrival, he's be a sure, if slimey, winner . . . or again, sacrifice an arm or a leg by teleporting so that just part of him wound up in a mortal spot for the bear. If medical crews were standing by, he might make it.

A little research into holograms shows that power doesn't really add any lethal effects. So we're back to the grosser side of teleportation.

Yes, teleporting, hologram-making Sherlock Holmes could beat a frost-breath, wall-crawling polar bear. It might cost him, and his survival when the battle was over might be in question, but I think I'm ready to declare him the winner.

Ready to gather some folks to actually play Superfight, now that I've given it the Sherlock Holmes test. It'll be interesting to see how old Sherlock does the next time he pops up in the arena.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The real Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula.

With the passing of film legend Christopher Lee on Sunday . . . well, you know . . . a lot of appreciation coming out. His later film outings in the Tolkien adaptations kept him well on the radar of the general public, and he seems to have crossed everybody's entertainment path at some point . . . and definitely that of the ardent Sherlockian.

Henry Baskerville, Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock Holmes again . . . and again.

Yeah . . .

But while his Mycroft is imprinted on my mind forever . . . "The last doctor who warned me about that was crossing Piccadilly, slipped on an orange peel, and was run over by a delivery van from Fortnum and Mason. Your very good health." . . . it's not a Holmes that will ever be my classic Christopher Lee role.

No, it was those Saturday afternoon matinees in the Strand Theater, where I first saw the preview to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and got hooked on Holmes, where it wasn't Holmes filling the screen but the never-quite-fully-killed Count Dracula.

Christopher Lee's Dracula always overshadowed his Holmes for me. Frank Langella also played both, but was just too pretty for either role, really. Lee's Dracula was commanding, powerful, and total monster. He was the serial killer before my friends and I even knew what serial killers were. When I first learned of Jack the Ripper, I figured he had to be something like Christopher Lee's Dracula, or else why the heck would people be so scared of him?

On my list of movies I want to go to an alternate universe to see one day is a 1960s Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula featuring Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Count Dracula. Hammer Films was doing Cushing as Sherlock and Lee as Dracula, so that film was soooo close, sooo possible (except maybe for the whims of that Doyle kid who was still probably a bit of a problem back then).

For now, however, the only Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula we have featuring Christopher Lee is pitting Lee versus Lee in our looking back at his works in our memories. And that's not too shabby at thing, at that.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bored, with claws.

We have this cat, which we inherited from another Sherlockian who most thought didn't leave Peoria enough. He's a lovely cat, a classic fluffy golden tabby sort of fellow, and a bright one at that. Like our friend Sherlock Holmes, he can lie about and be the laziest thing imaginable, but when the game is afoot, he springs to life and is all energy. Unlike Holmes, however, he does not wait for the cases to come to him. When bored, he tends to start stalking whatever prey is handy.

Just like we do on the good old interwebs sometimes. For example, take this bit from today's Twitter feed:

Now you might think, "Really? You're going to put Howard on display as an example of someone being mean just because they're bored?"

Did I say that? Nope. There's a reason I relate to my cat. And I'm the one that's bored. Time to play "How many captions can I write to go with that picture?"

Jonny Lee Miller picks up his latest script for a new Elementary!

Surprising Joan Watson with a wake-up was harder after she became homeless.

Not wanting Captain Gregson to see he'd wet his trousers, Mr. Elementary
pretended to dig for clues from inside the dumpster.

"I've heard you can find pink suitcases in these things if you look long enough!"

And it was then that he felt the first fin brush against his ankle . . . dumpster piranha!

"I get in the dumps at times . . . see? I can do Canonical!"

If you see a big booty hooker in a trash bag prom dress in this picture, shame on you!

The network quickly realized that a green dumpster was a cheaper recurring character than Alfredo, Miss Hudson, or even Clyde, and started including "Trevor Trashbin" in every episode.

Mr. Elementary didn't really need to stand on Detective Bell's shoulders to get out
of the dumpster, but his "being an ass" quotient was down this week.

The annual "Who can act their way out of a plastic bag?" contest was close at that
year's production company picnic, but Jonny Lee popped out in a photo finish!

"And I thought they smelled bad on the outside!" he said, before taking shelter
for another winter night in downtown Hoth.

Okay, when the Star Wars references come out, it's time to call it a night. Thanks, Howard!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

So much for Saxe-Coburg Square . . . .

One of the lovely things about Sherlock Holmes is that there is at least one place he dined where his followers could always dine as well. Simpson's was the first choice of Sherlock Holmes after a long fast in "The Advenure of the Dying Detective," as well as a place where he could meet Watson while looking out at the passing London streetlife on the Strand in "The Illustrious Client." Other restaurants have not been so lucky.

This thought crossed my mind this morning when I stumbled across the Hiltl Restaurant, the "oldest continuously open vegetarian restaurant in the world." Its claim to fame is based upon its opening in Zurich, Switzerland in 1898.

"Wait a minute," I thought. "Wasn't there a vegetarian restaurant near Saxe-Coburg Square in 1890?"

Well, I didn't exactly think that exact thought -- more like "Wasn't there a vegetarian restaurant in 'The Red-Headed League' which was published in something like 1891, and I should look that up in my chronology . . . oh, it occurred in 1890." But writing that all out doesn't quite flow as nicely, so one wonders why I just did it. Probably because this topic doesn't have much meat to it, in more ways than one.

Anyway, here's the lovely words of Sherlock Holmes from that case:

"I should like just to remember the order of the houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is Mortimer's, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane's carriage-building depot. That carries us right on to the other block. And now, Doctor, we've done our work, so it's time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin land, where all is sweetness, and delicacy, and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums."

There has always been a question of whether or not Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson had their sandwich and coffee at that nearby Vegetarian Restaurant on that October day in 1890. What we do know, however, is that it did exist a full eight years before the Hiltl opened up in Switzerland.

Finding history's first vegetarian restaurant is a trickier proposition. Wikipedia will even tell you that London didn't see its first "successful" vegetarian restaurant until 1961. England had its share of vegetarians throughout the 1800s, and religious vegetarianism was around in other countries long before that. But a vegetarian restaurant?

I find it hard to believe that the one Sherlock Holmes spoke of in "The Red-Headed League" was the first of its kind, but our Sherlock was a cutting-edge sort of fellow. He surely experimenting with vegetarianism's effect on his mental faculties at some point.

These days, the world even has vegetarian McDonald's in India, so that little place near Saxe-Coburg Square might have fared better and not disappeared. But at the time? Perhaps it needed a location that was not quite so hard to find.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Well, of course he is!

My first thought upon hearing of actor John Noble being cast as Mr. Elementary's father in the CBS nit detective show Elementary today was "Stand with me here upon the terrace, for it may be that another fine actor shall be wasted upon dreckful story."

But then I was reminded by a Fringe-fan friend of that eternal possibility that Walter Bishop, John Noble's character on Fringe, could always be evil Walter Bishop from the alternate universe. And then it all kind of fell into place. Even good Walter Bishop in Fringe-world had a son that came from an alternate reality.

And do realities get any more alternate than Elementary?

My personal theory has always been that Mr. Elementary was part of the homeless network that Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch version) used, a heroin addict gone delusional. This theory has become harder to sustain as the real modern Sherlock's fame grew and no one in New York seemed to ever do a Google search and find they were following an imposter around. But now, with the introduction of a man who looks a lot like a dimension-hopper from another reality as the guy who put Mr. Elementary in New York with Joan to begin with . . . well, it all comes back to making sense.

The delusional Mr. Elementary wasn't just moved out of London to let him play Sherlock. He was moved to an alternate universe without a Sherlock, so he could play to his heart's content. Well, until that demon heroin lured him back into the tunnel of injections.

Oh, Walter Bishop Holmes, you wacky, wacky genius! What will you come up with next?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Hope of visiting 221B.

Rob Nunn raised an interesting question tonight on Twitter about A Study in Scarlet. To save you a couple of clicks, I'll quote it here:

"The address of 221B was in Holmes’ advertisement about the missing wedding ring when Jefferson Hope dodged Holmes’ first trap. If Hope is smart enough to do that, surely he would be smart enough to recognize that same address popping up a second time in such a short span, especially with the intimate knowledge of streets and addresses that London cabbies have. So my question is, why did Hope agree to pick up someone at 221B?"

As Holmes's opponents go, Jefferson Hope was a great one. Sure, he's not as "pure Evil" as the more black-and-white might like, but that is part of what makes the best villains -- a firm conviction that they are doing the right thing.

"You may consider me to be a murderer; but I hold that I am just as much an officer of justice as you are," Hope tells Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade after his story is done. While this Hope is much more noble in some ways than the Jefferson Hope of BBC Sherlock's "A Study in Pink," they do share certain interesting qualities: They both know their time on Earth is soon to be over and neither one worries too much about walking into Baker Street. The two facts most likely go hand in hand.

The original Jefferson Hope was taken by surprise when Holmes slapped handcuffs on him and responded with a "roar of fury" and tried to escape by crashing through a window. (Quick trivia: How many people broke windows at 221B Baker Street? I can think of two, including Hope. More?) But once Jefferson Hope was quite kindly once the shock had passed. He had the instincts of a wild mountain man, but also the perceptions of a gentleman. In fact he seems almost like a proud grandfather when he talks about Holmes getting those handcuffs on him:

"I was standing in the yard when a ragged youngster asked if there was a cabby there called Jefferson Hope, and said that his can was wanted by a gentleman at 221B, Baker Street. I went round, suspecting no harm, and the next thing I knew, this young man here had the bracelets on my wrists, and as neatly shackled as ever I saw in my life."

Jefferson Hope is an older fellow, having successfully accomplished his life's mission of vengeance, and is just kind of letting things play out. And while he may recognize the address at 221B Baker Street, he has no reason to associate it with law enforcement. In fact, the coincidence of it being the same address he had the ring retrieved from probably just made him all the more curious as to what the resident of that flat was all about -- it actually added incentive for him to return, since he wasn't fearing capture too much anyway, being on the side of justice and with not much time to live. Otherwise he would always wonder . . . which almost takes us to a reverse of the "always wonder" that almost got Sherlock killed in the BBC Sherlock appearance of Hope.

Perhaps I have that latter adaptation too much on the brain of late, but the TV Jefferson Hope's tortured cry of "MORIARTY!" lines up interestingly with the Canon Jefferson Hope's reticence to give up the name of his accomplice who fooled Sherlock Holmes, getting the lost wedding ring back in the guise of old "Mrs. Sawyer." We know that Holmes supposedly only first met Moriarty in "The Final Problem," but Moriarty's appearance in The Valley of Fear already raises questions about some details of that earlier record. Could it be that a decade-younger Moriarty took a little more active hand in criminal adventures and owed a favor to a London cabbie on a mission of vengeance?

That's the thing about the Canon of Sherlock Holmes. You try to answer one question, and you just wind up with at least one more.