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.


  1. I submitted this paper to the Proceedings of the Pondicherry Lodge but since I haven't heard anything back from them I suppose it is fair game to share it here for now. A Study in Scholarship: The Case of the Baker Street Journal.

    1. I don't think I've ever had a question answered so thoroughly before. Thanks for sharing that!