Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Adios, 2019!

Well, it's been a year, hasn't it?

It's getting harder and harder to exist in a public space without pissing a few people off, and this has been the year to just embrace who you are and go for it . . . at least, for some of us. Not so much for others.

Way back in March, in the run-up to 221B Con, I got called "the worst person in our hobby" by the Facebook of a certain Sherlockian book of note, but by the time the con was over, someone else seemed to have stolen the crown, at least on social media. It'll make for an interesting chapter in one of those Sherlockian history Christmas annuals of The Baker Street Journal in twenty years. But all of that showed me one thing about where we find ourselves as we end the 2010s: You both have to not care what others think, and care about their feelings as well.

Seem contradictory? Seem like a fine line? Well, yes, and no.

Creatively, you simply cannot give a crap about folks without craft who like to judge craft. You cannot limit yourself to only exposing those loves that everyone else will love, as there is no thing that everyone loves. If you have faith that someone out there will have a little fun with it, let it out.

But you also have to be aware of the world around you. At well past six decades of life, I've got crap in my head that does not fit in the modern world any more than a manual typewriter does. (Like how to use a manual typewriter.) I could limit all my time talking to people of my generation who get that stuff, but how dull would that be? (We'd mostly talk of our ailments at this point anyway. Shingles vaccines, ouch!) If I'm going to talk to everyone around me, I need to be a little bit aware of what's going on in their heads, even if it's hard to figure out sometimes.

If we thought life was going to be easy, 2019 had some things of its own to teach us, and hopefully, we can carry some of those things into the next decade.

I can't wait.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, icons for the future

The week ahead brings us to the year 2020, which for a lot of us once seemed a lot like saying next year is Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. The future tends to get here whether we expect it or not, and history is being made as we speak. This is what I was thinking as I finished up The Watsonian Weekly for this week, so I thought I'd expand on it a bit.

We often forget that the Sherlock Holmes stories, when they were written, weren’t about looking lovingly back on the past – they were about a visionary detective who was looking ahead toward what was possible, and becoming the consulting detective he could envision when no one else could. Sherlock Holmes, when he first appeared, was the man of the future.

It's ironic that so much of Sherlockiana has become looking back, documenting the past, holding on to that frozen pod of Victorian imagination we call Canon. It wasn't built as a cozy comforter, but as a constant lesson in "the world isn't always what it appears to be." It taught us to look for the truth, even if the abused dog is much less romantic than a curse-created hound from Hell. It showed us to look past the fear to the factual, and hell if that ain't a lesson we need to learn again and again and again.

We can't all be Sherlock Holmes, so observant, knowledgeable, or insightful, but we do also have John Watson to consider. John H. Watson may not have been the visionary that Sherlock Holmes was, but Watson was an explorer of sorts, eager to find out just what Sherlock Holmes was about and what lay at the end of each adventure. Our Sherlockian world has outpaced all of us in it’s ability to grow, change, and show us previously unheard of iterations of Holmes and Watson. Emulating Watson, taking up the call to see what's really going on with those often eccentric sorts who are trying to see beyond the obvious, is also a worthy endeavor.

I always end each episode of The Watsonian Weekly with Watson’s good-bye to Stamford as Watson walks away wondering about this fellow called Sherlock Holmes, but just before that, just before Stamford says his own good-bye, he has these last words: “I’ll wager he learns more about you than you about him.”

Live with Sherlock Holmes long enough, and he will show you more about yourself than you are shown about him. It’s the Watsonian way.  And in this new decade of the 2020s, we’re sure to be learning a whole lot of new things about ourselves and the world around us. Some good, some bad, some merely "what is." We have no idea what's coming, exactly. Glimmers perhaps. Expectations of certain routine things. But a lot that will still be a little better with a view inspired by Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson.

And the game is afoot again.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend cometh

On the verge of January, the thoughts of a Sherlockian of my generation naturally turn to the upcoming Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend in New York. In earlier times, we'd call it "the BSI weekend," but as it has grown and expanded, and a new generation of Sherlockians has come along, not so invested in the old ways, "Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend" seems so much more appropriate.

Whilst the elder country club of the Sherlockian world might still hold dominance, deciding the weekend, inviting whom they please to their prom, it's all of those folks who quietly put together events outside of that institution that one has to have a great fondness for. They're just doing it for their fellow Sherlockians, and often go over and above in entertaining their guests. When I think back to my trips to New York in January, the more memorable moments seem to have occurred at those other events, where folks were a little more relaxed and not mainly waiting to see who the gatekeeper let in that year.

T'was the gatekeeping that first started those other events, when the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes former in the male-only sixties and started holding their own alternate dinner, which quickly gained a reputation as "the fun dinner." One of my great regrets in Sherlockian life is never having made it to a proper ASH dinner before it gave way to "The Baskerville Bash" in 1997, once the discriminatory reason for its existence disappeared. After nearly a decade, the Baskerville Bash gave way to that Gaslight Gala, and the tradition of welcoming Sherlockians to the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend continued. Other events rose up to fill the week, and still do. When you get that many Sherlockians in one city at one time, spontaneous gathering are always going to occur -- if you could find an excuse to lure a hundred or two Sherlockians to any one locale with no program at all, chances are they'll start putting events together.

Last year was the final year for the Daintiest Thing Charity Ball put on by the Baker Street Babes, and that definitely makes the 2020 birthday weekend shine a little less brightly. It was a bold and beautiful event that actually looked outside the Sherlockian bubble to give an amazing amount of money to wounded veterans, all the while shining a light on the diversity and expanse that Sherlockiana of the 2010s has become. But NYC events are no easy thing to put on, and six years was a very good run, with so much to be proud of.

2020 should be an interesting year for the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend. A lot of the official institutional business went out very late, and this year the autocracy changes leaders. Most of the business-as-usual will be business-as-usual, I'm sure. The bookstores will be frequented, certain bars will get a few more patrons than usual. But we're actually moving into a decade that few of us ever thought we'd arrive at back in the 1980s. The future awaits.

All that said, I don't know if NYC in January is a place a settled, small-town-raised fellow like myself is going to ever wind up in again. Like Chicago, it's not a place I find comfortable even among friends, and was always glad to feel that jet home leaving the ground, unlike other Sherlockian weekends that I'd happily never leave. Still, come January, one tends to look in that direction, to see what's going on there.

And still thinking that some other city in some warmer season might not just be a little more choice.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The problem with Sherlock Holmes

"These people are so much cooler than anyone I could meet in real life."
-- Nick (I think), The Final Podblem podcast on 3GAR

Growing up as a reader and having weak social skills would seem to be a classic combo. It extends past those who read, of course -- gamers, Trekkies, movie buffs, you name it -- those who prefer to spend their time in fictional worlds don't always develop the best strategies for dealing with other humans. But it's a "chicken or the egg" scenario. Which comes first? Not dealing well with normal humans or retreating into fiction where the people are pretty cool and make perfect sense?

When someone asks you who your "hero" is, what do you answer?

Some flawed, smelly, potentially problematic historical figure? Or a nicely encapsulated, Canon-made fellow like Sherlock Holmes? (Or, perhaps, a family member or teacher, which is an entirely different mindset?) In any case, the answer definitely says something about you.

What is that thing? Well, I'll let you decide, but for me, one aspect is that character of fiction are designed to be relatable. Creators build them so we can feel a commonality, so that we can share their experience, even if they are so very different from us on the surface. Our empathy is pointed directly at them and given instructions on how to empath.

If normal humans all came with a short story you were handed at first meeting and given the time to read immediately, we might get along with people so much better. But, alas, it takes time to learn the story of another human, and there are just so very many of us, and the stories are just so . . . complicated.

Sherlock Holmes, as bright a boy as he is, is really rather simple.

Oh, yes, he's vague and mysterious, full of enough blank spaces that we can color in those gaps using our own personal crayons, and that's why he and the even-more-vague Johnny boy are such easy loves to have. In truth, they are us, extensions of ourselves, and even if we sometimes find it hard to love ourselves, we can still love that perfect part of us that we see in them. The potential for something special, like babies, but with a life already laid out in front of them.

Who can compete with that, except perhaps a young love whose spell has completely obsessed? Even those are often just other story-folk with similar stories behind them. Yet just as such fine story-folk as Sherlock Holmes provide escape from the dull little everydays of life, those messy, often-hard-to-read real people in our lives can also provide a relaxing escape from the demands of Sherlock Holmes, if you think about it. They actually have random thoughts on details that weren't spoon-fed to them and outside the Victorian period. Can Sherlock Holmes help you figure out what was going on with that CATS movie after you've seen it? Nope.

But we're glad to have him, whatever purpose he's serving to us. And that can be a good many things.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The second day after Christmas

We tend to get our Blue Carbuncling out a little early each year, as waiting for Christmas can be hard enough for those inner children. And John H. Watson waiting until the second day after Christmas to call upon Sherlock Holmes just pushes things out a little further.  Our Sherlockian Christmas story is really a day-after-Boxing-Day story, but since all the things within it are based on a mystery that occurred on Christmas Eve, it gets by.

And yet, one has to wonder about that second day after Christmas when Watson finally calls on his best and wisest friend. Both John and Mary Watson were notable for having no kin in England, even though Watson seems to have had a wife with a visitable mother at one point, so it's hard to imagine family matters causing the delay. Something as serious as illness would not have Watson running about in the cold with Holmes once the case has begun. And it's hard to imagine Holmes being so far down the list that Watson had to call upon Thurston, Stamford, the Whitneys, etc., first.

Watson is even just stopping by on his professional rounds, calling on patients, which he has to finish before returning that evening. It's not like he planned to spend much time with Holmes, just a friendly stop to say "hi." No gift in hand or anything. If Watson had seen Holmes earlier in the holiday season, there would have been no need for the "compliments of the season." So what is going on here?

One almost wonders if Sherlock Holmes had something against Christmas, and Watson was being very respectful of that sore spot. Peterson seems to expect that Sherlock Holmes will be home on Christmas morning and up for bringing a hat and goose mystery to.

It's interesting that Holmes calls it "the season of forgiveness," something that isn't usually the first spirit that comes to mind tied to Christmas. Generosity, love, joy . . . all of those might lead the way as Christmas spirits, and while forgiveness seems appropriate, one has to wonder if there was something big Holmes had to forgive at Christmas.

Was it his subtle way of getting back to some unspoken rift that had occurred between he and John? Was it some family betrayal from his past, the likely candidate being the elder brother? Watson's call on that second day after Christmas is a prompt to launch a thousand different stories of why the delay existed. One could even fill a nice holiday volume entitled The Second Day After Christmas if one were in the anthology business with variants on the theme.

But, alas, for this year, the day after Boxing Day is still three days away and I'm already two or three "Blue Carbuncle" references in, with possibly one more to come. I just can't wait like Watson did.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The painful price of popularity in the present

Okay, we've had a new Star Wars movie for all of four days now and the amount of armchair re-writes gushing out of the internet are astounding. It seems to be the way fan engagement works at this point, bonding with earlier chapters of a thing, getting a sense of ownership via the love of that thing, and then having very definite ideas of how things should have gone.

It really makes me look at those key Sherlock Holmes stories like "The Final Problem," "The Empty House," and "His Last Bow," and wondering how the internet would have burned and recreated those tales the first week after they came out, were Conan Doyle subject to the same million-eyed-monster that goes after popular culture icons of today.

"Final Problem," of course, has the fact that Moriarty shows up out of nowhere, Dr. Watson getting dragged along until just before the climactic moment, and then left with no resolution nor satisfying relationship moments. And how is Moriarty's criminal empire ignoring all of the socio-economic factors behind crime and just saying it's this one dude? Never mind "Speckled Band" and "Red-Headed League" being totally superior stories, are still at the top of pundit rankings and this "Final Problem" has to fall down into the teens at the very least.

It's actually very hard to look at those original serialized entertainments from The Strand Magazine and see them in the context of the harsh scrutinies modern media endure. And they're in a written medium besides -- books rarely take the "everybody's a critic" pounding that TV shows or movies do because reading an entire book actually takes commitment. You can't just go "I'm going to kill two hours and watch the popular thing."

It's a bit of a stretch to try to imagine internet reaction to a Doyle short story, but it's a good mental exercise. Would "His Last Bow, with its completely different structure have totally thrown the internet for a loop? Would clickbait headlines try to suggest it was the start of a new series, with Sherlock Holmes as a spy? And how would the varied political factions dig in on Sherlock Holmes getting involved in pre-war international affairs?

It's kind of nice that the dust settled on the original Sherlock Holmes Canon long ago. We saw the nasty turn things took during that last season of Sherlock, whether it was what the creators did or how some fans reacted. Those sorts of things are so far behind us on Doyle Holmes that no one who was a part of them is either not alive or too old to hold a grudge.

It would be kind of nice is there was some sort of two-week moratorium where the internet would just let us enjoy things, or not enjoy them, and form our own opinions before forming the sort of lynch mob we saw coming for Holmes and Watson last Christmas, and CATS this Christmas. (Though I will honestly admit I did pick up a torch and a pitchfork and joined the villagers over that second one. Oh, lordy.) But such is the world we must adapt to these days, as it won't be changing anytime soon, I'm sure.

It almost makes one hope that Sherlock Holmes doesn't get another wave of popularity for a decade or two. Almost!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The things this world will let you do now

Sometimes, you just have to stop and appreciate the now.

Sherlockiana as a whole has a tendency to look backwards. The old stories, the old club, the old TV show . . . those moments from the past that just seemed so darned good. But every now and then you get a reason to take stock of the now, step back, and just look at things in slack-jawed wonder.

This morning, for example. In the past week or so, I was just too busy to appreciate what was happening as it happened, so it took a minute. But here's the thing:

Even though I'm not a technological genius, a billionaire, a particular theatrical talent, or all that good at connecting people, when someone brought up the idea of adapting "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" a couple weeks ago, the world we live in at this moment allowed me to go, "Sure, that's something I can do."

Gathering Sherlockians from Idaho, California, Oregon, Washington, almost-Missouri, and Illinois for one amateur production . . . audio, only, 'tis true, but technologically, I'd think one could actually do video with the right resources . . . in any case, all those people from all that distance came together in about a week's time to put on a show. Because we can do that now.

Not saying we've worked all the kinks out -- I had to use myself as my lead actor, not because I think I fit the role but because I was the one with the time most available to me. Had I been not under a pre-Christmas rush deadline, I probably could have spent some time and found somebody who could actually play the part well. And my audio editing skills are still not anywhere close to good, but once you get past all the quibbles, here's the thing:

We live in a world where you can do these things now. Amazing things.

We can do amateur adaptations of the Canon for our own amusement with our friends. And so much more than that. The biggest roadblock for most of us is the "I'm not good at this" fears. Or the glimers of "nobody wants to see this."  But there's two movies out there that I always come back to, about two overly enthusiastic fellows who got past those dreads, Ed Wood and Dolemite Is My Name, two tales of people driven to produce what some would consider schlock, but people who also found satisfaction in doing what they loved despite common wisdom or worries of not being good enough.

Sure, you might only wind up entertaining a handful of people, but isn't that better than doing nothing at all, if you enjoyed getting there?

So here's a link to the Watsonian Weekly "Blue Carbuncle Special" if you haven't encountered it yet. If you listen to it and go, "Well, I could have done that!" . . . well, I'm not going to argue that point at all, and I wish you would do that very thing. Next Christmas, let's have a dozen "Blue Carbuncle"s out there. And twice as many the year after that.

The world is, at this moment, giving us the potential for great riches. And it all starts with "Hey, I could probably do that!"

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The doll and its maker

"So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle, the doll and its maker are never identical."
-- Arthur Conan Doyle, "To An Undiscerning Critic"

It's a curious thing that something Doyle once said to express that Sherlock's opinions were not his own is something that actually goes both ways. And that's a very good thing.

One of the perils of becoming an ardent fan (or aficionado, if you're all fancy) is that in trying to satisfy your desire for more of a good thing, you might follow the trail back to the source of your happy place and expect there to be more happy there. 

This being the weekend of the grand finale of that trilogy of trilogies that my love of began around the same time as my love of Sherlock Holmes, I'm definitely reflecting on George Lucas and how I always avoided "Making Of" specials. The same has always gone for Conan Doyle biographies -- on my shelf for reference, but not for pleasure, as I avoid them as much as possible. Both men have their fans, but I am happy for the most part to accept the gifts they gave us without paying too much attention to their personal doings.

Of course, neither George Lucas nor Conan Doyle ever came after the place where I lived, either.

Conan Doyle was quite socially active in his day, an ocean and a century away, so it's easy to not get too concerned with any of the things he was about, like trying to convince people that seances were a preferred spiritual practice. If he lived in modern America and took a political stance that I am dead-set against, one that is incredibly stupid and literally destroys lives, and then actually made efforts to promote that agenda?

It might get very hard to look at his work without seeing that shadow falling over it.

Writers create our culture. Whether it's through scripts, novels, speeches, or ad copy, the ideas writers share wind up tying us together or breaking us apart. Of course, we also get to decide which of those ideas we pick up and which we leave on the floor, but this always gets interesting when we pick up a fantastic character like Sherlock Holmes for one set of reasons, and then find all the other ideas of a Conan Doyle being lifted up as well by the strings tying them to that character.

T'were Conan Doyle still an active celebrity, with a reality show tracking fairies like some do bigfoot, getting called out for racist bits on Twitter, and without all his rough edges sanded off by history and the polishing of his memory by his children and fans, one wonders how it would affect our view of Sherlock Holmes. Our predecessors seemed to have dealt with it by demoting him to "literary agent" and making Watson's handy first-person narration give us a nice no-rough-edges author to replace the celeb with. Would that work now? Who knows.

My sympathies go out to all the devoted fans of Harry Potter who are trying to deal with that very thing right now without a Watsonian buffer. I'm still leaving the Conan Doyle studies to somebody else, as well. That guy was weird.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A good day for a Sherlockian

Today started out as a really bad day to be me, forgetting to take my work laptop to work, having a dentist appointment that I didn't know if I needed, other odd bits . . . but then Sherlock Holmes entered the picture. I had half an episode of The Final Podblem on "The Retired Colourman" to listen to, and the evening held the promise of Peoria's Sherlock Holmes Story Society gathering at the library to discuss "The Abbey Grange." And that, my friends, is a combo that will just make your day.

I don't think I'll ever get over how much regularly listening to other people's takes on my favorite stories has become such a joy to me of late. I don't know if we were all just treading the same ground for a while, and it took a new crop of Sherlockians to bring the fresh or if I just was a complete narcissist before who was too busy with my own opinion. I'm sure there are a few who shouted "THAT ONE!" after reading the second option, but to each their own.

I don't think I had felt the actual horror of "Retired Colourman's" gas chamber crime until hearing Nick and Casey unspool Amberly's villainy from their fresh read. The idea of Watson just dealing with the matter, or an ongoing Barker series, were nicely intriguing as well. Plus, they just make me laugh like a good two person podcast should.

Eleven Sherlockians rooting around "Abbey Grange" live and in person is bound to turn up some previous unremarked facts. Like that I pay so much attention to Sherlock Holmes (and then Doctor Watson) that I completely gloss over bits like Captain Croker's flat-out racism for no reason: "I believe you are a man of your word, and a white man, and I'll tell you the whole story." I mean, hopefully, he meant that in a "white hat" sense at the time, but these days, it comes out flat racist.

And then there's the little side-jaunts one goes on because Google is in your pocket. Someone mentioned a Swiss Army knife being in the story, and that led to this:

The actual reference is to a "multiplex knife," which existed since the 1850s, and we know it couldn't have been a true Swiss Army knife as a.) The story takes place in late winter 1897, and b.) Though the Swiss Army knife came into being in 1891, it didn't gain a corkscrew, as was used in the story, until July of 1897 . . . about six months too late. (Just the sort of thing Vince Wright means when he says you have to look at every detail in a story to do deep-dive chronology on these tales.)

So then the mind goes: Wait . . . Moriarty died in Switzerland in 1891. The Swiss Army knife came about in 1891. Could it . . . naaawwwwww.

Funny though, that even a table of Sherlock Holmes fans all had to get five minutes of talking about our first time with Star Wars in tonight, as we were all missing the first showings of the end of the third trilogy. Never thought this day would come, but life is long and the world just keeps pulling rabbits out of it's Earth-sized hat.

So, when all was said and done, today was a good day, for a Sherlockian. This Sherlockian, in any case.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Saying the words

Robert Perret made a confession on Twitter yesterday that a lot of us can relate to these days:

"Contributing to a Watsonian podcast has made me acutely aware of how many words I know but don't know how to pronounce."

Sherlock Holmes fans have always had an issue with pronunciation, give that our Sacred Texts of Sherlock are a.) Over a hundred years old, b.) For Americans, from another country, and c.) Full of both smarty-pants words and goofy slang. And even the familiar words get odd when you bring Sherlock Holmes into the picture.

For example, when quoting Sherlock Holmes, how do you pronounce "advertisement?"

Ad-ver-TIZE-ment or ad-VERT-iz-ment? Most veteran Sherlockians are familiar with the debates over Irene and Lestrayd, but the issues we have with those names apply to so many other words as well. Do we say them how we say them, or as fancy Victorian folk of our imaginations do?

In working out an audio adaptation of "The Blue Carbuncle" this week, my friends and I have been put through the wringer on pronouncing Watson-words. If you've never had to say the word "fiver" before, you might just come out with "fivver," just as a non-Sherlockian helper starts wondering about how a goose has a crop right in the middle of recording. It's actually part of the fun of Sherlock Holmes, I think, as that element of strangeness is part of the allure once you get over your initial reaction to it.

And it never ends. Having read and re-read "Blue Carbuncle" so many times over forty years, I was amazed at how natural a lot of the cadence and word-flow came to me . . . but those pronunciations? There's always some word in that sixty story Canon that you've never said out loud before, and they can take you by surprise. The thing is, where once your surprises were limited to small scion society meetings or conversations with other Sherlockians, now we can learn of them as we record and publish to the internet, where it has the potential to haunt us for a very long time.

But that's okay. As those who came before us often had a personal preference on "Lestrayd," some future listener might just take it as "early 2020s accent" or an affectation for fun. (Take a listen to some of the pronunciations in the movie Holmes and Watson if you think that doesn't happen.)

In any case, it's great that we have such words that we love enough to speak aloud. So we might as well do it, however they come out.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Moriarty fallacy

We always thought Moriarty would be this genius, didn't we?

The ultimate criminal, capable of coming up with plots so intricate, so masterfully contrived, that even Conan Doyle couldn't tell us what they were. He could tell us about the ingenious things Sherlock Holmes did to shed light on a series of events that had no explanation, and show us the reasons for something that seemed impossible. But even Doyle couldn't explain how Moriarty's crimes were so much better than the average criminals, other than the fact that he didn't get caught or suspected while others did.

I grew up believing in Moriarty. Or thieves like Alexander Mundy or Thomas Crown. And then the TV show "COPS" came along, week after week, showing us what real-life criminals looked like. Not a lot of Moriartys or Thomas Crowns in that lot. Shirtless drunks suddenly seemed to be a large part of crime in America.

But it's not just American crime. The man who stole the Mona Lisa just walked in the Louvre, took the painting off its pegs and hit it under or wrapped in his smock and walked out with it. And maybe we still don't know for certain who Jack the Ripper was, but do you think it's because he was a genius? That guy just got lucky. (Or unlucky, if he fell in the river or something.)

We're starting to see some really incredible crimes these days, and they're not being done by Moriartys, either. Just folks with too much wealth and power going, "That law doesn't apply to me," and going about their merry crime way. Perhaps they have a mega-corporation under them, perhaps they're painting it with the "it's just political" brush that somehow magically makes it not subject to traditional criminal prosecution, but whatever the tactic, it sure isn't the work of a Moriarty-level genius. Obviously.

And yet, Moriarty, like Santa Claus, stills lives in our heads, doling out crime presents to all the bad little boys and girls. He's inspiring, really, for those who take on the role of law enforcement and criminal investigation, that great white whale that might be out there to one day catch among all the plain ol' stupid whales, who are still big and whale-ish and need dealing with.

Ah, but wouldn't the world make such comfortable sense, if there was a mastermind Moriarty with some specific end to all of what seems like nonsensical crime of late, someone whose skill one could admire as they vanished into the fog with their loot.

But, alas . . . .

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The real secret to collecting Sherlockiana

In contemplating a bust of Sherlock Holmes (As all Sherlockians are wont to do, right?) this evening, I came upon a revelation about collecting Sherlockiana. The real secret to gathering a really nice collection of Sherlockiana is this:

Try really hard not to die.

Live long enough and every piece of Sherlockiana in your collection eventually becomes an antique. Buy something at Barnes & Noble when you're sixteen that never gets reprinted, and when you get to age sixty-six, you own a fifty-year-old book that most won't have at that point. Pick up something created by an artist at a dealer's table, a privately printed book, something more rare than the Barnes & Noble find. Get the elder Sherlockian from across town to sign a little something, and eventually, that too, becomes a little bit of history in your collection.

Nobody with a grand Sherlockian collection filling their shelves today just had a truck back up to their house and picked it all up at once. Boomers might have had antique mall bargains, but they didn't have the long-distance connections, and, basically, opportunities arise over the course of any lifetime.

Some of those opportunities still haunt me, like that near-complete run of individual copies of The Strand Magazine in a Boulder bookshop that I only decided to buy one issue from.  Some last-day-of-Bounchercon half-priced Sherlockian classics from a dealer anxious not to ship them home, that I only bought a fraction of. Didn't want to run up a charge bill, in both of those cases, but years later, one wonders what the harm would have been.

The best pieces are still the ones that come with a memory attached, though. The gift from a certain Sherlockian friend. The amazing find in that one old bookshop. The deal I did get at another con.

Things pile up over time, and eventually you have a collection. It's almost like you'd have to fight not to have a collection as the decades pass. In fact, I really think that it would require an incredible amount of self-discipline to lead an active Sherlockian life and not wind up some manner of collection. But good luck with that.

As I said at the start, the best collecting scheme is just to take care of yourself. Live long and prosper, as Vulcans advise.  And since that's something your fellow Sherlockians would rather you did anyway, hey! Win-win!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

My first published novel!

I admire the heck out of novelists like Lyndsay Faye. Not just for their talent, but for their discipline and all the other skills that get a novel to market. The first draft of a novel can be written on sheer obsession, and I've done that three or four times. The self-discipline it takes to do a second draft, to self-edit, to improve it, to market it to agents or publishers, and all that comes after? That takes somebody special.

But where those things never served to get me to even self-publish a novel, there's one motivator that finally got me over the finish line: guilt. My mama taught me how to access my guilt early on.

Sometime in October I was fiddling in Photoshop, emulating one of my favorite Twitter feeds, Paperback Paradise, and re-titling a funky old paperback copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with the new title Radix Pedis Diaboliday by Sir Arthur Conan Doob. I tossed it out on Twitter, and didn't consider what the immediate Sherlockian reaction would be: To Google the book to try to buy one.

Well, having suckered a good friend in so, I felt kind of badly about it and with National Novel Writing Month coming along immediately after, I set myself a goal, to write Radix Pedis Diaboliday. The novel, it turns out, is the "Mormon segment," so to speak, of "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot." When Watson starting tripping on the African herb, he actually went a lot more places than in his paragraph or two in the story and just left that part out. His "dweller upon the threshold" actually had a very familiar name, and Watson's trippy tripping was quite a journey.

So with the goal of having a novel in print by month-end, I set about writing, as well as doing something else: Asking for addresses for a Watsonian Weekly "Christmas Card list." Sure, I wanted to publish one for the first person to try to Google the book, Paul Thomas Miller, but it seemed a nice little "Compliments of the Season" for a few other folks as well, like those dedicated souls who still send me Sherlockian Christmas cards after all these years. Once the thing got printed, by the ever-reliable 48 Hour Books, whom I've had good service from in the past, I sent the first copy off to Paul and packaged up the rest to go out after he got his, all the way over in Portsmouth.

Once that happened, the novel's actual release date to all those whose addresses I gleaned was set for Monday, at which point the other copies would be mailed out.

So now, among the billion other Sherlock Holmes works out there, is a silly little novelette (it's only about a 100 pages cover to cover) called Radix Pedis Diaboliday by Sir Arthur Conan Doob. There's only twenty-five copies, so it's not going to set the world on fire, but, hey, I finally published a novel! It might even prime the old clogged book-pump for something next year.

In any case, I definitely want to thank Paul Thomas Miller for being an inspiration this year, in so many ways. He's one of those Sherlockians that makes this party worthwhile, and I hope he gets a book dedicated to him one day that has more copies than this one!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Cheers to the new arrival!

Today there was a truly delightful announcement in the Sherlockian world: A new home for peer-reviewed academic scholarship on Conan Doyle. 

"Now, Brad," one might say, "that doesn't sound like your sort of thing at all. Your last symposium talk was on Conan Doyle psychically channelling a multiverse of Watsons!"

And that is true. My home Sherlockian turf is the whimsical side of the playground, and whilst that playground is attached to a school, I rarely go inside. (Maybe toss the occasional brick at the principal's office, but, hey, that's fun, too.) So why should I be delighted in a new focal point for Doylean scholarship?

Because it's time, and I'm not just talking about a time for Doylean scholarship. It's also a time for being glad that other people can enjoy Sherlock Holmes in their own way without feeling our own specialties are threatened. Do I get aroused by Johnlock kink porn on A03? Well, not unless it's really, really good (ahem!), but even though it's not my cuppa tea and I don't read it too often, I'm glad that's out there too. Sherlock Holmes, and his creator, should be celebrated by each of us to our own lights, and it's progress for all of us when someone achieves something new for any group of us. And even though Conan Doyle scholarship isn't completely new, this new journal, The Conan Doyle Review, will expand our world just that much more.

As a place for academics who may not be Sherlockians to publish, we will get to see work that only the most diligent of us might have dug up previously. And the fact that it took three women to finally get this thing achieved after such a male-dominated cultural history, well, there is a little social change icing on the cake that makes it even tastier.

I started this morning dwelling a bit too much on one of the shadow sides to our culture but the news of The Conan Doyle Review was a little beam of sunlight that helped push it away. 

As Sherlock Holmes (or some writer who might be associated with him) once said (or wrote), "The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply." Holmes wasn't setting limits, as the world is enormous, full of natural diversity, with plenty of space still for us to stretch our minds and explore. We can let the spectres go, and in this case, I'm happy to let any feelings I might have had about Doylean endeavors in the 1980s not apply.

Here's hoping this new endeavor is a fabulous success.

The Ten Exemplars

In his final, ten-page letter to the Baker Streeet Irregulars this weekend, the departing head of the organization continued to push his thoughts on who should be a member of that group, laying out his "Ten BSI Exemplars" which will be published and distributed at their annual dinner this year. They are:
  • Promote and nurture Grand Game scholarship 
  • Diverse, exceptional, merit-based membership—not elitist 
  • Kind, welcoming clubbability with joyful, whimsical environment 
  • Altruistic volunteerism—giving more than you receive—“society above self” 
  • Aspirational, not reactionary 
  • Inherent modesty vs. taking oneself too seriously 
  • Extremely high standards—reject “good enough” 
  • Societal leadership fiscally responsible—sufficient funds maintained to accomplish most, if not all, objectives 
  • Societal and member Sherlockian charitable generosity 
  • No politics and no contentious agendas 
It's an odd mixed bag, and I'll let you have your own thoughts on them, other than to say this. Remember those fun old "Buy-Laws" from the early days of the Baker Street Irregulars, cherished by many and carried on through the ages?

Well, this is where we are now.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

If you could publish anything . . .

If you could publish anything, what would you publish?

Sherlockiana has always had its share of small presses, limited print runs, vanity press books, and gettting-stuff-into-print-with-whatever-reproduction-device-was-available. Our love of our subject matter pushes us to get things out in whatever means is available to us in a given moment in time.

Someday it will be fun to see a University of Minnesota exhibit on "Sherlockiana Through Time" to see how we evolved in our publishing, but as we're still living the history that will be in that exhibit one day, what do we publish now?

I suppose it depends upon your skillset, pocketbook, and desire. Skillset, because you either have to write something or convince someone else to let you collect or reprint something of theirs. Pocketbook, because most available forms of print reproduction take a little money. And desire . . . ah, desire is both our curse and our magic power. Desire can turn into drive, and drive tends to get things done. Not always, of course. And that old notion of "anyone can achieve anything" is a bit dreamy. But if you've got enough desire to push you past the excuses, sometimes its enough.

Just getting one thing into print is often enough to prime the pump and set other ventures into motion.

Sometimes that one thing is the thing you wanted most to that point. Sometimes it's just something less important that you just did for whatever reason of the moment -- when Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, he plainly wasn't trying to do the one thing that would have satisfied him, or else he would have kept writing Sherlock and nothing else. But getting that one thing in print opened his life up to do so much more writing than if he hadn't.

More on this subject to come . . . .

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Sherlockian Holiday Season

At some point, before other wild schemes took my mind, I was considering a blog version of an advent calendar, or maybe blog Christmas cards, or something else. But the odd little puzzle I kept running into was this: What, exactly, are the boundaries of the Sherlockian holiday season?

With John Watson calling upon Sherlock Holmes on the second day after Christmas, or Boxing Day, we have to at least go to the 27th. And New Year's is New Year's across the world, and a turning of the calendar we know the boys observed, at least in laying in a new almanac, if nothing else. And then there's Sherlock Holmes's birthday, and if Chris Morley is to be believed, as so many do, we have January 6th to push our holiday limits out five days more.

We have to be thankful that Thanksgiving wasn't celebrated in England, or we might be forced to bring matters as far forward as the holiday shopping gods would have Americans do. But when does the Sherlockian holiday season even properly start, then?

When do we start spinning our paper Doyle's Rotary Coffins, carol away like larks singing "Tra-la-la-lira-lira-lay" (which comes out to the tune of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" in my head), and wrapping our ear-ly gifts in brown paper and string?

Eating birds found on the street, visiting our maiden aunts, and watching that movie that Holmes recommended to James Ryder ("Get Out!") . . . Sherlockian holiday traditions can take many forms. (Neville St. Clair, one might recall, took a holiday to go begging on the street.)

Now, if New Year's Day is truly the day that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson first met, as it says on the plaque inside St. Bart's, we could wish each other a hearty "How are you? You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive!" and grip the other person's hand with a strength we don't get credit for. Seems like a grand thing to do when you first meet someone on New Year's morn, though spouses are probably going to look upon one in askance for it.

But maybe we just let the normal holiday traditions take hold and carry us downstream until we're left in mid-January with a depleted bank account like Watson postponing his holiday in "Resident Patient." There's usually enough to do just to make it through without all the adding Sherlockian trimmings.

You never know, though, just as we never know when the Sherlockian holdiay season begins or ends. So we might as well celebrate from here on in, I guess, which is a little bit of what Sherlockiana is about to begin with, celebrating Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John H. Watson, and everything else we love about that Canon of ours.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Watson's Frozen Pirate

Going deep with Watson's words will always take you someplace fascinating.

This week I finally finished reading and recapping the W. Clark Russell novel The Frozen Pirate for The Watsonian Weekly, which started out as a bit of a lark, but then turned into something a little more solid in terms of actually wondering if John H. Watson had read that very book.

In "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips," Watson tells us that it's definitely September of 1887, and that he's reading "one of Clark Russell's fine sea stories." He talks about the storm outside of Baker Street blending with the text as he read, and The Frozen Pirate is a book full of storms. It was also published in 1887, along with two other Russell books, A Book for the Hammock and The Golden Hope.

Was Watson the sort of Clark Russell fan to pick up the latest work by the writer of The Wreck of the Grosvenor? Or did he just come into The Frozen Pirate upon hearing good things -- Russell's biographer, J.G. Woods did include The Frozen Pirate in his short list of Clark Russell's six best books, according to Wikipedia.

It surely seems like a strong contender for Watson's stormy September read, but now I'm feeling like I need to survey A Book for the Hammock and The Golden Hope to see the amount and quality of the storms depicted in each.

The writer of the Historical Sherlock blog, Vincent W. Wright once told me that he thought a true attempt at Sherlockian chronology would require working with every single detail of one of Watson's writings, and I think placing what exact Clark Russell story Watson was reading would fit into that sort of thorough analysis. And in the case of "Five Orange Pips," that might mean reading all three Russell novels for 1887, and possibly those before that, checking papers and magazines to see which novels would have been currently on sale . . . but is a solid conclusion even possible?

Since Russell had been writing sea stories for over ten years at that point, the number of books one would have to review totals as many as seventeen. (The magic steps-to-221B number!) And Watson could have been given a second-hand book, had a favorite he hung on to from years past . . . so many possible routes for that book to arrive in his hands are available!

But sometimes, as Sherlockians, we take those voids and fill them with our own beliefs. Personally, I've come to put The Frozen Pirate at 221B Baker Street and in Watson's hands on the night John Openshaw comes to call. It's my headcanon, yes, but it's also a pretty good choice, having just finished reading it.

And the John H. Watson I know becomes a little more fleshed out, as he plainly enjoyed the book, and seeing what was enjoyable in it for myself shows me just a bit more of him, in that crazy Sherlockian way of bringing our heroes to life.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Dunbar's number of Sherlockians

How many Sherlockian friends can we have?

As I've been compiling something akin to a Christmas card list this year, reflecting upon the year that just passed and who was in it (and, like the Oscars, probably noticing those who featured in the latter part of the year than the earlier part), I could not help but think of Dunbar's number.

Dunbar's number is a suggested limit to the amount of friends one could keep familiar with, expressed by Dunbar informally as "the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar." Since much of Sherlockian culture is based on that level of familiarity, it seemed like Dubar's number should apply.

That number? 150 people.

And having had an experience of Sherlockians over two nations and one separate continent over the last forty years, I'd say, for me, that number sounds about right. Certainly there were more Sherlockians that I've had contact with over that time, but names/faces I'd feel comfortable plopping down next to in a bar? One hundred and fifty sounds close.

Of course, that might have been at my Sherlockian peak. Having been out of the main streams of the hobby for a while, some have passed on, a few seem like they might still be mad at me for one thing or another that I wrote or said, and surely more than a few have just forgotten me by now. Part of the reason Dunbar's number remains a comfortable concept is that it's very had to completely prove or disprove. It just kinda feels right to us non-anthropologists.

I doubt many of us ever sit down and make a list of our friends, outside of such activities as Christmas card or wedding invitation lists -- the latter usually happening when we're young enough that the list isn't anything as long as it might be if we all first married at sixty. But if you were going to have a massive Sherlockian party in a given year, based on Sherlockians you'd include in your "sit with for a drink" list  -- As I don't drink that much, make that the "invite to share a table at dinner" list. -- how many invitations would you send?

As we move through our Sherlockian lives we exist in communities of our own making. Who we interact with online, what events or club meetings we attend, who we go to the trouble of sending a letter to. Those who enter our lives by sheer change and we put a star next to their names in our heads, noting them as someone we enjoy seeing or writing to again. Those personal communities are rarely collected in one place, even for weddings or funerals, and why would we want them to be? Trying to even just say "hi" to 150 people you could easily spend more time with just sounds like a challenge with no reward. You would enjoy your time so much more if you failed!

This year, I'm trying something new and doing something appreciative for a few folks, both random and specific, with a definite cut-off point. So far, it seems to be working well enough that it might happen again next year. But we shall see. Starting small but wondering if that Dunbar number is something to work up to, and see if it is actually possible. As the man said, "We can but try."

Friday, November 29, 2019

Black Friday WHAT?

Hey guys! Weird little statement for a quickie blog post -- if you want to get on the Watsonian Weekly Christmas "Card" list, send your mailing address to " podcast @ johnhwatsonsociety.com " (I added all those spaces just to make it more of a challenge.) before December 1 when I'm cutting the list off unless you're very, very special.

Not saying what's the what or why's the why just yet, because I'm keeping this limited to just us blog-reading, podcast-listening internet crazies. Because this one is especially nutty.

Onward into a special period of Canonical madness,

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Mycroft Day

Been thinking about Mycroft's point of view today.

I've been doing this Sherlock Holmes thing so long that even on my worst day, and this one was up there, that the guy just comes along for the ride in any idle moments that come up.

We all know the story: Sherlock Holmes fought Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, let his best friend think he died, but had his brother keep the secret of his survival.

But what if Sherlock hadn't told Mycroft?

What would that brother feel, losing a brother seven years younger than himself, whom he surely had to have some quiet admiration for, just because the kid got out into the world and lived a life that ol' stay-at-home older brother never quite did?

Suddenly, out of the blue like that, the way it hit Watson, but as a brother?

I'm parsing out those emotions today, as I find myself in a quite similar situation to that Mycroft who had to deal with the same loss as Watson. It's been a hard day. The sort of day we don't get into much in our escapes to 221B, but as my blogging does get a bit personal at times, and part of how I process things. The loss of a brother seven years younger is a hell of a thing.

I wonder if there were many more members of that remarkable family that Watson never wrote about, just so Mycroft could have been surrounded by such a clan, the sort that doesn't show much emotion to the outside world in many cases, but shows it all to each other in love and support when the situation calls for it. Because if there was, that is an entirely different, and quite wonderful thing, even in tragedy.

Thanks for indulging me in this little rambling marking of a day. On to better days ahead, with a bit of a scar.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Beautiful and dead

Sometimes you read two Sherlock Holmes stories back to back that don't usually have any reason to be in that order, and something odd turns up. There are the common story plots, recognizable at a distance, and the similar moments, as in the end of "Yellow Face" and "Missing Three-Quarter" where Holmes and Watson quietly remove themselves from a private family moment.

"Missing Three-Quarter" was our discussion point of the evening at Sherlock Holmes Story Society night at Peoria Public Library, and having been looking at "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" just a few days before, I noticed something very odd:

John Watson has this thing about complimenting dead women.

Not saying he's a necrophiliac or anything, but we have at least two stories in the Canon with what we are told are beautiful corpses. At least one of them even has her eyes open.

"A woman, young and beautiful, was lying dead upon the bed. Her calm, pale face, with dim, wide-open blue eyes, looked upwards from amid a tangle of golden hair."

That was from "Missing." And now, "Devil's Foot."

"Miss Brenda Tregennis had been a very beautiful girl, now verging upon middle age. Her dark, clear-cut face was handsome, even in death, but there still lingered upon it something of that convulsion of horror that had been her last human emotion."

That second one even has the classic "died with a look of horror" but still remains beautiful in Watson's eyes somehow. It's almost creepy. Or respectful, in some 1800s sort of man-way?  Or possibly the thought, "I'd better compliment these dead women so their ghosts don't get angry and start haunting me!" occurring?

I don't know.  Lady Frances Carfax came out of the coffin alive, but she still has "the statuesque face of a handsome and spiritual woman of middle age" when she just might still be a corpse. Watson either doesn't see or doesn't describe the other woman who lay dead in that coffin, but if he had, one wonders about what a beautiful old woman she might have been.

I had to go look at "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" to see how Watson described pieces of a dead woman, and if they got compliments, but it's Holmes who is complimenting Mary Cushing's "finely formed" ear in this tale. Which is kind of weird, as it's an ear. I mean, how finely formed is any ear when you separate it from the composite beauty or handsomeness of a whole head? But this is Sherlock Holmes, so he gets to be a little weird.

Watson, though? What was up with him and those good-looking dead women? As a wise adult tells all of us at some point in our youth, "Sometimes it's better just to say nothing." But maybe nobody got that word to John.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Keeping the poles propped up in the big tent

"We're getting so separate, in every single category."

Heard that quote today, from someone whose name I will not say, as it would be impossible not to put them through your mental sorting hat and filter those words. We all do that now, as much as we try not to. It's a part of the way humans are built. We see something that looks like a dog, we filter the animal through our categorical "dog filters" and don't worry about it doing anything un-doglike. It works well with dogs and frogs and cogs, but not so much with other humans.

Still, we seem almost drawn to doing it. Lately I've been pushing the "Watsonian" banner, having fallen into podcasting for the John H. Watson Society, even though I don't believe Watsonians are anything but regular Sherlockians. Period. We haven't reached a point where anyone has been either interested or concerned with what "the Watsonians" are doing as a tribe. I don't even know that we have a tribe yet, but thirty, forty years from now? Who knows?

Yet when a Watsonian starts to be seen as something separate from the Sherlockian whole, then the trouble starts. Another set of people gets seen as "the Other."

Tim Johnson expressed his concerns about this sort of trend very well back in October, and it's a good listen, if you haven't found it yet. Our big friendly tent of Sherlockiana is starting to show the effects of a harder world outside, and we are going to have to make a conscious effort to be better than that world.

BBC Sherlock gave this hobby a real adrenalin shot back in 2010, but with that shot came some unexpected side effects. Holmes and Watson were young enough to be sexy. (Yes, yes, there are those who argue that Brett and Hardwicke were sexy, but let's be honest -- were they more sexy than any elder Sherlock and Watson before them?) With all that had been written about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson before 2010, the deluge of sexy-time words that was about to flood the fandom multiplied previous word counts by a factor of . . . who knows? A lot.

The world outside had been divided into reds and blues based on some whim of an election broadcast years ago, and, suddenly we had our own "red and blue" situation coming in. No one has said, "Okay, B.S.I." with the tone of "Okay, Boomer" yet that I know of, but you know it's out there. Sherlockiana is still managing to be the great tent we can gather under and make new friends under our common love of Canon, but the cracks are definitely showing. The leadership of the B.S.I. tried to define who their preferred Sherlockian would be not all that long ago. A Sherlockian got "cancelled" in social media this year. Everyone has their reasons, but these things do not come without collateral damage that we all need to be aware of. It's too easy just to "party on" as the now-ancient SNL characters used to say, as Sherlockiana is the drug we use to escape our everyday pains already.

I hope I'm not seeming too preachy here, because I'm really preaching to myself.

Lately I've been finding myself fighting the battle against unhelpful categorical thinking, which we call "prejudice" when it comes to race or religion, but forget it can cover so much else. I mean, my own personal prejudices include one that involves three little letters: "B," "S," and "I." I have my reasons, and those reasons usual come down to three or four members of that group and some bad interactions I've had over the years, coupled with what I felt was an unhelpful direction or two that the group was being led in. But are all the folks who gather in New York every year just to be with other Sherlockians needing to be painted with that same brush for standing under that three-letter banner? Nope. Most of them are kind-hearted, good people who are in no way responsible for any prejudices I might have developed from a handful of assholes. (Worried that you're one of those assholes? You probably aren't. True assholes aren't all that self-aware.)

I see a lot of folks trying to rise above the tide of yuck that has come our way. "Focus on what you love instead of dwelling on what you hate" is a key thought in that effort. But even when you take that philosophy, you can't simply ignore those things you hate as they have a way of creeping back into your life when you least expect it. "Focus on what you love and learn to deal fairly with the things you hate" might be a more necessary strategy. Emotions are good motivators, but they aren't always our better angels to base judgments on.

And while I don't always agree with another fandom's beloved quote "Trust your feelings," I do stand firmly behind one of our own: "We can but try."

And we have to try. Even in the happy place we call "Sherlockiana." Especially in that happy place.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Sherlock Holmes Messes With People

At a dinner party last night, a familiar devil appeared in the eye of a friend as they decided to mess with someone else conversationally. It was a simple enough thing, pressing an argument in a slightly nonsensical fashion just to entertain themselves, but that obvious motivation behind it was very plain and very familiar: They were just getting a bit of joy from harmlessly messing with someone.

That devil in my friend's eye was something, though not described by Watson, that I'm sure the observant Sherlockian would have seen in the eye of Sherlock Holmes on many an occasion. Sherlock Holmes found joy in messing with people.

"What the deuce is it to me? You say we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work."

Watson writes up his account of that statement with all the viewpoint of a man taken in by Holmes's silliness, believing that Holmes was actually irritated at him for pushing Copernican theory. But if one steps back a bit and slips out of Watson's point of view, it becomes obvious that Sherlock Holmes was just messing with the new room-mate, who had just finished being a little bit fancy by quoting Thomas Carlyle.

"Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done." That phrase "the naivest way" is a sure sign of the prankster at work. Watson was surely using Carlyle to bolster some argument, and Holmes counter-punched by feigning ignorance of Carlyle. And once he had started down the "pretending to not understand" road of conversational sedition, it would not take long until Holmes was denying such basic facts as that the Earth went around the sun, then defending said fact with a slightly goofy brain-attic metaphor.

We don't see Holmes messing with Watson nearly so much once he gets to know him, and Watson to know Holmes . . . or maybe Watson just doesn't report those moments, which probably occurred most when Holmes was bored and not on a case. We do see him pulling tricks on Scotland Yard or clients for his own amusement, though, so we know that particular devil was still in him. But it wasn't an impulse unique to Sherlock Holmes, as I observed last night.

Some of us do enjoy a bit of messing with our friends on occasion, especially when they start getting a bit fancy with the Thomas Carlyle quotes. I would be very curious as to what the conversation and the Carlyle quote leading up to Holmes's feigned foolishness was, as I suspect we'd quickly see what was really going on there.

As it stands, I think many of us have been a bit messed with by Holmes as well over the years, trying to explain Holmes's silly statement about what orbits what with all the investment of a member of a certain political party defending a certain popular ignoramus of the moment.

What? Well, of course I was talking about England's prime minister! Who did you think I was talking about? British politics are all I think about! Etc, etc, etc. To quote Captain America, "I could do this all day." And so, probably could Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Watsonian beats The Sherlockian?

As the editor of The Watsonian, I feel obligated to point out the following milestone:

The Watsonian has now had more issues and been active for more years than The Sherlockian.

Started as a Sherlockian quarterly by publisher Magico Magazine, The Sherlockian came in huge out of the gate. Edited by the hard-working Kelvin I Jones, and with articles in the first issue by luminaries like Roger Johnson and Michael Hardwick.

The opening editorial spoke of the ephemeral nature of Sherlockian journals, spoke of the need for a British journal to supplement The Sherlock Holmes Journal's limits on only being able to publish so many articles, and stated, "It is the opinion of your obsequious editor that the pastiche should and must be encouraged." The journal had worthy goals, but still knew well the field it was venturing out to play upon.

The Baker Street Journal and The Sherlock Holmes Journal both have societies built up to the point of "institution" to support their ongoing existence, and the BSJ is definitely helped by the hope that writing for it might aid one's path to the BSI shilling, whether or not that's true. And while The Watsonian might not have as mighty a society behind it as those two organs, we still do benefit from having some population banded together as members of the John H. Watson Society. The Sherlockian was doing a very bold thing in going out without a group and just soliciting writers on its existence alone.

And on a quarterly basis, that's something to attempt.

I don't recall it being subscription based, but issues you could order from Magico's catalog, along with your other Sherlockian purchases. Like The Watsonian, it pretty much stuck with the same cover every issue, though printing that cover on different color stock, and it came out with six issues over the course of five years, if I remember correctly. And thought not purposefully, there sure were a lot of articles somehow tied to The Hound of the Baskervilles as the journal went on. But solid works throughout.

Growing up with three siblings, I think I gained a bit of a competitive streak, and during the eighties I would always look at all the journals out there to see if Kelvin I. Jones had more articles than I had published in a given crop. He was better at it than I, and having a target competitor in a given market, even if that person never knows it, can be a decent motivator.

So if you wonder why, oh, why, did I have to point out that The Watsonian passed up The Sherlockian at this point, even though Kelvin Jones edited that journal for its entire run, and I have just started on The Watsonian, you might add that little reason to the basket. Envy gets us a lot of things, even presidents, sometimes. Plus, I mean, Watsonian/Sherlockian . . . the similarity of name is enough to go back and celebrate a moment of Sherlockian publishing history alone, as if we ever need a reason.

And who knows? Maybe The Sherlockian will come back again someday and retake the crown!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

So, what happened?

Sherlockians have yet to fully exploit the internet, even at this late date.

Case in point: This past weekend, there was a Sherlockian conference in Bloomington, Indiana, not that far from here, but certain work obligations made it a definite no-go for me. A couple friends who wanted to go couldn't make it either, and scanning the internet, I'm not seeing any reports on the weekend-long event via any of the normal channels I use. There's plenty out there, promoting it ahead of time, but no real reporting of the event four days after it ended. Another great-sounding day of Sherlock was happening in Baltimore on Saturday as well.

While I'm certain there will eventually be reports in print, in the quarterly Baker Street Journal, it's 2019. We have more instantaneous sources . . . or should have.

Last month, during the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium, regular readers know that I was live-blogging the crap out of that weekend, for better or worse. I got many thanks for that, as people want to hear what they missed, what went on, and get enough info that they can watch for some of the event's content, or look for a well-regarded speaker, at some future venue.  I also try to report on 221B Con each year, for the same reasons. As a Sherlockian who has always been a little distant from so many events, I know how it feels to get a big nothing sandwich from an event where you know something of interest had to happen. But in a culture of writers, we often seem short on reporters.

While it's true, sometimes reporting on Sherlockian events can be "So-and-so spoke on such-and-such topic, and it was great!" which is pretty minimal. But it's something.

Event organizers are too busy, and eventually too worn out, to record their own functions . . . and they like to hear how they did, probably more than distant folk want to hear what happened. In person kudos are good, but some written records to look back on someday, some clippings for the scrapbook, to use a metaphor from the days of all-print . . . those have lasting value, especially when they come from multiple sources.

Holmes's irregulars could "go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone," but if none of them told each other of those things, passing it along to Holmes, there would have been little point to their existence. And Sherlock Holmes used those street urchins because he used every resource at his disposal. He would have loved the internet, and formed his own networks with it, I'm sure.

Yet here we are, 2019, and Sherlockian culture has yet to fully exploit something the man himself would have loved to its fullest potential. (With a few well-known individual Sherlockian exceptions. But they can't get it all.)

Necesary Sherlockiana

There was a comment passed along earlier this week that used one of those words we so often misuse, especially in reference to this hobby like the one we call Sherlockiana. That word: necessary.

It came up in reference to that very common view of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson of late, that they might be lovers instead of simply friends. It wasn't something viewed as "necessary" by an individual, and I'm sure there are others who might agree that it isn't necessary to their own enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes. And that's a fair statement, if you are only saying it isn't necessary for your own pleasures. But if you're trying to say that it's not necessary for anyone anywhere, well, none of us gets to make that choice. And besides just being rude and intolerant, it's such a basic bullshit statement.

Over the last forty years, I have seen nothing BUT unnecessary Sherlockiana. Articles about Sherlock Holmes and wine . . . not necessary. Articles about Sherlock Holmes and dogs . . . not necessary. Sherlock Holmes's birthday, his income, his ability to play chess . . . none of that is at all necessary to read and enjoy Sherlock Holmes.

A century of other writers telling stories about Sherlock Holmes? That same century of motion pictures about Sherlock Holmes? Even a good 33.3% of the stories Doyle penned . . . no necessary, really. All the good stuff was established early on.

Sometimes a Sherlockian will try to push their will of what they think is good Sherlockian writing upon others by calling it "mandatory" or "must-read," but even that isn't necessary. And while it might feel like we might die without any Sherlock Holmes at all in our lives, that's just the pain of love lost and really not enough of that to kill us. Other drugs are much more dangerous to try to leave behind.

Some Sherlockiana might be rooted in research and as solid as a rock. Other Sherlockiana might be the most ephemeral flights of fancy or fun that can blow away with a morning breeze. How important either of those extremes is depends upon which one of us is involved. The actor William Gillette might be very important to one of us, but practically meaningless to another. The Speckled Pips of San Luis Obispo might be the core of one Sherlockian's world, yet unheard of by some happy soul doing their Sherlocking on another continent. Pate de foie gras pie? Let's not even get into that one.

"Necessary" is a word to watch carefully when it gets anywhere near a hobby swirling around a storybook crime-solver. And one that probably needs used sparingly.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Watsonian

How many of us are single-fandom fans? Less every year, I'd wager, with so many stories being told. About the same time as I was discovering Sherlock Holmes I was discovering something else: a little sci-fi movie that debuted on a Wednesday night, that my college room-mate and I checked out, only to have me see it thirty-two times in the theater that summer. So it might not be a surprise that I was up first thing this morning to see a new TV show called The Mandalorian.

The Mandalorian had a hard hill to climb: Tell a Star Wars story without any members of the Skywalker extended family. Even Rogue One had to have a cameo from sister Skywalker, and sister's future husband was the one they tried to do another offshoot movie with, so this is really the first time they've gone cold turkey on Skywalkers. Which brings up the Sherlockian point:

What is the most successful Sherlock Holmes book or movie that doesn't have Sherlock Holmes in it?

We've had books starring the landlady, the supposed love interest, the local kids, the brother, his arch-enemy, and maybe even one or two that pried the good doctor Watson away from his bosom companion, but a full story set in the world of Sherlock Holmes without any of Holmes's extended family in it whatsoever?

Some wag might reply, "But that's just Victorian London!"

Was it though? Did the influences of Moriarty or Milverton not affect Holmes's London in ways our own historical London was not? Those little biological issues, the geese with crops, the snakes that hear, the men with monkey serum altering behavior . . . tips of a greater iceberg of alternate bioversity?

As The Mandalorian is a deep dive into a character like the barely known Boba Fett, what story might be told from the "Watsonian" who wasn't Dr. John H. Watson, from similar origins in that same world? Could a master storyteller pull such a thing off, as Jon Favreau seems to have with The Mandalorian? Would we be at all interested without our central "Sherlock Skywalker?"

Something to ponder on a chilly winter's day, like today.