Monday, July 30, 2018

Here's one time we need less Hope.

"See here, Captain Croker, we'll do this in due form of law. You are the prisoner. Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one."
 -- Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"

The denizens of social media seem to enjoy rallying lynch mobs almost as sport of late, which gives one pause to reflect up the jury system of passing judgement. Like any system, it can have its flaws, but the intentions behind it are excellent: That no one man or woman is objective enough, observant enough, or wise enough to consider the facts of a case alone.

We go to great trouble to select juries, hopefully with both sides of the question getting to weigh in on who gets to be on said jury, along with a judge, again . . . hopefully . . . to keep it at its most fair and impartial. In the matter of the crime at Abbey Grange, Sherlock Holmes declared himself judge, decided that Watson could replace an entire jury, and acquitted the accused without involving the actual legal system.

And in "Abbey Grange," we usually go along with Holmes.

But recall A Study in Scarlet, and Jefferson Hope.

"I knew of their guilt though, and I determined that I should be judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one," Hope declared. Do we go along with him as well?

Watson, appointed as jury in "Abbey Grange," had no emotional ties to anyone in the case. And while he was just one man, he still had "Judge Holmes" to keep him honest. Jefferson Hope was a twisted mess of a man who spent more time and energy on vengeance than he did trying to stop his adopted daughter's final fate. Much of his motivation stemmed from his own guilt in the tragedy as his sense of honest justice.

"It is of the first importance not to allow your judgement to be biased by personal qualities," Holmes once said, speaking of being biased by other people's looks. But it's harder still not to be biased by the personal qualities within ourselves, as Jefferson Hope did. In the end, he was no judge and jury.

Jefferson Hope was just a one-man lynch mob.

We live in complex times, with complex questions being raised. And we can choose to be like Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, or we can let ourselves follow a path like that of Jefferson Hope. And there's a key thing to remember when you're making that decision:

Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson have been lead characters in sixty tales that have lived well over a century. Jefferson Hope was done in one, and most of us don't really enjoy reading the prequel part of his tale at that.

Don't be Jefferson Hope.

What if boys had created "slash" fan fiction?

One could say that the male-dominated publishing industry was doing its own fan fictions long before amateur presses, and eventually the internet, blew up the field. Robin Hood fan fiction. Hercules fan fiction. Oog Oog Gruh fan fiction told round the place where someone would put fire once it was invented. But the field we know today as "slash" fan fiction, is one I would venture to say was created and dominated by non-male genders.

Love, romance, sex, hurt/comfort . . . the themes of slash are what were traditionally seen as the province of said non-male genders. And while testosterone has come into the picture as the sex oft got a little more intense, it's not testosterone evidenced in the way males typically seem to prefer it to be displayed.

This came to mind tonight, as I chanced upon that old video game movie Mortal Kombat, and wondered why no one had ever transported Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson to Shang Tsung's island to battle in the tournament that would prevent the invasion of Earth. No mystery. No detection. Let's just make Sherlock and John fight people!

If the testosterone club had gotten to putting the slash in "Kirk/Spock" before those who did, it surely would have signified the sort of battle that the TV boys gave us when Spock did go into his mating frenzy, instead of any actual love-making. "Watson/Sholto" would be a Kill Bill level dual between two trained warriors. (Of course, maybe Mycroft/Mary might be more in that line.)

Since fan fiction is the black market of non-Canonical wish fulfillment, maybe such a genre would have even filled the void of fights that started, but did not get finished in the Canon. That Holmes/Roylott set of challenges was worthy of a TV wrestling promo. Sherlock Holmes/Killer Evans, had that bullet gone a slightly different direction in "Three Garridebs." Watson

And what about the "rare pairs" of fightin' slash? Wiggins/Tonga. Kitty Winter/Birdy Edwards. Sahara King/Cyanea Capillata. It's not that the Holmesian Canon doesn't contain enough fiesty characters . . . it's that they just aren't often shown in the act of their battles.

Holmes fending off street thugs with a stick. Victor Hatherly dealing with an axe-wielding maniac. Angry dog versus monkey-man. All of these things happen within the Canon, just mostly off-stage. So one could make a case that there's fighty-fiction aplenty in Watson's records, yet Holmes turns it all into more cerebral material. Not a lot of play-by-play fight scenes.

Yet romance, in all its forms, is even less frequent, so one can see why that industry has sprung up around Holmes and Watson . . . especially once they became young and good-looking after decades of being elder gentlemen (yes, yes, there can be hot elderly guys, but they aren't the primary romance market).

Of course, if manly all-fighting fan fic had sprung up at some point, it might have depended upon a younger Sherlock and John as well . . . .

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A particular "What if . . . ?" that came up today

There are possibilities out there that nobody likes to consider. Questions that some say should never be raised, and if raised, should never be answered. But when one has a blog that gets posted multiple times a week, certain hesitations do fall away. So let's ask one of those questions:

What if the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend in New York did not have the BSI dinner any more?

Or even just for one year. What if it just didn't happen one year?

Would people not go to New York on an agreed upon weekend, and go to everything else, see their friends, chat about matters Sherlockian, etc., etc.?  Would we hear nothing of interest from those who make it to New York and social media fall silent? Would we have to consider that Sherlock Holmes's birthday happened upon another day, just to make up for the loss with another celebration?

What does that most ancient of traditional gatherings bring to the table that could not happen anyway?

Well, there's the awarding of the B.S.I. investitures and the exclusive invitations that allow new people that thrill of getting in somewhere not everyone gets into. But really, are those doing the Sherlockian community as a whole any good these days? Sure, Sherlockians from previous generations get to check off one more box on their bucket list, but what do those shillings inspire, other than maybe driving a few more articles to The Baker Street Journal from the hopeful?

Yes, yes, I may be asking what some would consider offensive questions here, and I'm not really trying to offend. Provoke, perhaps, if considering such questions provokes thoughtful answers other than "It's all wonderful, I love it, shut up!" (Which is more knee-jerk than thoughtful, really.)

Most traditions have their roots in good purposeful things, but the purposes sometimes get confused as years pass. People forget what the original intent was, or skew it to their own purposes. And sometimes, things that seem so very obvious to one generation, like the importance of a certain musical group or motion picture, is completely mystifying to those who come after. So traditions have to be given hard looks . . . which is why things like "the true meaning of Christmas" get attention year after year.

What is the true meaning of the annual Baker Street Irregulars dinner at this point, and how would the world lose out if it just didn't occur . . . which it doesn't, for many of us. For me, it's been all of fifteen years at this point, which could be one reason that I'm asking these questions. Even if I was to invest in a return trip to New York City, tolerate the current conditions of our airlines, etc., what would be the attraction of that dinner among so many other festivities that are also being held, most with the very same people in attendance?

Come this January, perhaps I'll get to hear some answers. But it's July now, and a good time for "What if . . . ? day-dreams on hot days.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Before I go back to bed

A monkey dressed like Sherlock Holmes walks into a bar.

It's 4 AM and you couldn't get back to sleep anyway. Whether it's the funny tasting tap water from the new pipes or the touch of tendinitis reminding your of Watson's shoulder wound, you're up. And the first issue of Justice League Dark is just sitting there, with Bobo the Detective Chimp on the cover.

And Bobo, it turns out, is in this magical bar.

Which then reminds you, hey, you used to hang out in a sort-of magical bar. The main magic was that it was actually always 1895 in the bar and that there were some real characters showing up in the place. And, as such places do, that thought leads to remembering all of the other characters who have graced your life. The partners, team-mates, loves, and bastards. And the fictional characters, too, the ones that nobody really knows about.

It's 4AM and those are the kind of thoughts you have, because, I guess, you should be dreaming at such an hour and the ol' brain is kinda loose and playful the way it would be if it were dreaming. And if you're very lucky, none of the daytime thoughts of responsibilities and chores are around to bother you.

The tale of the monkey in the bar is pretty vague and ominous, the way a lot of comics have been of late. Trying to tell big new tales of bigger than ever cosmic forces nobody ever heard of before. But you probably enjoyed the new tale of the spider guy better, because he's back to being a loser again, which was always his strong suit. Because most of us can relate to the guy who everything goes wrong for. Water pipes get leaky and need replacing, you wake up at four in the morning for no reason, and the "ghosts of how things used to be different" drop by to make you laugh, instead of rattling chains like Jacob Marley.

And somehow it all winds up being about Sherlock Holmes, but you just don't want to tell anybody about it just yet. But there it is.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Reigate Squee

There are many different kinds of Sherlock Holmes groups. The annual banquet group, the online community, the local scion society, and many a mix-and-match flavor in between. And when you're in the midst of a good one, it's a very fun thing.

We've had a full-fledged Sherlockian society in Peoria, with banquets, events, and guest speakers, but the little library discussion group we have now -- The Sherlock Holmes Story Society -- had been having a great run. One of the complaints I remember about the old group was that too many times it was about the social evening more than Sherlock Holmes. Many a member or guest came not caring about the story of the evening or even attempting to read it -- the food and friendship made for a fine night out. But with our library group we never fail to close in on the finer points of Watson's records themselves . . . with some great results.

Tonight, for example, we got into "The Reigate Squire/Squires/Puzzle," a tale that used to be nowhere close to my top ten. But with the help of Kathy, Ruth, Viv, Gary, Melissa, Amanda, and Mary, I think that "Reigate" just shot up to my top five.

It's an abbreviated tale, which was my biggest gripe with it. Conan Doyle/Watson seems to have blazed through the writing of it leaving many details unexplained and whole characters wasted. But when you start to plumb its depths as we did, this tale of burglary, blackmail, and murder (a veritable trifecta of crime!) has some amazing stuff in it. I think it actually altered my presentation for "Holmes in the Heartland" coming this August.

And that wasn't the best thing to come out of it -- we got into the story so much that there was some pretty serious talk of adapting it into a play, with some of the tale's hanging details getting a much clearer focus. Was there true value in some of the items stolen? What was Annie Morrison's dark secret and why was her face (seen only in an off-stage part of the story) so very familiar? And just how into oranges was Watson? ("But, Inspector, ORANGES!")

We wondered about the lineage of the note illustrations in our various printings of the tale, one of which seemed on the verge of a comic sans/zapf chancery depiction of dual hand-writing. We were transported to other cases and other stormy petrels. And trying to guess what a Sherlock Holmes fifteen-hour workday consisted of just kept eluding us.

Coming together over a single Sherlock Holmes story with our little Peoria group always rewards me with insights and inspirations that I would never have, were I just sitting at home with a book, and it helps keep those Holmes fires burning brightly. We're at the year-and-a-half mark now, and it took us a little while to really find our pace, but we were definitely there tonight.

Hope your own Sherlockings are going just as well, and if not, hold on to hope . . . Sherlock Holmes has ways of surprising you, even when you're as worn as he was at Hotel Dulong.

The famous Sherlock Holmes sandwich

Perhaps it's the summer doldrums, but yesterday's hottest Sherlockian news came from the Montreal Gazette: a recipe for "Six O'Clock Solution: Steak sandwiches from Sherlock Holmes's pantry!"

Sherlock likes his beef. "Some cold beef and a glass of beer" are the only arrangements he needs in "A Scandal in Bohemia." And even Dr. Watson saw it as an excellent prescription, as he did in "Engineer's Thumb when he diagnosed "he looks as if a little good Berkshire beef would do him no harm."

But the Montreal Gazette, via a cookbook called A Literary Tea Party, cites "Beryl Coronet" and my favorite Sherlock Holmes culinary moment: Sherlock Holmes making a "rude meal" that he stuffs in his pocket from "two rounds of bread" and a slice of room temperature beef.

For me, this always seemed a Sherlockian excuse to hit the Arby's drive-thru, but the recipe from a food blogger named Alison Walsh adds a custom horseradish spread to Sherlock's Canonical recipe to give it a little flair.

Yes, you read that right . . . the "Beryl Coronet," when you come right down to it, has an actual recipe in it. It only has two ingredients, but it's Sherlock's own, and far preferable to that other recipe he explained involving seven-per-cent of something.

So . . . now the best news for Sherlockian vegans, but like I said. Summer doldrums.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Current resident of the Baker Street Irregulars TM universe

Ah, the Mandela effect, that lovely new phenomenon when people blame shifting universes rather than admit their memories might just be a tad faulty. Now that we're all connected by cyber-umbilicals to the great Avatar tree of digital consciousness, we often discover that "Hey! We're all making the same mistake!" and therefore it somehow feels like it's not a mistake. (Insert political comment here.)

What does this have to do with things Sherlockian?

Well, the Baker Street Irregulars just came out with an official website at long last, and I realized that I had always thought the club's official name was "The Baker Street Irregulars of New York." I was certain of it, sure that it was referred to that way all over the place, no doubt about it.

But the website, with its logo seen below, very plainly stops at the "TM," and that same "TM" makes the official statement that, yes, "The Baker Street Irregulars" is the official name of the club.

Now, if I were an insistent fellow, I might cry out "Mandela effect!" and make the supposition that I was once in a universe where the club's official name was "The Baker Street Irregulars of New York," and then somehow side-slipped, as Mandela effect believers sometimes claim, into the parallel universe of "The Baker Street Irregulars" period, done.

This would be an exciting thought, if I could also pick up a copy of the Canon and find a few stories there that I didn't remember reading before, or find a new, surprisingly different ending to "The Final Problem" or "A Scandal in Bohemia." But, alas, I fear that my having developed a headcanon about the Irregulars that diverges from the group's official paperwork is not going to yield any some remarkable benefits.

Dealing with reality isn't always fun, but it's a muscle we are really going to build up as we see more folks trying to believe their own wish-fulfillment or dodging guilt of late. And it probably has to start with the little things.

I just kind of wish it was still "the Baker Street Irregulars of New York," though, just in case a very, very old former Victorian lad named "Wiggins" ever shows up and tries to make a few more shillings, only to find himself sued and having to use "Former Street Urchin of Baker Street" at his con appearances. But I suppose there might be an exception made for him if he does.

Unless Disney buys the trademark at some point . . . but that's another discussion. Back to reality.

This one, anyway.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Agony Columns

I think Sherlock Holmes would have really liked social media.

The best evidence of this is, I think, when Watson drops a case in his lap in "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb." Usually, when we see Holmes, he's bringing Watson into a case, or he has just learned of a case, but in "Engineer's Thumb," we get this capsule of leisure:

"Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking his before breakfast pipe . . ."

It makes a certain sense that he would pick the agony column out as a part of his morning routine -- if a crime was big enough to make the news sections of the papers and he hadn't heard of it from Scotland Yard yet, chances are it wasn't complex enough to stimulate his before-breakfast mind. He could always get to the crime news later in the day. But the agony columns!

To a mind like Holmes's, those little glimpses of life afforded by the personal ads were something he could conjure upon, warming up his powers of logical synthesis.

". . . there are many ciphers which I would read as easily as I do the apocrypha of the agony column, such crude devices amuse the intelligence without fatiguing it."

He was talking about ciphers in that instance, but it says something about his feelings toward the agony column . . . even a crude cipher would take a slight bit of intellect to read, not being foreign languages that someone gets fluent in. The ads of the agony column where like a daily mini-mystery book for Holmes, where most were perhaps too ridiculously simple, but a choice few intriguing enough to save in a scrap-book for future reference.

"Lady with a black boa at Prince's Skating Club . . ."

"Surely Jimmy will not break his mother's heart . . ."

"If the lady who fainted on the Brixton bus . . ."

"Every day my heart longs . . ."

Every one of those had some potential turn of events connected to it that Sherlock Holmes found them worth filing in his great book. (I am operating, of course, on the premise that he didn't save the entire agony pages -- in which case, he wouldn't have needed the book!)

Any writer worth their salt could take one of those simple lines and conjure a tale from it, and Sherlock Holmes could see them going ways that he couldn't even fathom based on that little bit of evidence, but saw the possibility that the lady with the black boa was up to no good, or that something untoward had happened to Jimmy, or that a lady's fainting might have been the first symptom of her murder -- all things he might like to be able to refer back to, should the need arise.

Who knows? That "Jimmy" who was causing his mother such grief might have even been Dr. James Watson, whose mother had been brought to Britain since his first meeting with Sherlock Holmes. (Ah, but I'm starting to head down a rabbit hole I don't want to expose until August's "Holmes in the Heartland" conference in St. Louis.)

In any case, what Sherlock Holmes gained from those "agony columns," he could have found in great abundance on social media. And I suspect he could have had some great fun with it . . . when he wasn't stumbling on to the ridiculously big fish swimming the criminal ponds of today.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

No surprises from Conan Doyle.

This week's out-of-the-blue moments included one sudden twist where a creator on the verge of producing a third installment of a much-beloved series was yanked from doing so due to a scandalous tid-bit from his past.

If you're not familiar with James Gunn being pulled from the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, imagine it in Doylean terms. What if Conan Doyle was on the verge of writing "The Empty House" when a visitor to his home discovered the manuscript to Angels of Darkness, took it to the publishers of The Strand Magazine, and they went "OMG, we're taking Conan Doyle off Sherlock Holmes, because we can't be seen supporting anyone who ever published such racist attempts at humor!"

Yes, Sherlock Holmes was a creator-owned property, way back before corporations knew "intellectual property" was something they could hoard, so that couldn't have happened to ACD. And even now, authors of original material like J.K. Rowling still have their rights in hand. But the James Gunn firing really brings out the flaw in corporate ownership of creative works.

If J.K. Rowling was suddenly revealed to be an outright Nazi, and wrote a new Harry Potter book which some publisher interesting in profits would undoubtedly publish, we would all be faced with a dilemma: Do we find Rowling's new Nazi-ism offensive enough to avoid new Potter? But the choice would be ours, just as it is with every single Sherlock Holmes book out there. We can't control what creators create, as much as many a fan might like to these days, but we still can consume or not consume media as we please. There has never been so much choice.

And Sherlock Holmes is currently a character who offers us plenty of choices.

There was an attempt or two to make Sherlock Holmes an intellectual property completely controlled by a business entity in the past, and we were lucky enough to see those fail. Whether or not those entities would have tried to take creative control as well as getting their percent of the profits, we'll never know. But what we do know is this: At this point, we're probably not getting any surprises about the character or past behaviors of Conan Doyle.

Should he become celebrated enough at any given moment, the racist attempts at humor and the strong beliefs in ghosts and fairies might get some trending hashtags, but we're probably not going to see Sherlock Holmes and his original stories pushed out of the public eye due to them.

It's actually possible, at this point, to decide for yourself that Conan Doyle was an asshole whose work you never want to read, and still read/watch Sherlock Holmes. And while there are some Sherlockian hardliners who will tell you that you can't possibly enjoy Holmes without reading the originals, that's not really the case. You can deny Conan Doyle completely and still enjoy reading Laurie King, watching Elementary, or just listening to the Three Patch podcast. That choice, however, is yours and yours alone.

I'm a little sad that James Gunn won't get to complete a trilogy for those minor comic book characters he brought to prominence in Guardians of the Galaxy. One hopes someone with the talents of Taika Waititi can fill those shoes adequately. But fortunately, we'll never have to worry about that sort of sea change with the original Sherlock Holmes at this point. (Some modern versions, maybe.)

And Conan Doyle? Really don't think he'll be turning out to be Jack the Ripper at this point.

It's been tried.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Changing Ships in Montenegro, a fanfiction departure

"But the romance was there. I could not tamper with the facts."
"Some facts should be suppressed, or at least a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them."
-- John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, from The Sign of the Four

Budva, in technically Yugoslavia, 1926

"'This tangled skein!'" his wife cheered, and Sherlock Holmes smiled. He knew that her eye for detail would pick up his nod to Watson's A Study in Scarlet. She flipped to the next page of the slim, leather-bound volume with all dispatch. As her eyes devoured the remaining pages, a few random comments came as well: "That's what he always sounded like!" "I wish I'd have been there when you got it!" "That's the end? What about . . ."

Sherlock gently put a finger to her lips. "Even after so many years, I think the good doctor would be quite cross with me if I sent on a romance to Doyle. You don't know how unmercifully I chided him after his infatuation with Mary Morstan, and those hand-holding segments of the Sholto novel."

Maudie laughed. "You have always been such an absolute shyte to poor John."

She liked to curse in a Scottish accent, arguing that it seemed more like proper cursing that way.

"And to me as well, you beast. 'Maud Bellamy will always remain in my memory as a most complete and remarkable woman.' In your memory?"

"Well, you were a remarkably memorable woman. Still are, on occasion." Holmes grinned in that way Watson had never quite captured in his text. Probably because he never grinned at Watson that way . . . at least that Maudie knew of. Those two were quite the chums.

"The only memorable time you're about to get is a memorable smack on your memorable head," Maudie Holmes had a good eighteen years under her belt when it came to dealing with Sherlock, including that American stint before the war, and she knew how to deal with all of his moods. During their week at the little seaside resort, he'd been at quite the randy end of the lot. And another randy end as well.

"Watson and I were in Montenegro once, just prior to the turn of the century," Sherlock said at last. "He had a bit too grand of a time and had to desert me for a wife eventually, when the bill came due for that bit of indulgence."

"That's where . . . ah!" Maudie's laugh bubbled up. "You boys and your secrets. I'm sure it had to do with a case you promised not to ever tell the world about. Which brings me back to this lovely anniversary gift. What made you think to write up the story of how we met?"

"Oh, Doyle was at the Watsons house, and he was telling this tale of being approached by a woman who claimed to have lived in Sussex as a child and had gone on many adventures with me, which she had recorded in great detail . . . some details of which actually caused our old friend to blush upon the telling. But Doyle's little tale made me think that the world should at least know that I had met that rare flower of Sussex whom not even the cold thinking machine Sherlock Holmes could not escape."

Maudie opened the book, found the page she wanted, and read aloud, lowering her voice to its huskiest tone:

"'There was no gainsaying that she would have graced any assembly in the world. Who could have imagined that so rare a flower would grow from such a root and in such an atmosphere?' . . . Really, Sherlock, I thought you liked Sussex . . . 'Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart, but I could not look upon her perfect clear-cut face, with all the soft freshness of the downlands in her delicate colouring without realizing that no young man would cross her path unscathed.' . . . You were hardly that young. But were you actually so overwhelmed by my beauty, or is some of this a latter day revision?"

"My hand to your heart, dearest," Sherlock said and laid his hand across my breast. Which really told me nothing about the statements he had written, but more about the "statements" he was about to "write."

The Ever-loving Montenegrin End

Monday, July 16, 2018

Giant ball of papers

Not too long ago, somebody brought up the subject of Sherlockian Mythbusters, a thing which Steve Doyle and the Illustrious Clients actually did a couple of episode/experiments of, many years ago. Chopping thumbs and letting pistols fly off bridges were the focus then, but the Canon has so many weird little things we'd like to try in real life, just to see how they would work.

I know I'm not the only Sherlockian to get an ancient copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica and start hand-copying it beginning with volume "A," just to see how long it would have taken Jabez Wilson in "The Red-Headed League." And tonight, I came up with another experiment that is actually becoming harder and harder to perform.

In "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," Watson writes of Holmes bringing along an "immense litter of papers." They were the London papers of the day, which Holmes admits had not had very full accounts of the crime they were going to investigate. But there were a lot of newspapers in London in those days, and Holmes rummaged through them, took notes here and there, and then . . . .

"Then he suddenly rolled them all into a gigantic ball and tossed them up onto the rack."

Okay. Now let's re-enact that in our minds.

You can take a few pages from a newspaper and crumple them into a ball, this we know.

And you can take a whole newspaper and roll it into a cylinder, as paperboys have always done to make them ripe for tossing.

But to take all of the London morning papers and roll them into one big ball? Suddenly? 

Well, you could start suddenly, but if your desired end product is a ball, you're going to have to work in layers, kind of like paper mache without the paste. (Unless, of course, Holmes's steel poker-bending strength displayed in "The Speckled Band" was also enough to do the crush-bending necessary to ball . . . no, that couldn't . . .  could Superman? Would it be a diamond? I dunno.)

I really need a Sherlockian Mythbusters on this one, as I just don't see it working with all the morning papers of London. And we're quickly entering and age when the newspapers won't be available to try -- as it is, we only take the Sunday paper and the good Carter reads the rest on-line. Can we even replicate the newspapers of Victorian London with today's scaled-down-to-save-paper specimens of the sort?

Like so many things in the Canon, that giant ball of papers might just wind up another unseen, unexperienced moment of Victoriana we will never know the delight or chore of. (Oh, how the railway cleaning crew must have loved finding that mass to add to their pile!)

But, as has been on display a lot in America of late, we just don't have the balls that Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson did in those sturdier times. Maybe we should try making some.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

It hasn't all been done before.

Feeling a little down of late, just because I'm focusing so much attention on twenty-five minutes in August when I'll be presenting at "Holmes in the Heartland." And when concentrating on one topic, all the sparkly other diversions of Holmes and Watson remain outside the window where the other kids are playing.

When one starts feeling the blues a bit, certain themes recur: Why am I doing this? What does it matter? Aren't you just doing the thing you did before all over again?

Well, at this point in life, I've gotten good at answering a few of my down-self questions. I know where the fun comes in, even if it's not present at the moment. And the importance of little things, things that may not seem as consequential, they have their time as well. And as I was running through all those sorts of questions and answers, I came upon that one bullshit line that fake smart people like to puff up and pontificate to make themselves feel important.

"It has all been done before."

All the stories are that one story that Joseph Campbell or Shakespeare or somebody came up with.

It's a bit like saying every painting with a person in it is just a new versions of the Mona Lisa or some cave drawing of a man with a spear. Yes, they have a similarity or two. But if you're actually going to claim that they're the same thing, that nothing new has been added to the field of art since that time, you're just not paying any attention at all.

Of course, our friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes, said it too, didn't he?

"It's all been done before, and will be again."

But context matters. He was explaining to Inspector MacDonald about understanding crime from reading up on the history of crime. And he doesn't start with those words. Holmes starts his explanation by saying, "Everything comes in circles -- even Professor Moriarty. Jonathan Wild was the hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and his organization on a fifteen per cent commission." But would Holmes have seen Moriarty as a challenge, if he was just Jonathan Wild, the sequel?

Everything comes in circles, but the circle spins a little faster, throws out a few more sparks, and maybe even flies off its axle to spin somewhere new.

Seeing connections and similarities are actually one of the ways our brains come up with new things, and not just dismiss possibilities as "more of the same." (Though "more of the same" definitely does exist -- trust me, I saw the movie Skyscraper today, and if that movie had been a boxer, I'd have been ducking every telegraphed or familiar punch.) Sherlock Holmes would have gotten bored with detective work in the first year if crime was really just the same-old, same-old.

It may seem like we charge up the same hill, fight the same battles over and over, because when you come right down to it, we're almost the same human beings that walked the Earth a century or two centuries ago. Maslow's hierarchy of needs hasn't changed so much. But even though we may feel the same love, rage with the same anger, or laugh at the same twists others have done in the past, there are some details that are always different, always there to be appreciated anew.

A generator spins through the same cycles to produce energy that can go to a thousand different purposes, and cycling through the sixty-stories of Sherlock Holmes, with its surprisingly new details that can appear out of nowhere on a later read, are a great example of how something new can even come out of something that is exactly the same.

On we go, never quite sure where we'll wind up. And there's a reason for that, even in something as old as Sherlockiana.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Montague Street Connection

One of those little points of Sherlock Holmes's past that fascinates me whenever I return to it comes in "The Musgrave Ritual."

"Even when you knew me first, at the time of the affair which you have commemorated in 'A Study in Scarlet,' I had already established a considerable, though not a very lucrative, connection," Sherlock Holmes explains to Dr. Watson.

The singular form of that word always evokes the thought of a single source of income. Later, when we encounter Watson using the word himself, it takes on a different cast:

"Shortly after my marriage I had bought a connection in the Paddington district. Old Mr. Farquhar, from whom I purchased it, had at one time an excellent general practice; but his age, and affliction of the nature of St. Vitus's dance from which he suffered, had very much thinned it."

Watson, of course, is talking about a base of regular patients, as any medical practice has. And we know that Sherlock Holmes's career of "consulting detective" is based upon the model of a medical specialist. But does a detective have enough regular customers to maintain a practice like a doctor? Who would such folk be, that had mystery after mystery in their lives?

Well, Scotland Yard comes quickly to mind, and if CBS's Elementary and many another TV procedural is to be believed, major metropolitan police forces just love returning to non-cops for help. Heck, in one Fox-now-Netflix show, the police like hitting up the devil himself for help in solving their cases. But the Sherlockian Canon is a little more sophisticated than those shows, and Holmes's client list is a lot more varied.

Did Holmes have a sign outside his Montague Street rooms, announcing he was open for business to walk-in trade? Did he advertise in the papers, perhaps something small in the personal section?

Was his main income coming from family money, or, as Holmes was as much artist as doctor, did his "connection" come from a single wealthy patreon, who used his services occasionally and liked to have a consulting detective on retainer. We know, also from "The Musgrave Ritual," that some of Sherlock's early cases came from those he met at college, like Reginald Musgrave. Wealthy young men who could afford to hire such services from the day they left college. Might such a patreon have come from that pool? Or maybe an old family friend who took at interest in Holmes's unique attempt at vocation?

We never hear of Scotland Yard paying Holmes in the Canon, but we do get a good look whenever he can get a payday off someone with wealth. And Scotland Yard does send people his way, so that may have been the currency they paid him in . . . supplying him with clients rather than cash in exchange for help on high-profile cases they couldn't just pawn off on him. That would have been a great connection for Holmes to make, and it's the one he explains to Watson early on.

"Here in London we have lots of Government detectives and lots of private ones. When these fellows are at fault they come to me, and I manage to put them on the right scent," Holmes explains at first, but when Watson questions him about his non-white-male-police-looking clients, Holmes adds, "They are mostly sent on by private inquiry agencies. They are all people who are in trouble about something, and want a little enlightening. I listen to their story, they listen to my comments, and then I pocket my fee."

Note that there was no mention of that fee when he was speaking about Lestrade and the other detectives just a moment before. One suspects Sherlock Holmes just enjoyed beating them at the game, but getting them to send along their problem cases was surely his best "connection" to them, even if, as he says in "Musgrave Ritual," not "very lucrative."

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The "Lowered Expectations" areas of Sherlockian work

I was pondering my Sherlockian output a while back when, in a weird bit of synchronicity,  this little post turned up from Chris Redmond, entitled "Hardly anyone bought my book."  Now, by any standards I've ever come up with, Chris is a very successful Sherlockian. His recent specialty of gathering Sherlockian writers in groups of sixty on a given theme has been a very admirable bit of work by itself, and it's hardly the highest point of his long Sherlockian career. But Sherlockiana . . . true, in the weeds, Sherlockiana . . . has never been quite as popular the shiney new member of the faith might hope.

Pastiche, though oft much berated by the older, crankier members of our species, would seem to be the one route gaining readership above a certain threshold. A number of talented writers have broken into the mainstream with a Sherlock Holmes novel, then released Sherlock like a booster rocket falling away as they launched into the orbit of professional fictioneers. And a much, much greater number never moves beyond Holmes fiction. But even those novelists tend to see greater numbers of readership than those of us who stick to that curious niche sometimes called "Sherlockian scholarship."

Take the first book at hand, here at Sherlock Peoria home base, Baker Street Chronology: Commentaries on The Sacred Writings of Dr. John H. Watson by Ernest Bloomfield Zeisler. The initial run, even with a Vincent Starrett preface, was only two hundred copies. Thirty years later, it was reprinted in a run of five hundred copies. That's seven hundred copies, perhaps not all of which eventually sold, some of which were undoubtedly lost by non-Sherlockian heirs or acts of God . . . seven hundred potential copies in the entire world.

Let me grab another random piece off the shelves . . . The Herpetological Holmes: A Monograph on Reptiles and Amphibians in the Time of Sherlock Holmes by Donald Girard Jewell, the eighth volume in his "Sherlock Holmes Natural History Series."  One hundred total copies in existence.

Such numbers make Sherlockian works a delightful chase for the collector . . . though the web has made this more of a "what can I afford" versus "what can I find" game. But they're hardly the road to fame and fortune. In fact, after a lifetime of writing in the Twilight Zone of fiction-based non-fiction (or whatever you call playing the games Sherlockian), it's probably why I've settled down to this blogging business rather than building up the words and releasing it in book form. The readership numbers I get here are pretty much the same as in print, but without the overhead of time spent on circulating the stuff.

Yes, yes, the internet is an ephemeral thing. Electrons are here today and gone tomorrow, and one never knows when a website might die a sudden death. But even books have a lifespan, even if we may not live to see the end of it. And if you want to go down that road of succumbing to depression, hey, Earth gets swallowed by the sun eventually, if we survive all else.

So why do we do it? Why do we go to places for Sherlock Holmes that often no one cares that we went? Well, two reasons.

First, we do it for those rare few that are like us in our love of Holmes and will actually read this ultra-niche material. Connecting with someone that special has just a little more zest to it than, "Oh, you like eating pizza and watching TV? Me, too!" We love our fellow Sherlockians, as weird as they can be sometimes, and it always is a kick to produce something in a print run of seventeen copies and see delight in the eyes of those crazy enough to think that odd little publication is something cool. Those are the people I made it for.

And second, the best Sherlockian works are the ones that you do because you just enjoy doing them. Even if nobody ever reads them, there was value in the time you spent working it all out. Readers are often writers, and a born writer is eventually going to start a diary if they can do nothing else. And a diary is, of course, the most limited-circulation work of all.

Most of us may have to lower our expectations a bit as we move through decade after decade of a Sherlockian life. But the joy of it will always be there, if you stick to those basics -- doing it for yourself and your friends. (And if you get a family that shows real interest? You're leading a truly charmed life.) Because Sherlock Holmes hasn't lasted this long by making people rich or making people famous.

He's here because we love him, and, well, even if he doesn't always love us back, hey, he's Sherlock Holmes. Welcome to the Watson-hood!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Shall we ballyhoo? Let's!

Now, you may have seen a tweet or two encouraging you to register for "Holmes in the Heartland," a weekend event in St. Louis on August 10 thru 12. The deadline for registration is July 21st, which is in a two week ticking clock at this point.

If you're considering taking a day or two to run to St. Louis and haven't signed up, let me tell you a thing or two that might encourage your attendance. First? Let me tell you about last night.

Last night, I came home from work and sat down at this very computer to look at some research I'd been doing in preparation for this very event. And what I saw, in that brief half hour before I had to take the good Carter out for Friday night pizza, sparked a mental blaze that had me quickly scribbling a single sentence on a legal pad for fear the idea would get lost. Then, as we travelled the old Peoria streets to get to a classic pizza venue we had not seen in perhaps thirty years, two words came into my head . . . two words that had to be typed into my smartphone the minute we sat down in the pizza place . . . two words that looked very much like the beginning of a new field of Sherlockian science.

And then I looked up and saw this clock. This time-running-backwards clock.

The restaurant became very crowded very quickly, as patrons entered en masse, looking like they'd been coming to the place for their entire lives, perhaps still wearing the togs of their youth. Just as the clock foretold, time seemed a bit out of whack, and the thoughts I had conjured before dinner continued through my hastily handing the waitress the check and a wad of bills on our way out the door. I was soon home and back at the keyboard.

What followed was the typing of a madman, producing page after page as he attempted to capture a mental construct of Lovecraftian proportions, working far into the night. Enough work for an entire presentation at a Sherlockian conference like "Holmes in the Heartland," and yet not enough. This was just the base coat, the primer, the underlayer before a colour of Sherlockiana is applied that human eye has never seen before is painted on top.

You might ask yourself, "What the hell is this lunatic blogging about now?" You might ask yourself, "What does that pizza place have to do with anything, because I bet it doesn't and he just say a weird clock!" And you might even ask yourself, "Do I want to go to St. Louis to this 'Holmes in the Heartland' event and be among the first to learn of ground-breaking new thought on Sherlock Holmes?"

The base price for the core "Holmes in the Heartland" is fifty bucks, which may seem like a lot for just a Saturday, but you get lunch, as well as: Tim Johnson, curator of what is probably the greatest public Sherlock Holmes collection in the world.  Don Hobbs, Texas bon vivant Sherlockian who managed to acquire and catalog more translations of Sherlock Holmes stories than any human before or since. Bill Mason, a Sherlockian gentleman of letters whose charm and wit has bespelled many an audience. Mary Schroeder, a keystone of St. Louis Sherlockiana and founder of the cities Sherlockian research collection. Dr. Tassy Hayden, one of the most active minds of the Sherlockian generation that has started taking up the reins of this old hobby. Bill Cochran, a prolific writer, editor, and scion master whose Sherlockian works cause others to pale by comparison. Baritsu fighters! A traveler through time!

And this one utterly mad old Sherlockian theorist who is about to propose a new paradigm of Sherlockian study. Yes, I said it: New Paradigm. Get ready for some real Alvin Toffler future shock, people-old-enough-to-know-who-Alvin-Toffler-was!

Whether you go with that base package mentioned above, or add Friday and Saturday options for more weekend fun, spending a day or more in St. Louis in August is going to be a hot ticket. You never know how these things are going to go, and if a well-known Sherlockian finally goes off the rails in public, you're have a story to tell the Sherlockian grand-kids about one day.

Here's the sign-up link. Hope you get the chance to come!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A book for your shelves even if you're not the comics sort.

It's good to have your Sherlockian preferences known in certain quarters.

Walking into Acme Comics at lunch today, a copy of A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman, adapted and with art by Rafael Albuquerque, was waiting for me, even though I didn't have the forethought to order it.

It's a pretty little hardcover comic book . . . er, graphic novel, if you need fancier terms. The art has a slight Disney-esque vibe at first, which may lull you into a false sense of being safe and happy in the tale to come. And, if you're not familiar with the Gaiman tale, the path of A Study in Scarlet that it seems to be following, save for one large splash of what horror Watson remembers facing in Afghanistan, might make you comfortable as well.

But as the details of the victim become clear, any suspicions that this is not exactly our Sherlock Holmes and John Watson immediately vanish. An alternate universe then? But how alternate?

It was good to read Neil Gaiman again in the medium where I first became acquainted with his work, and even though I read the tale being adapted when it was first published back in 2003, in a collection titled Shadows Over Baker Street, I had forgotten enough to enjoy it fresh.

The tale adapts well to an illustrated form, and this new graphic novel presentation of "A Study in Emerald" from Dark Horse Comics is well worth picking up. It's not a traditional Sherlock Holmes tale, but therein lies part of the delight of the story, which I'll leave you to find for yourself if you haven't had the pleasure before.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The America of the Canon

"It is always a joy to meet an American."

Is it possible that we've been misunderstanding what Sherlock Holmes was saying with that line all these years. I mean, think about it . . . .

a.) Sherlock Holmes had a wicked and sly sense of humor.

b.) Sherlock Holmes loved investigating crime.

c.) Who were the Americans that Sherlock Holmes usually met? Criminals.

In an era when American politicians are trying to push a mindset that Americans should fear anyone coming from another country, it's worthwhile to consider the subtle theme of those stories that we love so much: Trouble coming from outside one's country.

But in the case of England of the Victorian era, those "awful foreigners" that were ruining everything included Americans. And it included Americans a lot.

Watson's first recorded case: American on American crime. No Brits involved.

Watson's third recorded case: American blackmailer messing with European royalty.

Watson's fourth recorded case: British criminal using American basis for his con.

Watson's seventh recorded case: Evil American gang committing murder on British turf.

So out of the first seven cases that Watson and his literary agent thought would be best put in public view, the larger share involve American troubles for Great Britain.

Now, as a proper Conan Doyle supporter would point out, these cases were all fiction, which would put them exactly in the same realm as so many of the "Fear foreigners!" lines of thought we're hearing today from those trying desperately to justify the actions of a certain incompetent American.

So, as we get to celebrating America's Independence Day today, just think how much joy Sherlock Holmes would have if he were able to come live in America today!

Because there's a whole lot of us he'd find it a joy to meet, and a whole lot of us that we'd enjoy having him meet as well.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A twenty year journey to return to St. Louis

If you step back and take at look at the big picture, sometimes you get a surprise.

I stumbled into that look this week, as I worked on my presentation for this year's "Holmes in the Heartland" weekend, coming August 10 thru 12.  It's 2018 now, but when I got a long look at what I was going to speak on, I realized that this presentation really started in 1998 . . . in the same city that I'm speaking this time.

On Saturday, October 31, 1998, "The Game's Afloat III" was being held at the Westport Plaza Hotel in St. Louis. Four area Sherlockian groups came together to put it on and a really great time was had by all. My own presentation called, "Here Come the Brides," was a review of all the ladies in the Canon who could have possibly been married to Dr. Watson. In the most foolish thing I've ever done for such a talk, I handed out police whistles to many audience members to signal their disapproval for any candidate, and I remember one particular St. Louis native who took to disapproving of women before a case could even be made. 

A couple of years later, in September of 2000, I took on the role of discussion leader for the Hounds of the Internet, and as we moved through the Canon at a rate of one story a week, it seemed like a good opportunity to work out my own chronology of the cases. The results of that chronological study, "A Timeline of Terra 221B" has served me well over the years, but one of its very first uses came on March 9, 2002.

The Dayton Symposium, one of Sherlockian's longest-running non-January weekends, was held on that particular Saturday, and I used my newly finished timeline to put together a more exact schedule of Watson's multiple marriages, based on his own Canonical references all lined up in an objective fashion, abandoning all attempts to keep him monogamous.

That paper, entitled "Counting Watson's Wives,"  took my original "Here Come the Brides" a step further, laying out who were the probable women in Watson's life, given his periods of bachelorhood versus wedded bliss. But those explorations were not nearly going to be done with that 2002 paper.

Ten years of website building (the original and late lamented Sherlock Peoria), journal publishing (the also late lamented The Holmes and Watson Report), and a few other Sherlockian sideroads occurred after that. The Sherlockian life can be a very busy one, if you choose it to be, and I chose . . . for a while.

But the next evolution/exploration of the Watson marriage problem then came with a paper that was never presented. I was scheduled to speak at the seventh "Scintillation of Scions" on June 7, 2014. And a new thesis about John H. Watson was developed and the research behind it began. But 2014 had non-Sherlockian issues to be dealt with, and neither the paper nor I made it to Maryland for that symposium. But the idea behind it wouldn't leave my end, and kept evolving. 

Just this spring I presented a part of the idea to one of our best current Sherlockian symposium stars and he was quite intrigued. But it was all just in theory form then, and needed a bit more research and a bit more proof, which brings us to the current moment in time: Research is being done and proof is being found. Just what all that is about will be revealed in about six weeks with a return to the city where this whole train of thought began:

Hopefully, twenty years of work will make for an entertaining 25 minutes of that weekend. Come and have a listen, if you have the chance.