Monday, January 30, 2017

Playing cards versus playing chess.

There's a subject that I've written on before that came back to me tonight: the difference between playing cards and playing chess.

My personal view is that Sherlock Holmes was a card player . . . which we know he was, given his aborted attempt to get a game going in "The Red-Headed League." But not only that he was a card player, that it was, at his core, more the player of cards than ever the player of chess.

Moriarty might have been a chess player. Mycroft might have been a chess player. Powerful men with grand plans, moving pieces around the board that was England, or perhaps the world. But Sherlock?

Sherlock was the one who could see "the fall of the cards," as he said in "Bruce-Partington Plans." He never knew just what hand the villains of England were going to deal for him next . . . he just looked at the cards he was given and worked out how best to play them.

"You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table," he told Watson when they faced Charles Augustus Milverton. And he was right. That case was a very bad hand, and Holmes made more than one play that was out of his normal methods -- a seemingly heartless bit of fraud, a burglary, covering up a homicide.

Those in power get to play chess . . . whether they are good players or ill . . . but the lowly consulting detective is only left with every bit of skill he possesses and the hope that luck will bring the right cards his way.

Something about that is ringing very on-point with me right now, as we see a greater game being played out in the news, with the stakes as high as we've seen in some time. Time for the card players, like our friend Sherlock Holmes, to ply their skills.

And I think of Josiah Amberly, a pathetic, futile broken old man, as Watson described him, who was a chess player. A chess player who planned out his schemes of punishment for those he felt wronged by to the last detail. And Amberly was successful to a point . . . the point Sherlock Holmes picked up the cards Amberly had laid out for him.

Perhaps I have a certain fondness for card-players, and their ability to deal with what might be a perfectly awful situation in the moment and still bring about a happy conclusion. I also have a definite fondness for Sherlock Holmes.

And I don't think those two are unconnected. Here's to the card-players.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Panel punditry panic!

The deadline for applying to be on a panel at 221B Con 2017 is fast approaching, and with just a couple of days left, choices need to be made.

Well, that is, if one would like to sit on a panel.

Therein lies the source of my perturbation.

Life in the old world of Sherlockian doings gave one plenty of room to get comfortable with public speaking. Stand at a podium, give a talk on a subject with prepared remarks, reading from an essay you'd already written in the early days or speaking a little more freely from an outline as one got better at it. Public speaking, not a problem. You knew where it was going to go.

The panel discussion, however?

Well, it's a completely different animal. You get to join a few people in giving your considered opinions on a topic in an unstructured format. Interaction, the balanced mix of personality, with . . . hopefully . . . some give and take, can make for a delightfully unpredictable wellspring of info and ideas.

The nature of the panel feels like it calls for experts on a topic, or at least colorful personalities familiar with same, and while I can ramble all day at a keyboard, my default setting for being at a table full of new faces is to sit back and see what they have to say before jumping in with my own bits . . . a defense mechanism built from a lifetime of not knowing what is liable to offend a given person when the roulette wheel of thought starts spinning.

The other thing about looking at 221B Con panels, and this is what I love most about them, is that so much of it is not the traditional Sherlockian world I spent previous decades in . . . Sherlock-oriented panels. The number of subjects one knows nothing about interspersed through a list of panels one might know a thing or two about makes the entire list a very daunting thing. Just looking at it makes me feel like a total noob in a hobby I've been in all of my adult life.

And so, determined to be a little more participatory at this year's con, the first step seemed to be copying the whole list of panels and make a first pass, eliminating every panel where the most I could contribute would be dressing up like the Queen and doing that little queen-wave at the audience.

That left . . . amazingly . . . sixteen whole panels that I could be somewhat knowledgeable on.

Now . . . panels where I might possess more savvy than the average Sherlockian. That cut the list down by half, to eight.

One of those bores me entirely . . . so seven.

Seven panels where I think I could make a decent contribution, and with only a list of those seven to look at, my panel punditry panic has subsided completely. From here I can build my case as a panelist for each of those seven and let the good folks at 221B Con decide where I might be of use. That case-building might result in another disqualification or two, so let's see . . . .

Well, I might or might not have taken one of those off my final list, but basically I tossed them at the runners of 221B Con and let them sort it out. If they put me on zero panels, I'm fine with that . . . no matter what panel you sit on, you get to miss some other panel you wanted to see. And these days, with so many bright, young minds full of energy and enthusiasm (Last year a panel on Sebastian Moran by a couple of very young ladies still remains a vivid memory of how great these new fans can be.) . . . this aging male Sherlockian doesn't really think he needs to be talking quite so much, and listening more.

Looking forward to doing a lot of listening at 221B Con this year, as ever.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Year of the Fighting Cock.

During their initial months together, Sherlock Holmes was explaining one of the basic rules of his mind palace to John Watson. (In the 1880s version, Holmes called his mind palace a "brain attic," of course . . . an attic being the perfect mental metaphor a child would develop for storing interesting things away.) And that rule of mind palace governance was simple: Don't put anything into it that you aren't going to need.

The reason for this explanation was Watson's astonishment that Holmes didn't care about what celestial body orbited what, specifically that the Earth travelled around the sun. Later, when Holmes would display knowledge of such things as the obliquity of the ecliptic, it would seem to have been a bit of a put-on, but still, it gives one pause to wonder if Sherlock Holmes cared at all about the lunisolar calendar used in China . . . the one that brings us to Chinese New Year every year.

The are twelve animals symbolically assigned to each year in a twelve-year cycled of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, and six elements assigned to those. A given animal-element combination comes around only once every sixty years. And this year, after sixty years of waiting, we've come back around to the fire cock.

Those sensitive to words that also have sexual connotations might like to say "fire rooster," but going by the language of the Sherlockian Canon, a good Sherlockian must stick to the fire cock. And how does that relate to Sherlock Holmes?

Well, actual cocks are mentioned three times in the original Canon of Holmes.

First is in the innocent young Lucy Ferrier's words in A Study in Scarlet as she mistakes vultures for "Cocks and hens."

Second is the non-human murder victim of "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," which Holmes points out as "A white cock, most interesting! It is really a very curious case."

And thirdly, there was the pub called "the Fighting Cock," from "The Adventure of the Priory School." In that story, an illegitimate heir to power with a brutal accomplice uses that pub to hold an innocent young fellow named Arthur hostage. Powerful men's secrets and less-powerful men looking to profit all combine for a mess that only Sherlock Holmes can straighten out.

And if you think that doesn't make for a fine forced metaphor about this particular year, you just aren't letting your mind open up quite enough.

A fire cock would have to be a fighting cock, and Sherlock Holmes's time at the Fighting Cock resulted in illegitimate and low characters being arrested or sent to the other side of the world.

We should be so lucky in our own year of the Fighting Cock. Happy Chinese New Year!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Unrecorded podcasts live!

Podcasts are legion now, and 2017 has brought a couple of new ones on old Canon to the Sherlockian fore: "I Grok Sherlock" out of Toronto and the just-announced "Trifles" from the "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" crew. But as much as a fan of podcasts as I am, this morning I find myself all about the Sherlockian discussions that take place live and in person.

Most of my experience with Sherlockian meet-ups in the past has been the varied styles of scion meetings that usually include food, can be at a restaurant or someone's home, include papers or presentations, possibly a quiz, and a lot of socializing. After well over thirty years at this hobby, now I'm actually discovering something new that I'm sure has previously existed in other places for a very long time: the library discussion group.

Meeting folks in a library to talk about Sherlock Holmes takes away the food and those ancillary folks who are just coming for drinks, dinner, or socializing, and really seems to focus matters more on the subject at hand. And unlike a book club, only seven percent of original Holmes works are novels, so the focus tends to get even better in devoting the time to a short story. And what perfect short stories they are for that focus!

My favorite podcasts, I've noticed, are the ones with multiple voices and multiple points of view, playing off each other in new and unexpected ways every episode, and what does one get with a good discussion of a Holmes tale with a table full of people?

That very thing.

Podcasts can be very entertaining, but their one-sided nature does have its downfalls. I've found I tend to dearly love Sherlockian podcasts about fanfic which I know nothing about, yet am never as happy with podcasts about Sherlockian topics I know too much about. When  the podcasters stretch for some piece of data they don't have at hand (yet is right in the front of your brain) or make a statement that's completely wrong in the heat of the moment . . . and then elaborate on it . . . the inability to talk back can bring a little frustration. A good discussion group can give you all of the fun of a podcast, yet you're there to interact, ask questions, and enjoy the fun first-hand.

Don't get me wrong here -- I love podcasts. They've replaced radio for background listening for driving, chores, or anything else that doesn't command your full attention. And there's plenty of time between actual meet-ups for those. But, oh, a good Sherlockian discussion group!

I'd like to thank my St. Louis friends in the Parallel Cases for demonstrating to me that a library group could be a very stimulating environment for Sherlockian fun, as well as the Peoria folk who turned out last night to talk Sherlock. On to next month!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

About to discuss the dishonorable Dr. Watson.

I was re-reading "A Scandal in Bohemia" for Thursday night's discussion of it at Peoria's North Branch Library (at 6:30, if you're local), when I was struck by a particular pair of statements.

"I understand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour and discretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most extreme importance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate with you alone," the king of Bohemia says to Sherlock Holmes.

Dr. Watson rises to leave immediately. Sherlock Holmes pushes him back into his chair and says, "It is both or none."

And while we love Holmes's sentiment, look again at what the king actually says. He seems to know who Watson is, and actually compliments him. All Watson has to say is "Thank you, I shall be honored to show myself worthy of your trust," or something similar. Even a simple, "You can count on me!"

But Watson seems to have doubts as to his own standing as a man of honor and discretion. Or whether he's worthy of trust. He's quick to try to excuse himself.

And, also rather notably, Sherlock Holmes doesn't say anything at all about Watson's trustworthiness, or vouch for him in the slightest. He just goes "Both or none," and "You may say before this gentleman anything which you may say to me." In other words, "We're a matched set. The same." Holmes doesn't say anything about his trustworthiness either.

The king binds them with a promise, however, with a two year duration. And both men give a verbal affirmation of that promise. The first vows in a matter in which vows become very important.

Yet I still have to wonder at this hint of an unworthy, dishonorable Watson. Almost like he had failed such a test on a case prior to this one, and requires Holmes's absolution. Was it just Watson's marriage that had "drifted us away from each other," as Watson writes in the story's beginning? Or was there something else?

One of the things fans and writers, be they professional or amateur, have long enjoyed about Sherlock Holmes is the way the stories inspire other stories, and even a couple of lines like those just mentioned seem to be "heavy with child," so to speak. What was going on with Watson in "A Scandal in Bohemia?"

I'm not entirely sure, but I'm looking forward to discussing it, among other things, this Thursday night.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

That first short story . . . .

Looking back at "A Scandal in Bohemia" from this, the far future, one can find it a very odd choice for the first of an ongoing series that would be the Victorian era's predecessor to the TV series.

While Sherlock Holmes had been fully introduced in two novels previously, was there an expectation that readers of The Strand Magazine had read Lippincott's Magazine the year before, or Beeton's Christmas Annual over three years before? Watson seems to think so, as he cites the latter in his narrative . . . a line that makes perfect sense to latter day readers who so often have all of the stories gathered in a single collection. But at the time the story came out?

"What's this A Study in Scarlet he's talking about?" would seem a natural response.

Sherlock Holmes doesn't even seem to be a detective, if one reads the opening to "A Scandal in Bohemia" cold. He's "a trained reasoner" who "was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime." Watson writes of it less as Holmes's profession and more of as a deeply immersive hobby.

Watson is paying Holmes a visit and just happens to be there when a man in a mask shows up to talk about royal blackmail. The very first story of Sherlock Holmes to cross many a reader's path and he's nowhere near the cliche murder-solver that he is so often automatically cast as. He's a domestic spy or an artful burglar in this case . . . but a detective? Not at all.

And then he blows it. First story in the series. First client in the series. And he blows it.

All well and good if you've had two successful novel-length cases prior to get established. But as the opening to a new series? A very curious choice. Almost like somebody in the decision process had a real crush on a certain celebrity character (or whom it was based on) when placing it at the head of the line.

In male-dominated Victorian England, the premiere episode of what would become a wildly popular series featured a woman totally pwning the tale's ingenious male main character. And Sherlock Holmes definitely is the main character of this story, inserting himself into the lives of those in a celebrity love triangle.

Which is odd as well, yet at least makes more sense for a kick-off story. A celebrity love triangle, full of masks, disguises, and a secret marriage, is just the sensational tale you'd want to lead with.

Still, if the average person were to describe a typical Sherlock Holmes story, "A Scandal in Bohemia" is nowhere close to what they'd be describing. Did Doyle eventually settle into a sort of formula, or do our minds just like to group things in a category and let the most common set the model? One wonders what Sherlock Holmes's adventures would have been like, had Doyle continued the sensational, free-wheeling sort of tale we see in "A Scandal in Bohemia."

Perhaps the result might have been something wild enough to make BBC Sherlock's "The Final Problem" seem a little less unusual.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A new year for Sherlock Holmes in Peoria, Illinois.

At 6:30 this Thursday night, at the North Branch of the Peoria Public Library, the Sherlock Holmes discussion begins again. I love the "again" part of that sentence, because the discussion of Sherlock Holmes has never really ended since the great detective showed up in the 1800s, but since there's only sixty stories to discuss, it can begin again, and again, and again . . . .

The "Sherlock Holmes Story Society" as the library will be calling it, will feature discussion of a short story per month, starting with "A Scandal in Bohemia" this Thursday, and as any Sherlock Holmes fan knows, you can get as much discussion out of a Conan Doyle short story as many a book club novel . . . with much less homework!

Irene Adler, the King of Bohemia, "the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing," Sherlock Holmes's acting company, that curious way Sherlock says "Goodnight," the disguises, Holmes being beaten . . . so many things to talk about in "A Scandal in Bohemia," and you'll probably be seeing some thoughts on it coming out here this week before and after the library meet-up.

But it's a good time to start discussing the story cycle of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson again, with a new year and a new season of Sherlock just done. Sixty stories covering the twenty-three year career of the world's first consulting detective . . . which done monthly and successfully makes for a five year run in itself, which many a Sherlock Holmes society has done (sometimes multiple times). How far will we go this time? One never knows.

But it's always a good time getting there. Thursday night, 6:30 at Peoria's North Branch library.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Holmes alone gets to be right. Except Norbury, etc.

Did this week mark the greatest flood of Sherlockian opinion our fan culture has ever seen?

Well, if we add "published" opinion, just to be sure. But even without, the Earth's population is over twice what it was in 1960, and the amount of media saturation involved . . . .

Consider this, for starters: The Strand Magazine's circulation ran about 500,000 copies throughout Sherlock's original run. BBC Sherlock's episodes were viewed by between eight and twelve million people in the UK alone. And now we've got this whole world-wide-web thing connecting us, rather than the mail service and print publications of only thirty years ago.

So, opinions. So many opinions. And I am not sure we've decided what that's all about yet. We all got to publish our views of the latest mass-media Sherlock Holmes story on the web, whether it was on a podcast, in a blog post, or just a few lines on our personal Facebook page. What were we intending with that?

Catharsis, for some. All that reaction emotion, positive or negative, can use a healthy outlet, and sharing is a healthy outlet, if sharing is what you're about.

A considered analysis, for others. Some of us like to work through our thoughts "on paper," even though we're not using paper so much these days. And once you've gone to all the trouble to get the words down, why not share, in case someone else finds them useful?

And then we come to the sports team side of things. Those who go binary on every topic and need to see a winner rise from the imaginary games that make up their world. (One might tend to see this as a distinctly male point of view, but let's not be sexist.) Those who opine like they're about to slam that football to the ground after scoring the game-winning goal with their irrefutable logic. Or preach like the love or hate of a thing is God-ordained and the one true way, for whatever moral cause they've taken up. (Been there, done that, still doing community service for it.)

Wherever they come from, we've all got a lot of opinions to take in . . . so many that we practically need a Sherlockian Rotten Tomatoes (Latest BBC Sherlock, by the way: 59% positive with critics, 32% positive with RT users.), though unlike Rotten Tomato movie scores, those numbers probably aren't going to affect whether we watch something or not. We're Sherlockians, we have to investigate for ourselves.

As reviewers, we post to the web for whatever reason, but as readers? What are we looking for in all these reviews?

Personally, I find I enjoy reviews as I've always enjoyed them, going back to Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert and the like: a.) Analyses that expand my view and add to what I got from a work, or b.) Writers who are just so damned fun to read that they can hate on something I loved and still be a good time, or c.) Those few fine folk whose view of things I'm actually interested in because they've proven themselves worthwhile in the past. (We'd all like to think we're one of those, wouldn't we?)

Still, I'm wondering what the best use of all this torrent of opinion will be, once someone figures out the killer app for our new natural resource.

Soooo many opinions on "The Final Problem" (Revised edition) this week. And it's only been a week, which is the most incredible part of all.

(This completely Sherlockian point of view, however, does not take into account that this was a GREAT week to have opinions on a certain non-Sherlockian matter and to act on those opinions. Kudos to everyone out there who got out and had some life outside the Holmes bubble this week!)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Canonical village of Trumpington.

Walp, I guess it's time to look at a particular minor detail of the original Sherlockian Canon that Sherlockians haven't had a reason to focus on . . . until Friday. Because on Friday, "Trumpington" suddenly became a nickname for the capital city of Washington, D.C. So what do we know about the Trumpington that Sherlock Holmes visited that one time in 1896 or 1897?

Turning to "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter," you can find a couple references to the little village of Trumpington. And what's the first thing Sherlock Holmes does when he gets there?

"This should be the village of Trumpington to the right of us. And by Jove! Here is the brougham coming quick around the corner! Quick, Watson, quick, or we are done!"

The first thing Sherlock does is grab the dog Pompey and hide with Watson behind a hedge because the "bro" is coming.

Hmm. That can certainly be open to some interpretations as a portent. On to the next reference.

"Their secret was known to no one save to me and to one excellent servant who has at present gone for assistance to Trumpington," Dr. Armstrong says. Yes, the servant who went to Trumpington to find medical assistance for a patient who died before any such assistance came.

Secrets. Servants. Healthcare. Broken hearts. The lonely cottage just outside of Trumpington where "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" takes place is full of things familiar in the Trumpington we're seeing now. Was Conan Doyle psychic?

Nawwwww. He just left us with a Canon so rich in detail you can find just about anything there. Including one of the reasons Sherlock might have dove behind that hedge: Because he thought someone might grab them by the Pompey.

Sorry. Had to go there. And sorry anyway.

Good luck if you're visiting Trumpington today! Keep an eye on where the hedges are!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Eurus, Imus, Weareallus.

"You spell it 'Eurus' and I spelled it 'Euros,'
"You say 'ridiculose,' I say she's a 'geniose,'
"Eurus, Euros, ridiculose, geniose,
"Let's call the whole thing off!"

Feeling a bit like Jim Moriarty these days, getting into that special girl that most people don't quite get, to put it mildly. But, damn . . . Eurus!

We now know where that "high functioning sociopath" line probably came from: Something Sherlock heard spoken by the adults about his sibling when he was a wee lad, and then forming his self-image with those words attached to his bloodline.

There was an article I liked some time ago about how one writes characters smarter than one's self, and Eurus was certainly the ultimate test of that. Like the old line that a sufficiently advanced technology will appear as magic, Eurus's accomplishments . . . portrayed without a detail-by-detail recap of how she did it, like her brother liked to supply . . . seem completely unbelievable. Like Jim Moriarty before her (and maybe, in part, because of her), she was operating at a level no ninety minute drama could fully detail. And yet, that was the format at hand.

We've gotten very comfortable with Mycroft Holmes over the last century. His role, the smarter brother with an intellect so powerful that he was the British government in a pre-computer era, is a magical reach in itself. We never got the details of everything he did in that role, but came to accept that it could be anything and everything. We trusted that that in the background, Mycroft was dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s. The fact that he only had a guest shot in two stories and mentions in a couple others meant we didn't have to stare too hard at his astounding place in the world.

Now comes Eurus. In an age when television tends to portray those of learning and intellect as always burdened with comic or tragic flaws to keep them palatable to dullards in denial, here is a woman of seemingly limitless abilities. Compared to a full-on science fantasy like the movie Lucy, Eurus might seem a bit restrained, but her well-over-Mycroft intellect combined with her skills at actually controlling people make the results of her methods something that takes a goodly load of imagination to take in stride.

Get a ride off her island prison to ride a bus in a red wig? A lot of plates to spin to make that happen, yes, but possible? Yes. Put a room together in the middle of nowhere with an unconscious man in it and deliver a bunch of big screen TVs to a burnt-out husk of a house and have them networked and powered? Completely possible. Those Best Buy guys don't ask a lot of questions. In an entertainment field where Batman somehow has a cave full of cutting-edge tech with no one noticing his trail, Eurus's little Mission: Impossible games are not all that incredible.

For those who prefer their mysteries a little cozier, Eurus is not going to fit into the world of Sherlock Holmes. But in an entertainment landscape that gave us the Downey movies, Blacklist, and Hannibal Lechter thirty-six years ago, Eurus is state of the art.

You might even be able to see her reflected in a Doyle-writ line from the long-ago:

"Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must . . ."

. . . have been Eurus.

She's not impossible. And actually a whole lot of fun.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Barack Obama and Sherlock . . . a period in time.

With the Obama presidency coming to an end this week and harsh headlines of all sorts making it look like BBC's Sherlock might not even want to return, one has to wonder if we might be looking at the end of an era in a lot of ways.

Both had their haters, and both made it easy for progressive thinkers to grow comfortable in the status quo and look to take things even further . . . only to get shot down? Only time will tell, but really, as much as a few would like to erase our societal memory of either Obama or Sherlock, their place in history is set, whatever your opinion.

The period from 2009 through 2017 isn't a decade that one can package neatly with some cute name like "the marvelous Moffeteens" or "the Molly Hooper age," but it will still be an era that gave us the great Sherlockian podcast groups, massive amounts of fan fiction, some of the most abstract extra-Canonical references ever tied to Holmes or Watson. (I'm looking at you, red underpants!)

As headlines go on about President Obama's high approval ratings as he leaves office and what are to many Sherlock's  low approval ratings on its finale, there are definitely some differences in exit strategies . . . if this truly is the exit for the latter . . . but there are legacies that will endure, in any case. And plans to be made for preparing to live in a world that doesn't have either.

But just as 1891 was the end of an era, once upon a time, and a radically different time called "the hiatus" followed, the world went on and eventually, even though some would say things were never quite the same, a certain return did take place. Sherlockians' belief in "the Return" is just part of the package that makes them Sherlockians, whether that spirit is embodied in a poem by Vincent Starrett or a narration by Amanda Abbington. Certain ideas of value endure.

Conan Doyle adding new stories to the Canon stopped at one point. The Complete Sherlock Holmes came into existence. The Baker Street Journal, thick and professional, went out of business at one point. The Baker Street Journal, New Series, fastened together with paper brads and typeset on a typewriter came into existence. Jeremy Brett's time on PBS stopped at one point. Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes came into existence.

BBC Sherlock isn't subject to term limits, and I have a feeling that we'll see the Cumberbatch/Freeman team reunited one day as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson even if the series doesn't have another season. But if this is the end of an era, the mile marker for a very special period in our Sherlockian history being over . . . and one that we won't fully understand the historical effect of for a while yet, like the Obama presidency . . .  

What a week.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Who's skewing who?

In the wake of the latest Sherlock finale, there has been a good amount of post-game analysis, mostly by those who think their favorite team lost. Blame has been cast a few directions -- Mary Watson, the fans, that "James Bond" business . . . but in pondering it this morning, one culprit seems to rise above all others. And he's pretty obvious.

Mycroft Holmes.

The same Mycroft Holmes who is played by an actor who is also helping create the show, down to putting words in the characters' mouths. We thought the show was about Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, and maybe even some secret story about their relationship. But, no, the secret story was actually no secret: This was the Mycroft show all along.

From that first episode, when we catch a hint of Moriarty only to find out . . . . WHOOPS! . . . it's Mycroft.

Mycroft has a relationship with Dr. Watson from the start. Mycroft is at the heart of even Moriarty's puzzles at times. And in the end, it was Mycroft's failings that caused so much of what we saw.

Once could blame Mary Morstan Watson's character for stealing the show, but Mary Watson actually stole the show from off-stage in the original Canon, keeping Watson to herself for years at a time. Her intrusion into the partnership of Holmes and Watson has always been there.

But Mycroft?

Mycroft doesn't affect Sherlock and John in the original stories at all. Not at all.

But in BBC Sherlock land? It's all Mycroft. It's so much Mycroft's show that they had to give Mycroft his own Mycroft.

He could very well have his own spin-off series.

Oh, wait . . . he could.

If the two leads weren't so good, and so distracting from Mycroft standing over at the side the whole time, perhaps this would have been obviously his show from the start.

But sometimes we like a good Mycroft tale . . . which this certainly was, looking back.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Day three of the happy Holmes hog.

Upon seeing so many descriptions of what a "mess" Sherlock's season four closer was, I'm starting to feel like a hog in a mudhole on a sunny day. (Sorry, fellow Peorians, that metaphor will surely give distant friends more of that rural cornfield impression of the town we get sometimes. But, yee-haw, city folks, we got us a big ol' Bass Pro Shop here!) If "The Final Problem" was a mess, then I'm just rolling around in it like that aforementioned hog.

There is a certain perverse pleasure in loving that thing that the rest of the world disdains, and while there are goodly numbers of Sherlockians who did enjoy what might have been Cumberbatch and Freeman's last ride as the boys from Baker Street, the more mainstream media criticisms just make the piquant flavor of Sherlock, Mycroft, and Euros's story all the more delectable somehow.

Sherlock Holmes should never be a bland recipe concocted to appeal to the most massive audience, like "New Coke" or macaroni and cheese. There are other stories and other characters for that. I really enjoyed complaints about Sherlock and John running out of Rathbone Place at the end of TFP (Yes, I'm abbreviating "The Final Problem." It's a fan thing.), because it betrays a certain "not getting it." Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have always run, despite the doctor's limp. Across moors, away from their attempted burglaries, through this door and that, because what they do is exciting. It needs some running, just so their bodies can keep up with Holmes's brain.

While Sherlock Holmes has always had waves of popularity, necessary to keep the legend alive through generations, the long haul of being a fan isn't done because one likes what's popular. It comes from the point when you're finding meaning and substance in something that isn't the common taste. Fans are the people still standing around the parking lot at Arnold's when Fonzie is done jumping the shark. Because the shark jump is just there to hold the attention of the crowd for just a moment longer, when they might otherwise wander away, which they'll do after the moment's excitement is over anyway.

BBC's Sherlock has been more popular than any Sherlock Holmes since . . . well, I'd best not offend by skipping anyone who might have been more popular than I realized, but it's been a blessing upon Sherlockian culture. The mere proof-of-concept that Sherlock Holmes could comfortably leave the Victorian age from time to time would have been enough, but we've gotten so much more. Youth, conventions, new writers, art, video, audio, new friends, new adventures of our own.

And even if things die down a bit now, if the next hiatus goes on too long, or this last batch just was too much for some to take, Sherlock will still have its fans, many of us inside the more traditional Old Canon cult of Holmes.

And Sherlock Holmes will now have a sister named Euros. Don't think she's going away any time soon.  At least in this Sherlockian's head. Because on this master thief's king-sized bed covered in cash (giving up that hog and mud metaphor), I'm still rolling in the wealth of Sherlockian goodness we just got this weekend.

Perhaps obnoxiously so. Sorry about that.

Roll, roll, roll . . . .

Monday, January 16, 2017

Playing with Euros is a beautiful thing.

Tonight, I got to see Sherlock's "The Final Problem" the way it should be seen.

In a theater, with the lights low and one's complete attention to the big actors on the big screen. And, as with the best movies, just giving one's self over to its spell.

Before the movie, and it was a movie, there was a featurette with Amanda Abbington surveying her time as Mary Morstan Watson. The BBC and Fathom Events weren't playing fair with that one, really, as a getting a few tears in before the feature attraction was quite a warm-up. But it also gave a nice contrast -- the grounded nature of Watson's Mary, child-bearing, sensible, deadly Mary played against the lead female of the main feature, the ethereal Euros -- perfect.

With no delivery pizza, early BBC start, household distractions, and all that comes with a television viewing, there was so much to be gained from an accepting, no-expectations theater watch. Without the lens of "not a proper Canon mystery" or "Hey, this is kinda like Saw!" and just letting the movie be what it is . . . ahhhh, magic.

Moffat, Gatiss, their lovely cast . . . the production itself could be seen within the story, as they played their violin to try to communicate with that mind that resonated with their tune.

Embodying the isolation of intellect, little Euros created a game she thought her brother would enjoy, something that might make him the friend she lacked, for a time. But he wasn't clever enough then, and the conclusion to the adventure didn't come out as the bonding experience she planned. So she decides to play the game again, hoping this time that Sherlock will see the context.

The result is tightly focussed on character, relationship, family. Not, perhaps, the client-strangers or official police matter some would argue a Sherlock Holmes story could be . . . but something that some Sherlockians have wanted to see from Sherlock for a very long time. (The Childhood of Sherlock Holmes by Mona Morstein comes to mind as the last time I enjoyed a story involving Sherlock as a boy, and it was a fine thing to do so.) As a group, we tend to want more of Sherlock Holmes than the original sixty stories we were given, but do love to bitch when we get it.

Tonight, however, I've got no bitching to do. Sure, "The Final Problem" wasn't as perfect as perfect could be. And, yes, the whole season left so many threads hanging loose. What did that note say? How much of Moriarty was Euros? Did Sherlock have sex? But how flawed was the original Doyle Canon? And how many loose threads did that leave us to play with for a hundred years and change?

If you were around before the latest Sherlock boom, you know how incredibly few Sherlockians there actually are compared to the full population . . . the ones who took the whole Doyle Canon to heart, warts and all. And what we'll see in the years to come will be much the same with BBC Sherlock, smaller numbers who take the whole thing to their hearts than were in that initial surge of popularity, but they're good Sherlockians. And like Euros, Moffat and Gatiss, and the rest of us, really, we're all just hoping somebody gets the context of what we're up to and wants to be our friend.

But a smart friend, like Sherlock. Or else we're gonna have to start . . .

. . . just kidding! Didn't get into Euros quite that far. But she's growing on me.

Or else she just reprogrammed by brain during tonight's cinema viewing of our new "Final Problem." You can come up with your own script there. But once the dust has all settled from this latest East wind blowing, I think we're all going to be stronger for it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

It's all warm fuzzies in Sherlock Peoria.

Before diving into the post-Sherlock finale reactions on the web, I have to ask myself this question: While everyone seems to know a James Bond thing or two, how many of those commenting are going to recognize a Batman story when they see it?

The Joker locks Batman, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon in Arkham Asylum and puts them through a series of puzzles that will inevitably tie somehow to the secret origin of the Batman.

That, of course, is not a specific Batman tale, but one close to so many told over the years. And tonight, it felt like Moffat and Gatiss were giving Sherlock Holmes both his Joker and his origin story. Of course, Moriarty had to come back to be wacky-insane, because we couldn't have two of those. And somehow I felt like Holmes's Joker being female was Moffat and Gatiss somehow metaphorically portraying their trials at the hands of a largely female fandom. (Something we might have seen a touch of in "Abominable Bride," as well.)

My own loyal companion, the good Carter, hasn't read as many Batman tales as I, and is not the sort of person to have seen a truck-with-tentacles movie in the afternoon prior, as I am. Those factors might have been why she didn't care for any of tonight's offering except the final, fabulous tribute montage. Me?

I'm addicted to the sensational. And this was sensational.

With as many complaints as I've heard about the last two seasons of Sherlock, I will take any one of those six episodes (and the Christmas special) any day in place of "The Blind Banker" from season one. It was cute, a satisfactory mystery is so hard to pull off. And there are so many mediocre ones out there. I'd much rather see someone explore the character of Sherlock Holmes, even if they don't quite get it exactly aligned to my perfect view of the man.

I mean, does Sherlock Holmes need an origin story? No. A man with talent pushing his gifts as far as he can with all educational means available is origin enough. But a sister whose name means "the East wind" who is smarter than either Holmes we've met before? I'll give that a go, to see how it plays out. It's entertaining enough, and why do I sit down in front of the television set?

Well, not to get any exercise, that's for sure.

The lovely ending tribute to Holmes and Watson ending this episode spoke to the eternal spirits of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and it was a warm assurance that even if this series does not go any further, we will still have another Sherlock and another John and a familiar address on Baker Street where those in trouble will head for help. It may not be Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, but that's okay. The men they played have been with us, and will be with us, for a long time to come.

There will be good, there will be bad. We will clap with delight and groan in eye-rolling disdain.

But, hey, Sherlock Holmes!

And I for one, am glad to have had three more of these. And will be taking a trip to the theater to see this one again on the big screen tomorrow night.

The Elementary alternative.

With all the sturm und drang around the new season of BBC Sherlock, a few loyal souls who remember CBS's Elementary exists have piped up and suggested that ongoing procedural as a comfy alternative to the more controversial and star-powered offering.

And while, in a lucky bit of timing, the January 8th episode of Elementary happened to be one of the show's more engaging episodes -- focusing on a single case without as much meandering -- it's still Elementary. What does that mean?

Well, it means that Elementary is never going to have the demands placed upon it that Sherlock does. Nobody is leaking episodes in advance, doing entire podcasts trying to decipher set photos and filming rumors, or reviewing every single episode with passionate comparisons to either the original Canon or its own. And no one, absolutely no one, is devoted to the thought that Holmes and Watson are really in love despite what the showrunners claim.

If Elementary was subject to such scrutiny? Well, if you thought Mycroft and Moriarty showed up too much in Sherlock, how about a whole season devoted to Shinwell Johnson in which Watson tries to teach him the skills that Mr. Elementary taught her, like picking padlocks off his padlock rack? Not sure if whipping things with a stick has come in this season, but it's an Elementary classic training bit as well. Shinwell was not really on any Sherlockian's list of Canonical characters we were dying to see more of, and like so many of the show's characters, is basically a name from Doyle tacked on to a standard TV role.

Jonny Lee Miller's wardrobe has become less mentally-challenged looking this season, but seeing him as Sherlock Holmes visually is still not easy, unless you're just a sucker for an English accent. And Lucy Liu as Joan Watson, despite its diversity points, is a completely different character than John H. Watson of the original Canon, and the show's efforts to keep her relationship with Holmes sterile and platonic also keep a full-on Holmes-Watson dynamic from evolving.

If Sherlock is guilty of being too "James Bond" of late, Elementary has been guilty of being too "CBS procedural" from day one, so  it's not really a Canonical safe haven for the Sherlockian purist. More just a comfy watch for those who don't mind standard network fare. Former fans of Sherlock who were driven off by the latest developments aren't going to find it a good replacement. Those who enjoyed Jeremy Brett's Victorian Holmes aren't going to find any more Canonical ties here. The best thing that Elementary might do for either camp is just be so far from actual Sherlock Holmes that it doesn't invite enough comparison to offend.

Going in with no Sherlockian expectations, the cast are lovely to look at, and the January 8th episode "Be My Guest" was written by Jason Tracey, who is probably the show's best writer.  If Sherlock is freaking you out all that much, the calm procedural plot to rescue a kidnapped girl might be a pleasant cup of tea.

Just don't hold a magnifying glass up to the series, or expect the weekly high that many a Sherlock fan gets during its all-too-brief seasons.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Forgiveness and patience.

As we roll into the last episode of BBC Sherlock season four, which I have been completely enjoying, it occurs to me that there is a reason I'm enjoying television so much of late. Just look at the culprits:

Steven Moffat, born in 1961, currently fifty-five years old.

Mark Gatiss, born in 1966, currently fifty years old.

And me, born in 1957, but always a bit developmentally delayed, currently fifty-nine years old.

These are my guys, writing from a place I'm all too familiar with. They've come up through the same eras I did, they're male, share certain caucasian ancestral traits, and they're Sherlock Holmes fans.

Now, if you don't fall in that particular demographic, I can understand an immediate reaction of "Well, fine for you, old white guy!" But wait . . .

If you are a twenty-five-year-old, multi-racial woman now, there's a good likelihood that by the time thirty-four years have passed, you will see a Sherlock Holmes written by someone who is not male and not white, and written from a perspective that's very much like your own. You've got time.

Impatience is natural. In my twenties I was completely pissed off at the old man Irregulars of the 1980s for not seeing a modern perspective well enough to allow women into their little club. Change would eventually come, but at that time the old guys were still playing out the point of view they had built up in their younger days. It seems to be the natural pattern of things . . . those who have finally attained a position to control or produce are often doing it from a mindset built in a time a few decade past.

And it works the opposite direction, as well. There are those Sherlockians whose mindset skews older than mine for whom the Granada Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett will always be the peak of Sherlockian television. It was of its generation, painstakingly faithful in parts, yes, but in the Reagan-Thatcher conservative era, would we expect any other approach?

Personally, I never was too satisfied with Brett's Sherlock, as I was waiting for a Cumberbatch Holmes, even before I knew such a thing could exist. But given time, and a couple of fellows whose time on Earth corresponded closer to my own, I got a Sherlock I really loved.

So my point here is this: We all have our path, and as hard as it is to forgive someone for not seeing things from your perspective sometimes, there is always a chance that someone a little closer to seeing things your way will come along eventually. (Or already did.) None of us gets what we want for an entire lifetime, but you've got to trust that your time will come. And when it does come, make the most of it, because it's not going to last forever.

Patience before that time and forgiveness after that time (and before, too, really) are some great virtues to have.

On to Sunday night.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Whose last vow?

With the plotting of BBC's Sherlock revolving hard around a vow Sherlock Holmes makes, so important that it's even featured in the title "His Last Vow," it made me wonder if the Original Canon Sherlock Holmes ever made any sort of vows.

A quick word search with the ever-handy Mr. Moon's Moonfind revealed a lot of vows being made in those stories, of course . . . from vows of vengeance to criminal allegiances to the always-popular vows of love and fidelity. Vows are lovely, passionate things and perfect for a tale of drama. But would Sherlock Holmes, the man of cool analyses and objective observation, make such a statement?

The answer, to cut to the heart of it, is "no."

Sherlock Holmes, as he was first written, made no vows as such.

John H. Watson, however? Ah, here's the man to make a vow. To Mary, of course, right?

Well, no, as we never hear the particulars of his wedding to Miss Morstan, just the engagement, that moment of proposal and acceptance. No vows there.

No, the one vow we read of John Watson wanting to make is this:

"Again and again I had registered a vow that I should deliver my soul upon the subject; but there was that in the cool nonchalant air of my companion which made him the last man with whom one would care to take anything approaching a liberty."

Yes, John Watson's one vow is with a mind to protect Mr. Sherlock Holmes from himself.

It comes early, in the first paragraphs of The Sign of Four. Watson seems to be passionate enough about the subject to make that vow again and again, but is also intimidated by the man he shares rooms with, and doesn't follow through . . . at that time. We know Watson makes good on his vow at many a later date, as familiarity brings enough contempt to break through Holmes's "masterly manner," but at that time, Watson is just moved to keep making vows in silence.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes of BBC Sherlock, forever to be haunted by the "Norbury" pride which broke his vow, John H. Watson of the original Canon keeps his vow. Sherlock Holmes lives long enough and strong enough to involve himself in the first World War, thanks in part or in whole, to the efforts of his friend John.

And the kind of man Watson was? That guy probably didn't stop making vows with that first one. And you can bet he strove to be as successful in every other vow he made as well.

Probably why John didn't ever title any of his stories "His Last Vow." But then, BBC John isn't putting titles on those episodes . . . .

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Canon 2.0. Sherlockians 2.0.

Reading and listening to reactions to the fourth season of Sherlock has been a real roller coaster, and that is as it should be. Art, at its most powerful, is a disruptive, affecting thing which communicates something one didn't have in one's head before. It's not comfortable and cozy and ever anything we saw coming. Or necessarily thought we wanted.

BBC's Sherlock has always felt like art to me. And no more so than after "The Lying Detective" and all these reactions. Art teaches you things.

The "I don't like this" side of the equation is at the same time understandable and not all that interesting, honestly. Watching a child push away the spoon holding a complex entree that a chef worked on for hours reveals nothing. On the other side of the coin? Seeing a child accept that spoonful with glee and want more opens up a lifetime of culinary possibilities. You start thinking about that child's future, because there is one with food.

The amazing powers of observation and rapid analyses being tossed out by the kids who are taking to "The Lying Detective" are Sherlockiana at its best . . . when en masse, Sherlockians become Sherlock Holmes himself. Attention to detail. Playing out potential explanations. Giving you the full story of what actually went on. The intellectual energy on display is a glorious thing, rising above a purely emotional reaction to look hard at every detail.

"Moftiss," as the two-headed entity behind Sherlock's creation is known, loves loading in the details, references, mysteries within mysteries, and fodder for discussion and digging in deep, and listening to Sherlockians running it around their excited heads has been great fun. All those joys that I found in the Conan Doyle Canon are coming out of those Sherlockians tearing into these new episodes with abandon, and as a result, I'm finding myself fully accepting BBC Sherlock as Canon 2.0. Doesn't mean we can't have Canon 1.0 anymore -- just that we've got a new toy in addition.

It's easy to see the modern fascination with video as a stupid thing, a much less intelligent thing than reading words on a page. And in the case of something Gilligan's Island versus "The Old Man and the Sea," maybe so. But put any great piece of film against a shlock novel and the roles reverse. Both writing and film-making are communication methods, both can be weak tea and both can be powerfully complex revelations. As video becomes more democratic as a medium, via YouTube and smartphone cameras, we're seeing it develop as a language all its own, and a language you can pack a whole lot of information into.  And using that medium does not mean you don't read or write as well.

I've considered the opinion I've heard from a few folks, "Nobody reads any more." That does always seem true on the surface, because the overwhelming majority of people you meet on the street are just not readers. They weren't readers in 1890 and they're not readers now. Readers are the minority, and always have been. But Sherlockians tend to be readers, even the ones who prefer Canon 2.0 to Canon 1.0. In fact . . . going out on a limb here . . . I'd bet that in calendar 2016, the average Sherlockian 2.0 read more words about Sherlock Holmes himself than the average Sherlockian 1.0, for one simple reason: there is more fan fiction being produced of late than any other Sherlockian writing.

While fan fiction might not be to your taste, its existence as written Sherlockiana cannot be denied. And the way it explores alternate readings of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is unparalleled, which is why I find myself so excited about all the modern Sherlockiana, both 1.0 and 2.0. Alternate readings of Canon 1.0, those exciting new perspectives that a good writer could give to the old stories, were what attracted me to Sherlockian work from the start . . . they are one of those things we do that is so much like Holmes himself, looking at a set of facts and seeing a different truth revealed.

Looking at a set of given facts and seeing a different truth revealed, is, of course, what all of us are doing now as we survey the Sherlockian scene stirred up by the latest birthday weekend and a brand new series of Sherlock. Sherlockiana 2.0? Maybe we're really all the way up to "Sherlockiana X El Capitain" by now. Who knows?

It's a great time to be a Sherlockian, though, whatever version you are.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fanboy apologies after a Sherlock high.

Well, since I can't sleep for thinking about last night's Sherlock offering anyway, I think I'll take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who might not have found the latest episode a high-inducing drug and taken my swear-y reaction personally. I have excuses.

You see, I am such a fanboy that I subconsciously deduced Sherlock would . . .

. . . oh, spoilers alert! Bail! Bail! Bail!

Safe now? Good.

. . . . that Sherlock would be on a saline drip by episode's end and put myself in hospital on a saline drip myself to celebrate the fact.

I'm fine, really. You get to be a man of a certain age and lack of shape and you just have to be sure of some episodes. And we're pretty sure things are okay. But saline drip coincidence! Yay!

I also obviously relate to Sherlock enough to not mind looking ridiculous when I feel my cause is just. Plus, I really, really thought everybody else was seeing what I saw last night when I wrote my initial reaction. Afterward, posting links to the blog on Twitter and Facebook, I discovered that wasn't really the case. Sorry about that, dissenting Sherlockians. People are always at their worst when they think God is on their side, and I thought we were all on the same page for a moment there.

"The Lying Detective" was like candy to me, though, and now it would seem it was one of those candies like licorice that divides the populace. There are fans of Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution out there, which I detest, and "Lying Detective" both paid tribute to it and did a better job in addressing Holmes's drug issues without ruining the character, to my mind. But the drug thing is always a potential spot for division among Sherlockians.

Also, big fan of both Batman and Hardcastle and McCormick here, so 221 Baker Street suddenly having a "Huddersmobile" was just more candy to me. Probably not to the "too Bond" viewers, but since Sherlock has always been an intellectual Bond to me in his way, I'll take it.

I like Moffat's little tricks of making you think something, showing you were wrong, and then going "Oh, no, you were right the first time!" I like the addition of a Sherlock Holmes method of logically predicting human behavior weeks in advance. (All of Sherlock's tricks have long been in the "well, that might work if the dots all line up" category, so the new one was just extrapolating the Canonical "mind-reading" sequence.) And I like being retold a Canonical tale in a way that surprises me, as note-for-note adaptations, after forty years of fanning, would simply be dull ritual to me.

And then there's the fanfic aspect of Sherlock. H.H. Holmes and Sherrinford are both non-Canonical, but have always been hanging on the edge of things a fan associates with Sherlock and wants to see brought in. Just like Sherlock getting back together with Irene. Purists argue against it, but the ardent fan is always tempted by the possibility, if not the reality.

Can't imagine how they're going to bring this all home for a thoroughly satisfied third act, after getting me this sugared-up on episode two of the three.  But I sure did love this one.

And that, I won't apologize for.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


I really enjoy a particular Three Patcher on Twitter, one Caroline/avawtsn. And she was screaming today. I've come to trust Caroline's opinion on some subjects, and, as I wrote, she was screaming today.

As much as one can scream on Twitter, that is. And my first thought was, "Holy crap, Sherlock came out of the closet!" Nothing less earth-shattering could raise that level of reaction, surely.

But I had forgotten.

I had forgotten Steven fucking Moffat when he is on his game.

Excuse the profanity, I had to get one out tonight. And that's the one. Here, anyway.

Because, you know . . . you know all those people who decided Sherlock had jumped the shark. You know all those Sherlockians who just don't watch this show because it's just so not Canon. You know those folks who try false equivalency to try to raise Elementary a notch or two. You know all those people?

Well, they can %$!*& my #(&$ing lily white #@$&#* and *&$@# the @%#&# off the Queen's &$^#(*# on Christmas &$#%@ing Day!

Because, goddamn if "The Lying Detective" didn't have it all. One story. One Canonical story. With the ghost of a best-selling pastiche laid over. And a beloved character allowed to just be all the more lovable, and huggable, and kissable, because SHE is just such a sweetie. Foreshadowing details layered in, so you see that the carpet is a bloodstain just before get to know why the carpet is a bloodstain. And that great, big, tremendous bombshell from ancient Sherlock lore that we all wanted to see woven in, finally showing up at last.

If our paths ever cross, you might find that I'm not exactly the person portrayed in this blog, unless you catch me at the right moment. Not usually a cursing, ranting maniac on the exterior, though my internal life is another matter entirely. And what was going on in that internal life tonight, so as not to frighten my flat-mate?

Screaming. I was screaming.

The appetizer wasn't night owl.

Last week's warm-up to Sunday night's new Sherlock was a lovely Vienna symphony performance. All class and culture. This week?

Well, who has more class and old world culture than the high council of vampires and their intrigues?

And Lara Pulver, the woman of BBC's latest incarnation of Holmes.

So to keep myself away from social media spoilers, off to the theaters I went to see Underworld: Blood Wars with Lara Pulver as the vampire lady Semira (with her boy-toy Bradley James, recognizable to many as Merlin's Arthur). Not a movie for everyone, perhaps, but if you can conceive of finding any pleasure at all in watching vampires and werewolves shoot each other with machine guns . . . well . . .

("I'm not an adult. I'm a high-functioning thirteen-year-old." The motto of the firm.)

But it reminded me of how great Lara Pulver was as Irene Adler, who, unlike Mycroft and Moriarty, doesn't seem to be appearing in every episode of Sherlock.  And yet, hope springs eternal.

Seeing her as a vampire in the latest Underworld potboiler, was good for one fantasy daydream where Watson's mysterious late night text messages in "The Six Thatchers" were sent from a character not in the episode for whom it "had been too long." Said exchange ending with:

"Night owl?"


Irene Adler and John Watson? Hmmm . . . given the Mary Morstan that John went for, and Anthea, somehow Irene doesn't seem all that out of Watson's taste range.

The wild and wonderful tweets that I was seeing before the movie started forebode things unexpected and grand, but somehow I doubt we'll get Irene returning prophesied by a vampire movie that just happened to come out the same weekend.

Still . . . Irene . . . I miss her.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

People are the presents on Sherlock Holmes's birthday.

You may not hear it, but there is still some disagreement among Sherlockians upon the accepted date of Sherlock Holmes's birth. Most of us are lazy and just accept January 6, but a few holdouts are keeping other dates alive, and that's just fine . . . more days to celebrate that way! And yesterday, celebrations happened.  Here are my notes:
  • Spent a good share of my January 6 waking hours on the road to accomplish the task this year, but it was well worth it. Listened to lots of podcasts, but had used up all my fresh Sherlockian ones. Closest was an interview with Andy Richter who is best known to many as a sort-of-Watson to Conan O'Brien.
  •  Lunch at Alongi's restaurant in DuQuoin, Illinois for the fortieth anniversary of The Occupants of the Empty House. Classic toasts, a paper on "Silver Blaze" and horse race fixing by David Bensley. Good conversation on topics ranging from Pondicherry Lodge to string-ball-head Sherlock's raffle potential. Also happily received a "Keys to Camden House" certificate that was intended ten years ago when I wasn't present for it.
  •  A run down to Carbondale for a look at the Camden House Library. Getting a chance to see every book ever included in "the Shaw 100" (which is actually about 160 books) held a couple of surprises and mental notes of things to follow up on. Also a great chance to examine many an old edition of the Canon that one never gets to see. 
  •  The library visit wasn't just books, as I also got to hear a lot about what Bill Cochran is working on these days included his monograph The Brend Code and "The Second Stain" which will be available at the Dayton symposium this year. The former editor of The Baker Street Journal is diving deep into classic Sherlockian lore these days and it was great to get a chance to hear him exploring such topics.
  •  Heading back up north for dinner at Fire-N-Smoke Wood Fired Kitchen in Troy, Illinois where I met Rob Nunn for a nice long conversation about all things Sherlock. Had to make a lot excuses for the fact that I found the novel Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds enjoyable at age nineteen. (Mainly me going, "I was young! It was the seventies!") Good fun discussing BBC Sherlock, mutual friends, future Sherlockian outings, and the "burnt ends" at Fire-N-Smoke were terrific.
  •  Made it home to find an internet holding choice happy bits from Sherlock Holmes birthday celebrations elsewhere. Glad to see Sherlockians I recognize being recognized by a recognizable group. Charles Prepolec and Chris Zordan are both Sherlockians I can certify as excellent company for spending a few hours in a hotel restaurant/bar with, which is the perfect qualifications for the dinner privileges which they were awarded. Other familiar names there as well, but having not dined with any of them, I can't witness their dining-worthiness. Congrats, though!
  •  Last, and not least, as I always enjoy seeing what the new fashions are, was the sight of @headcumbernerd's combination of a Conan Doyle t-shirt with the admonishment "Do whatever you want, I'm super dead" and a "John Watson is Bi" button. Love the spirit behind that.
  •  And because this is Sherlock month, I have to get these haunting thoughts-of-the-moment in: Is the pirate boy in Sherlock's memory Sherrinford? Is Sherrinford Sherlock's twin? How much of Sherrinford is pirate as an adult? Was Sherrinford the Sherlock look-a-like that made that little boy cry way back when? Yes, yes, "It's never twins!" . . .  until it is. (Twins means you don't have to sneak Tom Hiddleston on set.)

Well, that's all the random notes I have on Sherlock Holmes's January 6 Birthday Celebrations out of Peoria. We don't ever get Sherlock anything, but he sure gives us a lot!  

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Canonversary of the Occupants of the Empty House.

The Occupants of the Empty House celebrate their fortieth year as a Sherlock Holmes society this month. Forty years being the same length of time it took for the original Canon of Holmes to be published, that makes this their "Canonversary."

In trying to reconstruct the Sherlockian world into which the Occupants chose to hold their first meeting, I had to go back into my own poorly-dated scrapbooks to see what was stirring those Southern Illinoisians up to gather together for that first meeting on January 22, 1977. It was a fabulous time to be a Sherlockian.

A few months before, in October, we had all seen Roger Moore on our TV sets in Sherlock Holmes in New York and Nicol Williamson as Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Otto Penzler had an article in TV Guide to accompany the former, in which he reported on the Baker Street Irregulars, saying "Their annual dinner attracts nearly 200 Irregulars from every part of the U.S.A. One woman is invited to the pre-dinner cocktail party. She is, that year, the woman."

In the bookstores that fall, you could find Beyond Baker Street: A Sherlockian Anthology, edited and annotated by Michael Harrison, with articles by both Isaac Asimov and Christopher Redmond's father, Donald Redmond. You could also pick up the latest printing of Baring-Gould's boxed two-volume The Annotated Sherlock Holmes . . . a milestone marking your Sherlockian enthusiasm having reached the point of spending a bit more to get a bit more on your favorite character. Nicholas Meyer's sequel novel, The West End Horror was out in hardcovers as well.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett could still be found in a Pinnacle paperback edition, if you kept your eyes open. Pinnacle had also reprinted paperback collections of Solar Pons adventures, which were pretty much Sherlock Holmes by another name. Paperback pastiches were a wonderful thing for the new, too-excited-to-be-a-purist fan, and if you were like me, you'd have been reading The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by Peoria author Philip Jose Farmer, The Earthquake Machine and Hellbirds by Austin Mitchelson and Nicholas Utechin, John Gardner's two Moriarty novels from the preceding years, and likewise Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds by Manly Wellman and Wade Wellman.

That was what you had, forty years ago, before you connected with the rest of the Sherlockian world through a Sherlock Holmes society like The Occupants of the Empty House. It was a great time to be a Sherlock Holmes fan, as I've said, but you were a bit like a computer without an internet or a car without a highway. Up in Central Illinois, a name had been proposed for a group, but unlike Southern Illinois, the local Sherlockians didn't seem to have the energy to pull the trigger for another ten months. And I'd still be a year or so out from that same connection myself.

But forty years ago in Southern Illinois, Sherlockians gathered together, became a society, and began something that rewarded, informed, connected, and just improved the world just that much more for so many of us.

And they called it "The Occupants of the Empty House." Which is still one of the most curious names for a group in all the Sherlockian world.

Happy Canonversary, Occupants!

P.S. Yes, I know January 22nd is still a ways off, but the Occupants are having their anniversary meeting today, which I'm hoping to attend. So I'm early.

P.P.S. The first thing I found in my scrapbooks was a little personal: About five days before the Occupants first met, I was going on my first date, which I only mustered courage for by having bought two ticket to a touring production of William Gillette's play Sherlock Holmes starring John Michalski and Richard Lupino as Holmes and Watson. (Kurt Kasznar as Moriarty was who really interested me, as he'd been in TV's Land of the Giants.) But that was Peoria.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

I'm with Gatiss.

While I might quibble with a point or two of Mark Gatiss's plotting and am not going to put his poetry up against the classics, the man knows his stuff, and I rather enjoyed his latest work in The Guardian, entitled "To an undiscerning critic . . . . from Mark Gatiss."

His poetic response to a familiar criticism of BBC's Sherlock, that it turns Holmes into James Bond, was as simple as John H. Watson's response to Sherlock Holmes when accused of putting romance into his criminal accounts: "But the romance was there. I could not tamper with the facts."

Turn Sherlock Holmes into James Bond?

Oh, but Sherlock Holmes was already James Bond. As James Bond-y as Victorian England would allow.

In only his second adventure, he's confronting a villain with an exotic assassin sidekick . . . a James Bond staple . . . and climaxing the story with an exciting river chase.

In his third adventure, he's in His Majesty's secret service. Not the British "his majesty" and not a capitalized "Secret Service," but employing his own agents, using smoke bombs, and doing more drama than detection.

Put Sherlock Holmes in a spy movie? Had Conan Doyle been writing TV scripts instead of short stories, what would "His Last Bow" have been? Sherlock Holmes actually was a spy in that one.

The man chased hellhounds across Dartmoor, threw criminal masterminds off waterfalls, and laid traps for snipers.

The original article that Gatiss argued against compared Sherlock Holmes to Miss Marple, and therein I think we find some of the writer's issue: He wants wise old man Sherlock, that weird trope that developed over the last century when as we never saw Holmes and Watson as young as they were in A Study in Scarlet or the earlier tales. Young enough men to do things like flee the scene of the murder they witnessed during their Appledore Towers burglary and escape capture by running two miles across Hampstead Heath. Not really Miss Marple stuff.

Sherlock Holmes was no nice little old lady who relied solely on his wits to solve friendly murders in his hometown. He dealt with international affairs, foreign killers, everything Victorian England had to throw at him. Had there been helicopters and private jet aircraft in that age, he would have been ferried about on some adventures via those, just surely as Moriarty chased him in that private train. (The man was a super-villain after all.)

The stories have always been called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Not The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries. Taking Sherlock Holmes out of Victorian London, with its slower pace and lack of things like tech-ed out swimming pools and tunnels through shark aquariums, might make him seem like James Bond to some, just as last season's wedding episode might have made him seem like he was suddenly on a sitcom like Friends to others.

But would the plodding procedurals of CBS's Elementary be closer to the mark than BBC Sherlock's seeming cinematic extravagances?

If so, well your view is your view, but me? I'm with Gatiss.

And "Holmes. Sherlock Holmes."

There's a reason Sherlockians have theorized that Mycroft was the original "M" for years.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The two worlds of Sherlockiana . . . and the third option.

With both new Sherlock stirring Sherlockians to action and the Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in New York moving Sherlockians to travel, an awareness of the dual nature of our current Sherlock fan climate is coming on strong. While one can definitely hunker down in one Canon or the other and not think about the big picture, the big picture is a fascinating one when you step back and try to really get a good look at it.

And when you do step back at look at it, you can see certain demographic hues . . . male leadership in the oldest parts of the community, female leadership in the newest, elders dedicated to some traditions, youngsters breaking creative boundaries. There are definitely folks of all ages and genders in every aspect of our hobby, but when you step back and give it the long view, you can see patterns, trends, and certain likelihoods growing and developing.

Where once so much of Sherlockiana was built for a male sort of mindset, the real energy driving so much Sherlockiana now comes from a mindset so female that it can be very hard for a fellow to wrap his head around. Transitioning from a world where male cultural dominance was so entrenched that the map seemed to be the terrain can make the understanding process all the more of a challenge if you come from that old world. And while it is always so much easier to just go, "No, this is just the way I am. This is just the way the world is," then plant one's feet, and hope the winds of change stop blowing, it's just not a very effective strategy long-term.

We've seen Sherlock Holmes societies do that in the past, cutting themselves off from the larger Sherlockian world, practicing their local rites and rituals, and becoming experts in self-stimulation. It's not all that hard to do. You might even make those habits last as long as you do and die happy and unaffected. You might . . . .

But, Sherlock Holmes!

Sherlock Holmes. The one. The only. The point we all intersect.

Holmes once called Watson "the one fixed point in a changing age," but here, now, Sherlock Holmes himself is now our one fixed point.

Our new challenge is looking at other Sherlockians, finding their point of connection to that one fixed point, and then seeing if we can follow that connection back to how another human being who is not ourselves might think, and how they actually might be quite like us. It's the same gift that Sherlock has always given us, it's just now we might have to work a little harder at using it on occasion.

Sherlock Holmes connects all Sherlockians, even if some other Sherlockians are so different from ourselves that one might be tempted to try to find a different name for them. And rather than go to all the work of finding that different name, maybe the effort would be better spent trying to understand where their joy in Sherlock Holmes comes from. Because we might find joy there as well.

Because, and I can't say this enough: Sherlock Holmes!

I got complimented by being called a "Canon/larger Sherlockiana fan" this week, because that phrase "larger Sherlockiana fan" seemed like a wonderful one to me. In the 1980's we used to be voracious collectors of everything and anything to do with Sherlock Holmes, and that was definitely a way to appreciate the larger Sherlockiana. Snoopy with a deerstalker? Larger Sherlockiana. Sherlock Hemlock storybook? Larger Sherlockiana. Cumberbatch-Sherlock anime-style love scene with Freeman-Watson? Still, larger Sherlockiana!

Taking a larger Sherlockian view can go against our natural tribal instincts. We're wired to see "the other" and attempt to protect our tribe from that other. But Sherlock Holmes . . . ah, Sherlock Holmes . . . was always trying to teach Watson and Scotland Yard . . . and us . . . to get a clearer view. A larger view.

So I think I'm going to start working on that a little harder this year. "Education never ends," as a great detective once said.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Three Patches of stimulating fun.

Which was more fun this week?

a.) Listening to one more "Not my Sherlock Holmes!" reaction to Sherlock's "The Six Thatchers."

b.) Hearing fans scream "WE HAVE MORE CANON!" and dive into the details with mad abandon.

c.) Avoiding the internet, social media, television, etc. and reading a well-worn copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

As of this morning, I'm choosing "b."  Why?

Three Patch Podcast. New Sherlock gets them so excited they actually stop talking about sex for a few minutes now and then. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, just pointing out how excited they get. As in "intellectually stimulated.")

I really wasn't thinking I could take much more, critique-wise, of the new Sherlock episode already, but their sound editor seemed, over in her Twitter feed, to be working so hard on the episode that not rewarding such heroic efforts was a no-go. And I was very glad I did. Great episode.

We can "like" and "not like" things all day long, but when you really start data-mining the material, as Sherlockians have done with the original Canon all these years, a love shows up that is a pure pleasure to see. And there has always been an element of life imitating art to Sherlock Holmes and his fans that exists to this day, even with Sherlock.

Sherlock states early and enthusiastically how much he loves the Game in "Six Thatchers," with the same excitement you could hear in the Three Patchers taking up the latest episode. The "Game" might be different for the detective and the detective fan (Thank goodness -- no spouses are killed on our side of the equation . . . that I've heard of.) but the energy looks very similar.

And I realized a few things as I listened to this particular podcast. (I always realize something listening to Three Patch, for better or worse. They challenge, they stimulate, they work hard on this fan thing of ours.)

First, that Sherlockian shorthand will always exist, despite some decided opinions some Sherlockians take on things like the J.F. Christ abbreviations. The Three Patchers use "TAB" freely in this one, and, well, if you want to cruise the interstate, you have to get up to speed.

Second, if a Sherlockian says they haven't read "Six Napoleons, " but is insightful about Sherlock Holmes himself anyway? Glad to have 'em here. Sure, they might be improved by reading all the originals, or they might not. You have to take people as them come and enjoy them for who they are at this moment.

Which comes down to why I enjoyed Three Patch's reaction episode on "The Six Thatchers" so much. It wasn't "This wasn't as good as 'The Reichenbach Fall.'" It wasn't "Oh, yay, that person is finally out of our hair!" It was the overall happy acceptance of, "This is what we got, where do we go from here?"

Lately I've been listening to a lot of How Did This Get Made? podcasts, if I haven't mentioned it already, and part of the core joy of that is the way they review bad movies, getting into the internal logic of a movie, accepting its premises gleefully, and seeing what thoughts that leads to. It's very much improv's "Yes, and . . ." mindset, which is very non-judgmental at its core, and just always seems to lead to happy things. Listening to the Three Patch folk go happily into their thoughts on "Six Thatchers" reminded me a little of that . . . not that "Six Thatchers" was a bad movie. Not at all.

Before you give up on reactions and reviews of our first new Sherlock this week, I'd recommend giving the latest Three Patch a shot. It's a tightly mixed little sound cocktail, and I very much appreciate having them in our Sherlockian world.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Around the edges of a viewing.

Sunday night was such a lovely evening.

Not going to talk about that certain program here. Lord knows there is enough of that going on right now . . . the previous post felt almost too self-indulgent. But the eve of January first, for completely separate reasons, found myself and the good Carter ensconced in a Hyatt not too far from home having a bit of celebration. Before heading out to a nice dinner, I made sure the local PBS stations would be running on the nice-sized flat screen in the hotel.

It turned out that Sherlock reruns were already playing, but when we returned from dinner, a different program was on: From Vienna: The New Year's Concert 2017, featuring the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Ballet, with scenes filmed all over the city and a boatload of Johann Strauss tunes. Not my usual fare, but my trusted companion prefers such stuff and it's pleasant enough. (Orchestras have violins, and you know, Sherlock, violins . . . close enough for Sherlockiana.)

Besides . . . Austria. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson's last glass of wine we see them having together was from Austria, from Emperor Franz Joseph's special cellar. One of Franz Joseph's other palaces was featured in the concert broadcast.

But it wasn't all Strauss and Vienna in the lead-up to Sherlock season four. We're ridiculous multi-taskers these days, so there was this:

That, for the blissfully uninitiated, is a pokestop with a lure on it, as a part of the game Pokemon Go. Between tweeting and concert-viewing, I was also twirling the Watson's pokestop every five minutes for supplies and catching charmanders and bulbasaurs. If this sounds completely immature to you, I will refer you to the paraphrase tweet that came to me later during a sleepless moment:

"I'm not an adult, I'm a high-functioning thirteen-year-old."

Well, we can't all be Sherlock, can we? (Random thought: The "sociopath" thing might now be Sherlock's "Dr. McCoy" line. Remember, "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor not a [fill-in-the-blank]!"? Well Sherl has given us a couple "I'm not a [fill-in-the-blank], I'm a high-functioning sociopath.")

In any case, a lovely rendition of "Blue Danube" inspired a bit of bad waltzing before Sherlock finally showed up, and it turned out to be a happy evening altogether. Pity about you-know-who.

Which brings us to the ironic-not-ironic-amazing part of all of the above. Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson were partners in crime for seventeen years, according to the good doctor. The good Carter and I were out early celebrating being a little past twice that number.

And Sherlock has been with us every step of the way, amazingly enough. Dates to scion meetings, quote and Paget on the wedding program, Holmes mystery after-wedding-party, and many story after that. So it was really okay that he got to come to our latest little party.

And, like I said, it was a very lovely evening.

Something about Mary.

"All that I have to say has already crossed your mind," said he.

Sherlock Holmes, "The Final Problem"

As of last night, I don't think any of us are really regretting Conan Doyle's decision not to feature Mrs. Watson more prominently after The Sign of Four. Whether you enjoyed the first BBC Sherlock of the 2017 season or not, one thing is very apparent: Fitting a spousal third wheel on to the 221B hansom cab that is the Holmes and Watson dynamic changes things a lot.

In the original stories, Mary Morstan Watson appeared as a client for her one adventure, then pretty much stayed offstage while the boys did their thing, barely even getting acknowledged even when she appeared to have died. BBC Sherlock on the other hand, fleshed her out so much that her "Sign of Four" tale extends over what, at this point, is almost half the series.

The great fun of coming to our latest and greatest screen Sherlock with a full Sherlockian background is seeing how its creators play with the Holmes lore. When these adaptations give you the obvious thing from the stories . . . say a Borgia pearl . . . you know it's not going to play out the way it did the first time around. Other bits, like a simple last name beginning with "N," foreshadow a horrible, regret-causing mistake about to be made. The cookies that Sherlock tosses Holmes fans (not just fans of the show, but longtime fans) can be a delightful enough treat that you can forgive a few other bits . . . like becoming less about the cases and more about the Sherlock Holmes soap opera. 

But being a fan also comes with it the burden of bitching, because it's what fans eventually do. And I've been a fan a very long time, so even though I enjoyed both viewings of "The Six Thatchers" last night, there were a few rough patches, such as:
  • Sherlock telling Lestrade that he (Lestrade) was about to solve a case, then doesn't let the detective come along to catch the criminal, which he would have unless he somehow knew ahead of time what the rest of the plot was or just wanted an extended fight scene with the perpetrator.
  • Mary Morstan revealing she has the Flash's power of super-speed.
  • The girl on the bus business. Didn't really seem to fit the story being told and given the Freeman-Abbington break-up reported in the news a few weeks ago, even though it happened last spring and a personal matter, nothing to do with the show, was just very, very weird.
  • The tale of the merchant who met Death seemed to get old quickly, but perhaps that was just watching it twice.
  • Moriarty appears on every screen in England and there is absolutely no method anyone in creation has of tracking it or gaining leads that are worth a look, even for a side plot? Perhaps someone should just call the Ministry of Magic in on this one and we'll change channels to J.K. Rowling's universe.
  • Hey, it's Molly! Suddenly, I felt gypped that I didn't get more Molly sooner! (I'd say "less Mary, more Molly," but I'd hate to see Molly pay the terrible price of pain Sherlock writers would demand for giving her more screen time. Ulp! Two episodes left. Shouldn't have said that. They could . . . . oh, two . . . no, not Mrs. Hudson as well!)
But let's be positive. It is always a joy to see that cast working together again. There are, as I said, treats a-plenty for the fan. We always get some funny in before the inevitable sadness. 

To end this little blog on "The Six Thatchers," I would like to dedicate a song to Sherlock and John that came to mind after this episode. Yes, John and Sherlock, here are the Stylistics from way back in 1973, singing "Break Up To Make Up."  We hope that things work out for you kids. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

An east wind coming.

"There is an east wind coming, Watson."

"I think not, Holmes. It is very warm."

"Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There's an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared. Start her up, Watson, for it's time that we were on our way. I have a cheque for five hundred pounds which should be cashed early, for the drawer is quite capable of stopping it, if he can."

Welcome to 2017.

East winds are coming all over the place. Playing with the lines between fact and fancy is now a public occurrence outside of the "Game" of Sherlockiana. We are threatened not by a single dictator or conqueror but an overall wave of delusional idiocy, spurred by some becoming so efficient in the basic necessities of life that their primary focuses can easily become nonsensical and others so desperate to hold on to old standards that they'll give anything a chance. As a species, we've had an upgrade that we haven't quite figured out how to deal with yet.

And BBC's Sherlock, season 4, comes today, promising its own east wind, both within the tale it tells and without.

Some will love it, some will hate it, and the Sherlockian world will be changed yet again. But it's just a hobby, just a TV show, right? No worries! And yet . . . .

If you're invested enough in Sherlock Holmes to be reading this blog and have made it this far down the page, you should be well aware of what effects the stories we hold close have on our lives. And, in the case of a fandom like ours, those effects are fairly obvious on fellow fans. These days, however, when we have seen a game show host cast as a leader primarily for having played on on TV, it is also obvious that some fandoms aren't quite as self-aware. Would we elect Benedict Cumberbatch to run the Federal Bureau of Investigation? Sure! What great fun! But we'd also know how silly that act was, each and every one of us.

We come to 2017 in a time of east winds, and winds are tricky, unpredictable things.

And what did Sherlock Holmes do, when the east wind was coming, bringing the first world-wide was and much hardship for England itself?

He went out to cash a check. Sure, there were some devastating possibilities on the horizon. And Sherlock could have stood there on the terrace bemoaning the dark future with Watson. But would that have served any greater purpose that just getting off to the bank for a little check cashing? Nope.

Welcome to 2017, folks. Let's cash those checks while we've got them, on our way to dealing with the larger matters. Or as Sherlock would say:

"Start her up, Watson, for it's time that we were on our way."