Saturday, March 31, 2018

Other words besides "continents"

The line is oh, so familiar . . .

"In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents, I have never looked upon a face which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature."

And ye olde boys of old, who must do as we boys do, chortle "Experience, heh, heh, heh . . . sexual experience."

Then, ignoring all the rest of that sentence, with the limited mental capacity of sexy-time doofusness we focus on the big word, "continents," ignoring the smaller word, "nations," as in "many," did not then stop to go, "Wait, the John H. Watson we saw in as loyal friend to Sherlock Holmes, that kind and just John H. Watson, was just hopping from bed to bed across many nations?!?" Seems a bit cavalier for our Watson, one would think!

And, with Watson as Casanova, we don't even get to the latter part of the statement. Taken alone, it stands as simply this:

"I have never looked upon a face which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature."

So we're to believe Watson goes from bragging about banging the babes of MANY nations and then just drops into a lower gear and talks about how none of those women were as refined and sensitive looking as Mary Morstan? That's a really huge tell for "madonna-whore complex," if we're actually reading it as being about a man who went from sex-sex-sex to true love in a single statement.

Taken at a more reasonable, not-so-horny view of the world, Watson had simply met women in many nations, nations in three continents. No big deal there, as we know he hit Europe, Asia, and either Australia or America, depending upon which theory you prefer. And if you give a good dose of saltpeter to that first part of the quote, the second part is rather interesting to analyze.

Why was Watson looking for a woman of "a refined and sensitive nature?" He wasn't entirely sure he had found it yet, which is why he speaks of its "promise." But he plainly has hopes that he is going to follow up on, to see if Mary Morstan is as refined and sensitive as she seems.

So why does he need her to be so refined and sensitive? Watson is not some posh noble needing all the social graces that "refinement" usually calls up. And a man who pals around with a murder investigator and is a medical doctor himself probably would not do well with a very sensitive wife.

No, Watson would only want "refined and sensitive" in a wife because he needed those traits to complement something in him. Sensitive to his special needs and refined in her attitudes to something in Watson's character. He needed a wife who would understand.

And in Victorian England, a wife who "will understand," could mean a couple of things. One, that his war wound, that mixed-up thing of shoulder or Achilles tendon, or both, had taken out his manhood as well, and that he couldn't produce children. Or, two, that it was not a wound that kept him from performing husbandly duties, but a lack of interest in said duties. And you can follow that thread where you will.

The fact that Watson asked Mary Morstan to marry him based on a "promise" that she didn't actually make, a potential that he just saw when he looked at her, could be the very real reason why we never hear the name "Mary" again in reference to his wife after that proposal was made and accepted. Perhaps Mary Morstan was not all that her looks promised she'd be. You can't judge a book by its cover-that-reads-like-it's-all-Sherlock-Holmes-and-then-is-half-anti-Mormon-propaganda . . . oh, wait, that was the other one.

We love Watson's Victorian prose, its elegance, its colour (spelled with a "u" of course), but, man, sometimes you wish he would just come out and say exactly what he means. (Or not, as that's where the fun is.)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Ready Player Sherlockian

Occasionally something comes along that, on the surface, has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes whatsoever and still evokes a feeling that is oh, so familiar to the Sherlockian mind. It could be that some of us are just so deeply immersed in Holmes that we see everything through Sherlock-colored glasses that we can't see anything outside of our love of the great detective. Or it could be there are actually some insights there. So today, I'll let you judge.

Stephen Spielberg's new movie Ready Player One is a complete and utter love letter to the 1980s, from a young male perspective. The plot involves a time when all of society seems to be as devoted to online virtual reality as the biggest World of Warcraft addict, with one little twist -- the online virtual reality that everyone loves? It's totally built on 1980s nostalgia.

It's not hard to imagine a similar fantasy about a 1920s America where the great game of Sherlockiana became a national past-time, and 1880s nostalgia ran rampant. Sure, the 1920s didn't have all the electronics needed for virtual reality, but they still had the printed word, and the printed word is where our virtual worlds have always been built before the tech caught up. (Personal case in point: my long out of print book, The Armchair Baskerville tour, where I drag the reader around the Dartmoor of the novel like it's a tourist attraction.)

In fact, I'd argue that John Kendrick Bangs's A House-Boat on the Styx from 1895 was very much a Ready Player One in ways, as Bangs gathered historical avatars together for comic fanfic. In Bangs's time, of course, he didn't have ordinary folk putting on the skins of the popular characters filling his novel, but the gathering of icons still comes from a similar urge. Comics writer Alan Moore and novelist Kim Newman have played the same game. Yet none of these folks focused so much nostalgia on a single period as Ernest Cline did in writing the book Ready Player One, which inspired the new movie.

The 1880s-1890s heyday of Sherlock Holmes was full of iconic images that residents of the 1920s loved. Hansom cabs, gaslamps, and the like, that triggered happy memories as much as the sight of Mario or a DeLorean does for soon-to-be residents of the 2020s. (Ready Player One is set in the 2040s, true, which in reality will be a time for 2000s nostalgia, rather than the 1980s love for a modern audience.) Tying it all to specfic years can get messy, but the guts of the matter are definitely about one thing: Nostalgia and looking backward.

Imaging a future full of comfort items from the past was a big part of where Sherlockiana originated for the original players of the game, and that is also where Ready Player One finds its heart and soul as well . . . at least from the point-of-view of at least one over-Sherlockianly-minded blogger.

If you get to the theaters this weekend, you can see what you think for yourself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Did someone declare open season for Sherlock hating?

Remember that popular, award-winning TV series called Sherlock? Had episodes played in movie theaters, its own conventions, all that? The biggest thing in Sherlock Holmes culture in decades?

Well, as when a dominant aging lion takes his first stumble, it seems the jackals are always waiting to pounce. With no new episodes in sight and a last season that wasn't well received by its fans, it seems a little like those who never much liked BBC Sherlock are starting to take this opportunity to raise their hater flags and declare they were right all along.

"Come to the dark side, we welcome you here," they seem to croon to the disaffected Sherlock fan. "Watch the Sherlock we've always liked best instead of the one who drew you in and then failed you."

To paraphrase one oft-mentioned sage of Sherlockian Twitter, it wasn't like other favorite Sherlocks didn't struggle with their later installments. Weird hairstyles. Over-padded plots stretched too far. And those were the good ones.

To read some comments of late, one would almost think BBC Sherlock was a failure in every way imaginable.

Yes . . . except that it wasn't.

Those trying to raise their personal flag by stepping atop the supposed corpse of Sherlock might just want to rethink that course. Yes, there were some wounds inflicted. Yes, some fans have gone to the dark side. But the love of Sherlock and its influences upon Sherlockian culture are far from over.

And some of us actually had a such a good time in parts that might have strayed too far from tea-and-doilies for a few. Mrs. Hudson driving an Aston Martin in a police chase? Makes me smile every time I think about it, especially with the contents of that trunk. Pirate Sherlock standing tall atop his seafaring vessel? Moriarty disembarking a helicopter to a Queen tune? That improbably, impossibly mad genius named Eurus? Oh, good, good, and oh, yes, she plays well with we truly mad Sherlockians. If you can't handle the heat, stay off Sherrinford island.

Mmmmmm, so tasty.

See? Sherlock is so good at points that I can't even stay mad at the haters. It's just been so much fun, and you can't have fun and hold on to actual anger. And how can you be mad at someone who is missing one of life's pleasures?

Like everything else of late, if you step back in time and go "Where were all the Rathbone haters?" the answer is simple: They had no internet. Their words were expressed at club meetings and occasional articles to journals that printed sixty copies. And we didn't have legions of YouTube channels of people whose actual career in entertainment is just bagging on stuff. It was hard to get validation when you really didn't like Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett. (Picturing a William Gillette hater frantically pecking out Morse code at a telegraph office is something Family Guy would have showed this week, if it was ultra-Sherlockian-savvy.)

Circles of life, and all that. The big lion is getting a bit old . . . but I suspect he still has some bite left in him, and may surprise us at some point down the road.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Lucky there's a Sherlock Holmes guy!

One of the great things about living in "the future," as we aged ones sometimes like to call the present, is not having to miss a particular TV show just because you didn't know it was on. For example, I just discovered this morning that Sherlock Gnomes wasn't the only animated adaptation of Sherlock this weekend. Fox's Family Guy went completely Holmes and Watson this week, and I was able to watch it this morning as soon as I heard about it.

More Canonical than Sherlock Gnomes? Maybe just a little. As with the real Canon, the first thing a Sherlockian chronologist notices is that the 1896 date doesn't jibe with Watson getting married or Professor Moriarty being dealt with, it seems more Robert Downey Jr. based than Doyle based.

And like every other episode of Family Guy, its comedy is mainly based on pop culture references. Sometimes it accidentally parodies the Canon, as when Watson's wife-to-be shows up. Her name is "Constance," which would fit an 1896 fiancee. And the main mystery "V is for Murder" involves a murderer who kills women whose names begin with "V," and as "Violet" is the stand-out female name of the Canon, it almost seems like somebody knew what they were doing with the script.

But then a prisoner says he's in jail because "I Rathboned somebody's Cumberbatch," and you're back to the true level of research that went into this romp.

Downey Steampunk? Check! Oh, wait, that robot is more Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs than Downey! You know, watching Family Guy with a brain that's Sherlockian enough can actually make it seem deeper parody than was actually intended.

Could really do without the gay chimney sweep jokes, though, that seem to have been written by a thirteen-year-old from 1985. Most of the jokes, however, seem based on the Victorian setting, like the commercial for "Room Temperature Gin."

As with every episode of Family Guy, they throw enough random stuff at you that you might get one good laugh. And while those devoted Sherlockians who managed to see both Sherlock Gnomes and "V for Murder" on Family Guy this weekend probably aren't going to give either high ratings, they do both show what Sherlock Holmes is to the non-Sherlockian public consciousness: An old-timey smart guy who chases Professor Moriarty all the time.

But, hey, it's blog material!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

When the merch gets weird

We've had a few articles this week on "the Sherlock Holmes tartan" as the PR department of its registrants push the thing into the Sherlockian zeitgeist. Publicity photos show a guy dressed in a deerstalker and Invernesse cape made of the pattern, which really makes about as much sense as Sherlock Gnomes when you think about it.

Because, in the first place, Sherlock Holmes was not Scottish.

Tartans are typically the material for making your kilt out of, not your deerstalker. And Sherlock Holmes was never a kilt guy. Ever. Was there even a pastiche where he wore a kilt?

And in the second place, even if a Scottish Sherlockian wanted to wear a kilt in his honor, this thing does not invoke Sherlock Holmes whatsoever. If you showed it to someone out of context, they'd take one look and go "Hey! He's dressed up for St. Patrick's Day!" It's just that green.

Scottish-Irish mixed messages aside, the tartan's main provenance is that it was designed by the step-great-great-grandaughter of Conan Doyle, who had no direct descendants as Chris Redmond quickly pointed out on Twitter.

And now the Conan Doyle Estate is pushing for actors in Sherlock Holmes movies to wear this green monstrosity. The timing of its release to come out at the same time as the movie Sherlock Gnomes is interesting as Sherlock Gnomes wears a primarily green outfit that isn't the tartan in question. (The danger of it being called "the Sherlock Gnomes tartan" would be very real, if tartans and gnomes had any shot of going viral this weekend.)

Given that tartan patterns have a fairly limited market, I would suggest that a more profitable venture might be a Sherlock Holmes camo pattern. Coming from the midwest, where every Walmart and Bass Pro Shop is overflowing with camo pattern clothes and merchandise, I'm pretty sure camo is a bigger money-maker than tartans.

And really, when you come down to it, it makes just as much sense.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sherlock Holmes's Other Sister

After a ridiculously deep snowfall and a power outage this morning, it seemed like a fine time to catch up on some reading. Top of the pile: The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer.

With Nancy Springer appearing at 221B Con this year and her main character, Enola Holmes, cast to be played by Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown, the first book in this series for younger readers seemed a must-read, so I contented myself to sit down and give the book that rare "one sitting, start-to-finish" read.

I was wondering at first if I was going to get into the book, as the start seemed a little more Jane Austen than Sherlock Holmes, but The Case of the Missing Marquess is an origin story, if ever there was one, and every hero's origin has to start somewhere in order to get somewhere else. And, boy, did Enola Holmes get somewhere else.

Enola Holmes is fourteen years old. In Victorian London.

And as Nancy Springer lays out the obstacles in Enola Holmes's way, I have to admit, I didn't have much in the way of expectations for poor Enola. Mycroft is a complete jerk, as he can be. Sherlock is a bit better, but still having Sherlock's blind spots. One starts to expect that Enola is going to be resigned to boarding-school mysteries with brotherly guest appearances.

And then Enola starts kicking ass. Not literally, like she's a kung fu master out of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but in experiencing a coming-of-age that has nothing to do with discovering boys. Enola takes responsibility for her own life, finds her own path, and becomes a separate-but-equal member of the Holmes family, fitting in her own niche as well as Sherlock and Mycroft do in theirs.

As someone who was a fan of crazy ol' Eurus Holmes as a new Holmes sibling in BBC Sherlock, I found I was just as pleased with Enola Holmes as an original Canon sibling. They're completely different characters, but just as it was a joy to first discover Sherlock Holmes had a brother who was actually smarter than him, it's a joy to discover these little sisters who are even more clever in their respective ways. And unlike with Eurus, I get to look forward to at least five more adventures with Enola.

We've seen a lot of Holmes spin-off characters over the years, but it seems like the ones we're getting lately are a lively bunch. Charlotte Holmes, Enola Holmes . . . can't wait to see who's next.

Doctor Watson's Daredevil cane

For a very simple movie, Sherlock Gnomes does have a detail or two worth discussing in regard to our larger Sherlock Holmes picture.

The example that fascinated me most in this very non-Canonical tale was Dr. Watson's cane. What could be so fascinating about a cane, you ask?

While on the surface, it's an indirect reference to his war wound, in Sherlock Gnomes it took exactly the opposite meaning: It was Watson's super-power.

The cane itself seemed modeled after the blind man's cane that Matthew Murdock used in many a Daredevil comic. The hook at the top detaches to string out a varying length of cable that Daredevil could use to swing about New York like Spiderman. And that is exactly how Watson uses it in Sherlock Gnomes.

This being a kids movie, the grappling-hook cane replaces the pistol as Watson's utility accessory. (Especially appropriate on the weekend of the "March for Our Lives" anti-gun protests, led by kids.) As Watson is modeled after the Nigel Bruce mode of Watson in Sherlock Gnomes, it's ironic that his grappling-hook cane seems almost more useful than anything Sherlock Gnomes brings to the table. Gnomes need a lot of height-compensating measures, and the cane is all about that.

The lack of balance in the Gnomes/Watson relationship is a key element in Sherlock Gnomes, and, despite whatever else one can say about the movie, does portray a very common point of view about the genius detective and tag-along doctor, especially after BBC Sherlock's emphasis on Holmes having social awkwardness issues. (Among the many little cookies in Sherlock Gnomes is a large air conditioner unit branded "Moffat & Gatiss" -- not sure how purposeful that symbolism was.) But Watson's cane gives him an importance in the partnership in this movie that foreshadows things to come.

Despite the reviews and myriad reasons to hate this cute little cartoon (Johnny Depp, will you please just retire!), there are some things to find interest and joy with Sherlock Gnomes. Still not suggesting that every Sherlockian needs to pay money for it, but if you have ten bucks to spare and ninety minutes to kill, there are worse movies out there to sit through. (Oh, yes, there definitely are worse.)

Friday, March 23, 2018

Sherlock Gnomes: Questions Answered!

Okay, the movie Sherlock Gnomes is out and Sherlockian minds want to know:

Is it any good?

Well, it's not a great movie. But it's pleasant enough, and moves at a nice pace.

What's the story, without spoilers, please?

Gnomeo and Juliet are having relationship issues upon moving to London, and their ensuing adventure with Sherlock Gnomes and Dr. Watson teaches them an important lesson.

Did the scriptwriter show any evidence that he read the actual Holmes Canon?


Are there Sherlockian things beside Sherlock and Watson?

Yes, references to things Sherlockian that most people know, used randomly. Moriarty, Irene, a Baskerville hound. 221B is the number of the grate on Doyle's Doll Shop where you enter Irene Adler's theater/home and the doorman is Gregson. Make any sense to you? If so, good for you!

How is there a Sherlock Gnomes?

Garden gnomes in the intro decide to adapt The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. They even have the book in front of them. But they don't appear to have used it. Mainly it seems they want to make movie adaptations like "Indiana Gnomes" and "Gnome Country For Old Men" (I think I just made that last one up, as I can't remember the others.) so it makes sense they only know what Sherlock stuff has been in movies.

Are there any other Sherlock Holmes actors voicing this thing?

Michael Caine. Given his particular Sherlock, it kinda fits.

Where there any Sherlockian references that got you excited?

They mentioned plane trees. I don't think it was purposefully Sherlockian, but I'm Canon-crazy enough that I went, "YAY! PLANE TREES!"

Did the preview reflect the movie accurately?

Yes and no. The soundtrack is Elton John oldies, both played from the originals and used as action music ("The Bitch is Back" was without words. Kiddie movie, you know.) But there was not nearly as much Mankini in the film as in the preview.

Should I go see this movie?

Did you see Gnomeo and Juliet? (I did.) Is your heart soft enough to go "Awww!" when characters admit their true feelings for each other in an animated film? I think you know whether or not you should go see this movie without me telling you.

Anything else?

If you do see it, explain Moriarty to me. This was the most odd and unrelatedly "What the hell?" Moriarty ever.  Oh, and Sherlock Gnomes uses his mind palace to do all his thinking or just to get out of conversations he doesn't like, and his mind palace is black and white cartoons, and . . . well, we'll save psychoanalyzing what goes on in there for when it comes to Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Are you done?

Yes, I'm done. I'm marking the checkbox for "Seen it, blogged about it, on with the weekend!"

Ah, the trivial Sherlockian argument!

How do you pronounce Lestrade?

How do you pronounce Irene?

Not looking for answers here, just giving examples of debate-starting trivial questions that I've seen Sherlockians pour way too much energy into. It's been a while since I've been on the listserv group the Hounds of the Internet, but once upon a time, they were famous for those sorts of debates. And don't think I'm putting myself on higher ground here, because I'm about to relate a new one I experienced last night.

As we talked about "The Yellow Face," at our local library discussion group, I posed the perennial question: "Why does Grant Munro's wife call him 'Jack?'"

Well, my faithful companion, the good Carter had an answer: His first name was John and "Grant Munro" was a compound surname like "Conan Doyle." And then we were off to the races. Phones came out. Googling occurred. Victorian politeness was invoked.

I stood firmly on the ground that his first name was "Grant" based on Holmes reading it off his hat and, in my opinion, using the man's full name. The good Carter gained support for her compound surname theory just because people like fancy Victorian stuff. (My reporting here is not going to be objective, of course.)

Wikipedia has a lovely entry called "Double-barrelled name" which invokes Watson's "double-barrelled tiger cub," but that proved inconclusive.

The Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia inexplicably has decided that the man's name is "John Grant Munro," which came up as evidence, and had me energetically rebutting, "The Conan Doyle Encyclopedia is wrong! That's not in the story!"

And even using Conan Doyle himself as evidence was not one hundred percent solid. While Doyle took the name "Conan Doyle" and his second wife took the name "Jean Conan Doyle," his knighthood was listed officially as "Doyle," and Wikipedia admits "technically his last name is simply Doyle." That seemed to gain me a little ground, even though it was discovered by my esteemed opposition.

Annotateds were present, and Sherlockians past did not seem to bring up the surname possibility with any vigor, but one would not have thought it given the energy of our discussion. As with pronunciations of Lestrade and Irene in the past, we were left with everyone taking home their own opinion on the matter. I momentarily wished I was still on the Hounds of the Internet list, to toss that bone out for them to chew on, but then again, having just been through a pretty deep discussion of such a fairly trivial matter, didn't miss it all that much.

In an age of great dramatic fan feuds, however, a nice little domesticated spat on something so small was actually a little comforting. Feel free to make your own case in the comments, but I won't be rejoining the Grant Munro battle for a while. (Sherlock Gnomes awaits!)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Celebrities versus characters

I love Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure you do, too. If you're going to the trouble of reading this obscure little blog, you must love love love Sherlock Holmes, as do I.

But Conan Doyle? That guy?

Well, Doyle worship has never been something I've gone in for. If his bios are readable, I might read them. I study up on him enough to give a talk to the general public as needed. But if I could pretty much ignore that guy, I would.

He was one of us. A human being who had moments of brilliance and moments of stupidity. He loved with all his heart and he got pissed off at minor irritations. He could be a helluva a good guy and a total asshole. Sherlock Holmes. Fairies.

I thought about Doyle this morning, seeing some fans unhappy with J.K. Rowling for not lining up with who they thought she should be. In the history of Sherlockiana, most of us have been blessed with a hazy view of Conan Doyle as a historical figure. He's not on Twitter. He's not being interviewed on television. His approval of William Gillette does not have us looking into Gillette's private life and personal failures as a human being. Doyle gets a pass we wouldn't be giving to a living author that created a fan phenomenon.

You can see a touch of distance in the writings of Sherlockians that were penned when Doyle was still alive. There may have been more than one reason for the fanciful game of pretending Watson wrote the stories and that Doyle, the wacky ghost-loving celebrity, was only his agent.

But Sherlock Holmes?

Everything we know about Sherlock Holmes is contained within one volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. We know his weak spots. Cocaine to combat boredom. That weird Steve Dixie moment. You can decide if you love Holmes based on a total package with no surprises. You're not going to go to a con and wander into the restroom after Sherlock just had a moment of digesting a fiesty fast food burrito. No dick pics are ever going to turn up from his courtship of the maid Agatha. Sherlock Holmes is the best kind of human for one simple reason: He's not human.

If we married every celebrity we had a mad crush on, we would get some hard life lessons very quickly. Learning their humanity through the public prints takes a little longer, but it comes around eventually. We'd like to think there are real people out there as magically delicious as Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter, but once we're grown-ups, we have to face the reality of other grown-ups who aren't as reliable as our favorite fictional characters. (Especially in the voting booth.)

I love Sherlock Holmes. For reasons.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Forget the opening, let's get to the sequels!

Eagerly awaiting sitting though Sherlock Gnomes on Fridays almost as much as I'm looking forward to discussing "Yellow Face" tomorrow night at the library, so it seems like a little Gnomesian experiment is needed to help get through the week. We don't know how Sherlock Gnomes is going to do at the box office, but it's predecessor, Gnomeo and Juliet, obviously made it to a sequel, so I guess there are hopes. But what would a sequel to Sherlock Gnomes be?

Sherlock Gnomes: Game of Grottos suggests itself immediately, following the Downey pattern.

Mr. Gnomes could follow the title character into his old age.

The Privet Life of Sherlock Holmes would be a slightly iconoclastic untold tale.

The Seven Persimmon Solution could use a seeded variety of the fruit to combine "Five Orange Pips" and jam addiction so Gnomes can meet Jerome Monroe Smucker.

The Great Moss Detective -- this one, ironically, live action.

The Garden of Fear really intrigues me, as like the Rathbone House of Fear, the six garden gnome Napoleons who live in the same garden are being smashed one by one in a "Ten Little Indians" scenario, which makes this movie more Canonical than the Rathbone, curiously enough.

Young Sherlock Gnomes, of course, if garden gnomes have childhoods.

The Spider Gnomen, The Gazing Ball of Death, Sherlock Gnomes in Washington, Dressed by Mankini . . . going further down the Rathbone road offers a large supply of titles.

I feel like the Travelocity gnome should be Sherlock Gnomes's Moriarty, which could add a lot of different locales to a movie. The Air-fare of the Vatican Cameos, for a more Canonical, less movie-based title?

Waterspout A Clue? Birdbath by Decree? The Crucifer of Mud?

Okay, the old racing engine is sputtering badly at this point. Any ideas of your own for Sherlock Gnomes movie sequels? The Hound is still out there! (And TV spin-offs, like Gnomementary or Sherlock . . . but I guess that last one stays the same, so we could look at the original as a retro-fitted spin-off, I guess.)

In any case, a lot of Sherlockians going Gnome for the weekend. Hope they all make it back!

The Joanlock Non-Conspiracy

As we near the return of CBS's Elementary, and a certain actor has helped revive disenchantment with what might be the final season of BBC Sherlock, we're due for a little more recruitment to the quietly-playing background bandwagon that is America's TV Holmes.

And I can't help but think of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

Is it possible for a male and female heterosexual leads in a compatible age range to endure season after season after season of network television without a romantic plotline rearing its ugly head?

It was almost like gravity among television writers of old. An inevitable, "what haven't we done?" move that comes in later seasons. Of course, most shows haven't run their course with an ongoing vow of non-lead-romance like Elementary has. Still, one has to wonder . . . gravity, and all.

And all the arguments that have been made for Sherlock's queerbaiting can be equally applied to Elementary's hetero-baiting. The series poised Mr. Elementary's ex-grilfriend Jamie and Joan as rivals. It played romantic potential for comedic effect. And then there was the unforgetable "can't be with little brother, so sleeping with the older brother" oddness.

Given that Elementary's latest season has been pushed to the weirdest starting date I've ever seen, at a time of year when the show's ratings normally fall off anyway, one can't help but wonder if this is the last gasp as the show makes it to a total number of episodes that can be syndicated. That being the case, it might end before the Joanlock romance stories finally kick in. And we live in a different age from the old traditional TV tropes, in both good and bad ways, so you never know.

Would anyone care if Elementary went Joanlock at the end, one way or the other? Would it make any more or less sense than some of the show's other plot directions?

We shall see.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Friend to the friendless

Looking to "The Yellow Face" for this Thursday nights discussion at the library's Sherlock Holmes Story Society, and realizing there's something important we don't usually look at in this case.

Grant Munro has no friends.

When asked if he came for the services of a consulting detective, Munro says, "Not only that. I want your opinion as a judicious man."

He tells Sherlock Holmes a long, long story about his relationship worries. Holmes gives a him the usual, "Get back to me with more info," and Grant Munro heads on his way. When they catch up to him, he's gathered the resolve to solve his little mystery the old-fashioned way: Just charging in and asking for answers.

A friend of mine was telling me recently another story he dislikes because Sherlock Holmes doesn't really do anything. And this is certainly another one. Sure, Holmes puts on a good show for Watson at the start, and theorizes a bit, but as far as Grant Munro is concerned?

Had Munro just gone down to the local pub for a few pints with his mates, drank enough liquid courage to do the same thing he eventually did, then had his drinking buddies take a stroll to the neighboring cottage with him . . . well, basically, you have the same story.

There aren't many cases in Watson's records where a couple of barflies could obtain the same result as Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson. But there are a few.

Grant Munro just needed some friends. And when you think about it, there were quite a few notable folk who came to Sherlock Holmes because they had no one else. The future Mrs. Watson, Mary Morstan, for one. In the absence of male relatives, she came to the detective and the doctor to accompany her on a questionable errand.

When Christopher Morley subtitled his collection of Holmes stories "A Textbook of Friendship," we tend to think he was just talking about Dr. Watson. But given what we see in Grant Munro, perhaps Sherlock Holmes was a friend to many more than just his room-mate. Maybe not the sort of friend most of us picture, but as a sort of last resort friend when no other is at hand.

And who else is available at those times but the guy who isn't out socializing already.

A guy like Sherlock Holmes.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sherlockian privilege

By now, most of you know that I am pretty much the stereotype of Ye Old Tyme Sherlockian: Straight, white, and male. Toward the end of the Boomer generation. Full of ideas and cultural references that are slightly out-dated but hard to shake. And privileged as f#&*.''

See, I can't even freely write without a little censorship, having done do much of my writing in a time when "You can't write 'frigging' because people know what that means!' was an actual editorial quote.

Anyway: One of those subjects that tends to divide us these days is "privilege," the concept that while many of us were created equal in body and mind, we definitely weren't created equal in opportunity or treatment by society. Privilege is a tough topic, because those who have it the most have to have enough humility to recognize the gifts that were handed to them by social station even while their accomplishments moved them forward. Me, I don't know if I'm that humble or just aware of my own laziness enough to see a few of the spots where my white maleness gave me a boost up.

Privilege in the Sherlockian world comes in a lot of flavors, and not all from where you would think. Besides the cultural ones that affect all people, there are a few stand-outs. There's a geographic privilege -- the ease of connection for Sherlockians in larger cities is pretty plain. Even just the ability to drive to a regular hang-out like Dayton is something. The silent undercurrent of family funding behind some active Sherlockian eccentrics becomes visible if you get around enough. And then there's that new brand of privilege we've seen in recent years: The thought that creators must work for what their loudest fans want.

Now, don't for a minute paint all fans of a certain Sherlock with this brush: I've seen enough privileged pretty young white girls trying to imposed their will on better new-school fans of their same gender to know that this isn't the case at all. Privilege is a sneaky bastard that creeps into all aspects of our lives, but is seen most in the most narcissistic. Find a class of humans that is typically all up into themselves, and there you will also find some of the worst of arrogant Sherlockians. But not all. Never all. Sherlockians in the main do tend to be decent folk, using our shared passions to connect, not dominate. But, oh, those few who want to dominate and herd fandom into the shape they think it should take -- soooo much privilege there.

But, at our core, we're fans of an upper middle class white male from a country that dominated the globe at the time he was created. Sherlock Holmes did not bootstrap his way up from the slums of London overcoming race or gender barriers. Nor did John H. Watson, who without his M.D. and ability to get a wound pension, could have been a street beggar making much less than Hugh Boone. We love what they did in their adventurous lives, but rarely consider what social circumstances allowed them those lives of taking risks beyond the challenges of just holding a life together.

So what do we do?

Listen. Watch. Be as aware as we can, without judgement. Or, to put it as a certain friend of ours would, "Observe without theorizing in advance of the facts." And then, do as that same friend of our did, be helpful, be understanding, and be kind. None of us has a time machine to re-write the injustices that got us all to this point, but we do have futures that will affect the lives of other Sherlockians. Futures that we can refuse to take past mistakes into, just because it was always done a certain way, or that we're still feeling the pain of old wounds.

Because in the end, all Sherlockians have that same privilege that John Watson so gratefully expressed on multiple occasions. Listen to how he put it:

"I consider it the greatest privilege to have been permitted to study your methods of working."

"My participation in some of his adventures was always a privilege which entailed discretion and reticence upon me."

And that favorite one, answered with "some emotion."

"You know that is is my greatest joy and privilege to help you."

You really have to love that man. And how he inspires Sherlockians as much as the guy whose first name is a part of what we call ourselves. He understood not only what his privilege was, but also the best thing to do with it: Use discretion where necessary, reticence where necessary, and to help.

There's a reason we call this thing our "Canon."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

And then there's one more thing to prepare for

Less that ten days, people. And I don't think we're prepared.

On Friday, March 23rd . . . Thursday, March 22nd, if you catch the first showing night . . . Sherlock Gnomes hits theaters. The biggest Sherlock Holmes movie experience since 2015's Mr. Holmes. And we're going to have opinions.

Do we re-watch The Great Mouse Detective to prepare? No, that would probably level-set a little too high for a movie with a farting character named "Mankini" who wears a thong/wrestling singlet thing to show off his butt. (And for the love of John H. Watson, don't google "mankini" now! You won't find the worst of the internet, but you sure won't find its best.) Watching Gnomeo and Juliet might serve you better in that respect.

Because if you watch the movie that came before Sherlock Gnomes . . . which was, as the name implies, based on SHAKESPEARE, for pity's sake . . . you might see what to expect of this one, which is based on Conan Doyle's works.


But here's the other part: Before you run to the theater, prepared to tear this thing to shreds in your review, as there will surely be ample evidence to prosecute such a case, one must stop and remember that someone is going to love this film. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But twenty years from now? You're going to run into that adult who developed a fondness for Sherlock Holmes at age five thanks to this movie.

Going troll on Sherlock Gnomes is a lay-up with a stepladder. For this thing to be un-mockable it would have to bring a level of movie game few American animated films have ever achieved. (Yes, yes, Pixar. But, we're talking the sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet here. I actually reviewed it online in the guise of "Sherlock Holmes IV, Consulting Movie Detective" back in 2011 at the same time as Just Go With It and I Am Number Four, and I don't remember any of those three movies.

So what if we all decide now that, like the Charge of the Light Brigade, we . . . oh, for the love of John H. Watson, don't ever listen to Alfred, Lord Tennyson reading that poem on Edison wax cylinder on the Wikipedia page -- it's terrifying! . . . were was I, besides being the most distracted blogger ever? Oh, yes, suggesting doomed campaigns . . . .

What if we ready ourselves to make lemonade out of lemons on this sucker? The preview plainly has Sherlock Gnomes and Watson in a boat chase vaguely reminiscent of The Sign of Four.  And that squirrel disguise Gnomes uses is like that one time Holmes disguised himself (you choose). And Watson is voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was Mordo to Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange, which wasn't quite his Watson (more like his eventual Moriarty, but not just yet).

There's the real challenge! Finding something to redeem all the Mankini jokes filling the preview.

Whatever approach you decide to take, you have just over a week to prepare yourself.

Prepare yourself.

Panel prep begins.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect.

After opening up the spring Sherlockian season with a day at the Dayton symposium, I was just settling in and finishing up my contribution to Chris Redmond's next essay collection when three e-mails came in.

It seems I got on the three 221B Con panels I applied for this year, the familiar "Arthur Continuity Doyle" which I was on last year, "Moriarty's Network," and "Sherlock and John aboard Serenity."

The e-mails are already flying between my fellow panelists, and I'm excited about digging in.

Doyle's continuity has always been a Sherlockian cornerstone, and a panel 221B Con has had for several years, so finding a few fresh continuity issues to add to the traditional problems like Watson's wives and wounds will be fun. An article I recently sent in for the next issue of The Watsonian will definitely come up.

Connecting Moriarty with all of the pre-1891 cases that he isn't specifically mentioned in will be some good Canonical fun as well, a panel that may have been inspired by the Granada series connecting "Red-Headed League" to Moriarty. Who knows how much of Holmes's work led him to sense that network was out there before he had a name to put on it?

And then there's the panel that attracted the most panelists of the three: "Sherlock and John aboard Serenity." This one spins directly out of a Twitter conversation where some of us were trying to decide which characters on the show Firefly would Sherlock and John be if they were in that world. Since one of my favorite mental games has always been deciding which of my co-workers were which character on Gilligan's Island or other shows, I'm well prepared for this "human metaphors" sort of thought experiment.

And having just finished the essay I mentioned earlier for Chris Redmond's upcoming "Sherlock Holmes is like . . ." collection, it seems like comparing Holmes to similar characters might be a genre of Sherlockiana that's growing with the massive amount of new characters we've seen coming into fiction's land in the past few decades. ("Sherlock is like Spock" is the first one I remember. Anyone remember any earlier ones?)

The road to 221B Con starts a long time before one gets into a car to head for the interstate or airport to go to Atlanta, and for me, it's definitely begun.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A day in Dayton.

It's been quite a few years since I poked my head in any of the more traditional Sherlockian venues. The all-day Saturday program of speakers with a Sherlockian weekend built around it is the sort of function I've enjoyed since John Bennett Shaw was putting them on, and the good Carter and I travelled to Illinois Benedictine College for just such an event in 1983.

Few have had runs as long as the one that gets called "the Dayton symposium," existing under different names with different program-runners, going back . . . decades. I didn't make the trip for the first incarnations, had the fun of finding my speaking comfort zone there during some of the middle years, then missed some transitional years as it found its way to "Holmes, Doyle, & Friends." This is the fifth year under that title, and I am happy to report that it's doing quite well.

While there might have been a sad moment of remembering those faces who weren't there, having moved out of state or from this mortal plane entirely, I was shocked at all of the familiar faces that were still there, almost like no time had passed. Adding to that timelessness was looking around the room and seeing over fifty people without phones in their hands. Not that I have an issue with the habits of our modern tech culture -- my own phone finds its way to my hand more than my partner would like sometimes -- but the day was so relaxed and engaging enough that I almost forgot that this was 2017 and the era of staying connected.

In fact, I forgot about my phone so much that I only took one picture, the coincidentally numbered "IMG-0221."

Don Curtis was the first speaker to use PowerPoint and I suddenly realized I had picked a horrible seat, even though it put me next to two very pleasant Sherlockians, Mel Hoffman and Pat Ward. (With Bob Cairo on the other side, lest you only think I'm going to mention Indianapolis area Sherlockians.)

As with any multi-topic Sherlockian program, subjects ranged from general Victorian/Anglophile areas of interest like  clubs or afternoon tea to the Canon-specific like Mary Morstan to those that mixed real world areas of study with Holmes himself. Here are some specific random notes:

• Excellent case for giving Mary Morstan-Watson her true prominence in the Canonical hierarchy by Ray Betzner, when most of us didn't realize how badly she was getting snubbed. (And why.)

• Two-thirds of the Sherlockians present seemed to have gone to London. Most were very interested in clubs.

• Having Jacquelynn Bost Morris talk about High Tea immediately before lunch is probably the best time to talk about High Tea. And "scone" is pronounced "skawn."

• More fans of Jeremy Brett at Dayton than Benedict Cumberbatch. But that autographed staring face picture of David Burke just wouldn't sell. And yet that stare.

• Cindy Brown came from Dallas and Fran Martin came from Vancouver. Definitely not just Indiana folks wandering across the state line.

• Mark Friedman, creator of the stage musical Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Crown Jewel, was the perfect after-lunch choice to keep us from napping.

• Comforted to know that neither my house-mate nor myself qualify as hoarders, despite occasional worries of same. Thanks, Monica!

• Sherlock Holmes's actual involvement in the Ripper murders was clearing his cousin. Thanks, Steve!

• Brent Morris knows how to explain a familiar Sherlock Holmes skillset like cryptography in a way that will make you think Holmes is even smarter than you already thought he was.

• There were a lot of parts of Victorian justice that Sherlock Holmes didn't have anything to do with, which Liese Sherwood-Fabre walked us through.

And now, an important correction to something that came up, and I totally told Steve Doyle a wrong thing on: It was not Sterling Holloway, the voice of Winnie the Pooh, who was possessed by Jack the Ripper on Star Trek. It was John Fiedler, the voice of Piglet. So close!

In any case, thanks to the Agra Treasurers for a great day, and I wish I could have stayed for the evening banquet, or been at the welcome reception the night before. I was really squeezing this one in this year after a long absence, but it was well worth the drive, and I'm definitely going to try to get back next year. (And have more money budgeted for the many great dealers!)

Small banquet, good. Small bookstore, well . . .

Due to some timing issues, this particular Sherlockian weekend, I had plan to miss the formal Saturday night banquet part of the agenda, with its usual toasts and dinner conversation with a program to follow. Instead I had to content myself with less-planned Friday night banquet with one other participant.

Being forced to "settle" for a less populated affair the night before might be something one could imagine as a hardship, but now, as I reflect upon this evening and so many others like it, it seems like the best dinners I've had with other Sherlockians haven't been at the typical round tables-for-eight, but at smaller, squarer tables.

At a big banquet, you often get to focus on one speaker with prepared words. At a small banquet, you sometimes get to focus on one speaker with unprepared words. Which one would I prefer?

Well, it might tell you something in that I'm writing in generalities rather than relaying the specifics of an evening at the brewpub featuring a meeting of the minds between fellow bloggers and chronologists Sherlock Peoria and Historical Sherlock. There was a lot of talk of what we've both got in the "things I want to do" queue, as well as comparing approaches to the fine art of Sherlockian chronology. Ideas for where things might go in the future, who else might even be interested in the field and what its place is amidst the Sherlockian whole. It was a very inspiring evening, and one whose parts and pieces you'll be seeing in the future, which is why I'm not going to spill either sets of beans here.

Our pre-dinner warm-up activity had been to do a little booking, and the first stop on that outing was a real test of one's will to shop. A local bookstore was having its going-out-of-business sale, and the small shop was mostly filled with a line of people waiting to check-out. After ten minutes of snaking over and around people, the air seemed to be holding less and less oxygen, and I started wondering just what I could find that I wanted bad enough to stand in that purgatory of a line. Vincent gave the signal for "Let's get out of here!" and I readily followed. Since the next bookstore was, unfortunately, closed, we started our chronology banquet early, and that was just fine.

Today we head to Dayton to hear a day-long series of speakers, the first time in a while I've gotten back to that format of Sherlocking, so another report will follow.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The calendar man

"You seem to be a walking calendar of crime."
-- Stamford, A Study in Scarlet

"Ah, it is not a part of your profession to carry about a portable Newgate Calendar in your memory."
-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs"

One quote from early in Holmes's career, one from near the end of his career. And yet, in between those book-end quote, how often does Sherlock Holmes use his expertise in criminal history?

"The Noble Bachelor" is perhaps the single example where we can be certain, as Holmes lays it out for Watson.

"But I have heard all that you have heard," Watson protests as his friend explains he's solved the case.

"Without, however, the knowledge of preexisting cases which serves me so well," Holmes replies, citing similar events in Aberdeen and Munich. In 1887, Holmes still prided himself in his expertise in the history of crime, as he did when advising Inspector MacDonald to spend months just reading criminal history in the early days of the Moriarty investigation.

For those of us trying to apply a calendar to the crimes that Sherlock Holmes himself was involved in, it's interesting that Sherlock Holmes wasn't just a crime historian, but the fact that crime kept on a calendar figured in so prominently in the way Stamford described him and the way Holmes described how he himself kept that knowledge.

The Newgate Calendar, of course, was not an actual calendar, but a best-selling five-volume set of books that could be found in many a home. And while Sherlock Holmes probably disagreed with the style of that set of books, being embellished, with details not always taken from solid sources, it was still the most common collection of criminal history to be found. Hopefully he wasn't referring to the Newgate Calendar as it was originally created -- as a monthly bulletin of executions.

A calendar of executions kept in the mind palace of Sherlock Holmes might make us wonder what really did happen to Captain Calhoun of "The Five Orange Pips" or Wilson Kemp of "The Greek Interpreter," villains thought to have escaped only for Watson to later hear they probably died of unnatural causes. How did Watson hear of those karmic death sentences? Was it news passed along from Holmes, framed as a "Oh, I heard that . . ." when it may have been a more certain bit of personal experience from his own "Newgate calendar?"

Depending upon your own virtues or vices, that thought could make tales like "Pips" and "Interpreter" much more satisfying, even if they do cast a darker light on Sherlock Holmes himself, as a man leading a La Femme Nikita double life. (Or is that a "Mary Morstan" double life since Sherlock?) Calendars never looked so grim as an assassin's hit list etched in the mental stone of a man who was known to do the work of judge and jury on occasion.

But, Sherlock Holmes was probably just an academic or hobbyist sort of criminal historian, right?


Well, of course . . .


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Troubled souls on the couch at 221B

One of the things that has held the Canon of Sherlock Holmes up through the test of time is how much one can draw from an isolated phrase. Doyle/Watson's words capture so much in a single sentence or two that the reader's imagination can practically use them as incantations to conjure portals into that other dimension and time where Sherlock Holmes lived.

Sonia Featherstone has long been particularly good at isolating a meaningful line, as she does regularly on Twitter. There are many Sherlockians who like to quote Holmes on social media, but her stream tends to find particular gems more than most.

This morning yielded that particularly lovely line from "The Yellow Face," a tale Peoria's discussion group will be taking up later this month. For all the untold tales that Watson gives us teasing glimpses of, the isle of Uffa, the worm unknown to science, the parsley in the butter, and the rest, this line seems to hold so much more.

"My friend and I have listened to a good many strange secrets in this room . . ."  Watson sounds more like he's describing a therapist's office than a detective agency. And when you consider the opening to cases like "The Copper Beeches," where Holmes is complaining of having to give advice on mundane matters, maybe it was sometimes.

The fact that Watson says they were "strange secrets" implies the clients weren't coming for help about public crimes, like murders, but more personal struggles. And the fact he goes on to say "we have had the good fortune to bring peace to many troubled souls" adds a layer to that: Watson actively helped bring peace as well, and as a doctor, one could see where he could contribute to any advice Holmes could give the troubled.

And when one considers the story that this line comes from -- a simple domestic misunderstanding -- one has to wonder if "Yellow Face" wasn't just the tip of an iceberg of domestic and workplace troubles that many a writer of Sherlockian pastiche tends to ignore.

"'The proper study of mankind is man', you know," Watson quotes Alexander Pope immediately after meeting Sherlock Holmes, and in those words I think we find the thing that first bound Sherlock and John, the common interest they shared that made them true friends and kept Watson in the sitting room whenever a new client arrived.

As usual, though, we can only try to imagine what all the clients Watson didn't write about had to say, what their troubles were, and what advice the Baker Street boys gave to soothe them.

A whole universe springs from that single line, and it is always a joy when a fellow Sherlockian presents a good one for a closer look as @221Blonde did this morning.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A fine hobby or a fun hobby?

One of the pop cultural touchstones that the good Carter and I refer to every now and again goes back to a 1986 episode of Moonlighting called "Symphony in Knocked Flat." In that particular episode of the detective show's quirky run, the two main characters make a deal to both "a fine evening" and "a fun evening," to share each others' tastes. And the Sherlockian world reminds me of that episode every now and again.

Moonlighting's Blue Moon Detective Agency is a lot like Sherlockiana in that we've got serious folks and screwing-around folks all populating the same fan-space. We have Conan Doyle biographers and buyers of orange Peeps at Easter. We have careful archivists and wearers of the Watsonian red pants. We have footnotes and we have limericks. And, like the Blue Moon Detective Agency, we can sometimes get a little cranky with each other when somebody doesn't match the seriousness-level of the the other person's moment.

I know, I know . . . "But we're both! We're accomplishing scholarly things and we have a sense of humor!" Yes, everyone thinks they have a sense of humor. We're centered around a classic character from fiction, so "literary." But when you're out there in the fields actually producing some sort of Sherlockian work, be it creative or documentarian, you often come to crossroads where choices have to be made.

Are you doing a fun Sherlockian thing or a fine Sherlockian thing?

Fine Sherlockian things require actual effort and some modicum of discipline and restraint. Fun Sherlockian things require an acceptance that there are no rules to playtime other than "try not to hurt anybody too badly."

Can they be combined?

Well, maybe not at the same time. Disciplined efforts can get a might dull. And unrestrained play can be messy. And putting the two together doesn't allow either to be used to the fullest. The best fiction writers know how to do a bit of both . . . free-wheeling first draft, followed by disciplined editing and re-writing. And while Sherlockiana isn't all fiction-wirting, at its core it comes from the love of a fictional character. The heart of Sherlockiana is pure fun. And yet . . . .

So much fine work gets done because of the fun parts. And even not so fine work. All the indexing of details, the applying of mailing labels to a newsletter going out, the pure monotony of doing something like translating "The Gloria Scott" into Hudson's code . . . a whole lot of work gets done on the way to the fun.

I don't think Sherlockiana can ever be strictly one or the other without losing some of its charm. Just as Sherlock Holmes himself is both fun and fine, and sometimes actually does pull off both at once, one can only expect his followers to go likewise.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A coordinated effort of chronologists

As I'm looking forward to spending an evening with fellow blogger and Sherlockian chronologist Historical Sherlock later this week, my thoughts have started wandering down that misty and lonesome road that we call Sherlockian chronology once again.

Back in December, Historical Sherlock proposed a Sherlockian society for those of us who indulge in the vice of trying to put solid dates on Watson's sixty recorded cases, and when you look at his comprehensive list of those who've entered the field in the past hundred years, you can see that there aren't a lot of potential members on the "did a full chronology and released it" side of the coin. As to those who've done a partial chronology, or just written on the dating of one story . . . who knows? But our numbers aren't very strong there either. Working out the dates is something that's only fun for a certain type of mind.

So, if . . . and I say "if" . . . Historical Sherlock and Sherlock Peoria were to use our sit-down later this week to further discuss the forming of such a society, how do you think that would look?

Well, first, in my mind, would be to celebrate that rare list of Sherlockians who have actually published a chronology by making them honorary members. We might have to define what qualifies as a true chronology, as opposed to those useful works that merely collect the dates from the work of others . . . though those folk deserve recognition as well. More than a few clubs have started with a few "zombie members" -- those who aren't really active in the club but are given member designation by the founders at the start. (Since so many Sherlockian chronologists have passed on . . . hopefully not due to the rigors of chronological study . . . the zombie concept came to mind a little too quickly when I tried to imagine gathering all of them at a table.)

The club would definitely need to be open and inclusive to all, of course, as this particular branch of Sherlockiana is so unglamorous that we can't afford to turn anyone away. (Maybe boot them out later if they commit some blasphemy against all chronology . . . except that will surely turn out to be me.) But we would, as with the previous thought, need to celebrate their achievements by giving them something . . . Gold stars? Points? Levels? . . . for each story they have successfully published an argument for the date of, whether it be on-line or in a journal, newsletter, or book.

And at that point, this proposed chronology group seems to need a publication of record.

And that, I think, is where the whole endeavor centers. Gathering for dinners works for social groupings of Sherlockians, but of late we've noticed more Sherlockian groups coming together for a single purpose, like putting out a podcast or putting on a con. And perhaps that's what might give a Sherlockian chronologist group focus. Annual dinners are nice, but it's also good to have something a bit more lasting to show for your efforts, like an annual review of works done in the field.


Not going to show all my cards here, as I have to keep something fresh for our discussions later this week, but you'll definitely be seeing more on this to come.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

What is a scion society, really?

During a recent discussion of Sherlockian culture, a familiar theme came up: "Well, the Baker Street Irregulars do this . . ." followed by "The Baker Street Irregulars aren't the government of all Sherlockiana."  The image that the BSI projects versus what the BSI actually takes ownership for is a continual question for new Sherlockians. And a big part of what creates that question is the term "scion societies."

"Scion society" gets used almost interchangeably with "Sherlock Holmes society" among Holmes fans of the older generations. In the 1980s, when new societies were springing up like popcorn, it was a part of the unspoken checklist of what every Sherlock Holmes club wanted to have. You had meetings, of course, and a newsletter. A journal was also a common goal. But in addition to all that, you wanted to write to the Baker Street Irregulars and get official "scion society" status.

There were no rights or privileges associated with that status. And it didn't mean anything to anyone who wasn't already Sherlockian enough to be familiar with the culture. And it's not like the BSI checked on its societies to make sure they were fulfilling any duties or not turning into a Doctor Who fan club. All in all, applying for scion society status was just a sort of "bowing to the king" thing and acknowledging the first among . . . equals?

Well, maybe not equals. The Baker Street Irregulars of New York has this weird thing that no other Sherlockian society has. People want to get into the group to be recognized as a true Sherlockian. Not every single member, of course, and nobody really likes to admit people do things like write for The Baker Street Journal instead of other publications in hopes of that BSI shilling, but the aspiration for membership in the Baker Street Irregulars has driven a lot in American Sherlockian culture.

Becoming a member of the Irregulars -- very hard. Becoming a scion society of the Irregulars -- very easy. Got an original club name and a town? Unless standards have drastically changed of late, you're in. You don't even have to have a local member of the New York club.

So when new folks get the impression that the Baker Street Irregulars of New York is somehow the central power for all of American Sherlockiana, well, it's an error that they are pretty much encouraged to make. And there's a certain level of honesty we don't get to a lot of times, because folks who want to make BSI someday, whatever that really means, don't want to get on the bad side of the shilling decider. And Sherlock Holmes clubs have, ninety-some percent of the time, be very good things. It's hard to criticize the "scion society" tradition without looking like you're going after the clubs themselves.

But a big difference between the Benedict Cumberbatch wave of new Sherlockians and the Jeremy Brett wave of new Sherlockians has been the amount of scion societies created. The eighties seemed full of Sherlockian clubs being created or revived under that banner. The twenty-teens have been more about meet-ups, cons, and podcast groups. The old style of "the Canonical References of Anytown, U.S.A." didn't seem to be coming into being quite so much . . . of course, maybe that style had hit a saturation point in towns big enough to support them. And I could just be out of the loop on this, too, since we only know what we know.

The term "scion society" probably isn't going anywhere at this point. Even if the ocean reclaims the East coast, Chicago gets nuked, and the established B.S.I. structure is wiped out by a roving Mad-Max-style gang of road-crazies, some cave somewhere will have a small band of skinny survivors reading Sherlock Holmes by candlelight and telling the younglings, "We are the Scion of the Four, and we are charged with reading the Holy Text."

And like many a previous group, that ragtag band won't have passed any official sanctioning rules or even contacted the current version of the old NYC club for permission. They'll just do what Sherlockians do and keep gathering around the name of Sherlock Holmes. Because, in the end, every club, society, podcast team, street gang, or whatever comes next are all really just the scions of one thing: Sherlock Holmes.

"He was indeed a scion of one of the very oldest families in the kingdom, though his branch was a cadet one . . ."
-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Musgrave Ritual"