Monday, February 27, 2017

Crime is common . . . and really nasty.

Some nights, following the data has one's brain like a virtual monkey swinging from fact-vine to fact-vine through the jungles of history. And it doesn't take much . . .

Tonight, for example, a mention of Landru by the Batman villain King Tut led to the dark villainy of Henri Desiree Landru whose eleven-widow murder spree started just four months after Sherlock Holmes made "his last bow" in August 1914 . . . almost like Landru knew Holmes wasn't keeping an eye on things with the war on.

With one mass murderer not likely to have crossed Sherlock's path, the mind had to wander to that other big name in murder of Holmes's day . . . H.H. Holmes.  "Jack the Ripper" is typically the go-to serial killer of that era, though his real name was never actually known. Of course, "H.H. Holmes" was not that guy's real name either.

He started as Herman Webster Mudgett, married under that name, had a son under that name, and didn't take up his more famous name until heading for Chicago in 1886. And this is where it gets kind of weird in the whole realm of coincidence: The same year Herman Mudgett was creating his persona of Henry Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle was creating his character of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle, perhaps, was ahead of Mudgett, getting his Holmes done in the spring, but . . . well, weird, right?

One can see coincidence in such things, like Sherlock living at 221 (or "2-21s) while Henry's famous abode was on 63rd Street (3 21s), but here's the thing: Criminals like Landru and Mudgett were much, much nastier than anything we see Sherlock Holmes dealing with. Real No Country For Old Men nasty. How can we be sure of this?

In 1898, Sherlock Holmes captures Abe Slaney. Abe Slaney is touted by Sherlock's New York police contact as "the most dangerous crook in Chicago." Sherlock Holmes speaks of his own "knowledge of the crooks of Chicago" at that time, and after the sensational reporting of H.H. Holmes's crimes following his 1895 trial (and execution the year after), it would seem very peculiar that Mudgett doesn't rate a mention.

Both Mudgett and Landru were the kind of men who just used people to get what they wanted and literally disposed of them. Horribly, yes, but there were financial motives in both cases . . . the true high-functioning sociopaths just making their gruesome way in the world. Not the sort of thing Dr. Watson would write up as entertainment for The Strand Magazine.

As much as Sherlock Holmes gets mixed up with Jack the Ripper, I suspect that is only because we never got to know Jack as we did those other two fellows. For all the horror of his crimes, Jack has stayed in that realm just out of our grasp, like Sherlock Holmes . . . left as much to our imaginations as the details of the history books. If we ever did get to know his real name, I doubt he would be running into Sherlock Holmes nearly so much.

Because true crime is just plain horrible. And Sherlock Holmes?

Well, he is a dream of a better world, in his way . . . something for us to hold on to. And we do hold on to him, unlike those other fellows I had to look up tonight . . . and will quickly put them out of my head again very soon.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Norbury moment.

It comes as the last line of "The Yellow Face," that Canonical tale that made a beautiful statement of racial acceptance in 1893. Sherlock Holmes say this:

"Watson, if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper 'Norbury' in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you."

It is a very special moment amid the many cases of Sherlock Holmes. He has failed before, against Irene Adler or Captain Calhoun, but even in those matters his theories weren't at fault . . . both foes just moved too quickly for him. In, "The Yellow Face," Sherlock's solution to what's really going on in the cottage on the other side of the field from Grant Munro's villa is wrong. There are no Scotland Yard men on scene to see this rarity. No one loses life or limb over it. But Sherlock Holmes is wrong, wrong enough that he hope Watson will remind him of the moment as a caution.

Sherlock Holmes gives Watson that investigation "safe word." It is his to give.

John Watson doesn't pull it out himself and then beat Sherlock around the head with it.

"Remember Norbury, Holmes? Remember, NOR-BUR-Y!?!" That isn't how "Norbury" comes about. It's Holmes making sure he has a witness who understands what that failure meant to him, and setting himself a boundary, and a goal.

Sherlock Holmes has learned his lesson, and we never hear of Watson needing to use that word in the years that follow. One could theorize that the good doctor was kind enough not to write of that later moment when he used a whispered "Norbury" to his friend. But I like to think that Sherlock Holmes didn't need it.

We all must acknowledge our personal Norburys. We have to see those mistakes for ourselves, as Holmes did in "The Yellow Face." And if we learn that lesson well enough to share that acknowledgement with our closest friend, so much the better. There are better words for pointing out the mistakes that others may have made. Lord knows, Sherlock Holmes used a few of those.

"Norbury," however, remains something we must give a friend from our own hearts, and our own lessons, just as our favorite detective first did in print in 1893.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ah, Sherlock Holmes and the news . . .

With things getting super-weird in the Oval Office, where the latest temporary resident is a bit of a mystery, it's always a comfort to look to that other room -- the sitting room at 221B Baker Street -- where a much more permanent resident solved mysteries. Where one is a painful example of disfunction, the other . . . happily . . . has served as a reminder of just how functional even a whimsical artistic type who occasionally indulges in pharmaceuticals can be.

So let's talk about Sherlock Holmes's relationship with the news, as he definitely had one. He even had a pretty well-known quote about it:  "The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution if you only know how to use it."

And Sherlock Holmes did know how to use it. As opposed to . . . well, happily, this is a Sherlock Holmes blog. So let's talk about the smart guy.

Sherlock Holmes loved the news. The main medium of his time, newspapers, were an ongoing part of his routine. He cut them up for his commonplace book, stored them in his lumber-room, advertised in them. About two dozen individual newspapers are mentioned by name in his adventures, some Conservative leaning, some Liberal. Sherlock Holmes absorbed them all.

Because Sherlock Holmes wasn't reading the news to buffer his personal opinions. He was culling all the data provided for facts. Actual verifiable facts. Details of real crime and real mysteries that he could use in his work. And of all people, Sherlock Holmes most certainly knew how flawed newspaper reporting could be . . . the credit for so many mysteries he solved going to Scotland Yard in those public prints . . . but he still turned to those sources again and again.

When headed to some distant community to investigate a crime, Sherlock Holmes turned to the papers as he first look at what to see when he got there. When he wanted to find some hidden communication that was not what it seemed on the surface, he picked through the personal ads or "the agony column." Even those bits from random sources in the ads that were flat-out false gave him bits of info to draw from.

Sherlock Holmes had a goal in his absorption of newspaper content: to gather everything he could about crime, potential crime, or the human interactions that led to such mysteries as he encountered. It helped him follow the threads that ran through London life, whether leading to a particular incident or a spider-like webmaster like a Moriarty. And with that focus, the Press was a valuable institution, even if he didn't necessarily want its publicity about himself. He knew how to use it.

Not run from it. Not work to manipulate it. Just take it for what it was and use it appropriately, not to feed his ego, but to gain the knowledge he needed from every source he could.

Sherlock Holmes was a very wise man. And that's one of those things that makes him such a joy to look back on, no matter what the current situation in our world is, even now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"But it isn't real . . ."

We'd like to think of ourselves as objective, fair-minded, and unaffected by time and the world, and yet . . . .

There just comes a time when you look at something like a proper Sherlock Holmes pastiche and go, "I just can't even read these any more." TV, movies, other mediums . . . they're different, they have different tools in their bag of tricks to capture that genie called Sherlock Holmes. But books, stories, the written word?

After forty years and countless re-readings and re-readings and analyses of those sixty stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the words of Dr. Watson's voice are just too imbedded in my brain. The same brain that read countless pastiches, many of which are known to be quite bad, and enjoyed every one back in the 1970s and 1980s now just cannot stay focussed on anything purporting to be from the pen of Watson that's not the original. In trying to puzzle out just what I didn't like about the latest pastiche I attempted to read, the words I kept hearing in my head were these:

"But it isn't real . . ."

The "real" Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson of the Victorian era were the ones laid out in that rich prose with Conan Doyle's name on the cover, and having mainlined Sherlockian enjoyment from the pure source for so very long, the brain now rejects substitutes.

Not anything different enough to be a parallel dimension Holmes and Watson, ancestors of Holmes and Watson, or an almost-Holmes-and-Watson inspired by Holmes and Watson. No, those can be accepted for who and what they are and still enjoyed in stride. It's a little like the difference between a band that plays fabulous covers of familiar tunes and a tribute band that tries to play those same songs the same way the original band did. One is just easier to enjoy at face value.

Another comparison -- the "uncanny valley" of animation. Characters created in a computer-generated way are easier to take when they're more cartoony. Attempts to make an exact replica of a real person generates a creepy character that just feels so wrong somehow. (Perhaps one day we'll get past this, but the current state of things gave us a fake Peter Cushing in a recent Star Wars that I never want to see play Sherlock Holmes. And Cushing was a great Sherlock.)

But it's just my own jaded intake abilities. Pastiches haven't gotten worse since the 1980s. There are horrible ones now just as there were horrible ones then, and there are surely excellent ones now like there were excellent ones then. I just seem to have become Holmes-blind to them. (TV and movies, however, are another matter. The best of those are better than anything from years past.)

Luckily, for the moment, it's back to discussing original Canon at the local library. Fourth Thursday is here again in Peoria, and "The Red-Headed League" is up. The real stuff survives.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Teesside and Sherlock Holmes.

Nothing a Sherlockian loves better than a mystery to unravel about Sherlock Holmes.

And today just such a lovely mystery came from a headline quote of a complaint about a city council's spending habits: "What's Sherlock Holmes got to do with Teesside?"

The full headline is a bit off, seeming to claim that a full 30,000 pounds was spent on putting one quote from "The Speckled Band" on the side of a building, when there are ten from different literary sources for the price. Still, 3,000 pounds to write out one quote seems a bit high. I'd have gotten a ladder and painted the quote myself for a few hundred. But the economics of the thing aren't the fascinating part of the story . . . it's the question.

What does Sherlock Holmes have to do with Teesside?

Now, there's a challenge!

Did Sherlock Holmes even go to that corner of England? Not at first glance, but when one digs a little deeper, one finds the town of Darlington about sixteen miles or so away. "The case of the Darlington Substitution Scandal," anyone? (Hmm, interesting use of capital letters, Watson.) Still, close, but no cigar, as the saying goes.

The Middlesbrough Dock there was laid out by Sir William Cubitt, who might have had some relation, be it blood or inspirational, to the tragic Mr. Hilton Cubitt of "The Adventure of the Dancing Men."  The friction match was invented in one of Teesside's boroughs by a man named John Walker, who apprenticed under a doctor named Watson Alcock . . . but that thread stretches far too thinly, despite that particular surgeon's somewhat interesting name.

An industrial area dealing with iron and coal and later chemicals as the First World War took off, the towns that make up the Teesside area itself just don't seem "Sherlock-ish." It's no wonder that some of the residents are asking what Sherlock Holmes has to do with Teesside.

But if he didn't have anything to do with it before, he certainly does now. That's the thing about Sherlock Holmes . . . as much as we love to see him in London, he's not anchored to any one place and can turn up about anywhere at any time. One new episode of Sherlock, one hot new novel, and suddenly he can have everything to do with Teesside.

It sure would be nice if someone would come up with some already-on-the-books connection for the sake of those free-spending council members right now, though . . . so if you're looking for a challenge for that great Sherlockian brain of yours, have at it!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Red heads in Feb. heads: Watson's partnering peak?

The Sherlock Holmes Story Society comes around again this Thursday night in Peoria, and this time up we're discussing "The Red-Headed League." And just starting to re-read this particular story has me very interested in John Watson's particular place in Sherlock Holmes's life at the time of this case.

"The Red-Headed League" is definitely an 1890 affair. Watson is definitely living away from Baker Street, and has definitely chronicled some of Holmes's adventures already. The partnership is in full swing.

"This gentleman," Holmes says as he introduces Watson to Jabez Wilson, "has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will be of the utmost use to me in yours also."

Now, one might suspect that Holmes is blowing smoke just to get Wilson comfortable with the new arrival, but consider how Sherlock also accuses John of embellishing the cases somewhat in his writings. Sherlock Holmes is not a man to embellish, and the statement he makes above can surely be taken at face value.

Watson is also, in this case, practicing his own skills at observation with no prompting from Holmes. And then something interesting takes place: "Sherlock Holmes's quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances."

Sherlock notices John observing.

John notices Sherlock notice him observing.

John shoots Sherlock a couple questioning glances.

Sherlock Holmes smiles, shakes his head, and seems to admit that he couldn't see much either. Of course "not seeing much" for Sherlock Holmes is: "Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else."

Those facts are so obvious to Sherlock Holmes that at this point, it seems like he could be assuming Watson got all that himself. And why not? As the Latin phrase Holmes quotes a few lines later states, "Everything unknown passses for something splendid," and that applies to Holmes as well as the rest of us. He does not know what Watson made from his observations, only that Watson didn't think he got much, which is the same thought Holmes had about his own efforts.

Did John Watson's absence from Baker Street make Sherlock's intellectual heart grow fonder? When the doctor wasn't present from day to day, did Sherlock Holmes's memory give his friend a slightly enhanced set of detective skills, raising John a little close to himself?

"You could not have come at a better time, my dear Watson" Holmes says after physically yanking Watson into this case. He doesn't need Watson's help with a rough sort, an aid in dealing with a bore, or a friend with an experience of women he lacks. Sherlock wants John on this case because it's exciting him already and he needs his friend to share it with.

And it is one of the most terrific adventures a couple of friends could have.  A little exploration, some lunch, a concert by the popular Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate (Oh man, do you have to love YouTube -- here's a link to hear the same artist Holmes heard that afternoon.), and then a late-night vigil, the capture of a master criminal, and then back to Baker Street for a glass of whiskey in the wee small hours of the morning!

If you want to talk bromance (or even Johnlock), "The Red-Headed League" is a place to begin that discussion -- a truly wonderful time in the partnership.

Can't wait to discuss it Thursday night!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sherlock Holmes in the Something-Somethingth Century.

In 1960, there was a book . . . rather hard to find today . . . called The Science-Fictional Sherlock Holmes, featuring a series of stories that involved Sherlock Holmes and science fiction. Combining Sherlock and sci-fi is hardly as uncommon now as it was back in 1960. We even have that lovely cartoon with the catchy theme song, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. (Just try to get that ear-worm out of your head once you think of the title.) In fact, when I think of those fellows from 1960 who put together that book, and what they would think of current Holmeses . . .

I mean, we actually have Sherlock Holmes in the Twenty-first Century. Many of them. They don't have a theme song that sings "Sherlock Holmes in the twenty-first century!" on endless repeat, like the hundred-years-later version, but they are still, very much, future Sherlocks.

BBC Sherlock Holmes was employing methods involving Star Trek communicator devices from the very first episode. CBS's Elementary made its hound of the Baskervilles a robot. Were we to copy episodes on to projectable film, put it in canisters, and send those back to 1960, they would be seen, quite naturally, as science fiction movies.

Flip the script, and the original ACD Canon could now be looked at as historical fiction, a genre which Doyle actually did write. Sherlock Holmes has dealt with Jack the Ripper, W.W. I spies, W.W. II spies, the Kennedy assassination, and a whole lot more if you count that game where he actually gets H.G. Wells's time machine. The timelessness of a top-notch consulting detective has been proven time and again.

I suspect that recent episodes of Sherlock were much easier to take for those of a science-fictional Holmes mindset. A Sherlock Holmes who can appear in any time and any place and be just as wonderful, like a Dr. Who who somehow does it all without a time machine, is open to all sorts of other possibilities, like movie-explosion-leaps and super-villain sisters. His relationship to Watson may be skewed this way or that, but Watson's presence is always important . . . whether he's a robot or a daddy. It's extrapolative fiction in either case.

Finding a place for the latest Sherlocks on the shelf with all the Sherlocks who came before is always a process that provides interesting perspectives. At some point in viewing that wide, wide vista, you see so many that no single Sherlock Holmes stands above the rest, even when you look at the original sixty stories . . . and the sixty Sherlocks they presented.

And that multiverse of Sherlock Holmeses is perhaps the most science-fictional part of it all.

And that's what we have here, in our twenty-first century Sherlockian lives of what used to be the future. It's kind of amazing.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Most popular BBC character?

When Sherlock Holmes won a poll to be the most popular BBC character in the world this week, my first thought was "He's a BBC character?"

Other characters mentioned in the poll, like Doctor Who and Basil Fawlty were born on the BBC airwaves and spent the better part of their fictional lives there. But Sherlock Holmes?

From one perspective, it wasn't fair to the other characters, since Sherlock had over a hundred twenty years of field testing and cultural evolution as a character before his most recent BBC debut. From another perspective, Sherlock Holmes isn't really a "BBC character," since he didn't originate there. Either way, it seems like he should have been disqualified from this little competition.

So while one wants to celebrate another victory for the best and wisest television character we have ever known, it's kind of like partying after a 600 pound giant just won a wrestling match with a five-year-old. Did we expect any other outcome?

Of course, it was Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes that won out, so I guess there's some celebration for fans of Cumberbatch's portrayal. Much as I hate to say it, Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes wasn't on the list, nor any of his predecessors. It does reflect the fresh pop culture rise of Sherlock Holmes thanks specifically to BBC Sherlock. Downey's movie success as Holmes was a nice little moment, but it doesn't seem to have gained us any Holmes fans or Funko Pop figures.

So I guess there might be some worthiness to Sherlock's victory over the Doctor, DCI John Luther, Blackadder, and the rest. But it seems like it still needs an asterisk or something in the record books.

Monday, February 13, 2017

That's Nazi-fighting hair!

During my college days of the 1980s, I remember going to Double-Barrelled Tiger Cubs film nights at the university of Illinois, wherein great fun would be had at the expense of Nigel Bruce. His wacky Watsonian exploits could be made even funnier if you ran the film backwards during his scenes, which occasionally happened. And while Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes did not compare as a target for mockery, there was one aspect of his character that did: his war years hairstyle.

Until a recent review of Basil Rathbone's three World War II films of Sherlock Holmes, I never quite realized that the 1942-1943 war Sherlocks were the only ones where Holmes wore those fine side-curls that can look like devil horns, some Roman emperors laurel, or boyish curls, depending upon the angle or moment. Pictured below, you can see them exhibited from Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, and Sherlock Holmes in Washington.

Now, I'll admit, as a young and silly college fellow from a less accepting time, I did join my fellows in mocking this Sherlock's choice of coiffure. It seemed a bit "fancy" for a man, especially a keen logician like Sherlock Holmes. But with the wisdom of the passing years, and the changing of the times, I'm now gaining some new insight into Sherlock Holmes's war hair.

First, of course, is the fact that Sherlock Holmes was not just created as a science-detective, he was also modeled after an artist as well. His whims, his experiments in perception, and, of course, his own references to his "art" of detection. But that would be reason for Sherlock Holmes to wear fancy hair throughout his life, not just in that particular period. So why then?

Because, and I am serious in this, it was Nazi-fighting hair.

When Sherlock Holmes set to out-smarting Nazis in the 1940s, he was, like all Englishmen and Englishwomen, intent on battling them on all fronts. And what was one way of striking at the core of Nazi beliefs?

Exactly what Jesse Owens did in the 1936 Olympics. He showed Adolph Hitler that a black man could best Hitler's so-called "master race" with ease. And what class of people did Hitler hate besides those of other races and religions?

Gay men and women.

Whether or not you're a fan of W.W. II Johnlock shipping (and with Nigel Bruce in the picture, I doubt there are many who are), wearing a more effeminate hairstyle as a man living with another man probably cast Sherlock Holmes as less than a macho figure in German eyes. He wasn't even man enough to join the military after all! So to have this fancy-haired fop dealing major damage to such major German operations as the Voice of Terror would just add insult to injury in Hitler's eyes, just as Jesse Owens did in the Olympics.

And who knows? Maybe some more detail-oriented Sherlockian could make a case for Rathbone's Sherlock being in the closet. But that hair, that bold choice of hair artistry in a time when most were wearing Army-grade buzz cuts and other more serious styles, that hair makes a statement.

And the statement that it was making was surely flipping the bird (or in this case, the curls) right at ol' Adolph himself.

Because that's Nazi-fighting hair!

Saturday, February 11, 2017


After putting in a little time polishing the opening of my original-Canon shipping fic this morning, I just started musing on how much I like words. Sherlock Holmes is made of words.

Even in BBC's Sherlock, without the words, you've just got a silent movie featuring a couple of guys who don't even get to have accents. And as much as anyone wants to defend how utterly attractive the leads are, let's put them in front of a blank-slate test subject with no words . . . I have a feeling they're liable to start thinking of Greg Lestrade as the real lead of the show.

Words built Sherlock Holmes, words make us love Sherlock all the more, and words . . . .


Sorry for the caps there, but as I was gliding through my happy Saturday, relishing all the words, SOMEBODY . . . and I'm not going to name any names here, Howard . . . SOMEBODY laid the crudist of pastiche traps in my path on Twitter. Maybe I wasn't personally the intended target of that wicked, wicked snare for the curious, but it got me.

I had forgotten how low pastichery can go.

And how words can also create puppets of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with someone's hand so visible behind the thin fabric of superficial detail that you want to staple-gun the pages together to imprison the words forever, like some dire beast of Lovecraftian myth. (Only then you remember that you just pulled in a sample chapter from Kindle and don't really want to destroy your phone.)

Trying to create new Watsonian writings is a steep ascent even for the best of writers. (Looking forward to Lyndsay Faye's The Whole Art of Detection with a mix of anticipation and fear, like she's jumping Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle.) For the rest of us? Best not to even go there. I've come to enjoy Sherlock fan fiction more than 95% of all pastiches, just because writers write in their own style and don't try to cookie-cutter words into Watson's . . . which was what I saw this afternoon.

Unless you're really going to get into the head of Victorian John Watson, and I mean really get into his head, like you actually think you're him and the words coming out of you are his words . . . well, it just comes out cookie-cutter, like you're forcing a shape onto the dough of words that it doesn't really want to take to.

Words are fabulous things. You can practically give a creation life like you're Dr. Frankenstein or the sorcerer's apprentice, or you can put on stale little stage-magic tricks that the audience has seen far too many times before. You can do whatever brings you joy.

Just be kind to those who might unwarily stumble upon your word creations, and don't leave them out in the public thoroughfares if they're smelly and leave stains.

Words can be hard to get out of our fabrics.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Revisiting Frankland, the old crank.

Somehow the subject of old cranks seems appropriate of late. Crankiness, a malady that many of us suffer from as we age, is something longtime Sherlockians know pretty well. We've always had more than a few within our ranks at any given time. Heck, I might even be one now!

Crankiness, that condition wherein a person is more easily irritated than normal, can come from a number of sources: physical discomfort, boredom, or even suffering from some other mental upset that one is in denial about and just lashing out at the nearest potential irritant. Sherlockiana is a great place to see crankiness come out, as there aren't a lot of serious life-or-death issues in our hobby that truly require righteous anger or outrage. Unless we're getting spillover from some actual serious issue from the outside world, crankiness is old school Sherlockiana's great rouser. Oh, those kids and their Benetwitch Cumbercue!

But for a properly Sherlockian exploration of crankiness, we must always turn to the prime crank of the Sherlockian Canon: old Frankland of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Old Frankland the crank, bestowed with that title by John H. Watson himself.

We're not quite sure why old Frankland was such an absolute bastard  to his neighbors, given to the seemingly random use of legal power and wealth to restrict them from going where they want and allowing them to go where others would rather they didn't. Since his own daughter has deserted him for reasons that seem quite plain, it would seem his only means of interacting with people in a way that they acknowledge his existence . . . much like a modern internet troll.

We can see how desperately lonely he is when he is standing by his garden gate, ready to invite Dr. Watson in for a glass of wine, after plainly having seen Watson moving along the road with his telescope. Frankland has plainly heard of Watson, and if he has read Watson's work, he knows John H. Watson is most famous for relating how he impressed he is was a genius to the reading public.

So it's not surprising when Frankland spends his whole time with Watson bragging about his victories and his cleverness at tracking the escaped criminal . . . the old crank is such a narcissist that he probably thinks Watson will write his success up in The Strand Magazine, where the world will see that he's easily the equal of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Watson practically has to peel Frankland off him like Elvis getting rid of a bobby-soxer (Signs someone might be a crank? Extremely dated pop culture references.) just to get on his way alone.

The truly troubling thing about Frankland, however, isn't is attempt to monopolize Watson, though. That's just where we learn what might be ailing him. The serious problem with Frankland is his complete abuse of wealth and power, treating people as mere tools for inflating his ego, deciding what is or isn't right for situations that have nothing to do with him. Indeed, he is the perfect example of why we should never conquer old age and death -- some people will eventually take a lifetime of learning and earning and use it as immaturely as a teenage vandal just trying to make any kind of mark on a world they think is ignoring them.

And maybe it is. If old Frankland was being ignored, it was most certainly because he earned it. We know very little of what he did when he was young and vital . . . surely he served a purpose then, had a wife who gave him a daughter, and might have been a decent fellow. It's hard to say with cranks. Some of them were rather awful young men as well, we only think they're symptoms were brought on by age since that is when we met them.

"It was a relief to me, after that unnatural restraint, when we at last passed Frankland's house . . . ." Watson wrote as his last mention of Frankland, just before The Hound of the Baskerville's climax. We never hear of the old crank again. Eventually his money probably quit winning him court cases, and left to the mercies of the public, may have suffered the original fate of Scrooge that the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come revealed to that more famous old crank.

One hopes that some ghosts other than the Hound visited old Frankland some Christmas and got him to have a goose delivered to his daughter, or some other act of reconciliation. For we'd rather see an old crank come around before they do too much damage and pass on unloved and even hated by most. Its easy enough to isolate yourself, even when surrounding yourself with frightened lackeys if you're wealthy and powerful enough, and fully give in to being an old crank.

But as we saw if old Frankland's case, eventually the main characters will just drive by your place and get on with their business. As we so oft hear thus far in 2017, "Sad."

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Unshippables.

They are . . . the Unshippables.

Characters from the original Canon so far apart in time, space, and destiny that their love seems an impossibility. Characters who have never been played by the young and beautiful. Characters that can't even seem to make the "rare pair" list.

Is there hope for such dire, lonely souls, peering through the frost-rimmed window panes of the happy fanfic holiday ball?

After Monday's blog on the possibilities of shipping in the original ACD Canon, I naturally wanted to test the limits of such an open field. So I thought of the most unshippable character I could.

a.) He died pretty soon after he got into the Canon.

b.) He was an immigrant whose command of English might have been questionable.

c.) He was both child-like in size and the object of some pretty intense cultural prejudices.

Yes, Tonga, the pygmy assassin of the Andaman Islands.

But Jonathan Small, you might interject, Tonga's partner who complimented the little man, saying, "No man ever had a more faithful mate." Yes, yes . . . no! Too easy. Too much of a layup, and we pretty much know their story. All you'd be adding were smoochy scenes.

So who's both a natural fit for Tonga and a bit of a challenge themself in the shipping category?

Did I hear someone say "Eugenia Ronder?"

Oh, yes. Eugenia Ronder. There's Tonga's love connection.

How do two such tortured souls come together across the boundaries of race, religion, culture, superficial qualities, and even death itself?

Well, there's a story there. And actually, it's a bit of a love triangle with a third party from a completely different story than either of them. Once I started trying to work out the hurdles those two had to get over, their tale practically plotted itself. Now just to find the time to write the thing . . . that starts tomorrow night, and the weekend is coming.

The lesson I learned from this little thought experiment, however, is this:

Are there truly any "Unshippables" in the Sherlockian Canon? While it would make a great title for a short story collection -- The Unshippables of Sherlock Holmes -- I don't think there truly are such creatures. "What one man can invent another can discover," Sherlock Holmes once said, and I think we can alter that slightly to "What characters one person can invent, another can ship."

Or better still, to quote Ivy Douglas from The Valley of Fear:

"There was romance. There is always romance."

Monday, February 6, 2017

Firing the ships original Canon.

I always enjoy listening to Three Patch Podcast, my monthly workout in getting out of my own headspace. Like all the best podcasts, they usually sound like they're having such fun when they're in their element, and much of that element is the fine art of shipping. As it involves chemistry, one might argue that it's more science than art, but still a fascinating subject in its seemingly limitless variety.

"Seemingly" limitless, because after four seasons and a Christmas special, there is actually only so many characters from BBC Sherlock that can be paired or triaded up in relationships. Johnlock, Sherlolly, Mystrade, Johnlockary, Euriarty, Sheriarty . . . so many combos, yes, but the core group is so small. Imagine if it were nine seasons worth of characters! Or four novels and five short story collections' worth of characters . . . wait a minute . . . .

Ah, the thought makes one want to do a Jim Moriarty head roll in the sheer pleasure of it.

Maybe not for everyone, but you're reading the fellow who once wrote a book called Sherlock and the Ladies, in which he explored Sherlock's varied relationships with over two dozen women in the Canon. We old school Sherlockians might have done most of our work in articles rather than sexy, sexy prose, but the shipping was still there . . . a tad restrained, maybe . . . but there. Yet what if we completely attacked Ye Olde Canon with the unrestrained abandon of the modern BBC Sherlock shippers? It has started, to be sure, but the floodgates aren't completely open just yet.

James Mortimer gently ran his finger along the parietal fissure of Sherlock's skull, as he cradled the detective's head, and said, "Isn't this so much better than that chilly stone hut on the moor?"

Counting the freckles along Violet's exposed shoulder, Alice Rucastle realized she might not mind staying a prisoner for a little while longer. Mr. Fowler could wait . . . and maybe wait some more.

He was portly, so portly his face seemed like it might be about to burst, but Mary saw the way his very small eyes twinkled as he looked at her, that night at Pondicherry Lodge, and somehow knew that Mr. Athelney Jones would be her destiny, even if their love led to sad bereavement for any who stood in its way.

So many wonderful untold relationships in the original Sherlockian Canon, and that's just the people who actually could have met in the tales themselves. When cross-pollinating the stories starts to go into full effect . . . WOW!

Sure, there's probably no readership for a John Clayton/Mrs. Shipley fic, but that same part of the brain that thinks mountain climbing is a good idea looks at such a relationship and goes, "Why not?"

What stories are there yet to be told in that Canon of old?

As with everything else to do with Sherlock Holmes, there is certainly some fun to be found there. Might have to just wander down that path a bit . . . .

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Sherlockian choice for Super Bowl 2017.

So, I guess it's Super Bowl weekend, and with less than twenty-four hours to go until game time, the choice of who a true Sherlockian should root for has become clear . . .

Yes, I'm going the "true Sherlockian" route on this. Normally, I don't think we should ever say who or who is not a real fan of Sherlock Holmes and who is not, but since this is the Super Bowl, we're in an alien territory that has nothing to do with Sherlock. All normal rules are off!

My initial impulse was to go with the Atlanta Falcons, since 221B Con is in Atlanta every year, and the town gets a lot of positive mojo for that. But I had to be sure.

So I turned to the all-knowing Book of Sherlock for answers.

"Atlanta," mentioned four times by name. (In "Yellow Face.")

"New England," mentioned once. (In the non-Holmes part of The Valley of Fear.)

What does this mean for the Super Bowl? A prophecy of four touchdowns for the Falcons and one field goal for the Patriots? Well, I doubt New England will do that badly. So let's look at other indicators.

"Cheating" occurs twice in the Canon, once in "Five Orange Pips," where Holmes loses, and again in "Empty House," where Holmes comes back from the dead. Since the New England Patriots are notorious cheaters, this would seem to indicate they'll be down in the first half, but come back in the second.

Looking at the team rosters for Canonical last names points to it being a close game. Atlanta has players named, Jones, Jones, Hardy, Williams, Robinson, Perkins, Matthews, Jackson, Reynolds, Neal, Allen, and Harris. New England has White, Lewis, Slater, Bennett, Andrews, Mason, Brown, Jones, Jones, Jones, King, and Allen. That's a dozen Canonical characters referenced for each team, so we have to go into a tie-breaker and go to the Sherlock Canon, where we immediately see that Atlanta has a player named Hooper. And Molly Hooper needs a win in her life after that phone call from the last episode this year.

So, after weighing all the indicators, the Atlanta Falcons have got to be the Sherlockian team of choice for this Super Bowl. If you find yourself accidentally sitting down in front of the TV on Sunday night with the mistaken hope that BBC Sherlock might come back on, you've now got a go-to team.

Because we're certainly not going to be watching the game for the Sherlockian commercials . . . .

The idiot king.

"A Scandal in Bohemia" seems like a story well worth further discussion these days.

An idiot king shows up at 221B Baker Street, covered in the trappings of more wealth than taste. He ascended to his position in life via birth and not skill, which is probably why his child-like mentality thinks a simple Halloween mask should cover up the truth of his identity. (Probably because his fawning servants, following his suggestion of the disguise, went "Oh, yes, another of your brilliant ideas, your majesty!" No one in his inner circle cared or respected him enough to point out how silly the mask alone was as disguise.)

John Watson, ever the man of common sense, attempts to get as far away from this idiot during the first moment that presents itself, but Sherlock physically stops him: A silent "Oh, you have to stay for this . . . people are going to want to read about this one!"

"Count von Kramm" as the idiot king calls himself is plainly short for "Count von Krampus," as the king's child-like imagination can't stretch much beyond local children's fairy tales, the equivalent of a modern idiot calling himself "Baron von Santa" in an attempt at an alias.

Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, as his Sherlock Holmes reveals the king's full name, has at least one woman in his past whom he's attempting complete denial of, and keeps trying to get other men to help him in this creation of alternative facts, lest the woman involved somehow stop him from gaining more power as the husband of a Scandinavian princess. (But, who knows, maybe she's just a hot model from another country he's looking to bring on as an additional decoration for his palace . . . )

Sherlock Holmes, using one of his less intense methods, take's the idiot king's money, has a nice time hanging out with horses and stablehands, smoking and drinking beer. He goes to a wedding and makes a little more money. Good times.

More beer and a nice bit of cold beef, and Sherlock Holmes organizes a crowd for a demonstration in front of Irene Adler's house due to her causing the idiot king to show up in his life.

The idiot king returns to 221B Baker Street, in the expectation that all of his wishes have been carried out by Sherlock Holmes, who explains that the woman the king thinks loves him so much probably doesn't love him at all. The idiot king immediately goes into "sour grapes" mode, mentioning how she wasn't really in his class, even as he's still stuck on how hot she is.

SIDE NOTE: Irene Adler has her own John, just like Sherlock, in the able John the coachman. Interesting.

The idiot king keeps going on about Irene Adler's status, which Sherlock Holmes turns around to insult him to his face, which the idiot king entirely misses. Why?

The idiot king is busy crowing about his failed efforts, reframing them with "Nothing could be more successful." He tries to give Holmes a trinket, expecting the detective to take it and agree, but Sherlock is completely in the woman's camp at this point, if he wasn't there to start with after meeting this dunce of the wealthier classes the day before.

And in one final gesture of disrespect to an idiot with power, Sherlock Holmes pretends he doesn't see the idiot king wanting to shake his hand and turns to walk away.

It's the fair sex that really carries the day in "A Scandal in Bohemia," putting a childish bigot in his place. And Sherlock Holmes always holds that moment in a place of honor. Like so many of Watson's accounts, this one holds a good lesson for us in that.

Let us hope we see such stories play out again and again.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.

Last night, I thought it might be comforting to watch a movie where Sherlock Holmes dealt with a Nazi menace in Washington, D.C. What I discovered, as I watched Sherlock Holmes in Washington, was that the Nazi part of the film was much less attention-grabbing than the doddering old fellow who did not seem competent in the lofty position that he was so fortunate to have somehow attained.

I mean, if you make it to that rare job of being partner to the world's first and foremost consulting detective, we kind of expect something from you.

Yes, Nigel Bruce Watson, I'm talking about you.

So tonight, I decided to go for round two of Sherlock versus Nazis, this one said in the credits to be based on "His Last Bow." That movie? Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. 


Sounding a little like some cheesy alien commander from Plan Nine from Outer Space, the Voice of Terror has a particularly nice ploy -- announcing acts of sabotage and assasination as they happen. Sir Evan Barham, at a meeting room of England's highest government (suspiciously absent Mycroft) suggests "In this emergency, we should take advantage of everyone's peculiar gifts," and calls in Sherlock Holmes. Of course, Sir Evan might have other reasons for calling in Sherlock . . .

"BLOWSER!" Sir Evan cries out when he sees Dr. Watson, who refers to Sir Evan as "Dimples" in return. He might just be one of those fellows who, when he finds himself in a high office, just brings his buddies in for jobs.

Luckily, the Voice of Terror is a talky bastard, and gets on the radio to frighten England before Nigel Bruce can get many words in. He resigns himself to remaining frozen in the background with a serious look. On the way out, he even gets a solid endorsement for Holmes in.

And then comes a bit of amazing foreshadowing of Sherlock's Anthea, the lovely Jill Grandis, their government assigned driver. She'll also show up in two later Rathbone Sherlock movies as Sally Musgrave and Lydia, which makes one wonder if Hillary Brooke wasn't really playing the Rathbone series's version of Eurus Holmes. (Interestingly, the Moriarty from another one of her films is also in this movie under another name.)

Remember yesterday when I wondered who would give Nigel Bruce Watson a gun? Well, this time he's pointing his pistol at Mrs. Hudson and waving it around when she first appears, a gun-cleaning accident just waiting to happen.

German knives start getting thrown around, and eventually Watson suggests they go somewhere safe.

"No one in the world is safe now, Watson," Sherlock replies, "least of all, us!"

So they go to a shady bar -- literally, it has great areas of shade -- and Nigel Bruce spends most of it getting scared of things. And pulling his gun. When told to put it away, Brucian Watson almost pouts: "Well, Holmes . . . you never know . . ."

Though its hour-and-six-minute-long compares to an episode of Elementary, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror is amazingly good as old Holmes movies go. Holmes enlists a gal from the shady bar side of life named Kitty and challenges her to form an army of Irregulars to fan out over London, which she does with a great inspiring speech. Though her last name is never given, she is surely Kitty Winter, and maybe a bit closer to the Canonical version than Elementary's incarnation.

"Dr. Watson, a fair physician no doubt, but of no consequence," a Nazi appraises Nigel Bruce while holding Holmes, Watson, and Hillary Brooke's Moriarty-ish friend at gunpoint. But when a great Nazi-punching fight breaks out between Kitty's Irregulars and the bad guys, Watson is whacking the villains with his cane with the best of them, while Holmes actually stands back.

Meade, the lead Nazi spy, is a wonderfully menacing villain, and when Kitty apparently sleeps with Meade to get info, it's one of the creepiest scenes in a pretty creepy movie. (I say "apparently," because they really went out of their way to telegraph "sex" without ever showing the slightest hint to the kiddies.) He even has evil dreams of riding a horse over the bodies of bloody underlings.

But, boy, that Voice of Terror makes Meade look pale, describing the British "carnage" and what horrible shape loser Britain is in. All brag and pompous villainy over the broadcast network he likes best. His actual Nazis eventually show up in uniform, just so Holmes and the lads from the British Army can take them out, but I'll leave the climax for you to discover, if you haven't already.

It's not "His Last Bow" . . . like a Sherlock episode, we get a Von Bock instead of Von Bork. And England is almost invaded, if not for Sherlock Holmes.

Even if you're not fond of Nigel Bruce, he's practically not used comedically in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, a movie that holds its more-serious tone throughout. And at the end, they do perform the original "East wind" speech from "His Last Bow," as admirably as anyone could wish.

It's actually not a bad little film to watch these days, a little reminder of the lengths the world went to to deal with tyrants past. That East wind always seems to be coming, doesn't it?

And that timeless spirit called Sherlock Holmes is always there as well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sherlock Holmes in Washington.

The year is 1943. The thick of World War II.

The young men are off to war. And the fellows to old to draft? A lot of them seem to have been acting in Sherlock Holmes in Washington, released in April of that year. That's what strikes one early in the film, during the run-up to Sherlock Holmes actually appearing. There's a young lady or two. And the African-American porter might just look younger than the rest of the males. Or maybe this movie just takes place in that part of society that's all old white men in suits. Even the young service man that shows up to meet the youngest of the ladies has crow's feet.

Twelve and a half minutes in, Holmes and Watson finally enter the picture, hearing about the events of the earlier part of the movie on BBC radio. We learn Watson steals Holmes's whiskey to watch cricket, but it's Nigel Bruce. There's a good view of the "V.R." punched into the wall of 221B with what are apparently some of the weakest caliber bullets available. And I'm not even going to mention the infamous Sherlock Holmes in Washington hairdo. The suspenders and high trousers on Holmes are quite odd enough.

"I shall write a monograph someday . . . on the obnoxious habit . . . of accumulating useless trivia," Basil Rathbone says as he and Nigel Bruce casually look through a collector's collections. And people think current scriptwriters are hard on the fans . . . .

The movie's run time of an hour and eleven minutes is much less than an episode of BBC Sherlock, and it's about twenty-five minutes in before Holmes and Watson make it to America, where they make a big fuss about flying over New York City on their way to Washington, just to use some aerial stock footage of New York.

"How are you buddy?" and "What's cooking?" are Nigel Bruce's first attempts to speak American, which he picked up from a book on the subject. And he seems to need an ice cream soda to make it through the first official discussion of the case. He'll be chewing gum and reading Flash Gordon comics in the newspaper before long. (Literally. He does.) Bruce's Watson seems to be brought along as an x-factor, to behave randomly in any given situation.

The movie moves along at a decent enough pace, and Holmes doesn't get a whole lot to do, yet does it with style. (And again, not talking about the infamous Sherlock Holmes in Washington hairdo.)

Once all the casework is done, Holmes and Watson drive toward the Capitol Building,

"Democracy, the only hope for the future, eh, Holmes?" Watson says to Holmes.

"It's not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future, but in the days to come, the British and American people, will, for their own safety and the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice, and in peace," Holmes replies, quoting Winston Churchill. The whole speech can be found online, and Sherlock Holmes in Washington ends with a shot of the Capitol just after Holmes attributes that speech to Churchill. And one wonders just how much of the speech he had memorized.

"You do not, I am certain, underrate the severity of the ordeal to which you and we have still to be subjected," one can almost hear Rathbone's voice saying more of Churchill's words, as they continue their drive through Washington, later speaking of those who "have put aside forever the shameful temptation of resigning themselves to the conqueror's will. Hope has returned to the hearts of scores of millions of men and women, and with that hope there burns the flame of anger against the brutal, corrupt invader. And still more fiercely burn the fires of hatred and contempt for the filthy Quislings whom he has suborned."

They really didn't mince words back in those Nazi-fighting days. But Holmes hardly needed that level of Churchillian fire for just the events of Sherlock Holmes in Washington (Hmmm, weird double bill of that and Sherlock Holmes in New York.), because Basil Rathbone's Holmes plainly had his hands full with that doddering old bumbler he seemed saddled with, who not only couldn't be expected to show any sort of reason, but could not even be expected to focus on the job at hand for any length of time if even the slightest dregs of his soda were at hand. Why anyone ever handed that man a gun was really beyond belief, all by itself.

It's nice to take your mind off current events with an old Sherlock Holmes movie . . . but somehow they always seem to find their way back in, especially when Sherlock Holmes heads to Washington . . . and then quickly flies back to Baker Street. (How Mycroft Holmes didn't show up in those days is, to the modern viewer, something of a wonder.) But, as is the case whenever Sherlock Holmes shows up, there is usually something to be learned there.

Even if it's just some words from Churchill amid a world in crisis.

It's not always 1895. Once it was 1914.

I've seen a few posts of late where Sherlockians bring up that over-used classic of Sherlockian poetry, "221B" by Vincent Starrett. We only have one classic Sherlockian poem, so it's not like they have much choice, really.

One thing that's always bothered me about "221B" from the first time I heard it was it's final line:

"And it is always 1895."

In the world of Sherlock Holmes, it's not always 1895. If you had to only read stories that occur in a particular year for the rest of your days, scant few Sherlockians would pick 1895. The 1880s were the fun times. Basically, Starrett used it because it rhymed.

And I get what he's conveying, too: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are classic characters who live in a timeless fictional realm that we can always go back to. That's cool.

Right now, however? Not so cool.

Some are using it to express their displeasure over the latest BBC Sherlock episodes. And others are using it to convey that we have the handy laudanum of Doylean fiction to dose ourselves with when the strife of a rising authoritarian regime gets too much to bear. Or maybe, "Well, everything else sucks, but we still have Sherlock Holmes!"

But if the worldwide popularity of BBC Sherlock told us anything, it was that it doesn't always have to be 1895. It can be 2010 and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson, M.D. both work perfectly find. They can deal with cell phones and helicopters and all sorts of modernities and still be just who they've always been. And whether you're talking Basil Rathbone or the writings of Conan Doyle himself, they've pulled this off before.

Once it was 1914, and Sherlock protected England as a spy in "His Last Bow." And once, when he had to come to Washington in the aptly titled "Sherlock Holmes in Washington," Sherlock Holmes fought Nazis.

When a threat to the world rose in the past, Sherlock Holmes was there. He wasn't hiding in 221B Baker Street, puffing at a comfort-pipe. No, Sherlock Holmes got out into the thick of it.

Self-care is important, and we all need to take breaks as needed. But retreating into the Canon to avoid reality completely is probably not going to be a helpful model when things get tense. Better to use Sherlock Holmes as he has always been used best: As an inspiration to look closer at things, as an inspiration to rationally work out answers, and as beacon of justice on a fog-shrouded moor.

Because it's not always 1895. Sometimes it's 1914.