Wednesday, January 31, 2018

John Watson's bulletproof red undies

In July of 2010, we were first introduced to the modern era John Watson in BBC's Sherlock. 

In September of 2011, we were first introduced to the color of his Monday undies: Red.

Also in September of 2011, DC Comics relaunched its entire superhero line of comics with big changes. One of those changes: Superman lost his "underwear-on-the-outside" red trunks.

As it was announced that Superman is about to reclaim his red drawers, some seven years later, the wild coincidence of those two parallel events finally hit me like a brick. Were the BBC's John and Sherlock actually in the DC Universe's London, and could those red "pants" as they say in British English be one in the same?

Forget shipping Jolto from Watson's war years -- now we've got physical evidence of "Jork."

What's Jork shipping you ask? (And if you don't have to ask, bully for you! Much respect!)

John Watson/Clark Kent.

Just imagine, if you will (and if you won't, flee now), John Watson on leave in some Afghan hotel, waking up in the dark of early morning after a one-night stand with some random reporter he met in a bar. He fumbles around in the dark for his underwear and mistakenly grabs the wrong pair.

Back on the battlefield, Watson is shot. Taken down by the bullet, sure he is wounded, John doesn't quite believe it when his fellow battlefield medics not only can't cut his shorts off . . . they find there is no actually wound other than a most hellacious bruise.

Eventually, John returns to London with a psychosomatic limp from the bullet that should have crippled him, but didn't, and a taste for super men.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what happened seven years later. Perhaps Clark, now married to Lois, and John, now tied to Sherlock in whatever formal or informal relationship you favor, now decide that the souvenir of that past encounter need to return to their original owner. I'm sure Superman comics won't favor us with "Jork" resolutions as they give their flagship character his old costume back.

But the thought that for seven years, John Watson had a bulletproof pelvis . . . well, I'm sure baby Rosamund is glad her dad had those for a time. She and Jon Kent should have a play date sometime.

Wrap it up? No.

This past Saturday night, I was running a 1930s murder mystery night, featuring a lot of improv and certain set plot points. About halfway into what might have been called the second act, a woman hunted me down and stated, "Wrap this up, I have to leave."

I looked around the room at the hundred other people that were playing, chatting, enjoying the music, and gave her a non-committal, "We'll have to see about that." And then let things play out as they were set to.

Apparently, the lady had come to the mystery night with certain expectations, like that it would only last an hour. And she was a little free in expressing them, unconcerned about anyone but herself, and, as a result, came off as rather rude. Her particular expectations, of course, were not something anyone had taken into account in building the evening's entertainment.

I don't expect that the mystery evening got a good review from her, but that's her prerogative. The idea that a whole production should shift gears due to her own personal issues? Not included in the ticket price, which, in this case, was zero dollars.

With Sherlock Holmes, a fellow that's been with us our entire lives, we often come to feel a certain . . . well, "ownership" isn't the right word . . . more like "an expectation of something similar to what we had previously experienced?" Or is it more than that? Do we develop a personal vision of Sherlock Holmes over time that we use to measure every version of Sherlock that comes after? Whatever it is, our inner ties to Sherlock Holmes are as varied as humanity itself.

There are those who are into the historical research side of it, those who are into the fiction-writing side of it, those who are into reading mystery fiction, and those who are into cinematic portrayals . . . though choosing just one path is not something we usually stick to. So much Holmes out there to enjoy in so many ways. And more coming in all the time.

Yet occasionally, you run into a Sherlockian like that elderly lady I encountered on mystery night, who just want to "Wrap this up!" with one particular aspect of the hobby. "This is what Sherlockiana is, this is the way I like it, over and done. Wrap it up!"  It's a little bit like those Armageddon fanciers who think the world should end with their narcissistic lives. But none of us is so important that the world, or even Sherlockiana, will end with what we get to see of it.

Even Sherlock Holmes had a little bit of that attitude as he aged. Remember how no criminal was ever going to top Moriarty? Yeah. It's easy to get short-sighted and miss the big picture, especially when you've beaten that one great master criminal and don't really want to go to all that effort again.

But somebody is always going to be out there having fun with Sherlock Holmes, even after we go home, in ways Vincent Starrett or Christopher Morley never ever thought of.

And that's pretty great.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The deep dive of a Wiggly ship

I suspect that something gets lost when many a vanilla Sherlockian first encounters the hurdle that is the explicit sex found in much Sherlock fan fiction. And that makes sense, because sex is a very loud trumpet to the human brain, drowning out some of the subtler instruments in the band. But if you can leap over the big SEX hedge like a reader version of National Velvet, there are fertile fields to explore.

(Too many metaphors in one intro? Maybe.)

This thought occurred this morning after reading ol' Doc Smirk's latest tale of sudden relationship, "The Least He Can Do." A brief and unlikely coupling of Molly Hooper and Wiggins from BBC Sherlock might seem like just a quickie on the surface, but the core conflict it brings up runs so deep that it's apt to have you pondering it for some time after.

I mean, Molly and Wiggins? Molly loves Sherlock, we know, and the difference between the Brilliant One and the skeezy pharmaceutical artist is pretty huge. And yet, like all good relationship fic does, the pairing says something to us about both characters and leads into room to explore.

Wiggins is not a strong man, and life just sort of happens to him. One almost feels like he just stumbled into the drug trade because it was just there at the moment.

Molly might seem meek on the surface, but she's holding back some very strong emotions. And one of those emotions is her hatred of what drugs can to to a brilliant mind.

And since Molly can't do a damned thing about Sherlock Holmes, as much as she wants to, it makes sense that she might want to take it all out on a puppet who represents Sherlock's drug problem, something she hates, hates, hates in a man she finds herself hopelessly drawn to.

Smirk's tale comes at you quickly and then is done, leaving a very strong question of "Where does this go from here?" My own thought that it had hints of an unhealthy dom/sub relationship, where Molly went on taking out her anger on Wiggins in increasingly abusive scenarios and hating herself for it the whole time. (One hates to think what followed that final episode phone call, in a Wiggly universe.)

The greatest strength of fan fiction has always been relationship exploration, and proposing a rare pair like Wiggly (best ship name ever, by the way) can really lead down a rabbit hole with a lot of depth for further digging. Hopefully this one will find its way into one of the 221B Con panels this year.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Fighting Sherlockian consumption

One thing about life that may surprise you as you get well along in it: Some wars are never won.

It has been at least a decade since I considered myself any kind of Sherlockian collector. Maybe even longer than that. My final break with collecting was realizing that even subscriptions to certain publications weren't a mandatory part of Sherlockian life. Nice-to-have, sure. But was there any single item that one had to have in one's Sherlock space to truly be called a Sherlockian?


Back in the 1980s, we actually thought we could come close to having it all. Collectors like John Bennett Shaw or Peter Blau were our model Sherlockians, Shaw even keeping deerstalkered chocolate Easter bunnies in his freezer and Blau being the person to tell whenever you stumbled on to any new Sherlockian item. If it has a deerstalker or the name Sherlock attached, you added it to your stock of evidence that Holmes was everywhere.

Once Sherlock Holmes started to be even more of everywhere than ever before, many gave up that "vacuum cleaner" model of Sherlockian collecting and started to specialize. As years passed, I even got rid of a whole lot of stuff -- taking a whole container of stuffed deerstalker animals to and early 221B Con to disperse comes quickly to mind.

So now, in 2018, I was pretty sure I had the collecting bug licked. Completely under control. Not a problem.

So why do I keep considering Burger King kid's meals as a lunchtime option?

Next month's animated Sherlock Gnomes movie has managed to get a pretty decent looking figure of a cartoon Sherlock Holmes . . . even if it is really "Sherlock Gnomes" . . . as one of the six figures currently stocked in Burger King's kid burger and apple sauce lunch sack. There's even a Nigel Bruce-y looking Watson to go with him. 

I don't have the space for the two figures. And like I said, I've already rid myself of many similar tchotchkes, but the desire to gather them in still arises. I've even checked out more practical options like just buying them off eBay, rather than playing lunchbag roulette.

But despite mysteriously finding myself in the neighborhood of the local Burger King more than once this week, I'm still holding out. It's become a matter of principle at this point. A test of fortitude versus addiction, as minor as it may be.

But, like I said, some wars are never completely won. Just one battle at a time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Days of Clerihews and Roses

As happens often of late, it started with a tweet or two . . . .

A hashtag of #SherlockianClerihews soon followed Chris Redmond's suggestion, and the game was on. The first step, for what I'm sure was the lion's share of us, was googling to remind ourselves just what the hell a Clerihew was. Four lines, first two rhyming, second two rhyming, with the first line being the named of a well-known person. Basically, an easier rival to the limerick. Which is probably why the fun began so quickly.

#SherlockianClerihews didn't really start trending immediately, or probably even reach many Sherlockian data pathways, but it brought out one of those things about Sherlockians that isn't always apparent to the casual observer: We don't just love detectives. We love words.

Perhaps that's the distinction that some who balk at describing us as "fans" are trying to make, but given that fan fiction is all about the words, I'd still hold to that term. In any case, words and playing with words is why we have such obscure treasures as Isaac Asimov's Asimov's Sherlockian Limericks. And, also, why it took little prompting for Sherlockians to go on a rampage of Clerihews in celebration of other Sherlockians. (Oh, yes, we like other Sherlockians too, for the most part.)

And it's so easy. I found myself spontaneously creating them about fellow dinner party guests last night when asked what they were. And some Sherlockian names work so perfectly in the form.

Arthur Conan Doyle,
Upon Sherlock did toil
Until he became quite tired
At which point Holmes got fired.

And, given the lack of regular line length or perfect rhymes, one can spit one of those things almost at rap-battle speed (unless the subject is Ashley Polasek -- and the lure of feminine rhymes no matter what the subject's gender). Let me look at my bookshelf for another Sherlockian . . . .

Old Lord Donegall
Surely thought he knew it all
With Baker Street and Beyond,
Like Potter, he used a magic wand.

Was the song Maxwell's Silver Hammer started with a Clerihew? For some reason Lord Donegall had me singing to that tune. In any case, trust me, these things come easier than any other poetic form you'd care to name, outside of the most formless, no-rules verse.

Will #SherlockianClerihews continue for a while? We can only hope.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The other two shilling award

With the January weekend of Sherlockian honors in America behind us for this year, I was reminded of a particular award handed out on the traditional awards night of the older school of our fandom. It's called "the Two-Shilling Award," and it was originally awarded in 1962 to author Rex Stout.

The recorded reason from The Baker Street Journal's minutes of the meeting was "for services beyond the call of duty." The original list of award recipients were the heaviest of hitters. William S. Baring-Gould, he of the first Annotated, was the second recipient. Next came Vincent Starrett, remembered for the poem 221B, even if you know him for nothing else. Jay Finley Christ, whose four letter abbreviations for the Canon became our cult standard, followed Starrett, and on the list goes.

Under the more recent regime, I think I recall it being said that it was given more specifically for service to the Baker Street Irregulars of New York, rather than the Sherlockian world at large . . . though at the time of the initial 1960s awards, those purposes were pretty much the same. The Sherlockian world was not all that large yet. And the big contributions were known all the way across it.

Over the years, the two shillings have been handed out to a number of lesser known names, though surely folks who toiled well in the fields, and as with the single shillings, there are so many more now who deserve than will ever be awarded in the current system. But there are other honors.

I realized this, visiting a friend who had two shillings. Not on one award, but two.

The number of elder Sherlockians who not only hold an Irregular shilling but also that of a fallen comrade have a different sort of medal, one that often denotes a deep wound taken in Sherlockian service. Live long enough in a hobby and you lose important people. Not at the distant Starrett or Baring-Gould level, though they had close comrades, to be sure. No, great Sherlockians who were very near and very dear.

And really, you don't even have to hold a Baker Street Irregular shilling to get this kind of two-shilling distinction. And no one is anxious to find their name on either end of this list. But when it comes, imbedded in all the emotions of every sort is the knowledge that you must have done something right to have ever deserved to be one side of a great Sherlockian friendship.

How do the original lines go?

"Now, Jack, is there anything you would like?"

"I'd like a shillin'."

"Nothing you would like better?"

"I'd like two shillin' better."

Six-year-old Jack Smith of The Sign of Four knew that two was always better than one. And, having met Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, Jack was lucky enough to have seen a prime example of that truth in the flesh. At six, he may not have realized that, until later, in retrospective . . . which is were we often understand things best.

But it's good to think about who your other shillings are in real time now and then, because Sherlockiana hands them out as freely as Sherlock Holmes with a line of street urchins.

And they're the best awards in the game.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Imaginary friends of the Canon.

The world of Sherlock Holmes was surely full of imaginary friends.

Young boys of the Baskerville family and their curse dogs. Garrideb cousins coming over to play with little Nathan. Pre-teen Mary Sutherland's beaus who travelled exotic foreign lands like France.

While we don't get a lot of children in Watson's case records, observed at play when the adults are not around, it's not hard to see from the adults in those tales that many an imagined playmate must have existed among that populace.

Little Jacky Ferguson and his vampire pal, who'd come to deal with bullies and other threats to his happy domestic life, like an immortal neighbor girl from Let The Right One In.

Little Lucy Hebron and her bright yellow sister, who would look out the window for her and see what the weather was doing.

Little "Smacky" Rucastle and his giant, who'd crush local townsfolk under his boots just like Smacky did with the cockroaches of Copper Beeches.

There is so much going on with the citizens of Canon Holmes that the lives of their offspring could not have been any less imaginative.

John Watson must have had some experience with the wilder of their breed, else he wouldn't have been so quick with the pronouncement, "Holmes, a child has done the horrid thing," after a murder in The Sign of Four. Perhaps he had crossed paths with a Moriarty offspring at some point without realizing it . . . and just think of the imaginary friends that Moriartys would play with. Or don't, as a little Jimmy Moriarty sort of kid problem had a complex organization of imaginary friends all performing chess-move-like imaginary stratagems. Hard for the average mind to fully envision.

Did Sherlock have an imaginary friend that also was on his way to becoming a detective? I can't help but return to "Barker" from "Retired Colourman," with that supposed rival being the opposite of BBC Sherlock's Redbeard -- a dog that Sherlock pretended was human. "Barker" -- get it? But other people did see Barker, I suppose, so I guess he wasn't imaginary . . . unless that was a random stranger Holmes just said was Barker.

Ah, well. I should not watch SyFy channel's Happy! before bed . . . too many Sherlockian twistings of a sleepy mind!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Sherlockian table for Trivia Night

Getting pulled in as a ringer for trivia nights is probably not uncommon for Sherlockians. Just generalizing here, but I think Sherlockians tend to know things, and you want people who know things on your trivia team. Trivia nights can range from great entertainment to frustrating ordeals, depending upon the folks running the show, and fundraisers . . . the ones I typically get called in for . . . are all over the map.

Tonight's particular specimen features a table decorating aspect, and when themes were being discussed, eventually I just went, "Make it Sherlock Holmes, and I can decorate it all day long." The rest of the crew agreed.

Of course, then came the issue of what to call the team. Given events of the day we were discussing it, someone immediately spouted "Shithole Sherlocks!" That got shot down immediately, though "No Shithole Sherlocks" might have gotten more traction, had we thought of it at the time. Another suggestion "The Why Did Xxxxx Put In This Sherlock?" but that was too specific-topic relating to Epic software's support system. (Named "Sherlock," so support tickets are called "Sherlocks" at our place of business.) And finally, someone cheerily suggested, "Let's call it 'Elementary!'"

And a certain me went, "Nope! It can be 'Elementary, My Dear [organizer's name here]," it can be 'Elementary, My Dear Trivia Night!' . . . but whatever it is, it has to have a 'my dear someone' on there, because the Sherlock Peoria guy ain't settlin' for no plain ol' Elementary!" (Sorry, fans of the CBS procedural. You do you, I have to do me.)

The final decision: "Elementary, My Dear."

Hints of Johnlockery, I am just fine with.

So then came the actual table decorating scheme. For a covering, I'm going with a dark plastic under-tablecloth with a Victorian lace over-tablecloth. One big statue of Holmes kneeling to look at footprints in the center of the inner half with a small collection of Victorian books with Holmes connection in the center of the outer half. Pipes littering the table, a couple of lanterns on either end, hats for all the team-members -- deerstalkers for the ladies, bowlers and bobby helmets for the gents. (Subtle political statement, and have you ever noticed that deerstalkers just look better on women? They have so much more fashion versatility.) Some magnifying lenses. A duck in a deerstalker for team mascot. (His name is Thirsty. It says so on his canteen.)  Since I still have a few hours left, there will probably be some additions and fine-tuning.

Will the Sherlock theme propel this team of eight to greater mental powers for the night?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mrs. Agatha Barker?

Every now and then, I like to look in on a housemaid named Agatha.

She's a fascinating study. While some ponder overmuch on the supposed one original Canon love of Sherlock's life, Irene Adler, one must also look at Irene's opposite number, the one woman in those same stories who fell in love with Sherlock.

Agatha did what no other woman had ever done, get the promise of wedded bliss from Sherlock Holmes. True, he was pretending to be a plumber named Escott, who vanished about the time Agatha lost her job when her employer died. But in the spring of 1904, when Watson's write-up entered the public record, Agatha was most likely a part of that reading public. And she had to know who had really asked for her hand in marriage.

Was she happily married to Holmes's "hated rival" and raising a family by then? And those words . . . "hated rival" . . . where were those words also spoken by Holmes not so long before Watson wrote up the Milverton business?

"You had not met Barker, Watson. He is my hated rival upon the Surrey shore. . . . His methods are irregular, no doubt, like my own."

Think about it for a minute. One detective was courting Milverton's maid to get an inside like on the blackmailer's household. Is it so unlikely another of Charles Augustus Milverton's victims didn't hire their own detective to see what could be done?

We're pretty sure Holmes's interest in Agatha faded with the case, just as it did with other women like Violet Hunter, to Watson's disappointment. But Barker's, if he was indeed Holmes's ongoing "hated rival?"

There's something about Agatha's story that always makes us to want to find a happy ending for her. Even when BBC Sherlock turned her into Janine, she got the Sussex cottage, complete with beehives, as recompense for Holmes's deception . . . his own retirement home, symbolically handed over as settlement. In the original Canon, could Agatha have been more of a Molly, and just found herself a replacement Sherlock, with a more permanent outcome?

It's a possibility. And possibilities are something Agatha was full of. No other woman ever made Sherlock Holmes exclaim, "Good heavens!" at her verbal charms, you know.

Monday, January 15, 2018

So many Watsons!

Hearing a tax commercial today that mentioned IBM's Watson question answering computer system this morning, I had to check to see just which Watson it was named after. Unlike "Sherlock," Watson is a little more common, and, indeed, this Watson was named after IBM's first CEO, Thomas J. Watson.

Apparently, in the upper echelons of IBM, John H. Watson is not the first man who comes to mind when the name "Watson" comes up. But, to be fair, if an IBM guy says "Tom Watson" to someone else, that person might think of golfer Tom Watson. And one golfer saying "Watson" to another golfer could find the second golfer thinking of Bubba Watson.

That Watson actress whose name begins with "E?" Could be Emily or Emma.

The famous fictional Watson with a cult following? Oh, yes, Mary Jane Watson, Spiderman's longest love interest.

And towns named after a Watson? At least a dozen. If you start in New York, you can wander a whole series of contiguous states that have a town named Watson. West Virginia to Ohio to Indiana to Illinois to Missouri, and once in Missouri, you can head North to Iowa and Minnesota, South to Arkansas, Southwest to Oklahoma  . . . only New York and Alabama don't connect to that chain, making you wonder what a Watson did to offend Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

It's interesting to note also that while there are a lot of well-known folks named Holmes, as with Watson, nobody seems to want to name their town "Holmes." Which seems right somehow, as Watson has always seemed a more comfortable fellow to live with than Holmes.

The "Watson" and "Holmes" that Sherlockians like best, of course. Their qualities don't really wind up in all those others of those surnames. But that doesn't mean we wouldn't still like to see Katie Holmes and Emily Watson attempt to solve a mystery or two . . . .

Reviewing a newspaper article -- SH NYC birthday 2018.

To be on the inside looking out at an outsider looking in . . . well, that's pretty much the experience of a Sherlockian reading a newspaper article covering any gathering of the faithful. This weekend's piece in The New York Times was an interesting example of the genre, as the reporter spoke to a number of key folks about the annual Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in NYC.

The most important facts of the story this time out, would seem to have been the ages of those involved, diligently recorded along with the quotes. 37, 79, 85, 71 . . . a few lucky souls like Burt Wolder escape having their ages specifically given away, but it's hard to miss the subtext: The young and female are moving into an old and male world. By the time a pair of Adventuresses get age-outed as 70, the article is nearly over, and still has a 34-year-old female in reserve before concluding.

All of the names mentioned were familiar ones, but until today I was always just going "older than me," "younger than me," and "waaaaaaay younger than me." (Which is, pretty much 221B Con.)

A lot of Sherlockiana's quirks get directly called out. It's kind of amusing how the reporter writes of the Baker Street Irregulars,  "Membership has long been shrouded in mystery," followed by the line, "Mr. Whelan, a retired executive from Indianapolis who has held the post for 21 yeas, called the decision about selecting new members entirely his."  Mystery solved, without Sherlock Holmes-level intellect needing to be called in.

Overall, the article does a good job giving an overview of the current New York Sherlockian scene, though a Sherlockian would prefer more on-the-ground reportage, something that we never get enough of. The unofficial breakfasts and lunches, the "hey, we're going to this bar, come along" organic meet-ups, the hot books getting picked up at The Mysterious Bookshop or the Saturday dealers room . . . all that free-flowing Sherlockian interaction is hard to capture, and those attending are usually far too busy to keep diaries of their little adventures (or the annual weight gain from all those meals, both organized and in between).

Hopefully, the Times article at least got the quotes right, which I hope has improved since recording devices became more prevalent, and reporters aren't dependent upon shorthand so much any more. In any case, I would be curious what a reader outside of our little bubble would come away with after reading the piece. From the inside, it was a lot of the familiar . . .  and ages.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sherlock Downey Junior

There are two overlarge images of Sherlock Holmes whose constant presence haunts my Sherlockian study. The first, which was created for a St. Louis weekend long ago, may be headed for Atlanta this year to live amongst the overlarge things that dwell down there. It's a Paget drawing, from the very first images of Sherlock Holmes ever seen by the world, and it is Sherlock Holmes to me. How could it not be?

The second overlarge image of Sherlock Holmes has "HOLMES" printed right across the center so I don't forget. It's a full-sized movie poster that I picked up in celebration of the first major motion picture featuring Sherlock Holmes in a very long time. And it's Sherlock is now generally thought of in America as one of the "big three" Sherlocks of our current generation.

But it's interesting to me that after all this time, and its constant presence for eight whole years, it's still a poster of Robert Downey Jr. to me. And I don't think it will ever really be Sherlock Holmes for me, like a photo of Benedict Cumberbatch or even . . . in a prophesied Anti-Sherlock sort of way . . . Jonny Lee Miller will continue to be. It's almost like somebody sent Robert Downey Jr. back to 1881 in a time machine, replaced Sherlock Holmes with RDJ, and brought Sherlock to the modern day, where he began living under the name "Benedict Cumberbatch."

Jude Law, curiously, is Dr. Watson to me. Law is an actor who, despite seeing him in dozens of movies, never solidified as a "Jude Law" character the way Downey has in my brain. Or maybe Law just actually looks more like Dr. Watson than RDJ does like Holmes. Robert Downey Jr. definitely has a more Lestrade-like build than Holmes's tall, bird-of-prey look.

While he'll always be known for playing Sherlock Holmes, I don't know that Robert Downey Jr. will be remembered as *a* Sherlock Holmes, like Rathbone or Cumberbatch, those fellows who personify Holmes in the consciousness of so many.

But maybe I'm completely wrong in that, and Downey has already imprinted his Sherlock on legions of younger Sherlockians, to be eventually celebrated as one of the greats. I'll be curious to find out -- let me know if you have any insights in that direction.

Welcome to Inadequacy Sherlockian-style!

One of the things I love about Sherlockians, with a few notable exceptions, is the lack of arrogance.

If you think about it, a certain humility comes naturally to the fan of Sherlock Holmes. No matter who we are, there was somebody who came before us at this point. No matter what we know, there's still so much more out there to find out. No matter what we've done, there's a thousand other things left to do.

The list of 221B Con panel topics came out this week, along with the online application form to get on one, and I've seen more than one con adept approaching the process feeling a bit daunted. And it makes sense, too. No matter how much expertise you have on any one topic, as you look at the list, you see the seeming hundreds you don't fit with. So by the time you get to that old friend of a topic, it's easy to feel a little "maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am . . . ."

And, on top of that, it's Big Sherlocking Weekend in the Big Apple, where mysteriously fabulous things are going on between those mysteriously fabulous people that seemingly all friends with every other Sherlockian. And some of them are getting a mysteriously fabulous honor for mysteriously fabulous reasons that surely everyone knows but us.

It's enough to make you go, "Dare I even call myself a Sherlockian?"

Okay, maybe not you. Maybe you're having a grand time somewhere this evening, or just watching Netflix before happily drifting off to sleep. But if you have even a whiff of those self-doubts, let me tell ya . . . .

Every year I go to 221B Con and sit in panel audiences in awe of the stuff being said by folks who never sat on a panel before. People who just love the topic they're talking about, and if it involves Sherlock Holmes in any way, they connect with other Sherlockians who often start to love some aspect of Sherlock that they didn't even think about before the con. What you love is what you learn most about, and when you start packing the favorite details in, some tasty new morsel is always there for another Sherlockian to enjoy.

So even if you really don't want to get out in front of an audience, it's fun to take a list like the 221B Con panel list, and just start making elimination passes at it. First run, shorten it to topics you at least know some little thing about. Second run, look at that short list a little harder, get to just the ones you care about enough to sit in the audience for. And then, on the third run, see what subjects you'd just enjoy talking about to another person for an hour. Chances are, there's somebody out there who would love to talk to you about that thing for an hour.

And that's what makes a Sherlockian, really. Everything else . . . the travels, the events, the ceremonial hoops . . . they're really all just there so we can talk to another Sherlockian for an hour or so. And if you've got that in you, well, you're just fine.

And, c'mon . . . you just read all the way to the end of this midnight ramble, which NO ONE would do if they weren't Sherlockian enough to tolerate this whole thing just to maybe . . . maybe . . . glean one more ounce of some potential Holmes insight.

So, go you. Me, I'm going to fall asleep now.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sherlock Holmes versus the Bat-man.

What we tend to forget, when we think about Sherlock Holmes dealing with other larger-than-life characters, is what Sherlock Holmes is actually about. Most of these encounters wind up like this:

"Hello, Count Dracula! I'm Sherlock Holmes and I am here to defeat you!"

But that's not what Sherlock Holmes does. As I've long proposed, in many a conversation with Sherlockian friends, a true Sherlock Holmes story would have Holmes solving Dracula. Not dealing with an actual vampire -- proving that this "Dracula" hokum was really just some smugglers putting fake fangs on an actor to cover their tracks.

And so it occurred to me the other day that the same thing would happen if Sherlock Holmes ever met the Batman. Not "Halloa, fellow detective, well met!" No.

Instead of The Hound of the Baskervilles, we would see The Bat-man of Gotham City.

The main problem is, in this case most of us known that the Roger Baskerville of this night stalker designed to scare the locals is a heir to a fortune named Bruce Wayne, so it isn't a mystery to us. But if you consider how Sherlock Holmes would first encounter it . . . it would be from the point of view of those who don't know what the hell is going on in Gotham. Probably some poor innocent that didn't know her father was a criminal, plagued by this cursed creature like the mothman of urban legends. A real John Openshaw sort of client.

Holmes would solve the mystery, of course, eventually confronting Wayne in his manor house, as Holmes was wont to do. And as with vigilante Leon Sterndale, he might let him off with some conditional warning. "Watson and I keep your secret, as long as you don't go too far," that sort of thing. I doubt Holmes would be pocketing a check from Wayne on his way out, as he did in the Holdernesse business, but a little souvenir in the mail the next day or so, a carved bat or something, might be appropirate.

In the end, however, Sherlock Holmes versus Batman is never a superhero fistfight. It's a detective versus a mystery, and that is the role both character fit to perfection.

Perhaps I should write one of these tales some November instead of just laying ideas out in a blog. But since Batman is caged intellectual property, it will have to be something else . . . owl-man . . . no, also taken. Nighthawk. Wraith. Catman. Fledermaus. All the good pseudo-Batmen have been pretty well taken by now. But be it hound or bat or dingo-yeti-of-the-outback, Sherlock Holmes will be up to the occasion.

Superman, however, is another matter entirely. But that's for another evening . . . .

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sherlock Holmes locking down his "cool" factor.

At first, it seemed like Benedict Cumberbatch was a fluke.

I mean, I started loving Sherlock Holmes at a fairly young age. But I wasn't a cool kid, and neither was Sherlock Holmes. He was the old guy on the old black-and-white Sunday afternoon movies. Yeah, he was pretty cool to me. But to the rest of the world? Sure didn't seem like he was a hip-and-happenin' sort of celeb to be a fan of.

It may be a little hard to admit, but back in the seventies and eighties Sherlockians were kind of like Trekkies who came decades too late to their chosen hobby. Most were older folks finally getting time to delve into something they always had loved. Sherlocking was definitely not the past-time of the cool kids. More of a nostalgia deal, without even the cache of steampunk. Oh, that Victorian era!

And then came the Cumberbatch revolution.

Benedict and Martin and clever scripts and young fans en masse. The coolness thermometer was starting to register levels we hadn't seen in . . . whole lifetimes. A fad? A blip? Given the rise in all of the former "nerd" culture tides, it was starting to seem like ol' Sherlock Holmes was going places he hadn't been since the original Strand Magazines.

But could he hang on to cool?

Enter Eurus Holmes, a shocking plunge into Sherlock-siblinghood, whose advent was noticeably blackened by it coming in at the seemingly-scheduled time for Johnlock's big moment. I am going to go out on a limb here and posit that Eurus, and all her plotlines, might have been better received had she been given a story removed from all the series baggage built up prior to her appearance.

Eurus, stepping back from it all a bit, is actually pretty cool.

And now we hear that Sherlock is getting a new sister, one without BBC Sherlock's series baggage, to be played by Stranger Things wunderkind Millie Bobby Brown, coolest character in one of the coolest TV series out of the near five hundred scripted shows made this year. Her name is going to be Enola Holmes, based on a young adult mystery series.

Not sure why Sherlock's sisters need "E" names . . . Elsie Patrick is suddenly looking better as a sibling than Violet Hunter . . . but if we get an Esther, an Electra, an Edwina, and an Eleanor in pastiche-land soon, we may have to dig deeper. But in any case, it's looking like Sherlock Holmes's current run of good fortune will continue.

And that's pretty cool, no matter what letter you put in front of it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A tonic for Depression?

For mysterious purposes outside of our usual Sherlockian ends, I've been spending a lot of time on 1932 of late. Two years before the first birthday celebration for Sherlock Holmes was convened in New York City, important Sherlockian things were still going on. Connections were being made. Research was being done. And it is a very hard time to wrap a modern mind around.

The Great Depression was in full effect after its 1929 start. Prohibition had yet to be repealed, as it would be at the end of 1933. The phrase "doesn't know where his next meal is coming from" had a practical meaning most of us are lucky to have never known.

Radio had only just settled in as a regular entertainment that could reach multiple homes at the same time, and a woman named Edith Meiser was responsible for spreading Sherlock Holmes to literate and non-literate homes alike with the first radio series of adaptations starting in 1930. The Complete Sherlock Holmes may have been brand new, but even if you couldn't afford it there were enough collections, reprints, pirate editions, and the like out there that you could probably acquire some Holmes to read somehow.

Between the publication of the last new Sherlock Holmes story by Conan Doyle in 1926 and the flag-planting of Sherlock's birthday on January 6, 1934, a critical mass for Sherlock Holmes was certainly building, and I can't help but think it had something to do with just how hard times had gotten in the early 1930s. Sherlock Holmes's continued popularity for the previous forty years certainly had a lot to do with it, comparing to the modern forty-year run of Star Wars. But we're definitely not in need of light-saber distractions as much as Depression-era folk could use what Sherlock Holmes brought to the armchair.

At least . . . well, lets not get into economic or political issues just now . . . but Sherlock Holmes was just spinning himself up to his full height as some of the toughest times our country has seen were going on, and he's still with us today, in more forms than ever.

221B Baker Street remains our happy place, and as we face the seasonal affect disorder that can come with this time of year, Sherlockians will be spinning Holmes up once more, both this weekend and starting to prepare for the Sherlockings of spring. Because after proving his worth in harder times than we've seen of late, Sherlock Holmes is up for it.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A successful Sherlock Holmes birthday party!

Well, count me shocked today. I don't know why.

We filled the room for Sherlock Holmes's birthday party at Peoria's North Branch Library, drank some tea, at some cake, and had a lovely time. Steve and Rusty Mason stopped in on their way from Texas to New York City for next week's Sherlock celebrations, at least one brand-new Sherlockian started his journey into things Sherlockian, and I got to ramble on in front of a room full of people about the subject I love best.

Seeing as we were celebrating Sherlock Holmes's birthday, I made that the subject of my ramble through the hundred and thirty years of our favorite 164-year-old's public life all of his birthdays.

January 6, 1954, the one we were celebrating.

June 17, 1954, the one that got argued as a replacement, and didn't quite break through.

November 21, 1887, his birthday in print.

March 8, 1886, his birthday as ink handwritten on paper.

December 15, 1893, his stage birthday.

Re-birthday, film birthday, talkie birthday, radio birthday, TV birthday, TV series birthday . . . . like Frosty the Snowman, Sherlock Holmes always shows up for another birthday. I was even informed of an important one I missed -- his video game birthday!

Every time Sherlock Holmes has a birthday there is always a story behind it, so there were plenty of stories to tell about our hero as he has moved through time. No wonder the Sherlockian life has so many parties in it.

It was a really treat to get to talk with an audience who was pretty familiar with Sherlock and had the sort of questions and comments that entertain the guy in the front of the room as he's attempting to entertain them. Hopefully, we get some new recruits for our monthly short story discussion group from those in attendance -- there were definitely some good prospects in the crowd.

Sherlockian events in Peoria have always been a little hit-and-miss. Steve Mason was telling me our city was a lot bigger than he thought it would be, but we do still struggle to keep a Sherlockian society together a lot more than an Indianapolis or Minneapolis (maybe we should just change the name to "Peoriapolis").  But moments do come, and hopefully, will continue to come.

I'm very grateful to Deb Dukes of the North Branch Library for her efforts in organizing today's event, and also appreciative of all who came out.

Sherlock Holmes had a happy birthday in Peoria this year, and so did many a Sherlockian.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sherlock Holmes is born onto a British stage.

In pondering Sherlock Holmes's birthday this week, I went back and looked to what I'd read previously on Sherlock's theater birthday: a play named "Sherlock Holmes," not by William Gillette, but by a man named Charles Rogers, many years before Gillette got to it.

It is well remembered that Gillette asked Doyle's permission and got the response, "You can marry him, or murder him, or do what you like with him!" But Charles Rogers didn't ask for Doyle's permission, and just went ahead and did what he liked with both Sherlock and John.

Watson has been kidnapped by a maniacal killer, and John's wife Amy comes to Sherlock Holmes, who was once  in love with Amy and was rejected in favor of the good doctor. Amy and John have a daughter named Lily. Sherlock gets put in prison for murdering Watson at one point. (Spoiler: Watson isn't really dead.) The killer then goes after Amy Watson, as one review advised, "Nervous people should not go to see Sherlock Holmes."

With five acts of melodramatic cliff-hanging, Rogers's play might seem a bit cheesey if we were able to get our hands on a script (which I now dearly want to do), but the descriptions seem to make it look like something that could be adapted easily into a modern pot-boiler of a script for a movie. (Take one hard look at the Downey movies and tell me that they couldn't be easily retro-fitted for the melodrama stage of 1893.)

The play gets largely ignored in favor of Doyle's own attempts to bring Sherlock to the stage and Conan Doyle's, and probably also in part due to the copyright holders on Sherlock wanting nothing to do with it once Holmes was alive again post-Reichenbach, but at this point, I'd think it would definitely be of interest, and maybe a lot of fun.

And it gives us one more birthday to celebrate for Sherlock Holmes: December 15, 1893 . . . the day he might have been born to a theater stage for the first time.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The great birthday debates of the 1950s.

Was Sherlock Holmes born on January 6 or June 17?

Sherlockians certainly have celebrated that birthday on enough January 6s to solidify the earlier date. But for a time, back in 1956 and 1957, that question was being debated in the typewritten pages of The Baker Street Journal.

Russel McLauchlin, Rolfe Boswell, and Nathan Bengis all went hard at the argument, writing at a level of trivial evidence that only madmen . . . or those enjoying a little recreational insanity . . . would descend toward. Astrology, gemology, minor comments made large -- the three men made their cases with a fervor that isn't always pleasant to read, not because of the emotional intensity, but just because they're playing the game at its most arcane level. Demons have surely been raised with less obscure chanting.

At the end of it all, in the October 1957 issue of the Journal, Bengis seemed to get in the last word and was later seemingly declared the winner by Williams S. Baring-Gould in The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, a work that was certainly the Canonical Bible of choice for many of my generation of Sherlockians. I like to think it was settled then, as it meant the world was just that much more peaceful just before my own birthday,  but I remember a few of my friends who still want to go the June 17th route. (Maybe for the warmer weather for celebrating? There are places that are warm in January that one could go to.)

With two Twelfth Night quotes and an untasted hangover breakfast in The Valley of Fear as chief evidence for January 6,  I think that really, like Christmas, it's a birthday that is more tradition than actual historical fact. McLauchlin and Boswell were certainly iconoclasts when they pushed the June 17the date back in the 1950s, based on an emerald birthstone and a Sarasate concert. Their arguments were every bit the equal of Boswell's, but they were fighting an uphill battle and probably sure to lose no matter what they came up with.

Christopher Morley had set the date back in the 1930s, just as Emperor Constantine set another famous birthday back in the 300s, and tradition is a hard nut to crack.

Sherlock Holmes might have once cried, "Data! Data! Data! I can't make bricks without clay!" but when it comes to birthdays, I definitely don't think we're so picky. Just pick a day, start celebrating on that day, and eventually it will stick.

Unless, of course, someone wants to take up that debate again, as happened sixty years ago.

(Meanwhile, celebrating Sherlock's birthday in Peoria between 3 and 5 PM at Peoria's North Branch Library this Saturday. Too late to change it now!)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Friday's child gets Saturday parties this year.

Once upon a time, there was some debate over the date of Sherlock Holmes's birth. Six or seven potential years for that event have been argued, as well as a couple of different months. But at this point, unless one is truly obstinate, which I can respect, it's easiest just to accept January 6, 1854. The untasted breakfast in The Valley of Fear, the favoring of Twelfth Night quotes . . . not conclusive evidence, but the best we've seen.

So, January 6, 1854. A Friday. "Friday's child is loving and giving," as the old rhyme goes, and like reading a daily horoscope, we can certainly make that line fit our needs. Sherlock Holmes gave a lot, to his clients and the world, and his love for Watson cannot be denied, in whatever form you'd like that love to take.

This year, however, we're celebrating his birthday on a Saturday. Here in Peoria, we're breaking out the tea and cake from 3 to 5 in the afternoon at the North Branch Library, I'll be doing a talk, we'll have some little quizzes, some displays, and just a general celebration -- and we can't be the only ones taking advantage of January 6th falling on a Saturday this year.

While it's interesting we have come to accept William S. Baring-Gould's choice of birthdays, which he used in his classic biography of Holmes, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, I have yet to run into anyone who accepts the death date that Baring-Gould put forth in that same biography: January 6, 1957. Personally, I have a certain love-hate relationship with that thought, since it has Sherlock Holmes dying the very year I was born. One loves to see things in one's birth year, but the thought of Sherlock Holmes almost being alive at the same time I was, but missing it by mere months? That's unthinkable!

Besides, Sherlock Holmes dying on the same day he was born is the biggest birthday buzzkill we could have. Not sure if Baring-Gould was just liking exact ages on people or was just lazy in his creative impulses with that one, but it's easy to ignore. Sherlock Holmes never died, he just vanished into the mists of time, after all.

But was he born of those same mists of time, strolling nearly-full grown into college, where we first hear of anything he did in life?

Well, only if he did it on January 6 of the appropriate year.

We have to have at least one date to have birthday parties for him, after all.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

We study in Sherlock.

It occurred to me this morning that I was acquainted with an unusual amount of doctors long before I worked in the medical field. And a lot of lawyers, though I rarely did things requiring same. And academics, long after I was out of school.

The commonality that I first hit one was that these were all fields that required study. We always think of Sherlockians as readers, but could it be that, beyond that, Sherlockians like to study?

Not the simple memorization that some test prep involves -- though I've see a lot of that when quiz time comes in some societies. But in the actual going-in-deep study of a subject. I suspect this aspect is why some parties object to the word "fan" being cavalierly applied to Sherlockians. We are definitely fans of Sherlock Holmes. To those who dive deepest, however, we are students of Sherlock Holmes.

I mean, I am a big fan of Star Wars. Saw the original film in theaters thirty-two times the year it came out. Saw all the other movies the day they came out, including the latest. I love the universe of Star Wars and love being in that world, at least for the length of a two hour movie. But I don't really care to learn more about Star Wars. What's in the movie is enough.

But when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, I don't just want to read fiction, watch movies or television, and get another hit of that media drug. I've always wanted to learn more about Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Victorian London . . . all the things that make up those stories. And that requires research and study. Almost immediately after becoming a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I became a student of the Great Detective. My entire college career included one subject I never got credit for, nor attended classes for. Sherlock Holmes.

In order to be a lifelong fan of anything, you can go down two paths, I suppose. With one, you just keep repeating an experience over and over and over. My fandom of the movie Xanadu is like that. Even though it gets a little worse with every viewing as the years go by, I still love all its silliness. The other path is to dig deep into the subject you're a fan of. Become an expert.

And, lordy, do I know a lot of Sherlockian experts, and I don't use that term lightly. I would wager that Sherlockiana has more real experts in it than any other fandom. Experts in Doyle, experts in Victorian culture, experts in certain actors . . . and every one of them became experts in their field just because they began with a love of Sherlock Holmes. A man who was certainly an expert himself.

When BBC Sherlock first exploded, we saw a few Sherlockians pooh-poohing the newbies because they weren't yet experts, and could certainly never be, based on a mere TV show. But, oh, how that quickly changed. The deep cavern that is Sherlock Holmes draws people into exploring, no matter where they come from. And an expert in Cumberbatch has no less merit than an expert in Gillette or Rathbone. There are fan fiction experts out there that hold more knowledge of Sherlock in that field than much of the Original Canon devotee population.

Sherlockians study in Sherlock Holmes. And even if they don't at first, we'll take 'em. Because they may get there eventually. Stay in the fandom long enough, and most of us do.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Starting the year with a pair of forty year old calendars.

Preparing for Sherlock Holmes's Peoria Birthday Party on Saturday, I came across the perfect thing to discover on a New Year's day: Calendars! Forty-year-old calendars!

Created a month before Peoria's first Sherlock Holmes society meeting in November of 1977, two yellowing poster boards, hand-printed by Mr. Robert C. Burr lay out the cases of Sherlock Holmes, year by year.

One lays out the events of Holmes and Watson's lives, with some interesting non-Canonical bits. "Watson in America" happens in 1884 and 1885, then Watson marries someone named Constance Adams in 1886. Not sure where those ideas came from at this point, though that name sounds familiar, and I'll have to do a little comparison to see which chronology Bob was using (guessing Baring-Gould Annotated, knowing the point my friend was in his Sherlockian career). 

The second poster board calendar drills down on Holmes's career and is a nice overview of when he met characters from the various stories (or when they first appeared, as in Mycroft's case).

In this day and age there is something quite charming about such pieces of hand-written Sherlockiana, and the fact that I didn't even know I had them added a nice surprise. (How did I not know? Trying cleaning out an entire Sherlockian house some day and see how quickly otherwise interesting pieces get "Where can I stack this?' moments.)

It was a great way to start 2018, and it'll be great fun to put them on display at the birthday party for Sherlock at Peoria's North Branch Library on Saturday. A lot to be discussed there, as we all know is true of the Canon itself. And given Vince Wright's thought of creating a society for Sherlock Holmes chronologists, finding these is a great omen for that Sherlockian specialty in the year ahead.

On with 2018!