Friday, May 31, 2019

Stresslock Holmes

How stressful was Sherlock Holmes's job?

The man loved his profession and the challenges it handed him . . . and that was probably the part of his job that did the most damage. Not the bruisers, the killers, the thugs, etc. The love of his job.

Who can ever forget, once read, that Maupertuis business, "an investigation which had extended over two months, during which period he had never worked less than fifteen hours a day, and had more than once, he assured me, kept to his task for five days at a stretch."

Staying awake for five days straight is, indeed, possible for a human to do, but their mental functions are sure to decrease over that time. After five days without sleep, Sherlock Holmes might have been almost . . . normal?

But even Sherlock Holmes can't work fifteen hour days for two months without collapsing when whatever motivation that was driving him so hard suddenly disappears when the case was solved, at which point all the stress and strain came back on him.

We know the downtimes of his career were more problematic than the busier times, but the Maupertuis case definitely falls at an extreme end of the spectrum. Were it not of his own choosing, and those fifteen hour days were done at the demand of an insistent boss, we should call such a taskmaster all sorts of horrible things, but as it was Sherlock Holmes pushing himself for a job he obviously felt was necessary to be done, we do tend to let his boss off the hook.

But, man, what end was worth all that stress, all that work? That couldn't have been one he was doing simply for the mental stimulation. Surely lives had to be at stake, and lives he cared about at that. Some of his family involved? Or was he pushing something else from his mind with that "work is the best antidote to sorry" motive he consoled Watson with in "Empty House?"

There are depths to a work-stressed Sherlock Holmes we have yet to plumb.

Monday, May 27, 2019


WWSHD . . . what would Sherlock Holmes drive?

Yes, yes, there was that Model T Ford in "His Last Bow," but a.) Watson was driving, and b.) in 1914, the Model T Ford was the only Ford available in Britain. But it was an American car, not an Aston-Martin, a Rolls-Royce, a Vauxhall . . . or maybe something from his maternal ancestor's country, like a Renault or a Peugeot. But first, Sherlock Holmes would have to have a reason to have a car, like getting out of his usual major metropolis home. CBS's Elementary plopped him in New York City, as much as a non-personal-car metropolis as London . . . but what if he had been based in Los Angeles? Or Denver? Or any other one of the thousands of American cities that require a car?

Would he choose a car that blended in with traffic, for easy surveillance, tailing, that sort of thing? Or would he want a fast car, for racing to stop a crime or catch a fleeing criminal? Just how much would local law enforcement let him get away with?

When the idea of a modern Sherlock Holmes crossing over into the world of The Fast and the Furious movie franchise today, the idea did not seem all that strange. The crimes and plottings at the heart of most of those movies fits right into Holmes's area of expertise. But it definitely raises one question like a giant American flag over some retailer wanting attention -- Sherlock Holmes would then have to have a car, and a perfect car, with a racing engine that matched his racing engine of a mind.

When confronted with that problem in attempting the start of a little fan fiction, "The Fast and the Mysterious," I took the easy way out: I made up a car that doesn't exist. Sherlock was so original in every other aspect of his life, I saw him as driving something as unique and innovative as he was. Watson was the fellow who drove the Model T, and in disguise, at that. No, Sherlock Holmes would drive something both special and specifically chosen.

And I've no idea what that would be in the real world, chosen from existing cars. Not a car guy myself, driving the most non-descript common little sedan available, going for the "blending into traffic" option. As Sherlock Holmes moves out into the universe of stories beyond the Victorian era, however, writers are going to have to start giving him vehicle choices at some point. Or even motorcycle choices, if that's what his personality demands.

What would Sherlock Holmes drive? Well, I look forward to finding out.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

I don't like . . .

With a couple of big finale events in the past month, we've been deluged with a lot of different "I don't like . . ." opinions. It's all familiar turf by now. Fans that didn't like the turn the story took. Non-fans who proudly flaunt their non-participation. Outrage junkies who proudly outrage that other people are having outrage about something they aren't outraging about. We have such a diverse rainbow of hues and shades of "I don't like . . ." these days that it's truly astounding.

And we've seen it all in Sherlockian fandom over the last century. With such an ancient fandom, we've been a bit ahead of the curve on so many things as our world turns more geek-y by the minute. So maybe it's time we get ahead of the curve on doing better with it all.

Rolling through podcasts this morning as I worked, I heard a nice line from Penn Gillette that went, "When it comes to any sort of art, the person who likes it is always right."  As we've brought the Doyle's Rotary Coffin society to live with its motto "No Holmes barred!" a lot of us have been thinking hard about our Sherlocks and what it is that makes us like or dislike a Sherlock, and how it's really okay that other people like Sherlocks that may not be to our taste.

"But I really have reasons for not liking this Sherlock!" one might protest. "I exist! My thoughts are valid! Other people agree with me!"

Yes, yes, and we need to feel like we're not alone in the universe. We need to find common ground, to relate with each other. But here's the thing: Do you want to hang out with a bunch of people who are just bitching about a thing all the time? Or would you rather hang out with enthusiastic lovers of a thing and soak in that radiant happiness? I have to worry about anyone who would choose the former.

If you work in a field, creating Sherlock Holmes stories, constructive criticism, analyzing what seems to work and what doesn't work is important. And even if you enjoy Sherlock Holmes, just figuring out what aspects of Holmes you enjoy so you can get more of that, is important. But those are matters we all have to decide for ourselves, and not try to decide for the human race as a whole.

One of the things I have long loved about 221B Con is that I can walk into any panel discussion, even of something I've never tried or understood, and hear why people love that thing. And I can share their joy, even if I may not yet find joy in that thing myself. If I instead went "Well, I am never going to read or watch  XXXXXXX!" in some weird moment of pride of my purity of ignorance, I would completely miss out on adding that joy to my life. And none of us needs less joy.

We're moving into a future that seems to have a near-infinite number of Sherlocks in it, and I'd guess that every one of those Sherlocks exists because at least one person enjoys their story and the turns it took. And with all those Sherlocks, our Sherlockian potential for fun is growing to about as much fun as we can possibly hold in our little human brains.

Breaking "I don't like . . ." habits can be hard. But as I'm learning every day, the rewards for working on that are really pretty cool. Like Sherlock Holmes, whichever one you think is cool.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Elementary, Season 7, Episode 1: England means Canon!

The year of the co-detective continues. Elementary spoilers ahead!

We started with Holmes and Watson in theaters, a tale of raising the good doctor up to co-detective status with Holmes. And now, with the resumption of CBS's Elementary in its final season, which left Holmes and Watson as co-detectives with neighboring offices at 221 Baker Street in London, the theme . . . one hopes . . . continues.

In the final moments of Elementary last season, the Canonical location brought a Canonical tale being investigated at the last. (Not that the previous six seasons didn't have two or three Canon-based episodes over all those years.) And in the opening moments of its first season-seven episode, Elementary goes full Canonical again . . . and actually enhances "Six Napoleons" in a rather cool way. Boscombe Valley gets a mention, and Abbey Grange. England means Canon!

And Holmes and Watson's British police contact, a female Athelney Jones, has a very Holmes and Watson bias against Joan.

"Just because I'm American doesn't mean I love guns," Joan Watson argues, but I'm already harkening back to Dr. Grace Hart and Millicent from that movie, who identify themselves as "American ladies!" and whip out their guns. Did the writers see that bit?

There's an acid-throwing that's not done by Kitty Winter, as she herself soon tells us. She's an investigator herself, specializing in missing girls. We might have had a glimpse of Clyde in the episode's very first scene. (My little bedroom TV was not up to side details like the terrarium in corner screen.)  And with a quick scene of Detective Bell getting a present in the mail from England with Captain Gregson there to comment, it would seem the gang's all here.

Did Joan Watson dye her hair blonde to mimic DCI Athelney Jones's blonde locks? Sure it doesn't seem like Joan, but Watson does seem to care about Jones's regard.

Sherlock buying ice cream for Kitty Winter's son Archie is a real treat for me, since my one piece of AO3 fanfic is ice cream based. Sherlock Holmes and ice cream, trending!

Detective Bell is not only looking sharp this season, though, he is sharp, and working Gregson to clear Holmes from the mess that pushed him back to England. We all know that Holmes and Watson have to go back to New York at some point, but England seems to have such brighter, newer police facilities.

Joan Watson wears pink pants now? (American pants, not British "pants." Joan having "Pink Pants Thursdays" is a place that . . . well, it might be appropriate, given John's Mondays. You tell me.) That blonde dye-job may be affecting her wardrobe. She's not happy in England, though, and the blonde hair and pink pants seem to have something to do with it. Sherlock, however, is so healthy and happy in London that you have to wonder how much New York might have been responsible for all his issues. Also, Gregson is being a real dick, so he's not making NYC any more attractive.

If it seems like I'm ignoring the main investigation here, even though I've developed a more accepting attitude toward Elementary, like its fellow procedural Lucifer, I'm still here for the ongoing character stuff and not the mystery-of-the-week. It's the odd thing about these procedurals -- even though the characters can be as alluring as the fallen angel himself, the little mysteries never seem to draw me in for some reason. Perhaps because the central figure in these cases is always dead, unlike most Canonical cases which usually had a living client we could care about. Or even a Scotland Yard inspector who actually came asking for help, not irritated that Holmes and Watson keep hanging around the office. (That nice, clean, new British office.)

When the villain is finally caught, Sherlock's simple look and nod of "Yes, you're caught!" makes me laugh. It's almost like a male criminal needs to check with another male in a room of female authority figures, but that thought makes me stop laughing, dammit. That was still such a good face Jonny Lee Miller made.

But then, big cliffhanger at the end, and we're left feeling a bit guilty for thinking Gregson was a dick, as he's lying in the hospital near dead. If only they could have moved him to England in some exchange program, at those nice, clean London cop shops before this!

Twelve episodes left to go -- that's a full Adventures, Memoirs, or Return in old-style Canon -- and this episode's title "The Further Adventures" was a nice touch in that direction, especially as this final season came as a bit of a surprise to all. On we go.

A trail of Arthur-crumbs.

Among the golden nuggets found during tonight's discussion of "Priory School" at Peoria's North Branch Library was one that was very new to me, and worth a blog post. I don't remember how Mary O'Reilly phrased it exactly, but the gist was this:

Why would Conan Doyle give a character in a story his own name?

The Duke's son, ten-year-old Lord Saltire who attends the Priory School, is named Arthur. As in "Arthur" Conan Doyle.

Those of us who dabble in fiction didn't think that giving a character in our story our own first name was something one would naturally gravitate toward. And yet Conan Doyle does it more than once. Actually, a lot more than once.

His first Sherlock Holmes novel, the first person who gets arrested . . . Arthur.

His second Sherlock Holmes novel, the missing father of the client . . . Arthur.

His first book of Sherlock Holmes short stories, the wrongly accused son . . . Arthur.

His second book of Sherlock Holmes short stories, the alias of a thief . . . Arthur.

His third book of Sherlock Holmes short stories, the kidnapped son . . . Arthur.

Still, in that third book of short stories, the up-and-coming forger . . . Arthur. Dammit!

Thought I had a pattern going, of one Arthur per book.

But fourth novel of Sherlock Holmes, guy who needs a place to stay . . . Arthur.

The fourth book of Sherlock Holmes short stories, a murder victim . . . Arthur.

The fifth book of Sherlock Holmes short stories, the guy writing the preface . . . Arthur.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the only Sherlock Holmes book without an Arthur, unless you count Casebook since it's Arthur is Arthur Conan Doyle's preface. But let's take this odd pattern a step further. Authors don't seem to use their own first name for one character, much less eight. And what word does "Arthur" look very, very close to?  "Author."

So if John H. Watson was actually using Arthur Conan Doyle as a literary agent and changing a few of the names along the way, what would it tell us that two of the books were without an "Arthur?"  Maybe a tip-off that Watson wasn't the "Arthur" of those books?  We've heard tales of how Doyle based Hound on a moor ghost story he heard from Fletcher Robinson. And we know Casebook has a tale completely lifted from a Doyle play. So the pattern seems to fit, doesn't it?

John H. Watson, leaving us a trail of bread-crumbs as he acknowledged his literary agent in every single book he was responsible for. And then when the practice stops, so apparently, had he.

Walp, it's a theory anyway!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The milk and cookies man

These days when one speaks of someone lying stretched out on the bearskin rug in front of the 221B Baker Street fireplace, thoughts are probably going to come to mind of sexy-time Holmes or Watson in one of their younger personas. This is a fairly recent development, however, and for most of the century prior, that someone was most likely the more comic figure of a man with the more comical name of Thorneycroft Huxtable laying spread-eagled and face-down on that same rug.

When Thorneycroft Huxtable rouses himself from this collapsed state, his first sentence to to beg forgiveness, and his second sentence is to ask for milk and cookies.

But here's the thing: Sherlock Holmes gets volume "H" of an encyclopedia. Dr. Watson has plainly stepped back when Huxtable scrambles to his feet. But no one goes for . . . or calls Mrs. Hudson to ask for . . . the milk and cookies. And yet Thorneycroft Huxtable is eating milk and cookies.

Were the milk and cookies already present in the sitting room, and Huxtable was just asking for something readily available?

Which brings up the question, whose milk and cookies were they? Suddenly anyone who had any love for Nigel Bruce surely has visions of that fine fellow with his hand caught in the cookie jar, and a milk-and-cookies Watson becomes very easily envisioned. Sherlock certainly doesn't seem like a guy who eats a lot of cookies, with that waistline. But Watson . . . the guy who first came to Baker Street "as thin as a lath" . . . is just the sort of guy a caring landlady like Mrs. Hudson is going to want to feed cookies to, and Watson is just the sort of guy who would eat the cookies out of social niceties alone. (But, still, who doesn't like cookies? Other than a detective who doesn't eat while thinking hard on a case, of course.)

This, of course, happens in "The Adventure of the Priory School," which I love for two reasons, among all the others, the milk and cookies up front, and the cocoa that Holmes uses to help lure Watson into early morning action when they are staying on site. And any man that is going to go for morning cocoa, is probably also a milk-and-cookies man, plainly not being lactose intolerant.

I'm sure we'll discuss deeper aspects of "Priory School" at Thursday night's meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Story Society at the Peoria Public Library's North Branch, but at this very moment? I can't seem to get past the cookies and cocoa.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Getting your Watson up

Back from a longish vacation that turned out to be a lot more stressful than relaxing. It's Monday. I have to go from driving interstate highways to getting on the on-ramp back to my job and going from zero to seventy as fast as I can.

And who's out patron saint for that?

John H. Watson.

The guy that was constantly getting the "Is that convenient to you, Watson?" or the "Come at once if convenient -- if inconvenient, come all the same." And if that doesn't sound like a job, I don't know what does.

John Watson isn't the guy that gets to sit around and go, "Hmm, I think this case interests me. Maybe I'll look into it."  No, John is a doctor who takes the patients that come in his door or summon him out to their homes, a former battlefield medic who dealt with what was put before him. And when Sherlock Holmes appeared next to his bed before dawn on a given morning, he got up and went.

Not even sure where he was going, Watson went.

John H. Watson is the guy you want to be on a Monday morning, not Sherlock Holmes.

The old campaigner. The warhorse who answers the trumpet call. Loyal and true and ready to deal with what's out there, like it or not.

Maybe later in the week, we can be Sherlock. But it's Monday.

Time to be Watson.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The secret origin of Basil of Baker Street

Ever wonder how a mouse named Basil came to live at 221B Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson?

I was thinking about another Basil of that period, who was also given that name at a time when it was very popular, a fellow named Basil Rathbone. Rathbone was born and named "Philip St. John Basil Rathbone" on June 13, 1892. Which made me wonder: Was Basil, The Great Mouse Detective, also born around that time?

I think he was.


Well, from May of 1891 to April of 1894, 221B Baker Street did not have anyone living there. Sure, Mrs. Hudson was being paid to keep it left alone, which meant she probably didn't go in there a whole lot -- I mean, how often do you bother to even dust an empty apartment? And what is an empty apartment perfect for?

Breeding mice.

Sure, Mrs. Hudson would eventually bring in some cats and traps and maybe an exterminator to get rid of the growing colony of rodents, but consider the side effects of that gambit. Any mouse that makes it through all that alive and remains at 221B must certainly be the cleverest mouse of the bunch. Sure, he may have had a less-intelligent best friend who survived simply by sticking close to the rodent genius, but when all other mice had either fled or been killed, the mouse that was standing tall when Sherlock Holmes returned in April of 1894, especially a mouse whose brain evolved far enough to read Holmes's notes in the empty apartment . . . well, that would be some mouse.

Sadly, the lifespan of even the cleverest of mice is so short that we can probably assume Basil never made it to Sussex Downs. (Bees might be a problem for a creature his size, one would expect.) But at least he seems to be riding on new highs of popularity, thanks to a generation who imprinted upon his movie, and has now made it into The Great Sherlock Holmes Debate, where his is a mouse among men, the only Sherlock not named "Sherlock" in the competition.

I may have my only little issue with allowing a Basil in a Sherlock competition, there already being a Sherlock Holmes in Basil's universe, but you have to give that product of Baker Street Darwinism his due, I suppose. He's done pretty well for himself.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The fans demand a rewrite!

Here we go again. A few aggrieved fans of HBO's Game of Thrones are demanding a final season re-write, just as we saw with those Star Wars fans who didn't like Luke Skywalker's last act.

Some might find a sympathetic ear to such things, after the notorious final season of Sherlock, and others might go "Such spoiled, entitled adult-children!" but in either case, the main tendency is probably to think of such a reaction as a modern problem. Nobody cried foul in the final season of Bonanza, did they? Of course not!

But I seem to recall a certain creator who wrote a certain final story that upset his fans.

"The Final Problem," anyone?

And what did Arthur Conan Doyle eventually do with "The Final Problem," after putting up with fan complaints and calls for a different ending to Sherlock Holmes's career?

You know.

He re-wrote the events of "The Final Problem" in Holmes's version of the Reichenbach incident in "The Adventure of the Empty House."

Whiney, entitled Victorian readers!

Since the books are trailing the TV series, will George R.R. Martin pull a Conan Doyle and rethink his original plot ideas, handed off to HBO, as he finishes the novels? (If he ever does.) Time will tell, but like Sherlock Holmes said, "The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up."

Indeed it does, Sherlock, indeed it does.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Sherlock that is a Pikachu.

When I heard Detective Pikachu was coming to theaters, I expected just a pikachu in a deertalker cap. When I saw the previews for Detective Pikachu, I expected just a pikachu in a deertalker cap. And walking into the theater this morning, I expected to see just a pikachu in a deerstalker cap.

But I play Pokemon Go, I've loved Ryan Reynolds since the first Van Wilder. (Somehow his talents never got me to like Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place.) And I'm on board for big CGI blockbusters. So, hey, this movie hit me right in a sweet spot without the deerstalker cap, so no problem going to see it. But what did I find there?

A Watson story. Not a Sherlock Holmes story. A John Watson story.

Tim Goodman is young man who may not have been on the battlefield, but he's not had the best life. His Stamford is trying to match him up with a companion, but not having any luck. And he's just had a close family member  with the initial "H." meet a sad end. (The full name is "Harry," for those of you whose headcanon tends toward the BBC Sherlock Watson.)

In finding himself in the great metropolis of Pokemon world, Ryme City, Goodman finds himself forced to take on a room-mate, an oddball detective with a caffeine addiction, the detective Pikachu. (Pokemon don't usually have names outside of their species name.)

Sound like a Watson story to you? Sure seems like one to me.

This may not be an Arthur Conan Doyle adaptation or tribute enough for a more Canon faithful Sherlockian, but as my own evolution through reading BBC Sherlock fic and practicing the principles of Doyle's Rotary Coffin, I'm come to enjoy some core outlines of a Holmes/Watson dynamic, and Detective Pikachu really has that at its emotional core.

And while I don't want to give away plot spoilers, that thing that always tends to happen to Sherlock Holmes happens to detective Pikachu. And his Watson, Tim Goodman, reacts accordingly. There is definitely a Watson arc to this tale, even if eventually the pair discover a bond that even goes beyond our traditional pair (or maybe even Johnlock, in a way).

While I don't know if we'll see a full-fledged sequel to this movie, as the world of Pokemon is wide and full of stories to be told, it was great to see another movie with a great opening weekend and a pretty successful set of reviews with the critics based on the Watson-meets-Holmes dynamic.

Still, like Holmes and Watson and Sherlock Gnomes, Detective Pikachu is not a film for every Sherlockian. But if the preview intrigues, and you've got an open heart for a good Watson, I'd completely recommend this movie. I had a great time with it, and am glad to add it to the outer regions of the pantheon Sherlockian.

Murder, murder, murder, murder . . .


As a casual observer of that murder-y show, famous for its murders, that had its most murder-y episode last night, I didn't wind up quite as disappointed as longtime fans who were hoping for at least a few characterization-based conclusions and not just the most massive murder spree of any television show ever. Which brings me back to Sherlock Holmes and one of the reasons I like him so much.

Sherlock Holmes doesn't need a murder to make him leave the house.

Sure, he bitches about it: "As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools." But Sherlock still gives the advice, still travels out to the country to check on said young ladies. He puzzles over a lost hat and goose. He goes to find out why someone wears a veil. Sherlock Holmes isn't all about murders. He's about mysteries.

Writers usually succumb to the gravity of the black hole of murder mystery when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, because murder is the most easy plot to draw drama out of. (And Scotland Yard shows up for your story automatically.) Those who don't know him best throw him in the box with Jessica Fletcher from TV's Murder She Wrote, a murder mystery writer living in a town of 3,560 people that somehow had a murder every single week for years. If you thought Shirley Jackson's classic tale "The Lottery" was bad, Fletcher's town of Cabot Cove makes that story's cultish trap of a town seem like a safe space, just to give Jessica Fletcher murders to fill her time hunting murderers.

Sherlock Holmes, living in the largest city on Earth of his time, somehow managed to actually get bored now and then because there weren't enough mysteries to work on, even of the hat and goose variety.  Not that London didn't have murders, but as Sherlock himself said, "Crime is common. Logic is rare."

Making a story, movie, or TV show that doesn't depend on murders for drama is harder than making a show that depends upon murders for its drama. Even at his last, when he was most tired of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle still managed to get in a "this girl wants to married a bad dude" story, a "somebody wants to buy my house in a weird way" story,  a "my wife might be a non-murdery vampire" story, and a "this old lady's dog doesn't like her" story, all in his last season of tales, and that's one reason Sherlock Holmes has stayed more popular than once-famous murder detectives like Ellery Queen. (Remember that guy? He had his own magazine, TV show, etc., as famous as could be. Once.)

But no mystery in last night's montage of murders in HBO's murder show. Makes one wonder if it will be around a hundred years from now like our old friend Sherlock. Crime is common, and logic is rare, just like he said.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

To award or not to award?

Reading of the Stokers being awarded tonight, and remembering the Edgars, it always makes the devout Sherlockian ponder why we don't have something similar in our field. There has been the Morley-Montgomery Award for articles published in The Baker Street Journal, of course, which ignores articles published elsewhere, regardless of their quality. And there is that thing where the shilling is awarded to people for being a certain vague sort of Sherlockian people every year, but beyond that?

Nada, unless I've really missed something.

I think a big part of the reason lies in the long-held disdain for any fiction featuring Sherlock Holmes that was not written by Conan Doyle. "Pastiche" was never a word used to describe anything kindly, almost including a haughty "Sniff!" in the pronunciation of the word itself.

But with more fiction being written about Sherlock Holmes, both professional and amateur in nature, it's getting hard to dismiss every last bit of it a unworthy of some recognition. And Conan Doyle, as good as he was, did not write for a 2019 audience. Someone writing skillfully of Sherlock Holmes and telling a first-class yarn at this point definitely deserves notice . . . and more readers,

Such an endeavor would surely have to start small, and come to be accepted over time, probably taking decades before reaching the esteem of other awards, in any case. And it could not be done to raise the status of the presenter, the greatest failing of so many awards. ("Hey, famous person! Come talk to me and I'll give you this award!") But if an effort could be made that brought all of Sherlockian written endeavors under one happy umbrella for even just a single evening, it would certainly be a delightful thing.

And that's what it would probably take to pull off such a thing: Bringing the many facets of Sherlock Holmes love together enough to coordinate judging/voting in our varied categories by those who knew and loved each field best. Is that just a pipe dream at this point? Can the cattle ranchers and the sheep herders be friends? (Sorry, old Western metaphors really sound stupid at this point, but they're still in my head, wanting out.)

Who knows? I hope we're moving toward a place where we can all accept that someone other than Conan Doyle wrote a tale of Sherlock Holmes that deserves the sort of recognition an award symbolizes. And maybe one day we'll see such a thing,

Some questions remain unanswered


I'm listening to an audio book while traversing a goodly distance, and the hero of said book has had a long day. He's gone from key event to key event, is completely exhausted and longing for sleep, and he gets locked in the back of a police care for an hour and a half. Sleep is an important bodily function, so one can sympathize with our hero being deprived of it.

But, having been in a car for several hours, that's not exactly the bodily function I am most concerned about. And I wonder about that guy who was locked in a police car for an hour and a half after not having the time for anything else for most of a day. And then I wonder about Holmes and Watson.

That classic Sidney Paget drawing of Sherlock and John sitting in a train car together . . . they took some long trips together. They also did things like night-time vigils in bank vaults or a step-daughter's bedroom. And for all the time and energy spent by Sherlockians documenting the dates things happened, the layout of 221B Baker Street, etc., all those things that make Sherlock Holmes all the more real to us, has anyone ever answered this basic question:

"What's the longest Sherlock Holmes ever went without hitting the bathroom?"

Of course, it was the Victorian era, so Holmes wasn't picking up a large Diet Coke at McDonalds before getting on the train. And he did do that three-day "absolute fast" to trap Culverton Smith in "The Dying Detective," so we wouldn't be surprised if Sherlock Holmes could endure near-superhuman lengths of time without doing what any of us would need. But John Watson? The guy whose military time ruined his health for years?

"Excuse me, Holmes, but I require the use of a chamber pot."

"Of course, Watson. I have observed your maximum bladder retention as ninety-eight minutes after your morning coffee, so I had the stableboy equip this vantage point with an empty wine cask."

As we learned from O Xango de Baker Street, adding certain bodily functions to a Sherlock Holmes story does change the tone a bit. (Of course, certain other bodily functions have driven a goodly chunk of fan fiction . . . but that's a whole 'nother change of tone.)  But calculating the length of time he wasn't doing certain things in the original tales? The tone is already locked in, so it's probably safe to answer such questions at this point.

Well, if anyone is that bored and looking for research options, of course. I suspect we won't be seeing any in-depth papers on it anytime soon, but you just never know in this hobby.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

How are you?

We talk about the first words Sherlock Holmes said to John H. Watson a lot. "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." At least that's how it tends to stick in our heads. But there's a few words before that, the actual first words Sherlock Holmes ever says to John Watson.

"How are you?"

Yes, springing right off of Stamford's "Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," Sherlock grabs John's hand to shake it "with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit." No limp-fish handshakes for Sherlock Holmes -- he's putting his all into a first impression with a man he's never seen until this moment.

And a "How are you?"

We know Watson was still recovering from his war wound and subsequent illness, and Sherlock is very observant, but how bad do you have to look before someone's first reaction to you is concern for your health? Or was it something else? "How are you?" is a question you normally ask of someone you know, but are seeing again. Is it possible they had met at an earlier age or time, and John Watson either didn't want to write about it or didn't remember Sherlock at all (and didn't want to write about that?).

But if we knock out those two theories, whatever remains, however not-the-Holmes-stereotype, must be the truth: That Sherlock Holmes was actually the sort of person that warmly greeted a stranger.

Sure, John H. Watson wasn't just any stranger. and maybe Sherlock Holmes did know Stamford might be helping him find a room-mate, but still . . . that enthusiastic handshake and a "How are you?"

It's really a nice moment we shouldn't forget about.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


Kitty Winter is back!!!

The new promo for Elementary's seventh season is out, and it looks like fun's a-coming. Watson is as blonde as a Jude Law, Scotland Yard is treating her like she's Grace Hart or Millicent, and . . . oh, maybe they'll wind up back in New York with non-working toilets.

Well, ya gotta take the bad with the good, I guess. Will this last run at NYC Holmes go into that fine and frisky place showrunners who know they can put it all on the table sometimes tread?

Will Moriarty return, now that she's . . . well, I don't suppose she was out of a job just soon enough, but maybe for the final episode? We can't have Odin Reichenbach doing a Moriarty's job now, can we? Sherlock and Jamie will have to fight on top of him, or maybe just over him, of course!

But, hey, Joan's as blonde as a Joan Blondell and it's time for summer fun!

I'll be here doing some Doyle's Rotary Coffin friendly recap/reviews for my friend Howard Ostrom and anyone else who is afflicted with an inability to watch the show, and it's definitely time for some Joan Watson love. (You ladies can swoon over the whiskery guy.)

Hopefully they'll be bringing back some more favorites from the past along with Kitty for a last turn on the Sherlock stage, along with many more appearances of Clyde, the turtle that inspired the opening moments of Holmes and Watson, at least the American opening moments.

Looking forward to a lively summer!

Monday, May 6, 2019

The drama of letters

"I quoted the postscript. The letter had, as I said, been burned and it was not all legible. I ask you again why it was that you were so pressing that Sir Charles should destroy this letter which he received on the day of his death."
 -- Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles

For a time, we were calling it "snail mail," so enthused were we with our new e-mail. Now we don't really call it anything at all, as it just doesn't come into conversation all that much. But in the time of Sherlock Holmes, it was everything.

Postscripts. Legibility. Information you could burn. In one statement from Sherlock Holmes to Laura Lyons, we get so much of that medium of a bygone age. Not to mention the fact he's saying those words to a typist, someone whose entire job it was to transcribed the handwritten to a one-of-a-kind typeset document, often used for letters.

"What word starts with 'e' and ends with 'e' and has only one letter?" the riddle goes, and that riddle has gotten a bit harder to answer as years pass. (The answer, spoiler alert, is "envelope.") But in Sherlock's time, it was right in front of your face. So many letters in the original Canon!

Letters that will trigger war. Letters that will ruin marriages. Letters that cause Sherlock Holmes to act immediately. All kinds of human activity were communicated in letters, and each left a single backup copy behind (we won't get into later innovations like carbon paper), making them rare and precious when their contents went beyond the normal bland dealings of the everyday.

And what was once an everyday commonplace that we moderns shared with old Sherlock is now a subject worthy of a symposium lecture. All the traces about the sender that Sherlock gleaned from a single letter. All the postal byways of Victorian England. Even the mud on Watson's shoe had something to do with mail service.

Sometimes I think I miss letters, but then I remember why I don't use them any more. The trips to the post office, stocking up envelopes and paper, the lack of a searchable archive of what I wrote. All this blogging I do was once thoughts sent to a single person (not the same person every time, of course), and often never shared beyond that. Recent Sherlock Holmes mystery letter subscriptions show that we enjoy receiving letters . . . we all just got tired of sending them.

So the drama of letters that existed in Sherlock's day is gone now, having moved to Twitter and Facebook where blackmailers weep at losing the chance to threaten exposing our bad moments, as they're already on display. Poor Charles Augustus Milverton -- one more job lost to technology!

But it all adds one more facet of fascination to that world-in-a-bottle we call the ACD Canon.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The mixed reaction

Another single-gender Sherlockian society has given way this weekend, as the word came out that the Speckled Band of Boston inducted its first four female members. They voted two years ago to accept non-male members, and . . . well, not sure what happened in 2018, but here we are.

And my reaction is a very, very meek sort of "yay?"

It's great that they have finally accepted women as equals, but noting the event brings out the fact that as recently as two years ago, that didn't seem to be the case. A person doesn't want to condemn such a positive move forward, so as to discourage any remaining holdouts from getting with the times, but it still is just a little . . . 

But, hey, Brad doesn't live in Boston, attend meetings there, shouldn't matter to him, and why should he blog about it anyway? Mind your own business, Brad, and let Sherlockians have their fun!

About that: Restricted membership societies have always been a particular bee in my bonnet for one reason and one reason alone. I like other people. I don't like seeing them getting depressed due to arbitrary barriers in our fandom, especially when they're talented, lively, fun folks. And maybe Boston hit one of my friends hard once. It's definitely a part of this hobby that has never been fun.

We try to put history behind us, not look back too hard, and move on. We have to do that to a degree, just to maintain any kind of forward motion. But we also live with our history ever day. Every building, large or small, that we inhabit was built in history. Every one of us who didn't appear magically upon this Earth was sired by history. And even when a club allows its first few members of another gender in, their banquets, still mainly comprised of the original gender for those years until balance is achieved, still show their history in every photo.

It's a tricky thing holding on to what we see as the good parts of the past while not letting the really rotten parts taint them. We can't tear down every building a crime occurs in, though time will do that for us, eventually. Some things don't last, however grand they might have seemed to the folks of a certain time and a certain place. In the end, it always comes back to who you are now. What you do now.

So good for the Speckled Band of Boston for finally overcoming a huge character flaw. Where they go from here? What they do for their fellow Sherlockians today and tomorrow, and the day after that? Well, I shall be interested to see what news comes from that direction, and what the word is from Sherlockians I meet out on the trails. 

We make our history ever day, figuring it all out as we go.  Somebody figured out how to change one of the last great Sherlockian gender holdouts, so good on them. But we've still got a long way to go as this fandom rolls into the future. So maybe a quiet "yay" will do for this round, as we prepare for the next.

And about five pages later . . . he lives!

Well, we made it through yesterday. Phew!

National Scrapbook Day, National Fitness Day, National Weather Observers Day, National Orange Juice Day, National Homebrew Day . . . celebrating every single day that the Naitonal Holiday Committee (or whoever comes up with these things) is more exhausting than bailing my lawn, which was how I spent my day.

But, Reichenbach/Star Wars/Free Comic Book Day was also yesterday, making for a geek trifecta as well, but even though Obiwan Kenobi was dead for ten minutes until his Force ghost came back and Superman was dead for about a year once (followed by most other comic book heroes at some point), our old friend Sherlock Holmes still holds the true "Really making everyone know for sure he's dead and then come back a decade later" record.

I mean, even Jesus only made his people wait three days.  But unlike his Easter, Sherlockians don't have a holiday for the day Sherlock Holmes came back. You'd think we'd celebrate that one, but there's a reason for that . . . nobody alive had to wait that ten years. For any modern Sherlockian, all you have to do is turn a few pages to the second half of the book, or stay in the theater or in front of your TV long enough to see Sherlock hiding in a graveyard or disguised as a chair.

May 4 is a weird sort of Sherlockian holiday due to how comfortable we've become with Sherlock Holmes being unkillable. Moriarty wasn't the end of him. Conan Doyle's death wasn't the end of him. So it's hard to get sad over a moment you know was his greatest trick . . . .

. . . unless you're taking the Watsonian point of view. "Happy Ditch Watson For Three Years Day," as it could be called, really puts a yuck spin on it. Or "Happy Running in Fear from a Guy who It Only Took a Wax Dummy to Catch Day." (Did it take three years to make that dummy? Was that the reason?) Our best reason for celebrating May the 4th and shooting off fireworks is one more post-game celebration for Sherlock Holmes laying the smackdown on Professor Moriarty, and that moment when Sherlock stood atop that cliff and went, "SEE! That's what you get for messing with Sherlock Holmes!"

The best thing about May 4th is that Sherlockians all agree on it. Despite the popular notion that Sherlock's birthday happened in January, we still argue for other dates, with good reason. We know who made up the January date and why, reasons that really didn't have anything to do with Sherlock himself. May 4 was a date given to us by John Watson himself, more clearly and plainly than almost any other Watsonian date, and we don't argue that. And it's in early May, truly the best time for celebrating anything in the Northern hemisphere.

So, happy Cinco de Mayo, the Boxing Day of Sherlockiana. Frank Mouton from "Noble Bachelor" was in New Mexico once, so you can still have a margarita for Sherlock Holmes (which makes as much sense as anything else about Americans celebrating May 5th -- Mexico beat France, yay!).

Our holidays are what we make them, so make some good ones, whatever the day is.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Watson no one saw coming

This week, an actor who has probably played Watson more times than any other got her star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. And there's all sorts of remarkable behind that statement.

Lucy Liu came to the role of Dr. Watson younger than most actors, that role having been set iconically in so many minds by Nigel Bruce, whose portly British stereotype still influences cartoon Watsons today. She also came to that role already a star, having made herself known in both TV and movies, in no danger of being typecast in the part. Her roles in action movies like Charlie's Angels, Kill Bill, and, yes, even Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, brought a certain strength to her Watson, even though the character of Joan Watson had no military background as the Conan Doyle original.

As her show, CBS's Elementary, enters its final season and Lucy Liu moves on to other roles and now directing work, we have to start wondering who will follow in her footsteps as a Watson who leaves the mold she broke behind. Because she broke that mold hard.

Can future Sherlocks deal with an American Watson? Somehow I think her lack of a British accent was more of a radical departure for the character to American audiences than going female. (Which brings up the question: Do Holmes and Watsons in non-English speaking countries have British accents?) Lucy Liu's Watson gave America something England had all along -- a Watson with no accent.

And what about Joan Watson's ascension to that job whose status formed half the plot of the recent comedy Holmes and Watson -- that of "co-detective" to Sherlock Holmes? While so many previous Watsons were relegated to tagging along and enthusiastically going "Amazing, Holmes!" at appropriate moments, Liu's Watson worked her way up from room-mate to student to equal peer at the consulting detective game. While Martin Freeman's Watson created one of our strongest foils of a partner for Sherlock Holmes, his Watson never became a detective in his own right.

Which brings me back to a thought I've had from day one on Elementary: I still strongly suspect Lucy Liu would have made a better Sherlock to Jonny Lee Miller's Watson than the way the show was cast. She's terrific with a strong character who can bring authority to a scene, and has a quirky comic side that would be perfect for Sherlock Holmes. As much as Elementary was seen as breaking norms, seeing a female Holmes leading a male Watson around would have taken it even further along that line, and Lucy would have been perfect for it.

But who knows? With one season left of Elementary, maybe we'll see Lucy Liu's character putting Jonny Lee Miller's in a Watson role, despite who is named "Holmes" and who is named "Watson." It doesn't seem impossible, with all she's brought to the part so far. Though with a character named "Odin Reichenbach" in the picture, maybe she'll be finding her own Watson as she takes on the job of being the Sherlock, as "Reichenbach" never bodes well for the current one.

In any case, this is a summer to celebrate Lucy Liu, and starting it with a star on the Walk of Fame is a very great thing.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Conan Doyle's Season Four

A recent mention of the benefits of "dead Canon" yesterday had me considering how the Conan Doyle Canon of Sherlock Holmes, while complete, is not without its problematic side.

The difference between reading the original sixty stories and watching BBC Sherlock as it came out reminds me a lot of my experience with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its season six. To friends who binged the whole series on DVD or streaming, season six was not a big deal. But to many of us who lived through one-episode-one-week-at-a-time from October 2, 2001 through May 21, 2002, that season was a nightmare. A whole week to stew on Buffy's self-hating hook-ups with Spike. A whole week to ponder whether the whole series was just delusions of a girl in a mental hospital. A whole week to meditate upon our hero's job at a terrible fast-food burger joint. It was torture waiting for Joss Whedon to get done with Firefly and come back to the show, whatever your current feelings on the man are.

Which brings me to The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle's "season four."

My personal headcanon has always been that the Casebook stories were the ones Doyle released after John Watson died, and was no longer there to do quality control or hold back for Victorianly modest reasons, like keeping the adulterous "Cardboard Box" out of collections for decades. His Last Bow had a preface by Watson, Casebook had a preface by Doyle, so there's even a bit of evidence for my little headcanon. But headcanon or no, I doubt anyone can objectively state that Casebook is the best of Sherlock Holmes.

Twelve stories stretched out over seven years time had to plague fans of the 1920s, with the first undoubtedly being the worst. After waiting a full four years from 1917's "His Last Bow" for more words from our friend Watson, they got "The Mazarin Stone," the tale by an anonymous third person that makes most Sherlockians' "worst of" list.

And, hey, 1920s Johnlockers! Love that moment at the end of 1924's "Three Garridebs" where wounded John sees Sherlock's true feelings coming through? Well, come 1926 and "Blanched Soldier" and we get "The good Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife, the only selfish action which I can recall in our association. I was alone." Jeezus jumpin' Jay Finley Christ! (Recently heard one theory that "wife" wasn't even Watson's wife. Yikes!)

And the new last story you will ever see of Holmes and Watson, if you were reading them as they came out? "Shoscombe Old Place."  Guy hides his dead sister to win a horse race. Our last vision of Holmes and Watson is Holmes tossing a newspaper at Watson and going, "File it in our archives, Watson. Some day the true story may be told."

Is that any way to wind up a sixty-story epic tale of two friends helping people get through their lives free of mystery or delusion?

The Sherlockians of the 1920s were probably not too happy with ol' Conan Doyle and his ghosts and fairies . . . and his "season four." Maybe, as now, future Sherlockians will look more kindly on Moffat and Gatiss's final work as we tend to do Doyle's now. But for those present when it happened . . . .