Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Percy Phelps, love him or hate him?

"Because he's exactly the sort of mewling little snot you'd expect to be named Percy Phelps."
-- from "The Adventure of the Navel-Starer" by G.S. Denning

As parodies and revisionary writings continue to grow, it's inevitable that our re-readings of the one true Canon Sherlockian start being affected by same. And that is exactly what has happened with my latest re-read of "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" following a recent reading of the first story/chapter in My Grave Ritual by G.S. Denning and a re-characterization of Percy Phelps much like the quote above.

Not that I was ever quite in love with Percy Phelps. Watson's line, "it seemed rather a piquant thing to us to chevy him about the playground and hit him over the shins with a wicket," is perhaps the most prettily phrased way of explaining bullying ever written, and as we love Watson, Sherlockians tend to show bias in the reading of it. "Well, there must have been something about Percy that deserved that whacking, if Watson went in for it!" 

When Watson refers to Percy having an uncle who was a lord, he calls it "this gaudy relationship" . . . which makes one wonder if Percy liked to brag about it a bit. Just being related to a lord would not seem to be a "gaudy" thing in itself unless one wore it as a badge of honor. So Percy may have been a bit overly proud. But Watson thought Percy was brilliant, too, and who else did Watson know whom he also thought was a bit overly proud sometimes and definitely brilliant?

Yeah, that guy. The guy Watson loved best in his adult life.

And Watson does say he was "intimately associated with Phelps," even with all the shin-whacking. So, at this point, one starts to suspect that John Watson had a "type," and start looking for any other Holmes/Phelps similarities. Or other things.

Percy is still a young man, to Watson's eyes, and Watson, to Percy, is completely changed by his moustache. And on the very eve of being married, Phelps, being of a "sensitive nature" lets the theft of the naval treaty push him into a "brain fever" that seems to completely throw the brakes on any thought of marriage. And what does Phelps do immediately after deciding not to marry right away?

He writes John Watson. Very soon he is coming to spend the night at Baker Street, one of the few ever to rate that honor. He gets a Mrs. Hudson breakfast, and is the only person ever to kiss Sherlock Holmes, even if it is just on the hand. And Sherlock Holmes has some interesting final words for Percy Phelps at the case's end:

"I can only say for certain that Mr. Joseph Harrison is a gentleman to whose mercy I should be extremely unwilling to trust."

At this point, with the police on Harrison's trail and an expect capture possible, why does Percy Phelps need to worry about Harrison's mercy? Would anyone expect a physical attack once the treaty business is definitely done? Or is Holmes talking about Harrison showing mercy by not spreading certain facts about Percy Phelps that might not be public knowledge . . . and something one wouldn't want known in Victorian Britain.

In G.S. Denning's comic rewrite of "Naval Treaty," he creates a Percy Phelps that Watson cannot stand in the slightest. Going back to the original story, however, one starts to wonder if exactly the opposite were true. One doesn't even really need to leave the Doylean Canon to start shipping "Johrcy" if one looks at the case with a modern eye, which I'm sure has been done, even if my sleepy near-midnight brain can't quite remember it. So remind me if you get a chance.

Peoria's Sherlock Holmes Story Society meets tomorrow night at the North Branch library, so we'll see what they have to say.

P.S. I wanted to relate Phelps's "Dr. Ferrier" to a certain Lucy Ferrier that was, in a certain Doylean manuscript, Watson's first love. Curious place for that name to re-appear, eh wot?

Monday, November 26, 2018

"Can you ever forgive me?"

With January soon upon us, seeing the recent film Can You Ever Forgive Me? was evoking a certain New York weekend to me more than anything with Sherlock Holmes in it. The endless parade of bookstores, bars, and restaurants setting the scenes of the film have been the sort of mainstays of every trip to the city I can remember. And also, that touch of sadness a Midwestern native can find in the idea of living in a crowded old metropolis.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the life of Lee Israel, whose literary success and subsequent criminal failure seem very much life something many of our Sherlockian friends have the potential for, deep inside. And Israel's forgeries attempting to mimic Dorothy Parker take one back to the Algonquin Round Table, Christopher Morley, and the like, from an era many a Sherlockian have wanted to mimic over the years.

It's odd when something so completely non-Sherlockian evokes so much of one's Sherlockian life, as this movie did for me.

Even the scenes involving the stench of Israel's apartment, seemingly caused by a cat whose leavings were never cleaned up, reminded me of a Sherlockian we called "the cat man," whose massive book collection absorbed so much litter-box smell that a book from his house would have to spend at least a week in the garage to air out before it was in a state to read. Seeing the books lining the main character's apartment in that movie brought back some dreadful memories.

Oddly, for all the crime, alcoholism, and cat poo portrayed in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, there is a tone of sweetness there, and an empathy for those among us whose manner pushes people away at every turn . . . something else we are not unfamiliar with in Sherlockian circles. Ours is a community that shows kindness to the odd ducks, probably due to the fellow at the center of it all.

The title of the film Can You Ever Forgive Me? comes from something Lee Israel wrote while pretending to be Dorothy Parker, writing that she should have stationery printed up with the phrase, as often as it would come in handy. Sherlock Holmes might have done as well in getting some nice cards printed up for Watson, even though he never uses those exact words in asking Watson's forgiveness for Holmes's latest little betrayal.

And even that comes into play in the film, a bit of betrayal between friends. Sherlock-like? Maybe. But then again, when you're a Sherlockian, you tend to see a bit of your hobby everywhere, even in a movie that has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Old Horse

After a long weekend of house cleaning, I find myself thinking a lot of a certain Conan Doyle creation . . . that isn't Sherlock Holmes.

After having a heart attack the year prior to his death, Conan Doyle drew a cartoon he titled "The Old Horse." In the cartoon, the old horse that represents Conan Doyle is pulling an overloaded wagon piled with all his life's work. And even though they are his accomplishments, his triumphs, they still weigh heavily on the boney nag, giving the indication that they are what wore him out and brought him to this place on the road.

While I am not quite as old, nor anywhere close to as accomplished as Doyle, going through the house cleaning, I saw the actual physical manifestations of decades of collecting and just hanging on to the detritus of a Sherlockian life. Box upon box, shelf upon shelf, raw materials for projects that both succeeded and didn't, enough that if I piled it up in one horse drawn wagon it would probably kill a lone horse.

"Of all ghosts, the ghosts of our lost loves are the worst," old Trevor told a young Sherlock Holmes in "The Gloria Scott." And even though all the things we've loved over the years too much to throw them out aren't ghosts, per se, and they aren't the worst, they're still there, awaiting your time and energy to deal with them before someone else one day has to.

But the leaves are raked, the kitchen is clean, and the laundry is all folded and put away, so the little dent I made in unloading my own version of that Doylean wagon amidst life's other chores will have to suffice for this holiday weekend.

I'd like to give an ominous word of warning like, "Be forewarned, ye younger than I, don't let that ye love pile too high." But these are limits we all have to test for ourselves. Just don't give yourself a heart attack before you get a feel for what Conan Doyle's "The Old Horse" can tell us, like he did.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sherlockiana and print

In 2018, how important is it to be "in print" as a Sherlockian?

Does ink on paper give us more validation than characters on a screen? Do a few hundred people reading our words in a published collection carry mean more than that same number reading those same words online?

To many, this isn't even a question. Publishing is just the way readers are found . . . or were found a few decades ago. But we not live in a world where massive amounts of Sherlockian writings are never seeing the printed page, yet find a readership larger than most Sherlockian newsletters and journals of the 1980s.

There is a certain love of the past about this hobby, one that treasures gasogenes, egg spoons, antimacassars, and the like, and that part of us will hold on to a few books long after book-lovers have become specialty hobbyists like those who brought back vinyl records as a think. But just as the lion's share of us eventually moved from physical letters sent through the post, will generational shift see us going more and more electronic for our reading?

Of course, when I say "reading," there is always the one-step-further: audio books. Have any friends that speak of "reading" a book, when actually they listened to it coming out of their headphones? I know I do. And getting your ideas out there by podcast is not just limited to audio. We might not have seen the Sherlockian vlogger who finally breaks through and shows us all that vlogging is an actual thing, but that person will come one day. (Please, please, please, tell me if I'm missing someone doing this on a regular basis.)

When one considers that an entire field of entertainment exists for people who watch other people play video games, I would bet there is, or will be, a need for video bloggers who read the old and rare works of Sherlockian scholarship and condense and review it for new Sherlockians. So much of it was printed in small print runs in the low hundreds in specific countries that those things are now great for collectors of rarities, but not available for most of the Sherlockian world. Which does encompass the world now, more than ever before. A perky, younger voice providing fresh eyes on our hobby's past would be a great addition to YouTube's billion channels.

Print is a classic medium, but it is no longer all we have. What was once something we struggled to accomplish, using mimeograph machines, vanity presses, and any other means available, is no longer our limit. There are so many other tools in the toolbox now for the celebration and exploration of Sherlock Holmes, and I'm looking forward to see how Sherlockians exploit them as we move into the future.

(Along with one day figuring out what to do with all this printed matter residue from another age.)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Do we need a minimum standard for Sherlocks?

Since it's Thanksgiving, one of those holidays when the blog traditionally has less readers, it's a good day to raise a controversial topic. If you're reading this, you probably aren't getting to argue politics with your weird old uncle at the dinner table, so allow me to help you fill that holiday void by giving you something to argue about online. Here's the question:

Do we have any sort of standards for a Sherlock Holmes?

When CBS came out with Elementary all those years ago, I argued mightily that it was a "Sherlock Holmes in name only," not adapting Doyle's classic character so much as slapping the name on the main character of a typical low-ambition CBS procedural cop show. There were those that argued as hard for Jonny Lee Miller's character as a valid Sherlock as any political supporter of a dysfunctional candidate, and grasped at any Canonical straw CBS's writers tossed our way.

This morning, the Twitter feed of the much-respected journal Canadian Holmes took the trend a little further in making this statement:

Canadian Holmes won't be the first or last Sherlockians to call Detective Pikachu a "Sherlock Holmes movie" based on the two facts that it has a detective and a deerstalker cap. But isn't that lowering the bar a little too low?

Whether or not you think of what Will Ferrell does as comedy, there is, at least, a parody aspect to his film Holmes and Watson that comes from at least attempting to tell a Sherlock Holmes story with laughs. But slapping a hat on a rodent just to show people he's a detective? Are we going to insult The Great Mouse Detective, an actual Sherlock Holmes movie, by putting Detective Pikachu at that same level?

Let's look at another "Sherlock Holmes movie" by applying the same standard. Who Done It? is a 1942 Abbott and Costello movie described as "Two dumb soda jerks dream of writing radio mysteries. When they try to pitch an idea at a radio station, they end up in the middle of a real murder when the station owner is killed during a broadcast."  Abbott and Costello wear deerstalkers in all of the promotional materials, hold pipes in their mouths, wear Invernesse capes . . . declaring themselves a pair of Sherlock Holmeses. They don't wear that garb in the movie itself, however, so does that one difference from Detective Pikachu make Who Done It? not a Sherlock Holmes movie, while "pika pika" boy gets the nod? Is that where we finally draw the line? Or are Abbott and Costello an acceptable pair of Sherlocks?  (Which definitely raises a second question: Are they both Watson too?)

That little Mary Morstan Sunshine of a phrase, "All Sherlock is good Sherlock," is a chipper and upbeat way of saying "Let's all just enjoy our happy hobby in a positive way!" but it's not a standard we would apply to anything else in our lives. "All surgery is good surgery!" "All bananas are good bananas!" "All people breaking into your house are good people breaking into your house!"

Perhaps some sort of rating system is in order, with Abbott and Costello in Who Done It? at one end, scoring a one, and the most Canon-faithful Granada TV episode with Jeremy Brett at the other, scoring a ten. Because if we ever need to fill some spare holiday time with debate, a screen-Sherlock ranking system would definitely fill the bill.

Have a happy day, whatever you're doing with it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Niches within niches

What's your Sherlockian specialty? What's that corner of Sherlock Holmes lore you're into that most Sherlockians aren't . . . but, oh, those rare few that are!

Sherlock Holmes is one of those parts of our culture that most people have a positive feeling about, which is why he's a part of our culture. But those who cross over into fandom, a passage marked by the act of actually seeking him out rather than just smiling when he appears, are but a small, small percentage of the populace. A niche market within the mystery genre market, some would say.

But if Sherlockiana is a niche within the mystery niche, how far down do the "niche" groupings go?

There are certain parts of Sherlockian culture that one would definitely call "mainstream" Sherlockiana. If your screen Sherlock of choice is Jeremy Brett or Benedict Cumberbatch, those are definitely mainstream Sherlocks. If you attend the NYC weekend every January, there is a venerable old mainstream of Sherlockiana to that. If you hold that Vincent Starrett's poem "221B" is the poem in a field where we don't do all that much poetry . . . well, mainstream.

I have to stop now, as I'm starting to sound like Jeff Foxworthy: "You MIGHT be a Sherlockian if . . ."  Yet while our mainstream connects us, it is always our niches within a niche hobby that makes us interesting. None of us can dive deep into every aspect of Sherlock Holmes, so we depend upon our fellow Sherlockians to go those distances for us and report back. It can be that one person willing to research puddings and write it up for publication, or it can be that one friend who travels to the conferences we can't get to. The lowest level of Sherlockian niches within niches can even be a Holmes fascination you share with only one other friend . . . and you're still waiting to find that friend. But when you do, oh! They will be so happy.

Sherlock Holmes himself was on the road less taken. He picked a path that didn't guarantee him popularity or success. And at first, the connections with others he made were with people that didn't entirely get it -- Lestrade or Gregson loved the results, but didn't get the brilliant methods behind them at all. Eventually, however. Sherlock found his John Watson, the guy who understood that what Holmes was doing was way cool. And their little niche of detective work fandom got to be a greater joy for them both.

Sherlockians have always found it easy to model their hobbying after Holmes, and our myriad of different focuses and loves within the greater focus and love of Sherlock fits that pattern nicely. Niches within niches, all the way down.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A proper fic prompt

The Singular Adventure of Paul Thomas Miller

By John H. Watson, M.D

One cold February night, as I was returning from a patient call in Marylebone, I saw an opportunity to stop in at Baker Street and see my old friend Sherlock Holmes. His minion and landlady, Mrs. Hudson, gladly sent me up the familiar seventeen steps with the glad news that he had already had a full supper that evening, and I found him perched on the mantlepiece, looming over all of the day's newspapers, which he had spread across the floor as was his habit. His vision in those days had become so keen with the powers of a vampiric predator that he neither dim light nor fine print nor a distance of twelve feet were any impairment to his ability to read.

Those eyes sparkled at the sight of me and he smiled, not bothering to hide his fangs.

"Ah, this is a grand evening!" he declared. "Both an intriguing case and my beloved friend appearing within the same hour? I am doubly blessed."

"HAW! HAW! HAW!" came a protest from the bedroom door, and Holmes's husband Maurice came waddling out with his flippers outstretched in warning. Even though theirs was a marriage of convenience arranged for Holmes's brother Mycroft's occult purposes, Maurice still did not enjoy my presence in their home, given my past relationship with his mate.

"This is professional, Maurice," Holmes said in a firm, yet soothing tone. "Dr. Watson will be of great aid to me on this matter of Mr. Paul Thomas Miller's predicament. A simple advertisement he placed in the agony columns of several London papers has caused several individuals to knock themselves out."

"Is that even possible, Holmes?" I asked.

"Only for a skilled pugilist," he replied, and swung his fist up, connecting with his chin and knocking himself off the mantlepiece. He landed, of course with the grace of a cat in front of the hearth. "Were I still human, that would have rendered me unconscious. Still, you see the technique."

"Impressive!" I replied.

"HAW! HAW! HAW!" barked Maurice, plainly seeing that as a flirtatious comment.

"Mr. Miller, it seems, has recently returned from the deepest jungles of South America, pursuing the missing link," Holmes continued, "and feels that the ads were meant for him in some way. We should speak to him at once, if you are not otherwise occupied."

"My rounds are finished, and my house is currently a bachelor establishment, so I see no impediment," I replied.

Minutes later, Holmes and I were in a hansom cab, rattling down Regent Street, with Mrs. Hudson calming Maurice with some fresh squid in our wake.

(These stories are so much easier to start than to solve, aren't they? In any case, the preceding was spawned by the below pair of tweets today.)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

That annual January ritual returns

Folks do love a ritual.

There is an instinct in us, seen so clearly in babies and tots, that when something delights us, we want to do it again. And again. And again. Until the weight of repetition makes it no longer delightful and we become angry that it's just not the same. We see this in entertainment all the time, with big franchises like Star Wars or Harry Potter, whose oldest fans oft become their worst critics.

Looking to repeat the high of first love is always a doomed exploit, and most of us know this. But there's a more comfortable level of repetition that holds our institutions together, the "this worked once, so let's keep doing it." There's a comfort in regularity, and some things, like gravity and time, tend to function reliably well, and we can base our habits around them. There's no greater security than "If I do A, then B happens next."

But humans are not exactly as reliably the same as something gravity would seem to be. Generations shift. Our technology changes us. Our creative arts change us. And those who love the ritual will fight hard against those changes, carving out a pocket where their thing will survive, often with weird traditions that become a bit cartoonish over the years. Take the Kentucky Derby, for example. Horse racing is not nearly as popular as NASCAR at this point. Yet it has found its pocket, and has its one day of the year for big hats and mint juleps. Part of the ritual.

The annual members letter detailing the upcoming Baker Street Irregulars weekend arrived in inboxes this morning, an event that always makes me a bit philosophical. And it should, as the BSI's benevolent dictator often gets a little philosophical in the letter itself. I have long disagreed with him on a few points, but as I'm often reminded by others when I bring those points up, "It's his club."

The ritual goes on, though, and as the BSI dinner becomes something of a "Kentucky Derby" event for locals and those who can afford to find a place there, both in financial cost and being the the "appropriate" sort of person to merit an invitation, change comes slowly. "It takes a while to turn a train," as one wise soul once told me, and living in a place where a good many of our railroad tracks have been turned into hiking trails brings certain knowledge that sometimes trains don't turn. Some evolve into something else, while some, like the annual Polar Express, become a yearly novelty item.

Folks do love ritual, whether it's a religious service or a margarita on Cinco de Mayo. And watching them evolve takes a lot of patience, but it's kind of fascinating from a distance. Which, for some of us, is just a better vantage point.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The detective world of Sherlock Holmes

Characters like Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter don't come along every day, even for their creators.

With this weekend bringing a second "Harry Potter" movie that doesn't include Harry himself, one starts to muse on a world where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle somehow followed the path of J. K. Rowling. It's well known that Doyle wanted to quit writing about Sherlock Holmes at at least one famous point in his career. But technology had not made it to the point where screenwriting was a valid career choice for a successful writer in Doyle's era, and given his attempts at breaking into playwriting, you know he's have been into screenwriting in a heartbeat.

And if movie adaptations had turned his popular literary character into a box office bonanza for Hollywood, combine that with wanting to get away from Sherlock and Doyle's love of history and you get . . . .

A prequel.

A Sherlock Holmes prequel.

Finding some way to put Brigadier Gerard into "the detective world of Sherlock Holmes," Doyle could have made Gerard his Newt Scamander. Or would it have been Professor George Edward Challenger who first appeared in a movie script from Doyle's pen, rather than a book? Or both? And more!

In any case, it's hard to imagine Doyle turning down a payday from simply putting a character he was going to write anyway into "the detective world of Sherlock Holmes." And suddenly Sherlockians would have new questions of "Canon" and "not-Canon" to consider.

A Conan Doyle shared universe is still something a clever writer might concoct, if one hasn't already. But the market to make it as big as Rowling's has long passed -- Sherlock is huge, but Doyle has suffered the fate of all writers, passing from "popular" to "classic." He can't surprise us with a new book or screenplay at this point, and that surprise is part of what makes marketing fall in love with a creator.

Still, it's fun to imagine what might have been in "the detective world of Sherlock Holmes."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Be the Sherlockalypse nigh?

The harbinger of the Sherlockalypse appeared on Twitter this morning.

I directly questioned him directly, as one must with such creatures.

"Are your the Anti-Jay-Finley-Christ, here to bring about the Sherlockalypse?"

And his reply was an occult phrase that was surely the incantation "T'aris heah'shu s'pa getion maf owin!" rendered as English by Siri. You don't want to know what that corresponds to in the Anti-Jay-Finley-Christ's Extremely Long Names For The Tales of His Dark Canon. You don't. Trust me.

I sincerely hope I was mistaken in all of this.

For if it was the true A.J.F.C., we could only surmise from his appearance that the Four Hansoms of the Sherlockalypse are nigh. and that their passengers,  Illiteracy, Mal-adaptation, Repetition, and Tedium will soon bear down upon us. And woe! WOE, I say! Woe will be we, the Sherlockian world who faces that dismal doom.

For truly, the Sherlockalypse is beyond all our ken. To imagine a world that not only has no Sherlock Holmes, with all that came from the Canon we know, ripped from our bosoms, with his legend perverted and twisted into an unrecognizable form, leaving us mentally clutching that shriveled and brainless plastic thing representing the remains of our greatest literary love . . . it is a vision that only a madman's brain could contain for the most fleeting of seconds before even he collapsed beneath its other-worldly weight.

Excuse me, I had to pick myself up off the floor again. Where was I?

Oh, yes . . .

The floor. Have to stop that.

Anyway, it's forty more days until Holmes and Watson with Will Ferrell comes out in theaters, sure to be his biggest Christmas treat since Elf. And I know I'm just as excited about it as all the rest of the Sherlockian world, so much so that I try to get into the heads of some other Sherlockians sometimes, just to expand my anticipation of what's going to be a earth-shaking delight with their shivers of excitement as well.

It's coming!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Let's talk about dictators.

To John H. Watson, he was always the dictator.

The only one the good doctor ever wrote of, "the most lewd and bloodthirsty tyrant that had ever governed any country with a pretence to civilization," the man they called the Tiger of San Pedro.

Watson lived in a pre-Hitler era, when people didn't have that over-used tag to throw on a purely evil tyrant. It's interesting that Watson does not compare Don Murillo, the aforementioned Tiger, to any world leader of the past. But as a writer, he was still able to describe hime well enough.

"Strong, fearless, and energetic, he had sufficient virtue to enable him to impose his odious vices upon a cowering people for ten or twelve years."

Interesting statement that -- even the sleaziest of bullies must have something for someone to admire, as no many can take leadership of a country without the cooperation of somebody else in that country. Some army must follow him. Some key people must find some profit in him. One man is just one man. And with no support from anyone else, any one man will fail.

And eventually, after more than a decade as "a terror through all Central America," there was what Watson describes as "a universal rising against him." Armies quit following. Key people found no more profit in him.

Dictators eventually run their course, whether they're cast as "benevolent" or "blood-thirsty." We haven't developed immortality as yet, and even when we do, no one thing remains consistently popular or functional forever. And any one man can inevitably be replaced by some other man (or woman). If a dictator like Don Murillo is bright enough to see what's in the cards, he gathers his resources and escapes while he still has the power to pull it off. But even then, one has to be careful just how many people are looking to get their revenge or justice for the abuses of power.

It's funny how we often see dictators the way Miss Burnet suggested that Sherlock Holmes saw Don Murillo: "To you they are like crimes committed in some other planet." (Side note: Even though it may seem odd that a Victorian governess thought about life on other planets, people have had that thought going back at least to ancient Greece, almost considering other worlds the way we thing of parallel universes today.) In other words, "it can't happen here."

And maybe it won't in our lifetimes, though one could see how it might as barons of politic and corporation work to ensure their power. But even in the Sherlockian Canon, the rise and fall of Don Murillo, with that fun title of "the Tiger of San Pedro," gives us a vision of how that tends to work out.

And why we like honest fellows like John H. Watson so much better when all is said and done. The ones who remember what a dictator was like when they hear of him.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A pikachu wears the hat

Ah, it's cranky old man morning here at Sherlock Peoria. Get ready for it. Here it comes.

Do we really consider Detective Pikachu any sort of interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, just because he's wearing that non-Canonical hat?

He's a talking pikachu. He wears the hat that is synonymous with the profession of detective. But is there anything more Sherlock to him than that?

I like Pokemon a lot. Played three or four of the video games heavily, watched the cartoons when they first came out, even though I was wee bit older than their target market, love Ryan Reynolds movies, and am definitely going to see the Detective Pikachu movie when it comes out. But not because I'm a Sherlockian. Simply because it looks like a fun movie.

My Sherlockian side is going, "C'mon, it's just the damn hat. Are we that desperate for Sherlock Holmes getting noticed as a cultural icon at this point?"

Like I said, cranky old man morning.

People are going to collect something, and Sherlockians picking up little character tchotchkes in deerstalkers is a tradition going back a long long way. I suspect that spoon with ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy in a deerstalker on the handle might be one of the earliest, but I don't know if the question has ever been fully researched: What is the oldest trinket with a non-Sherlock Holmes character wearing a deerstalker?

We've seen the deerstalker on Snoopy, Garfield, Daffy Duck . . . oh, wait, Daffy was in a legitimate Sherlock Holmes parody, wasn't he? Daffy was more in the mode of Will Ferrell's coming Holmes and Watson interpretation, which makes one wonder how many Sherlockians enjoy Daffy but pooh-pooh Ferrell already. Not to be species-ist, but Will Ferrell at least has "human" going for him.

Ah, humans. Few are the humans who don't go negative on something touching their favorite thing at some point, even in their private hearts while pretending it's all good in public. Or maybe it's just me, early in the morning before my cocoa.

Onward to breakfast and less-cranky thoughts!

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Ferrier cycle

Well, it looks like I got caught making a question so tricky that it tricked me, but at least one reader saw through the haze of the alkali plain. It was Jefferson Hope who went through that Baker Street window in A Study in Scarlet, but John Ferrier who converted to a new religion when all other hope was lost in the desert. John Gehan spotted that confluence of characters, and looking back at them made me ponder John Ferrier a little further.

John Ferrier is the only person in the cases of Sherlock Holmes who experiences a religious conversion. One might discount his change of practice, due to the desperate straits he is in when he makes that choice:

"If we take you with us, it can only be as believers in our own creed," a prophet tells Ferrier.

"Guess I'll come with you on any terms," John Ferrier replies. Either he learns a new religion, or he dies . . . a choice very few of us will, hopefully, ever be presented with.

Ferrier doesn't just gain a new religion, he becomes part of a community. When his journey is over, John Ferrier settles into a farm that is equal to any other member of that community. He may have been gay or asexual, as he never took a wife, as much as the rest of the community wished him to. With his wealth and esteem, he surely would have opportunities to find a very desirable partner. Yet he didn't. But that wasn't his turning point.

John Ferrier is told that his faith is being tested when he's asked to force his daughter to marry within the religion, the sort of act an occasional parent still would like to try, to this day. If you take away all the references to a particular faith, his tale does not lose any of its effect. The question of whether it is his faith being tested, or merely his subservience to a power structure, may exist as long as humans do. And even though his daughter's marriage is the breaking point for Ferrier's relationship with the community he lives in, it's not the first time he thought about leaving it.

"I don't care about knuckling under to any man, as these folks do to their darned prophet. I'm a free-born American, and it's all new to me. Guess I'm too old to learn."

John Ferrier was fiesty enough to demonstrate that he was a man who definitely believed in something, but that belief wound up separating him from the community of believers he had spent so much time in. And in that, his tale doesn't even have to be one of religion . . . it could be a fandom at that point. Or a given part of a fandom, which can be as consuming to some as a religion might be to others.

There is a tragedy at the heart of A Study in Scarlet, and John Ferrier is at the heart of that tragedy. He is a man who tries to break free of a community he joined in hope of a future, only to find he had just delayed his fate, and that of his adopted daughter. Their sad tale is merely the spark for an avenger who then inspires a hero . . . said hero being John Watson, who was inspired to write up this case. Watson's writings spawned believers, and a prophet or two. And one of those prophets might have their own John Ferrier, so the cycle continues.

Perhaps that's taking it a bit far, but who knows? In any case, John Ferrier is just one more of the fascinating characters given life along with Sherlock Holmes, and worth a look now and again.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Canon or Non-Canon?

Been taking a few days off to celebrate my annual festival of self-indulgence, so to prime the pump of getting back to blog-posting mode, here's a little quiz we had fun with at the last gathering of the Sherlock Holmes Story Society at the North Branch Peoria Library. We ran it like a spelling be, and you got to stay in as long as you were one of those with the correct response to each of the following.

Canon or not-Canon? If you have doubts on any of these, put your guess in the comments, and I'll let you know what's what.

1.    A woman shoots a man at least five times and is never arrested for the murder.

2.    A music box hides the secret to a major theft from the Bank of England.

3.    Sherlock Holmes discusses Jack the Ripper.

4.    Holmes and Watson catch some trout.

5.    King Oscar II,  ruler of the combined Sweden and Norway, uses Sherlock Holmes for a confidential matter.

6.    An ex-Mormon crashes through the window at 221B Baker Street.

7.    Watson enjoys a cookie, except it’s called a “biscuit” because it is England.

8.    Sherlock Holmes shows he has read “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving.

9.    A madman in Carfax asylum wants to help convince a woman that her relationship with a nobleman is a very bad thing.

10.   A stair-rod is a rod or strip of metal used to hold a carpet in place on a staircase step.  Dr. Watson once hit another man in the shins with a stair-rod.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

BORRRRRNNNN in a Canon way!

We take a few things for granted as we read the cases of Sherlock Holmes. One of our biggest assumptions, perhaps, is that every single person in the Canon was actually born. I only raise this question because the first birth alluded to in the Canon never happens: "He is after the secretary Stangerson, who had no more to do with the crime than the babe unborn."

Inspector Gregson was undoubtedly speaking of a hypothetical babe unborn, but it suddenly makes me wonder about everybody else in the Canon: Were any of them never born?

Some would say that many of them weren't, and sprang fully-formed from the mind of some almighty creator whose great powers of imaginative detail brought them to life. But many had places of birth: Pershore. New Jersey. London. Greece. Posilippo. Brazil. America. And many had birth years: 1846. 1856. 1840. 1845. (This makes it only possible to do Chinese Zodiac calculations on those four, as far as astrology is concerned, and imperfectly at that: Was Irene Adler truly born in the year of the Horse? No wonder the guys at the stable liked her! Moran in the year of the Rat? Sounds right, he did crawl into a sewer quite handily to chase a tiger once.)

Birth in the Canon seems to define a person, as the phrasing hints at national stereotypes. "Brazilian by birth." "Greek by birth." Perhaps it's national pride, if like Mr. Melas, one is making the statement about one's self. But when Holmes says of Reginald Musgrave, "Something of his birth place seemed to cling to the man . . ." one starts wondering if he might be hinting at smell or something else less than complimentary.

Birth judgments occur: Professor Moriarty had a "good" birth, but Fitzroy Simpson had an "excellent" birth. What's an excellent birth? Personally, I picture Fitzroy strutting out of the birth canal with a top hat and cane, singing "Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my rag-time gal!" but I'm sure that's just me.

Others seem to be born with a special quality.

Mary Fraser was "born for all that is beautiful and dainty." What all those things are specifically is a good question. Tiny houses and flowers come to mind. Von Bork was a "born sportsman." McMurdo was a "born boon companion."

Poor Inspector Bardle of the Sussex constabulary was treated as a farm animal, as he was "born and bred." Wouldn't "bred and born" be the proper order? Or was Bardle raised to manhood and immediately set to stud by wicked Sussex eugenics proponents?

John H. Watson perhaps had it best, as he was told by one very smart fellow: "My dear Watson, you were born to be a man of action."

And with all of the data above, however, only one person in the Canon has an actual birthday. James Armitage, who celebrated turning twenty-three with chains on, below-decks on a prison ship, and working out that birthday's date is still a challenge. But we at least have evidence that he was born.

Otherwise he might run afoul of the villain Wilson Kemp, who liked to tell people "You had better never have been born." So perhaps there was a secret cabal of those who had never been born in the world of Sherlock Holmes, and if you were a member, you got special privileges from men like Wilson Kemp. They were certainly must not have been good folk like any of those mentioned above.

Or those of us who enjoy a good birthday celebration. So when your birthday rolls around, give Wilson Kemp the finger and accept a big "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" from me. You must be one of the good ones!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The "liberal" candidate

"The recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville, whose name has been mentioned as the probable Liberal candidate for Mid-Devon at the next election, has cast a gloom over the country."

-- The Devon County Chronicle,  May 14th of the year of
The Hound of the Baskervilles

We don't speak much of the political assassination that takes place in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Apparently, according to the media, Sir Charles Baskerville had raised hopes among the citizens of Dartmoor as the man who was going to Parliament to change things for them. A Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, had been in office since 1885. 

Of course, don't relate to such terms as "liberal" and "conservative" by modern standards when dealing with all this. The thing that Salisbury was most charged with early on? Being "in favor of state socialism." But let's hear what Lord Salisbury had to say about that:

"Do not imagine that by merely affixing to it the reproach of Socialism you can seriously affect the progress of any great legislative movement, or destroy those high arguments which are derived from the noblest principles of philanthropy and religion."

Doesn't sound like a modern Conservative at all, does he?

Politics is a very tricky business. You actually have to pay attention to things. You actually have to be like Sherlock Holmes and both use your brain and actually get out there and take action. Somebody has got to make these decisions in the voting booth, and if you're willing to let others do it, you're going to get what you deserve in the end, whether you're observant enough to realize it or not. 

The residents of Dartmoor were politically aware enough to have hopes from Sir Charles Baskerville, and his death before the chance to be elected was probably more on their minds and discussed in the pubs than a silly spooky ghost dog story. They sound like voters to me.

Did Sherlock Holmes vote in elections? His brother was in the government, I suspect he had to just to appease Mycroft, if for no other reason. John Watson definitely was a voter, embodying the best ideals of a solid British citizen. So even if you're not feeling like Sherlock Holmes when considering elections, you can at least feel like John Watson and get out and do the most basic of services for your country. You won't even get a war wound from it.

And unlike the residents of Dartmoor, nobody on your ballot this year probably got assassinated by demonic hound.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Sherlock Holmes Is Not Like

And now, in the interest of balance, a list of sixty beings whom Sherlock Holmes is not like.

1. King Kong
2. Booster Gold
3. Renfield
4. David Hasselhoff
5. Cain
6. Harvey
7. Major Healey
8. Trigger
9. Rapunzel
10. Governor George Wallace
11. Bozo
12. Captain Morgan
13. Mary Sutherland
14. Grendel
15. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
16. Mona Lisa
17. Ally McBeal
18. Humpty Dumpty
19. Tarzan
20. Londo Mollari
21. Ted Nugent
22. Stimpy
23. Rodney Dangerfield
24. Hades
25. Rondo Hatton
26. The Garbage Pail Kids
27. Helen of Troy
28. Jim Kelly
29. Calvin Coolidge
30. Milky the Marvelous Milking Cow
31. Rita Repulsa
32. Moroni
33. Sandra Bernhard
34. Babe the Blue Ox
35. Stephen King
36. Captain Jack Harkness
37. Thumbelina
38. John Wayne
39. Thor
40. Chidi Anagonye
41. Whitley Strieber
42. Toonses
43. Jean Claude Van Damme
44. The Colossus of Rhodes
45. Snow White
46. Trix Rabbit
47. Brock Lesnar
48. Lou Costello
49. Pia Zadora
50. Major Tom
51. Peter Brady
52. Yuri Geller
53. William Hung
54. The Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey
55. Scrappy Doo
56. Johnson & Johnson
57. Brett Maverick
58. Lady Godiva
59. Buford T. Justice
60. Itsy Bitsy Spider

Consider your palate cleansed.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The final choice for Miss "Sherlock Holmes Is Like"

Reading sixty essays on why Sherlock Holmes Is Like sixty different other beings in the book of the same name, one can gather some distinctly different insights on the great detective. Trying to make those same sixty beings compete with each other for a Miss "Sherlock Holmes is Like" Crown is a decidedly different mechanism for inspiring insight. And a long and tortured metaphoric mechanism at that.

Now, as Sherlock Peoria comes to the end of its latest run of battling essays, the final round holds these contestants remaining:

Brigadier Gerard, presented by John Baesch.

Professor Henry Higgins, presented by Fran Martin.

Robin Hood, presented by Mark Hanson.

Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, presented by Vincent Wright.

Gandalf the Gray, presented by Tatyana Dybina

Huck Finn, presented by Rob Nunn.

Alexia Tarabotti, presented by Courtney Powers.

Hermione Granger, presented by Amy Thomas.

O.Z. Diggs, the Wizard of Oz, presented by Beth L. Gallego.

Peter Pan, presented by Bob Coghill.

Looking at these ten finalists, one can note two very distinct trends in the judging of Miss "Sherlock Holmes Is Like."  First, that Sherlock Holmes is very much like a magical being, as half of the above have either some magical bits to them, or can fake magic very well. And second, if one remembers the list of sixty as a whole, is that Sherlock Holmes is not like any real person, which actually kind of amplifies the "magical" part.

A third of the finalists are not adults, which says something about the fresh, youthful nature of Sherlock Holmes. As much as he is often seen as an older man, since such sage wisdom as he has is something we like to ascribe to elders of the tribe, Sherlock's curiosity, his ability to come into a situation with the objectivity of an innocent, his enthusiasm and energy -- all those are features like that of a child.

Forty percent of them actually are older chaps who set themselves above their fellow men for one reason of another, with two of those four looking down in what I believe is a much kindlier fashion. Sherlock Holmes is definitely like that.

And, we have a fool. Because anyone as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes knows more than anyone else what a fool they are. (If you don't ever suspect yourself of being a fool, I might have some bad news for you. Sorry.)

With all of the above qualities brought out in looking at commonalities and who seems to fit in the least, but still does, there is one character who stands apart from the rest. One character I haven't really included as yet, and still, one character who Sherlock Holmes is very, very much like. Sixty beings entered this larger-than-Miss-America pageant for Sherlock beauty, and only one can take the crown. And yes, I'd give this one a crown any day.

Because when you sort through all the rest, even if you've already hit the target dead-on, there is one person who can still hit that target even more skillfully than you. Yes, Miss "Sherlock Holmes Is Like" 2018 is . . . . .

Robin Hood.

Sherlock Holmes is literally like Robin Hood, so much so that if Conan Doyle could have written about Robin Hood instead of Sherlock Holmes, I bet he'd have enjoyed it. Fighting British crime, no matter what the station of his opponents. A legend who lives on for centuries. A hero who knows when the laws of the land need to be skirted to do what's right. A loyal band of friends following him gladly into the fray. Good with a sword, but, goddamn, don't we want to see what Sherlock could do with a bow and arrow?

Boy, I hope I didn't spoil Mark Hanson's essay for you with that paragraph, but even if I did, you've got fifty-nine others to buy the book and read. And you'll want to see what else Mark had to say. Thanks to everyone who stuck it through this series of posts, apologies to all the writers who might have gotten a short shrift due to outside circumstances impacting my week, and congratulations to all the finalists and Mark Hanson in particular -- you chose well!

We now take you back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Miss "Sherlock Holmes Is Like" Talent Night!

The ill-concieved and poorly manage beauty pageant celebrating the release of the book Sherlock Holmes Is Like eventually had to get to the talent portion of the program. And as the preliminary rounds come to their final line-up, that page from the pageant playbook finally came due.

And what talent should someone who is like Sherlock Holmes compete with?

Well, there's always sword fighting. Sherlock Holmes was an expert swordsman. And who among our contestants tonight will be competing with the sword?

D'Artagnan. Zorro. Peter Pan. Doctor Who.

We're going way off book for this one, so hold on. Doctor Who learned the sword from Cleopatra's guards, and practiced with Richard, Cyrano, and Errol Flynn. D'Artagnan learned sword from his father. Zorro learned swordplay in Spain. And Peter Pan just learned swordplay through an immortal life of fighting other boys and pirates, over and over again.

In the four-way duel that comes from this part of the contest, Peter Pan rises quickly to the fore, as he is not only a superb swordsman, he's the most experienced of the lot, a smaller target, and his ability to fly makes up for his shorter reach. (I tried not to make the characters fight this time around, but with Karen Ellery, Bob Coghill, and Monica Schmidt's choice of characters facing my own, it just had to be).

Our next talent on display is that of oratory, something Sherlock Holmes did well in front of the small groups of clients or Scotland Yard officers he provided explanations to.

Competitors for this half of the round are the Mighty Oz, Lucy Van Pelt, Alice Liddell, and the Third Little Pig.

Well, the Pig likes to respond with a rhyme and is famous for "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin," which was not original with him, so he's not faring too well. Lucy Van Pelt prefers an audience of one, and that one having low self esteem, so she's not really pulling here either. Alice just tends to exclaim things in a very declaratory manner. And Oz, the great and powerful politico who both ruled a city and worked in a carnival with one's livelihood depending upon vocal skill . . . well, there you go. (Beth Gallego, Steve Mason, Resa Halle, and Gayle Lange Puhl are all much better at this that the bulk of the contestants they put into the Miss "Sherlock Holmes Is Like Pageant.)

With Oz walking away with oratory and Peter winning at swordplay, tonight is a double naming of finalists, and they both move into tomorrow night's finals.

Will this competition finally come to an end? Does Brad get to blog about something else? And how many words is this stealing from his NaNoWriMo marathon?

We shall see.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Miss "Sherlock Is Like" disqualification day

T'was a dark day for the Miss "Sherlock Is Like" pageant.

Instead of the usual theater full of hopefuls, parading across a brightly lit stage, sparkling like the Sherlock-diamonds-in-the-rough they are, this evening's contestant list was simply that . . . a list.

Read by a disheartened pageant spokesperson, who had obviously spent the better part of his time beginning his NaNoWritMo novel instead of starting a Movember moustache, (You can only do one, you know. State law!) the list was of all the candidates who had been disqualified for a variety of reasons.

"Peter Cushing. Played Sherlock Holmes due to a genetic anomaly that makes him look like Sherlock Holmes. DNA disqualification."

"Gregory House. Thought the name 'House' was a valid connection to Sherlock Holmes. Bad pun disqualification. Also, Wilson."

"Arthur Conan Doyle. Has made so much off of Sherlock Holmes already that his appearance here is just plain greedy. Family member disqualification."

"Eugene Vidocq. Sherlock Holmes hated that guy. Mistaken-for-Lecoq disqualification."

"John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Over-the-character-limit disqualification."

"Elon Musk. Elon Musk. Elon Musk disqualification."

Rejoin us tomorrow for the final preliminary round, where, hopefully, we'll at least get to see a little more of the contestants without buying the book Sherlock Holmes Is Like, edited by Christopher Redmond, which you really should buy anyway, just to read the work of some great writers like Lyn Adams, Ashley Polasek, Daniel Stashower, Joanne Chaix, Ian Bennett, and Carlina de la Cova, none of whom got the treatment they deserved in this pageant.

Beauty pageants always have their issues, don't they?