Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What we love in Sherlock Holmes ... and John H. Watson

In 1946, a Sherlockian Edgar Smith asked a very important question: "What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?"

Smith touched on the nostalgia for a bygone age. He referenced Holmes's ability to right wrongs. He saw that the deep psychological basis for our love of Holmes was possibly too complex to completely fathom. But in the end, he theorized that what we saw and loved in Sherlock Holmes was ourselves, sitting in our comfortable Baker Street rooms . . . looking forward to adventures to stimulate us? Smith doesn't go that far, but Holmes was definitely no Nero Wolfe or brother Mycroft.

Smith wrote of a "tremendous capacity for wisdom" as one aspect of the Holmes we saw in ourselves, and he was right. Sherlock Holmes is our potential, a version of ourselves that doesn't seem all that far away from who we are, yet always just past arm's reach. That last part, for some, is easy to miss. We never become Sherlock Holmes, with that infallible confidence that we have deduced exactly what the situation is, and that we understand all sides of the picture.

But what we can emulate in Sherlock Holmes as much as possible, is the attempt to observe as much as we can. And to understand how another person might think. And to keep learning: "Life is a series of lessons with the greatest for last."

Sherlock Holmes challenges us to be observant. To point out facts. Not our opinions. Not our theories. Facts. Sometimes, pointing out something that seems fairly obvious to us, however, is something someone might be purposefully turning a blind eye to. And then, we do sometimes get the Grimesby Roylotts: "Holmes, the meddler! Holmes, the busybody! Holmes the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!"

Boy, how do you not suspect someone's guilty when they raise that much of a fuss? Sometimes, our Grimesby Roylotts are even fellow Sherlockians . . . not the ones who are the first to welcome you, but the sheltered Stoke Moran weirdo who is used to being tolerated by the local villagers. But what did Sherlock Holmes do about Grimesby Roylott?

He just kept being Sherlock Holmes. He listened the Helen Stoner. He looked at the situation for himself. We don't want to say he exposed Roylott's snake, lest we be misinterpreted, but he did give that thing a whap or three. (Man, does "Speckled Band" have subtext!)

But even Sherlock Holmes had a friend who could whisper "Norbury" to him when needed, and a friend who definitely wasn't just a yes-man. It was fun to revisit "Charles Augustus Milverton" last week and again see Watson laying down the law with Holmes about his criminal venture.

"You are not coming," said Holmes.

"Then you are not going," Watson replied. "I give you my word of honour -- and I never broke it in my life -- that I will take a cab straight to the police-station and give you away, unless you let me share this adventure with you."

Holmes tries to shut it down with "You can't help me," but John H. Watson isn't taking any of Holmes's shit on this one, shooting back a "How do you know that?"

It is perhaps Watson's most glorious moment, the one where he shows us that he isn't just the tagalong. He's the partner.

In a time when the Victorian age is just another fantasy world to us, so distant from our own reality that its everyday is nigh impossible to ever know, there is still something for us to love in Sherlock Holmes, just as Edgar Smith found in 1946. Without the distraction of nostalgia for the 1940s equivalent of our 1950s or 1960s, however, I think we can dig a little deeper into the love or Sherlock Holmes and John Watson outside of their old-time trappings. (BBC Sherlock will forever be the proof-of-concept that drove that point home.)

Because there is just so much there to love, especially when the unlovable parts of life might be getting us down.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Elementary, Season Seven, Episode Ten: Devil's foot models!

"Three Students" reference at square one this week! And a VR solving of it at that.

And here's Odin Reichenbach at Holmes and Watson's front door, so -- SPOILERS! -- it's Elementary time! And a podcaster is involved with a true crime movie called "The Devil's Foot," so they're going all in on this one. And a murder walking tour thrown in for the pre-titles corpse discovery

Wait, "The Devil's Foot" happened in 1910 in Elementary world, Tregennises and all? And it wasn't solved by Sherlock Holmes? This is certainly the weirdest means of Canonical tie-in Elementary has done. And Sherlock is helping the guy whose theory solved it sue Hollywood? It's original!

Joan Watson and Marcus Bell are out solving the main case of the week, the corpse found by the murder tour. No, wait, Sherlock is out in the alley. But once Joan and Marcus discover an apartment packed with fashion models, Sherlock magically appears. I don't think anyone has ever questioned Jonny Lee Miller Sherlock's heterosexuality. (No, wait . . . if it's conceivable, someone in fic world has gone there.) But, secret passage to apartment of models is our first commercial break stinger.

If we go by promos, Elementary's place on CBS is being taken this fall by Luke Cage, demon-possession investigator. Guess "No ghosts need apply!" wasn't working out for the network.

I hope Joan does something worth a mention on The Watsonian Weekly's news segment. She's our major media Watson flagship, and we need news!

Wow, Sherlock Holmes can deduce a man is wearing thong underwear by the way he sits down. We're not in Victorian London anymore, Dorothy!

Well, Joan Watson can identify corpse-flies on sight.

I get kinda bored and start playing until MC Autocat comes on, doing his knock-off Daft Punk thing (or maybe Deadmau5 -- cat, mouse, natural parody switch).  Elementary could have an entire dictionary of its "things that are named like generic versions of real world things," which happens in most film and TV, but here it always seems to jump out.

Ooops, everybody is ganging up on someone behind a desk -- that means they're the killer and the show is about done. Elementary has certain "tells" that a familiar viewer gets very used to. And since the criminal has been found, it's time for the over-arching plot thread if it's going to happen . . . and now it's Odin Reichenbach time!

Reichenbach's killer-predicting software predicted a killer that Sherlock and Joan didn't let him stop, so . . . they're supposed to feel guilty for not letting him kill potential killers?

But Sherlock's pappy Morland Holmes is showing up in the preview of next week's show to help Sherlock with his problem, but is it his Reichenbach problem? One starts to envision Sherlock Holmes's dad appearing at Reichenbach Falls when Moriarty is about to fight him. Ah, well, next week is the third-to-last episode, so Morland is due to show up. Going to be a real shame if we don't get Moriarty as well, but, alas, probably too much to hope for.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The fun topic of authorial intent

I do enjoy the thinkers among us. Coming upon a thread by @vulgarweed on Twitter this morning I found some new insights on Conan Doyle and the whole issue of authorial intent, a topic which has bothered me since high school lit class.

I mean, do you remember the first time a teacher tried to tell you that the author wove in this whole under-the-surface theme based on single color or image? The whole "this is what the author was really saying" when it sure seemed like the author was just telling a story of what happened in the story?

Lately I've heard a few folks adamantly asserting that Conan Doyle was obviously a one-man Pride parade of the Victorian era and was pretty plainly bi. It can get a little extreme sometimes, and having spent my own life looking at Doyle sympathetically as a fellow romantic hetero, I will admit that occasionally I start seeing flashes of my old English teacher during those moments and doing a bit of a side-eye. But are they wrong?

@vulgarweed's recent Twiter-thread thoughts on authorial intent gave me some new angles that were much appreciated on the subject. Writing as a writer, @vulgarweed came up with the concept of "authorial surprise," when the writer themselves might not have been completely aware of what they were doing at the time they were doing it, but can see it later on.

That idea really struck a chord with my own Nanowrimo experiences, where jamming a novel out in a single month has you writing without thinking, just letting characters do what they'll do, and occasionally making sharp, veering turns for no reason. (One of my most odd Nanowrimo novels was a romantic comedy where the main character ditched the intended object of his affection for a different minor character midway through the novel -- a complete surprise to me!)  At the end of the month, I usually found that all of the rambling plotting all started to make a certain sense from a sort of aerial view, and that it was easy to bring that plane in for a landing after all.

But did I subconsciously intend for that to happen, or was it just my pattern-recognition skills kicking in once the mass of data was presented to me? We humans are excellent at making patterns out of random elements, as evidenced by the fact I can't stare into the dark without seeing something impossible lurking there every time. (I don't stare into the dark any more than I have to.)

Subconscious planning versus pattern-recognition is practically "nature versus nurture," the sort of debate that it's near-impossible to work out with complete certainty. Even a living, breathing, talking author, whose own brain a work came from, won't claim to understand everything about their own psyche. Surprises come out of our brains all the time. Every night, in fact, unless you're one of those poor souls who can't dream. The only difference between literary analysis and dream analysis is probably that authors have an editing phase to control what goes into the final work, where conscious decisions are definitely made.

Every person gets something different from any given work of art, including the creator. Trying to state what was going on in another person's brain during normal life is hard enough. (Anyone want to theorize about someone else's Starbuck's order?) Trying to do it around a creative moment is nigh impossible. But the attempt must be made, as it teaches us something about ourselves as much as the author.

@vulgarweed concludes with "And very often when an author says 'multiple interpretations are valid' that's not a cop-out, it is the literal truth." Some may have a strong desire to see their own views validated by a creator, but that need for validation is a completely different issue. (Even a creator might be seeking validation for thoughts they put out there.) But art, by its very nature, is something we all approach from our own angle. Accepting that Conan Doyle might have meant a whole lot of things, or maybe even nothing at all, in his creation of Sherlock Holmes, is a part of our Sherlockian journey that's up to each of us to figure out.

Just like whatever your interpretation of this blog post winds up being.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Milverton gives up his secrets

As usual, our monthly meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Story Society at Peoria's North Branch Library was full of lively conversation tonight, ranging from why the St. Louis library-meeting society can only handle a story every two months to the cursed "glass-strewn" versus "grass-strewn" variants of "Charles Augustus Milverton."

Along the way, however, I was struck by two little details that never crossed my path before, and very important details they were.

For one, we all know this is a very different case for Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Not a mystery, but a problem to solve. And we never see just how his client first comes to him as we normally do. We assume it's just consulting detective business as usual. We assume a lot of things.

But two words triggered something in me that changed my entire view of this case. Lady Eva Brackwell, "the most beautiful debutante of last season" in Sherlock Holmes's own words (Let me say that again with emphasis: Sherlock Holmes's own words.)has come to Sherlock Holmes with her darkest secret laid bare to ask his help with Milverton. And Sherlock Holmes goes after Milverton with all he has, and quite emotionally, at that. Milverton raises Holmes's hackles like no other criminal. But just because of the crime of "blackmail" in general? Or something more specific?

Holmes tells Watson of just what Milverton is blackmailing Lady Eva with: "several imprudent letters --  imprudent, Watson, nothing worse -- which were written to an impecunious young squire in the country."  And where are we told in another tale that Holmes's people come from? Country squires.

Was this poor country squire who is so aware of what was in those letters Mr. Sherlock Holmes?

Ah, you might protest, debutante Lady Eva is too young to have been sending letters to a young country Sherlock! But a.) The letters could have been written by a crushing-on-Sherlock tweener Eva Brackwell, and b.) The Milverton case is never dated, and could be a very early Baker Street matter.

Which brings me to point number two about this case: Watson runs two miles after he is nearly caught as one of the two burglars who murdered Milverton. In A Study in Scarlet, John H. Watson is wounded in the shoulder. In The Sign of the Four, Watson is wounded in the leg. What happened in between those two cases? The Milverton matter.

Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard is looking for a guy who can run two miles who had something to do with killing Charles Augustus Milverton. Sherlock Holmes jokes, "Why, it might be a description of Watson!" and Lestrade repeats those very words. Not so funny to the guy who might go to prison for a murder he didn't commit, right? How best to quickly cover up his fitting the description of that suspected killer?

"... a six-mile limp for a half-pay officer with a damaged tendo Achilles." Oh, Watson's aching leg! No way was he that escaping Milverton murderer with that leg! No way at all!

Did Lady Eva come to her "impecunious young squire" to remedy the fallout from her youthful crush? And did Watson fake one of his wounds to avert Lestrade's lawful gaze?

Charles Augustus Milverton wasn't the only one who could draw out the secrets. And another evening with Peoria's Sherlock Holmes Story Society can do that as well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Elementary-sized chunks

During last week's episode of Elementary, I was struck once again by the TV procedural format itself. Each act much come between commercial breaks, with a stinger of a tease to get you to stay through the random ads instead of changing the channel. How many TV viewers are that non-committal about what they're watching? I don't know, but we have a whole art form based on the premise.

So I started to wonder: What if Conan Doyle had been forced to work in a TV writer's room to get his stories on the air? How might our existing Canon have changed?

And so, the idea for this morning's experiment began. Could I take one of the sixty and give it commercial breaks? What extra material would that take? What were the commercial cliffhanger moments? Would a "Yellow Face" or a "Gloria Scott" even work? One of the novels might go easily into it, due to all that material. But one of the shorties? Let's try "A Case of Identity."

As the episode starts, Holmes and Watson are sitting in front of the fireplace at Baker Street having their little debate about how whether truth is stranger than fiction. Watson cites how crude the crimes of the police reports are, hitting upon the Dundas separation case, whereupon Holmes does a conversational riposte and scores one on Watson. Then he shows off his golden snuffbox.

We cut to Hosmer Angel rolling up to his fiancee and her mother in a hansom cab, a bit addle-headedly not realizing they wouldn't all fit in it, then putting the two women in the cab and getting in a four-wheeler to follow. (Never mind, they could have all gotten in that four-wheeler.) The cabs make their way to the church, and when the door to the second cab is opened, Hosmer Angel is GONE! Shocked look on the fiancee's face, roll right into the opening credits and theme music.

So far, so good. Following the story, got the pre-credit *zing!* in, and a nice moment with Holmes and Watson. Doyle did good work.

In the fifteen minutes that follow, Mary Sutherland is immediately present at Baker Street, telling her tale: "I came to you, sir, because I hear of you from Mrs. Etherege, whose husband you found so easy when the police and everyone had given him up for dead."

We could probably get ten minutes out of Mary Sutherland's telling of her tale, with Holmes's questions along the way. Another five minutes of Holmes and Watson discussing her case after she left and the ad describing Hosmer Angel. At this point, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson he should be able to settle the whole case by only writing two letters, because it's so obvious.

Our Canonical tale is about two-thirds done. An episode for CBS is only one-third done. What do we do? Well, in Elementary fashion, that last scene doesn't end with Holmes having the solution practically in hand. It ends with the screeching hard turn.

Inspector Lestrade shows up with news that the French vineyard Mary's step-father worked with had just been caught smuggling rare extra-virgin olive oil from a medieval Italian monastery in its wine bottles. Watson goes with Lestrade to the wine warehouse on the docks where the olive oil was discovered and talks to dock workers there, while Holmes goes to the local monastery of the order of medieval monks to find out what, if anything, they knew about Hosmer Angel. The monks are doing some really kinky stuff with that olive oil, and Holmes eventually gets the chance to tell Watson, "There were no angels at that monastery, Hosmer or otherwise."

James Windibank sends a note that says he's coming by Baker Street to find out if Watson has discovered who is doing the smuggling, and Holmes announces, based on that letter, that he has solved the case. Windibank shows up, Holmes asks Windibank pointedly if he only dates family members, and the true identity of Hosmer Angel is revealed . . . immediately before we go to the last bunch of commercials.

After the commercial break, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson take turns explaining everything that they figured out and scare Windibank straight with the thought that they're going to beat him soundly.

That doesn't seem to have nearly the number of twists and turns as the average Elementary episode, and I don't think the show would spend nearly so long talking to Mary Sutherland as Doyle did. But at it's core, the tale needs a good extra twenty minutes of red herring to fill a prime-time television hour. The basic elements still work, though, with some extra mystery added in. (And possibly a touch of the season's overarching plot . . . "Hey, Odin Reichenbach called. He said he still wants to talk to us.")  And that, after over a century, is kind of nice to see.

Monday, July 22, 2019

JHW -- just a friend or a mainlining murderino?

What drove John H. Watson?

We sometimes see his relationship with Sherlock Holmes as a key, Watson as that friend who is always willing to come along for the ride. We also sometimes see him as a man looking for adventures or whatever it was he got or didn't get in Afghanistan. But after having spent a few days reading about and listening to true crime podcasters Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, I started to wonder if Watson wasn't just a little bit of a "murderino."

"Murderino" is the term the My Favorite Murder podcasters came up with for those whose interest in true crime becomes the past-time of choice. Lately, more than one of my friends or family has become hooked on Netflix documentaries or podcasts on the criminal side of things. And we know Sherlock Holmes was definitely a murderino, as evidenced by that three months of just reading about true crime he once seems to have done.

Yes, yes, all of Sherlocks investigations were notably not murders. But Scotland Yard notably didn't come to him for anything less than the crime of murder, and, after all, removing the murderers from society the most important of investigatory purposes?

We don't get to see a whole lot of John Watson's life when he is completely without Sherlock Holmes. There's just two bits, really -- with Stamford before he meets Sherlock, and in the first half of "The Empty House," when he thinks Holmes has been dead for years. And what is John Watson doing, in that later part of his life, when there's no Sherlock Holmes and he's left to his own devices?

He's visiting a murder scene.

"It can be imagined that my close intimacy with Sherlock Holmes had interested me deeply in crime, and that after his disappearance I never failed to read with care the various problems which came before the public." ("Disappearance" instead of "death" is a bit of a spoiler there from Watson.)

Watson practically uses the words "my favorite murder" when describing his attraction to the killing of Ronald Adair. He spends a whole day reading and considering it, then uses his evening stroll to take a walk to the house where the murder occurred. Does he hope that one of the Scotland Yarders he was familiar with might let him in for a look? One has to wonder.

When Sherlock Holmes disappeared from his life in 1891, John Watson almost immediately began publishing his records of their investigations. He took a break from publishing after December of 1893, but we'll never know just how long that break might have gone on, for three months later, Sherlock Holmes was back and Watson was again too busy for working out his prose.

His pipeline to London's true crime had returned.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Elementary, Season Seven, Episode Nine: The dog welder.

Looks like another Odin Reichenbach episode, if the "previously on" recounting is an omen. Get ready for the spoilers, and maybe a few cries of "Where's Clyde the turtle?"

Since Joan Watson is playing with toy cars on a city layout on the floor as the show opens, it's the kind of scene that once had Clyde in it, and I miss him for a moment. Then the welder-on-welder violence starts, with a little Steely Dan in the background. Awfully mellow music for a murder, eh wot?

KFC is selling Cheeto-coated chicken sandwiches? Are they just targeting the natural curiosity of Elementary-watchers who are now going, "What must that taste like?"

Hearing Sherlock Holmes say "Occupied!" when Watson enters the bathroom without knocking is surely new among Sherlockian quotes. He was working with a safe submerged in the bathtub, however, and not doing the usual bathroom business. But that's a side issue to "the ghost of Brooklyn," a killer who seems to have returned, from DNA at the site.

The suspects in the murder of Caroline the welder start to roll in, and Joan Watson is on it. But Sherlock has found "the ghost of Brooklyn" who was not a killer at all, just a DNA assembly line worker who does lousy work. End of Act One.

Colon cancer tests? And dog food, make-up wipes, wireless network, a women's razor, pain reliever, other CBS shows. An astute Sherlockian might try to profile the average Elementary viewer from the list. My personal deduction is an older woman who is concerned about her safety at home. Except if said Elementary viewer owns that dog for household protection, this episode of Elementary murdered a nice lady with a whole lot of barking dogs right off, so maybe they'd better run home security commercials next.

But Sherlock and Marcus Bell go talk to every dog bit victim in the area to see if Caroline the welder's dog tried to help them identify the killer. And then Sherlock and Joan talk about the whole Odin Reichenbach thing for a minute and the parts Sherlock was keeping to himself. Seems awfully paltry for using the whole "previously on" for it, but we shall see.

Wait . . . "On the Scent" is the name of this episode. Maybe those dogs can still do something in the night-time, or the day-time. If we can get past accusing pink-haired ladies who take thyroid pills. Oh, wait, Ollie the German shepherd seems to be missing. Dogs! End of Act Two.

Home software. More wireless network. Moisturizer. Aussie steakhouse. Hmm. That last one is curious, eh?

Marcus Bell and Captain Gregson get a solo scene, revealing that Ollie was a drug-sniffing dog. We've gone from a ghostly serial killer to random killer bit by a dog to dog-nappers involved in the marijuana industry.

Meanwhile, Sherlock and Joan discuss Odin Reichenbach some more and Sherlock's contacts with "agents of the Crown" who may have something by the time this episode is over.

But meanwhile, Marcus, Joan, and Sherlock have to got to a marijuana gang's off-track betting to follow up on the dog. The ganglord keeps his lawyer behind a wall he can bang on, which is pretty cool for a ganglord. But Joan's snapped a lot of secret phone pics of the screens in the room, and just as Joan and Sherlock deduce it has something to do with trains, Ollie the dog turns up in a trainyard.

Someone stole a million dollars worth of marijuana using Ollie. End of Act Three.

Smartphone on same wireless network. Same pain reliever. Almond milk. Anti-perspirant. Department store. Diabetes medicine. Hmm.

Not much time left to solve the case and hear something about Odin Reichenbach. But this is Elementary, they can do it. Sherlock, Joan, and Marcus confront the killer with all the evidence they have, including things they found out during the commercial break. And just as Ollie the dog backs up their play by finding the stolen pot, our local station breaks in accidentally to promote the 10 PM news. Ollie returns, and . . .

ODIN REICHENBACH!!! In his limo with his own personal Anthea, filling him in on things. And I swear to Godfrey Staunton, she says "John Watson" is getting too close. Really. I'm sure she said "John." But Odin says he's going to handle Joan Watson personally, which is our cliffhanger for next week. And speaking of cliffs, there are only three episodes left and the Wikipedia episode guide says that last episode is "Reichenbach Falls."

Was Odin Reichenbach's main function just to make that title possible? We shall see.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Elementary, Season Seven, Episode Eight: A formula for babies

Sherlock blows off all three Garridebs after solving a yoga ball murder, just to start last week's Elementary! But after six and a half seasons, are we even sure those Garridebs haven't ben mentioned before? I'm almost a week behind on our last ongoing TV Sherlock, but if you're somehow slower than me: SPOILERS AHOY!

Fraudulent kidnap victim Mina Davenport is back, as the continuity tour continues, a veritable "greatest hits" decided by the writers or showrunner. And Mina, a.k.a. Cassie, wants "the best at what you do" to solve a murder. Because this is a murder show, by Saint Jessica Fletcher's ghost!

Cassie is the first client that Sherlock ever decided to keep as a house pet at their brownstone, because he just doesn't trust her. Not the rationale I'd use for keeping someone in my home, but, hey, this is Elementary's Sherlock. He doesn't work like the rest of us do.

The baby formula resale market comes into play, as after seven seasons, this show has to go to some lengths to hit new dark corners of the criminal world to wander until the next twist, and black market baby formula . . . well, I'm sure they'll get away from this part before they have to hire a baby actor. Seems to be a single-thread show so far, which is unusual of late.

The twist comes in a double dose to get us away from baby formula. Cassie makes a weak attempt to convince Joan than Sherlock is her father, Sherlock sees a pattern in Cassie's internet traffic -- Holmes and Watson themselves. Commercial time!

It makes it fun to watch these shows designed for network TV on Netflix and the like, as these story punctuation marks, built to hold our attention through the commercials, have created the pattern they get written in, with an appropriate number of acts.

Cassie the lying liar, though, is our story this week. And, having deduced she has come to him for connection, Sherlock turns guidance counselor. How to find purpose in life for a lying liar? Not a consulting detective career . . . Joan and Kitty have already graduated Holmeswarts, and . . . wait, we're still on baby formula?

State legislature baby formula bills, and . . . wait, the three Garridebs got solved off-screen while we were screwing around with lying Cassie and baby formula? WTF, Elementary! References to the Canon are one thing, but knowing there was a whole 'nother episode we could have watched while this one was going on . . . wait, Odin Reichenbach reference!

Oh, Cassie, you didn't read "Charles Augustus Milverton," did you? Oh, wait, Joan's a consulting detective in this universe and didn't publish it. If she had, though, she might know that blackmailers get killed all the time for confronting their victims alone. Maybe this commercial will give Sherlock time to save her, of maybe Joan will have solved "Three Gables" when we get back. Am I getting snarkier as this season goes on?  Going to have to meditate upon the spin of my DRC rotary coffin and rebalance my Sherlockian chi.

Alan Cumming seems to be CBS's incoming wacky detective with a sensible female partner when Jonny Lee Miller is done. Instinct.

Cassie got lucky, though, and wasn't killed during commercial. She set herself up to be killed later, to catch the real killer, and all that killer-catching happens off-screen, explained afterward by Joan and Marcus Bell. The budget on this show runs really cheap sometimes. But it leaves time for Cassie and guidance counselor Sherlock to talk about changing her name to who she really is. I'd pick "Loki Reichenbach" if I was her, so I could stay on the show the rest of the season.

Anyways, tomorrow night the show is back again with a deadly welder and a pot-sniffing dog. No more baby formula!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sparing you my singing

When I first started working on the Watsonian Weekly podcast, I had a whole lot of ideas. Some made it to the podcast, some were left on the cutting room floor. One of those ideas was a manly song touting Watson's virtues, that, as of tomorrow, only two people will have ever heard. Both of them shall remain nameless for their own protection, except one lives in my house, and is thus probably guessed to have suffered through it all.

But it occurs to me that I can let you in on my song without actually making you listen to my singing. It's a parody song, of course, based on the title tune to a John Wayne movie called Chisum. You can find the original of the opening on YouTube.

The deep-voiced chorus singing and poetic narration by William Conrad about John Chisum translate nicely into a Watson tribute. The chorus slides in easily:

Watson, John Watson,
Weary, battle-worn!
Watson, John Watson,
You're not just Sherlock's pawn.

But what of the William Conrad poetic parts?  Oh, this is where we get to the heart of our friend John H. Watson:

You know that he can solve it. But can you keep that man alive?
Or will he take a beatin’ in some Farnham tap-room dive?
They're betting he’ll get you killed, but you bet your life they're wrong.
So keep riding in that hansom cab to find where you belong.

My recording of it does a lot better in the spoken word part, as I went more Dirty Harry than Cannon (William Conrad's detective character), if that's possible. And Watson just gets more badass in the second stanza.

Well, you've tossed your share of smoke-bombs, shot hellhounds, dogs, and man.
You burgled Milverton’s blackmail -- did you lose that Afghan tan?
You’ve ran a con on barons, and survived the devil’s root.
You escaped a hundred villains, at least those you didn’t shoot.

Boy, John H. Watson is a real man's man, ain't he? If only the host of his fan club podcast could sing! 

So, for now, I'll spare you my vocal rendition and just leave you with the poetry above. Feel free to try singing it yourself for your local Sherlockians, though I doubt "the theme from Chisum" is on anyone's karaoke box.

Arch Enemies

With the announcement of the "Holmes in the Heartland" symposium returning to St. Louis in 2020 (July 24-26! Mark those calendars!), I can't help but dwell a little bit on their planned theme: "Arch Enemies."

For many a happy Sherlockians, Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty are apt to come immediately to mind. For some others, I'd wager, their first or second thought might be of a fellow Sherlockian. Because, despite the grand "Found my tribe!" aspect of our community, it's not that uncommon to encounter someone who, in a Holmes-Moriarty duality sort of way, becomes your mental arch-enemy.

They may not know they're your arch-enemy. (Probably for the best.) And the person they consider their arch nemesis might not be you. (How do I know they probably have an arch-enemy? Because if they were the kind of sweet and lovely person that doesn't, you wouldn't have chosen them, would you?)  Yet even if it goes unspoken on either side, you know it's there.

Is it bad to have an arch-enemy in your hobby?

Well, unless you're actually plotting criminal acts against them, I don't think so. Finding someone who epitomizes all of the things you feel the need to push back against can be a good way to focus your energies, as long as you don't make it personal and go after them as a fellow human. (Surest sign of going to far down that road: The ad hominem argument -- learn it, don't do it.) And, well, recognizing how someone else is an asshole can help you occasionally not do likewise.

Our Sherlockian culture is always going to make us look at our fellow folk and go, "Who are my Watsons? Who are my Mycrofts? Who are my Moriartys?" It can be a worthwhile exercise, especially in considering your Watsons and Mycrofts. Your Moriarty, however, usually won't have to be sought out . . . that person will make themselves known quick enough. And, unfortunately, probably haunt you for most of your Sherlockian career.

I'm sure a few of us will be considering this topic in depth, as we head for July of 2020. It's going to be a very interesting year. (As if they aren't all, of late!)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Size matters, but for ACD, not in the direction one might think.

There is a level of success in the current literary marketplace where word limits no longer exist. You can see it in many a novel series, as the first books are a fairly reasonable length, then later works meander on and on, giving fans more and editors less to do. Digital books have added an egalitarian aspect to the trend, and the massive novel is everywhere.

This isn't to say that the massive novel didn't exist before this century, but when you look at The Complete Sherlock Holmes filling one thick book with four novels and fifty-six short stories, one has to wonder if all those added pages are worth it. Conan Doyle, as we know, wasn't that fond of Sherlock Holmes and treated him a bit like a trip to the bank as time went on -- get in, do what's necessary to get the cash, get back out again. There was never any worry of Conan Doyle dying before he finished anything, as he finished Sherlock Holmes about four or five times.

And it makes you wonder: Would we treasure Sherlock Holmes so much if he had appeared in a sixty-novel series, with at least four of them being epics perhaps worthy of trilogies?

Conan Doyle packed a lot of depth into what he did write, with details and descriptions that Sherlockians have digested for a hundred years so far. (Almost like the fandom is a Sarlacc Pit, and Sherlock a poor Boba Fett.) It's a quality meal worth savoring, not a massive buffet that leaves you wondering what you just went through and why.

Would Conan Doyle be the same writer in the current marketplace? Would he go all J.K. Rowling as the Sherlock books became more popular, eventually giving us a massive-tome version of "Shoscombe Old Place" with tent camping and the actual trout fishing alluded to in the tale? Would The Hound of the Baskervilles had a second half all about Sir Hugo, just as A Study in Scarlet did about Jefferson Hope?

Doyle wasn't so thrilled with Sherlock, so it's hard to imagine him spending all that time writing an eight-hundred page novel when he could get away with a quarter of the length. He'd try screenplays, of course, just to get the cash-to-words ratio maximized as he did as little with Holmes as he could, perhaps, but we recall how well his ventures into theater went. Maybe movies wouldn't have been his thing. (Unless it turned out he had a talent for directing.)

Conan Doyle was such a master of doing more with less in his prose, that it's hard to imagine just where he'd wind up in the current market. Could he single-handedly bring back the short story? (Is it gone? It seems like it is, commercially.) Or would he pull a George R.R. Martin and let HBO finish out Sherlock for him until he got around to it?

It's an entirely different time than when the Sherlock Holmes stories were first published, and one does have to wonder.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Auto-erotic Asphyxiation in the Canon and other Saturday bits

Today was a good day for a drive down to St. Louis to see my friends in the Parallel Case of that same city.

The Saturday afternoon story discussions at their local library inspired me to help start our own Peoria library discussion group a couple of years back, and the Sherlock Holmes Story Society has been doing quite well. It's quite a different animal than our old scion society, the Hansoms of John Clayton, which often suffered from that malady that a few Sherlockian social clubs have passed through over the years . . . socializing overpowering the Sherlock, with members starting to complain that other things were discussed more than the topic we were nominally there to discuss.

The focus upon a story, without the distractions of wait-staff, guests just along for the ride (or to meet the one semi-celeb in the group), or drinking, is one of the most inspirational parts of the Sherlockian life, when a room full of people try to make sense of all those marvelous details that Watson has put to paper for us. This afternoon, for example, "The Resident Patient" --  normally one of the more slender reeds of the Canon -- brought out all sorts of layers I never considered as being in that story before. Missing time. Important letters with content unknown. Victorian cover-ups of the socially unacceptable parts of life, like death due to auto-erotic asphyxiation.

London criminals were up to all sorts of things, and sometimes Scotland Yard just goes with "Oh, they were on a boat that sunk. Cheers!" (I now have to wonder if  even "a curious newspaper cutting reached us from Buda-Pesth" in another tale was just Lestrade passing on another theory that justice was served, even though criminals escaped, and putting another "Case close" check mark in his file.)

I'll let you find the full write-up when it comes to the Parallelogram blog in the next few days, but suffice it to say that the Parallel Case of St. Louis has it pretty well figured out -- Saturday afternoon dedicated discussion followed by a trip across the street to a nearby whiskey house for drinks and an appetizer or two. (Most of us went for a "retired Sherlock" cocktail called "the Bee's Knees," which is the only drink I've ever encountered that just gets better as the ice melts, thanks to its honey-laced ice cubes.)

Good things coming out of St. Louis these days, and an event in one of our old stomping grounds next year. It made for a very pleasant Saturday.

Oh . . . and did I mention that the next Watsonian Weekly got most of its episode recorded there? Coming soon to a pod-player near you!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Are essay collections replacing journals?

After a deluge of notifications for the Kickstarter project of a book entitled Sherlock Holmes is Everywhere, I started to wonder: Is the book of essay collections replacing the journal as a prime place for Sherlockian non-fiction to be published? (I have to use the word "non-fiction" loosely here, because when one writes about how many times Watson gave someone brandy, it could fall into either camp.)

Once upon a time, a journal was the place to get your article published. It hasn't even been that long since The Baker Street Journal has advertised itself as "the journal of record," emphasizing its old role of being the place to get your work seen. The book collecting many articles by many hands, however, is trending pretty hard of late, however, and as I find myself in the role of journal editor for the John H. Watson Society's The Watsonian this summer, that trend's blip is definitely growing larger on my radar.

The article collection book has been an annual event with at least one publisher, at which point it could almost be defined as a "periodical." (Sherlock Holmes started life in an annual periodical, one may recall.) And yet there remains a few definite distinctions between the two that may give the article collection a definite advantage.

Themes, for one. Getting a listing on Amazon, for another. Fitting nicely on a bookshelf, for a third. (We do like our books.) Periodicals of all sorts have definitely suffered at the hands of the internet, where the latest info hits readers faster than paper-and-ink ever could. But a book is usually built with a more timeless goal in mind.

So where do we go with the journal at this point? Do we just depend upon the loyalty of Sherlockian traditionalists, who just like having things as they've always been? How do we make the not-insubstantial investment of a year's subscription worth a newer Sherlockian's money? And what writers do we serve in helping get there ideas in print? That last question might actually be the key.

The journal is still probably the best place for a new Sherlockian writer to see something published, because a.) You get to invite yourself, and b.) You can write the what you want to write. A good journal doesn't box itself in too tightly with expected content, it welcomes the thing that no one saw coming. A decent editor can help you improve your work, if there was some bit you might have overlooked. (Not saying I'm a decent editor, but I've had some good ones along the way.)

Any print publishing is still a waiting game, in a world where blogging and AO3 can put your stuff out there instantly . . . a luxury I've come to love far too much . . . but if you've got the patience to get your work placed in a printed collection that we know collectors and archives are going to hang on to for as long as they can, the Sherlockian journal is a great way to go.

All that said, here's the details on The Watsonian, a very fine journal that is looking for articles right now. The new editor might still be figuring some things out, so there might be a little patience required there as well, but as it's currently in its seventh year, there is some evidence that this thing has a little longevity going for it. Give it a try, with whatever your special Sherlockian talent might be!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

2019 wrapped in a pretty ribbon

Well, I finally managed to get the ribbons off the Baker Street Almanac 2019 without cutting them.

It was smaller in height and breadth than I'd imagined, after hearing the legends of such a thing existing, and taking a look online. And somehow that just made it all the more fantastical a thing.

The Baker Street Almanac series, if you have managed not to hear of it yet (and given that it's only in its second year, that's entirely possible), is a 296-page compilation of Sherlockian data for the previous year, as well as specific lists that extend beyond that. I could list all the wonders that lay inside, but even that hardly does it justice. Editor Ross Davies calls it a time capsule of the year, which it definitely is, but that seems a bit humble as well.

"Herculean labor of love" might come a bit closer. This is no mere amassing of material, an act by itself that would be worthy of praise. It's all of that amazing amount of material carefully curated and pleasantly formatted into a volume worth having. Material running from the mundane to the controversial, from all over the world, gives you a real feeling for just how big the world of Sherlockiana has become . . . and the Almanac is even staying mostly on the familiar main roads. When one looks at all that's in it, and then starts to consider all of that Sherlock stuff out there that isn't in it, the mind starts to boggle. Sherlock Holmes has indeed become like the stars in the night sky.

The Baker Street Almanac is one of those glorious books that one would like to see continue on indefinitely and grow to cover even more material, but unless Ross Davies is a timelord or immortal vampire with lackeys to do his bidding, the limits of being human cannot compete with what our minds envision. We have to enjoy such treats while they last, be it two years or twenty, so I'd definitely recommend diving into this one, either in paper form or its massive PDF edition. 

But if you can do the paper, having that physical object to remind you it's there, along with the beautiful wrapping job you'll puzzle at trying not to take a scissors to, it's well worth the thirty bucks.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Still puzzling over season four

"Give the people what they want." -- Season Four John
"Never do that, people are stupid." -- Season Four Sherlock

It probably goes without saying that there was some weird stuff going on in season four of BBC Sherlock at this point. This week, however, I read an unrelated tweet that a writer named Sam Sykes put out there while hammered. Don't know anything about the guy, but this sentence seemed to have a certain insight to it:

"The nerds who spend years writing about relationships with fictional people are in a WAY stronger position than the nerds who spend years writing about magic systems."

Sherlock Holmes had people saying "You are a wizard!" to him long before Harry Potter, so, for the sake of Sherlockian matters, let's take the phrase "magic systems" in the quote above and substitute "consulting detective methods." Sherlock's very own magic, as he pulled off his latest "trick."

Mystery writers have been trying to emulate Conan Doyle's skill at pulling off the Sherlock Holmes trick for more than a century. Now TV and movie writers are trying to get there as well . . . and in almost every attempt, attempts to repeat those tricks.

In the era following Sherlock Holmes, mysteries almost would up with a technical quality to them. Read a book like Murder Ink, and you can see them analyzed all sorts of ways. The legacy of the 1940s murder mystery scene is one of the nerdiest areas one can get into. So what does all this have to do with season four of BBC Sherlock?

I think someone was trying to have it all -- relationship stories AND the Sherlock Holmes magic. And trying way too hard at forcing the two together.

All of the original Sherlock Holmes stories had relationship stories in them -- about the clients. Holmes and Watson came in as the frame around those relationship stories. Sherlock didn't spend a whole story tracking down Mrs. Watson. He did set a "Dying Detective" trap using Watson, but it didn't involve a troubled, grieving Watson who had to fly into cathartic violence. And giving Sherlock Holmes an origin mystery that tears through his entire life . . . well, it's hard to be a "wizard" and amaze the client when you are the client and just unveiling your own personal trauma.

Relationship stories can be great. Mystery stories can be great. Something about trying to do Sherlock-level with both at the same time, however?

I have to wonder if that's a dangerous mix.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Elementary, Season Seven, Episode Seven: Dwy (ya gotta harass) 'er?

So, time to stop the Netflix Stranger Things binge to look in on Joan Watson and her Sherlock for this weekend's Elementary watch. SPOILER TIME!

Hey, we're starting with a speech from Captain Dwyer, as he pays tribute to the returning Captain Gregson is a precinct office ceremony with a giant badge for good old "Tommy" Gregson, handed over by Marcus Bell.

That giant badge thing is kinda weird, really.

And Tommy's officers are already starting to quit. Probably going to join the Odin Reichenbach secret conspiracy of justice. Cut to some obviously doomed lowlife, and his girfriend's homecoming money trail to his obvious corpse. Somebody has to die before the opening credits, right? It's like ritual sacrifice.

No Joan or Sherlock in the show yet. I'm going to miss Captain Dwyer, as ol' Tommy Gregson is just soooo sleepy.

Side thought: One would guess that the ratings on this episode, which ran Fourth of July night opposite all the fireworks everywhere, were probably in the toilet. As the only original programming besides televised fireworks, the episode pulled in 2.94 million viewers, with really wasn't that far behind the 3.09 million of the week before. One could theorize that demonstrates Elementary viewers care more about seeing their show than holiday fireworks.

Uh-oh. Gregson is questioning Joan Watson about Captain Dwyer's history of sexual harassment. WHAT THE HELL?!?! First Bill Cosby and now Captain Dwyer? Just goes to show, you can't have heroes anymore, unless they're fictional and their Canon has been sealed for nearly a hundred years.

Joan is questioning Sherlock about Dwyer's alleged harassment now. The main mystery is about drugs, at first, and now about cat allergies. That's our Elementary, jumping from thing to thing, but drugs and cat allergies are really kind of dull for the show's usual choices.

Since Gregson is blaming his officer quitting on potential sexual harassment by Captain Dwyer, without any actual accusation from the officer, I'm still thinking it's a red herring for her joining Odin Reichenbach's crew. Because Reichenbach isn't getting mentioned at all so far, and something in this episode has to tie to his over-arching season plot.

Drugs to cat-allegies to Russian spies to kindergarten class . . . oh, Sherlock, don't you stripper-shame that kindergarten teacher! That's pretty scummy. But Tommy's going to confront Dwyer about his potential sexual harassment, so moving on, Dwyer seems a little offended by the suggestion. I mean, he gave Tommy that giant badge and all.

Gregson and Marcus Bell and Sherlock and Joan have one of those low-voiced four-way conversations that make this a good nine o'clock show -- it won't disturb the neighbors. Kinda making me sleepy, though, like an episode of a certain low-voiced podcast I occasionally check in on. They do like to talk the quiet talk on this show.

But we have Watson working on a bulletin board of conspiracy photos, and Sherlock's explanation of his system. And I do like a tip on Holmesian method.

Holmes: "You've forgotten my new color coding system already: Red lines indicate ownership, blue is a familial relationship, green denotes a financial connection . . ."
Watson: "Pink is for kissing cousins, purple means two suspects same karaoke duets."
Holmes: "You mock me."

Back to our Russian spy lady and Sherlock at a nice coffee shop, where she has a guy blown up across the street by adjusting her scarf. That's pretty sweet.

Oh, but Tommy Gregson is back to chasing down Dwyer's sexual harassment. And the officer leaving is calling the whole department to task for the harassment. Apparently, Gregson was the only guy NOT harassing people, but at least we have an actual accusal now, instead of Gregson making that giant leap just from having someone quit ten minutes after he was back on the force. The writing of this plot thread has left a little to be desired. Not sure how they're going to bring this home.

And, Joan Watson just solve the case by paying attention to her surroundings while Sherlock wasn't. This is definitely not Rathbone and Bruce.

Oooo, cat hair DNA testing to prove a murder. Seems like a little bit of a reach when it actually comes to trial.

Well, Gregson at least got his departing officer to out Dwyer for sending swimsuit photos of her to other officers. She's quitting anyway, because she likes her new job better than hanging around Gregson's precinct.

With that, the show is over, and Odin Reichenbach is nowhere to be seen. Seemed like a bit of a snoozer this week, but with the fireworks going on outside, one could see why they tucked this episode into this particular week. On to next week.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


Looking over one's Sherlockian endeavors, past and present, one question always arises: "Why?"

Yes, yes, we love Sherlock Holmes, et al, but reading and watching Holmes would be enough, if that was all there was to it. Why do we have this need to do something more? Why write articles that a hundred people might read. Why give a talk to a room with a dozen people in it? Why throw things out on the internet with no guarantee of any audience at all?

Dreams of obtaining fame and fortune via Sherlock Holmes are only for the most naive among us, even though some glimmer of that mirage may still flicker in the back-brain of even an old hand. So why do we go that extra mile? Why do we work on bizarre niche projects like ultra-rare-pair fic, chronologies, or deep, deep trivia?  Love of Holmes, yes, but what else? How much of what we do would we do if we were on a desert island with no hope of human contact ever again?

Some of it, perhaps, if we have the time and resources. But a large part of what we do comes from the human connection, I suspect. Not fame, fortune, and the adoration of the masses, but simply to have one other human being go, "Yes! That makes perfect sense! I love that, too!"

It's about acceptance, really. No matter how strange an idea one puts out there regarding this oddball detective guy, you can usually find at least one Sherlockian to accept your thoughts on the matter. And why not? The core of the Canon itself is one regular-seeming British ex-army medico accepting a complete weirdo as not just a friend and companion, but a room-mate. It's all about acceptance.

I was really struck by this fact as we came to the end of Pride month, and the many, many LGBTQIA folk we see represented in Sherlockiana of late. But then, Sherlockiana has always been an accepting community of varied lifestyles of its members. Many of the first folks I met from each of the alphabetic list at the start of this paragraph have been Sherlockians, going far back before the last decade's wave. Sherlockiana accepts those outside the majority fence, because it's a part of the very identity John H. Watson gave us, whether he was gay or straight.

Which is why those little corners of our hobby where acceptance wasn't freely practiced have always irritated just a little more. The gender-specific clubs. The exclusive "right kind of folk" clubs. We don't have many of those, but the ones we do have stick out like a Big Mouth Billy Bass on the wall at 221B Baker Street. And a few folks do seem to get upset when you point that out.

Today, here in America, it isn't just "America Day." It's Independence Day. The day when a young nation stood up to tyranny and said, "Nope!" It was a day when the people of this part of this continent decided to part ways with a king and country that said acceptance was conditional. "You pay your taxes, you bend the knee, then we'll keep accepting you as a part of our empire." Acceptance, you see, is something that you can give yourself. It's the first step toward declaring independence, accepting that you yourself are worth the struggle.

I like where this hobby is headed, when I step back and look at the big picture. The ideas are growing wider, the diversity is getting more varied, and Sherlock Holmes isn't even always a British white dude all the time now. And I think I can accept that.

Happy Independence Day, fellow Sherlockians!  (Even if you're not American, it's still the day we beat those aliens that one time, right?)

Monday, July 1, 2019

An uncelebrated Sherlockian periodical

Last week I ordered the 2019 Baker Street Almanac, based on Rob Nunn's review in this week's episode of the Weekly Watsonian, which takes on the challenge of annually compiling a whole lot of Sherlockian data from each year in book form. It made me start to think about all of the great Sherlockian data sources out there that aren't in print, and, this being the first of the month, I quickly ran into one that definitely qualifies in that category:

The episode notes for the Three Patch Podcast.

Now, if you're not into podcast, you might not be familiar with episode notes. Most are just a summary of the current episode. A recent Pod Save America had two sentences for episode notes. Conan O'Brien has a similar paragraph about his podcast guest, along with contact info (stealing that idea) and links to his sponsors. My Favorite Murder gets by with a brief sentence or two.

The Watsonian Weekly for this week ran simply "We get a gathering of Watsons especially for Pride month, a Jezail bullet review, a review of the year review, a review of an Irene Adler review of Watson, and Watson behaving badly." The Baker Street Babes Podcast, with its return this week, did a better job, with a few more sentences and a link to the topic at hand. I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere has gotten very long of late, adding sponsor and Patreon info. Talk About Sherlock from Mattias Boström does a couple neat paragraphs. I Grok Sherlock does a single paragraph.

But Three Patch Podcast, with a whole month between episodes?

They use their time and numbers well. From the segment timestamps to their final APA citation "how to," it takes about seven scrolling swipes to go end-to-end of their episode notes. Comprehensive shownotes give credits to their many voices, editors, producers, and contributors, of course, but their also give you every possible link to the subjects referenced, the fics they recommend, anything and everything you could want.

If you were on a desert island that somehow allowed only one podcast, but still gave you full internet access, you could entertain yourself for the whole month with everything they give you in those episode notes. Trust me, as a person who attempted to read all of their fic recs in a single month, that is no exaggeration. And it's all formatted perfectly as well!

Ironically, the one piece of info I couldn't find as I went through this month's show notes was a credit to say who created the episode notes. It might fall under some larger set of duties, like the episode producer, and thus no one feels the need to call that person out for that job, but now that I'm producing a couple of podcasts myself, and always dropping in some last-minute bit of so-so copy for notes as I push it to the web, the document that comes out with each Three Patch has entranced me like it's most beautiful character of some fairy tale.

Take a look yourself sometime. It's really something that listeners might gloss over that should be given as much applause as a segment of the podcast itself.