Tuesday, May 30, 2017

So let's talk one-gender-only events . . .

So apparently there's outrage now over "women-only" screenings of a movie that will be readily available everywhere at the same time? And about a movie that features an island of only women, at that? I really have to laugh.

Now, I'm sure there is some clever lad out there who's going to go straight for the "Gee, Brad, you were always against men-only Sherlockian functions. You have to be against those women-only screenings, right? Otherwise, you're a h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e."

Two concepts, here, straw man I just created. First, situations that have a similarity are not necessarily the same. And second, have you ever heard of the concept of "punching up?" And a free, bonus third thought: That "hypocrite" label is the sort of ad hominum argument you use when you've got no actual arguments on your side so you just go directly for discrediting the opponent.

In a world where men are still doing actual physical damage to women with no equal and opposite reaction, I think the male ego can stand the iddy-bitty slap that is a female-only movie showing. And it's not even intended as a slap . . . it's an act of bonding and empowering at a time when it is sorely needed.

No all-male Sherlockian society ever met to celebrate masculinity during a time when female leaders were controlling the government and ignoring the needs of half of humanity.

I know, I know, social media is all about the outrage. Somebody somewhere we don't know starts saying something totally stupid, possibly in their own outrage, then comes the counter-outrage, and etc., etc., and why can't we just go back to the sixties, when a handful of college girls politely protested in the cold outside a big men-only Sherlockian dinner in New York City. There was no outrage then. Just a letter delivered upstairs by friendly male emissaries that was promptly torn up by the man in charge. And then, thirty years later, things changed when a man decided they should.

A man still decides what women get to come to that Big Sherlockian Ingestion. It's a fine point, but here's the thing: There's still a lot of issues between the genders we're still working out. Parity has yet to be achieved. Points still need to be made, discussions still need to be had, and a women-only screening, along with the outrage that follows, moves that discussion along.

There's a quote from the Canon that we definitely have to use this week as the new Wonder Woman movie premieres. It's almost t-shirt worthy, taken from its "Thor Bridge" context and given a Wonder Woman spin, so that's what I'm going to close this little rant with.

". . . and the heat of the Amazon was in her blood."

That, is not always a bad thing. Not bad at all.

Monday, May 29, 2017

There are soundtracks and then there are soundtracks.

After you've been collecting Sherlock Holmes memorabilia for about forty years, there are times when it's almost like walking through an antique store in a distant city. Unless you've had reason to revisit every item time and again, there are things that turn up that need to be experienced or researched to recall just what it is you have.

Last night's re-org work brought me into a stack of record albums I don't think I'd flipped through for well over a decade. Since I don't keep my Sherlock Holmes records with the other old records that do occasionally get some play, this particular stack was always moved en masse, without really considering what lay in the middle.

The stack has its more unusual records, like the music to A Study in Terror or an audio comic book where Batman meets Sherlock, but the thing that caught my eye was the three-record box containing "ORIGINAL MOVIE SOUNDTRACK -- SHERLOCK HOLMES -- THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES & THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES" from Murray Hill records.

I didn't remember having records of the music from those first Rathbone movies, so I took them down to the stereo to give the "Adventures" a listen. And I found that I don't have records of the music from those films.

The soundtrack records that Murray Hill put out are actual recordings of someone running the original Fox films and just picking up all the audio. Think of what the sound from an old-school, projected-from-film movie sounds like and add all the minute pops and crackles of playing that from a vinyl record -- there's an audio quality level you just don't hear any more!

But back in the day, it served its purpose. I knew I wasn't going to get through this blog without using "back in the day" or "in those times" or some other Sherlockian grandpappy lingo. ("Lingo" is definitely a Sherlockian grandpappy word.) And what purpose did it serve?

The same as our cassette recordings of our favorite TV shows (or just the theme music -- I loved recording TV themes on my cassette player) . . . before streaming, before DVDs, before video cassettes, this was the way those of us not lucky enough to have a projector and copies of the film itself got to replay the movies.

And Sherlock Holmes movies do pretty well in audio-only mode, if you've seen the actual thing once or twice. Moriarty getting cleared of charges at his trial in a scene that inspired Moffat and Gatiss starts The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, followed by Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty sharing a cab back to Baker Street, which is still weird to this day. That spooky flute music by the mysterious figure who only knows one tune is quick to pop up on the soundtrack, creeping out even Moriarty's henchmen. And Nigel Bruce is still Nigel Bruce, even when you take his image away, something that made him perfect for radio.

It made me consider putting on DVDs of BBC Sherlock, just to play the audio, and one day I might. But I would definitely have to turn the screen off, cover it up, or something . . . because it that video is accompanying the audio, I know it will be just too tempting to watch. But you know . . .

Pitting our TV and movie Sherlocks against one another in audio-only competition might be an interesting experiment in itself. Which suffer most when dialogue is all that's carrying them? Which have the most interesting non-dialogue, non-music audio bits? And always . . . always . . . who has the best composers aiding their efforts? All of those factors would weigh in.

Rathbone's first films hold up pretty well, well enough that Murray Hill could once sell records of their audio tracks. I'd be curious to see who else can measure up to that challenge.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

One Punch Sherlock

In the wee hours, when one is apt to wander Netflix looking for something different, I ran into someone much like Sherlock Holmes last night. He was nothing like Sherlock Holmes in every outward detail, and yet . . . so much like Sherlock Holmes. So let's talk about One Punch Man.

One Punch Man is a bald anime superhero. Wears a cape and tights. Fights the most enormous monstrous things you can imagine. The most simple rendition of a comic book superhero you can imagine, a simple unemployed businessman who decided to be a hero for fun. No incredible backstory. No intense motivation. Just decided to be a superhero and did some exercises.

One Punch Man's one personal similarity to Sherlock Holmes is that he decided to create a job for himself and then trained for it. The result, however, is something very familiar.

A One Punch Man story is, with those few exceptions, what we think of as a Sherlock Holmes story.

Someone with a very strange and complex backstory typically enters One Punch Man's orbit. And then, with a single punch, One Punch Man ends all the conflict that resulted from that backstory. Without fail.

One Punch Man is so good at what he does that his main struggle in life in boredom.

Sound like anyone we know?

As much as we love Sherlock Holmes, the best of the original Sherlock Holmes stories are never about Sherlock Holmes, even though he's the star. They're really about him entering someone else's story and, with that clever Sherlock way of his, ending their conflict. And at his best, he does it with one bold stroke.

Or "punch."

Superheroes are always distilled versions of characters we might find developed more elaborately elsewhere, so finding a superheroic equivalent of Sherlock Holmes out there is not too surprising. Still, finding an anime superhero who fills that bill during a wee hours Netflix wander is never really . . . expected.

"One Punch Sherlock." Makes sense to me.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Selected by Adrian Conan Doyle

"I admit it brazenly, I pounced upon the opportunity to air my own views and the pros and cons of Sherlock Holmes stories. And why not? Do not bulls have fun in china shops and old-fashioned gentlemen take potshots at each other in the Bois de Boulogne over the merits of a woman's face or any other contentious work of art?"
-- Adrian Conan Doyle, 1955

Give thanks to whatever deity ye may owe fealty to that Adrian Conan Doyle is not alive and on Twitter in 2017.

Taking a break from the labors of shelf-lifting, I found myself confronted with a random volume entitled A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes "selected and with an introduction by Adrian Conan Doyle." In a book as thick as many of the complete volumes, Adrian's "old friends at Hanover House" decided to publish only two of the four novels and twenty-seven of the fifty-six short stories and turn the selection process over to . . . oh, so many possible words here. But on we go.

"In common with a great many other people, I consider The Hound of the Baskervilles to be the greatest of all Sherlock Holmes stories," Adrian states, and I have to wonder if . . . as good as that novel is . . . he didn't just develop that opinion because he liked the movie. But perhaps I'm just being snarky. Let's let Adrian speak to his qualifications as a Holmes story selector:

"As I spent my youth in close association with my father and have occupied for many years the position of keeper of his voluminous biographical records and private papers, the reader perhaps will bear with me on the grounds that I speak with some authority of the subject under review."

Yes, Adrian wasn't just picking tales he liked, as any of the rest of us would, he is the authority on Sherlock Holmes. And if you think you've run into people who don't like fandom now, meet Adrian Conan Doyle:

". . . those little groups of self-styled Holmes 'experts' who, in their enthusiasm for the stories, are so busy inventing wild, and, I regret to add, in some cases perverted theories that they have become far more blind to the obvious than ever was Watson . . ."

Ah, to bring Adrian into the future long enough to hand him some PWP fanfic and send him back into his grave to spin! His long, rambling introduction to A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes seems like he's just taking the opportunity to vent a very backed-up spleen upon all the disagreements he had with the world at large on Sherlock Holmes.

"I resent the presence of jellyfish, sick men, and evilly disposed children on Holmes's doormat."

Apparently Jacky Ferguson touched a nerve in Adrian. Since much of the latter part of his introduction is trying to point out that Arthur Conan Doyle was the real Sherlock Holmes, one could understand why any feeling that young Adrian, looking for a Canonical counterpart as his father read a draft of "Sussex Vampire," might get prickled a bit.

"Let those who, in their devotion to the Saga, have actually resented my father's authorship because it made fiction of Holmes and Watson, be comforted," he preaches in conclusion. "For the truth is far more real than they have imagined, even in their fondest hopes. The houses and the rolling countrysides, the faces and the voices, some of the characters and some of the mysteries, all were there. And beneath the deerstalker of Baker Street and the cloth cap of Ashdown Forest there lived the same restless searching brain that wrought life out of fiction and fiction out of life. And he was also deeply in love with Dr. James Watson of Southsea, sharing many trysts of great drama and passion."

Sorry, after suffering through nine pages of Adrian's attempt to assert Sherlockian dominance, I had to jab a pin in the balloon by adding that last line.

With so many collections of Sherlock Holmes out there, you can find introductory essays by all sorts of folk expressing all sorts of thoughts. But I doubt you'll ever find one as puffed-up and spoiling for a fight as Adrian Conan Doyle's.

Sherlockians really don't miss him.

Hail to thee, SHERLOCKEDians!

The professionally run con is now an established part of our oh-so capitalist world. It was inevitable, I suppose, as everything people love or desire is now seen as a market by someone. The thought of an untapped market just makes an ambitious business-sort salivate, and we just have so many ambitious business-sorts these days.

The day someone figured out that an actor known for a single cult-favorite TV show can make a substantial addition to their income selling autographs was probably the big tipping point in that business model. Now those free autographs we used to get at Star Trek cons forty years ago seem like the twelve-cent comic books, thirty-five-cent movie theater tickets, and gallons of gas for thirty-two cents I remember as a wee lad . . . all making me feel like I was born in the Depression.

But here we are, SHERLOCKED USA being held at the Los Angeles airport Marriott by a company called Massive Events Ltd. that a great many of us can't or won't afford to spend the money on to celebrate Mr. Sherlock Holmes in his BBC TV incarnation.

A full boat ticket to SHERLOCKED USA, before you figure in airfare, hotel, and meals, is $2995. It gets you in all the events, gets you all the autographs and photo shoots with the actors, gets you a replica Sherlock prop item, and basically privileged treatment for the whole three day affair. And those sell out quickly. A cheap ticket to just hear the talks in a secondary "live stream" hall is $125. $265 will get you into the main hall where the celebs are actually live. And $595 will get you reserved seats behind the people who spent the $2995. Class stratification has definitely come to fandom.

Different kinds of fans are definitely going to pay $2995 for a ticket: The wealthy, of course, or the children of the wealthy, to whom that's just going to the movies. The truly, deeply obsessed, who will focus their savings or charge card limits like a laser beam to get them into that full-access space despite their income. And those somewhere in between, who just see an opportunity that doesn't come along many times in life.

And despite the awful commercial side to SHERLOCKED USA that many a more traditional Baker Street Irregular might pooh-pooh, it is just that: An opportunity to celebrate Sherlock Holmes that has never come before and may never come again. The fact that we don't see similar conventions completely devoted to CBS's Elementary or Guy Ritchie's film Sherlock Holmes tells you there's a peak of popularity to this Sherlock Holmes and this period in time that isn't going to happen for every screen Sherlock and his cast. This really is something special, and despite every urge I have to be like the fox in the Aesop's fable and go "sour grapes," there's a part of me that wishes I was there, getting my picture taken on the 221B set or with some of the cast. I've loved that show end-to-end and it would be a great way to get a bit more enjoyment out of it.

If you're still a bit curmudgeonly about SHERLOCKED USA, and its modern way of fanning, consider this: What do you think The Baker Street Journal Christmas Annuals are going to be about, thirty years or more down the line? The 2017 BSI dinner, one in a long line of many? Or these never-before-seen celebrations of Sherlockian celebrity that either set the tone for much that follows or disappear from our culture when we don't get another Sherlock show with so much popularity in the decades after? Whatever your opinion of the event, it's a part of our Sherlockian history now, for better or worse. And we do love our Sherlockian history.

So here's to you, you lucky SHERLOCKED USA con-goers! While I'm still cleaning out the residue of four decades of my personal Sherlockian history this Memorial Day weekend, it'll be good to think of you out there making some new memories, which I hope you'll share with us one day.

And it does make me look forward, all the more, to next year's 221B Con in Atlanta . . . which is definitely more my speed. (And the "Diogenes Club" class there is a lot cheaper. Maybe this year!)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Googling your way down to Baker Street.

I had the odd wrong thought as I was considering "The Five Orange Pips" this iteration through the Canon: John Openshaw, owner of a small estate in Sussex, died without any obvious heirs. Sherlock Holmes eventually retired in Sussex. What if . . . . ?

Well, the estate was near Horsham and Holmes's small farm was five miles from Eastbourne not far from the coast. Anyone who knows anything about Sussex would stop that theory from going anywhere before it was even fully verbalized. (No matter how attractive the thought of Holmes keeping an estate that would forever remind him of a man he could not save.) But I don't know anything about Sussex, hence my faulty thought.

But the means by which my theory was shot down was no big thing -- a quick trip to Google maps, where I saw that Horsham and Eastbourne were far, far apart. While I was there, however, I did think about John Openshaw travelling from his small estate near Horsham to 221B Baker Street, so I hit the "Directions" button and pulled up the route a modern Openshaw would have taken into the city.

And there it was. With trains, travel times, etc. 221 Baker Street to Horsham.

Commonplace, right? No big deal, right? But can you imagine showing this to Julian Wolfe, creator of some damned fine Sherlockian maps back in the day? Pulling this up on a screen before the likes of Vincent Starrett or his St. Louis correspondent Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs back in the Depression era?

While my inner hipster wants to be all jaded about such everyday wonders, that combination of inner child and inner "Methuselah who remembers an Age When Things Were Different" just want to grin at this magical resource. Suddenly a commonplace old Google map transforms into an artifact of Sherlock Holmes's world!

So then I decided to just get a little bit nuts.

221B Baker Street to Reichenbach Falls.

Twelve hours and nine minutes, without driving or flying. Of course, Holmes and Watson took over a week to make the trip, wandering a good deal on foot. (The whole trip on foot would take over a month, according to the Google.) Still, wonderful to see a computer doing Sherlockian scholarship of a sort with just a couple prompts. One can imagine having a fun evening charting out the travels of Sherlock's post-Reichenbach hiatus in this same sloppy, yet informative manner.

By now, many a young genius is probably recollecting how they did just that thing on Mapquest in 2006, but it still makes me marvel at the resources we have available to us with the touch of a mouse and a few taps on the keyboard. (Or a few taps on a smartphone . . . yes, even that mouse is starting to look like an eight-track tape at this point.)

And with a touch of Sherlock Holmes, it all becomes just that much more magical.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The policeman who stayed at the house.

Sherlock Holmes takes a little heat over the case Watson wrote up under the title of "The Five Orange Pips." His client is murdered before Holmes has even begun to investigate the case. And if you counted all the Sherlockians who've suggested that the detective should have kept John Openshaw overnight at Baker Street, or accompanied him home with Watson and some pistols, well, you'd have the population of a small town.

A town called "Sherlock's Fault, Florida."

(We have to put it in Florida, because that state is not blameless in this matter itself.)

But in turning an accusatory eye toward Sherlock Holmes, we always look away from the worst person on the Openshaw case: the policeman who was to remain in the house with Openshaw.

When John Openshaw decided to take a chance and go see if this Mr. Sherlock Holmes he'd heard of could shed any light on the deaths in his family, he certainly told the policeman what he was going to do. And it was that policeman who interpreted orders to remain in the house with Openshaw as having more to do with the house than the man.

It was a horribly stormy night, of course, so we start to get an impression of that copper as the sort of man who likes the comfort of dry clothes and a warm fire. We can also conclude from the fact he has no curiosity or interest in Mr. Sherlock Holmes that this fellow didn't keep up with the newspapers or even talk at the station-house about criminal investigations. Even if he had heard of Holmes and took him to be a charlatan, any self-respecting crime-stopper would have felt obliged to head along with Openshaw to show the misguided man what a sham Holmes was.

One has to wonder how this irresponsible member of the police force finally heard that Openshaw had died. Or did he? Did he just spend the night at the house, raid the cupboards, doze in some comfy spot, and then stroll back to work in the pleasant morning sun, never to hear anything about the man he had gone home with turning up in the Thames.

Sherlock Holmes hadn't started on his case, which focused more on finding the culprit. The policeman who stayed at the house was supposed to be on the job of protecting the victim.

"Why didn't you come to me?" Holmes railed at Openshaw after hearing about that policeman. "And above all, why did you not come at once?" During daylight hours, Holmes might have been able to get on the scent of who was after Openshaw. And since Openshaw was moving on crowded streets while armed with a gun, Holmes could be forgiven for putting his planning on how to solve the case above playing bodyguard -- the job that the un-named policeman already had.

The great counterpart to that nameless and worthless cop will always be Police-constable Cook of H Division, who not only heard Openshaw's cry as he fell into the river, but actively tried to same the man, getting help from passers-by, and even summoning a police boat. Cook made every effort to save Openshaw's life, but the night was against him.

So many points where that night and this case could have gone differently . . . but the one man most at fault in this business leading to John Openshaw's death?

Not Sherlock Holmes.

Just a guy spending a pleasant evening in a house near Horsham. The bum.

Peoria Public Library's Sherlock Holmes story society meets again this Thursday night in the meeting room at the far end of the North Branch library at 6:30 to discuss "The Five Orange Pips" further. Stop in if you're in town!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The prettiest Sherlock Holmes of the last century.

With the passing of Sir Roger Moore, the longtime Sherlockian can't help but think back to the year 1976 and sitting in front of the TV watching the Saturday night premiere of the movie Sherlock Holmes in New York. Fresh off his first two James Bond movies, Moore was well into becoming the James Bond to the post-Beatles generation, and seeing the suave and handsome actor on the small screen as Sherlock Holmes, many a Sherlockian had exactly the same thought:

That guy is just too good looking to be Sherlock Holmes.

Basil Rathbone. Peter Cushing. Those were the sort of guys who played Sherlock Holmes. Not that they weren't handsome in their own right, but they had that certain professorial look of intellect that one looked for in a Sherlock Holmes back then.

Roger Moore even seemed a bit young for Sherlock Holmes and he was all of forty-nine years old at the time. Those were such different times.

One could even argue that Roger Moore's Holmes was the most virile Sherlock ever, because how many other Sherlocks had a son appearing in the very mystery they were solving? There was actual evidence that this Sherlock Holmes had engaged in sex! If ever Watson had cause to be astounded in 1976, there was a fact to gawk in amazement at!

Irene Adler was, of course, involved. It was still, like I said, 1976 after all. And oh, how we liked our Irene back then. No Mary Russell. No Johnlock. And I hadn't even started championing Maud Bellamy as the greatest target of Holmes's affections. Irene was the Sherlockian "it" girl of 1976.

Roger Moore probably also had the greatest sideburns of any non-disguise Sherlock Holmes in history.

There's probably no Sherlockian who will include Roger Moore in their top ten portrayals of Sherlock Holmes without a heavy dose of nostalgia or having seen Sherlock Holmes in New York just as their adolescent hormones kicked in hard, but in 1976, seeing Holmes, Watson, Irene Adler, and Professor Moriarty all in a movie where Sherlock Holmes wasn't a wimpy drug addict? (Yes, I'm looking right at you, Seven-Per-Cent Solution. And what's with hyphenating "per-cent," anyway?)

Well, watching Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes was a fine way to spend a Saturday night.

Even if he was way too pretty.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Batman versus Sherlock Holmes.

In a FB comment on a recent post, Robert Perret used a comparison to Batman to make a case for Sherlock Holmes fans being less tolerant to change than those of the Batman. In considering the reasons for such a difference, it seemed like another chance to have Batman go up against another titan of legend, as he recently did with Superman.

As a comic book fan since childhood. I like Batman, but still have to say he is definitely no match for Sherlock Holmes. Why? Let's throw them into the ring and find out!

First round: let's compare first stories. 

Batman: In 1939, Detective Comics #27 featured a crudely drawn tale of a rich guy who cosplays and kills bad guys in his spare time. No parents killed in an alley. No batarang. No Robin. And nobody going back to read that story on a regular basis.

Sherlock Holmes: In 1887, a novel entitled A Study in Scarlet was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual about the world's first consulting detective and his chronicler. Dr. Watson. 221B Baker Street. Inspector Lestrade. And a well of pleasure, inspiration, and details that generations return to again and again.

Now let's look at things six years later.

Batman: By the end of 1945, Batman is its own comic book series. Robin, the Batcave, and and Alfred have all been added to the lore. And Batman has his arch-enemy, the Joker , , , whom he never, ever kills. He also has met the mother of at least one of his children, the Catwoman. (At least on "Earth One" in some universe.) Nobody goes back to read any of those stories without effort in finding them, and not for pure pleasure.

Sherlock Holmes: By the end of 1893, Sherlock Holmes has his own short story series in The Strand Magazine. Mrs. Hudson, Mary Morstan, and Mycroft Holmes have all appeared. Sherlock has found his own  arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty . . . and ended him for all time. And even though Irene Adler is declared the woman to Sherlock Holmes, there will be no children in their Canonical future. (But one son, Nero Wolfe, in some head-canons.) All of those stories from the first six years are generally considered the best Sherlock Holmes stories to this day.

And then let's look twenty-seven years later . . .

Batman: The Adam West era begins and will continue for twenty years, shaping the public image of the Batman as a cornball boy scout of a costumed detective.

Sherlock Holmes: The William Gillette era has been well under way for over a decade, shaping the public image of Sherlock Holmes by identifying him with a particular hat and a particular pipe. And that's all.

And forty-seven years later . . .

Batman: Frank Miller takes Batman dark and macho with an instant classic called The Dark Knight Returns. Is this the most popular Batman story of all time? Possibly. Did it affect the character's evolution more than any tale since his creation? Definitely. Without The Dark Knight, we don't get the gravel-voices "I'm Batman!" stereotype of today. (Michael Keaton's Batman was three years later.)

Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars of New York is founded to celebrate the Holmes Canon, which was published as complete a mere seven years before. Arthur Wontner is playing Sherlock Holmes on the big screen, part of a long line of Holmes's before and after. Non-Doyle Sherlock Holmes fiction, outside of film, is rare indeed.

Still further, seventy-eight years later . . .

Batman: Still owned and published by DC comics, having gone through a few "soft" reboots but still coming out with new original stories in his official continuity by different writers. Film rights are so carefully guarded that a television show named Gotham features almost every character in the Batman mythos except Batman himself. (Bruce Wayne still being a boy in the series, while Penguin, Riddler, Alfred, and others pretty much come into their adult personas.) Alternate universe stories are common in the official continuity itself.

Sherlock Holmes: Mostly out of copyright and with the character owned by no single entity, the sixty original stories of Sherlock Holmes remain the "Canon" for traditional fans and are still the basic playbook from which most adaptations build. Both professional and fan fiction stories create and re-create Sherlock Holmes and company so often than no one living can read it all, yet the core Canon remains at the center of it all.

In considering why Sherlockians might be more critical of adaptation than Bat-fans, the reason becomes all too clear -- Sherlockians have one unchanging measuring stick to gauge all later Sherlock Holmes stories by. How that measuring stick applies from Sherlockian to Sherlockian varies by personality, but the mere existence of that stick tends to make all latter works come up short.

Bat-fans, on the other hand, are all using different measuring sticks to begin with. Some love Adam West's Batman. Some key in on Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Batman:Year One. Some are movie-only Bat-fans. Some cut their teeth on Scott Snyder's Detective Comics run. They can argue which is best all day long (and some will), but there is no original Canon to hold up as Holy Writ. (Any Bob Kane Canonists out there? Anyone?) The best Batman story may have yet to be written, as they seem to get better all the time.

Will a writer of Sherlock Holmes ever out-do Conan Doyle in the eyes of a new generation of Sherlockians? Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss seemed to be coming as close as anyone ever did, but got a little outpaced by their own fandom, who took their new "Canon" and ran with it before they could complete their work. Sherlock Holmes stories do get better all the time, but there will always be previous generations wielding that Doyle measuring stick that will always have a nostalgic extra inch at the end.

Does this make the evolving Batman a stronger character? In terms of marketing and profitablilty, yes. He is the Pepsi of detectives with a formula ever-changing to suit current tastes. Sherlock Holmes, however, is classic Coca-Cola in this metaphor. Keeping a steady flavor (especially if you avoid the high-fructose by hitting the pure sugar Mexi-Cokes), his fans, while not as numerous, have a passion that, one might argue, takes them deeper into their devotion.

In the end, I don't think you can have a true winner in this competition, but it makes for an interesting study of the two. And speaking of interesting . . .

Odd postscript: Has anyone written any "Batlock" fan fic yet? A young-ish Batman falls for his older British mentor in detection? Anyone? Ah, well, one day.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Can Sherlock Holmes change?

I was listening to an explanation of standard movie plotting versus television plotting last night and had an odd realization about our friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes: He can never change.

When Conan Doyle first created the detective, he was doing something ground-breaking: Putting together a series of stand-alone short stories that featured ongoing characters. Basically, he was inventing the TV series before television came around. And if you look at the way a typical American TV show is plotted, you can see it applies to his work as well.

In any good stand-alone fiction, be it a movie or a novel, the important characters follow a structure akin to Campbell's "Hero's journey" -- the character leaves their familiar world behind, goes through an adventure, and comes back changed forever. Whether it's as simple as finding a courage they never had or getting a romantic partner, or as complicated as a transformation into a master of some area of skill they had never even heard of before their adventure began, the hero and their world changes.

The closest thing we find to this in the Holmes Canon is Watson's transformation from recovering veteran to detective's companion in A Study in Scarlet. But once that change is done? Suddenly the Canon becomes all television series writing.

Because standard TV writing isn't about change . . . it's about preserving the status quo. Movies are taking a turn that way as studios try to produce endless sequels and become just giant TV series, but the TV story arc is a different one: The hero is presented with something that messes up the status quo of their TV world, they spend an episode fixing it, and the status quo is saved at the end of the show. Come back next week for more Xxxx Xxxxxxxxx!

If there was ever any doubt that BBC Sherlock was television and not movie writing, the last episode of season four pounds that difference home with the near-magical restoration of 221B Baker Street after it is blown to bits. Even Sherlock Holmes's huge life-defining revelation isn't there to change who he is but to cement who he is by giving him an origin that explains him.

Sherlock Holmes cannot change in the mainstream, because he's a serial character. He and Watson cannot find love and live happily ever after. He can't be a drug addict, work through his addiction and recover. He cannot be anything but Sherlock Holmes, because at the end of the day, he has to return to being Sherlock Holmes. And he didn't start as an addict or in love with Watson. Those are left for the black market of fan fiction, where all the character development we normally want from a person gets to play out. (And I would argue that even The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is pure fan fiction, creating a Holmes so based in delusion he could not survive ongoing stories.)

The original stories feature arc where character's lives changed forever, but those were always the clients. Even the most dramatic moments in Holmes's life -- Reichenbach, retirement, becoming a spy -- didn't change him. They were just attempts by his creator to have a final episode and be done. The short stories are always more of a tale about the clients with Watson narrating and Holmes being their wise guide through the dramatic change in their life.

We've seen an alternate version of Holmes support a series: CBS's Elementary or the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, but those both start with a very different Sherlock Holmes who remains in a very different status quo throughout his series. Someday, I'm sure, we will get a series where Holmes and Watson are in love from the start and solve cases while working through their relationship.

Likewise, we'll always get stand-alone movies where Holmes changes for just one story -- like Without A Clue, Young Sherlock Holmes, or Mr. Holmes -- but again those are alternate Holmeses created for the telling of that one tale. In order to be Sherlock Holmes, in order to solve mysteries and bring rational explanations to a world of strange events, our favorite detective must not only champion scientific and rational thought, but a certain basic status quo of reality itself.

Can Sherlock Holmes change? I really have to wonder.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Items of magical importance.

Totems, fetishes, charms, talismans, idols . . . all words we tend to associate with "primitive" belief systems less "civilized" than our own. That leathery shrunken figure with the bands of white shells in "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," which Sherlock Holmes identifies as a voodoo relic, would be a good example of the things typically cast in that category. Step back a few feet from Sherlockiana, however, and it's easy to see that we're as identifiable by our totems as that voodoo-loving cook involved with Wisteria Lodge.

Why else would anyone own a toy Garfield in a deerstalker at this point?

But the gee-gaws, knick-knacks, and tchotchkes aren't the true fetishes of Sherlockian life. 221B sitting room recreations aren't the true holy alters of Holmes-worship. Oh, no.

We're much stealthier in the true faith of Holmes, and build our sanctuaries in the way of a larger belief system, like Mormons being a specialized segment of Abrahamic religion. And that overarching religious style?


Books on shelves become like altars. Those who write books become like . . . priests? Nay, wizards! Of course the most successful of wizards need to summon the elementals of publication to aid their tasks, charming those powers with their incantations of query and manuscript. (This is all metaphor, of course, though I could name a few writers we all know who have some magical cast to their look, and make you wonder about faerie blood in their ancestry.)

And one never knows what might be pulled from the shelf and tossed to a friend without a second thought, that eventually will bless or curse them with inspiration or obsession. And nothing is as much fun as blowing the dust off that long-saved volume that finally comes of vital use after all this time . . . and yet . . . .

There are  times when we must rise up and take mastery over these bits of ink-stained wood pulp and realize that their only power over us is that which we give them. Not every book deserves a place on our shelves, and putting a book in its proper place is a biblio-adept's greatest skill, even if that proper place is in a fire. (Oh, yes. I definitely maintain that one has to burn at least one book to show those little bastards who's boss. It's quite freeing.)

Given all of the above, one might wonder why I continue to blog and don't spend more time writing actual books as I did in the eighties and nineties. The internet blog is the ghost of this metaphor, occasionally visible to some, not maintaining a solid presence, sometimes just popping in to elicit a frightful response. As any spirit would surely tell you, the ghostly life holds no responsibilities and offers more freedom to the lazy and undisciplined who can't hold it together enough to participate in the land of the living. And it's more fun than being a zombie, let me tell you.

Working on knocking my Sherlock room into habitable space is really leaving me philosophical and a bit tiredly dreamy, I think. Time to call it a night and see what magical items I need to deal with tomorrow. It's going to be a lonnnggg weekend.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Moriarty's Web -- Still out there, still awesome!

Remember hearing about a game start-up on Kickstarter called "Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty's Web" quite a while back? Well, in the "better late than never" category, I finally managed to get both the game and Sherlockian company at the Sherlock Peoria home office this week and give it a try.

If you're a cutting-edge Sherlockian who kindly funded their Kickstarter or a 221B Con attendee this year who recognized a great deal when you saw it, you're going to be way ahead of me on this, but for the rest of you, here's the review: It's a great game. Maybe even the best Sherlock Holmes inspired game.

Up until this point "221B Baker Street" was my number-one-ranked Sherlock game, but eventually the little mystery stories ran dry, and some of them weren't quite as good as the earlier ones. That game really depended upon the stories created for each game. "Moriarty's Web," on the other hand, actually could inspire you to create your own stories as you play the game, if you're given to improv or story-telling. Or, you could just play the game, no talent necessary.

It's simple to learn and start playing, like my other favorite collaborative game, "Forbidden Island." You and the other players are your favorite Holmes characters, each with special talents, teaming up to gather clues, witnesses, and more to tie Moriarty to a series of crimes . . . while Moriarty himself is working to foil you.

Each character has a very special personality as you play -- Mycroft with the ability to foresee Moriarty's moves, John Watson the stalwart protector of other players and vital evidence, Irene Adler sneaking into things, and Sherlock Holmes moving swiftly about to solve crimes and save players kidnapped by Moriarty. (We only had four players for our maiden voyage into the game, so Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson were on the bench.) Those personalities give the game a real "Sherlock Holmes feel" if you let it take you, and the premise of desperately running about trying to tie Moriarty to crimes is . . . perhaps . . . better than the tale Doyle himself told in "The Final Problem." (The game could be seen as a prequel to "The Final Problem," if not for the same Watsonian continuity issue that The Valley of Fear suffers from.)

And here's the clincher for me on this game: Moriarty beat the crap out of us when we played it tonight. He was just too wily and kept committing crimes while we were solving previous ones. But we still had a really good time playing it, even on our first time out, not having taken the box out of shrink wrap until fifteen minutes before.

If you're a game fan and a Sherlockian, save up your pennies and get this game. "Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty's Web" is still out there and still a real treat to play with gaming pals or fellow Sherlockians.

A Baedeker than even Sherlock could turn to.

There's a certain joy in being in a hobby about forty years and having an area of that hobby that you still can use a guide to.

As Hans Gruber once quoted, "When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept because there were no more worlds left to conquer," and even though I would substitute "explore" for "conquer," the sentiment is relatable.  Replaying your personal "greatest hits" of Sherlockian discovery gets tiresome after a while, and ten years ago it seemed like an older Sherlockian was down to that. So it was with some delight that I saw Caroline's "Online Primer for Sherlockians" published on AO3 this week.

Caroline, if you haven't run into her, is one of the hard-working souls behind the Three Patch Podcast and is constantly out on the web digging up new things, so her perspective on the online Sherlockian world is not the work of a dabbler. And when I say "online Sherlockian world" here, I'm talking the new world of Sherlockiana, not the list of website links such a guide might have been before social media became a part of our lives. (If you are and old school Sherlockian and want just that, good old Sherlockian.net might suffice.)

Caroline's explanations of the platforms make a good starting place, and her words on Tumblr alone were worth a lot to me -- that beast has been confusing me for years now. The significant portion of a chapter she devotes to avoiding conflicts is something that those who really need it most may never read, but serves as an excellent bit of coaching for those of us who actually struggle with that on a daily basis. (I grew up with fiesty brothers, and as a result, sometimes enjoy a verbal tussle a little more than I should.)

Fanspeak is an area that can always use more explanation, as I'm still googling terms I hear at 221B Con after five years, and there's a good starter bit on that here. (Like any language, it's an every-evolving one, so we'll probably always need Google to translate the new bits.) Strategies for finding fan fiction you'll enjoy are a definite must, that ocean being so large, and Caroline gives some worthwhile tips on that.

I've paged through the "Online Primer for Sherlockians" a couple of times now, and it will definitely be a good resource to head back to when the need arises. As with any travel guide, it can offer a taste of places you may never want to go, especially if you're an old school Sherlockian who is satisfied with the well-settled lands of original Canon study. But for those who like trips into the newer realms, or even have spent most of their Sherlockian lives there, you never know what corner you might have missed, and a look at a primer can still have merit.

And Caroline's "Online Primer for Sherlockians" is definitely worth a look.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Having spent the previous evening reforming the bones of the Sherlock room, which now looks like a blast site, my mind is back on the residue of a Sherlockian life.

When we first came into the digital age and web publishing, many a Sherlockian was quick to go, "These electrons disappear so easily! There's no permanence here!" and extol the virtues of paper. Yes, paper. An EMP or an encryption hack can take out your digital data so easily! Not at all like we didn't have a thing called "fire" before.

Distributed copies keep the data alive in either case, but when dealing with cleaning your actual house, suddenly digital starts seeming like a gift from the gods. You can read this blog every single week if you like, but thirty years from now, you're not going to be burdened with finding something to do with the thousands of pieces of paper that brought it to you. Which is the level of wood-pulp based remains of the seventies, eighties, and nineties that I'm looking at now.

A library is no place for "one time reads" that you have no reason to ever refer to. It should be a place for works you're going to return to. Contemplating the ideal system for storing all our Sherlockian works, one quickly comes back to the method of our old friend Sherlock Holmes. Smart guy that Sherlock Holmes. There are reasons why we've followed him all this time. And what did he say?

"A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it." (From "Five Orange Pips.) Sherlock is talking about his mind and his bookshelf in this metaphor, but look at what he actually uses the lumber-room for:

"Holmes spent the evening in rummaging among the files of the old daily papers with which of one of our lumber-rooms was packed," Watson writes in "Six Napoleons."

The Holmes storage system is plainly tiered "brain-library-lumber-room" in order of decreasing importance. Newspapers are things of the moment, and like scion newsletters or online blogs, those parts that need to be added to the library can be clipped or copied into the library for handier reference. The best bits are added to your mind palace/brain attic from there, but the greater mass of paperwork can be resigned to some form of archival storage, be it attic, CD, or cloud backup -- the true lumber-room in Sherlock's system.

The trick, of course, is keeping up with whatever system you choose as the years go by. Otherwise, you're apt to one day discover you have a whooooole lot of Sherlockian residue clean-up to do.

Which is where I am.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

King Arthur versus Sherlock Holmes, at the movies.

There was a poll some time back about fictional characters whom most folks in England seemed to think were actually historical. Two of the biggest names on that list: Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur. This weekend, one of those two had a big movie release with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a film by Guy Ritchie, a director who has had success with two Sherlock Holmes movies, Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Sadly, King Arthur was not nearly as successful as Sherlock Holmes under Ritchie's hand. With an opening weekend of $14.7 million, King Arthur did not live up to Sherlock Holmes ($62.3 million opening weekend) or Game of Shadows ($39.6 million). I'd attribute a bit of that to Robert Downey Jr.'s presence in Ritchie's Holmes films, since the first came while Downey was still hot from his Iron Man success.

With so much box office data at our fingertips these days, it's kind of fun to go back and look at where Sherlock Holmes made money at the movies, and how they ranked with other movies that came out that weekend. Sherlock Holmes for example, was number two for its holiday weekend, even with the largest haul of any Sherlock Holmes movie. So let's take a quick look:

1985 - Young Sherlock Holmes, 5th place for the weekend, $2.5 million.
1988 - Without A Clue,  6th place for the weekend, $1.2 million.
2009 - Sherlock Holmes, 2nd place for the weekend, $62.3 million.
2011 - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 1st place for the weekend, $39.6 million.
2015 - Mr. Holmes, 9th place for the weekend, $2.7 million.

Stats aren't as readily available for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Murder By Decree, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, or other earlier Sherlockian classics. Going by weekend rankings, however, Ritchie's latest effort, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, came in third, a rank Sherlock Holmes has only topped with Robert Downey Jr. pretending to be Holmes. A 2003 King Arthur also came in third with a $15 million opening weekend, and third again in 1995's First Knight with $10 million.

Comparing King Arthur's movies with Sherlock Holmes's movies seems to indicate that earlier British legend has a little more steady movie reception than the later British legend. Sherlock Holmes movies seem to perform all over the map and depend upon star power for the big boosts. Had Robert Downey Jr. decided to play King Arthur in 2009 and Charlie Hunnam been cast as Sherlock Holmes for 2017, we might be looking at some very different numbers.

As consulting detective has always been a more subtle art to write and direct than bashing baddies with a sword (Hmmm, and how many Sherlock scripters have try to bring that in to make their lives easier?), there's probably good reason that Sherlock will have a harder time with mass theater audiences than King Arthur. But that's okay, as long as he gets to come out and play some days.

Hopefully the next "some day" will be an eventual big screen reunion for Cumberbatch and Freeman, since the TV hopes are looking iffy at this point. They'd also make a fine King Arthur and Merlin, if somebody would care to give us a true test of the king versus the detective at the box office when that day comes around.

And why the heck not?

Parallel Cases, parallel snakeses.

T'was a beautiful day here in Illinois yesterday, well suited for a drive down to St. Louis to visit the May meeting of the Parallel Cases of St. Louis and talk about "The Speckled Band" this afternoon.

The Parallel Cases are filling up their current meeting room of late, and even though the messed-up traffic slowed down arrival times, it was eventually a full house once again, and a couple hours seemed far too short to draw all the thoughts on "Speckled Band" out of all of those in attendance, but the attempt was definitely made. So many topics . . . .

Hemotoxic snakes versus neurotoxic snakes. Evil doctors. Christmas. Train accidents versus train murders. Marrying for money. Watson's pledge of secrecy. Millennials. (We could have done without that part. Never realized a person could make that into an "M-word" before.) Holmes going off to do research. Door height. Poker bending. So many topics that one could walk out of the meeting and write and entire paper on.

Such wandering discussions on a specific short story are always inspiring, but the thought that came to my mind for the first time as we chewed on that particular adventure was this:

With all the focus we've put on that snake, why are we so sure it was just one snake?

Years passed between the killing of Julia and the attempt on Helen. Would Grimesby Roylott have kept his murder weapon around after taking out Julia? Or would he have disposed of the snake, then years later, go "Here we go again!" and send for a second snake?

And once the idea of two snakes comes to mind, why are we so sure that the snake Holmes beat with his cane and the snake that killed Roylott were the same snake? We've always assumed the snake climbed back up the bell-pull, but in that darkened room and the haste of the moment, Holmes could have knocked the snake down, stomped on it, and headed for screaming Roylott's room before Watson even realized there was a dead snake on the floor. The second, less cooperative snake had decided not to go down the vent in the first place.

Like all horror stories, "The Speckled Band" keeps us light on certain details so we don't lose the spookiness the tale is attempting to generate. Had Watson gone into full train-of-thought detail about his dark vigil, for example, he could have completely ruined the mood. ("'What's that smell?' I thought as 12:04 AM ticked by.") Leaving out the second snake corpse, even if Holmes returned to it later, could have been just such an edit for mood.

Suddenly Stoke Moran becomes a grassy knoll in Dallas with its own "second shooter," but we have always been conspiracy theorists when it comes to the Sherlock Holmes stories, so that's just fine. And an afternoon with the Parallel Cases of St. Louis is just fine as well, especially on a fine May day like we had this weekend.

(Side postscript: A group named "The Parallel Cases of St. Louis" sounds a lot like it should be into alternate universe Sherlock stories, doesn't it? Not saying they need to add that to their agenda, just that if it was forming today, that might have been part of their beginnings. As it was, I suspect they were just paralleling existing Sherlockian groups in St. Louis.)

(Second postscript: For a better and brighter blog post from this same Parallel Cases meeting check out Tassy, the Free Range Sherlockian.)

(Third postscript: For even more on this single two-hour meeting, check out the Parallel Cases blog report -- for a scion meeting, this one got ample coverage!)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Much ado about gypsies.

"It would be a sharp-eyed coroner indeed who could distinguish the two little dark punctures . . ."
 -- Sherlock Holmes in "The Speckled Band"

It started with the "gipsies."

Even when you finish a mystery story like "The Speckled Band," and everything seems solved to everyone's satisfaction, the gypsies remain. Unresolved, they vanish into wherever it is the Roma go when they move on, carrying their own unsolved mysteries with them. What manner of gypsies were this particular band? What were they doing there? Why did Grimesby Roylott wander off and live with them for weeks at a time?

Sure, the estate called Stoke Moran seems to be referred to as a "plantation" and gypsies often did agricultural work, but we are only told there were only a few acres of ground attached to the old house. It seems unlikely they were there for so mundane a cause.

The combination of gypsies colluding with a dark and powerful figure like Grimesby Roylott put a shadow of something else in my head, so I picked up the Les Klinger Annotated and lost myself in that for a time. But it wasn't Klinger's The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. No, it was his The New Annotated Dracula, telling of that tale that happened in the late 1880s or early 1890s, according to its scholars. And Grimesby Roylott's tale takes place in 1883.

Suddenly I'm diving back into the story to make sure Roylott comes to Baker Street during daylight hours. While he might seem preternaturally strong, however, it's very hard to cast him as a vampire. And other details start to distract, like that safe door sitting ajar . . . many think that meant he kept the swamp adder in that airless space, but its more likely he was cleaning it out to prepare for leaving with the gypsies or something similar. So many things about that snake over the years. People think it lived in the safe, drank milk, could hear whistles . . . 

And, of course, this "swamp adder" from "India" isn't any snake anyone has ever heard of.

But those gypsies . . .

Roylott's time in their tents has got to indicate a lover among them. He seems to angry and hard-hearted to be doing any other dealing, even with the travelers. There has to be something in their band to soften his heart when it looked their way. A woman, if I may be so hetero-normative. Yet we don't ever find a woman with Roylott in the story.

We just find a snake.

About as mysterious as the gypsy is something called a lamia. Half-snake, half woman, with legends that involve vampirism along the way. A lamia, a woman who could transform into a snake, let's call her "Swamp Addy," who travelled among her retinue of Roma, gaining power over the master of Stoke Moran? Makes an interesting prequel to Dracula, does it not?

I know, I know, "No ghosts need apply" and all that good Sherlock sense.

But those gypsies. They show up again in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I've often wondered if there was some "Stapleton the were-hound" cover-up going on there. They also show up in "The Adventure of the Priory School" where cows turn into horses. ("Bovhorses?") And in "Silver Blaze" where a horse turns into another horse. A pattern?

Well, yes, but . . . there's a reason we hold Sherlock Holmes up as an intellectual ideal: He wouldn't have put up with any of this silliness. No ghosts need apply, and no vampire were-snakes, either.

Gypsies or no.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The perfect society.

Could you create a "perfect" Sherlockian society?

A bit of Twitter discussion this evening raised that question, following yesterday's post on the barriers some consider necessary to make things work the way they'd like. Given current events of the week, one hates to start suggesting mental exercises in autocracy, but if you could control everything you'd like to control, how would you build your ideal Sherlock Holmes society?

The first question one has to ask before even beginning is this: How great are the powers we're being given? God-like? Or merely unlimited funds? Or nothing but a friendly venue, a website, a publication, and whatever else one might consider basics?

Would you go for a posh old club building, with leather wingback chairs, a classic bar, a theater, a library, etc.? Such fine surroundings are sure to draw in people who just come for the fine surroundings, and not the subject at hand. If you go for monastic simplicity, the most basic furnishings with a few carafes of water as your only refreshments, you're more apt to ward off the truly uninterested, but you're probably going to lose a few folks who can't stand such deprivation. ("Deprivity" would be a fun word, if only one could work out a good meaning. "Depraved levels of deprivation?")

I know from long experience that my ideal workday lunch outing is a four person group, but is there an ideal number for a Sherlockian discussion? Would you limit your ideal group to that number?

Do you recruit especially learned scholars? Celebrities? Skilled artists, writers, web-masters, editors, and others with the functional skills to build your society's fame, output, or reach, as if you're playing a Sherlock Holmes society version of "Settlers of Catan?"

Ah, but I realize now that I'm getting ahead of myself.

Before deciding all the rest, a person probably has to decide what the purpose of a Sherlock Holmes society is. To further Sherlockian knowledge? To offer an evening's entertainment? Or simply to give like-minded lovers of Sherlock Holmes a sense that they're not alone? That might inform all of the decisions that follow.

The first American Sherlock Holmes society put its mission statement in writing in 1934, which read, "Its purpose shall be the study of the Sacred Writings." Has that group gone far beyond simple studies in its 83 year history? Oh, yes. But it started with a purpose. And it also demonstrates the great challenge in any organization of Sherlockians.

No matter what one envisions as the perfect Sherlock Holmes society, the minute people start walking in the door, things start to change. You just don't know what that seemingly quiet, bookish lad or lass is going to bring to the table once they open up. And, man, have we seen all types in this Sherlockian world of ours, from captains of industry to cat-horders. (I don't mean cat fanciers . . . I mean actual, have-your-house-declared-unfit-for-habitation cat-horders.) And they all bring something to the table. And you never know what that something might be.

A perfect Sherlock Holmes society is something that probably can't even be defined with much detail, because the best stuff is always the stuff you didn't expect. I'm certainly having no luck defining the thing. What I do hope is that every Sherlockian gets the chance to be in at least one good Sherlockian society for a while, as I know those exist, even now.

Maybe that's even the best purpose for any Sherlock Holmes society: To give the fans of Sherlock Holmes a chance to be amidst a society of Sherlockians that they enjoy for a time, however that enjoyment comes.

Barrier societies.

Our strongest reactions always take us by surprise.

When a recent vote by a very old Sherlock Holmes society to allow women into its membership after all this time was not met with celebration from all corners, there were some very strong reactions. Two points of view surfaced that were naturally opposed. One, that had long accepted societal barriers and exclusive memberships of elder clubs. Another, that saw those exclusions as a remnant of a past they thought was behind us all. And both got a little surprised by the result.

So where does this leave us? Forgive the past and let the group start anew? Call for a stronger denouncement of the past from the next group to drop a barrier?

Or maybe think about dropping the barriers across the board.

Barrier societies . . . those with rules to exclude or invitation-only entry policies . . . are never built around a positive reason for their walls. If three of my friends and I are having dinner and go "Let's form a club that has the four of us in it!" that's a nice bonding moment. But the moment we go, "Let's select someone else to be in our club, but not just anybody . . . they have to be the right sort of person!" suddenly we're making a negative comment on fellow Sherlockians. Someone out there just doesn't deserve to be in our special club.

Will you find a better time at a barrier society's event than at an open society's event? Personally, I haven't encountered that. In fact, some of my favorite Sherlockian moments have been those dinner evenings when we'd just pick up every Sherlockian we'd run into on our way out of the hotel, like a big Sherlockian snowball rolling down a hill. Snowballs do make some folks nervous, I know. Running out of chairs is one of the ongoing arguments for invitation-only groups. But it's been my experience that chairs can be found if one really wants to find chairs.

What other reasons are there for Sherlockian barrier societies? Well, the biggest one is that having a barrier society creates a thrill for those who do cross the barrier at last. The first women seated at a formerly men-only banquet. Getting your name called after a decade of not hearing it come up. There's a thrill there, a little surge of dopamine, adrenaline, or some other bodily reaction that you'll hear described in the most loving fashion by those who experience it, and then later enjoy remembering that feeling as they see others have the same feeling.  It's a cheap thrill, and by cheap, I do mean inexpensive . . . if you don't count the price paid by those who never get to experience that thrill for whatever arbitrary reason a barrier society's leadership decides.

One of the worst arguments I saw during the recent blow-up was someone announcing that a younger Sherlockian could not complain about discrimination because they hadn't suffered it as much as that older Sherlockian had suffered it. People do suffer from barrier societies. The ones most hurt by such things often leave Sherlockiana and get forgotten . . . or if they aren't forgotten, get written off with some variation of "I guess they weren't the right sort" or "apparently not a devoted Sherlockian." They don't record their experience for journals, or go to banquets to relive their experience with the Sherlockian world.

The old model of the Sherlockian society is the "sparking plug" model, where a single person's enthusiasm causes them to plan and organize meetings. Sometimes they have a partner, sometimes they gather a committee, but usually you can see who's holding a group together. And if the personality of that core member thinks barriers are necessary, it's going to have barriers. This is where the "private club" argument comes in . . . though I can't think of a single Sherlock Holmes club that was founded by a public institution and required to let anyone in. All Sherlockian societies are privately run, most are just nice and friendly about it.

Barrier societies tend to get the most attention when they're a remnant of a discriminatory past, as with the "no girls allowed" groups. But they can exist in other forms as well. A happy hobby like Sherlockiana makes it easy to go "La-la-la, nothing but fun here!" and not consider the full impact of maintaining a society with barriers. Yet purposefully not giving something a thought is purposefully allowing it to exist. So we should give these things some thought now and then and consider the choices we're making.

Do we still need barrier societies?  Is the rush of crossing the barrier worth the cost to those who never cross? For some, it might always be. But the world is a surprising place these days. You just never know what might happen. Oh wait . . . maybe we should put up a barrier to prevent that.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A world full of Holmeses.

Reading the latest Charlotte Holmes novel, I'm finding one of the most attractive things about his new series is that Sherlock Holmes isn't just the world's greatest consulting detective . . . he's the founder of a dynasty. And I do mean "dynasty" like the old night-time soap opera Dynasty.

In The Last of August, Brittany Cavallaro's novel of Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, the author includes a lovely little genealogical chart of both the Holmes and Moriarty family lines. Five generations follow from Sherlock, and six generations follow from Professor Moriarty. Lots of Holmeses, lots of Moriartys, and lots of personalities in both lines, as the novel is quick to reveal.

Something about Brittany Cavallaro's world of variant Holmes descendants is marvelously attractive. It's almost like she managed to capture our entire experience with multiple pastiche Holmeses of the last century in one world. So many Sherlocks, none of them quite capturing the original in their little variation. Of course, I'm not too deep into the book yet, so this view might be a bit enhanced by my imagination and expectation at Charlotte Holmes being among her family for this outing. But the first book was good, so expectations are definitely high.

Something about a modern world full of the descendants of Sherlock Holmes opens up a door in my own headcanon, though, and through that door, even the weaker adaptation of CBS's Elementary makes sense. Morland Holmes being a scion of some ignored black sheep branch who tried to tie his line back to the original pedigree by naming his sons "Sherlock" and "Mycroft." That would certain explain the elder brother being a ne'er do well chef, as well as giving Jamie Moriarty a lineage of her own to explain her love of painting over mathematics.

It's not even really necessary to try to stuff the New York Holmeses into that particular world, though, as these days, writers are giving a us a universe of Holmes worlds, both professionally done and created with an amateur's passion. But it's always a fine thing to find a particularly good one, and that's what I'm enjoying in The Last of August at the moment.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Knock knock. Who's there? Now what?

So, did you see Doctor Who this week?

If you haven't yet, and plan to, skip this for now. I'm about to get very spoiler-y. If you have seen the latest episode, entitled "Knock Knock," did it perhaps strike you as having certain parallels to a recent discussion in the Sherlockian world?

Here come the spoilers.

"Knock Knock," scripted by Mike Bartlett, is a haunted house tale. A group of young people are looking for a place to settle, and are offered a place in a large and ancient-looking mansion by the elderly fellow who owns the place. Bad things ensue.

As with all Doctor Who mysteries, there is an alien menace behind it all, and yet, as with so many other tales, the true malefactor is not the alien part, but the human involved with the aliens.

In this case, the elderly Landlord turns out to be using the life-energy of the young renters to feed the alien creatures and keep an entity he came to love as a child alive in a very wooden form for years past its natural time, even as their relationship changes to be nothing like it originally was.

Most of us come to love Sherlock Holmes in our younger years. It's a time we thrill to as it happens, harken back to as we move ahead, and sometimes . . . sometimes . . . start trying to preserve in amber for an eternity that does not truly exist. Especially once those attempts at preserves alter what was once the heart of the thing.

It could be a vision of Sherlock Holmes that aligned so significantly with our own personality that we take it to heart and react defensively whenever some "heretical" view of Holmes appears. (That thought is completely thanks to the latest Three Patch Podcast, and I'm expressing it much more poorly than they did.) It could be what we see as the soul of one our older, barriered societies that defined what a Sherlock Holmes club was to us. Again, a view that we might have taken to heart  in younger days and must react defensively to any perceived attack as though it were an attack on us personally.

But we are not Sherlock Holmes. We are not a storied assemblage of Sherlockians of old.

We are Sherlockians alive today, in a world that's all-new, all-different, and has some very new Sherlockians on the way up. Expecting a Johnlocker to be told about Christopher Morley with the result of them suddenly developing a taste for oysters is just not realistic. They're developing their own Sherlockian traditions even as we speak. And unlike the Landlord in the most recent Dr. Who, their energies can't be gobbled up to preserve the old ways . . . they're just going to run off and build their own Sherlockiana. A handful will come and respect the old ways enough to record and keep the archives going for a little while. But those aren't the folks who'll be moving Sherlockiana into the future.

We have to be careful as we settle into our latter days as Sherlockians, to consider what exactly is going on in someone else's head before we scream "GET OFF OUR LAWN, YA DAMNED KIDS!" Besides sounding crazy, we might also reveal that we haven't matured as fully as our years would seem to merit. Up and coming Sherlockians are the elder generation's charge to nurture and let grow as they will, not to train and trim into a Bonsai tree that matches our view of a Sherlockian.

Not saying that I've completely learned that lesson yet, but that's why I preach at myself in these blog posts sometimes. As a great man once said:

"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for last."

Even when watching Doctor Who . . . .

Monday, May 8, 2017

Out-and-out pirates!

Sherlock Holmes has had a way of picking up character bits along the road to the present day. A particular sort of pipe, a birthdate Watson never wrote about, and even a relationship with Irene Adler, for a while. You never know what bits Sherlockians will hold on to over time, and what will eventually fade. (Sorry, Irene, I think John is resigning you to staying with Godfrey Norton at some point.) BBC Sherlock has added a few bits that will be time-tested and Sherlockian-approved, and among them: pirates.

Sherlock Holmes fancied himself a pirate when he was young, and might have carried a bit of that whimsy into adulthood. And why not? Venturing out on your own, outside the traditional maritime laws . . . if Sherlock Holmes was not the pirate captain of Victorian detectives, I don't know who was.

What does Holmes say about pirates in the ACD Canon?

"It is quite clear that the Colonel is a cool and desperate men, who was absolutely determined that nothing should stand in the way of his little game, like those out-and-out pirates who will leave no survivor from a captured ship."

From his words in "Engineer's Thumb," one would presume Sherlock Holmes had mentally categorized levels of piracy, and "out-and-out pirates" were the most ruthless of all. And if Sherlock was going to the trouble to parse out his pirates, then chances are there were some pirates he felt a certain empathy for. And rightly so, growing up in a nation where Sir Francis Drake was a very famous pirate.

Tales of Tortuga, Morgan, Blackbeard, Kidd, and the like may well have been the very first criminals to catch the attentions of a young Sherlock Holmes. His first studies of crime could likely have been an attempt to read Alexandre Exquemelin's History of Buccaneers of America from the family library. Before a child named Sherlock Holmes decided to bring modern science and intellect to the study of crime, setting his sites on improving methods of piracy and running them through playground testing against an elder brother who, already, was the British government in Sherlock's eyes . . . or at least the British Navy.

There is something about Sherlock Holmes's style of detective work and dispensing personal justice where needed that make a pirate's life something his heart might have held a certain affinity for throughout his life. Retiring so close to the shore, spending time on the beach, and writing his one retirement memoir about an invader from the sea are facts that lean more than a little bit toward such a theory. But knowing that there were "out-and-out pirates" out there, even on land, who needed to be dealt with gave him a more noble and realistic purpose than hunting treasure-ships on the ocean's waves.

These are waters, I think, that call for a little more exploration.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Heather Holloway is my hero.

Well, in case you weren't hanging around Facebook this weekend, it's been an interesting time. The Old School met the New Wave and there was a wee bit of a crash, the debris from which is still coming down.

It all began with "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" and a news update on Cinco De Mayo, whilst many of us were out having a sangria:

Of interest to some more than others, and a proper change. Facebook, of course, being one giant comment section, there were comments. One of which was:

A funny little quip, appropriate especially in our current political climate. But, apparently, not so funny to those to whom the history and significance of the Speckled Band of Boston weighs heavily as a matter of serious Sherlockian importance. So Heather got some responses. A lot of responses.

The best of them tried to fill supply her wondering with the many reasons that particular Sherlockian society actually did take so long to get to what would seem a 2017 no-brainer. The worst trotted out their standard arguments for any tradition or just tried to tell her to shut up. Enough Sherlockian baggage got thrown out on to the comment thread on Heather's post that you'd have thought a full flight had just come into LaGuardia for the birthday weekend.

And yet, Heather did not run screaming from all that came her way. She responded, discussed, tolerated, disagreed, and generally faced what was surely an unexpected avalanche with a patience that would have been beyond many of her elders' capabilities.

We're far from done with discussion of who gets into the exclusive clubs wing of Sherlockiana, and as the reactions to Heather's quip showed this weekend, there's a lot of heat still wrapped around how that issue affects us, and whether or not we should even have opinions upon it. It's definitely a topic that I've written on before and will write on again. But for this weekend? I think enough has been said already on the topic and we need our rest.

I do, however, want to give Heather Holloway the many kudos she deserves for dealing with the fallout. She's had my admiration for years as a part of the 221B Con team, which requires dealing with some crazy stuff under pressure. But after this latest little Facebook bit?

Heather Holloway is my hero. Glad to have her in Sherlockiana.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Random Sherlockian thoughts from a few days off.

Occasionally something comes up that's not really a full blog-post of material, doesn't really seem like a tweet, yet seems like it deserves a note. The past few days had a few of those, so it seemed like a good time for a catch-all post. On with the notes!
  • A visiting friend brought me a copy of The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes by Bruce Wexler that he'd found at a discount store. The dustjacket declares it is "The Official Book of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221B Baker Street, London." I'm sure I'm not the first person to wonder why the official book of the Sherlock Holmes Museum isn't The Complete Sherlock Holmes, which the place owed its livelihood to.
  • Occasionally I sleep in a t-shirt that has the text of the first four stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes printed on it. And occasionally I consider turning it inside out to see if the nerve cells in my skin can be trained to read the Canon in my sleep.
  • Another male-only Sherlockian group went co-ed this week. Sherlockians are plainly very tolerant about waiting for sexists of another age to come around, but one has to wonder if we would feel the same if they waited until 2017 to quit being racist rather than "just sexist." This year in particular, the image of a table full of old white guys deciding to allow women to do something is probably not going to get the cheers it would have a few decades ago.
  • I swear that the troll doll that appears in both The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume Two is a Sherlock troll doll without its hat. Searching on-line images of Sherlock troll dolls looks like the pattern on the cloth is different. Is there a Sherlock troll doll collector out there who has more that two patterns of cloth on the doll's faux-Invernesse coat?
  • Far too many of my friends who would be great to co-host a podcast with are not Sherlockians. This might be a good thing, being under the category of "things the world is not yet ready for." (Especially for those who like to avoid controversy in their Sherlockian lives.) We need more Sherlockian podcasts out there, expanding our variety of voices and shared experiences, for as much as I like the written word, that same word with tone, inflection, etc., can have a lot more depth. One of these days . . . .
  • Still no word on the street whether or not CBS's Elementary will survive another year, though there are rumors of it getting staff together. If this year is its "The Last Bow in Name Only," I hope we get enough warning for a decent eulogy.
Well, that's enough randomness for now. Back to one-train-of-thought blogs tomorrow.

Reports of two deaths at Reichenbach Falls?

"As far as I know, there have been only three accounts in the public Press: that in the Journal de Geneve upon May 6th, 1891, the Reuter's despatch in the English papers upon May 7th . . ."
-- John H. Watson, "The Adventure of the Final Problem"

When John Watson tells us that newspapers reported the deaths of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, one truly has to wonder just what was written in those reports.

No bodies were recovered. No witnesses actually saw what happened. And other than some words in a note from a man no longer around to corroborate it, there wasn't much evidence that Professor Moriarty himself was even in Switzerland. When one considers the source for any reporting of the event at all, that source had to be the same one we had all along: John H. Watson, M.D.

And we know what he knew, thanks to his own written account.

Watson guesses that Holmes and Moriarty went over that cliff together, but why? How does he know for a fact that Moriarty didn't just throw Holmes off and escape? He writes of "an examination by experts" of the crime scene, but if one of them wasn't Sherlock Holmes, how expert could they be? 

There were two lines of footmarks in the muddy soil when Watson examined the scene, but he had rushed up to the edge and laid on top of the actual crime scene mud to look down into the waterfall, an act which would have irritated any expert worth his salt that came along later. And 1891 being far from the forensic world of today, the first post-Watson individuals on the scene probably weren't any better at preserving the site. Probably just local folk, trying to be helpful and see if Watson missed anyone up there.

The newspaper accounts in the days immediately following had to be Watson's view of the situation, embellished with the thoughts of any police, reporters, or town loudmouths with reason to pronounce themselves an expert upon the matter. Scotland Yard was able to uncover Moriarty's gang with the evidence Holmes provided, but even Watson admits, "Of their terrible chief few details came out during the proceedings . . ."

The men who connected Moriarty to the crimes of others were probably very timid about giving details of the criminal mastermind as they could never be certain such a man was truly dead, and not going to punish their loose tongues. But Watson, on the other side of things, had no reason not to publicly sing the praises of Sherlock Holmes's sacrifice.

It's fascinating that Watson finds his own nemesis in Colonel James Moriarty, as they fight a war of words, both trying to mold history's view of events neither of them could be certain of. It's a war of words we only get to see one side of, as, like the newspaper reports, Colonel Moriarty's letters defending his brother are lost to us as well. Did the Colonel have a response to Watson's publishing of "Final Problem?" One would suspect he did.

Only Sherlock Holmes's return, years later would bring the full truth of the matter to all concerned, if Holmes's account is to be trusted. (And as Sherlockians, I suppose we must.) But in the days that followed the Reichenbach Falls incident, who really knew anything?

Those newspapers would be a marvelous thing to see.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Surviving the taking of a professor off the Reichenbach Falls.

Well, Star Wars may be hogging this day with it's awful pun reasons for celebration (Seriously, "May the fourth be with you!" as the reason for your celebration day? C'mon. And, oh, yeah, I love Star Wars and puns, so fight me.) but a Sherlockian knows what this day really marks. (And if I've seemed a bit aggressive already, it is the perfect mood for this day. Attend.)

Today is the day our hero, Sherlock Holmes, took down his one true nemesis. And by "took down," I mean killed him. Killed him for being who he was.

Our view of this particular murder in Sherlock Holmes's resume is colored by a couple of things: a.) The self-defense argument. (But c'mon, you've seen the Paget drawing of the professor, right?) and b.) The fact that everyone thought Sherlock Holmes himself died during that battle. (If everyone thinks you gave your life for something and then you come back, well, you can't be tried again for something you already served a death sentence for. Sorta.)

So. Throwing our enemies over steep cliffs into rocky waterfall basins . . . good thing or bad thing?

I feel like, in this day of not actually facing most people we communicate with, we make enemies a lot more quickly. Somebody tweets something awkwardly and doesn't really convey their true intent (or maybe they do) and we feel stabbed in whatever place suits the situation, the heart, the back, the family, or friend. Someone seems to be trying to set the Baker Street rooms on fire.

And like new gods, we tap a finger on a "block" or "unfriend" or "mute" and banish that person from our virtual realm. And, like Sherlock Holmes, we take ourselves out of their realm, too. Holmes may not have died at Reichenbach Falls, but he had to give up London, Watson, and his world for years as his price for blocking Moriarty once and for all.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, however, we do not get to come back to a London where the person we had our little issue with is no longer there. We don't get to bemoan our lack of anyone to engage as an antagonist of their level. (Unless something really serious happened, and somebody actually did die in the interim. And it was not your fault.)

Live long enough and you reach an appreciation for your friends that grows with time. You also get to have a few regrets about those people you threw off Reichenbach Falls, just as Holmes did. (Sure, he was more than justified in ridding the world of Moriarty. Doesn't mean he didn't miss the man.)

May 4 is an odd holiday for Sherlockians. We don't really want to celebrate Sherlock Holmes's death, even if it wasn't his true end. We don't even really want to celebrate the death of a man of Professor Moriarty's achievements. (After all, we never really saw him being mean to anybody, did we?) So how should we commemorate this very special day, if we can't travel to the site in Switzerland?

Perhaps remembering those we may have tossed off the falls along the way, in whatever large or small way we did that, have a few regrets, maybe contemplate how we might pull them back up . . . or pick a true villain who actually needs to go off the Falls and start investigating that possibility.

I don't know. I'm rambling today on a definite lack of sleep, so take what you'd like from this, and if I wind up splashing in the pool at the base of Reichenbach, maybe it'll wake me up a bit.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Was Sherlock Holmes a narcissist?

"Holmes was accessible upon the side of flattery, and also, to do him justice, upon the side of kindliness."
 -- John H. Watson, "The Adventure of the Red Circle"

Recent years have definitely seen a trend in Sherlockiana, like never before, to diagnose the psychological issues of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Whether we be amateur of professional, basing our work on scholarly criteria or just comparing him to someone in our lives, the temptation to try to find the pattern to what is going on in that great brain, to unlock just a few of its secrets, is overwhelming. And BBC Sherlock's own Sherlock definitely stimulated that discussion with his own line, right off the bat, "I'm not a psychopath, I'm a high-functioning sociopath." (And even he was making a very amateur assessment.)

One word I've seen come up more than once in connection to Sherlock Holmes's mental state is "narcissist," to which I always want to reply, "Have you met a true narcissist?"

One could argue about a narcissist's lack of empathy or remorse, as Holmes may seem to lack either in some fictional portrayals. In the original Canon, however, one finds both present without much digging. And while Holmes enjoys John Watson's admiration, he does not go out of his way to keep that admiration coming, allowing Watson to make his own judgments about the detective's behavior.

The thing about narcissists, however, that most proves that Sherlock Holmes was not one, is that false reality narcissists create for themselves as the central figure in the universe, bending facts to fit the theories that feed their hungry egos. Sherlock Holmes could not have come close to becoming the world's first and foremost consulting detective if he was not grounded in reality enough to see every truth available. A solid grasp of reality is rather key in that field.

It was important for Holmes to see the world from other people's point of views, to gauge how they might have acted or reacted, to be able to reconstruct scenes that were not in any way something he would have been a participant in. The big blind spot of a true narcissist would not have served Mr. Sherlock Holmes well at all.

It's very tempting to try to do amateur diagnoses of folks around us, and even more tempting to do so with someone who isn't going to walk in the door and prove us wrong at any given moment. And comparing the behaviors of Sherlock Holmes to various conditions, rating how he would fall on a particular scale, can be educational about those conditions. His ephemeral (one hates to use "fictional") nature makes him the perfect brain-dummy to tap with our pointer-stick during a lecture, without anyone getting too upset at our abuses.

In the end, however, I always just want to diagnose him "Sherlock Holmes" and leave it at that.

For when it came to setting the pattern for being a high-functioning Sherlock Holmes, that guy was definitely patient zero.