Thursday, May 31, 2018

Horses of different colors.

So, what are you doing in August?

Turns out the weekend of August 11 and 12 this year is going to feature two Sherlockian events of note, a mere fifteen hours and twenty-one minutes apart. (By car, traveling around eight in the evening on Thursday.) St. Louis's Holmes in the Heartland and Saratoga's 2018 Baker Street Irregulars Silver Blaze Weekend.

This is St. Louis's first Holmes in the Heartland, priced at $114 for the whole weekend, sans hotel and travel, and Saratoga's eighth(?) Silver Blaze, current price $165, sans hotel and travel. The former features Sherlockian talks and demos in a library, while the latter features a horse in a classic horsey venue. Both will be sure to have Sherlockian company and conversation.

Silver Blaze races are almost an "experience collectable" in the Sherlockian world, as there's one in Los Angeles coming up in a little over a week at Santa Anita, and I've personally attended Silver Blazes in Chicago and Dallas. I'm sure there are a few more out there somewhere, and if you're a Sherlockian who's into horse racing, you've got a grand overlap of your hobbies every year happening somewhere or the other.

First-time symposium weekends are also a bit of an experience collectable, as you just never know how they'll go or if they'll ever be repeated. I remember one particular weekend in Dubuque, Iowa that was key to my development as a Sherlockian, and that town has never attempted a repeat of that event due to the rare confluence of stars that had to come together for it to even happen. Another first-time weekend, the ongoing success called "221B Con" is something I remember as a real dice roll, but I wanted to be there just in case it did come up a winner. On the other side of the coin, what would have been my very first Sherlockian weekend, a John Bennett Shaw symposium that actually was about to happen in Peoria, got cancelled before I ever met my first Sherlockian, due to some newb mis-steps by the planners. You just never know.

Summer's here, though, Sherlocked: USA is just over, and plenty of Sherlockian events await, so it's no surprise that an overlap has popped up for two whole-weekend productions. If something was being held in Seattle, San Francisco, or L.A. that same August 11-12 weekend, we'd pretty much have the country covered. (Well, maybe adding Denver in there for good measure? St. Louis isn't exactly the middle.) In any case, we're off to the races again, whichever track you choose!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Sherlockian Who Has Everything

One of the key activities of the active Sherlockian is sharing.

The better among us have always been the most generous, and I can't count the number of books in my library that were outright given to me by Sherlockian friends. Part of that comes from our enthusiasm for Holmes, where we just can't leave a particularly attractive volume at a reasonable price on a bookstore shelf, and wind up with two. That same enthusiasm also brings with it a desire to push books on others, wanting to share our joy.

That generosity is one of the happiest parts of Sherlockiana. Of course, as with most things, there's a dark twin to that virtue, and if you're a Sherlockian who says they never experience that other emotion, I must just call you a liar. And that, of course, is jealousy.

Thanks to the internet, we now know more about each other's business than ever before, and sharing photos of our lives has become a commonplace. No longer do you have to gather people in a room with a carousel projector and subject friends or symposium attendees to a long sequence of slides of your collection or your trip to London! Sherlockians can share every meet-up and every item real-time as they happen, if said Sherlockians are so inclined, and you can use social media to see what's happening with as many of those folks as you can stand. Perhaps you pick up parts of their lives or thoughts you'd rather not hear about on the way as well, but such is the price of admission.

The other price of this far-reaching Sherlockian awareness is envy.

Somebody out there has something you really wish you had, or is doing something you really wish you were doing. You might not be jealous of Sherlockian A or Sherlockian B, but unless you really limit your web wanderings, you're eventually comparing your Sherlockian life to the life of all other Sherlockians combined into one immensely great Sherlockian who has a thousand faces. And that Sherlockian does everything and owns everything.

If you don't get a twinge of jealousy over something the everything-Sherlockian has gained, experienced, or accomplished at some point, you're a very special person. (And maybe not in a way that we're going to be jealous of.) For part and parcel of being a Sherlockian is that desire for more Sherlock, and who has more Sherlock?

The everything-Sherlockian that exists on the internet, with its thousands of faces.

And that Lovecraftian monster does not generate horror . . . no . . . it exists to generate connection, information, and, alas, envy. We all get used to that beastie over time. Eventually you have gained enough or done enough that you're familiar with the aspects of the beast you encounter most. But then you round a corner and some new visage of the thing takes you by surprise and . . . envy. Great overwhelming envy, that may require internal justifications just to keep your sanity -- "Well, I don't live next door to the Mysterious Bookshop!" -- that sort of thing.

The thing that helps the most in dealing with the everything-Sherlockian, of course, is our holy writ. Like a cross to a vampire, you can hold up your sixty-story Canon and go, "Same book as you! Get thee behind me, everything-Sherlockian!" That doesn't really make the beastie go away, but it'll make you feel better about its world-filling presence. And you can eventually, give it a hug.

Because we've all got Sherlock Holmes, when you come right down to it. And that's what being a Sherlockian is really all about.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

221B Xanadu Street

The year was 1980.

I was fresh out of college, attending the meetings of two different scion societies in two cities, getting ready to give my first banquet speech on Holmes's methods, and a movie I had been anticipating since its first preview came to theaters: Xanadu.

Now, you'd think a musical fantasy trying to recapture the success of Grease without one of its two main stars would have nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes, and you might be right . . . for you. There are amusements and museums a-plenty in the Canon of Holmes, but actual muses? Olivia Newton-John, roller-skating, singing muses?

Well, yes, actually. There kind of is.

Since this is 2018 and we're not quite so hung up on gender roles these days, I'm going to submit the following thesis: Sherlock Holmes was a muse.

He came into Watson's life, and Watson wrote. He came into Conan Doyle's life, and made all sorts of dreams come true. And he came into my life as well, and sent it spiraling into a creative life that may have never otherwise existed. I'm one hundred percent certain that I am not alone in this, too.

Evidence for Holmes being a muse?

Watson: "A well-played violin is a treat for the gods -- a badly-played one--"
Holmes: "Oh, that's all right." (He laughs merrily.) "I think we may consider the thing as settled."

Sherlock Holmes considers his music a treat for the gods.

(This is the point where Olivia Newton-John's "Magic" starts slowly swelling in the background.)

And we aren't three cases into the shorter stories when Holmes starts talking about talking Watson flying over the city and peeping at all of the wonderful stories that would lie below them.

"And yet I am not convinced of it," Watson argues against the point, like he himself thinks that writing up crime stories is not all that interesting.

And then Sherlock Holmes starts explaining to him how to make good stories from the basic facts of the police report. Take another look at the opening paragraphs of "A Case of Identity" and see if you don't think that's a muse at work on his mortal charge.

I've tried searching fanfic archives for tales that cast Sherlock in the Kira role and John as Sonny, but didn't have much luck, probably due to my own lack of ability with said archives, but I'm thinking a Sherlockian adaptation of Xanadu would not be very hard to do. Picturing Sherlock Holmes on roller skates just does not seem that odd.

Each one of us have lives outside of Sherlock Holmes that intermingle with our Sherlockian thoughts . . . a part of what brings a lot of the magic to this hobby . . . and for me, that 1980 film of questionable quality Xanadu and Sherlock Holmes will be forever entwined due to the period they both came into my life. Zeus only knows how much Sherlockian writing I've done with that soundtrack playing in the background.

Because maybe it was Sherlock, and not Olivia, who has been my muse after all.

Friday, May 25, 2018

"A most preposterous way of settling a dispute"

This weekend, Americans take an extra day to to enjoy life a little more in commemoration of a war that most of us will misidentify if asked. The world wars usually come up first in guesses, but the true origin of our Memorial Day, once called "Decoration Day," goes back to a war that both Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson had an opinion on: The American Civil War.

Over 600,000 Americans died in that war, mentioned in the thought-reading scene of "The Cardboard Box." (And later re-purposed and used in "The Resident Patient.") And John Watson, who is usually very careful not to reveal too much of his own life in his stories, lets us see much of his heart in letting Holmes demonstrate his own skills. And, yet . . . he's still John Watson, as mysterious as ever.

Watson thinks enough of Henry Ward Beecher to want to put his picture up with that of British war hero General Gordon (though, like Beecher, Gordon was a complicated fellow). Beecher's main claim to fame in England was as an emissary from Abraham Lincoln, attempting to sway European sympathies to the side of the North during the Civil War. John Watson, it would seem from that picture, sympathized with the North.

Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand?

"It does seem a most preposterous way of settling a dispute," Holmes says.

" . . . the gallantry that was shown on both sides . . ." Holmes says, echoing a particular modern quote that was not unrelated to American issues much like those of that earlier time.

Sherlock Holmes apparently thought that the issue of slavery could have been settled without a civil war, as Britain did, and that Americans on both sides of the question showed bravery in giving their lives for . . . wait a minute, didn't he just say it was preposterous?

"I remember your passionate indignation at the way he was received by the more turbulent of our people," Holmes recollects of some earlier discussion with Watson about Beecher. Since that reception was in 1863, the topic more likely came up just after March 8, 1887, when Beecher's death brought him back to relevance for a moment. For something that happened fifteen years before Watson graduated medical school, one has to suspect that young John had been present for one of Henry Ward Beecher's pro-Union speeches, and witnessed firsthand the angry Britons who were against him.

There's a lot going on in the few short paragraphs of Holmes's little mind-reading trick. Had he and Watson gotten into the full causes of the American Civil War and possible corrections to history to keep it from being "preposterous," there would have hardly been room for severed ear or tenant doctor tales to follow. But it's still good for us to think about the ramifications of, especially on this particular Memorial Day, when America almost seems as divided as it did before the war that the day was spawned from.

Memory is a good thing to use now and again. Especially this weekend.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Youngest Sherlock Holmes

We've seen Sherlock Holmes portrayed as a boy. On TV in BBC Sherlock, in movies like Young Sherlock Holmes or The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. And in books like The Childhood of Sherlock Holmes or the Boy Sherlock Holmes series. (Haven't actually seen that last one yet, but someone must have.)

Yet when it comes to pure Conan Doyle, the youngest Sherlock is the one we meet in "A Gloria Scott." That was tonight's topic for the Sherlock Holmes Story Society's discussion at Peoria's North Branch Library tonight. And, fittingly, we also had our youngest attendee ever, who who was only a few months old.

As usual, it was a good discussion that set the mind wandering down paths Sherlockian. Tonight's biggest takeaway for me was just how young Sherlock Holmes was when he started his career.

The Sherlock Holmes of "The Gloria Scott" seems miles and miles away from the Sherlock Holmes of A Study in Scarlet, yet there he is, going back to London to work on organic chemistry experiments, and when Watson first encounters him in Bart's, there Holmes is doing chemistry experiments to detect blood.

"It was, if you will believe me, Watson, the very first thing which ever made me feel that a profession might be made out of what had up to that time been the merest hobby."

So Holmes was doing detective work as a hobby . . . perhaps not even thinking of it as detective work until Trevor senior says the words, "it seems to me that all the detectives of fact and fancy would be children in your hands. That's your line of life, sir, and you may take the word of a man who has seen something of the world."

There is something that makes us want to draw out the timeline of Holmes's path from college student to detective, I think because we naturally want to measure that period as we would that of any normal person. But we're talking about Sherlock Holmes.

How probable is it that Holmes's last year of formal education ended with his trip to Trevor's home that summer? How possible is it that Sherlock Holmes went from college student to detective in under six months, and met John Watson within a year of leaving college?

"But Sherlock Holmes was described as a man of sixty in August 1914!" one might protest, sticking by the 1854 birth year that such a condition reveals. No, I would argue back. The Irish-American Altamont was "a tall, gaunt man of sixty." Actors aren't always the age of the part they play, and neither was Sherlock Holmes. And let's not try to pin any hard numbers to a random "middle-aged" comment in a later story that might have been more about Watson than Holmes himself.

A young Sherlock Holmes going from college to detection without finishing the former and diving into the latter with all the energy of a man in the earliest of his twenties does not seem at all out of character. In fact, it rather fits the prodigy of a detective rather like a glove.

With all the attention writers like to put to drugs, lack of emotion, or a diagnosable condition of one sort or another, just to give Holmes a weakness, one would think youth would fit that bill just as well . . . and actually has been used on occasion. But I suspect that we naturally don't want him too young, so as not to make the rest of us look bad, as well.

But young Sherlock Holmes might just have been the real Sherlock Holmes. And our TV adaptations have enjoyed taking us down that road of late, so who knows how far it might lead?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Deep Sherlockian quandrys.

It began today with a simple Twitter poll.

Many Sherlockians on Twitter demanded a third option, straddling those two options somehow or cherry-picking the best of both worlds. But the rigorous laws of philosophical question dichotomy is what makes such tortures fun. I've long played these games with co-workers over the years, but never thought to try it on Sherlockians, where our specific interests hold especially magical quandries like the one above. Because it's all about sacrificing something you love for gaining something that you might judge of greater value, and we do love things as Sherlockians. It's a part of our reason for being.

Here's a simple example: "A wealthy Sherlockian bequeaths you one of the few copies of Beeton's Christmas Annual with A Study in Scarlet in it. Another wealthy Sherlockian, seeking to make his own copy more rare, offers you a rare treatment you can get nowhere else that will add thirty full and healthy years to your live, a life you can live Sherlockianly, if you burn your copy of Beeton's."

Now, don't give me a "But can't I . . . ?" or try to outsmart the devil of either-or. Those are your two choices, burn the Beeton's or miss out on thirty years of fun. Personally, that Beeton's is toast, but I'm wicked enough to have burned a book once or twice. You might be a little more of a devout book-lover.

Or maybe that one isn't hard enough. Hmmm, what would test a Sherlockian even more? Let's go for the more media-focused side of our fandom.

"A genie offers to take you back in time and will give you complete control and script approval over Moffat and Gatiss for BBC Sherlock from the start. But the genie has a huge crush on Jonny Lee Miller and you know for certain he's going to swap out Cumberbatch for Miller. Don't you take the genie up on his offer?"

I don't know, that's still just not quite there for me. A good quandry has to really make you squirm, make you wish the question had never even been asked. Test your morals and make you question your inner being.

"Conan Doyle is trying to communicate with the dead via medium and accidentally contacts you. You sense the ethereal link will only last a few minutes, and your cell phone rings with a call from a star-making, yet temperamental publisher whom you know is calling to say he'll publish your novel, but he is well known for only giving one chance with such offers. You must choose between Doyle and your future success, even though no one will ever believe you talked to Conan Doyle."

Still too easy for my tastes, but it's late and I'm almost out of steam. Have any better ideas? Or is this just too cruel a past-time for a follower of a non-evil hero like Sherlock Holmes?

One more quandry!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Seven Sherlockurai

Every now and then, someone has to adapt a classic. And since 1954, one of those classics that's continually being adapted is that Japanese classic, Seven Samurai. The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond the Stars, A Bug's Life . . . you see it across all genres. And now, the classic base plot comes to Sherlockiana.

A village of farmers, just trying to stay alive, recruits the services of seven masterless samurai to combine their skills and make one last stand.

The village: A Sherlockian society called "The Parallel Case of St. Louis." (St. Louis itself is a little large to be called a "village," so we're going with the scion.) The last stand: Well, actually it's a first stand, Saturday, August 11, with activities the Friday before and the Sunday after. And the samurai . . . or should we call them masterless Sherlockurai? Who did the villagers find to play out their plan?

From the wilds of Minnesota, they found Tim Johnson, master curator from what is probably the world's greatest Sherlockian library collection at University of Minnesota.

From Nashville, Tennesse, the Midwest center of civilization and culture, they called out Bill Mason, Sherlockian author and political savant, known to both collaborate and debate with their next pull:

Brad Keefauver. Yeah, the blog guy. Wrote a few books on Sherlock once. Might be a tad 'tetched in the head by now, judging by his surreptitious attempts at podcasting. Also, me.

Their one local Canon-slinger, Mary Schroeder, has been seen much of St. Louis Sherlockiana, and built the St. Louis Sherlockian Research Collection to defend the town against Holmes ignorance.

Ask an old-timer about the man named Bill Cochran, and they'll probably have a story to tell. He's probably delivered as many papers on Sherlock Holmes to his regular gang of Sherlockian masters as anyone alive. Served a tour of duty as the editor of The Baker Street Journal. Travelled across the land bringing Sherlock to the hearts of "221B" listeners with a partner until a while back, but has been a loyal friend to St. Louis for a long, long time.

And, as with any Seven Samurai type of gathering, you have to get one guy from Texas and one young gun. The young gun is Tassy Hayden, doctor, writer, podcaster, and very clever Sherlockian from the up-and-coming. The man from Texas?

That would be Don Hobbs, who was surely only able to pass the world's greatest collection of different language translations of the Sherlock Holmes stories to a university, only because he has an equally great collection of Sherlockian friends and acquaintances around the world. He filmed what was probably the first Sherlockian reality show ever during a 1,895 tour that included Holmes Peak, Watson, Oklahoma, and a remote Sherlockian members-only bar in South Texas. You don't get more interesting, Sherlockianly, than Don.

So that's the seven Sherlockurai. Think the metaphor is a little too violent?

Well, the little village of St. Louis Sherlockians also called in a team called "Black Knights Fighting Group," to put on a display of Baritsu and other Victorian fighting skills.

All of this gathering will result in an event that shall be called "Holmes in the Heartland," St. Louis's latest weekend of Sherlockian wonder, which doesn't have the same name issues as its predecessors "Holmes Under The Arch" (It didn't really take place under the St. Louis Arch.) or "The Game's Afloat" (which was on a floating riverboat for two iterations, but in a non-floating hotel for the third in 1998). This time, Holmes is in the Heartland, and so will be the Seven Sherockurai.

More to come!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Spending the evening with distant friends

There is a distinct phenomenon in podcast world where listeners feel they've become friends with people they've never met, just by virtually sitting in on so many conversations between the podcast hosts. Last night, I had a bit of the opposite experience, catching up on a bit of I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere where Scott and Burt interviewed two different friends who don't live that far away.

Spending the evening listening to a couple of friends is a very comfortable thing. Vincent Wright was getting into chronologies and Rob Nunn was promoting Holmes in the Heartland, as well as talking about his book, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, and both were subjects I've happily discussed with those fellows before, and surely will again. The podcast episodes were a nice "in the meantime" pleasure of their company sort of experience.

After a hundred and forty-four episodes, I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere has accumulated enough interviews with Sherlockians that you can pretty much put together a virtual symposium on whatever topic you'd like, just by picking and choosing appropriate episodes. I'm not suggesting this as an alternative to actually going to Sherlockian weekend symposiums, as the discussions that pop up between the talks at those things are always as rewarding as the planned program. But still, if you can stand hearing about The Baker Street Journal as often as Blue Apron or Stamps-Dot-Com on some other podcasts, you can make a fine morning, afternoon, or evening out of mixing and matching the pods.

Listening to active Sherlockians who are toiling away at their craft, however, is apt to inspire you to spend more time in like activities, however, so be prepared with some available time once that listening is done. Because there's never enough time for Sherlock Holmes, and like any addictive drug, the more you take, the more you're going to want.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Angry fanning D.D.L.

Stare at something long enough, it's bound to piss you off.

I mean, think about how many Sherlockians come into the hobby because they love stories about Sherlock Holmes, read every Sherlock Holmes thing they can, and then eventually start hating on pastiches because they all do the same things over and over.

We just weren't meant to keep our eyes focussed in one direction all the time. Sure, we want to look at the view that gave us pleasure a second time, and a third. We're hard-wired to return to a source of satisfaction. We can't help it. But inevitably, you go to that well too many times out of habit, and then get angry because it isn't the same bountiful well it was thirty years before.

With that preface, let me say a few things about Daniel Day Lewis.

I hate Daniel Day Lewis.

I go to see movies every week. Daniel Day Lewis makes a movie every two to three years. Already, we have a slight issue. I seem to remember liking him in 1992's The Last of the Mohicans, but past that, he hasn't really done anything that made me want to buy a ticket just to see a movie for him alone. He's the British-born son of a poet laureate and the actress-daughter of a studio head, who has played so many Americans that I don't think of him as having an English accent.

And for twenty-five @#&%ing years now, people have been saying he should play Sherlock Holmes.

The dude does one movie every two or three years and is not going to take a role so commercial that Robert Downey Jr.  did a three-movie series from it. What's D.D.L. got left in him, now that he's sixty? About six or seven more movies, if he doesn't slow down even further? And Ian McKellen has grabbed the best old man Holmes story for this generation already.

Besides, old man Holmes? We finally . . . finally . . . get a Sherlock Holmes young enough to be A Study in Scarlet appropriate, he's wildly popular, and going back to middle-aged and older Sherlocks is something we think is a good idea? Really, I think Daniel Day Lewis would be happier playing Josiah Amberly, a miserable old man, that Lewis could just act the hell out of. Give us a younger actor we haven't noticed before as Sherlock and let D.D.L. win an Oscar for the story of a weepy widower who was betrayed by the two people closest to him.

That's what the Oscar crowd wants anyway -- adaptations of Victorian tales that focus on miserable folk like Lady Brackenstall or Hilton Cubitt. (If you can't win an Oscar with a character named "Hilton Cubitt," you just aren't trying. It's the "Reynolds Woodcock" of the Canon.)

Wait . . . excuse me for a moment, I just learned that Daniel Day Lewis was in The Unbearable Lightness of Being before I knew who he was. I still remember that day. That theater. My two companions, one of whom talked us into seeing that thing. It was the seasonal affective part of the winter of 1988, and . . . but I digress. The Unbearable Lightness of Being . . . grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

I would pay full IMAX ticket price, complete with a full tub of popcorn and bucket of soda, to see George Clooney in the Sherlockian equivalent of Batman and Robin before I would set foot in a living room with a Daniel Day Lewis Sherlock Holmes movie playing on Netflix. I would binge-watch all of CBS's Elementary with a full commentary track by Nigel Bruce's Watson, who would not even understand what he was seeing and probably go off on a reminiscence of getting his hand caught in a cookie jar, before I would let a YouTube video with a "You can skip this video in 5 . . . 4 . . . . 3 . . ." play a D.D.L. Sherlock movie preview for those five finger-on-the-skip-button seconds. I would even go so far as to start kung fu fighting in that levitating Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style with every single Sherlockian who says the words "All Sherlock is good Sherlock!" on principle alone after Daniel Day Lewis won the best actor Oscar for playing Sherlock Holmes, because, hey, we're in a fantasy world now and I have crazy ninja skills.

So, you see, basically, being a Sherlockian for a very long time has its side effects, not all of them pretty. It's like staring at the sun for too long, except with fits of rage instead of devastating blindness. Fortunately, today is Saturday, and I can wander off and do non-Sherlock things for a time and regain my composure, possibly even letting Daniel Day Lewis's prospective future roles give light to some other Sherlockians' hope for the future of film.

But about that royal wedding . . . .

Thursday, May 17, 2018

No man ever had more respect for a baby!

If you work in any kind of not-totally-male workspace, you've seen the shift in atmosphere when a friendly baby comes toted through the door. Babies are kind of a thing. And, I suppose, one might start to suggest that it speaks to the elder male domination of Sherlockiana that we don't fuss over Canonical babies more. Or does it?

Elinor Gray brought Sherlock Holmes and babies to the fore today with a tweet about a remarkable audiobook cover. It was a lovely painting of Sherlock Holmes fussing over a baby. And it's of a Canonical moment. A moment that's just as much Canon as the time Watson got pissy and called Holmes a machine.

"Finally he shook one of the dimpled fists which waved in front of him."

No cold machine Sherlock stopped to shake a baby's hand.

And how many times have to stopped to shake a baby's hand and went, "Hey, I'm like Sherlock Holmes! I may not be able to solve crimes, but I can introduce myself to this baby with a wee little firm handshake."

"Might we make the acquaintance of the baby?" Holmes asked just moments before, showing all propriety in the meeting of a baby.

Not many babies to meet in the Canon, but still . . . babies!

Alice Turner of Boscombe Valley once had a wee baby hand which seemed to always lead her father down the path of good. And little Miss Mary Fraser of Adelaide was a baby at the breast of a much younger Teresa Wright than Sherlock Holmes ever met. There might have even been a grab-able baby in Arnsworth Castle or in the Darlington family, if one of those didn't involve a jewelry box.

In the end, there was really only one baby for Sherlock Holmes. "The baby," if you want to get all Irene Adler about it. Little baby Ferguson, whom Holmes saw off with a "Good-bye, little man. You have made a strange start in life." Total respect for the baby there from Holmes.

And like so many other singular incidents in the Canon Holmes, we must, perhaps, take it as representative of a larger picture. (And something that bodes well for little Rosie.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Evidence for a Watmes Conspiracy?

Remember that Sherlock Holmes series that got all James-Bond-y at the end and had that final adventure that wasn't like the stories that had made Sherlock so popular?

Of course you do! And what the heck was Conan Doyle thinking with "His Last Bow," anyway?

Well, it was the war, of course. The Great War, the War That Changed Everything, the War You Couldn't Ignore. That was the reason for Sherlock Holmes's last case diverging from the rest of his career. But did you ever stop to think of what that last story might have been, had it not been for the intervention of World War One? Did you ever suspect that Conan Doyle might have had a totally different plan in mind for Holmes and Watson getting together one last time to stand on the terrace?

Well, thanks to a tin dispatch box found in my cousin's mother-in-law's attic at the new Victorian house they just moved into after inheriting it from great aunt Violet, who lived far too long but kept a lot of old stuff in good shape, we may now have the answer: An unpublished version of "His Last Bow" entitled "The Adventure of the German Sportsman" which leaves out all the looming war business, keeps Holmes in England with a proper British accent and clean-shaven face, and contains a proper case. The tale is too long to present here, of course, and intellectual property rights still need to be settled and all that, but perhaps the final passages are enough to give a flavor of the ending Doyle had originally aimed for, pre-war.

    "As to you, Watson," Holmes said, "you joining me with your old service. Stand with me here upon the terrace, for it may be the last quiet talk we shall have before Lestrade arrives."
    "I think not, Holmes. The city is some distance away. But you seem very warm."
    "Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There's an east wind coming all the same, such as wind as time blows on all men. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and we will one day wither before its blast."
     His lip quivered and his hand trembled. 
    "I have a ring here, worth over five hundred pounds, that should be on someone's finger before someone makes off with it."

Well, that is all I dare reprint here, for fear of some legal thing or the other. But you get the gist. Odd how easily those two just will get all Victorian-emotional so easily. But, oh, what might have been, if not for that cursed war . . . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Warlock Holmes to the rescue!

"Stand at the window here. Was there ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world?"
-- Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four

Today was one of those days.

You know how the world is these days. Incompetence in places where skill and savvy are needed. Simple tasks that require wading through systems designed to profit someone who isn't you. Coupled with the demands life makes anyway, it's a wonder that depression isn't as common as the cold. (And maybe it is.) Weariness sets in, and it seems like all the spark has gone out of everything.

Hyperbole? Not lately.

A few years ago, however, a little Las Vegas improv, parking, and weather podcast called Matt and Mattingly's Ice Cream Social had a mention of a new Holmes book coming out called Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone. I was intrigued, but there are so many Sherlock Holmes books out there of late, and so many disappointments. I put picking up Warlock Holmes on my literary to-do list, and there it stayed, not helped by a certain other supernatural Holmes novel that still remains barely-read on my nightstand or the YA series books that are doing so well in recent years.

But today, the word came across the wifi: The third book in G.S. Denning's Warlock Holmes series, Warlock Holmes: My Grave Ritual, was being released today, and would even be in my local Barnes & Noble. And like I said, today was one of those days. So I took a chance.

I went to Barnes & Noble, and I bought all three Warlock Holmes books. I came home and immediately dove into the first one, the aforementioned A Study in Brimstone. Not a bad start, as I passed the first page, a fresh re-telling of the opening of A Study in Scarlet. And pretty soon Watson wrote something that made me chuckle. And then a Stamford bit that made me laugh a little more. And by the time I hit the moment Dr. John Watson meets his Holmes . . . Warlock Holmes . . . the first words out of Holmes's mouth broke me up. I re-read them aloud to the good Carter and she broke out laughing.

After the first fifty pages, I had to stop for some exercise and a few chores, followed by this blog post, but I'm eagerly looking forward to diving back into this terrific comic take on Sherlock Holmes. Even though his name is "Warlock" and he's up to something not very scientific, Warlock Holmes is a better Sherlock than many who use that name these days, and better still, when I put it down after that first fifty, I remembered how "funny" worked . . . something that Sherlockiana sorely needs more of, as so many pastiches seem to forget that Sherlock Holmes was a funny guy, And funny doesn't come easy.

Especially these days. So finally getting around to Warlock Holmes after all this time? It's looking a little bit like perhaps I was subconsciously saving this one for a rainy day.

And, damn, it's good so far. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sherlock Holmes stories without Sherlock.

There have always been a case or two in the Sherlockian Canon where Sherlock Holmes's participation seemed minimal. But since the all-seeing Howard Ostrom recently turned up a Sherlock-less adaption of "Copper Beeches" on Vimeo, I'm starting to fear for our friend.

I mean, we all know that part of the success of Conan Doyle's work has always been that he used Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as a framing device to tell other people's stories. The characters they encounter aren't mere cardboard murder-of-the-week stereotypes. Henry Baker is fascinating in his own right as we hear of his lost Christmas goose.  Mary Sutherland is not just all about her missing boyfriend -- she's interesting in her own right, as a typist with an inheritance and a mother who remarried a younger man.

How many stories of the Canon are so well told that they could exist with Sherlock Holmes, as was done with that video of "Copper Beeches?" Quite a few, if you think about it.

Sherlock's failures, like "Five Orange Pips" and "The Yellow Face," come quickly to mind. Events easily proceed as they did without Holmes on the case. "Engineer's Thumb" could have had Victor Hatherly going to any doctor then trying to backtrack to the place he was injured -- that blazing house at the end is pretty obvious where the crime happened. Professor Presbury still gets chomped by his dog Roy in "The Creeping Man," and maybe the landlady in "The Veiled Lodger" just gets her friend Mrs. Hudson to talk her tenant out of suicide.

Yes, many a tale involves unravelling the clever crime and capturing a criminal who "would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that darned Sherlock Holmes!" Holmes is vital to all the facts coming out in plenty of cases.

But, as many a pasticheur has failed to recognize over the years, the stories were never really about Sherlock Holmes . . . with the possible exception of A Study in Scarlet or The Sign of the Four, where much had to be made of Holmes's business to fill a novel's length. It's the other character's stories that make Conan Doyle's originals so great. Sherlock Holmes is just the marvelous device that ties them all together and makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. (Because some of those parts? Not so good, as we all well know.)

I doubt that many creators are going to go to the trouble to make Sherlock Holmes stories without Sherlock Holmes, since he's the star people are coming to see. Writers who have tried to use Holmes to introduce their own spin-off character often find it hard to get publishers to let them usher Holmes out, once he's appeared. But it's always good to be reminded just how good those stories were by themselves, before Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson became the icing on the cake.

The never-ending Sherlock story

So, only two episodes into it's current twenty-one episode season six, CBS's Elementary has been renewed for season seven. "Despite currently being CBS's lowest rated drama," the update over at TV Guide reads. But such are the strange and unpredictable ways of modern media.

Where once pure ratings ruled the only three networks available, now syndication, foreign markets, streaming channels, and who-knows-what-else are in the mix. Get dropped by one network, get picked up by another. Of our three major media Sherlocks at present, the only thing seeming to hold any of them back is the availability of their stars. Were Downey and Cumberbatch not otherwise occupied, we'd no doubt be seeing more of them as well. (Yes, yes, Downey is finally coming back for a third bit, but how many years has it been?)

Miss Sherlock is out there somewhere, Enola Holmes is headed for the big screen, and Violet Hunter has her own adaptation going "Copper Beeches" without the help of Holmes or Watson.

Listening to a comic book podcast this weekend where the hosts, who remembered a time decades past, were marvelling at the difference in public awareness of certain comic book characters now versus a few decades ago, I couldn't help but see certain Sherlockian parallels.

More people are bumping into "a" Sherlock Holmes somewhere in their media consumption than ever before. Maybe they're not all reading Conan Doyle, but they're getting one particular view of the character or another, something that wasn't nearly as prevalent a mere fifteen years ago.

Sherlock's story has become the never-ending story in its way . . . at least for a time. How long will this time last?

Longer than most of us, I'd wager.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What is The Baker Street Journal?

A little poll over in The Stranger's Room group on Facebook has sent me into some late night pondering. It was a simple enough poll by Scott Monty, on who subscribed to The Baker Street Journal and who didn't, with the opportunity to comment on why folks answered as they did. There were a variety of answers, ranging from lines high praise of its merits to more mundane circumstances of subscriber or non-subscriber life. But the question it raised in my mind was this:

What is The Baker Street Journal?

The basic answer is obvious. A printed collection of Sherlockian items of interest that comes out quarterly, and has existed in one form or another, since 1946. It has been both thick and thin, square-bound and glossy when times were good, and covered with construction paper and held together with paper brads like a child's project book when times weren't as good.

It's original purpose, laid out in that first 1946 issue of its "Old Series," which was inevitably doomed to fail by its own quality production, was this: To offer a place where writings about Sherlock Holmes could endure for posterity, and not disappear from mankind's grasp as Sherlock's own monographs had. They were fans speaking in the most grandiose of terms about their beloved Holmes, and those early issues were, as that opening editorial put it, "meritorious offerings laid upon the common shrine."

There was a tongue firmly implanted in cheek in those early days. Fun was being had by the writers, and there was a sense that this avocational journal was a field for a sport. And a happy competition did often show up in its pages as theories were proposed one issue and countered the next. Conan Doyle was not long gone, so his part in everything didn't need to be overly considered -- yet the words of Watson still had much fruit to bear.

That first series, so full of charm and fun, eventually came to an end as good times do, even leaving behind a ghost issue said to have made it to galley proofs, but not seeing print. But after it was revived a few years later, its production became a determined effort, a holy cause, that would continue to this day. As holy causes usually go, however, it began to have more serious adherents.

But it wasn't just the holy zeal of Sherlockians that began to move the Journal on to more stately and serious ground, it was history itself. As time passed, Sherlockiana had actual history to record, with appropriate footnotes. I am not saying, of course, that the doings of Holmes and Watson on Baker Street were not history, but their lack of extra-Canonical documentation always allowed for a certain . . . shall we say . . . looseness of the rules governing such things.

It also became something of an institution, and once that mindset found its place, changes to the journal became less likely for a time. When one considers all of the marvelous artists among Sherlock Holmes fans today, the idea that The Baker Street Journal had the exact same cover for decades is pretty hard to imagine. Tradition has steered the journal with a tight fist at times, and as we enter an age of free-flowing ideas and things like Sherlockian novels being read while they're still, literally, works in progress, one wonders if prevailing winds will eventually change its course.

Which is part of what set me into asking myself the question at the start of this musing: What is The Baker Street Journal? In a time when not all fans define themselves as fans, it can't be seen as a fan-work. And yet it's not a full-on academic journal. Articles on the history of the real find themselves side-by-side with articles on the history of the unreal. As an entertainment, the weight of scholarship often drags it down. And the hobby that it was once a primary channel for has taken to the internet where thousands of channels exist for those not determined to remain fairly Amish in their habits.

The Baker Street Journal is a bit more of a riddle in 2018 than it was in 1946. But on it goes, as it inevitably shall, even if it has to go back to construction paper covers and paper brad bindings again at some point . . . though probably not . . . but with net neutrality coming undone, who knows? The old channels may become central again, post e-pocalypse. Or the Journal might become one with the web and evolve into something more.

Posterity allows for a lot of flexibility.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The cool kids table

One of the lovely thing about being a Sherlockian are those moments when you find yourself at the cool kids table. It can happen surprisingly often, depending upon how often you get around, mainly because there are just a lot of cool kids in Sherlockiana.

Today, I found myself at the cool kids table once again, metaphorically speaking, and I loved the group I wound up with so much I almost wanted to buy them t-shirts and engage in team sports against all the other "tables." So many old favorites on this team!

Of course, I can't give you too many details, as I'm not sure if it's time for promoting it yet, but I will say it was because Chris Redmond was sending contributors proof copies of the table of contents for his upcoming collection, Sherlock Holmes Is Like, for us to check. Like his previous collections, About Sixty and About Being A Sherlockian, this book will have its contents divided into particular sections, with particular themes. And it rather makes sense that the topic I was most interested in would fit with similar topics by like-minded individuals.

But of the ten writers in my section, eight were names I instantly recognized. And a goodly share of those eight were folks I'd spent a pleasant evening or some other shared Sherlockian fun with. Enough that I immediately went team-proud, like I said, and wanted to outfit us all in matching t-shirts and start challenging the writers from other sections of the book to wiffle ball. (Yes, wiffle ball is my sport of choice, played "Wacky Races" style with other swingable objects standing in for the bats.)

But this is how Sherlockiana often ties its citizens together . . . investiture "classes," spontaneous social clubs, bands of traveling companions . . . in whatever manner humans can collect themselves, Sherlockians will collect other Sherlockians.

Some Sherlockians even like collecting people more than they like collecting books, as hard as that may be to believe. And now that Chris Redmond has taken to collecting people in books, who knows how meta Sherlockiana is going to get?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Downey Sherlock in space!

The word is out, with his time as Iron Man having reached a climax with the two-part Avengers bombast of this year and next, Robert Downey Jr. is returning as Sherlock Holmes for a third go-round, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Even though Downey's Sherlock is never quite anyone's mental picture of a true Sherlock Holmes figure, he's still fun to watch and Jude Law's Watson almost makes up for the Downey-zation of Holmes. But here's the big question: Where do they have left to go?

In 2009's Sherlock Holmes, he stopped a supernatural plot to wipe out the British government by a seeming dark sorcerer. In 2011's Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, he stopped Professor Moriarty from starting a world war in the Victorian era, kills Moriarty by going over the biggest Reichenbach Falls ever, returns from the dead, and, oh, yes . . . sees Irene Adler die. So, no Irene, no Moriarty.

Now, with the promise of a 2020 Sherlock Holmes: The Hound in Space . . . no, that's not really the title, but after going from England-threat to world-threat in movies one and two, space would seem to be the only level left for Downey's Holmes to get up to . . . oh . . . wait . . . .

Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds by Manly Wade Wellman and Wade Wellman has never been adapted to the screen, has it?  (Cue insane laughter here. And man, I'm kind of glad my dad's name wasn't "Manly Brad Keefauver." I have enough issues as it is!)

How big does Sherlock Holmes Part Three have to go? Is it possible that Asylum Films foresaw the future, and Downey's next turn as Holmes will be a big budget version of Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs? It's not space, but you don't get much bigger than dinosaurs!

Can the action get much bigger than all those exploding trees of the last outing? Can any Canonical characters fill the shoes of Irene Adler and James Moriarty? (Personally, I'd say Maud Bellamy and Baron Gruner could, but I know I'm not even in the mainstream of Sherlockiana there.) Milverton isn't cinematically action-inspiring enough. Moran's dead, right? Can a Downey film restrain itself to something as simple as The Hound of the Baskervilles? Even Jack the Ripper seems too small potatoes . . . he'd have to be replaced by a Victorian Freddy Krueger to be big enough for Downey Sherlock.

The mind boggles at the possibility of one more big screen mega-Sherlock tale from Downey and Law . . . literally. So I guess I'm just going to be boggled until we get the first previews for what's to come in 2020. And, man, do I pity those screenwriters.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Time to upgrade "Canon?"

(Kettle drums, please.)

Once upon a time, the primitive ancestors of our modern Sherlockian culture crawled from their caves and spoke in the language of their time. Having discovered their holy text, they named it for the only one taught by their dawn-of-Sherlockiana shamans and called it "Canon." And it was good.

But as centuries passed (well, one, anyway), and our kind became more aware, created new marvels of word technology, and grew in language and understanding, other tribes adopted our ways as well. "Canon" became that word for any origin text, and even within our single culture, multiple Cani arose, and there even came a term for the holy writ within one's own mind, the "headcanon."

And, lo, the word "Canon" became as words on the Babel tower, and confusion rained upon the land Sherlockian.

(Okay, stop the kettle drums, I'm tired of using that voice.)

So, anyway, I'm mowing today, and thinking about comic books, which should have nothing to do with this, even though I recently blogged on Sherlock comics, but I remembered this Jack Kirby thing called "the Source." And I thought, "As Sherlockiana evolves, and embraces alternate realities of Sherlock Holmes, as it seems to be doing with serial Sherlocks, why not make the original Canon just 'the Source,' so when Elementary Canon comes up or Sherlock Canon comes up or Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs Canon comes up, we can just say 'the Source' and get back to the starting point of it all?"

Might have to try that out a bit and see if it has any stickiness.

So back to reading the Source, as I have some projects to catch up on.


Friday, May 4, 2018

Still finding his place in comics.

In 2018, Hollywood has long figured out that comic books can make good script-fodder. Less discerning eyes may just go "superheroes are trendy," but those of us with a comic book past can easily see the truth: It's not the superheroes, it's the stories. The successful movies have been the ones that mined the vein of ideas built over decades upon decades in the medium.

So where does Sherlock Holmes figure into all of this?

Well, for as many Sherlock Holmes comics as I have stacked on my shelves, Holmes still hasn't seen the comic book equivalent of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, BBC Sherlock, or the Rathbone/Bruce movies. To this date, there hasn't been a breakout success for Sherlock Holmes in comic books.

With the grand success of moving Marvel Comics to the big screen, one of the saddest parts is that Marvel doesn't even have a B-level character who wears a deerstalker, like rival DC's Detective Chimp. And Warner Brothers's sputtering attempts to create a DC Comics cinematic universe means seeing Detective Chimp on the big screen is a long ways off.

With this week being "Free Comic Book Day," the annual celebration of comics by their retailers (one of the few retail areas to remain fairly non-corporate), it's nice to see Holmes represented by a new comic in stores. But like its predecessors, it doesn't seem like the one that will take Holmes to his first breakout comics hit.

Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man  isn't Dynamite Comics or writer Leah Moore's first attempt at a Holmes comic, and I almost didn't pick this one up, not having been too impressed on that score. But I added it to my pull list (a necessity to make sure you get something in the modern comics business model) before I knew who the writer was.

The delightful surprise about Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man is the art inside. The cover is by a different artist and rather "Eh!" but inside Julius Ohta does the art chores with a style that is clean, great to look at, and makes the book stand out. In fact, it's a little too good in the set-up of the mystery, making one particular detail clear that I'm certain will be a big twist later in the story.

The biggest twist in this particular issue, however, is . . . .

[SPOILER ALERT! Though, really, if you haven't bought and read this comic by two days after its release, you're probably not someone who haunts comic stores enough to care, but still . . . SPOILER ALERT!]

Moriarty just happens to be at the pharmacist when Wiggins goes to get Holmes's drugs. And he's a young Moriarty with a grin.

At this point, I don't think Moriarty showing up is ever really a twist in a Sherlock Holmes story, but it's a movie/TV standard in everything that's been a success, so one really can't blame comics for bringing him in just as often as well.

Just as movies have looked at successful (and unsuccessful in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther) comics and found inspiration there, perhaps it's time that comics looked at what has worked and hasn't worked in movies and TV and used a little of that to make Sherlock Holmes work in their equally visual medium.

Because Sherlock Holmes is still working after all these years. It would just be nice to seem him do it well in comics as well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Refusing to believe in genius.

An NBC website published a pretty insightful piece on rival CBS's Elementary today, entitled, "CBS' 'Elementary' succeeds because it's about so much more than the genius of Sherlock Holmes."

"Elementary takes the blueprint and turns it inside out," Noah Berlatsky writes. "Rather than one genius, the show is about how different people can work to find the truth together. The real genius of Elementary is that, in its quiet, comforting, formulaic way, it refuses to believe in genius. It believes in other people instead."

That description is dead-on. It explains both the reason the show has pulled in a mainstream American TV audience, and also the reason it's also an irritant to many a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes. Elementary's Joan Watson is one of the few Watsons who doesn't celebrate her friend's genius by publishing his cases, instead choosing to make her own way as a consulting detective. It's a very egalitarian adaptation. Joan can be a consulting detective, Kitty Winter can be a consulting detective, anyone can learn the job if they just work at it.

But that isn't really enough for Elementary, there's a dark side to the equation that Berlatsky's article doesn't bring out, something touched on by Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock, used to great profit in the best-selling Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and at this point, something one might suspect is necessary to create a Sherlock Holmes who succeeds with the general populace, rather than just those who would become Holmes fans anyway. And that is bringing Sherlock Holmes down a peg.

It's not enough to elevate those around the detective, letting them have equal lines in the inevitable confrontation of the murderer. No, it's that genius is a curse. Sherlock Holmes must have flaws that balance out his talents, in equal measure. The drugs are an easy addition, as Doyle tossed those into his originals for color without letting them actually inhibit Holmes. A diagnosis on the autism spectrum is a fairly recent innovation, giving genius along with a cost. Being a social misfit has almost become a standard price for more recent Holmeses, when as eccentric as he might seem in the original Doyle, he navigates society as smoothly as the most charming. And, if all else fails to hold him down, he can always just take a blow to the head, Elementary's latest burden to keep their resident genius in line. Its hero never really needs a "Norbury" safeword. His entire life prior serves that purpose.

We often hear mention of Sherlock Holmes's mind as a racing engine that will tear itself to pieces without proper work, even quoted in Elementary itself. And, following that prediction, in a way Elementary tears Sherlock Holmes to pieces, rather than let him run at full speed, keeping him domesticated and easy-going for the "quiet, comforting, formulaic way" mentioned in the NBC article. No damage is ever permanent. No rift between its Sherlock and Joan keeps them apart for long. The status quo remains, with nothing so jarring as that death and resurrection act more Canonical Holmeses like to pull. Or any of that season four Sherlock pushing of the limits.

As they say, all Sherlock is good Sherlock . . . for someone. Elementary has done a good job of reaching mainstream America, if not pleasing every fan of Rathbone, Brett, or Cumberbatch. Every Sherlockian you meet is happy to tell you who their favorite Sherlock is, and Jonny Lee Miller has his fans as well.

But, man, I wish they'd get out of that precinct house and out for a weekend on a country estate now and then, with no drugs, brain damage, or Morland, and just let Jonny Lee be the unfettered genius that Sherlock Holmes always was.