Friday, September 29, 2017

Two Sherlocks in a single TV show.

Fan fiction too often gets dismissed as ephemeral fluff, but one writer's attempt to start a new fic this week brought out what a great analytical tool it can be.

Caroline's poll on Twitter, as she started to plot a new story, aimed to put Sherlock and John into a scenario based on cult favorite TV show Firefly. And finding a Firefly character who lined up with Sherlock Holmes quickly brought out two very different dramatically different ways we view Sherlock.

For those unfamiliar with Firefly, let me run down the two characters involved for you.

Inara is a worldly professional who sets herself apart from the rest of the cast in her separate vessel attached to the main spaceship from the start. She has insights into her fellow humans far beyond those of other characters, goes off to handle her own cases, and deals with folks from the highest ranks of society on occasion. Inara could be argued to be the best and wisest of the Firefly's passengers and crew.

River, on the other hand, is the ultimate outsider. No one ever knows what she's up to or why she's doing the weird things she does, though there usually winds up being a valid reason for it. She definitely has her own Dr. Watson in her brother Simon, also a doctor, who struggles to take care of this dangerously random individual, much like our John Watson did. River has mental abilities so far above her fellow humans that she seems like an alien being, and, like our Sherlock, will just suddenly go from aloof artist-type to kicking major ass.

As the check mark in the above screen shot shows, my natural reaction is to go for the latter view of Sherlock Holmes, but both are wonderfully valid takes on the man. And this is one of the things that those who dismiss fan fiction outright fail to understand: Writing fan fiction is the perfect tool for exploring aspects of personality in ways simple articles can't do. Putting characters in scenarios to play out what aspects of their personality will lead to are thought-experiments that can lead to better understanding of not just the character you're writing about, but yourself and others. And also passing that understanding on to others who are curious to read your experiments.

Which is kind of what fiction has always been about. Helping us understand differing points of view than our own and gaining empathy for people who aren't us.

Caroline's question revealing two great Sherlock Holmes characters in a single TV show really brought that out for me this morning, which, considering I'm a big fan of both Sherlock Holmes and Firefly, surprised me that I'd never considered before. I hope we never lose the spark to run such experiments, because they're another part of what makes Sherlockiana such a great place to be.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Another great night of Sherlock Holmes, unexpected.

Here's one of those things I love about Sherlock Holmes that you forget after a while, and then get to be happily reminded of . . . .

There is great joy to be had in little things.  Details in the Canon. Simple Holmes-related artifacts. A digital clock hitting 2:21. And even, as happened tonight, an almost non-attended Sherlockian discussion group meeting.

I've mentioned our local library group, the Sherlock Holmes Story Society, here before, which meets at the North Branch of Peoria Public Library on the fourth Thursday of the month at 6:30. We've been going since January of this year, and attendance is still pretty irregular, ranging from eight to tonight's gathering of two and a half.

Going into this evening's discussion of "The Engineer's Thumb," I was not expecting much. I'd forgotten the meeting myself until the day before, the good Carter was buried in deadlines and unable to attend, and the reminder e-mails we had decided to start sending out had failed to come together. And when 6:30 approached and I was sitting in the meeting room alone, things were looking pretty bleak.

And then one person showed up.

And one of the best meetings ever began. Because what makes a great Sherlockian meeting? Getting surprised by another person who you quickly see is into Sherlock Holmes as much as you are. Someone who got the stories read to them as a child as bedtime stories. Someone under thirty who appreciates the Granada series. And someone who not only cites Lyndsay Faye's work as their favorite pastiche, but attended the legendary doom that was DashCon. The kind of person you hope will walk into any Sherlockian meeting.

Not that we don't have a few such folk in the Sherlock Holmes Story Society already (Where were ya, guys?), but a brand new one?!?  Treasure.

We had a good back-and-forth on "Engineer's Thumb" until about the halfway mark of the meeting, when a second attendee showed up (the "half" I mentioned earlier), an older gentleman in mirror shades and black cloth gloves. And then the meeting took a turn . . .

He took the gloves off, but not the shades, and soon we got peppered with random questions about Sherlock Holmes ranging from "Was he real?" to "Does this need a book?" to "Did you ever see The Prisoner?" And he was taking notes on our answers. He had seen a lot of Sherlock Holmes movies, primarily the Rathbones, I think, but kept giving us springboards to talk about some aspect of Sherlock Holmes that might have had something to do with his legion of questions.

William Gillette. Conan Doyle's non-writing career. Heroes who die. Adolph Hitler's Hound. The number of pages in the Complete (and how it wasn't the same in both copies present). Robert Downey Jr. Suddenly we were on a wild random treadmill of subjects and never made it back to "Engineer's Thumb" before the overhead speakers said it was time to close the library.

It would have driven a more goal-oriented Sherlockian mad, but that last half of the meeting still just makes me laugh. As so often happens, when you least expect it, you sometimes get great surprises.

And tonight was one of those nights. Next month, I'm determined to get those reminders out, because our Sherlock Holmes Story Society alumni are going to want to meet our newest member when she returns. Our late arrival said many times that this was probably going to be his only time in the group, which is why he had so many questions, so I don't expect we'll be seeing him then.

But you just never know about Sherlockian gatherings, and that's the best part.

When you follow Sherlock Holmes around, you always get marvelous surprises, and most often, when you least expect them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


The word went out on 221B Con's Twitter feed today -- the con is accepting suggestions for 2018 panels from now until late November. Which means its time for those lovely ideas that will bond a table full of speakers and an audience come next April.

2017 saw some real dark horse panels, where some very strong panelists turned signed up for panel ideas that I initially didn't have very high expectations for. 221B Con is like that -- if you can make it through the whole con without a few real surprises, I would suspect you of being heavily tranquilized on some narcotic. And a lot of the seeds the those amazing twists are planted now.

So let's prime the pump, shall we? Panel idea brainstorming session begins . . . now!

What if "The Adventure of Thor Bridge" had that one thing from its title that it's missing . . . the god of thunder, Thor himself? What if Basil Rathbone had met the real Marvel Spider-woman, instead that non-super one with the pygmy sidekick? Are there superheroes in the Canon besides Sherlock Holmes?

The pastiche life cycle of Sherlock Holmes. Tell us your favorite stories of Holmes as a young boy, a teen, a young man, a middle-aged man, and an elderly fellow. Can you fit a chain of them into one life of Sherlock Holmes?

The end of CBS's Elementary . . . if 2018 is the final season, how would you want the show to go out? Series finale hopes, dreams, and shockers.

Conan Doyle's haunting of Sherlockian fandom: What's he inspiring? Who's he cursing? Is he making clay pots with anyone while Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers plays?

The future of Sherlockian podcasting. What's the future of a medium based around hundred year old stories and an unreliable flow of new material to comment on?

Cats and Sherlock Holmes. Why do dogs hog the limelight when it comes to Sherlock? Let's talk about cats!!!

The Canon is a lie! What's the real secret behind the Sherlock Holmes stories that only conspiracy theorists and the clinically insane dare speak of? Multiple disposable Watsons? Sherlock really an actor paid by Dr. Watson ala Michael Caine? Mrs. Hudson was a medium and both Holmes and Watson were the spirits of fourteenth century monks?

Victorian celebrities that appear in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Who were they and why were they cool enough to get mentioned by the cool boys of Baker Street?

Show me how to draw a cartoon of Sherlock Holmes! Seriously, somebody show me!

Guided tours of the dealers room. Sure, you've wandered shyly through the dealers' room, but what if you got to trail along with somebody extroverted enough to talk to all those cool creators and vendors about their wares?

The Tubies. A made up award based on the test tubes of Bart's lab for outstanding production of Sherlock Holmes YouTube videos from 2017. And Sherlock's Test Tube goes to . . . .

Sherlock spin-offs without Cumberbatch or Freeman. Possible? Any that could be distracting enough to keep you from wondering where Sherlock and John were the whole time?

The Son of Buckaroo Banzai. Sure, it seems to have nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes, but those Blue Blaze Irregulars didn't just come out of nowhere.

Okay, the brain storm seems to be blowing through . . . get your own creative lightning going and start rolling those mental thunderclouds around to see what happens. The end of November is not that far away!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Like Watson, I love to think of Jack Munro.

Somewhere in the middle of the 1880s, a man named Grant "Jack" Munro found himself suddenly a father, in the most abrupt of fashions.

In his thirties, doing well as a hop merchant, married for a few years, Jack Munro was the sort of fellow who has a favorite pipe that he loves so much he has it mended with silver bands. Even though the pipe came to him in less prosperous times, he shows a loyalty to it that tells us something about him. He thinks with his heart as much as his head . . . else why attach such value to a mere pipe?

When such a man marries, he marries with all of his being. And Jack Munro did, meeting a young widow named Effie, committing himself to that relationship whole-heartedly. He cares enough to be concerned that his wife's finances might be sorely hurt by his own business dealings, even as she shows such faith in him to merge her capital with his. He's a commitment guy.

And when circumstances seem to indicate that something horrendous is going to tear his marriage apart, Jack Munro goes to the best man in England to seek advice on just what that thing might be . . . and what he should do about it. The results were recorded by John Watson under the title "The Yellow Face," which also gives us a "Norbury" that has nothing to do with Mary Watson taking a bullet. This "Norbury," the original warning word to be whispered in Sherlock's ear, was not the most horrific moment of Watson's life, but "one of which I love to think."

Watson's own words. A moment that is "one of which I love to think."

And of late, it becomes increasingly attractive to retreat into one of those moments John Watson put on paper for us. A different time, a different place, a world where Sherlock Holmes brings truth and sets things aright for his fellow Victorians . . . most of the time, anyway. He tries.

If, as I found myself at the end of this particularly disputatious weekend, wanting to retreat into one of Watson's moments, I can think of none better than one of Sherlock Holmes's failures. The moment he did tell Watson to whisper "Norbury" in his ear whenever he was getting over-confident. And a moment Watson loved to think of that was, most definitely, not a failure.

That moment: Jack Munro, discovering he was a step-father of the sort of happy little girl who can make John Watson burst out laughing during the climax of a case with her smile. And it's not his laughter that makes the moment Watson loves . . . it's Jack Munro's reaction to fully understanding that he is now father to a child he has never seen before.

Jack picks up the little girl, gives her a kiss, and says they should all go home. Jack Munro, a man who shows he loves and commits to even the simplest of things in his life, goes all in on fatherhood in an instant. Race is no barrier. All the preconceptions and mistaken ideas he had going into that moment are no barriers. Jack Munro recognizes that it's a moment for love and nothing else, and he goes for it.

And it was a moment that John Watson loved to think of, and one he shared with us to love as well.

I'm grateful to him, and his literary agent, Conan Doyle, for that moment. For after some of what's been going around lately, it's a moment that we can remember has been on paper for well over a hundred years . . . and inspiring us all to be a little more like Jack Munro.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Adventure of the Not Guilty Bachelorette

Well, you can just call me "Batman," because I'll always be here to fight the Mad Hatty-er.

My peer in the blogosphere, Rob Nunn, has backed up his case against the honourable Hatty Doran Moulton as some sort of villain. Thus, I find myself answering the call amid the darkness of this September night to once again defend one of the true innocents of the Sherlockian Canon.

Again, I will start with the unimpeachable testimony of Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself, who counseled, "You must make allowance for this poor girl, placed in so unprecedented a position."

T'were Hatty Doran Moulton of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" anything close to the villain Rob casts her as, she could have simply denied her previous marriage to Frank Moulton, which no one else knew of, gained her noble title by marrying Sir Robert, and kept all the family money coming her way no matter who she married. She had nothing to gain from going back to Frank. No motive for the act whatsoever, except for true love, and without motive, as we all know, a criminal case easily falls apart.

And take Hatty's own testimony about the St. Simon engagement: "Then Lord St. Simon came to 'Frisco, and we came to London, and a marriage was arranged, and pa was very pleased, but I felt all the time that no man on this earth would ever take the place in my heart that had been given to my poor Frank."

After hearing her true love was in a massacre and hearing no more news for over a year . . . a period in which she was actually ill from grief . . . Hatty, sure that her one chance at love was over, let a marriage be "arranged" to please her father. A dutiful daughter . . . and a faithful wife, when she finds her husband still lives . . . how could anyone cast this lady as a villain?

I will admit, some might have a certain political bias against her. In his original post, Rob said this about Hatty believing the story of her husband's death: "Has this woman never heard of fake news?" And there evidence of Rob's bias may be coming out in that -- the papers did refer to Hatty as "a Republican lady," someone he would expect to be familiar with "fake news" even though she died long before a Republican politician made those words famous. But we must not let such modern political issues throw false light on the clear cut case for Hatty Doran Moulton's innocence.

When you truly look at Hatty Doran Moulton's situation, her closest Canonical counterpart can be found in Irene Adler Norton, perhaps the most impressive woman Sherlock Holmes ever knew. Both women had two of the ultimate cases of white male privilege, a king and a lord, with designs upon them, and both tried to slip away with the commoner they truly loved, only to have Sherlock Holmes take their side at the end, even though he had been hired by their noble ex.

Would we call Irene a "villain" for outsmarting Holmes? Would we call Hatty a "villain" for outsmarting Lestrade? (Who knows, Hatty might have even been Lestrade's the woman!) Nawww.

Smart women had enough obstacles to deal with in Victorian England. Let's not add any more burdens to their memory with such accusations.

But, hey, if you want to call Sherlock Holmes "The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street," well there's a book for that now, thanks to Rob Nunn. I just hope he doesn't decide to do a similar book about Hatty Doran, as I don't want to take the time to write a book-length rebuttal. But I will!

Friday, September 22, 2017

The money thing.

None of us likes to talk about money. It's long been one of the great trouble spots of marriage, of friendships, even of a hobby like Sherlockiana.

And these days we're seeing it more prevalent in this hobby than ever before, thanks to two big generational waves and the gap between them. A lot of the baby boomers who rolled into this hobby in the sixties and seventies are doing quite all right for themselves in their retirement, and take for granted that their lives have been just the way life works. On the other hand, we have that great influx of Sherlockians that came to us thanks to the Downey/Cumberbatch wave, a great many of whom are still paying student loans the size of home loans their predecessors were taking out at their age.

And it's not just the generational differences. When I was in college, I could buy every new Sherlock Holmes book that came on the market without putting too big a dent in my budget, which was entirely based on part-time jobs. And there weren't nearly so many Sherlockian events that one needed to buy an airline ticket to fly to. And none of them had paid celebrity autographs. Commercial interests have entered all fandom experiences in ways they never have in the past.

There were differences in our incomes in the 1980s, but at a Sherlockian weekend, you never really seemed to notice them too much. The base price level of Sherlockiana seemed be set up for bookworms, because nobody wanted to waste too much money on other things when we could be spending it at the city's bookstores. And those things that did cost a little more? The Strand magazines and rare old books? Finding them was the trickiest thing, and sometimes you could still luck into a real deal. So when somebody did get something good, you were just happy for the fact that they found it, not going "Oh, well, guess they just had more money than anyone else watching eBay that day."

Ah, eBay. The first harbinger of wealth awareness. Early on, I remember a Sherlockian friend talking about certain old volumes always being bought up by the same familiar buyer whenever they came on the site. My friend knew exactly who was grabbing up the items he saw in their common shop and knew exactly why he wasn't getting them: the number of bucks in his bank account. But it hasn't just been eBay that gave us a newfound wealth awareness. The whole internet seemed to want to chime in, even in the most innocent of social media comments.

A simple humble brag can now be posted to numbers of people once only attained with the full circulation of The Baker Street Journal, the top Sherlockian communication method of its day. Shelf porn doesn't require being friendly enough with a person to go visit their house, at which point you liked them well enough to be delighted at their good fortune, rather than envious. And when a big event happens, you can now start ticking off hundreds of people who are attending when you aren't, just by glancing through social media.

It's easy to feel less than able in the current climate of Sherlockiana, because there is alway something you won't be able to do, or buy, or even just get to. And it doesn't help that a few of the people who do get to do all of the things kind of suck. Tradition overrides empathy a lot of times in a fandom as old as Sherlockiana. Some corners of the fandom can seem to claim ownership of the true Sherlockian world a little more than happens in younger fan cultures. We have our narcissists, just like many other parts of life, who will always need someone to claim to be better than.

But money? Pay close attention to the big money folks in the hobby, and to those with less. And see where the most creativity is coming from.

Sherlockiana itself was born during the latter years of the Great Depression, when poverty was the name of the game. Nobody was living as comfortably as they liked. But with some paper, a pen, and a copy of a completed Sherlock Holmes canon, good things could still be had. And we have so much more than paper and pens these days. Even if we aren't living large in an urban Sherlockian center with a goodly disposable income.

Whether it's in the Great Depression of the last century, the one that might lay ahead, or just dealing with your own bank account on a Friday night, the money thing is always going to suck. But you aren't alone in that, because that's kind of the point of a community like Sherlockiana. There are things here that can't be bought, and will never be, things of yours that you don't even realize will make even the wealthiest Sherlockian a bit envious at some point.  (Trust me on this -- I'm a very jealous person, and some of you out there? Wow.)

It's good to consider and be considerate of income disparity in our world, inside and outside Sherlockiana, every now and again. And perhaps help fight the rising tide of inflation if you find yourself in a position to do so. Because we are, and have long been, a community. And a pretty good one at that.
Holmes folded up his cheque and placed if carefully in his note-book. "I am a poor man," said he, as he patted it affectionately and thrust it into the depths of his inner pocket.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In defense of Hatty Doran Moulton.

Sometimes, Sherlockians like to just make trouble.

Having lived next door to a man whose greatest joy was seemingly getting himself repeatedly kicked off the Hounds of the Internet, I know this well. So I tend to forgive little outrages like the one my friend Rob Nunn committed over at his blog, Interesting Though Elementary, earlier this week. Forgive, yes. But let stand unopposed? As the mighty Thor would often shout under Stan Lee's scribelage, I say thee nay!

For Rob has a real bone to pick with Ms. Hatty Doran Moulton of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor." After saying he might have come to a contest for "Worst Villain of the Canon" to argue her candidacy for said position, Rob refers to the poor girl as "vile," states that she sucks, and cites her absence from a Baker Street Babes list of female characters as more evidence of her awfulness.

Now, I don't know if Rob was stood up at a wedding by a California girl himself once upon a time, or harbors some other grudge, but personally, I am rather proud of Hatty, a fellow American who stayed loyal to her man under the tremendous pressures of British society. Allow me to call my first witness to Hatty's quality of character: Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

"I trust that you at least will honour me with your company," Sherlock said to Hatty and her husband, once the unforgiving Lord St. Simon had coolly stalked out of 221B.

"Honour me with your company," one of the greatest minds in Victorian England says there. Can you imagine the sheer joy of hearing those words directed at you from Sherlock Holmes? Sherlock Holmes, a man with such a keen eye and such a perceptive brain that he knows more about you than anyone else at first meeting. Sherlock Holmes, whose skill at judging character and looking for deceit, weakness, or villainy was at the highest level. And also, Sherlock Holmes who viewed the average social summons as calling upon one "to be bored or lie."

Sherlock Holmes did not invite just anyone to dinner at 221B Baker Street.

And yet he invited Hatty Doran Moulton and her husband. Did he invite Flora Millar? No. Did he invite Inspector Lestrade? No. Did he invite his own brother, Mycroft? No, no, no.

He invited Hatty.

Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I could go on all evening about the fine qualities of this upstanding daughter of the American West. I could draw in Lord St. Simon's testimony of her strength, courage, and nobility. I could read newspaper reports of her fascinating persona. And of course I could call up what her maid Alice's loyalty reveals about the sort of person who inspires such a bond. But do I need to say anything more once you have seen how Sherlock Holmes himself judged this woman?

Again, I say thee nay!

We have many a villain to turn our glares upon in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, and that we shall all do, as we enjoy his battles against them. But Ms. Hatty Doran Moulton shall never be among them . . . unless you are the sort who would also write a book proclaiming Sherlock Holmes a villain!

Monday, September 18, 2017

An interesting loss for Sherlock.

Since BBC's Sherlock first aired, the television Emmy awards have definitely had a Sherlockian point of interest in particular years, and this weekend's celebration was no different. The three academies of televised arts and science that administer the awards chose not to give Sherlock any trophies this year, but the loss was actually . . . well, one might say "telling."

The award for Outstanding Television Movie went to a Black Mirror episode named "San Junipero," and if you're at all familiar with that tale, you might see it as having exactly what many a fan thought its competitor, Sherlock's "The Lying Detective" lacked.

"San Junipero" is a love story between two real souls in a fictional world. One of the pair has a spouse and a traditional heterosexual marriage. The other is someone who has never had a real physical relationship. And they meet in what is basically a shared mind palace.

The similarities to anything Sherlock Holmes end there, really, but the contrast to what was presented in "The Lying Detective" are stark. "San Junipero" was a story of two people trying to overcome their own personal issues to be together. "The Lying Detective" was an all-out conflict of two master manipulators trying to outfox each other while uncaring about the collateral damage to anyone around them. One would definitely seem more traditionally feminine and one more painfully masculine, and the genders involved reflect that.

Had the second episode of the latest (too painful to say "last," as heavily as that possibility looms) series of Sherlock been more "San Junipero," it would have definitely had more of the show's fans rooting for it when Emmy time came. "The Lying Detective" was what it was, and we can't rewrite history . . . but there is something about that hazy vision of an episode called "The Tiger of San Junipero" in place of "The Lying Detective" that has a lure to it, as so many paths not taken do.

"The Tiger of San Pedro" was the title of the second half of "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," if you weren't familiar, but I'm thinking this fantasy version of Sherlock season four episode two would draw more from "Empty House" than that tale. "The Tiger of San Junipero" could have brought Sebastian Moran into Sherlock at long last as a Moriarty confederate who actually developed the tech to enter a person's virtual world. The plot would inevitably require John Watson to enter the world of Sherlock's mind palace as well, and . . . well, you can play it out from there.

A mash-up of Sherlock and the Black Mirror episode that beat it is practically a prize unto itself, not even needing an Emmy award. And if I wasn't sure that anyone came up with a fanfic version of the last blog-idea I had, this one I definitely think someone had to do. It's just too lovely a concept, and I know there are fans of both out there.

Hopefully, they got some kudos. Kudos aren't exactly Emmys, sure, but hey, most good work on this planet never sees a trophy. Sometimes, it's just there to make us happy for a bit.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Not much to be funny about."

It seems like clowns are just made to suffer.

Currently we have a box-office smash at the movies about a monster who used to pretend to be a clown to lure children into sewers, but now seems to take on clown guise because it incites fear. We have an actual horror-in-the-name TV show using clowns as a major theme for its season. And we have the poor-but-spirited Juggalos marching on Washinton to protest, among other things, their clown society of fans being considered a gang.

Clown sadness isn't new. In fact, it's a trope that goes back probably as far as clowns themselves. And the cases of Sherlock Holmes, containing all things as they do, have their own sad clown as well.

Little Jimmy Griggs of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger."

Little Jimmy Griggs worked for Ronder's Wild Beast Show, a very popular show at its peak. Its owner, Ronder, was said to rival his predecessor George Wombwell and his contemporary Lord George Sanger for wild animal showmanship. Ronder did well for "a human wild boar" as John Watson called him, but inevitably alcoholism got the better of him, and all the money from his successes could not keep good perfomers with him when the fines for animal cruelty and assaulting humans kept coming in. His employees left in droves.

Except for little Jimmy Griggs.

We're not sure just why Jimmy Griggs stayed on. Maybe he had a secret love of Ronder's ill-treated wife, or the handsome Leonardo, or just the animals themselves. Sometimes a funny fellow can get by in rough circumstances by using his sense of humor to calm an angry drunk or shine a light on the one bright spot in a dark time. But Ronder's Wild Beast Show was no place for a man to rise in his career.

Griggs was definitely cited as one of the few people holding the show together as the piggish sot Ronder went into decline. And on the night of the Abbas Parva tragedy, Jimmy Griggs was one of the first on the scene to stop the situation from getting worse.

The show's star attraction, the great lion Sahara King, had, to all appearances, escaped its cage killed Ronder and mauled Ronder's wife during their nightly feeding of the beast. Griggs led the men who drove the lion back into his cage and got Mrs. Ronder to safety . . . even though the handsome Leonardo got half-credit. (Obviously undeserved as his cowardice was later revealed.)

It was six months before Mrs. Ronder was well enough to tell her story of what happened that night, and during that time we can only assume it was the devoted Mr. Griggs who held her fortunes together, making sure she had the money to live out her life in peace once she recovered. Did the show go on? Was Sahara King put down, or did "man killer" just add to his show biz resume? Where did life take Jimmy Griggs after that night?

We will never know the fate of James Griggs, circus clown and the kind of guy who could help hold a show together. But after seeing the flaws of his co-worker Leonardo, we can only presume Griggs was a stouter fellow than he ever got full credit for, even under the pen of Dr. Watson.

I hope it went well for him. And on one good note, he's not still around to see the era of the scary clown taking over. If "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" were written today, Sahara King would probably be the star of cute kitty videos and Jimmy would probably have been the one framed for killing Ronder.

What a world, what a world.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A wave of theater Sherlocks?

It seems like my Google News feed has, of late, decided that Howard Ostrom is their best model for news of Sherlock Holmes.

Theatrical adaptation after theatrical adaptation are all the headlines. Moffat and Gatiss seem to have run out of rumors to spread about potential future seasons for Sherlock, probably getting their heads down to work out their Dracula series. Will Farrell's movie is more than a year off, Elementary is still many months away, and no other major Sherlock Holmes promotions seem to be on the national or international stage.

But the local stages?

It's almost like a requirement that every major city had to have at least one production of a Sherlock Holmes play in 2017, and all the major city wannabees as well. Which makes me wonder . . . just what is it that brings a local Sherlock Holmes to the stage?

Are they just obvious aftershocks of a few big years of mainstream Holmes?

Or is Sherlock Holmes just a character that egomaniacal actors with pull at their local playhouse want to play?

Is it that older folks tend to be theater audiences and Sherlock has long been a draw with older crowds? (A good test of that -- how many stage Sherlocks are under forty?)

Or are there just particularly well-written Sherlock Holmes plays in circulation around the local theater circuit these days?

All of the above?

It would make a fascinating chart if one could gather counts of the number of different productions of Sherlock Holmes plays that were performed every year since he first took the stage over a hundred years ago. It would probably be an easy thing to cross-reference its peaks with surges in Sherlock's popularity in books and film, but one has to wonder if any anomalies outside of those expected peaks would show up. Or worrisome . . . what if he was hugely popular just before World Wars?

Hopefully that's not the case now. It could simply be that there are more humans on Earth than ever before, and for every X number of humans there must always be one production of a Sherlock Holmes play . . . a simple product of our collective hivemind, which the great detective is definitely a part of. And they'll always be there, just more noticeable when one isn't being distracted by the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, etc.

But Holmes went from book to stage to film to television, and in the end, he'll probably wind down in the very reverse of that order, if his cycle does decide to wind down at some point, before revving up again.

And on the Baker Street parade will go.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sahara King is in the house!

Among the mysteries considered by Sherlock Holmes there is one about a cat owner that I particularly relate to.

I have to say "considered" in the case of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," because Sherlock Holmes doesn't really solve it. He just hears the confession of someone who was an accomplice to a murder years before, and suffering a horrible punishment from that act ever since. Or maybe not from the murder itself . . . but from the fact that she was a cat owner.

True, the cat belonging to Eugenia Ronder was of the "big" variety, technically being a lion and all, but her kitty, Sahara King, seemed to have a certain quality that is very noticeably present in the feline that dwells in my own house, a fully-clawed male specimen named "Tink." And that quality is an unpredictable wildness.

"And why should it attack them savagely when it was in the habit of playing with them?" Sherlock Holmes poses the question to Watson before they go to hear the full story of Sahara King's apparent turning on his owners. From that statement, I would definitely conclude that Sherlock Holmes has never owned a cat.

Because cats like to play. Oh, yes, they like to play. With their victims.

Our size is really our only defense against household felines, as much as we might think they love us. Having adopted a roaming outdoor cat who enjoys the comforts of central heating in the winter, we know what happens when the usual hunting habits get interrupted by snow and ice. Eventually our friend Tink gets bored. And at some point, nothing else will satisfy him but stalking prey . . . even if that prey is six-two and weighs two hundred pounds.

The inevitable end of his hunt, with all four claws holding a limb in place while his jaws chomp down on a leg or arm, is quickly over-powered, but come spring, our local version of Sahara King finds prey whose heads he can fit in his mouth, just like Sahara King did to Mrs. Ronder, and very bad things happen.

Now, you might want to step away from this blog post if you're a fan of cute kitties and/or don't like much gruesome in your Sherlockian reading. Because you probably aren't going to like the part that comes next . . . .

Okay. Just the stout-of-heart still here?

Come spring, we start finding critters without heads on our porch. Cute little furry critters, too, except for the "dead with no heads" part. I kept envisioning our cat having a secret lair somewhere with skulls lined up in his trophy room, because they certainly weren't showing up anywhere we could ever see. It was a real mystery for Sherlock Holmes . . . or Google, which we finally turned to after catching him in the act one morning.

Apparently -- and this is the part you're going to wish you left for, if you ignored my earlier warnings -- even well-fed house cats love the particularly special flavor of brains. Yes, just like zombies. And given all the other similarities between small cat and big cats, I can't help but think if Eugenia Ronder had not been rescued by her fellow circus-folk, she might have met the same fate as the critters on our porch. And Sahara King would have had a special treat that night.

Ew, gross, I know, right? The study of Sherlock Holmes is not all kings in silk masks and pretty opera singers, you know. And the climax of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" is right out of a horror movie in any case, as Mrs. Ronder steps into the light and pulls away her veil.

So far we're managing to deal with our household version of Sahara King without having to resort to veils, and his teeny-tiny mouth is probably going to keep us from that eventuality. But when all is said and done, cats are cats.

Be careful out there.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The stressful Sherlocking of autumn.

Pay attention long enough and you'll see your own patterns emerging.

This time of year tends to be among the most hectic, as we transition into fall, school, the last quarter of the year . . . everybody wants to get everything done by the holidays. My biggest problem with it seems to be in that little late August/early September lull when I start getting great ideas for projects that are inevitably killed by everything that's going on in the months that follow. Halloween costumes. Nanowrimo. New fall TV.

Cite a fall project, and I can tell you what killed it -- one of might biggest regrets was the Dark Lantern League online role-play group, killed, ironically enough, by an intensive webmastering class. And if that trend wasn't bad enough, you know what else comes when life gets hectic and the brain is churning hard when downtime comes?

Even more ideas for Sherlockian efforts.

Get a few weeks with nothing to do, and . . . nothing.

Get a month without a spare moment, and the seeming greatest of all Sherlockian inspirations appears  . . . only to be old hat by the time the schedule clears up.

That's why the blog business seems to work so well for me: Spit out an idea, give it a little fleshing out, just enough to get it out of the system, and move on to the next. But it's treading water. When nothing gets fully developed, it's hard to move forward, whatever one defines as moving forward.

The obsession project, the thing that eats your whole existence for months on end, has been my best way to get the bigger things done. Not the slow and measured pace that allows some distraction alternating with the discipline to return to the work. Being able to take the long view and stick to the course.

I wouldn't be writing this rather whiney post if I wasn't starting to set my mind to gets some things done in the Sherlockian field this fall for a change. Ideas are here and some of them might actually have value. So let's just see what happens this time, and if the patterns break for a change.

Watch this space.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Many people have said that Sherlock just wasn't the same after the hiatus. Or Sherlock wasn't the same after the hiatus. Or both.

In the 1920s, it was how the post-Reichenbach Sherlock Holmes might have been fictional, as several bits of him don't match up to pre-Reichenbach Holmes (Father Ronald Knox in the essay "Studies in Sherlock Holmes").  In the 2010s, it was how seasons three and four of BBC Sherlock just didn't live up to the promises of seasons one and two to so many fans.

In that 1920s Knox essay, he referred to a "Deutero-Watson," a second biographer of Sherlock Holmes who wrote some of the tales and not the others. But to my mind, even as I first read "Deutero-Watson," I was evolving Knox's words on Sherlock not being the same to a post-Reichenbach "Deutero-Sherlock."  Sherlock Holmes did die at Reichenbach Falls, and then was replaced by a second Sherlock Holmes.

Many a Sherlockian has toyed with this idea, over the years. A Vernet cousin. A twin. An actor. A clone. Such theories are of limited use when considering the original Holmes Canon as we tend to love all sixty tales at this point, even the runts of the litter, and don't want to suppose that even the Sherlock of "The Mazarin Stone" was not our Sherlock.

But as I reflected upon such theories and applied that filter to the issues of BBC Sherlock, the idea of a Deutero-Sherlock seemed much more sound.

We are never told exactly how Sherlock Holmes survived the Reichenbach Fall. We know that someone who looked just like him came to the graveyard while John mourned at his grave. We know that Mycroft pulled a shaggy spy from the field to take up Sherlock's place in London. And we know that John Watson seemed to want to punch Sherlock Holmes a lot more after his BBC hiatus, starting immediately. And Mycroft did use that phrase "the other one," which we were supposed to accept meant Eurus . . . but did Eurus ever seem like anything close to another Sherlock?

As messed-up and secretive as the Holmes family eventually was shown to be in "The Final Problem," the idea that there was an additional sibling, a twin for Sherlock is not that far fetched. Or, failing that, an MI-6 agent that Mycroft Holmes made into a replica of his brother. (That would certainly explain all the spy stuff coming in so hot and heavy.)

But, as tempting as a second Sherlock might be, there is that price that must be paid . . . a price earlier Sherlockians have always been unwilling to accept to explain a few character changes. Does one give up two seasons and a Christmas special to hold that the pure Sherlock of seasons one and two was not the man who came back post-hiatus? Both were played by Benedict Cumberbatch, 'tis true, but it tends to leave John Watson in an even messier place than he is at the end of season four, even though he may not consciously be aware of it.

Has anyone wrote a fic of post-Reichenbach Johnlock where poor John discovers Sherlock is truly not the man he remembered? Surely they must have a this point. It would seem material enough for a whole sub-genre.

As much as my mind goes back to this little theory of a Deutero-Sherlock, it never stays long. In fact, mere moments after I finish this off, I'll probably be back to a single true Sherlock in my headcanon. But it's always an interesting question to raise.

Friday, September 8, 2017

"Such work as we have been doing."

We have puzzled over a lot of things about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson over the last hundred years. Snakes with ears. Geese with crops. Anybody with anybody else. But there is a line near the end of a seminal tale that I don't think we give enough consideration to. A line we usually just accept for its surface value and don't into dig too deeply. That line?

"I think she is one of the most charming young ladies I ever met, and might have been most useful in such work as we have been doing."
-- Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four

Sherlock makes that statement in his explanation of groaning at Watson's engagement announcement. He goes on to speak of Mary Morstan's genius, then suddenly veers into a statement that "love is an emotional thing and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things." He then quickly adds, "I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment."

Sherlock Holmes is obviously covering up something here. We know he's all about the work. Caught unsure of exactly what to say, he's going to default to talking about the detective business. And then talk about how emotions are something he doesn't do . . . right after he had a very emotional reaction. He had just audibly groaned "a most dismal groan."

Now, if you're a romantic, you can go two or three ways here. You can look at it that he himself was infatuated with Mary Morstan, John Watson, or both, and saw there marriage as an opportunity lost. That's a pretty easy route to take. And seemingly more probable than taking Holmes at his word.

Because if we take Holmes at his word, we have to figure out just how Sherlock Holmes was going to use Mary Morstan in their detective business, "such work as we have been doing," as Holmes puts it. But what work was that? He seems to be sitting around, bored and swapping out morphine and cocaine for three months when the case begins, even though he claims he's been consulted by a French detective, seemingly via the mail.

He's consulting by mail, Watson has written up their first case together, and the one thing he finds most impressive about Mary Morstan seems to be her ability to keep an important paper singled out from other papers. Was he hoping to hire Mary as a filing clerk for 221B Baker Street? And somehow Watson's proposal invalidated her from that job?

A more disturbing prospect for the role of this never-filled job comes when you consider that some Sherlockians place this case as occurring in September of 1888 . . . the month of the Jack the Ripper murders. Watson's sudden turn for making Mary Morstan a life partner certainly removed her from the possibility of Holmes using her for Ripper bait. Holmes's idea of the things that were a part of his work ranged very widely, so possibilities going from filing clerk to pretend prostitute are not so unimaginable.

But there is always the possibility that "work" was he and Watson's code name for something else, and the fact that Watson was going to make Miss Morstan his bride leaves Holmes with the immediate reaction of being "as limp as a rag for a week." I will, however, leave that one for keener minds on that sort of topic than my own.

The whole passage about the Watson-Morstan engagement and "such work as we have been doing" definitely needs more study though. And I can't help but wonder if Mary would be good for that work, were she around today.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Time after time, chronology after chronology.

Spending my time on Sherlock's time again.

After the clarity a little time away from your life that a vacation brings, I've come home with some new projects and a little bit of clean-up to do. First up, getting my basic chronology from 2001 back on the web.

The old site finally met its demise after 15 years sometime last month. The hosting service I placed it with back in 2002 had become very complacent about their customer service, and after several attempts to move peaceably, it just became easiest to let it die of natural causes. The material all still exists, of course, well backed up, but just isn't open to the public as it was for the last decade and a half. Hopefully, most of it will find a new home at some point.

The most-visited part of the old site was the handy reference of "A Basic Timeline of Terra 221B," the chronology of Sherlock Holmes's cases that I worked out while serving as discussion leader on the Hounds of the Internet, way back when. I use it a lot myself, and already had one question as to how soon it would be coming back. After contemplating a few web options, the quickest way seemed to just blog it back out there, so you'll find it at now.

The links aren't all active yet, which you'll see immediately, as I'm adding quotes and commentary that back up the dates in reverse order, blogging from "His Last Bow" backwards to eventually get the link added for "The Gloria Scott." Within a week or so, the whole 2001 chronology should be back online for handy reference.

You may note the use of the phrase "the whole 2001 chronology," which would seem to indicate it is different from some other year's Sherlockian chronology, and that is the intended use. After fifteen years, a lot has gone on with Sherlock, John, and myself, and I think there are definite reasons for another hard look at the way the boys' time together plays out. As to what year gets attached to the Basic Timeline 2.0, we shall see.

But when the old material is in place, "A Basic Timeline of Terra 221B" is now definitely a blog, which means there is room for not only new posts, but comments on posts old and new as well, making it a little more of a living document than the old chronology.

We'll see what happens next. These days, you just never know.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Back to just us?

With nothing definite ahead for BBC Sherlock or the Downey movie franchise, and even CBS's Elementary dwindling its way off-stage, Sherlock Holmes's big moment in the mainstream might be headed for hiatus again soon. It has happened before, and it will happen again, so no worries. It's just a change in gears that any fandom has to deal with over time, and Sherlockiana has that "over time" part well in hand.

Because when nobody else is talking about Sherlock Holmes, we still are. And when nobody else is making fun content about 221B Baker Street, we make our own.

Being a bit behind the curve, I have yet to ingest Mattias Bostrom's well-reviewed From Holmes to Sherlock, but it sounds like one could use it to chart all the peaks and valleys the legend of Sherlock Holmes has seen over the three separate centuries of its existence. And if one looked at that chart and pointed to the valleys, we'd all know who lives down there: Sherlockians.

When everyone else has left the theater, we'll sneak up on to that stage and do our thing in front of a house that only has a handful of diehards still in the front row. We'll know all the diehards by name very soon after that, and see very familiar faces climbing up to the stage again and again, while the general public goes about their business on the street outside until the theater of Sherlock again gets a hit during the Saturday night features.

There are other shows to wander off to, other fandoms that will take in those who need a heartier diet of fresh produce (he wrote, as he shifted metaphors), but for those that remain, living off stuff canned in earlier days, we'll get to see just how creative our chefs can be in helping keep our palates from getting too numb from the same, familiar tastes.

It's hard to say what the future will bring for Sherlock Holmes. Entertainment culture is anxious to squeeze every dime from any existing property, and Holmes's place in the public domain makes him a tempting well to go back to. We will definitely see adaptations and new attempts that fail to win over either Sherlockians or the general public -- oh, how we've seen those before, so many, many times. But we'll find our fun, and fun will be had.

And if it's back to just us, well, we've got a lot of new kids since the last drought (but do we have them, or do they have us?), and they seem like a whole lot of fun. I think we'll make it.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day means that Presbury monkey business.

One hundred and fifteen years ago this week, Sherlock Holmes was presented with one of his more ridiculous puzzles. And he's sitting like "L" from Death Note, though L probably is the one sitting like Sherlock, since Sherlock was Sherlock before L was. But I digress.

The case Sherlock Holmes took up all those years ago was one that now seems a little . . . non-case-like?

A man of sixty-one years of age gets all teenage about a girl a third of his age, takes a trip without telling his kids, and gets bit by his dog. If you lay out the facts that start off this case, in the year 2017, it really sounds like a no-go for our man Sherlock, late in his career. "What? A man behaving peculiarly in his later years, chasing younger women? Surely this must be the work of a resurrected Professor Moriarty!" Nope.

If everything in "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" had occurred without Professor Presbury having discovered a Victorian Viagra supplier, Sherlock Holmes would have had nothing to investigate here. A rich old guy and a younger woman start a relationship, she decides maybe the wealth isn't worth missing out on men her own age, and he gets a little wonky when she dumps him. Have Presbury standing outside her window with a guitar instead of pretending to be a monkey in a tree and no one even calls Sherlock Holmes.

I mean, think about it. If Presbury decided song was his key to her heart, suddenly took secret voice and guitar lessons, had his dog bite him for his painful crooning, is there a case here? Not at all. One might argue that a strange imported drug makes it a more criminal matter, but this was 1902. Injecting one's self with animal gland liquids was probably not something Scotland Yard really cared about. And your crazy old father was more of a case for a specialist in mental issues than the greatest criminal investigator of his day.

Perhaps the worst crime in this story is young Bennett refusing to have Presbury seen by a good surgeon after he is mauled by the dog and nearly killed. Or perhaps it's the fact that Professor Presbury, when turned into Mr. Monkey (yes, this tale should really be titled Professor Presbury and Mister Monkey for being the lamest possible remake of 1886's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) would tease the dog so much. (I guess we're supposed to believe dog-teasing is hard-wired in the DNA of Himalayan langurs?)

If there was a way to do Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffs on a short story, "The Adventure of the Creeping Men" certainly would be a candidate for it. As we enter the week it took place, all those hundred and fifteen years ago, it's worth another look to make that judgment call for yourself.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Frank Moulton and my Rocky retreat.

I've always enjoyed Frank Moulton from "The Noble Bachelor." That title, these days, sounds like a TV show where Lord Robert St. Simon is handing out roses to the likes of Flora Millar and Hatty Doran sorting out his perfect choice of bride. But unlike those silly, silly reality shows, "The Noble Bachelor" features a married man who comes in to mess up St. Simon's quest.

Frank Moulton is a reminder of what a real challenge life in America once was, and the contrast he sets to a child of so-called nobility in posh London is part of what makes the story. Frank Moulton is a man who set a goal, a hard goal, in a hard place, and dragged himself all over creation to accomplish it. He went from a camp near the Rockies to San Francisco, to Montana, then way down to Arizona and New Mexico. He somehow missed being slaughtered when others at his location were. Then he trails his missing bride all the way to London, and once there?

He lets her tell her own story. That might even be the biggest of his achievements after all that.

I don't wonder that Frank had enough control over his ego that, unlike many men of the Canon, he didn't feel the need to dominate the telling of the tale at 221B Baker Street. He certainly could have. But Frank was a guy who had seen the Rocky Mountains.

Residents of our biggest cities like New York and London are rightly proud of the humans that build and populate such incredible anthills of humanity. But finding yourself in the deep rocky canyons of the aptly named Rockies, considering the powerful natural forces that pushed stone into structures larger and more curiously constructed than anything our biggest cities have to offer, well, it kind of puts you in your place. The thought that men like Frank Moulton made their way through this sort of terrain without a paved highway and speeding motorcar makes you realize our species is capable of so much more hardship than most of us face today. And seeing things like bighorn sheep nimbly trotting and jumping around rock walls that would be a slow climb for any human reminds you that even our fancy evolved forms aren't always top of the animal kingdom on all terrain.

Frank Moulton was a guy who came from that sort of place. And spending some time out here in the Rocky Mountains every now and then is definitely good for the soul, even though I'm not a mountain guy at heart -- I'm a river person. Peorians, like Londoners, grew up around that big river of constantly flowing water, a place built because traffic moved more quickly and easily on that water. The mountains are not that place.

Doing a little retreat "near the Rockies," as Frank Moulton began his journey, has always brought me some fresh Sherlock perspectives and challenged me to do some new things. This time is no different. My old website of fifteen years,, seems to have gone down due to some hosting issues while I was here, a fitting time as it was conceived here as well. While a nice repository of a by-gone, pre-Cumberbatch era material, it needed a major overhaul, and this seems like the opportunity to do that overhaul. You'll be seeing that coming along soon . . . well, that is, if I, like Frank Moulton, turn up alive after all my little adventures in the American West.