Saturday, June 30, 2018

Missions from Sherlock Holmes

We hear much of Sherlockians as readers and writers, as our center-point is one marvelous piece of literature. But Sherlockians have always taken their love of Sherlock Holmes with them wherever and whatever they're doing, so the great detective can wind up in some very unusual places. And sometimes, like a pre-cell-phone, pre-Pokemon-Go, pre-geo-caching motivator to get out of the house, Sherlock Holmes sends us on missions we would never otherwise go on.

Most of the traveling I've done in my life has been to Holmes-related destinations. Sherlockian weekends, events, visits with far-off friends. Great places that I never would have thought to seek out, if not for that lure of something Sherlock. But there's another level of Sherlockian destination-setting that some of us wind up on, and it came up today as I had a very inspiring lunch with my friend John Holliday, one of those great Sherlockians whom no one really knows is out there.

John had come up with a marvelous idea for sending himself on Sherlockian missions to cities and towns that were named the same as characters in the Sherlockian Canon. Now, that by itself is not a new concept. John Bennett Shaw lead pilgrimages to Moriarty, New Mexico before most of us were even in the cult. And Don Hobbs's decision to lead a merry band on his "Great Whimsical Sherlockian Tour of Oklahoma and Texas" led us to Watson, Oklahoma and Holmes Peak among other choice destinations in its 1,895 mile range. But as John Holliday laid out his new plan for Sherlockian missions, I realized that he had taken that notion to a whole new level.

He laid out his mission packet for a trip to the little town of Adair, Illinois -- a very non-obvious choice -- and I was happily entranced. I love small town Illinois, having gone on a few quests for historical data in them myself, and there is much to be gained from any one of them, with a little research, a few questions, and the general attitude of following whatever slim leads one might come across.

Adair, for example, might just have a Moran in its graveyard. And a fellow with a name that traces to the Von Herder clan. Would the local bar have a brandy on hand, the one alcoholic beverage mentioned in "The Adventure of the Empty House," the tale Ronald Adair is mentioned in? Do the street names hold any significant ties to that tale in particular or the Canon in general? With the aid of internet resources, one can find a lot out about a place before ever reaching it, but once all that data is collected and some goals decided, there is only one bit of research left to do . . . .

And that's go to the place in question.

It might seem an arbitrary sort of adventure to those without the imagination to find joy in the random new experiences life can bring, but to me, the whole thing fairly explodes as a mental exercise and a lesson in playing detective and exploring the world around you, as Sherlock Holmes was always glad to do. A Mycroft Holmes might be content with sitting in his rooms and letting others bring back bits of data, but a Sherlock . . . a true Sherlock . . . loves to get out in the midst of it. Local pubs, area botany, all of it.

I haven't gone too deep into John Holliday's methodology here, as that's his own set of missions from Sherlock Holmes. Hearing what he was looking into, however, caused me to start thinking of my own potential goals for making a Sherlockian Saturday mission when the weather is not as beastly hot as is is today. And these things are best shared, as well . . . whether it's heading out with a travelling companion or picking a spot midway between you and your Sherlockian friends and setting a rendezvous there for a group mission. Letting your creativity flow in just how you do it is a big part of the whole business of such little missions for Sherlock Holmes.

And these days, with blogs, YouTube, and social media, you can easily share such adventures with the rest of us.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Ritual ain't so ritual this week.

There's a certain enlightenment that comes with a really good discussion of a Sherlock Holmes story.

I've found this true time after time with our local Sherlock Holmes Story Society, which met again  last night at Peoria's North Branch library. This round was "The Musgrave Ritual," and as much as I'd come to believe that was a lower-rung tale on the ladder of adventures, I found myself quite surprised by its strength and spectrum in returning to it again.

Of course, it might have helped that the goodly crew who gathered tonight was really into the tale, one notably having learned to read along with the Granada series, as her father checked the show's textual accuracy, and had memorized a good deal of the Musgrave case.

We talked so much of the rooms and people of Hurlstone that it began to have the feeling of a game of Clue. Reginald Musgrave in the library with the battle-axe. Janet Tregellis in the gun room with a billiard cue. Rachel Howells in Wales with a bag of gold. (Well, that last one is definitely a variant edition of Clue.)

And even though we didn't go there directly, enough curious coincidences came up to make me wonder how many Reglock shippers there are out there. Holmes speaks of Reginald Musgrave not being popular with the other underclassmen. (Remember how Sherlock likes fellows without any friends to speak of, as with Trevor and Watson.) He also retired to Sussex post-Watson, and who else lived in Sussex? "Confirmed bachelor" Reginald Musgrave. If one also suspects Victor Trevor of some college/Asian-hiatus Holmes dalliances, the only two pre-Watson flashbacks seem to take on a new reason for being there.

But one quickly leaves the shipping lanes when one considers the relative intelligence of Reginald Musgrave, as we did tonight, and he ranking as one of the most clueless and gullible-yet-nice characters of the Canon. Or Holmes's lack of interest or reaction in finding a dead body when there is still mystery to be unravelled. Or how high Musgrave's nose was on his face. (It's the little things.)

Queen Elizabeth's chastity belt. The Gregorian calendar. The metals used in 1600s items of value. Every Sherlock Holmes case has its detailed threads to explore and this, one, even though it does feature that treasure-responsive-reading from the title that draws the eye, has its own hidden chest of jewels. The master detective has always encouraged an eye for detail and a mind for possibilities, and "The Musgrave Ritual" certainly inspires the use of both.

I'm looking forward to getting back to just some of the mental notes I took  last night, saved for later development.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

As old as we . . .

Our greatest resource as fans of Sherlock Holmes is the fact that Sherlock and Sherlockiana are older than all of us. Not a Sherlockian lives, at this point, who pre-dates the first appearance of A Study in Scarlet.  (Unless there's a 131-year-old out there keeping their existence a secret.)

So at this point, you can actually look at the year you were born and go, "I'm as old as the movie Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace!" or  "This Baring-Gould Annotated and I came out in the same year!" (Well, maybe you came out in a different year than the one in which you were born, but you can pick a different book for each occasion.)

We have solid Sherlockian collectibles that match our own lives on this Earth.

My favorite issues of The Baker Street Journal had always been the ones with my birth year on the cover, and the opportunity to see what the Sherlockian elders were doing the year I came screaming into their unknowing world. They, of course, looked aged long before I did, although I seem to be catching up. 

One starts to wonder how much of a shelf one could fill collecting Sherlockiana from the year one was born. Books and movies are easy to put dates on -- figurines, artifacts, and the like might be harder to pin down, unless they were part of a movie release. But in an era where there is far too much Sherlockiana to just collect everything, targeting a specific year might be an excellent quest to embark on . . . and the objects would possess their own magic, being tied to your lifespan like Voldemort's horcruxes without the side effects.

And even without collecting, it's just kind of fun to explore your natal era's Sherlockian history. You might even find the Sherlockian who passed just as you were coming in, whose spirit bumped yours and caused you to catch the spiritual virus we all share. Personally, I was in the nine-month spiritual waiting room when Christopher Morley was moving along to the house-boat on the Styx, so I've always liked that possibility. Who knows who you could have encountered, even if its just in your current imagination?

Time is fun to play in, as any companion of Doctor Who soon learns, and as Sherlockians, we have a whole lot of it for our playground. Take a spin on its merry-go-round sometime and see where you wind up!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Riff-raff and Respectables.

Chris Redmond used a couple of words in a tweet recently that sent me on quite a reverie about the Sherlockian world, one that I don't think I'll ever have time to explore to its fullest. The words were "riff-raff" and "respectable," and he was favoring the former, so don't be thinking it was a judgemental sort of thing. And since recent politics have given us "deplorables" as a noun that pops up every now and again, it seemed like converting "respectable" to a noun for Sherlockian purposes would be a fine thing to do as well.

Riff-raff and respectables.

Though it has all the dangers of a binary view, I love the way those two words capture so much of Sherlockiana as we know it. We have riff-raff, we have respectables, we have respectable riff-raff, and we have riff-raff respectables, as well as wannabees at each end of the spectrum. And never has there been a time when the extremes were stretched so far.

We have literary scholars and we have pornographic shippers. We have institutions and we have iconoclasts. We have wealthy collectors and just-scraping-by fans. You can squee or you can lift your nose in a dignified manner and still fall under the heading of "Sherlockian."

You could remake the movie "Caddyshack" to be about Sherlockians instead of golfers easily enough, but perhaps I'm showing my particular bias there. It's just not the way things are now, though.

Adrian Conan Doyle surely considered the Baker Street Irregulars as riff-raff. BSJ editor Philip Shreffler was notorious for his thoughts on fans of Jeremy Brett's Sherlock.And when Julian Wolfe tore up the note from the college girls on the chilly street in front of the BSI's annual dinner venue, once again, we had a bit of a riff-raff moment.

I always wonder if Americans aren't particular prone to the "riff-raff and respectables" duality due to the Anglophilic aspect of our fandom and the idea of the classy Briton, whether it's a title, an Oxford education, or that accent -- the hope that being a follower of that most elite of British detectives will rub off some class on the likes of midwest farmboys and Jersey neighborhood kids. But it's more than that these days, when we have such a diverse array of ways to enjoy Sherlock Holmes.

The difference between writing an authoritative biographical piece on Conan Doyle and writing a nutty expose on Watson's secret voodoo medical skills is great, and the writers of each can both proudly self-identify as respectable or riff-raff. But that is always the key. Self-identification.

Want to be a part of the riff-raff? Join us, we'll be happy to have you!

Want to be a respectable? You do the work, and we'll all thank you for it.

But if you want to call somebody else "riff-raff," just to separate them from your rarefied stratosphere of Sherlockiana? Well, you might just be a balloon full of hot air, needing a prick.

Long live the riff-raff and the respectables of our wide Sherlockian world, though, because that combo pack is what gives this hobby a cache that has kept us going for many a year.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sherlock Holmes, easing our social media guilt.

Step one: Wake up this morning, reached for my phone, and started flipping through Twitter.

Step two: Feel that concern that I am somehow over-using/addicted to my phone and its various feeds-of-the-moment.

Step three: Remember Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson.

It's very early in the Sherlockian Canon when we establish that Holmes and Watson are what we might call "voracious" readers of the news. In the beginning of chapter six of A Study in Scarlet, Watson condenses report from just three of the newspapers that he and Holmes read over breakfast, the Daily Telegraph, the Standard, and the Daily News. And this newspaper "addiction" doesn't stop there.

Sherlock Holmes might have found the newspapers "a valuable institution," but John Watson, who was definitely not using them for professional purposes, seemed to read them even more. surrounding himself with a "cloud of newspapers" in "The Noble Bachelor."

"But wait!" one might argue, "They were reading the news, not the folderol that composes Twitter and its ilk!"

There are two things we know Sherlock Holmes read in the papers to be sure: Criminal news and the Agony Column, a.k.a. the personal ads. Think about that for a moment. Yes, yes, he did occasionally find something to do with a case in the personals, and he complains of them being "Bleat, Watson -- unmitigated bleat!"  (Which sounds just like a lot of social media, doesn't it?) But the fact of the matter is that Sherlock Holmes read the personals every day when, if fully considered, that habit could not have solved all that many cases for him. You know he just enjoyed the flow of humanity in those words and all the "bleat" he could mock and fuss over. (Which, again, sounds just like social media.)

And even the supposed "news" in those days was just as slanted and full of irrelevancies as one of our modern propaganda outlets. That passage in A Study in Scarlet I mentioned earlier hits the level of parody in what it tells us about each of those papers. And yet Watson dutifully clipped the articles after he and Holmes finished with them. (Which makes one wonder -- Holmes also saved old articles and newspapers. Did they have to get two copies of each when a case they were on made the papers?)

In any case, when one goes back and looks at the amount of newspaper-time that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were spending in the Canon, it can make you feel a lot better about scanning Twitter or some other source for breaking news and unmitigated bleat.

Because, hey, Sherlock Holmes would be doing it today, wouldn't he?

And luckily, most of us are too old to have our mothers going, "If Sherlock Holmes jumped off a waterfall, would you jump off a waterfall too?" Because I bet they wouldn't like the answer to that, either.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Personal Sherlockian archeology

There's a popular myth that the human body regenerates itself every seven years. It's not true, of course . . . blood cells don't live very long, brain cells (with luck) last a lifetime. But there's a reason we like that notion. Live long enough, and it feels like you've led many different lives . . . even as a Sherlockian.

In trying to find a particular bit of info this morning, I ventured down to the ancient bowels of Castle Sherlock Peoria and found the spot pictured below.

Pulling open the top drawer, I was confronted with dozens and dozens of that physical incarnation of my computer desktop's many file folders.

After years of use and abuse, there was no order to them any more. A photocopy of an entire book next to a bunch of old Christmas cards. Miscellaneous details of a historical figure next to membership lists of Sherlockian societies. And those were the parts that made sense.

Opening up a folder called "Misc Info and Cool," I found the makings of Christopher Morley masks. Why I made masks of the founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, and what we used them for, I have no idea at this point. If I had the time, I could search through scion newsletters and the actual letters themselves that fill dozens and dozens of other file folders, and try to piece together a theory of just what kind of ceremony this crude mask from some "ancient" Sherlockian cult was used for.

It seems like a ridiculous amount of effort, one which I will never get to, of course, but it did put one thought in my head . . . I really need to make a pass through everything in this filing cabinet, after a decade or two of just ignoring it, and see what this earlier day Sherlockian who filled these files was up to. Much of it may be weird worthless triva, like the Morley mask, or the multiple mini-posters for the Ralph Bakshi film "Wizards," which was in the same folder . . . but one never knows. The journey of a treasure hunt is often as important as the treasure, if any, that results in the end.

And the catacombs of Sherlock Peoria are so much cooler in the summer, so it might not be a bad place to spend a little time.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The monthly Sherlockian bill?

This morning a movie chain I frequent announced a new monthly program where they automatically charge you a set amount each month to see up to twelve movies at their theaters. It immediately reminded me of the fitness center that dings my credit card ten bucks per month, the computer game that gets its monthly fee, the podcast I support with an automatic monthly donation, etc., etc.

The life has become a pay-by-the-month affair for a lot more than the good old rent and utilities that Monopoly games were built on. But aside from the Patreons of "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" and "No Place Like Holmes," I don't think anyone else has yet embraced that model in the Sherlockian world.

And how soon will a Sherlockian society go for collecting dues via the monthly credit card ding?

I suppose it's how much they have to offer. Most club dues are small enough that they don't need a twelve-way split. Those with bigger print journals, however,  could probably offer a few more benefits or an added publication and easily justify "Twelve easy payments of just FIVE dollars!" each year. 

Getting a monthly credit card ding for Sherlockian purposes, however, would seem to justify something that happened each month to make it worth your while. Patreon supporters of "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" get a lot of podcast content every month for their investment, and a lot of podcasts go that route. But it would be interesting to see some larger Sherlockian organization go that route and combine publications with web content for a total ongoing Sherlockian community experience.

The world has been moving ahead at a breakneck pace in the last decade, and while Sherlockians have made some great big ol' strides, there are still some opportunities out there left to be exploited. One wonders what the personality of a John Bennett Shaw would have done with the possibilities an energetic team of 25-year-olds might see currently. I say "team," because things have just gotten too big for the solo "sparking plug" of the 1980s to fully take advantage of. We are a culture of communities now, and a good community can do incredible things (for good or ill, sad to say).

So what manner of ongoing Sherlockian experience would be worth five dollars a month, or ten dollars . . . or even twenty? A package of publications, events, e-connectivity, and community? A Sherlockian box of goodies every month? (Or just one goodie, be it signed book or Canonical artifact.) Something that made one a part of an ongoing project? (Herding cats, of course, but you never know.)

There are places in Sherlockiana that we haven't made it to yet, but they're out there.  And if a really good one requires a monthly bill, I might not be adverse to that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Holmeses of Montague Something

William S. Baring-Gould was a smart man. A much smarter man than I.

Baring-Gould, for example, counseled that we not confuse Montague Place, mentioned in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," with Montague Street, the place where Sherlock Holmes started his detective career. They are definitely separate streets, but both bordering the same block, and definitely intersecting with each other were it not for the interference of Russell Square. (Using Google Maps and all its marvelous views, you can pretty much fly around the area like the hand-in-hand Holmes and Watson aerial trip Holmes once suggested. Not taking off the roofs, of course.)

Suffice it to say, they're pretty damn close to each other.

So when one considers that Sherlock Holmes started his career from a street named Montague in that neighborhood, and that Violet Hunter of "Copper Beeches" started her career from a street named Montague in that same neighborhood, you might want to start disregarding Baring-Gould's sage advice and go, "Hmmmm."

A number of writers have theorized that Violet Hunter was a sister or half-sister to Sherlock Holmes, and when you consider the odd coincidence of the streets named Montague, the theory starts to gain some weight. Where does one often start one's career? Out of the family's residence. The kind of place you'd split rent with a room-mate to get out of and live on your own. Or stay in between governess jobs that you needed to ask an elder brother's advice about.

And speaking of elder brothers -- who do you think might have been the primary resident of these Montague quarters? We are told Mycroft Holmes "lodges in Pall Mall" -- a little over a mile away -- when he is first introduced, but might he not have started in Montague as well, later moving to Pall Mall and keeping the rooms open for family in town? (We know from "The Empty House" that he kept Holmes's Baker Street rooms going though empty for years, so the concept is not that strange to him.) Or was their widowed mother there? Some aunt or uncle?

I think that this street of Montague coincidence, combined with pre-existing theories of a Holmes sister deserves further exploration. And if, like Baring-Gould, one were to insist that one was, yes, "Montague Street" while the other was "Montague Place," I would remind one that Watson also wrote "Holmes" and "Hunter."

And Holmes's over-dramatic annoyance at being asked to advise on governess jobs when he should be hunting criminals? Oh, that's totally big brother peevishness. But in the end, as Sherlock Holmes said, the Rucastle job was "not a situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for."

Shared origins, like that Montague starting point, do count for something.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Did Sherlock Holmes have a father?

As cloning didn't exist in the Victorian era, we know for certain that Sherlock Holmes was fathered by a male of the species. But did he grow up with a father?

Mycroft Holmes, the elder brother choosing government service, seems like the sort of fellow who is following in the family footsteps. Mycroft was famous for lacking the energy to pursue a path outside of his routines, and in picking a career, he seems like the sort that would take the path of least resistance: "Father worked for the government, so I shall as well."

Younger brother Sherlock, however, is creating his own path, and it's a path that no one before him ever walked. It's a path so outside-the-box that it's hard to imagine a present father figure not raising a major fuss, or at least some serious recurring questions, about every step Sherlock took.

Add that to the fact that when his best friend's father makes a random comment about Sherlock's potential as a detective, Sherlock takes it to heart, just the way a college-age youth without an actual father in his life might do. He's looking for something. And that something he's looking for reveals a void in his life.

Many a writer has seen this in Holmes and given him a father that shunned him, a father removed from the family by his own crimes, or just one who died. BBC Sherlock is quite the exception in giving Sherlock Holmes perfectly normal parents and a father who has been in his life all along . . . yet still seems to have nothing to do with Sherlock's evolution as a detective.

It might be something of a writer's challenge to create a father for Sherlock Holmes who both inspires and guides his son into what was a completely novel path at that time and somehow is not worth ever being mentioned to Holmes's closest friend. Yet I have a feeling that someone will get there someday . . . enough people are certainly trying out every potential Holmes these days. It might even have been done already and I'm just not aware.

I hope such a version of Holmes's backstory does exist, because we'd like for him to get a few more happy Father's Days than he gets currently.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Where my Watson truthers at?

Many years ago, I remember encountering an ardent Doylean who argued that playing the game of discussing the Canon with Watson as the author and Doyle as the agent created a very dangerous possibility.

"If you pretend Watson wrote the stories," he warned, "people are going to believe it."

Well, that was long, long ago in a Sherlockian culture far, far away, and the world we find ourselves living in today, thanks to internet connectivity and the empowering of like-thinkers it brings, is very different. All sorts of folk who believe things that they are definitely mistaken about (yes, some facts do still exist) are proudly asserting their personal truth to the world, no matter how ridiculous that truth might be.

But what truth are we hearing asserted nowhere at all?

That John H. Watson did really write the sixty stories that have Conan Doyle's name on the spine of the books. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed.

I mean, how do we get flat-Earthers, moon-landing-is-fakers, bigfoot hunters, and all sorts of other groups I could offend by including them here, AND WE DON'T HAVE ANY WATSON TRUTHERS!?!?

Yeah, sure it would be nutty, but nutty is running amok these days. At least we should have some nuts we can invite to our Sherlockian events! (Yes, yes, we do have a few mixed nuts at our Sherlockian events, but let's not talk about . . . well, that guy.) And a true Watson truther is going to be working hard at gathering evidence that Doyle was the literary agent, Watson was the writer, and that SHERLOCK HOLMES IS REAL!  (Sorry, had to plug the silly podcast, also on iTunes. But back to the topic, because -- big secret -- that sham podcast doesn't have real Watson truthers on it.) Actual conspiracy theorists can work very hard at maintaining whatever fiction they've decided is the truth.

So why no Watson truthers out there?

I suspect it is because believing that John H. Watson really wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories doesn't play to any general disbelief in accepted authorities as strongly as flat Earth or multiple-Kennedy-shooters, etc. The government would have no obvious reason for covering up Watsonian authorship the way it would moon landings and the like. (Though there are those theories that the British government covered up the truth about Jack the Ripper . . . can we roll Watson into that established belief system? Maybe in England. Hard to get all anti-Parliament and all here in the colonies, when we have our own political villains.) NASA, the CIA, the CDC, etc., really don't care about our favorite Victorian doctor and his friend enough that we can even suspect them of malfeasance, and we sure don't have any problems with Mycroft to rail against.

We love Mycroft. Even if he did cover up Watsonian authorship, well . . . he's Mycroft.

But I guess it's like everything else. Hundreds of movies this year and no Sherlock Holmes movies (no, Gnomes doesn't count). Hundreds of English-language TV shows this year, and none of them are about Sherlock Holmes (this may seem like I'm missing something to some, but you know). All those crazies out there and none of them are into Watson-truther crazy!

Ah, well. Sounding a bit like an over-privileged Boomer here who listened to too much Andy Rooney in younger days, so I'm going to wander off and try to find something a little more substantial to get worked up about before the next post.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Reflections upon Canonical scatology

(Cue the Vivaldi, cats and kittens, we're about to get all fancy up in here.)

Ladies, gentlemen, and those who would prefer othermost designations. A noble speaker upon that platform we call "the Twitter," has, of late, discovered a particular Catalonian holiday custom, as all Sherlockians must eventually, the Sherlock Holmes Caganer. This, of course, has eventually led us back to the Canon of Holmes, as all things must, and a period of reflecting upon Sherlock Holmes and that matter commonly referred to as "the poo." (Excuse the common parlance, of course, we are striving for fanciness today.)

From the digestive system of the domestic goose to the manner in which South American nitrates are produced, avian scatalogy seems to be that sub-study of the field that comes to mind most when one first thinks of Canonical fecal matters. As is only proper, as the altitude of most bird-relating droppings has a distinctly cooties-lessening effect that the common ground-based excrement. (I apologize for that last word. Its tone lacks fanciness.)

I will long remember that final line from a pun-building story of Holmes and Watson, as once featured in the first newsletter to bear the name Plugs & Dottles (The Peoria one. Apologies, Nashvillians.) which ended with Holmes pronouncing:

"A bird on the Stand has worse doo on the butch."

But, I digress. In reflecting upon Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and such conversation as "And where it it?" followed by "In the bath-room," it seemed like the best way to consider the whole situation would just be in song. So, sing along if you like, in your fanciest of voices:

John Watson had gone to the bath-room.
After Sherlock had finished his bit.
The doctor came out quite disgusted,
And in his hand was a big pile of  . . .

Sha-ving cream! God save the Queen!
Shave for Sherlock and you'll never be mean!

Black Peter he hung from that harpoon.
Some P.C. had stabbed him through the tit.
But if you looked close at the crime scene,
The captain's corpse had lost all of its . . .

Sha-ving cream! God save the Queen!
Shave for Sherlock and you'll never be mean!

Now, as you can see from the above example, the most appropriate and societal appropriate manner to study the scatalogical aspects of the Sherlockian Canon is by analyzing each and every story with a new verse of the old song "Shaving Cream." I think I have found my summer goal for this year, which might be a little easier than converting a full season or two of Gilligan's Island to Sherlockian purposes.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The shipping office

Sometimes I just take out a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, open it randomly, and plant a finger on a phrase, then just ponder the result. In a work so rich with detail, I'm never disappointed.

This morning (and why I don't do this every morning, I don't know), I gave it a shot and found a Canonical character who was into shipping . . . well, not that kind of shipping, sadly.

Dr. James Mortimer makes his first appearance at 221B Baker Street, having left his walking stick behind on a previous attempt to meet Holmes and Watson, and says this:

"I was not sure whether I had left it here or in the Shipping Office. I would not lost that stick for the world."

If Mortimer is absently leaving his cane behind places, it would seem he doesn't really depend upon it too badly, nor actually value it too highly, since he lets his dog chew on it.(A curly-haired spaniel that he's dragging about London, yet apparently leaves tied up on the street when coming up to visit detectives.) But back to that Shipping Office.

"The Shipping Office" would be the perfect name for a fanzine, but if we get past that distraction, our first question has to be, "What was Dr. Mortimer doing there? What was he shipping?"

Mortimer wasn't shipping anything -- and this detail gives you a view of how rich Conan Doyle's mental image of his characters' world was -- Mortimer was surely at the shipping office inquiring about Sir Henry's possessions that were coming over from Canada. Mortimer won't meet Mortimer at Waterloo Station for over an hour yet.

We spend much of our time in the early chapters of The Hound of the Baskervilles watching Holmes and Watson deal with the mystery of Sir Charles's death and then the mysterious figure who shows up to follow Sir Henry. We focus on cabmen and boots, maps and manuscripts, but not what Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer are doing in London before heading out to Baskerville Hall. Which is, basically, all the bits that have to do with moving one's entire life from Canada to England.

What possessions had Sir Henry accumulated that he felt dear enough to bring across the Atlantic with him? What did he leave behind? How did a shipping office of the 1880s work, being so long before UPS or Fedex? Royal Mail Canada was founded in 1867, but was probably not up to shipping anything too large at that point. We read of "shipping agents" a few times in the Canon, and an Aberdeen Shipping Company in "The Man with the Twisted Lip," but the snapshot Watson/Doyle gives us is not at all detailed, and why should it be? "Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Shipping Agent" would have been a very different set of stories. (And yet, might still have worked!)

As with all things Canonical, I'm sure some enterprising Sherlockian could unearth enough material about shipping of the Victorian era to fill a twenty-minute talk at some Saturday symposium and entertain the usual suspects for that amount of time. But such an obscure specialization is the kind of thing you would only get to if you were currently a proud professional shipper yourself . . . or just randomly poking your finger into a copy of the Complete.

The Canon never disappoints, though, which is, apart from Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, another reason why it's stayed with us so long.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

O Baker Street! Our Holmes and Watson land!

Can I be a POW in a trade war?

With the Nigel Bruce of diplomacy raising potential conflict with our continental brethren to the North, it seems like the perfect time to remember all of the Sherlockiana that Canadians and Americans have shared over the years. Even though we feel strong, strong ties to that land where Sherlock Holmes came from, Canada and America have long been brothers in the House of Holmes. Some of our greatest Sherlockians have even had ties to both countries, like Vincent Starrett, born in Toronto but blooming as a Sherlockian in Toronto.

Canada is the land tied to The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Scarlet Claw, while America that of The Valley of Fear and Sherlock Holmes in Washington. (Yes, technically we get A Study in Scarlet, novel-wise, but that was more about our wilderness and those Mormons who were always trying to secede back then, rather than America proper.) Canada claims Matt Frewer among its Sherlocks, and America has . . . Stewart Granger? No, he's British . . . Robert Downey, Jr.? He's the only big movie Sherlock we have, and he didn't do a Hound of the Baskervilles? Guess there's a reason, North America doesn't get to have its own Sherlocks, another thing America and Canada share.

Toronto and Minneapolis have the two great Sherlockian collections not held in private hands, and if it wasn't for two ridiculously large lakes blocking a straight drive between them, well they'd still be hundreds of miles apart, but, man, would that make for a good double-conference if you could pull it off. (And odd note: the Sherlockian collection that's the furthest North? Not the Canadian one.)

Sherlockian presses and authors have been sending books both directions across the U.S./Canadian border for  decades, and neither side has the monopoly on quality of thought contained within those books. (Though in some parts of Canada, I suspect the local Sherlockians have more winter to have long, thoughtful studies of Holmes.)

Basically, Canadian Sherlockians have, to me, always been those siblings we look at fondly and maybe sometimes think they're the better part of the family. The idea that one incredible doofus outside of our happy little tribe is going to do anything to muck that relationship up is just one more ridiculous possibility in a world of ridiculous possibilities and realities of late. Nobody really knows where we go from here.

But Canadian Sherlockians and American Sherlockians both share a "dual citizenship" in our common land, that place Vincent Starrett called a "nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895."  Hopefully we'll continue to meet there for a long, long time to come, no matter what silliness goes on elsewhere. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Boomer's Sherlockian life.

There's a weird cultural/demographic thing called a "cohort," that marketers and such folk use to define broad generational groups. Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials . . . all terms that wind up dogging us throughout our lifetimes, wherein we are lumped together with the worst examples of folks born within twenty or less years of us.

Each generation rejects previous values, as generations do. Each gets a bit of a rep for having coasted off their parents. And all of that gets established while they're young, forgetting that each will grow old, be parents themselves, and come up with the values that the next cohort will reject.

I was sitting at a non-Sherlockian event today, populated by mainly aged Boomers, and pondering the Sherlockian Boomer wave. Born from 1946-1964 (by one definition) the things that molded Boomer Sherlockians were distinctly different from those that are creating the Sherlockians of today.

Basil Rathbone was making his very last Sherlock Holmes movies the year the first Boomers were born. As they grew to adulthood, television made its way to every home, and Rathbones movies were re-running on those televisions, making him one of the first Holmes faces to reach the largest generation ever. Boomers didn't go "I love Rathbone's Sherlock" or "I hate Rathbone's Sherlock," because he was just Sherlock Holmes. Others played him, too, but Rathbone just was Sherlock Holmes.

Boomers always had a complete Canon of sixty stories, and by the time the oldest of them turned twenty-one, they had Baring-Gould's The Annotated Sherlock Holmes as a present for their adulthood, the massive two-volume set that pretty much defined the Sherlockian hobby for their generation. In Baring-Gould, they read about the doings of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York and the scion societies that followed and saw a model for creating fan clubs that we could call by the fancier term "scion societies," and set about organizing those clubs.

Sherlockian scholarship was also spreading its seeds with Baring-Gould, and, yes, yes, I know this wasn't every Boomers path into the culture, but was there ever a more complete package so available in bookstores everywhere? And once Boomers found the cult, The Baker Street Journal was there to subscribe to, of course, and as they hit their twenties and thirties, Nicholas Meyer dropped a best-selling Sherlockian nuke on the world entitled The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which opened up floodgates to not just celeb-filled pastiches in bookstores, but Jack Tracy's The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana . . . a Sherlockian reference book you could find in any bookstore. The oldest Baby Boomer was only thirty-one when that hit stores.

Having been young enough and fresh enough to enjoy the wave of non-Doyle Sherlock fiction in the late seventies, Boomers settling into their thirties and forties got the comfort food of Jeremy Brett portraying doing the greatest set of Canon-loyal adaptations of Sherlock Holmes ever. And then . . . ?

Well, within our Sherlockian cult, the game is always afoot, but outside the Boomer Sherlockian's focussed gaze, things got kind of quiet for a while. No major Sherlocks past Brett from 1995 to 2009. Fourteen very long years to make our own fun. And then, just as the first of the Baby Boom was well into their sixties, some very new things started happening. A brand-spanking new generation of Sherlockians came aboard, and, yes, there was really spanking at 221B now, but let's save that for another day.

Many, maybe even most Sherlockians of the times I just wrote of came into the culture at a later point in life than the ages that line up with a true Sherlockian Baby Boomer timeline. And not every Boomer who got in early hit all those touchstones in the order or era above. We all have different paths to 221B Baker Street and beyond. But when you lay out the history of the Sherlockian Baby Boomer there, you see a generation's Sherlockian view. You see a view that will one day not exist, replaced by Sherlockians who came up with other faces as their Sherlock, other seminal texts as their inspiration for how to carry the torch beyond Doyle.

I don't fear the loss of Baby Boomer Sherlockian culture too much, because Lord knows we've documented the hell out of it. It's just fascinating to note that certain core events that shaped so many are not what are currently shaping Sherlockians, and the diversity of Sherlock stuff we're seeing available for those coming on board points to a future that none of us can predict, other than it's probably not going to be the same-old, same-old, except for a very traditionalist few.

And the more of that future I get to see, the better.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A second piece of a review

There are definitely two parts to every comic book or graphic novel: the story and the art.

With the second issue of Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man, I find that I'm am loving one half of that equation and really wondering why the other is on the payroll.

The key to any Sherlock Holmes story is the weird and colorful predicament of his client, or the murder victim, or the clever tricks of Sherlock Holmes, the culprit, or both.

The key to any good comic book story is that combination of images and situations that evoke drama, comedy, or thrills.

It really seems like those two things shouldn't be too hard to combine.

With movies, like those featuring Robert Downey, Jr., the imagery can even go too over the top, with a Reichenbach Falls that seems like a mountain-top Niagara, exploding trees, and whole ocean liners falling on people. But it still seems to capture Sherlock Holmes, and hold your interest.

Even Conan Doyle struggled to keep up Sherlock's proper pace, striking with a weird short story situation, having Holmes right it, and getting out again. Modern novelists, forced to do a whole book to meet market demands, struggle even harder and fail time and again. Sherlock Holmes is a caper character -- get in, get out, leave the audience's head spinning in his wake. In the best novel Conan Doyle ever wrote of Holmes, Sherlock had to let Watson go it alone for a large chunk of the story, just so he could show up, do his thing, and get out again.

So with Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man, we find a writer trying to pad out a missing person case over multiple months to get enough content to fill a graphic novel. Moriarty is dragging  Wiggins around, trying to feed him candy and dinner, and neither character is named in the second issue, depending upon you to remember the way they were drawn from a month ago. Perhaps this story will be one that works when read all at once, combining the first five or six issues, but I'm having my doubts. The mysterious secret alluded to in both the first and second issue of the man who disappeared is fairly obvious each time the question is raised.

Is it spoilers to give away a plot twist when the writer hasn't even revealed it yet? I won't give it away here, but man, after two issues, I'm finding that I really enjoy the art of this comic . . . I just wish the artist was given better purposes to be using it with.

As much as I hate to go negative on anything these days, this is one for the collectors.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Winner Sherlocks and Loser Sherlocks

Sometimes, when you look deep inside, you see something in yourself less than admirable, even in Sherlockian terms.

I was pondering, as pondering often happens as the warm water of the morning shower hits my sleepy head, why it is that I like this Sherlock over that Sherlock. Instead of just pondering why this Sherlock is better than that one, I dug a little deeper and wondered what was different in my reaction to each one. Whether that reaction was valid in the rest of the universe's eyes or not, what was that gut-level response that set the tone for a portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in my mind?

The answer, I was horrified to discover, sounded a lot like words out of the mouth of someone I really, really despise.

"I like winners."

It's not about the looks. It's not about the Watson. It's whether their overall status in life projects "winner" or "loser." As well as the status of those around them. "A high tide raises all boats," and a winning Sherlock usually brings success to all those around him, especially the Scotland Yarders. And I don't mean just a high-solve rate. A winning Sherlock gets actual fame for his friendly neighborhood officers of the law. His brother, when he deigns to show up, is second only to the Queen as "God over Britain." And even Watson becomes well known to the general public in his wake.

A winning Sherlock is a Sherlock to whom "Norbury" is the biggest wound in his own confidence, because it's the exception, the one thing he doesn't get away with. Even a bit of drug addiction doesn't seem to slow some Sherlocks down, and certainly doesn't lessen their lifespan. A winning Sherlock can be as obnoxious as hell, too, which is part of why we having losing Sherlocks.

Sherlock Holmes as a character, has been winning for so long that his basic public image has a certain infallibility that a loser Sherlock story gets to play against. Conan Doyle probably couldn't have popularized Sherlock Holmes as a struggling loser in The Strand Magazine. But as the amazing, outside-the-box specialist who was better than anyone in the world at what he did? That Sherlock sold magazines.

Winner Sherlock versus Loser Sherlock is a pretty binary breakdown, however, and we live in a world that's just complicated as any before us, but I think we're just a little more aware these days of just how complicated it is. Sherlock is becoming more complicated. I don't think I could even begin to classify Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock as a winner Sherlock or a loser Sherlock. ("Weird as hell Sherlock?") And all Sherlocks have their purposes. All Sherlocks have their meanings, to someone.

Which gives all of us a little more Sherlock to explore these days. The game never ends.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A tough listen to write about.

Slate's "Decoder Ring" featured Sherlockiana in its topic of the month this month, and it's well worth a listen. The producers of the podcast get into a subject that not just touches our little pond of Sherlock Holmes fandom, but one that has greater implications about the rest of the world in which we now live.

The Decoder Ring episode isn't exactly an easy listen. If you have any empathy in you for people who aren't you, the tale of the pain and conflict emanating from what should be a joyous hobby is going to sting a bit. It might even make you a little afraid of your fellow Sherlock Holmes fans. It might also make you go, "Well, that's those people over there. We don't have any of those people at our society meetings."

But don't be that person. Even if that is your first thought, think again. Hard.

We are enthusiasts. We are obsessive. We can be fanatical. When I said the Decoder Ring podcast might make you a little afraid of certain Sherlockians out there, I don't want to make it seem like that's something new or that I'm pointing a finger at the BBC Sherlock branch of our fandom. There have been classic Conan Doyle Sherlockians who have scared me just the same in my forty years as a Sherlockian, because some of us always seem to get a little too fanatical or a little too sure we know what the one true path is.

To me, the most disturbing thing I heard in the Decoder Ring podcast was a person who seemed to be the least excited about things, calmly and steadfastly maintaining that there was no issue with the matter at hand, but not allowing that there could have been another interpretation of events. I have heard that tone in different voices a few times over the last forty years, and it's never pleasant, nor coming from someone I try to spend any time with after that. How did the song go . . . "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow" . . . and John Lennon wasn't specifically singing about Mao there. He was talking about being overly adamant about something that you might want to take a little less seriously.

But you don't get to tell other people to take it less seriously, just yourself. So I won't. But I do still get to decide who I "make it with," as Lennon sang.

One of the great joys of Sherlockiana as long, as long as I have been in it, has been the new interpretation of the same old stories. Not only allowing for a wide variety of viewpoints, but delighting at them, is a prime part of our culture. Holding a death-grip on a single interpretation of Sherlock Holmes is not something that gets you invited to after-parties. The best of us (and there are a lot of the best of us -- which I don't always count myself as one of) seem to radiant a joyful acceptance, giving a nod of respect to all the alternate theories held by their fellow Sherlockians.

We have always had those who take it too far, who found a community that might accept their peccadillos in the name of Sherlock Holmes. Those folks didn't just join the hobby after BBC Sherlock aired. We just have the internet, etc. now. Had such things existed in the 1950s, we might now have YouTube videos that might make some old Irregulars seem a lot less cool than they come across on the printed page. And some of what was a minor kerfuffle back then, with snail mail giving matters time to cool, would definitely have flamed up as brightly as anything on whatever social media outlet you find most incendiary.

I really enjoyed the piece on Decoder Ring, as uncomfortable as it may have been at times. It looked at the fandom of Sherlock Holmes as a whole, ongoing thing. And as much as some may like to keep the topic at arms reach, toplock, bottomlock, and switchlock are now a part of our friend's lore that completist students of Holmes in the future will be looking at just the same as that much less-popular thing we call Sherlockian chronology (or maybe moreso -- like I said, not as popular).

'Tis a big, wide world of Sherlock Holmes out there, and one I want to keep listening to.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Japanese Wrestling Practitioners of 1891

When it comes to historical Sherlockian scholarship, there are definitely two kinds: Taking references from the Canon and exploring the history behind them and taking references from history outside the Canon and jamming Sherlock Holmes into them with a "This . . . is . . . gonna . . . fit!" determination. What follows is one of those two kinds.

May 4, 1891 -- Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty grapple at Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland to potentially determine who is the greatest mind on crime in the world.

May 13, 1891 -- Farmer Burns and Sorakichi Matsuda grapple in Troy, New York to potentially determine who is the greatest pro wrestler in the world.

A mere nine days separating two of the most important mano a mano battles of the Victorian era. Coincidence?

Sherlock Holmes freely admitted to using a Japanese system of wrestling to beat Moriarty, calling it "baritsu." Sorakichi Matsuda, born in Japan, and trained in sumo, lost to Farmer Burns in what would be his last match. In 1884, Matsuda travelled America, even coming to Peoria, Illinois at one point. In 1884, Sherlock Holmes's whereabouts are unknown, as Watson has none of Holmes's case records dated for that year.

Two years later, in 1886, Sorakichi Matsuda would wrestle a man named Duncan Ross. Four more years later, in 1890, a man named Duncan Ross would show up in London and hire Jabez Wilson for "the Red-Headed League," which Wilson claims just involves copying the encyclopedia and not professional wrestling, though no evidence of his encyclopedia-copying is ever presented.

Matsuda also battled Englishman Joe Acton, whose relationship to Old Acton the Reigate squire, cannot be established, yet there it is. Just one more coincidence.

One would suspect elder brother Mycroft Holmes to be more suited to sumo wrestling and international affairs than his brother, but Sorakichi Matsuda was said to be "the cleverest man in the world at his weight," which substantially less than Mycroft's.

Both Sherlock Holmes and Sorakichi Matsuda began their recorded careers in the early 1880s, but trained and worked in the field before that. Both men died in 1891, but only one of them returned publicly. Like Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper, one might hope that their paths crossed at some point, and perhaps there is a celebrity-cameo pastiche out there somewhere where they did.

(Or maybe Conan Doyle just happened to see a reference to the wrestler Duncan Ross somewhere just prior to writing "The Red-headed League.")

Saturday, June 2, 2018


The weather patterns of social media are going to have to one day have nightly reports from social media meteorologists, just so we can see what storm fronts are coming, where there's a chance of rain on your parade, and which direction the wind is blowing.

I mean, some hashtag like #UnpopularOpinion starts trending, we have to co-opt it for our purposes to #UnpopularSherlockianOpinion, and suddenly it feels like we're being encouraged to troll-bait or generally sow discord by posting things we already know people disagree with us on. And anyone that's going to be "brazen" enough to tweet their unpopular opinion with so little prompting has probably made that clear every opportunity they had to do it before.

I do, as is probably a shocking surprise to no one, have some lovely little unpopular opinions about things like the weird membership rituals of the B.S.I., but are they best conveyed with a one-liner and a hashtag. And do I need to take every potential pot shot at social change that is, most definitely, something those closest to it will never consider without generational changes over decades?
The mix of statements of social import and clever quips in my Twitter feed really confuses the issue even more. Is #UnpopularSherlockianOpinion meant just for entertainment value, or a Festivus-like airing of grievances? A time to take our pet peeves for a walk and let them poop in the neighbors' yards, or a recurring bit in a text-based stand-up routine?

"You know you've got an #UnpopularSherlockianOpinion when you're blocked by every single Sherlock Holmes impersonator on Twitter."

"You know you've got an #UnpopularSherlockianOpinion when 221B Con suddenly tells just you, and only you, that the con is by invitation only."

"You know you've got an #UnpopularSherlockianOpinion when the ghost of Conan Doyle actually appears over your bed and that Ghost of Sherlock Past is just the start of your night."

"You know you've got an #UnpopularSherlockianOpinion when it's 1974 and your name is Samuel Rosenberg." #DeepCutSherlockiana

Okay, maybe there's a reason Jeff Foxworthy went with "You know you're a redneck when . . ." instead of that one.

Of course, hashtags are just opportunities, and what we make of them says a little bit about who we are. Sometimes they make us think about something new, sometimes they just bring back the old and tired, but in the end, we make the choice as to what we put out there as a result.

So much to think about any more . . . .

Friday, June 1, 2018

Are female "benevolent dictators" different?

Listening to a recent podcast about how much getting women and minorities into management positions can help companies see more inclusion and less issues with prejudicial practices, I thought of something that happened back in 1991 and a certain Sherlockian organization that's been under the same management for about twenty-five years now.

The past twenty-five years have been very good for the Baker Street Irregulars of New York as a publishing house to the Sherlockian world, as archivist of their own history, and as keeping that consistent annual dinner on the calendar. A lot of male skill-set accomplishments have been accomplished, and those who prefer a certain status quo have been satisfied for the duration.

But sometimes one has to look at the future and go "What if . . . ?"

As in "What if the next leader of the B.S.I. was a woman? How might the ensuing twenty-five years be different from the previous twenty-five? What might a Sherlockian of a different gender see in our world that those of us in the predominate gender of the past do not?"

I can think of at least one scion society whose upper management changed genders some time ago, and there weren't big, blatant changes, yet changes were there. A little broader vision was obvious, a little more proactive inclusion, a little less emphasis on certain past touchstones and a little more emphasis on new world Sherlockiana. There was no disrespect to the former leaders in it all, but it was plain that new ideas, a new perspective was being added to the group's traditional base.

The passing of the BSI "benevolent dictator" torch is based upon what the group's previous head saw as what it needed to continue into the future, and the situation now is decidedly different from what it was in the 1990s, so new factors will surely play into that change when the time comes. Will that include expansion from paper publishing to the array of other media so easily now available to explore even literary topics? Will it involve changes to the strangely awarded membership system? Probably not right away, even for the most ambitious newly chosen head of the BSI, as there is always that period of respectful conservatism for the previous lead.

Should the stars align, however, and the cap of the next Irregular chief come off to reveal flowing locks (yes, not all ladies have long hair, nor a movie trope that works in a non-binary system), what comes next would definitely be a perspective traditional American Sherlockian culture has never seen at the top. Where it goes from there? I don't think any of us could predict. The future can be a very surprising thing, especially when a different set of eyes get to set the course.

Here's hoping we will all get to be around when such curious days come.