Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sherlock's hair: Man-bun or Alfalfa spike?

With all the excitement and prep for 221B Con, some of it unexpected, I've been neglecting to report the big Sherlockian question that came up Thursday night at our monthly gathering of the Sherlock Holmes Story Society at the Peoria North Branch library. And that question was this: What's up with Sherlock's hair?

In "The Adventure of the Dancing Men," we find Watson describing Sherlock in the morning thusly: "he looked from my point of view like a strange, lank bird, with dull grey plumage and a black top-knot."

Now, we know that one of Sherlock Holmes's dressing gowns was gray, so we get the plumage part. And we know Watson often used bird imagery to describe Holmes, with his nose representing the beak. But where is Watson getting that "black top-knot?"

Mary O'Reilly, writer for the Academicasaurus podcast and soon-to-be panelist for the "Unreal Podcast" panel at 221B Con (you know I couldn't help but mention the con at least one more time), couldn't shake the image of Holmes with a modern "man-bun," that samurai-looking ball of hair that many a modern hipster tries to pull off. The word "top-knot" pretty much describes a man-bun pretty accurately.

A little googling took place, and the only picture of a bird with a top-knot found showed us a bird with a spike of feathers going straight up like Alfalfa from The Little Rascals. Given hair products of Holmes's time being much like those of Alfalfa's, this was not the most unlikely idea in the world.

We don't often think of Holmes's hair as black, so I also had to wonder if he was wearing some sort of little hat, though what purpose that would have served, I don't know. No weirder than a man-bun, however.

As with most things Canonical, we did not come to a definite conclusion about this new Watson-provided dilemma, but the most likely answer seemed to me that Sherlock Holmes just had a bad case of bed-head and was too excited about his current chemical experiment to put himself together that morning. But who knows?

Maybe that deerstalker was just there to cover up a man-bun all this time. With Sherlock Holmes, the surprises just keep on coming.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

His Next Vow

Well, in the excitement preparatory to 221B Con, I woke up this morning to find that a wee bit of that fun, our loose assemblage of pro-Sherlock folks under the banner "@#% *$ &^#% @$^(?#" called "Doyle's Rotary Coffin" had been dissolved, due to . . . well, it's not exactly a trademark issue . . . a concept issue?

We fans can be a bit precious about our ideas sometimes, and a high-profile Sherlockian group had apparently laid claim to "@#% *$ &^#% @$^(?#," though I'm finding it nowhere on their site. In many a past rant when I was tearing Elementary a new *ahem* before reforming my evil ways, I railed against that "@#% *$ &^#% @$^(?#" idea and, always sure it came from the WelcomeHolmes online discussion group, so when it first came up in the initial silly inspiration of the group "Doyle's Rotary Coffin" and our founder said "with grateful acknowledgement" to said high profile group for his British-tweaked "@#% *$ &^#% @$^(?#," I  even thought "Well, that's nice he did that, even if I don't think they originated it."

But apparently someone is sure they did, and all the club badge ribbons are now highly-collectable, never to be reproduced items of value that I'm just going to have to dispose of somehow. I'm sure I can find someone to help me with that. Or many someones.

Nature abhors a vacuum, however, and Doyle's Rotary Coffin II will need a new motto to continue its mission of turning haters into accepters, as it has for myself and others. So how to express that same spirit and keep this necessary movement going forward? Spinning is a defining factor of a rotary coffin, so it seems like it should be something we can do. The original offending phrase was used as a part of a vow, so we might even have to take in the the whole vow for a refurb.

"I vow to spin Bad Holmeses into gold, especially Dreadful Holmes, Bizarre Holmes and Sacrilegious Holmes." Kind of Rumplestitlskin-like?

Hmm, in acknowledging there are bad Holmeses, that kind of works against the whole pro-Sherlocks concept, doesn't it? Let's try again.

"I vow to honour the code 'No Bad Holmes' especially Dreadful Holmes, Bizarre Holmes, and Sacrilegious Holmes."

That kind of spins off Barbara Woodhouse's No Bad Dogs,  which makes me think of the faithful Watson, so maybe "I vow to honour the code 'No Bad Watsons," especially in cases where he has recorded Dreadful Holmes, Bizarre Holmes, and Sacrilegious Holmes."

I think that's heading in the right direction, but I will need to consult with some experts to see if there isn't a better motto for Doyle's Rotary Coffin II. Let me know your thoughts, experts! (Meaning anyone who reads this blog regularly, because you must be a really devoted Sherlockian expert to keep this stuff in your Sherlock-intake on a regular basis.)

Over our history, many a Sherlock Holmes society has fallen, only to be reincarnated later by Sherlockians in that same city, so even though Doyle's Rotary Coffin isn't city-based, I think that torch can be picked up and moved ahead once our new credo is created. It was founded in a worthy, positive spirit, and that sort of flame needs to be fanned in today's world wherever possible.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Like a Bon Jovi of 221B Con, we'll be going out in a blaze of glory!

There comes an hour at 221B Con every year when you just don't want it to end. One last panel before the Council of the Con-manders final wrap-up hour. It's the one hour that I'll go to any panel, just to keep the magic going for just a little bit more . . . and I think I enjoy that final panel just a little bit more, knowing it's a rare thing I won't see again until next year.

And what is in that hour this year?

Holmes and Watson, the panel.

We're going to be a little bit tired, a little bit comfortable, and a little bit pleased with life -- the perfect combination to settle in and discuss all the weird and wacky paces that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were put through by writer/director Etan Cohen. What was it all telling us about Sherlock Holmes? How amazing was John Watson? Can we sing along to the musical number? What the hell really is a Dutch Jig?

Ironically, the "Tattoos and Sherlock Holmes" panel happens at the same time, so we probably won't have many tattoo experts on hand to discuss the work of Gustav Klinger, the one-armed tattoo artist. And also in that hour is "Every Disguise is a Self Portrait: Healing Through Fic," which leads us directly to Holmes disguising Watson as a common horse-shit salesman . . . "self portrait" indeed, eh? Our third competitor for time is "After Canon Ends," and, well, that's when you start getting the Holmes and Watson creations. Yes, there may be other panels you can go to, but Holmes and Watson really has it all.

Looking forward to all the panels I'm on this year -- "Unreal Podcast" at noon Saturday, and "Sherlock Holmes AUs before they were AUs" at one on Sunday. (The warm-up for H&W.) -- as well as all the others and the dreaded choices that will have to be made between as many as five fascinating subjects at any given hour. But that last hour of con panels . . . that last hour . . . time to leave it all on the table, and for that?

Holmes and Watson. Couldn't ask for a better topic than that!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Was Gillette a Downey or a Cumberbatch?

When it comes to actors who play Sherlock Holmes there is definitely a line of demarcation that we can exemplify with Robert Downey Junior's Sherlock versus Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock.

In the first category are well-known actors who take the role, and as we watch them portray Sherlock Holmes, we are rarely unaware that it is not that actor playing Sherlock Holmes. Roger Moore, Tom Baker, Matt Frewer . . . and, to an extent, Larry Hagman and George C. Scott, even though their characters weren't actually supposed to be Sherlock Holmes. Rare was the individual watching Sherlock Holmes in New York who didn't see the latest James Bond when they turned on their television, not Sherlock Holmes.

In the second group comes the actors who were unknown to us before taking up Sherlock Holmes, and convince us that this is what Sherlock Holmes looks like without the distraction of a familiar face. In this group we have the Rathbones, the Bretts, the Wontners . . . those who became either iconic or typecast, depending upon your point of view, as the face of Sherlock Holmes.

As the first popular actor to play Sherlock Holmes, and mainly on the stage, William Gillette's initial impact as Sherlock Holmes is lost to most of us. No one alive grew up with his face as their starter Sherlock. The video of his film adaptation wasn't available to most of us without a special effort only after we were already well Sherlockianly imprinted. But that element of being a stage Sherlock before film became the more universal entertainment does add a certain factor to our Downey-or-Cumberbatch equation.

To many, William Gillette would have been Robert Downey Jr. -- and already popular actor seen in previous productions. But to some, especially at that point in history, Gillette would have been their first living representation of Sherlock Holmes. A good share of those had to have never seen Gillette on stage before, since attending plays takes a certain amount of "right place at the right time," giving him the originality of a Cumberbatch. It would be a lovely thing to sent a time-traveling statistician to theater exits to check which was the greater share, but I think it's safe to say that both were probably significant numbers.

So he may have fit another category which I failed to mention at first: The category of Cushing, McKellen, and Ferrell (*Yoink!*) who all were known before but slipped so easily into the identity of Sherlock Holmes that we easily forgot their previous characters while they were on screen. As good as those fellows may be, however, coming into a new actor as your first Sherlock Holmes is a touchstone of the Sherlockian experience. Coming into a beloved first Sherlock in that first encounter is even more special, whoever that actor might be.

Because, in the end, it's Sherlock Holmes. And that's pretty great.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"Elementary" versus "Holmes and Watson"

Over the course of this incarnation of "Sherlock Peoria," longtime readers may have noticed two extreme reactions to Holmes adaptations: First, my long-standing beef with CBS's Elementary, which just got an announced starting date for its final season -- May 23 -- not quite Reichenbach Day, but close enough. And second, of course, my mad love for Farrell and Reilly's Holmes and Watson.

How, one might wonder, can a person be so down on one seemingly popular incarnation and then so up on a popularly reviled incarnation? Is it sheer facade, played out for clickbait? Pandering to some audience in the minority of potential readers? Or could it be that this might be the way one writer's brain actually works?

Let's have a look and find out.

CBS's Elementary targeted one aspect of the Sherlock Holmes character from the start: chemical dependency. The drugs. An actor well known for the addiction movie Trainspotting was cast as Holmes, and Sherlock's entire reason for meeting Joan Watson is as she's hired to be his "sober companion." He has left London, the site of his descent into addiction, in hopes of making a fresh start in New York City. His powers seem to come from being on the autism spectrum, but he eventually takes Watson as a student, who works her way up to his peer, even though their relationship has many ins and outs. After six seasons, the word "love" gets a serious mention regarding their relationship.

The movie Holmes and Watson targets another aspect of Sherlock's character, his infallible abilities and the hubris that comes with it. He's made headlines since he was a boy detective, judges hold up major trials to await his wisdom, and when he arrives the crowd chants his name. His detective powers are the result of childhood trauma, and following that incident John Watson immediately befriends him, offering his first friendship. From then on Watson is faithfully at his side, companion and best promoter, whether it's writing up Holmes's adventures or announcing his entry to a room. After a whole movie and one nasty betrayal, Sherlock Holmes discovers his love for Watson (who has plainly loved him all along) and sings a whole song about it.

One a formulaic police procedural that tends toward the "tragedy" half of the theater double-mask, and the other an insanely random comedy that . . . well, comedy. Curiously, both show a deeply flawed Sherlock Holmes, one pushing his darker aspects to a dramatic extreme, the other pushing his more successful side to its limits. In Elementary, drugs are one of the humanizing elements, making Holmes more tragically normal in our modern culture of addiction. In Holmes and Watson, drugs are near omni-present, just another detail of Victorian life, made everyday as a part of the parody. Both also show a Watson who eventually earns Holmes's respect as a "co-detective."

There are those who find both un-Canonical and worthy of shame, and other happy souls who enjoy both ends of the Sherlock spectrum represented in the two productions. And others who will look at all the details above and go, "Yeah, but one worked and the other didn't!" -- maybe for those very reasons. And I've always been in that latter camp, most enthusiastically on both shows.

But "Doyle's Rotary Coffin," as Paul Thomas Miller created it, came into being with the members agreeing to the following statement: "I vow to honour the code that All Holmes is Good Holmes, especially Dreadful Holmes, Bizarre Holmes, and Sacrilegious Holmes." You'll note that is doesn't say that "All Holmes is Good Holmes" as a stated fact, but that the members are vowing to honour that code in their Sherlockian dealings. It's really the best any of us can do, because at some point in a Sherlockian life, at least one loose adaptation is going to come along that sets your hair on fire unless you're a sociopath, devoid of all emotions. (Hmm, childhood trauma involving a donkey's behind, perhaps?)

And, sated to the gills with enough Holmes and Watson bliss to last out the year, I'm looking forward to Elementary's last season. Because when one fully accepts one out-there adaptation for all its Sherlockian strangeness, how can one chase another odd duck of a Sherlock off one's virtual lawn? Each has something to tell us about all the other Sherlocks if we let it.


As I write this, Holmes and Wattson is starting to play next to it on my computer screen.

"Logic is the sword by which we slay ancient superstitions. But lo, the heart has its own truths to teach us."
Hannah Montana
Season 2, Episode 4

Those words appear on the screen. John C. Reilly's voice starts the narration. And the love begins again.

Every line here to be replayed. Every screen here to be paused upon to explore its full details. Ahhhh, heaven!

And the boarding school origin is still here! As much as I want to see the garden bit, I would miss this version of Holmes's beginnings. Uncrying is right up their with the mind palace in my book.

"It's elementary, my dear . . . what's your name?"

QUOTES! ALL THE QUOTES I COULD EVER WANT! I don't think I've ever been as happy to have a video. So much stuff I want to dive deep on with this film, and here it is.

But now that big question. Amazon sells it with bonus features after the film. What are they?

Ten minutes and forty-two seconds worth. Cut scenes in the cab! Cut scenes of drunken Holmes and Watson. "Fornicate, wed, or behead" from the grimey newskids on the Bronte sisters and Marie Curie. Sherlock and Millie kissing badly. John and Grace romantically departing. Watson loving up on Queen Victoria. Hudson abuse. Puke comments. More hats! More hats! Selfies with the Queen. Poisoned Watson. Hudson abusing Watson in that accent of hers! Sherlock and John posing as Americans. If you liked the original jokes, the cutting room floor stuff is just as much fun, and maybe even more happily offensive.

And on to featurettes! (Make that "featurette" -- looks like there's only one attached to this version, which means more content on the disks!) More cut scenes in the featurette! "It's amazing how effective urine is for crowd dispersal." Farrell and Reilly just work so well together, that if improv paid more, these two would be at the top of the game. 

There you have it. Looks like the theatrical American release, with deleted scenes and the Farrell/Reilly featurette on Amazon's digital release. Can't wait to get home tonight and watch the full movie again.

And maybe one of these days, I'm going to figure out why this movie hits my Sherlockian sweet spot so perfectly. But it surely does.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Omniversal Sherlock Holmes

Funny thing about we humans, there are so many of us that we tend to retrace our steps as a species, over and over again. If you're paying close attention, just about the time you think you've found someplace no one has been, you spot some ancient initials carved into a rock face.

Or maybe a magazine from 1979.

Lately I've been pondering the Sherlock Holmes multiverse. The alternate realities for Sherlock Holmes which authors were creating long before their amateur counterparts coined categorized fanfic as "AU." The many alternate John Watsons that Conan Doyle accidentally channelled in the multiverse records we call "the original Canon." There's a panel on one part of that coming up at 221B Con, and another talk that I'm hoping to convince another venue to go for. And I was pretty sure I had something new to say.

A bit of closet cleaning however, and viola!

Omniverse magazine, issue two, "The Journal of Fictional Reality," turns up in a box of Sherlockian magazines. From the cover article on Doctor Doom, one might imagine the magazine likes to focus on comic book realities most, and one would be right, at least in this issue. But on page 38 comes an article drawn mostly from a non-comic sources, "The Case of the Divergent Detective," by Meloney M. Crawford.

The article, for non-Sherlockian audiences, begins with an intro the the basics of Holmes lore, telling of Sherlockian scholars and their vexations with tying Holmes and Watson to our reality. It also mentions that wave of 1970s "undiscovered" or "unpublished" Watsonian manuscripts. After running through all the Sherlockian basics, Moriarty, Mycroft, wounds, wives, etc., it starts addressing the post-Canon Holmeses with The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes by John Dickson Carr and Adrian Conan Doyle. It finishes its consideration of that collection with "we must not conclude that the Exploits collection describes the same Holmes as does the Canon.

Richard L. Boyer's The Giant Rat of Sumatra is considered, along with Manly W. Wellman and Wade Wellman's Sherlock Holmes and the War of the Worlds, the latter of which is definitely an alternate universe, according to Meloney Crawford. Sherlock's romancing of Martha Hudson and Watson's character of "a prodding, prudish fool," both place it firmly in that category.

Phlip Jose Farmer's The Adventure of the Peerless Peer gets a similar roasting: "It is fair to say that Watson did not indulge in profanity; nor was Holmes prone to violent airsickness and terror, or to prancing about naked smeared with mud." Baring-Gould's work is seen as intriguing, and Nicholas Meyer's work is seen as another alternate Holmes. Comic book appearances by Holmes in the Marvel and DC universes are considered at the last, and the piece ends with the words:

"As we have seen, there are many possible turns in the Holmesian tradition. We have opened just a few doors in a maze of alternate paths purporting to be but one. We may be assured, however, that Holmes and Watson remain immortal . . .  not only in our memories, but in the incalculable mirror-images in the labyrinth."

So in 1979, Meloney M. Crawford was already proposing exactly what we're going to be discussing in the "Sherlock Holmes AUs before they were AUs" panel in two short weeks in 2019. A full forty years later, and what a forty years it has been! If, by some strange quirk of fate, Meloney turns out to be a 221B Con attendee, I hope we can convince her to join us, but I suspect that possibility is slim to none.

Still, I am glad to be headed to discuss the topic knowing we had such a pioneer far ahead of us. I hope we'll do her proud.

A treasure chest of "Holmes and Watson" awaits!

Preparing for the 221B Con panel on the movie Holmes and Watson has had one great frustration to it: Everything we have to talk about is from December and January, and no one has gotten to see the movie since then. The Blu-Ray/DVD doesn't come out until the Tuesday after the con, but today I discovered two very happy bits.

First, Amazon Prime will have Holmes and Watson, with bonus features, available to purchase digitally on this Tuesday.

And second, those bonus features, at least on the DVD release, will include over 20 deleted scenes!

It'll be great to get that entire package whenever it comes out, and I was looking forward to it as a balm for the dreaded malaise we call "con drop," but having access to it before we get to glory in its achievements (and probably baffle its critics with our enjoyment of same), well, that's a very pleasant surprise.

All those deleted scenes means the chance to see both openings for the movie -- the boarding school origin and the garden-suicide origin for Holmes and Watson's first meeting. (Will there be yet another deleted origin that includes Stamford? Probably not, that guy gets no respect.)

And of the three featurettes included, two of which are behind-the-scenes, the most intriguing is "Mrs. Hudson's Men." Mrs. Hudson's male harem of famous faces was one of the most gleefully oddball parts of a gleefully oddball movie and the featurette promises to prove "why the world's most famous artists, scientists and authors can't resist the allure of Kelly MacDonald's Mrs. Hudson. (Probably that Scottish accent!)

One of the best parts of the movie is the musical segment, and the list of DVD extras includes something called "Carriage Song," which makes one wonder if more singing was originally in the film. "That Room is Sanctuay" brings to mind the Companion's Room at the Diogenes Club -- will we learn more of that curious place and its residents?

Holmes and Watson was a movie so filled with wacky detail that even after viewing six times in theaters, taking notes, I couldn't catch it all, so a home release with added features is like a true treasure chest opening wide.

Tuesday can't come soon enough!!!!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Sherlock Holmes, electric light in a gaslit world

One thing I've always loved about Sherlock Holmes is the way he changed people's realities.

They'd come to him with a murderous curse, a bizarre society, or some other weird turn their life had taken, and when he left their lives, the world was back to normal.

We know, of course, that Sherlock Holmes didn't really change reality. As much as he might be called a wizard by an amazed client or his faithful companion, Sherlock didn't snap his fingers and alter actual physical forms or change history. No, what he did was much better.

He pulled away the curtain painted with a false reality that someone else wanted his clients to believe. "Gaslighting" is the popular term for it currently, when a narcissistic or otherwise ill-intentioned soul decides to roll out the false truths, manipulating another person to believe something that isn't the case at all, usually for the villain's own personal gain.

Windibank. Stapleton. Clay. Murillo. Gruner. Peters. The list is long, and the malefactors many levels of wicked.

Yet Sherlock Holmes stood next to each of their intended prey and emanated his bright light of reason, vanishing their shadow-play and bringing daylight to their stories. Showing the world as it actually was again.

It's fitting that in a world where gaslights were a literal thing, Sherlock Holmes lit up the world around him like the electric bulbs that would soon make those gaslights a thing of the past. And amazingly, even in a world well over a hundred years down the line, the consulting detective remain a beacon for us, an ideal.

Looking hard for facts to illuminate truths when villains want us to see otherwise. Giving others explanations that someone might be holding back. Seeing justice done at last.

That's all Sherlock Holmes. And one of the main reasons we love him. Worth holding on to these days, as much as in his own.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The sensitive side of John Watson

Yesterday, I was considering the first time we meet John Watson, as he tells Sherlock Holmes that "I object to rows because my nerves were shaken." Then today, on a totally separate quest, I came upon these words, "Again I had an opportunity of asking him a point blank question, and again my delicacy prevented me from forcing another man to confide in me."

John Watson cannot bring himself to ask his room-mate what his occupation is.

Even in Victorian times, this hardly seems like a breech of social protocol, especially if said room-mate is actually conducting business within your shared rooms. And, as always, Watson gives us something about himself that passes muster in the flow of a narrative, but considered by itself brings up real questions.

Was it his delicate manners or his delicacy of health that prevented him from asking? In the modern era, a man who had endured what Watson had might be quickly understood to have suffered some form of post traumatic stress disorder. But even that seems like it might not account for Watson's seeming reluctance to be even so harmlessly assertive with, as he says, so specifically, "another man."

Telling your occupation isn't usually a confidence, unless it's something society usually frowns on. Might Watson have added a red herring or two in that visitor list to prevent his true thoughts about Sherlock Holmes at that time from becoming apparent.

One thing a lot of folks used to the more traditional Sherlockian study might not fully appreciate is the way fan fiction has studied the minds of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and continues to do so. When trying to get a feel for a whole personality, it is fine to call out this characteristic or that, but putting the whole of a person through scenario after scenario, feeling out how they might react in this situation or another . . . well, its almost like the experimental method using the personalities of Holmes and Watson as lab rats in an assortment of mazes.

One can test how well one knows the characters and build upon that knowledge as one writes, going "this seems right," "this doesn't seem right," testing and re-testing with betas and reader comments, moving on to new scenarios based upon what was learned in other fic-scientist's scenarios. One could take a simple sentence, like the one I fixated on above, construct a situation to test Watson's "delicacy" at that point in the relationship, and let scenes play out until one of them hits the mark and shows us true Watson, bringing out potential backstories and feelings behind that line.

As with any Sherlockian scholarship that doesn't involve Conan Doyle and history books, exact, unarguable results are near impossible -- which is why the great game of Sherlockiana has lasted as long as it has. (Much like Ripperology which, with a slightly more solid Canon of evidence, continually produces results just as hazy as anything to do with Sherlock.) The fun is in coming up with your own answers to those unanswerable questions.

And Watson has left us with so many, probably because he was just too "delicate" to be straight with us. (Pun, unintended, but left in like it was.)

Bull pup season

"I keep a bull pup and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the principal ones at present."
-- John H. Watson, A Study in Scarlet

Most of us, thankfully, will never have the list of issues that got John Watson into the state he describes above when he first met Sherlock Holmes. Almost all of us, however, are going to get hit with a cold virus at some point that puts us in a condition much like that which Watson described at that point.

Getting up at all sorts of ungodly hours, extremely lazy from lack of good sleep, and just crabby enough from all of that to object to rows, maybe not because our nerves are shaken, but mainly because in the state a cold can put us in, we're not taking any crap. (Which can actually be a little useful to the less-assertive among us.)

Finding a certain sympathy for early-Baker-Street Watson is, perhaps, the only bright side to being inflicted with a "blah" head cold. It just has to be endured, and one hopes for a capable room-mate who can leave us alone while perhaps staying just interesting enough to distract us from our minor miseries.

I can understand that firearms enthusiasts like to argue that "a bull pup" was somehow a Victorian way of saying "gun," but the idea that Watson would tell a prospective room-mate, "I keep a gun and I object to rows," seems a little counter-productive. I, for one, certainly would not happily agree to room with somebody that threatening at the get-go. If that was the meaning, Sherlock would have surely looked at Stamford and stated simply: "NEXT!"

"I have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the principal ones at present," is a lovely and intriguing statement, and truly one that applies to head cold season as well. One would think Holmes might have asked about those, but he had probably made some deductions about those that he wasn't revealing. ("Gambles on horse races, can't remember if he's married or not at a given moment, drinks a bit.")

But, as with Watson's post-war state, the head-cold too will pass. And then back to our adventures with Sherlock Holmes.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The 221B Con Scramble starts NOW!

Less than three weeks to 221B Con, and the scrambling begins.

Indecision on badge ribbon choices outside of the must-do "Doyle's Rotary Coffin" is down to the wire. The last of the panel assignments seem to be in, and the prep for those ramps up. And then there's always that dream cosplay, whose assembled parts and pieces will need to come together now or never. What else am I not thinking of? That must be addressed as well, and soon.

On the badge ribbon front, it's a mix of how much fun a ribbon statement can be versus "Worth the cost?" The lack of a DVD release of Holmes and Watson has limited access to movie quotes and some of my favorite remembered lines need context ("IT'S NOT WORKING!" "We're American ladies!" "Toilet-sized chunks!"). On the non-Holmes-and-Watson, how hard do I really want to push "Named 'Worst Person In Our Hobby' 2019," which is kind of fun with no context, but is really dwelling on someone else's bad moment. (Stickers might be enough.) And there's always that podcast that I relentlessly don't promote. (Nineteen episodes and it's still a work-in-progress.) One year, I'm going to hit January flush with cash and go badge-ribbon-crazy, as I love those things.

As far as panels go, here's what I'm getting ready for:

Holmes and Watson. Having sat in the theater and watched that movie six times, I've got a lot to say about that movie and my love for it. 221B Con will be my chance to convert my friend Howard Ostrom to the One True Faith with some old-time Holmes and Watson evangelism, and if there was ever a panel to get a bit silly with, this is going to be the one. There may be props.

Sherlock Holmes AUs before there were AUs. "Alternate Universe" fan fiction has been going for a little bit, but how many pastiches, movies, and just-plain wrong adaptations took Sherlock Holmes out of the Canon and place him in an alternate universe before we knew what alternate universe's were? Basil Rathbone fighting those Nazis didn't just happen in Victorian London, nor with a ninety-something Sherlock, but nobody stood up in theaters and went "Alternate Universe!" So it's going to be fun gathering up some of those times and places and get into what made them AUs without an A03 "Alternate Universe" tag.

The Unreal Podcast. Did I mention that I don't promote my podcast? Well, this panel on fictional podcast is going to get into the joys and concerns of why you, too, can and should do a podcast that you don't promote. Joining me will be Mary O'Reilly from the Academicasaurus Podcast,  and since Mary and I first met while holding together a Sherlock Holmes discussion with a crazy man, I can assure you that we can easily fill an hour with some lively talk.

And then there comes the challenge of cosplay, the thing that has fallen off my list for so many cons prior to this. It's going to require a bit of crafting, given that I can find a key item to start with, but I won't bore you with non-details. Canny readers should be able to guess the direction I will be heading, though, if this comes off.

What am I missing? That's the part I have to figure out next. Probably not going to get life-sized Paget Sherlock in the car again this year, as I have to drop a human off in Nashville, and humans take up room. Also, the good Carter will be accompanying me this year, after a couple years off. And there's a cold that I just got and will need the three weeks ahead to shake.

But 221B Con is coming! And there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Canons to remember

Picking up a nearby copy of the Complete for a bit of reference last night, I got a surprise run-in with the past. You truly can't judge a book by its cover, as the cover of this particular book was a pretty common old Barnes and Noble edition.

Nothing fancy or unexpected there. In fact, the copy was so seemingly ordinary that I usually pick up one of the two on either side of it, a favorite Literary Guild complete or a well-worn, hand-noted Doubleday that once belonged to a good friend. As I flipped to the index, however, I got a bit of a surprise. The book was signed. Not by Christopher Morley who wrote the preface, or Conan Doyle, of course. It was much too new. But it was signed by every member of a road trip that the book had been purchased to accompany me on.

The road trip was a grand idea of Don Hobbs, who made a great effort to have it recorded for posterity in those pre-smartphone-video days, and I'm not going to go into describing it here, but the book made me realize what a great Sherlockian souvenir a Canon can be. Just as a family Bible often holds hidden history, a copy of the Sherlock Holmes stories can become a special souvenir in itself -- and one you can use for other purposes. (And maybe other souvenirs.)

I have a couple of other souvenirs from that trip that serve no useful purpose, other than to sit out and take up shelf space, a jar of dirt from Sherlock, Texas and a discarded railroad spike . . .

. . . but I think I like the autographed Canon better. It shares the names of all who were there when it was used, and sparks a few more memories than dirt or metal.

It's often said that books take us places, but returning that favor and taking a book somewhere might pay its own dividends later on . . . and maybe even surprise you. This one caught me as I was just about to plan a trip later in the year, to another place I've never been. And made me think that maybe I should contemplate which Canon I decide to let come with me on that trip.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"The worst person in our hobby"

"His relentlessly mean-spirited, adolescent, and even disturbing posts long ago marked him as the worst person in our hobby."
-- Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, the Facebook feed

Well, it may seem odd to those with greater curiosity than I, but when I see a long comment from someone who plainly doesn't like me, I don't always read the whole thing. A natural protective impulse, of course, and maybe over-protective. So until I was out to lunch today and someone asked me about a bit of online drama from earlier in the week, I hadn't actually read the sentence above. And, WOW!

Someone, it seems, has decided that I'm a veritable Charles Augustus Milverton, the "worst man" of Sherlockiana.

Their preface, "It's been a number of years since SHFD gave up on a specific blogger," tells me that they haven't been following this blog's ongoing journey through Sherlockian life, and that they were plainly sent a link to a particular post by someone in the "LOOK AT WHAT HE WROTE!" club. I've had a lot of non-readers over the years who get passed a single post, and they are invariably the most incensed, coming at the words with an already-established preparation for furor. And limited information is always the best way to demonize another human being. So I kind of understand how they came to this place. I'm easy to disagree with, and if you ignore everything about me but a few select opinions, I am horrible.

But "the worst person in our hobby?"

I mean, that's a wee bit extreme. Instead of arguing any of my points, which are well able to be debated, they went straight for, not the jugular, but to elevating my very being to the pinnacle of bad Sherlocking. And seemed to say that I've held that post for a very long time, unbeknownst to me.

And that, that sort of reverse superlative demands a response, a response which I did not make on Sunday when I only glimpsed the last lines of the diatribe, since I didn't see it. And, truly, there is only one proper response to that statement:


A comment so extreme is going to have a few possible effects. One might be to drive someone from Sherlockiana never to return. Another? Weelllllll, it could be that, having been cast in such a role, left with no obvious path to redemption, and no way to lower the opinion of an authority so important as Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, a person might feel that certain restraints had been lifted. And that one could freely be expected to behave as, indeed, the worst person in our hobby.

So if I embrace this new title of "the worst person in our hobby," it could mean a real perspective enhancement. Because if I'm the worst person in our hobby? The rest of you guys are pretty special, and I will need to be sure to treat you as such. Good on you, you beautiful mother-Sherlockers.

But while we're at it, what are the outer limits of "our hobby" these days? I need to get a better idea of my new domain. Some of us might have a broader definition of that term than others, so while one might be the worst person in a very small pond, maybe they're not so bad for those who see the larger "ocean" view of the hobby. I mean, I'd hate to start making claims and run into the guy who is actually the worst person in our hobby. He might want to fight or something, and yikes!

I just don't know. It's just a lot to digest when you suddenly discover such a statement has been made about you. And it really makes me wish I could afford to attend a few more Sherlockian weekend events out there this year, just to remind people I'm still the same clumsily pleasant fellow they knew back when. But, hey, when you're the worst person in the hobby, you just don't get to as many events as the better Sherlockians. (Hey, I think I'm discovering side benefits to this title -- catch-all excuse!)

But really, my biggest takeaway from this whole debacle is that we all have to continue to try just a little bit harder in such fractious times. Not to be sure to make everybody happy by being as non-controversial as possible, but to continue to try harder to express the potentially disruptive ideas clearly. (Yes, "Nazis," obviously a trigger word, even in a seemingly fitting context. I should know that by now.) The ad hominem attack favored by the propaganda outlets remains a problem we all may have to deal with at some point in a disagreement -- it's just too easy. Sometimes you just have to take the hit and move on. And best of all, as with all Sherlockiana, just try to have a little fun with it.

"Worst person in our hobby."  Thanks, Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, whoever you are these days. Here's a little outro music for you. I'll save a karaoke number for you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Age of the Monstrous Book

Lately I've been reading a book that I can't yet properly review, European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss. It's a lovely book with Sherlock Holmes in it, like its predecessor, The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter. But I'm only about a quarter of the way into it, which is still a goodly distance, as the book is a hefty 708 pages.

Goss's incarnation of Irene Adler has recently showed up in my reading, and I'm loving her depiction, as with all of the book's characters. The Athena Club books have a charm that was lacking in Alan Moore's shock-jock Victoriana of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and I don't begrudge it the pleasant pace of its ensemble cast ramble. But the sheer heft of picking up the book makes one consider what brought us to this point.

Sure, super-popular authors like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling have been allowed to take books to extreme lengths in the past by their publishers. But I think the digital age is leading us to a place where massive tomes are not all that unusual. If the writers want to go for it, and a large share of readers are buying the book to read on their smartphone or tablet, where weight isn't an issue, size doesn't really matter as much as it once might have. And no one is going to complain of getting to see too much of favorite characters. Some of the massive ongoing fanfics out there amply demonstrate that.

Ross Davies' Baker Street Almanac is demonstrating that the big, fat book isn't just limited to the fiction shelves, though its PDF is a whopper that your device might groan under the weight of, if such things could groan. As the government and tech industry discovered with gigantic manuals, ink-and-paper isn't always the most cost-efficient means of getting the words out, but there are still enough book lovers out there that some things will always need to get that classic treatment.

And that means some of us will be wandering the house, strengthening our wrists as we read in the early morning hours . . . which is, at least, some exercise for a devoted bookworm.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hug A Holmesian Day, 2019

Well, here we are, Hug A Holmesian Day, 2019! Caught me by surprise this year, but I'm always glad to see it come around. March 11th is quickly becoming my favorite day of the Sherlockian year, since the holiday's inception.

On this special day, we honor the great huggers of the Canon, good and bad, who remind us just how important hugs are.

  • Alexander Holder, who hugged the recovered stones from the Beryl Coronet to his bosom, helping us to treasure our friends, those gems who crown our lives.
  • Hall Pycroft, hugging himself over his new five-hundred-a-year position, reminding us that our full potential awaits, and should be embraced with gusto.
  • Black Gorgiano, the Krampus of Hug A Holmesian Day, who hugged Emilia Lucca with a bear-like embrace, showing us plainly that the #MeToo movement should have started long ago, and that non-consentual hugs can get you stabbed, really hard.

Sometimes we might overlook the hugs of the Sherlockian Canon, as Doyle and Watson preferred to write about "huge" things -- so many huge things! But the hugs are there, whether in the silent "h" hug-boys Hugh Boone and Hugh Pattins, or the uggo huggos:  Hug-o Baskerville, Hug-o de Capas, Hug-o Oberstein (or is it "Oberstain?" Curse you, Mandela effect!"), or the Norman Hug-os.

Hug seedlings planted in the original Canon have grown and flowered over the years, to bloom in the Sherlock of the day, where, sure, a lot of the hugs are naked hugs, but still, hugs!

So if you can find a Holmesian (or a Sherlockian, as like St. Patrick's Day and being Irish, we're all Holmesians on Hug A Holmesian Day. Just be sure not to be a Gorgiano or bad Hug-o and get that all-important consent first, even if you're pulling a Hall Pycroft and just hugging yourself.

You've got a few hours left, so have a happy Hug A Holmesian Day, everybody!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The pies were nice.

I spent my afternoon making pies. It was an easy day, with little on the agenda, so I got a little creative with one recipe, tried something else new (apple with cinnamon roll crust), and stuck to a couple of old favorites. My key lime is excellent.

What does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Nothing, and for that, I apologize. I try not to go too many posts without writing about the man himself, or something else drawn from his Canon, but this week . . . ah, this week, I broke my own rules. Partly because I've been writing about Sherlock for another purpose that will eventually see daylight, partly because it was a very involved week at the job, and I was just seeing what spilled out at the keyboard.

So, pies. Had all my pies done and set to take them to a nice family dinner with some of the best humans I know, and I finally got around to checking Twitter, where it seemed, I had become the topic of discussion. And we all know that's not usually a good thing. If people have to discuss you, well, somebody out there probably isn't happy about something.

I suspect that over the course of my Sherlockian life, I've had more people angry with me than any other part of my existence. In the real world, as one might call one's daily existence, people do take offense upon occasion . . . but we work it out, have a laugh, and know that we all mean well. It's this distance between us in our fan lives that catches us. That and the fact that Sherlock Holmes, and all the culture around him, becomes a part of our identity. Which makes us vulnerable, susceptible to getting a bit hurt.

So, when one comes off a nice afternoon of pie-baking, and finds a fellow Sherlockian suggesting that one is mentally ill and needs friends to step in, simply for having a different perspective, well, one has to assume that someone felt a little bit hurt by something one said. Which hurts in turn, as no one wants to see other people hurting from words that weren't intended to sting . . . just explore some ideas. It makes a writer feel like the writing didn't quite work the way it was supposed to, as well.

But we all come to the Sherlockian dance with our own history, our own biases, and our own reasons to get angry at what our own eyes see as an attack on something or someone we hold dear. We just might want to try to control our tempers a bit, when the red haze starts moving in, just in case what we saw wasn't really intended in the manner in which we took it.

So, not the best day to be yours truly on the old Sherlockian Twitter (didn't engage any of it on Facebook, which I keep pretty pared down). Thanks to everyone who took the time to ponder the matter or send a kindly thought.

The pies did turn out really well, too.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Letting the new show you its stuff.

I miss Holmes and Watson.

This weekend the latest much anticipated Marvel movie came out, and I saw it and enjoyed it a whole lot. But even with that buzz going, hearing a bit of soundtrack movie from January's Sherlockian cinema of dispute set me wondering when its DVD was going to be available. I truly don't think a lot of folks understood how much I just loved that movie. It might even be my favorite Sherlock Holmes movie of all.

Which brings me back to Captain Marvel, that latest superhero blockbuster. There's a moment in it, without giving away any spoilers, where one character tells another something like, "You haven't truly won until you beat me the way I say you should beat me!"

It's one of my two favorite moments of the movie (the other involving a cat), because it's demonstrating that perpetual old-guard tactic that gets thrown out to help them retain power against the new and different. "You shouldn't just protest the system, you should politely and respectfully work within the old system to get what you want." Which is great if you're a part of that old system and don't want any waves from the new kids.

We saw a bit of that sort of thing a lot as Sherlock Holmes fandom saw a new wave of Sherlockians deciding to make their own fun. How often did we hear "We should welcome them to our banquets!" more often than "We should go see what their ways of celebrating Sherlock are!" It wasn't done with any malice, just that age-old notion that the familiar ways are the best ways, and that if the new kids could do things like we always did, they'd have the fun we had.

Except they're not us. Heck, we aren't even us anymore. Becoming a Sherlockian in the 2000s isn't quite the same as becoming a Sherlockian in the 1980s. We didn't have Will Ferrell in the 1980s, we had Jeremy Brett. (And despite what it may seem like at times, not all of us were that fond of Brett's Holmes.) We had the post office instead of the internet. And Sherlockians who were interacting and creating outside the scion society system? Not all that many.

221B Con is coming up in less than a month, and often I'll hear an old-school Sherlockian who discovers it think it needs a banquet, or more Victorian history presentations, or something else that the old style of Sherlockian symposiums do just fine. But 221B Con's strength has always been that it's bringing a new style to the table. It's variety brings attendees that may be only mildly interested in Sherlock, but see enough other things of interest to come in and give it a try -- and those are potential new Sherlockians who would never attend a flat-out all-Sherlock symposium. But at 221B Con, they have a chance to sample, enjoy a little Sherlock with a more familiar con experience,

The team who created 221B Con could not have done what they did if they started as investitured B.S.I. or folks who had otherwise been indoctrinated into the old ways. We got something delightful and new because they did it their way, and even as more traditional Sherlockians start to come on board, it remains a fresh influence on our Sherlockian culture.

Just like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly's Holmes and Watson, the DVD of which comes out the day I get home from 221B Con.

2019 is looking like a great Sherlockian year.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A hand-picked Sherlockian society

Let's be a bit controversial today.

If you pay attention to the political world at all, you might have heard a bit about the current administration and its party attempting to get as many young ideologues into judge roles as possible while they have the power. Nothing to do with Sherlockiana, though we do have a few judges within our ranks. But that sort of move does shine a certain light on a practice within our own hobby that's been cheerily going on since the last century.

The last head of America's main Sherlockian group retired from the role this year, after a term of over twenty-five years. And in that very lengthy term, he was the final judge of just who got to be a member of that august society. At eight or ten new members a year, that means the current membership roster of the group was largely chosen by that single individual. Well over two hundred members, at the very least.

We all have friends within those two hundred plus folks, and we do know a lot of nice sorts there, as we do in the Sherlockian population as a whole. So it's easy to ignore that gatekeeping bottleneck aspect of the society, and, heck, it's been nearly thirty years since it was used to keep women out, so we're all fine, aren't we?

Unless you're that one fellow who had an untrue rumor whispered into the ear of the guy in charge, and you suddenly aren't getting an invitation. Or maybe that single individual doesn't like the color purple, and you just love wearing purple. Keeping out an entire demographic is a fairly obvious-to-all sort of thing people notice. Nit-picking a single individual out of ever joining can be easily hidden among the "so many deserving that not everyone can get in."

John Bennett Shaw used to proudly tell of getting two people black-balled from the BSI as "one was a son of a bitch and one was a Nazi," or something like that. Many a Midwesterner of the Baby Boomer generation remembers the Nazi, and Shaw, as ever, might well have been justified in telling the head guy of that time about his concerns. How bad a son of a bitch the other guy was, it's hard to say, as a son of a bitch or two still made it into the group in olden times. As with marriage, some people behave differently before and after the ring is on their finger. (And if anyone wants to point at this writer with regard to that statement, feel free.)

The point is, the membership mechanism of America's main Sherlockian society could probably use a little daylight and a little more democratic process at some point. The "benevolent dictatorship" thing is all well and good until someone not so benevolent sneaks in, perhaps cozying up to some aged and feeble predecessor to get the nod before letting their full agenda to be know.  And if one can pack the membership with hand-picked members for twenty-five years, maybe that agenda doesn't even have to be a secret. Pull in enough secret Nazis over that period, and you've got a club that can go full Nazi eventually.

We live in a time when people are starting to look closely at what our future will hold, and how we can deal with changes that will come whether we like them or not. Is it a time for looking clearly and directly at some of the old things of Sherlockiana as well?

Just a thought.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Don't talk to me about the "olds!"

Man, you know these inter-social media-webs, and the ruckus that goes on there.

I catch a lot of it on the periphery, and don't dive in too deep to these things, because, man, there are some real troubles afoot and none of them actually have to do with Sherlock Holmes. But every now and then, a topic comes up that really cranks my tail-spine, y'know, and I just have to say a few words about it.


I hear there is some ruckus about the "youngs" of fandom not appreciating the "olds," and kind thinking they get in the way. Well, as you probably know, I'm one of those and I have some opinions.

The olds really are a pain to us youngs. I mean, how many times do I have to hear Vinnie effin' Starrett going on about how the world is going to explode and just Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson will be the only ones left? We had better hope they're gay, because otherwise, the nights are going to get a little cold on those fragments of London left floating in space. Vincent Starrett, you're a hundred and thirty-one years old! Give it a rest with your apocalyptic tales of our fandom's demise!

Sherlock Holmes fandom has SUCH freakin' old people in it!

Christopher Morley . . . a hundred and eighteen years old and still making people WALK to some kind of NYC oyster bar in the middle of winter! HEY CHRIS! Jimmy Buffet is seventy-one and you know what he gets people to do? EAT CHEESEBURGERS IN PARADISE!!! PARADISE!! Arriving in tropical ports and not smoking Havanas, eating bananas, or drinking daiquiris! Eating cheeseburgers! In paradise!

Oh, and it gets worse.

Our fandom's old people are so durned old that the crossover fanfic has Solomon, Socrates, and Confucius with Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I'm talking about you, Bangs. One hundred and fifty-six years old and using a hair-style your forehead could not even produce as your fanfic pseudonym! (Though I guess "John Kendrick Skinhead" would not have aged well at all.)

And yes, I'm leaving the old ladies of fandom out of this, because they can be just MEAN. If you don't like their opinions, they'll put them in books and title the books Unpopular Opinions, just to get a dig at you for not liking their opinions.

Our olds never seem to go away. It's almost like Sherlockiana is keeping them alive with blood transfusions from the immortal Sherlock Holmes himself! (Wait . . . is that a master vampire thing? I might want to get in on some of that action eventually. I should probably quit kav. . . )

Never mind. Going back to the periphery now. Let's just keep this post between us.

Friday, March 1, 2019

What's the deal with Lestrade?

Discussing a story with our regular crew at Peoria Library's Sherlock Holmes Story Society is always a mentally profitable venture for me, and our latest outing, on "Norwood Builder," gave me a new appreciation for that often-overlooked, but completely brilliant tale.

Before the gathering, I had theorized about the tale giving us a secret return of Moriarty, who could have been responsible for Oldacre's crazed plan, but not Oldacre screwing it up by trying to add a detail Oldacre himself forgot, late in the game. But then we got to talking about it, and I got a hard look at Lestrade.

"Norwood Builder" flows so wonderfully as a story because Sherlock Holmes has a roller coaster of a trajectory in this investigation. He's up, he's down, he's up again . . . and Lestrade! Lestrade is acting like this is the chance of a lifetime to finally get one over on Sherlock.

"It is Lestrade's little cock-a-doodle of victory," Holmes says bitterly at one point in the story, after the Scotland Yard inspector sends a telegram saying "Important fresh evidence to hand. McFarlane's guilt definitely established. Advise you to abandon case."

It's a bold move for Lestrade, very different from the guy in A Study in Scarlet who wanted Holmes's view, but didn't seem 100% sure of the consulting detective's results. No, the Lestrade of "Norwood Builder" knows full well that Holmes is the man to beat, having been made Strand Magazine famous by John Watson. And Lestrade is going for it.

But, as we know will happen, and does so enjoyably in this tale, Sherlock Holmes vindicates himself gloriously. Lestrade's response? When the missing Oldacre is firmly in hand, Lestrade tells the constables to take the old man downstairs, and once the other policemen are gone, he says this:

"I could not speak before the constables, but I don't mind saying in the presence of Dr. Watson, that this is the brightest thing that you have done yet, though it is a mystery to me how you did it. You have saved an innocent man's life, and you have prevented a very grave scandal, which would have ruined my reputation in the Force."

Just how great is Lestrade's reputation with his fellow policemen in 1894? Do most of them even know Holmes is back, and whatever esteeem they had built up for Lestrade during Holmes's hiatus from London was going to take a solid blow? Lestrade's act of sending those other cops away before speaking his mind is a very telling detail, and one that there has to be plenty of story behind.

The relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Scotland Yard's most Holmes-friendly inspector definitely evolved over time, but the place we find it in "Norwood Builder" is perhaps the most fascinating point of all, and one more mark of this tale's distinction.