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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sherlock for President 2015 . . . seriously?

Way back in the year 2000, I came up with a fun idea for a Sherlockian symposium presentation: Sherlock Holmes for President. His qualifications, his stump speech, posters, signs, hats, shills in the crowd . . . the whole bit.

Back then, it was, as with so many Sherlockian ventures, a light-hearted lark, a bit of silliness just for fun to distract or enhance the usual campaign slog. The idea that a person most think of as a fictional character, a figure who wouldn't fit into the traditional politician role, was, at that time, a thing of sheer fantasy, a thing just for fun. And, as always, the election went forward and we voted in someone who was not as intelligent or observant as Sherlock Holmes.

Every few years when the election cycle begins again, I think of our friend Sherlock and that crazy idea. And most years, it just seems like the silly sort of party game it was.

And then we came to this election cycle . . . .

A reality TV show character catapulted to front-running presidential candidate on a springboard of Neilsen ratings, rather than the usual political career resume.

And suddenly, I find myself going, "What's the difference between Donald Trump and Sherlock Holmes?"

Sure, one can make personal appearances. But does it really matter if one can only appear on TV with an actor standing in for him? He can still pull ratings.

Writers come up with speeches for all political candidates. Sherlock has writers galore. Image is what gains the most votes for every candidate. Sherlock has a worldwide image for problem-solving, justice, and making the world a better place. And did any candidate ever come so well pre-stocked with a running mate?

There's just one truly problematic thing about Sherlock Holmes running for president of the United States of America. He can't exactly move into the White House and do the job.

That's the real problem with fictional characters. We can get excited about them. We can rally behind them. We can even make them win a popular vote.

But in the end, we really do need someone who can do the job.

Pity, because I really think Sherlock Holmes would be an excellent choice.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

An Amazon bargain: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow Watchers

When I was an internet lad, you used to be able to search Amazon for Sherlock Holmes related Christmas gifts without being presented with a link to a B-minus Holmes film that your Amazon Prime account would start up with just a click.

So it was that I found myself watching Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow Watchers, a 2011 production that has "community theater" written all over it. An original tale, Shadow Watchers features a Sherlock whose idea of an experiment is holding his breath until he passes out, an Inspector Lestrade who bums whiskey off beat constables, and a Watson that . . . well . . . might have actually made a passable Watson with some better casting around him.

Shadow Watcher's Sherlock seems more like a country parson with a Holmes delusion than the real deal. Of course, this Holmes, like the one in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, freely admits that Watson's writings embellish him somewhat. So if you take it as a "Watson-embellished" Holmes, about anyone can play him.

Lestrade, however, is quite an idiot, even for Lestrade: "Someone will have to face justice for this, Raleigh, and I've told you, it's not going to be me." This Lestrade seems so incompetent that he might actually arrest himself by mistake. (His second suspect, after Raleigh, is Paganini.)

If Nicolo Paganini, however, had heard the violin-scraping that this Sherlock passes off as a Paganini tune, I suspect he might have made a new deal with the devil to have the cast and crew of this film taken to a special hell.

The mystery isn't too mysterious, as like many a TV show, we see the killer doing the killing. And prostitution in Shadow Watcher's London must pay well, as even when the journalist Raleigh tells the prostitute he's in love with that he can take her away from "all this," he's doing so in front of a marble fireplace in a a room with some posh Victorian furnishings.

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow Watchers is one of those movies that seems best played with a little alcohol and friends. In one scene, Holmes and Watson are sitting together in a fashion that looks, for all the world, like Watson is Holmes's ventriloquist dummy. In another scene both night and moving fog look to have been laid in in post-production. And there's a red-robed cardinal who just won't shut up.

"Wait! I'm the bloody policeman!" Lestrade calls out, chasing after Watson during the exciting conclusion, like he's trying to direct the film from within. (The actual director is the Sherlock Holmes of the film, Anthony D.P. Mann. Holmeses are often their own directors, it seems.)

"A mummfied bog-man" is mentioned in the wrap-up as their next case, after much ado from the bad-acting Lestrade over no one talking about the current one, however, and I actually found myself wanting to see that case as well, so I guess there was something to recommend in this Canadian production . . . at least if you have an appreciation for a certain level of cinema.

And it was approved by the Conan Doyle Estate.

But now that I've seen it, it won't be going on my Amazon Wish List. Back to shopping.

Why I don't subscribe to the Baker Street Journal.

Early this morning, before heading into a rare Saturday shift, I was greeted by a note in the old e-mailbox from the supreme commander of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. It was the annual announcement and write-up of the upcoming January doings, and it's nice to still be included in that, even though my past active participation was at least ten years ago.

But a question was asked, within those pages, and I figure I can participate enough to answer it, even though I know what comes out of my keyboard isn't going to satisfy anyone. It's not the answer anyone wants to hear, and the ad hominum arguments against any answer from this locale are probably pre-loaded with a few of those concerned. It's just Keefauver, after all.

The question from the head Irregular: "Can anyone enlighten me and others why there isn’t 100% participation of Irregulars in support of the BSJ by maintaining an annual subscription?"

As an Irregular who doesn't subscribe to The Baker Street Journal, my reason is pretty simple: I quit collecting everything associated with Sherlock Holmes. I had been receiving the Journal and not reading it for a couple years, and when the $40 subscription came due one year, I decided to spend the money on something else. This might be inconceivable to a lot of  Irregulars in good standing with the leadership, for as their chief states after his question: "I personally think that pride alone in our society would be enough to insure subscribing."

Personally, pride isn't really a motivator for me. Inclusiveness is. At some point, The Baker Street Journal became a separate entity from the Irregulars in my mind, as the quest for subscribers went on one course, while the quest for members went another.

"We could make it [subscriptions] mandatory as does the Sherlock Holmes Society of London," the B.S.I. commander-in-chief continued after his question, leaving out the fact that the Sherlock Holmes Society of London lets people sign up for membership to get their journal. The journal is just a perk of dues-paying members. If the Baker Street Irregulars wants to operate off the SHSoL model and let anyone be a member just by signing up and paying dues, I might proudly send them a check. Or not.

Because I'd still have to want to read it, and my tastes, as many a reader of this blog knows, are not always in the Sherlockian mainstream.

The world of print publishing is a hard place these days, yes. But The Baker Street Journal will find its niche and rise and fall in subscription numbers as it has always done. When it needed to be mimeographed and paper-brad bound, it still survived.  I have no doubt that it would go to a PDF format and go web-based, should the costs of paper and ink become too much to deal with. It's a great medium for getting content out . . . unless you really need something to collect, which, as I said, I'm pretty much done with. I'm not supporting the habits of those collectors who remain -- I've got too much stuff to get rid of as it is.

I really can't enlighten the supreme leader of the B.S.I. why others might not be supporting his favorite causes. I'd be curious to hear their reasons myself. As to why I'm not?

Just not interested at the moment. Maybe one day. But if that 100% subscriber number is important enough to trim the B.S.I. membership to attain it, well, they can have at it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Lois Lane meets Sherlock Holmes.

At tonight's gathering of the Hansoms of John Clayton, Peoria's own little Sherlockian society, the topic centered upon "A Case of Identity," one of the most criticized stories of the whole Sherlockian Canon. Well, maybe the story isn't exactly what gets criticized so much as the client, to whom the whole mystery is a mystery to begin with. And that's where a curious new perspective came up.

"How stupid can she be?" has been the battle-cry for discussions of "A Case of Identity" for as long as I can remember. Miss Mary Sutherland, who makes her living at a typewriter, can't seem to tell one man from another simply because he disguises himself, primarily with a pair of glasses.

Sound like any other fictional character of note that we know?

Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane made her living at a typewriter keyboard, and was courted by a fellow in glasses who was really someone else in her life . . . Superman. Superman, of course, was not Lois's step-father (that we know of). Lois also had the benefit of just being one of the many citizens of Metropolis who were fooled by that simple disguise. She was just the one who should have had the best vantage point to see through it.

And it was Superman fooling Lois. The same thing happens to you and the guy without his disguise is James Windibank, the travelling claret import buyer . . . well, you don't quite get the same credit as Lois Lane.

But what if Miss Mary Sutherland had seen her fiance get into that four-wheeler that arrived at her wedding chapel empty and later discovered he had "Up, up, and away!"-ed out of the cab and off to stop some disaster on the other side of London? What if Mr. Hosmer Angel had turned out to be the Victorian Clark Kent? Would we still consider her such a dim bulb?

It's all in who's fooling you with that silly glasses disguise, I guess. Now that I see Mary Sutherland as the Victorian Lois Lane, I might have a little more respect for her the next time I read that tale.

If only she got to whack her step-dad with a little kryptonite . . . .

Picking up the ancient tome.

I remember as a kid seeing characters on TV and in movies do the coolest thing: pulling an ancient book from their shelves and turning pages to find just the right bit of old wisdom they needed. So this morning when I went to the shelves and pulled down that blue book with "1891" on the spine, it was hard not to get a little thrill.

It's one hundred and twenty-four years old. Older than any human being I know. And yet, here I am, looking into this mildly ancient tome to re-experience its words for tonight's gathering of the Hansoms of John Clayton.

The story I read was "A Case of Identity," one that longtime fans don't usually think of as such a big deal in the life of Sherlock Holmes, as no actionable crime (at that time) was involved, and Holmes doesn't even really help his client whatsoever within the pages of the story. Yet the story is so quotable, so rich in colorful detail, that it captures why these stories have been so popular, especially since the main plot is rather wanting -- and yet it is still fun to read.

It starts with some philosophizing upon real life and fiction. Sherlock Holmes does some things we don't usually associate with him, like showing off the big diamond ring he's wearing on one hand . . . this younger Holmes liked being "pimped out" when his pal Watson came to call, showing off that ring and offering the doctor snuff, apparently, just to do a "Hey, get a look at this posh snuffbox!" move.

I've always found Holmes's words on Mary Sutherland intriguing, as there are parts that belie his supposed disinterest in woman. His line "I found her more interesting than her little problem" is usually thought to be about all the details that he rambles on about immediately after saying that. But Holmes is a young guy talking to his best buddy here. Later, when he says, ". . . it was evident that with her fair personal advantages, and her little income, she would not be allowed to remain single long."

"Fair personal advantages" has that restrained Victorian tone which makes one wonder just what a modern American male of Holmes's age and mind would have put in its place. Holmes and Watson obviously both spent a lot of time checking Mary Sutherland out in this story, and spend such an inordinate amount of time talking about her appearance that one starts to wonder what the parts Watson left out of his write-up were.

And if you think that's a little sexist, the story's ending is always the worst part: men pranking a man over something he did to a woman without seeming to do anything to help that woman's situation. Their reason?

"If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember that old Persian saying, 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for him who taketh delusion from a woman.' There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge in the world."

Wow. Nice of Holmes to be all multi-cultural, but picking up the sexist attitudes of the old Persians does not seem too progressive. He even seems pretty young to be so jaded in his dealings with the opposite sex . . . his dating life must not have gone well at all.

The "ancient wisdom" I found in that one hundred and twenty-five year old book may seem a little dated on the surface, but people now are not all that different from those of Holmes's time. We do tend to allow others their "delusions" rather than have a frank discussion at times. (How much more current would if make the quote if I wrote: "There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for him who taketh delusion from a CBS Elementary fan." But I won't . . .)  There is so much to be found in any Holmes story that it is easy to garner something new out of any open minded re-reading.

And that's why we're still talking about these stories, after all this time. All fiction should be so colorfully painted, even when it's not as "infinitely strange" as real life.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

He's back!

He came back tonight, and even though he wasn't quite as bad as when last I saw that face, it was good to see him once again.

Well, he was pretty bad . . . just not so clever with the evil. I think that's it.

Peoria's a funny old town. You can be the first person into the opening night performance of a new James Bond movie by showing up a mere hour ahead and buying your ticket. We don't sell out of much here, and we have some pretty good screens, so you can really enjoy an opening night, which I did tonight with Spectre.

Bond was back, with so many familiar Bond-ish bits that I actually feared for a Diana Rigg ending to the film. But the one thing that occasionally took me to somewhere else was the presence of Andrew Scott as a very powerful figure in London, sitting at the center of his own spider's web. I think he was cast in the role specifically for a hint of Moriarty, making you think he's not-so-innocent from the start. But just a hint, just an Andrew Scott look . . . the rest is a different sort of character.

Of course, James Bond has his own Moriarty, so Sherlock's arch-nemesis can't be the worst thing in the British empire. And we can't have Irene Adler in a James Bond movie, because James . . . well, there's a power dynamic conflict there that I don't think we'd want to see . . . somebody would wind up losing their mojo, and I vote "neither."

"M" isn't exactly Mycroft, and Money Penny is no Mrs. Hudson. Though they operate out of the same town, Holmes and Bond are two very different fellows.

Yet for a couple of hours, they share a certain familiar face this week. And that is not a bad thing at all.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Spinning sexual revolutions.

Sometimes when two thoughts love each other very much, they crash into each other and make little baby thoughts. I hope this doesn't come as a surprise, and that your parents fulfilled their parental obligations and didn't leave that education to the school system, because I'm going to relate a tale of idea intercourse in the following paragraphs.

I was reading a review of some published Johnlock fanfic by one of my male Sherlockian peers, who expressed that same curiosity that most of us boys have about the genre. (As in, "What the . . .?") And then I watched the past week's episode of South Park, in which two of the boys found themselves being drawn in a gay Japanese romance art created by girls for girls . . . which made one immediately think of actors Freeman and Cumberbatch. And as I watched the lads, Craig and Tweak, coming up with their own solution to the problem, it came to me: The conservative Sherlockian male's fanfic counter-move.

Let's face it, guys, the internet fanfic repositories are filled to the brim with guy-on-guy Sherlockian action these days. Metaphorical tons of it.  And it's not going anywhere, nor should it. People are gonna like what they're gonna like. But here's the way fanfic, the black market of stories, works: If you aren't getting what you want elsewhere, you write it yourself for you and your friends.

"You know, Sherlock," John said one eve, looking at his friend over a cuppa, "You'd probably be someone a gay matchmaker might pair up with me, but I am just inordinately fond of knockers."

"And said matchmaker would be hard-pressed to make a living, because I can't see myself carnally engaged with anyone who'd wear a jumper like that," Sherlock retorted. "Have you seen Irene Adler?"

Yes, just as Craig and Tweak had to fake a break-up to get out of their imagined gay romance on South Park, the answer for those who disagree with the entire premise of Johnlock fanfic is equally simple: Break 'em up. Or ever pre-break them up, writing a million variant scenes in which Holmes and Watson express their disinterest in each other. Create a new fictional multiverse in which our two heroes care more about solving crimes -- any crimes, no matter how dull -- than having sex. Publish a vast legion of books with that premise, to counter the tide and . . .

Oh, wait, that already happened once. A full century of it, actually.

And after that century of fairly sexless adventures, a sexual revolution came to the world of Holmes and Watson as they were pushed ahead into the modern era, and suddenly fanfic told us they were gay, very gay, and even mutatedly biologically gay sometimes . . . it's almost as if they're trying to make up for lost time, going at it like rabbits.

Yet the one exception to that tide, that one powerful opposing voice in the wilderness, that one corporate conservative punditry that has stood up and shouted the message "NAY! Sherlock Holmes is a heterosexual male who will have sex with almost anyone who has the appropriate opposite sex parts! And Watson? Sure, Watson wants to have sex with men, but because she's a woman, as God meant her having-sex-with-men desires to be directed!" to ten million Nielsen families on the CBS network . . . that one great defier of the fanfic weather is . . . is . . . .

And people wonder why I seem to be supporting the endless creativity we're seeing in Johnlock, etc., fiction these days.

It's a funny old world.