Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Welcome to the Sherlockian world.

Who is it that welcomes us to the Sherlockian world?

We've got no official greeter. No "Welcome Wagon." No central society that wants that job . . . at least in America.

It really depends upon where you first land that you find a welcome that suits you. It's a lot like finding new friends . . . you never know when that chemistry is going to hit. There are those happy souls that will tell you the whole Sherlockian world is full of the best people, who will happily invite you into their midst with open arms. As a little discussion on my Twitter feed demonstrated again today, those open arms often have expectations.

Sometimes, those expectations are openly stated. A monthly library discussion group will announce that it's going to talk about a particular short story. A film night will publicize that a particular movie is going to be the focus. And unfortunately, there have always been groups that feel the need to restrict their membership . . . and yet want to proudly publicize their existence, and those restrictions they've chosen to impose, at which point the "open arms" require you to be a certain sort of person.

Being welcomed to the Sherlockian world simply means that someone was happy to see you. All the traditions of this club or that, all the fusses of this particular Sherlockian or that, can really mess that up for you sometimes. Let me tell you, even if you're in this hobby for decades, there are still going to be times when you feel like the Sherlockian world is not going to be happy to see you.

Because it isn't just groups that sometimes have expectations.

We enter any group setting carrying our expectations with us. I've known so many first-timers who walk into a local group feeling like they'll be a novice among experts, when, truth be told, half the people in said local scion haven't even read all the stories and just show up for the company. Even the Baker Street Irregulars of New York have had meetings in their past when people got invitations for non-Sherlockian friends who didn't care enough about Sherlock to shut up for the program. Imagine expecting the Sherlockian crème de la crème and walking into that mess.

Sometimes Sherlockian society welcomes us, and sometimes we don't welcome it.

Before the internet, you'd sometimes didn't find out who the assholes were until you met face-to-face and they inflicted their lack of grace upon you. And you hoped they weren't the one running the club meetings. Sherlockians, sad to say, are not always the best people. There's enough good ones that you could usually get past the awful ones, but now we've got some generational divides hitting us hard and a lot of random intel coming at us before we even meet people. Boomers who are sure things will always be as they were, post-millennials who grew up with fandom habits evolved from other media, people on every side of every spectrum, and as a result, some folks that might seem a lot worse than they really are just because we and they don't quite understand the other side.

Our Sherlockian world doesn't have any official greeters, which means we're all the unofficial greeters, if we're going to interact with others on the subject of Sherlock Holmes. Which is a good subject to have in your mind when you do greet someone, because Sherlock Holmes was, as a part of his detective being, interested in finding out just what other people were about, and what their story was. And there's no better place to start learning about someone knowing that they love Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson as a starting point.

Welcome to the Sherlockian world, if anyone hasn't greeted you yet. Some of us are still trying to figure out how that part works, if this little ramble on the subject hasn't betrayed that fact. Hope you can welcome us to your Sherlockian world as well.

The little worries

Some nights, you wake up with a worry or two. Little things, if you're lucky. Getting your word processing program to function again. The mental duress of the household feline. Little things.

And then your mind might wander to your hobby, as it tends to do, and you worry a little bit about the Sherlock world. Never Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, for despite the possibilities of drug issues or marital disharmony, moments of violence or ravages at the hands of sensational writers, they seem to do okay. But those who follow them, whether they call themselves "fans" or not, often have troubles as well. And you worry about them, in whatever far-off city they dwell.

One might blame social media for this, giving us glimpses into the lives of distant friends in ways we never had before, but distant friends sparked the occasional worry long before we had the internet. We're students of Sherlock Holmes, we tend to observe little details that betray bigger problems. And sometimes, those details aren't so little, seeming glaringly obvious, in fact. And, if you have a heart, they're the sort of details that make you worry.

There's a reason that the phrase "ignorance is bliss" has remained in use for so long. While there are things we can affect and need to be aware of, some others remain forever just beyond our reach, especially when dealing with other humans . . . the ones up close can be hard enough to navigate at times. Distance reduces our powers significantly. There was only so much even Sherlock Holmes could do with a letter or telegram.

So, in the wee small hours of the night, when the worries come creeping around, even good old Sherlockiana can add its fuel to the fire. But the fires of worry come with the warmth of caring, and who knows where a little caring might take you?

It's good to have a few cares, even when they come with worries, just to remind you of the things you need to do in the daylight. Which makes me wonder what Sherlock Holmes worried about in the night. And when I'm back to just wondering about that guy, I know I'm relaxing and it's time to get a little more sleep.

Hope all your night-thoughts lead you back Holmes as well.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Time for focus

So I'm waiting for my computer to finish some little chore that I've instructed it to do, and I'm staring at the wall to the left of the screen. The view looks , in part, like the picture above. And as I contemplate this odd assortment of Sherlock-related bits, each tying to some particular memory . . . except maybe the goat hooves . . . it reminds me of a thought I've been having a lot lately: The need for a cure for loss of Sherlockian focus.

Now, we can get into the over-used amateur diagnosis of "attention deficit disorder," but given the breadth of this hobby we call Sherlockiana, I think we can actually call loss of focus a natural occurrence in the pleasurable sphere we've chosen to spend our free time in. There is just so much that calls to your attentions.

Do I listen to a podcast? Do I read some fanfic? Do I watch a YouTube video? Or do I sit my posterior down and write on one of the three projects aside from this blog that I'm whittling away on. There are more ideas out there these days than any Sherlockian can process, even if you're just taking it in. Add output to the equation, and you're looking at darting from Sher-thing to Sher-thing, as fast as you can go. And sometimes, you have to stop and wash the dishes.

Winter is starting to pass here in the midwest. And as it does, Sherlockian events are going to start picking up. Events one needs to be a little bit ready for. In two short weeks, the fifth "Holmes, Doyle & Friends" takes place in Dayton. Less than two weeks, now, actually. Yikes.

So it comes time to start looking for the outcroppings of this mountain of Sherlock that one really wants to put one's hands on. The ones that might lead to someplace worth climbing toward. Time to focus on something and move forward.

And on into 2018 we go.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The puzzle that is "The Cardboard Box"

Last night's discussion of "The Cardboard Box" at the Peoria library was a lovely mini-vacation after a very tough workday for me, showing once again the value of Sherlock Holmes in one's life.

Any time I look at that particular tale, however, the greatest mystery isn't within the story, but outside it, as "The Cardboard Box" is a tale suppressed by its own author for decades. The reason Conan Doyle suppressed his own work has been given that the tale has an extra-marital affair. But since the collections we know as The Adventures and The Memoirs contain all sorts of other human behaviors, like pre-marital dalliances, previous spouses, and really abusive step-fathers, one has to wonder why wandering spouses where sex wasn't even involved was such a radioactive topic to Doyle.

Especially in a story that involves bashing people's heads in and cutting their ears off.

Reading "The Cardboard Box" this time, it really sunk in just how much Sherlock Holmes distances himself from this case just within his own investigation. In later tales, he'd make a point of luring murderous sailors to Baker Street itself, but here? He just hands Lestrade a card with all the answers and basically says, "Go get 'em, boy!" like the Scotland Yarder is a golden retriever.

Holmes and Watson don't even go down to the jail to hear the murderer's story, as they did on occasion, they just get a nice transcription delivered to Baker Street. For a gruesome murderous case, their main adventure is talking to one nice lady and knocking on the door of another, then not seeing her when they hear she's sick. When it's over, you really had to wonder who told the nice lady that the severed ear she was keeping out back was her own sister's ear.

Even at this remove, Holmes is still a bit devastated by the case: "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear?" (He leaves out the circle of loneliness, alcoholism, and manipulation which really drive the drama.) And that makes one wonder about Holmes's early intent of just sitting in Baker Street and consulting from afar . . . was he distancing himself for his own emotional health?

"The Cardboard Box" never gets the full attention it deserves as one of the original twenty-four stories, because Doyle moved it so far back in the Canon and many a reader sees it as a case near the end of Holmes's career, both in detection and as a literary character. Readers also aren't quite as fresh by the time they get to the stories of His Last Bow. Doyle actually altered the way we see the story by his desire to hold it back for decades.

Why was the temptation of a married man, who only just reaches out a hand in his moment of trouble, such a problem for Doyle? Or was it the wife lured away for boat rides with a sailor? The mystery of Conan Doyle's treatment of this one story grows with each year we get further from the Victorian era and his mindset of the time.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

From the estate of G. Lestrade

Part of the fine tuning of a Sherlockian mind is to sometimes look at the Canon of Sherlock Holmes from a historical perspective, rather than just as literature. Given, however, that so many of us fall into the collecting habit, there is another frame of reference that occasionally creeps in: that of the collector.

I realized this this morning as I was reading "The Cardboard Box" for tonight's gathering of the Peoria North Branch Library's Sherlock Holmes Story Society. (This particular reading was from the Memoirs edition of Les Klinger's Sherlock Holmes Reference Library, the more portable of his two annotated sets, and the more fan-centric of the two.)  The following line caught my eye:

"Holmes scribbled a few words upon the back of one of his visiting cards and threw it over to Lestrade."

While I have a few reproductions of Holmes's visiting cards that were given to me over the years, I am pretty sure I don't own an original. And I am doubly sure that I don't own that original.

Can you imagine, if at some point early in the last century, some fan of Watson's works had been of the good fortune and presence of mind to attend Inspector Lestrade's estate sale? Yes, yes, in such a world we would also have legacy items of Holmes and Watson themselves, but we would hope that Lestrade preserved a few souvenirs of his work with the famous Sherlock Holmes as well.

And that visiting card, that one particular visiting card, would be a wonderful thing.

How many other physical objects contain Sherlock Holmes's solution to a case, laid out before even Watson knew what the answer was? In Holmes's own handwriting?

That minute bit of manuscript makes this particular visiting card from "The Cardboard Box" the visiting card, the most sought-after of all its brethren for the collector. Should such a thing exist, its owner would be a proud Sherlockian indeed.

And that is something else I love about such imagined collectibles from Watson's records: No one has them. When it comes to those, the greatest of Sherlockian items, we are all on equal footing, regardless of our wealth or proximity to London. Perhaps I betray a jealous side in making that statement, but if you have been bit by the collector's bug at all and possess no envy upon occasion, either you are a true innocent or an absolute liar. A touch of avarice comes tied with collecting gene.

And it's that touch of avarice that makes one's figurative collecting mouth water sometimes when reading of an item like that calling card in "The Cardboard Box." Such a perfect, yet untouchable collectible is the sort of dream of which we can't help but dream of acquiring.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Sherlock Holmes test

"Now we have the Sherlock Holmes test,and there will no longer be any difficulty."
-- Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

When considering adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlockians will always have their personal preferences. Those little warm spots in our hearts for our first Sherlock do, if we're lucky, stay with us a lifetime, regardless of what the opinions of other Sherlockians may be. And yet . . . we do love to rank our Sherlocks. We hold our worst Sherlocks as dear as our best Sherlocks, and it is as hard to let go of a truly laughable attempt at Holmes as a perfect rendition.

Given all that, should we have an criteria for an adequate Sherlock? A Sherlock Holmes test, if you will? Many is the Sherlockian of old who tried to formulate a "don't do this" list for future authors (who never read or cared about such lists). Story elements that have high market value (Mycroft, Moriarty, non-Canonical celebs) were pooh-poohed as it was suggested that writers attempt the impossible feat of emulating Conan Doyle, which is both dated and impractical a century later.

On the other side of things, slapping the name of "Sherlock Holmes" on the main character in a remake of the movie Die Hard will give you a Sherlock Holmes movie, but should we consider the resulting character a valid Sherlock Holmes among ourselves in the Sherlockian community?

Herein lies the core of what I believe is the one true test of a Sherlock Holmes, for Sherlockians.

If a Sherlockian who read only Conan Doyle and a Sherlockian who watched only BBC Sherlock meet, they still have a common base of knowledge for discussion. Mycroft, Irene Adler, Moriarty . . . even "Charles Augustus Magnussen? Oh, like Milverton!" are all in their common language, meaning basically the same thing. 221B Baker Street is still a cherished address. Sherlock may or may not have a drug problem in either. The Conan Doyle Sherlockian and the Gatiss/Moffat Sherlockian can have a lovely dinner conversation, as, in the end, they are speaking the same language.

It's a bit like speaking across Britsh/American language lines. You don't stop the conversation and go "COOKIE!! It's a COOKIE!! I do not accept that your biscuits are cookies, and beyond that I insist that Nestle's Toll House cookies made according to the exact recipe on the back of the package of chocolate chips are the only real cookie worthy of the name!" No, you let them say biscuit while you say cookie and you go on to debate what the best beverage to accompany said food is.

And like language, new variations on Sherlock will come to be accepted by the Sherlockian community over time, and the generations pass. The bigger the change, the more time we have to get it, to work its way down from the cool hipster Sherlockians to the steadfast conservatives, who may only give ground through attrition. But the basic shared concepts and characters will remain, no matter what Lestrade's first name is or Irene Adler's current gender identification.

And that is where the true Sherlock Holmes test will always lie, I suppose . . . not only in being close enough to the Sherlock in another's mind to share thoughts and feelings on the detective, but also being a Sherlock impactful enough that we want to communicate about him/her, good, bad, or . . . YIKES!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Watson between the sheets

It's not often that Dr. Watson describes a situation in which he finds himself that every one of us can relate to in an instant, feeling a rough approximation of what Watson felt, and knowing that seem little twinge of emotion that comes with it . . . exactly. Perhaps the best of these comes from The Man with the Twisted Lip and reads as follows:

"A large and comfortable double-bedded room had been placed at our disposal, and I was quickly between the sheets, for I was weary after my night of adventure."

Now, let us avoid those spinning-off-into-porn urges here and look at exactly what he's saying. Watson is weary from the stresses of walking into an opium den where murders happen and a long buggy ride out to the suburbs, all of which happened past his normal bed-time. It's late and he just wants to experience that simple joy of finding one's self between the bed-sheets with nothing else to do but let sleep take hold.

Is there any better moment?

For all we can go on about a perfectly-prepared meal, a lover's touch, a thrilling jump into unknown territory, none of that . . . NONE of that . . . compares to that blissful feeling of being in the sheets knowing that slumber is near. We tend to take it for granted until we are deprived of it. Few joys come so often as this one when all is well.

Imagining that moment, however, feeling it's familiar sensations on the skin in our memories, the immediate question becomes: "Hey! What was Watson wearing? He didn't pack his jammies to go to the opium den!"

While Mrs. St. Clair apologizes for being "wanting in arrangements," the room she provides for her two guests seems very nice. Would some nightshirts have been rustled up? As Watson agreeably gives her a "don't worry, I'm an old campaigner" line to let her off the hostess hook, she may not have gone to any such trouble, but then we are left with some choices.

a.) Watson gets between the sheets fully clothed, but takes off his shoes.

b.) Watson takes off shoes and trousers, tie and collar and any other paraphernalia, and gets between the sheet in shirt-tails and undies.

c.) Watson strips down to his Victorian skivvies to slide between the sheets.

d.) Watson . . . well, I shall politely hide my blog eyes for this one.

Other variations are possible of course, but what is the most probable? Personally, I feel the trousers had to come off. But, hey, it's the Victorian era and maybe he would have been concerned about having to get out of bed without them in a crisis.

Sherlock Holmes spends the night sitting on pillows wrapped in a dressing gown over his shirt and pants, and as he knew he would be spending the night, he may have packed a night-shirt along with that dressing gown and loaned that to Watson.

So many options! We should have Sherlockian micro-debates and have panels present quick points and counter-points over such issues! (And, yes, cutting through the whole thing and getting to sexy-time might be a crowd-pleaser, but restrain yourself.)

For now, however, I feel the call of the sheets myself, and am trying to determine the best way to pay tribute to Watson in that moment. Those details, of course, shall remain between me and my doctor (Watson).

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Olympic Sherlockians

There is something pure about the Olympics. Not because sport is a better area of endeavor than some others -- lord knows they have their scandals and issues and BULL-CRAP JUDGES!!! on occasion, like any workplace or organized human activity. But it has a certain purity that has been found in Sherlockiana as well.

You know a figure skater's name and country, and you watch them perform. That's all.

Sure, TV commentators try to shape a narrative, play up an underdog angle, play down some bad behavior, but for most folks watching the Olympics, all they will ever know of this person is a few minutes of what they do best.

There are a whole lot of Sherlockians I know in this same way, both living and dead.

Vincent Starrett, for instance, is a prime example. He wrote a great poem. He also wrote a book that I am a little less enamored with, but still good work. Those are his three minutes on the ice at the Winter Olympics, and for most, all they will ever know. Now, you can go "Oh, we should learn so much more about him!" but do we want to learn too much? I'm old enough to remember people who knew Starrett in his later years, and there were a few tales of the embarrassing behaviors that some elderly wind up having in their decline. History tends to clean those up, but they're still there to know.

For those Sherlockians who don't have the comfortable distance of history, we sometimes enjoy their work as pure Sherlockians, their three minutes on the ice, but have a hard time dealing with their snarky voices on Facebook or some other social media. My good friend Bob Burr was a fine and accomplished Sherlockian, and seen as that by most, until he got a little too in love with occasionally trolling the Hounds of the Internet, at which point he started seeming more annoyance than good Sherlockian to some.

It's far too easy too know too much these days, and not just Sherlockian endeavors have their accomplishment in a particular form ruined by the knowledge of their creator's true humanity. Love a movie and then find out the director was a woman-abusing creep. Have a favorite book and find out the writer was a bit of a Nazi. We know far more than we ever did about everyone and everything, and it's taking its toll.

But, that said, we are Sherlockians. We follow a man named Sherlock Holmes.

And above all else, Sherlock Holmes knew that looking at the facts over the personal qualities, screening the data for what was truly important and not just his emotional reactions, was a key to getting to the bottom of anything. He still recognized a villain when he saw one, and did feel actual horror at the crimes of men like Charles Augustus Milverton. But in minor, everyday dealings, he overlooked the little personalia of someone's politics, their religious views, their opinions on astronomy . . . and he looked at their performance. What tobacco ash they dropped, what footprints they left, all the pure imprints they left upon the world.

Emulating Sherlock Holmes, even now, can be a helpful point of reference in navigating the Sherlockian world. Because we certainly have our Olympians out there, getting in their three minutes on the ice every single day.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The heaviest Holmes-related bookset in the house

Wait long enough, and everything becomes unusual.

I realized this tonight, looking at the heaviest set of books in the house, a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1938. Why do I own a non-Victorian set of encyclopaedias?

Well, many's the Sherlockian  who knows that it's a later edition of the books that Jabez Wilson was asked to copy from in "The Red-Headed League." That edition -- possibly the ninth edition, if the schemers didn't just go cheap like I did and get some cast-off earlier edition -- is a true Canonical artifact.

But given that one of the proper vintage would be a little hard to find, when I found the 1938 at a bargain price at the local museum book sale, it seemed old enough. And what did I do, just as soon as I got it?

Started hand-copying the text, of course! And timing myself, to extrapolate just how long Jabez Wilson took to make it as far as he did. A simple, yet fun experiment in re-creating Canonical events, which many a Sherlockian has done. It never seemed like that odd a thing to have.

Until now, of course, when bound encyclopaedias have been replaced by electronic versions, and one thinks, "Oh, this is now rare and unusual!" But NO!

A simple search reveals that Britannica still sells a hardbound copy of their work . . . and it's a reproduction of the 1768 edition. Which makes you wonder: Will there ever be enough of a market for a Jabez Wilson reproduction edition?  At least the volume with the letter "A" in it, since we know Wilson made it no further than that. Probably not, it's sad to think.

So until then, I'll just have to content myself with old 1938. It's good for flattening something every now and then . . . and still, the occasional dated info look-up.

And the momentary thought of old Jabez Wilson.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Our first impression of Mr. Sherlock Holmes

An evergreen staple of Sherlockian essay is the "my first encounter with Sherlock Holmes" story.

Those stories often began with receiving a book as a gift from a beloved family member. Did the book have pictures? It doesn't get mentioned too often, but I would guess the larger share of the Canon in print are not illustrated. So that means that, once upon a time, how Sherlock Holmes looked the first time a person encountered him was a mix of Conan Doyle's description and the reader's imagination.

The first chapter of A Study in Scarlet gives us little in the way of physical description: One excited "student" in the lab at Bart's, whose eyes seem to glitter. His has a strong grip. He's a bit theatrical, bowing to an invisible crowd at his accomplishment. In chapter two, Watson gets down to business: "In height he was rather over six feet tall, and so excessively lean  that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing . . . his thin, hawk-like nose . . . His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination."

At this late point in the game, those words conjure almost a cartoon Holmes in my mind, as that thin, tall, all-nose-and-chin look has been favored by Holmes cartoonists for a very long time. And was there ever an actor who perfectly embodied them? Not Robert Downey Jr., to be sure. Rathbone had the face, but needed a Jeff Goldblum lankiness. And Benedict Cumberbath, while slim and tall enough, is not encumbered with that stereotypical Holmes nose. (Could he still have been a heart-throb with the big hawk nose? Hmm.)

The point of this digression is that Doyle's words are no longer the starting point for most people's first impression of Sherlock Holmes. And when I say "impression," I mean "the first Sherlock to make a dent." The first Sherlock Holmes who stands apart from the background noise that media deluges us in. Many people's first actual encounter with Sherlock Holmes might have been a car commercial or an add for gummy candy, but no one is going to remember that fleeting glimpse. Your first true encounter with Sherlock Holmes worth mentioning is alway going to be the one that sticks with you.

That Holmes we see in Doyle's original first chapters -- tall, young, energetic, and square-jawed -- could have been either a real looker or a real geek. There was a lot missing from those words that left certain details up to us. Coming to them after a solid diet of Downey, Cumberbatch, or Miller might conjure an entirely different fellow in that lab at St. Bart's than an Ichabod Crane sort, which they might also describe.

How are new media Holmes going to change our first impressions of the great detective? How have they already? One can't exist for centuries without some sort of personal evolution, and now that he's well into century two, first impressions of Sherlock Holmes will definitely be evolving as well.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A practice session in what I preached

Given free rein in whatever Sherlockian medium I'm writing for, I do occasionally get a little preachy and start extolling higher ideals of one sort or another. Given that I'm also not on my best behavior at all times in blogland, there's oftimes a wag who wants to bring up the past lesser angels of my nature in response, which is, I suppose, fair. So given that a recent blog was about being kind yet honest in standing on the public stage of the internet, it seemed only right that I test myself on those very principles on a controversial topic.

Since Elementary will be coming back later this spring and offer much opportunity on that subject then, it seemed appropriate to get back to the topic I've harped on since 1989: the membership process of the Baker Street Irregulars. How does one be kind, yet honest in dealing with a subject one feels more strongly about than anything else in Sherlockiana, when it has some very ardent fans out there? Let's see, shall we?

Checkpoint one: Should you even bring up the subject?

Once you've gone into controversial turf, some who disagree with you will suggest that you should either "shut the hell up" or be more mannered and discuss the issue directly with certain parties offline. In the case of B.S.I. membership practices, the latter suggestion is based on whether you consider it a private issue belonging to just that group or a public issue based on how it affects the Sherlockian community as a whole. I've always chosen the latter, so I'm okay with talking about it in public. As for those "Shut the hell up!" folks, knowing that they're coming is a good test of how strongly you feel about the subject. Worth taking a little dissent? Good, head for the next checkpoint.

Checkpoint two: What are the facts everyone agrees on?

Since, as mentioned in the last bit, you're heading into this commentary because you have strong feelings, step back for a moment and review the basic facts of the situation that have nothing to do with your feelings. And try very hard not to color those facts. So, as to the facts of the topic at hand: The current leader of the B.S.I. asks for recommendations from the members for invitations and new members every year. He then decides who gets invited and who gets to be a member. In over eighty years, five men have held that role. Is that last number dead on target? If not, it will surely be corrected, potentially with extreme prejudice, depending upon how the rest of this process goes.

Checkpoint three: How are you going to express the point you want to get across?

This is where one starts to be extra careful about the wording. This is where the sparks that light the fires get spun. Fires of inspired agreement or flames of antagonism. This is where the words matter most. If you feel like using the word "sucks" at any point, stop for a second to reconsider. It's way to general, far too easy and emotionally-based, and probably not going to help your cause. In this case, the point I'd like to put forth is that basing an iconic society's make-up on the choices of a single individual has all the flaws inherent in a single individual's judgment. In past iterations of this argument, I definitely wasn't so clinical is stating that, but like I said, this time we're walking through it, testing the steps.

Checkpoint four: What toes could this opinion step on?

Sometimes, you just don't know. It's a big world out there, with mindsets you had no idea existed. And by speaking out, you may get to find them. In this particular case, I've written on this issue enough times that I do know. There are both fans of the current B.S.I. administration and fans of past B.S.I. administrations who like things the way they are, citing that magical moment when one's name gets called during the listing of new members at the annual dinner, the very centerpiece of that dinner each year. Arthur C. Clarke once proposed that any tech so advanced that people didn't understand it seemed like magic, and there's a hazy coating of mystery we allow to surround member-picking to give it that magic. And once you get that moment, you get to feel like all of Sherlockian culture rose up to choose you for this new status, not just one guy, whom you may or may not have liked before that moment. For those who've been through the process, it's a bit like teaching your kids there's a Santa Claus when you know better -- you want them to experience that Santa Claus magic. Those are the toes I risk stepping on ever time I bring up this little issue: kids at Christmas toes. I am a monster.

Checkpoint five: What balances out the risk of stepping on those toes?

This is the part your heart has to know best, or else you wouldn't even have brought up this topic. My personal balance comes from having publicly disagreed with Irregular management back in the day when women weren't allowed. As a result, many a Sherlockian in New York and elsewhere felt free in expressing their opinions of how things were done around me. I heard every horror story of leader biases for years and saw the damage done on the other side of the equation. We've lost good Sherlockians who didn't fit the ideals of a single male leader. Once women started trickling into the membership there wasn't any single criteria to exempt a person anymore, but others, more personal choices, are definitely still there. If you were close to the guy in charge, your chances were always better to get in. I've even hear it argued that it's his dinner by those who think the oft-used "benevolent dictator" phrase is a good thing. And, if that's their case, then I'm tilting at windmills that look like dragons to me . . . to them. But there's always someone else out there who would like to hear something other than the party line on occasion, just to feel like they aren't alone in thinking things might be a little . . . flawed. Those folks are my balance. The kids that Santa screwed over at Christmas.

Checkpoint six: Was I honest? Was I kind?

Well, definitely honest, as I know the story. That's the tricky thing about being honest -- you only know what you know. The kindness comes in, I think, in restraining some of what you know.  You've probably seen the comic situation where a fellow gets whammied and can only speak the truth, and all of the troubles that follow when white lies are no longer an option. But kindness also comes by not just pointing out flaws, but pointing out fine points. The Baker Street Irregulars of New York have become a publishing juggernaut under the current administration. They've built an archive, they've held big-ticket events, they've pushed the limits of a one-dinner-a-year society far beyond what its founder once envisioned with a coordinated effort, as current leadership actively sought out members willing to devote time to those causes. But there's still room for improvement, I think. Like the opening up the membership/invitation process in a way that protects it from personal bias.

Now at this point, Old Keefauver the crank, who lives out on the remote moors of Peoria, isn't really someone folks who disagree pay much attention to, so I doubt I'll get much flak from this. But it's good to take in a little exercise now and then, and walk through an issue, even if some would say it's not even an issue.

Now I just have to figure out if I can safely write about Elementary again by the time it raises its oddly-late-in-the-season head.

A Sherlockian controversy from 1970s Peoria

Back in the 1970s, connecting with local Sherlockians meant one thing: If a scion society did not already exist in your town, you just had to start one. And along came newsletters to let people know about meetings, and if you were really ambitious, a journal.

For Peoria's group, the Hansoms of John Clayton, that meant an evolving tri-annual called Wheelwrightings, first edited by George Scheetz, then taken over by Bob Burr. And if your society was going to have a journal, that journal needed content. To fill the twenty pages of Wheelwrighting's first issue, the Hansoms came up with reviews, a poem, a pastiche re-envisioning the Reichenbach business, articles on Violets of the Canon, Sherlockian cinema . . . and one other thing: An article by Tom Simpson called "Make Mine a Double." The article basically looked at all of the continuity issues of the Canon and put them down to Watson being a hopeless drunk.

In the second issue of Wheelwrightings, Bob Burr retorted with an article entitled "In Defense of Dr. John H. Watson," in which he painstakingly went through the Canon and noted examples of John Watson as a serious professional. Burr also pointed out that Sherlock Holmes did a lot more drinking in the Canon than Watson ever did.

Simpson, however, did not wait until the journal's third issue. Immediately following Burr's detailed defense was a pastiche that took drunken Watson to a horrific new level.

Four pages of tiny type, as they were shrinking 8 1/2 x 11 typewritten sheets down to half that size, and the controversy was ridiculously finished. Burr went on to continue to specialize in food and drink in the Holmes Canon, eventually adding a couple of articles to Michael Kean's 1994 collection Sherlock Holmes Vintage and Spirited. Simpson moved on to other topics, remaining satisfied with just writing for Peoria's Sherlockian publications.

But that opening little controversy did help set the fun, contentious tone the Hansoms carried on for decades past those early days.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sherlockian public figures

Our fairly new ability to broadcast to the world is changing us a bit as Sherlockians, I think.

We've all become public figures.

Where once becoming a Sherlockian public figure meant getting a publisher or event-planner to like your words enough to get in the journal or on the program (or becoming a publisher or event-planner yourself),  now all you have to do is sit at a keyboard and start connecting with people.

At what number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends do you become a public figure?

Hard to say. In the snail mail era, most publications never topped over a circulation of two hundred, and our weekend conventions never left the lower hundreds level as well. Now, after tweeting for about six years, I've got over five hundred followers, and as Sherlockians on Twitter go, that's not a number worth bragging about. A lot of Sherlockians have broken the thousand mark and gone beyond.

So, once you become a Sherlockian public figure, which posting on social media makes you, like it or not, do you have to start restraining your opinions?

I ask this, not after a firestorm blow-up, but after just watching a little exchange between two definitely public figures of the Sherlockian world where one almost imperceptively boxed the ears of the other over what seemed to me a harmless expression of an honest reaction. Yes, I know we've come to be wary of "honest reactions" any more, but this was no trollish jab or even rage against a particular fiction. Just a small, curious, "not as excited as I used to be" comment.

It made me a bit sad to see a legitimate question get shut down, because it wasn't just an "I don't like this" but an opening to talk about a part of the Sherlockian experience that we don't normally talk about. And it went silent because of just the mere possibility that it might have implied a negative view of someone else's Sherlockian work.

Which brings up the question that will come to haunt anyone on social media who has a heart:

Are we required only to praise everything produced by fellow Sherlockians who are below Steven Moffat level?  And even when going off on someone at the Moffat level (or the Rob Doherty level) should we still hold back because they still have fans who might really be bummed out (or come after you) if you strike a nerve?

On public forums, as public figure versions of ourselves, we need to be kind, we need to be thoughtful, but at the same time, we have to be honest. It's a tricky tightrope to walk, often requiring verbal skills that are beyond our reach. And as much as we carefully avoid stepping on toes, there are toes out there so already inflamed that a vibration on the floor three feet away will cause a reaction in their owner . . . and nobody expects that reaction.

So, do we go "Damn this political correctness!" and charge into public spaces like bull in a china shop (or more currently, a paid provocateur from an unfriendly faction)? Do we just go silent? Or maybe just write what we can in these public spaces, and then try to get out and talk to some other Sherlockians one-on-one and try out some opinions in situations where you understand exactly who you're dealing with and can't help but know them as a person? And keep trying to figure out which tactic to use with which opinions, and what to follow up with when it all goes south.

Life, be it Sherlockian life or just the struggle to survive, has never been easy on an ongoing basis. You get good moments, sure, but the rest, ya gotta work at, every damn day. And once you realize that we've all become public figures out here on the web, that's just one more hungry wolf we have to deal with that, thankfully, isn't actually as bad as an actual hungry wolf.

(Please don't bring back hungry wolves. I like making it across the parking lot to my car without getting eaten.)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Mrs. Watson changes things entirely.

While I usually depend upon Sonia Featherstone for my Sherlock Holmes quotes on Twitter, it was the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota who dropped a stimulating little exchange online this morning: the conversation Holmes and Watson have as Sherlock invites John to flee Moriarty with him.

Re-reading that little scene this morning all by itself, it really brings out the importance of Mrs. Watson being away . . . and makes on wonder what would have happened if she had been home that night.

After Watson states that he is alone in the house, Holmes replies, "Then it makes it the easier for me to propose that you should come away with me for a week to the Continent."

This isn't the normal, "running off for a case for the day" thing Watson's wife is used to. This is leaving his wife for a week to accompany a man who knows killers are after him. This is "long vacation with a chance of death" -- not something most spouses go for in allowing their significant other to go out.

Mrs. Watson could have, and should have, said "no."

Which changes everything. Holmes tells Watson about Professor Moriarty that fateful night, and then . . . disappears, his fate unknown.

But "fate unknown" isn't "left a note explaining how he was going to die." Would Holmes have told Watson enough that night that the doctor would have though his friend was dead? Or would Watson remain solid in the belief that Holmes somehow survived his disappearance, was still on the run, and might one day return?

Watson wasn't really needed for this particular case. He's no bodyguard, and not aiding in undoing Moriarty in the slightest. In a way, it's just his unknowing "good-bye tour" with Holmes. But Mrs. Watson wouldn't know that.

Would Mrs. Watson saying "no" that night actually have been a kinder fate for John H. Watson?

Still a happy reunion can be had when Sherlock Holmes returns, but we don't get "The Final Problem," as Watson has no tale to tell there. Do we get the rest of the Adventures and Memoirs from a Watson who is just waiting for the return of his friend and not memorializing him? The short stories didn't start until after Holmes's hiatus began. Maybe now those don't start until Watson starts giving up hope . . . and what if he didn't?

A Mrs. Watson who was home the night "The Final Problem" begins could have changed the entire Canon as we know it. It's an alternate universe that might even make for an interesting novel premise one day. (Though writing novels about Holmes without Holmes takes more skill than most of us can pull off.) It's a different world of Sherlock Holmes when Mrs. Watson's presence is truly felt, which makes me then wonder about her existence to begin with.

That, however, is a topic for another day.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Nobody hates bland pastiche

After the latest little round of "hate" versus "why you gotta hate" on Sherlockian social media, it struck me that the biggest thing BBC Sherlock ever did to contribute to the hatred was just getting popular. So popular that even people that would never like such a thing noticed. So popular that it had devoted fans with expectations. Do we ever see such venom targeting a little show called Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century? It went a lot further off the rails than BBC Sherlock ever did. But no.

Because some people just don't watch cartoons. Or we have different expectations of cartoons. Or maybe less people simply cared to comment because it never rose about a certain level.

That thought reminded my of the legions and legions of simply dull, actually-published novels of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson out there. The books you never make it past a few chapters on. The books you dutifully read all of, but forgot the minute you put them down. The books too generic looking to even pick up.

We've had those for decades, and only a few rise to the level of having haters. Take Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds, for example. As an early mash-up of Doyle and H.G. Wells, it attracts attention and gathers a few haters. Since I read it in my omnivorous early college years, I loved it, as well as things like Hellbirds and The Holmes-Dracula File. (Though not The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by Peoria's own Philip Jose Farmer, and that has always made me a bit sad.) Most of those haven't remained in the public eye long enough to make hating on them noticeable after all these years, but every now and again, someone discovers Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds and takes another shot.

There were even books that were universally hated the year they came out, like Sherlock Holmes in Dallas, back in the days we were desperate for anything to read about Sherlock Holmes. With all the options available now, I'm sure only Dallas natives or Kennedy assassination fans attempt that one, so its dull retread of the details of a president's murder don't get the hate they once did.

Dull just doesn't get haters anymore. It used to inspire those who hated Sherlockian pastiche as a whole, I think. And you really have to be a book to get the full experience of dull in that marathon trudge through hundreds of pages. While a movie can seem dull in its two hour run, you can actually fall asleep during a movie. No pages to turn. But to read a book, you have to stay awake and keep experiencing it, even if you momentarily get into a two-page loop and keep re-reading the same dull two pages. And we've gotten enough Sherlockian video at this point, you don't have to read any Sherlock at all if you don't want to.

I'm not saying that people should hate bland pastiche here. Choosing hate is such a dark road to go down, as I learned with a certain show I try not to mention any more. One of my favorite Sherlockian causes of the last decade was when a goodly number of Sherlockians decided to love Asylum Films' Sherlock Holmes (a.k.a. Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs). They looked at flaws and saw fun, found enjoyment where one could easily have found disdain, and actually decided to love it and everything about it. That inside-the-cult fan cult didn't catch on with everyone, but it was one of the most joyous movements we have had of late, simply because people decided to find the things to love in what might have been otherwise decided to be unloveable.

Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs wasn't exactly bland, though. I don't know what we're ever going to do with bland, but there surely is a ton of it out there.

Monday, February 5, 2018

My own open letter to our main Moffat

Dear Steven,

A friend of mine from not too far away from here wrote you a little note yesterday, and even though I doubt you have time to follow every little internet bit, I wanted to pass on a few other thoughts from the land we call downstate Illinois, U.S.A.

First off, Jekyll. Thanks for that. It was the first time I decided to look up who the writer was on one of your projects, and, wow. That was one mind-blowing riff on Dr. Jekyll, and I loved it through and through. You had a great story and you told it. Wish there was more, but that's how we kill great ideas here sometimes, running them into the ground.

Secondly, Doctor Who. Thanks again. There were some real moments there, along that long road, and again, some real wows.

And, to the main point of this, Sherlock.

Thanks for everything.

I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan as long as I've been an adult, with a few glimmers before that, and after decades of following all sorts of iterations of the guy, things were, I will admit, getting a mite dull. You and Mark pulled off a trick that I thought couldn't be pulled off. Did it with style, talent, and actually raised a bar that Conan Doyle set high in the Victorian era.

You didn't play it safe, play to expectations, or play it by the book . . . exactly the way Sherlock Holmes himself stood out from every other detective, official or unofficial, of his time. You thought long and hard about this creature we call Sherlock Holmes and extrapolated some very fun possibilities. And, as you probably know quite well by now, got some extreme reactions . . . which is always a sign you've pushed your art past the boundaries of what is and gone somewhere fresh. And we need people who do that, now more than ever.

I'm really looking forward to your take on Dracula, but do hope you and the boys get back to Sherlock one day. You've been a great team. And anyone who says "Stoooopppp! Dooonnn'tt!" . . . well, there's plenty of other things they can watch. Gnomes, NYC heroin addicts, old 1980s reruns. There's enough other Sherlock Holmes out there for those people. But those of us that love seeing the BBC Sherlock team out there, working magic? We would love to see you do some more.

One thing though: Start on the big screen for the next go-round if you can swing it. You've wound up with big screen actors, and I've seen episodes in a movie theater. They look good there. A full-on Sherlock movie at the right moment could make some major money.  And the haters?

Just remember Star Wars. Things got really nasty during that second trilogy. I was a complete fan-turned-hater for those Anakin stories. But more movies eventually came out, and I wasn't a hater any more. Good Star Wars was still good Star Wars. If you had folks in seasons, one and two, you can have them again . . . just by defying their latest set of expectations and being better than anything else out there, which Sherlock has always been. And . . . still . . . is.

In the meantime, get that Dracula thing in the works. After Jekyll and Sherlock, I have . . . dare I say that ominous phrase . . . high expectations.

Most sincerely, and appreciatively,

John Watson's kryptonite?

What one factor could you throw into any universe where Sherlock Holmes exists and completely destroy the Canon?

Is it some different sort of Moriarty? Giving Holmes brain damage early on? Making the rents on Baker Street too high?

Nope. The one thing that would kill the Canon more than any other is simply giving John H. Watson a television.

"The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody," Watson writes in A Study in Scarlet, "when I confess how much this man stimulated my curiosity, and how often I endeavored to break through the reticence which he showed on all that concerned himself. Before pronouncing judgement, however, be it remembered, how objectless was my life, and how little there was to engage my attention."

Okay, I guess I'm talking about hetero Watson here. Gay Watson doesn't need an excuse to fall in love with his room-mate. Hetero Watson, however, is only paying so much attention to Sherlock Holmes because he doesn't have a television, or an internet connection with YouTube and Netflix.

It's hard for us, at this point, to imagine the Victorian condition of lying about one's apartment with absolutely nothing to distract one's self, except wondering what the room-mate is doing. Had Watson been binging on Gray's Anatomy or The Bachelor, the comings and goings of his room-mate would not have attracted his attention nearly as much, and the poor health which limited him from venturing out in A Study in Scarlet would have handed him over to demon television in an instant.

It's interesting that even our modern Watsons on BBC and CBS don't spend any time indulging in the medium they owe their existence to. Both are healthier than Victorian Watson, yet neither seems to bother with Big Bang Theory, a sitcom that would definitely have them writing their weird new room-mate off as "a crime nerd" and ignoring his unusual free-lance job. (Unless they were in America, in which case, Watson might be mainly pestering Holmes on how he was going to get health insurance with random consulting fees as an income.)

Given his medical issues, Watson still made it back from the war without any pain-killer addictions or obvious alcoholism, so maybe he was the sort of person whom television would never have been a temptation. But if he had gotten hooked on "his shows" upon his return from Afghanistan? The Sherlockian Canon as we know it would never have come to be.

And that probably says something about where so many of us are today, he wrote as he went back to finish watching The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix. (Well played, Netflix. Well played.)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The time 221B Baker Street suddenly appeared

It's been thirty years since one of the strangest moments in my Sherlockian life.

In February of 1988, my first book, The Elementary Methods of Sherlock Holmes, was fresh off the presses and a local bookstore called "Mainly Books" was holding a little release party in the town where I lived at the time, Morton, Illinois. Morton had about 15,000 people in it, being basically thought of as a "bedroom community" suburb of Peoria. The town's sole attempt at a bookstore didn't last more than a few years, so I was lucky my book came out when it did.

As you can imagine,  a book release party for a book on Sherlock Holmes in a town that small brought mostly family and friends in. Among the familiar faces, however, was a lanky blond guy with drummer's forearms named Greg, whom I had never met before. Greg lived in Morton as well, probably less than a mile away, in an apartment over a hardware store. He was very interested in Sherlock Holmes and invited me to come see his collection, as Sherlockians do.

His collection, however, wasn't a library full of books, but objects.

Greg had been putting together his own 221B Baker Street sitting room in the heart of this little midwestern town I called home. It was almost like all the Sherlockian mental energy I had expended putting together my book had leaked across town and created a new Sherlockian who was not a part of the Sherlock Holmes community at large. Greg didn't belong to any of the nearby Sherlock Holmes societies, didn't subscribe to any journals, didn't correspond with any other Sherlockians. He was just a guy who loved Sherlock Holmes, enjoyed smoking a pipe, and had determined to surround himself with Holmes's possessions to smoke his pipe amidst.

The 1980s were the pre-eBay years of booming antique malls, so shopping for Victorian-era artifacts was something you could just do, and that's what Greg had done. More impressive was his work at shooting "a patriotic V.R." in the wall, especially since he was renting an apartment and couldn't go crazy on the wall itself. He owned a few guns from the era and made the attempt on various materials. Thanks to him, I later got the chance to shoot an "Eley's number 2" as Watson called it.

Somewhere in the bowels of the Sherlock Peoria H.Q., I have photos of Greg's sitting room, but initial attempts to dig through the warehouse down there and find said photos have failed. Perhaps one day they will surface and I can post them here. As for the sitting room itself, it moved to Colorado, Greg changed his name (not knowing that "Greg" would eventually become very Sherlockian with BBC Sherlock), and dispersed his treasures during one of life's big change-periods. Nothing lasts forever.

But for one amazing, magical moment, 221B Baker Street suddenly appeared in the middle of Illinois. Without warning, and . . . as I was a bit flush with "new author" self-involvement . . . surely not as well appreciated as it should have been. Greg is back in the area again, under a different name, and we still have some great Saturday lunch conversations now and then. You just never know how Mr. Sherlock Holmes is going to surprise you, though, just as he did John Watson, time after time.

Even in places you least expect it.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Sherlockian scholars

One of the reasons that I think the Sherlockian world has the occasional issue with the term "fan" is that we have long seen ourselves as "scholars," even when that term is applied with tongue in cheek.

Definitions for the word "scholar" vary, but there is one that applies most definitely to any Sherlockian who has put in the time: someone who has done much study in a particular field. While you become a fan the moment you fall in love with something, becoming a scholar happens when you follow that love long enough to gain a modicum of expertise in what you love.

And Sherlockians come in both forms.

Being called a Sherlockian scholar, however, is not nearly as simple as it was back in the 1930s. When our movement first began, Sherlockian scholars were just those who studied the sixty stories by Conan Doyle (or John H. Watson) and knew the contents of those oh-so-historical records well. Becoming a scholar of Sherlock Holmes, in that respect, is kind of easy. Once we got The Complete Sherlock Holmes, it was just one book that you had to read and study to become an expert.

But as time went on, and Conan Doyle went from "eccentric modern day writer" to "author of historic importance," we started seeing Sherlockians who were scholars of a more serious subject: actual biography and literary history. As the legend of Sherlock Holmes spread to other mediums, we started to see film historians in our midst, and as time moves further along, we're starting to see those who make fandom itself an area for scholarship.

Serious scholars, man.

Us silly midwestern kids who just read the one book over and over again have a harder time imagining ourselves "scholars" when a Mattias Bostrom appears on the scene and kicks everyone's butts with a book like From Holmes to Sherlock. Heck, I can't even make the umlaut dots appear over the second "o" in "Bostrom." (Yes, I could google how to do it, but unlike Mattias, I am very lazy.)

But we've always had those folks with us. Chris Redmond has been doing the hard work, as well as being an actual academic, for as long as I can remember, with a father who had amazing scholar cred as well for his work on textual variations. Some people really work hard in the world of Sherlock Holmes.

And some of us, even though we may push through for the occasional appearance of great learning, are just here for the parties. I just blogged about TV John Watson having a one-night stand with Superman, for goodness sake. Nobody does that for the furtherance of Sherlockian knowledge and culture. That's just having fun. And yet, all those silly parts of writing about Sherlock Holmes take a certain amount of research and expertise . . . scholarship, if you will.

Being a Sherlockian lends itself to being a scholar, whether you write fiction or non-fiction or don't write at all. There's so much out there to be learned that, with time, you have to learn something. And given long enough in this world, you learn a whole lot of something. You might even find yourself being called an expert in a local newspaper article, because in your particular town, you are a top expert in Sherlock Holmes. (Be careful calling yourself the top expert though -- Sherlockians you never heard of are all over the place. As a guy who suddenly discovered a re-creation of the 221B sitting room existed in the town of 15,000 where I had been Sherlocking for years, I can testify to that.)

Sherlockiana is an amazing world unto itself with so many avocations within it, words sometimes can't do it all justice. But we definitely have scholars, no matter how you care to define the word.