Friday, January 31, 2020

That sure wasn't written for me!

There's a lot of Sherlockian work out there that just wasn't written for us.

I can think of no better example of this than a work that goes back almost fifty years, entitled Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective. I mean, do you know of any current Sherlock Holmes fans who are avid bridge players? Whist makes sense as a neo-Victorian "Let's do something that almost happened in a Sherlock Holmes story!" kind of way, but bridge?

It feels like you should be gathering around a 1950s card table with mini-pigs-in-a-blanket and something in a highball glass. In 2005, fifteen years ago, The New York Times reported that about 3 million people still played it once a week, and that total bridge players were less than a third of those playing poker. In the 1940s, forty-four percent of American households had at least one person who played bridge, but as entertainment and game options grew, those generations to whom it was most popular starting aging out. Like fans of Bix Beiderbecke, you can still find loyal adherents out there if you look hard enough, but the chances of getting invited to a Dungeons and Dragons night far outpace those of a bridge night invitation.

I'm not trying to crap on bridge here, but what I am trying to say is, I cannot read Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective or its sequel, Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective Returns. Author Frank Thomas also wrote some other Holmes pastiches that I can read easily enough, but a book that walks through Holmes and Watson playing bridge, hand by band, showing the cards? That might as well be in a foreign language.

Foreign language Sherlock Holmes books? Also not written for those of us that don't speak the language. And most of us are smart enough not to get angry at Sherlock Holmes books written for non-English speakers in a non-English tongue.  We can also probably let a bridge book off the hook.

It gets a little harder is a book or movie in our own native language with our favorite and familiar characters to look at ourselves objectively to judge whether or not we are in that book's target audience. And most times, you don't know for sure until you're well into it, which makes it even harder to objectively go "my reaction is my own, and I shouldn't expect everyone to have the same feelings."

We all like what we like. The thing that keeps Sherlock Holmes, Bridge Detective on my shelf is the fact that I don't like it, and I don't dislike it. It just is. I wish we could react to more books, movies, etc., that other people love with that same cool distance. Some books just aren't written for us, but that doesn't mean they weren't written for somebody.

And sometimes, it's even enlightening to meet that person and have a little chat. Perhaps someday I'll have time to see what a bridge guru can tell me about that book.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Sherlockian path

I've been pondering lately the paths we walk as Sherlockians. In the last decade it seems like I look to one side and see researchers and documentarians putting together collections and histories, and then I look to another side and see creators of every stripe expressing their passion in the same way this thing came to them originally, or as their muses call, expanding that universe.

Something about our human brains always wants to put things into a binary system, and did you see what I did there? I just tried to shove a diverse landscape into two distinct countries, probably just because I have a right hand and a left hand, a left brain and a right brain, etc. But the world isn't really that way. The world is what we see when we spin. All the things and all the things in between those things, and above and below as well.

And Sherlockiana is, most certainly, the world. With our added pop-ups for "Hey, that exit ramp is 221!" and "This Arby's sandwich is basically what Holmes put in his pocket in that one story!" or . . . well . . . history. We look at the world and try to capture those parts of it that bond us to characters we just want to hug with our brains, in a scholarly fashion, in a creative fashion, in a celebratory fashion, but mainly in a connective fashion. In wanting to hug Holmes and Watson, we seem to inevitably want to pull others close as well.

I mean, i can write about Sherlock Holmes all day long. Dig through the books, find all sorts of trivia and conspiracy theories that amuse the hell out of me, but at some point, I always want to share some of that joy with someone, just to prove that this joy I found actually exists. There's an affirmational aspect to our Sherlockian connections, a go-to place where we know that someone just might get it, more often than if you walked into a random venue full of people. And those core aspects of Sherlockiana are present in all of our endeavors, whether in tuxedo or t-shirt, whether in footnotes or video.

While it can be easy to get so wrapped up in your own Sherlock specialty that you start to judge others as lesser for their very different way of walking the Sherlockian walk . . . and boy, is that easy for some of us (Note the use of "us" -- lord, am I judge-y.) . . . it's important to get back to the root of it all now and then and just go, "It's all good." Because if you focus your eyes just right, it actually is.

And it's definitely not just two paths.

(Postscript: I really was intending to get philosophical and write this post before I watched the finale of The Good Place. Really I was. That inspired entirely different philosophical thoughts.)

Sherlock and John's Anniversary, belated

One hates being late to a party, but when one has to figure out the address of the party at the last minute, that will happen.

Yesterday the Johnlock tweets started flying with the word anniversary, it was plain something of importance happened ten years ago, and I knew BBC Sherlock is now about a decade old, but it seemed rather late in the month for show dates. Some fanfic event? The Crobabies nuptials?

Nope. The real deal. Chronology 2.0, baby!

It was this morning until I could start tracking things, and the RadioTimes was on it. According to John Watson's official blog, Sherlock and John met on January 29th, 2010. As with all Sherlockian chronology matters, some small amount of belief must enter the picture, and in this case it's the year -- not specified in the blog, but assumed as the year it came out.

The January 29th date is on much more solid footing than some other claims I've seen that Victorian Holmes and Watson met on New Year's Day, and I'd bet one could make a case for bumping those guys' meeting to January 29th as well, giving us a little rest from celebrating Sherlock Holmes's birthday before getting to the big anniversary. And as Holmes's birthday is based on the flimsiest of premises, putting the anniversary on the 29th is not a big deal. (Besides, Christmas on December 25? The biggest holiday in Christendom, and just as arbitrary. So why not?)

The anniversary of the day Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson met is a grand Sherlockian day no matter who you are, and the January 29th date seems a lot more popular than Christopher Morley's belief in January 1, 1881. That dude has messed with us enough picking Holmes's birthday out of a hat to honor his brother. And besides, we already have a holiday on January 1. Let's save a special day for our special boys.

So happy belated anniversary, John and Sherlock! I'll get you a card on time next year, I promise!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Breakfast with Sherlock and John

Breakfasts are kind of a big thing in the Sherlock Holmes universe. One Holmes cookbook author called them "the preeminent Sherlockian meal." And while we foodies might like to get into the details of the hard-cooked cooked eggs from a new cook at Baker Street (Wait! There was a new cook? What happened to Mrs. Hudson?) or why a Scotch-woman might think curried chicken went with ham and eggs (Oh, wait, maybe that's what.) the subject that has most interested me lately (until I started on these parenthetical side issues that I'm now wondering about) is not the what was for breakfast, but the who was in for breakfast.

Lord, was there ever a worse introductory paragraph?

In any case, like most Sherlockians would probably agree, having breakfast at 221B Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson would be a treat most of us would give much for. More people get to eat breakfast with the boys than any other meal, but that doesn't mean they were just inviting anyone to breakfast. Let's take a look at who got their morning meal at Baker Street.

Well, speaking of the curried chicken with ham and eggs, served under fancy salvers, we have Mr. Percy "Tadpole" Phelps, an old school-fellow of Watson's and the only man ever to kiss Sherlock Holmes in the Canon. Sure, Holmes wants to prank Phelps at the breakfast, but given that Watson introduces us to Phelps by talking about how he used to play whacking pranks on the guy, it reveals what might be an ongoing friendly bit of fun between Percy and John. There's enough evidence of something there to elevate Percy Phelps to the level of Baker-Street-breakfast-worthy.

The Baker Street irregulars show up at breakfast time, but they don't get any of the ham and eggs, just the usual shillings, though I bet they'd have enjoyed sharing some of it. As it is, Watson just talks about giving the leftovers to Toby the dog. Poor lads.

Victor Hatherley, Watson's surprise patient in "Engineer's Thumb," gets a Baker Street breakfast, but as his invitation comes at a time when Watson is living out on his own, I have a feeling that Watson is using Hatherley to get himself a Baker Street breakfast again. Still, as I mentioned in this week's episode of The Watsonian Weekly, both John and Sherlock seem to get on very well with young Hatherley.

A second old friend of Watson's has breakfast with the pair, but the one time we know of, it's not at Baker Street but his own house. That friend would be Colonel Hayter, whom Watson took care of in his short time as an Army medico in Afghanistan. Watson has seen Hayter enough to get repeatedly invited down to Surrey, so might not one of those occasions involved a Baker Street breakfast as well? We don't know for certain, but I'd give it an increased likelihood.

Inspector Lestrade supper and a nap on the sofa, but surely he had to get at least one morning meal with his Baker Street boys, though I'm not remembering one at the moment. I sure hope he got one in. It's a wonder we Sherlockians and Watsonians don't do more breakfasts rather than dinners in celebration of all the times Holmes and Watson were together at that particular meal. And when someone else got to share it with them in the stories, we can only live vicariously through that lucky soul.  Were there more than those above? Did Stamford ever get the "old friends" perk of breakfast at 221B?

It all makes me hungry just to think about it.                               

Friday, January 24, 2020

Knife versus chair

The Granada television adaptations of Sherlock Holmes are best known for two things: Jeremy Brett and faithful adaptation. Last night's close look at "Second Stain" with the Sherlock Holmes Story Society, however, brought my attention to something they weren't so faithful at adapting . . . and probably with good reason.

There's a point in "Second Stain" where Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope is describing the murder of the French spy Eduardo Lucas, she relays the following: "There was a savage struggle. I saw him with a chair in his hand, a knife gleamed in hers. I rushed from the horrible scene, ran from the house, and only next morning in the paper did I learn the dreadful result." Even in the first newspaper account of the crime, we read that Lucas died with chair in hand. They literally had to pry the chair from his cold, dead hand.

Now, perhaps I am more sensitive to weaponized chairs than most, having long watched professional wrestling and also been a fan of the movie Holmes and Watson where the good Watson uses a chair to take out the giant Braun Strowman, but chair versus knife and knife wins? I have doubts.

Perhaps it was his wife's complete rage that gave knife the advantage. Perhaps it was close quarters and Lucas couldn't get a full swing with the chair. Perhaps Lucas wasn't as strong as Watson, or picked too heavy a chair like some Serta recliner of the Victorian era. But I'd think a good chair smash would slow down knife lady enough to disarm her.

I would suspect myself of wrestling fantasy, much like many a gun enthusiast has wild west quick-draw fantasies of dealing with mass shooters, but we actually had a local case of an ex-soldier stopping a knife-wielding attack at a library with a chair in one of the Peoria suburbs in the last couple of years. Eduardo Lucas was no soldier, but still, the chair seemed to have done the trick.

Granada television plainly saw the problem with Lucas and the chair, as they disarmed him for their adaptation of the scene, letting him take on knife-lady with his bare hands. (Thanks to Mary Reilly for digging up that scene for me.) And I think it was a good choice.

Chairs have reach. Chairs have force. Saying "Don't bring a chair to a knife fight!" isn't nearly as effective as the old trope "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight!"  But in Eduardo Lucas's case, that chair doesn't seem to have worked out at all. Still, old wrestling fan that I am, I'd like to have seen him get a couple of chair shots in before taking that knife to the chest.

Maybe next adaptation?

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Explain this one, Holmes!

Here's a little mystery that came up during tonight's Sherlock Holmes Story Society discussion of "The Adventure of the Second Stain," and it's a baffler.

At a key point in the story, Watson tells us: "Upon the fourth day there appeared a long telegram from Paris which seemed to solve the whole question."  Watson then goes on to reprint the entire "telegram," which he reads to Holmes.

What he reads, in the middle of its first line is the bracketed phrase "[said the Daily Telegraph]" giving the impression Watson is reading from the newspaper. But we were just told that it was a long telegram from that gave the information about who killed Eduardo Lucas. But the Daily Telegraph is a London paper . . . .

So the Paris police sent a long telegram of what they read in a London newspaper?

Don't worry. It gets worse.

If the Daily Telegraph was, true to its name, reprinting a telegram from the Paris police, where did the Paris police (or even a reporter for the Daily Telegraph) get a witness who was paying enough attention to Godolphin Street on a particular night to see a particular woman watching the house, along with somehow knowing that a woman who looked the same was being over-dramatic as she passed through Charing Cross station. The mix of Paris and London information in this single news source, combined with witness information that would have been extremely hard to coordinate without CCTV cameras or smartphone video, actually makes one start to wonder: Did somebody just make up this entire story, maybe a the end of a run of such stories, when they were getting tired and inattentive to detail?

Oh, heaven forbid, no!

When one fully considers the details of this murder mystery that Sherlock Holmes allows this telegram/article by the Paris police/Daily Telegraph to solve for him, one quickly starts to suspect that there was a much longer, more involved case here that someone decided to shorthand in a way that could condense two greater parts, the murder solution and the recovery of the letter, into one short story. Not exactly novel length in the whole, but a bit too long for The Strand Magazine, a thirteenth story tacked on to a series of twelve for unknown reasons, there is plainly more to "The Adventure of the Second Stain" than meets the eye.

We already know that this "Second Stain" isn't the one we were teased in the opening of "Naval Treaty." Or was it, and the true story is much longer an more involved than we ever realized.

Something is definitely going on here. But what?

Why wasn't the world prepared?

"It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared."
-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"

Robert Perret brought up this particular little gem of a line today, pointing out what a gatekeeper Sherlock Holmes is about that big rodent. Holmes quickly changes the subject to vampires the minute it comes up and makes Watson pulled down a book to look up "vampires," even though Holmes plainly knows what they are, as he refers to them being "a Grimms' fairy tale."

Why the distraction? Why not just tell Watson? By the time of "Sussex Vampire," Watson has surely been privy to England's greatest state secrets among Holmes's cases already. And if Watson was editing it out of the story, why even include the line at the end of the letter that requires Holmes to remark on the name "Matilda Briggs." No, Sherlock Holmes has a secret, and he's plainly keeping it from even his most trusted friend.

So now our question becomes, why so secret?

"We have not forgotten your successful action in the case of Matilda Briggs," E.J.C. of the law firm Morrison, Morrison, and Dodd writes. Even "E.J.C." seems to want to keep his full name a secret. But why? What action could Holmes have taken that he wouldn't want Watson to know about? Time to spin some theories!

Theory One: 

Sherlock Holmes was lying and Matilda Briggs was the name of a young woman. I mean, the first words out of his mouth after reading the letter are "Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson," before Watson even says a peep. Did Watson's eyes light up in a "Oooooo, Sherlock might have had a girlfriend!" teenage gossip way? Or was "young" Holmes overplaying his hand a little bit, because it was a young woman. And Holmes pulled an "Agatha" on her, getting engaged while in disguise, and maybe even going further with Matilda and pulling a Hatty Doran on the wedding day. Holmes definitely wouldn't want to tell Watson he bailed on an actual marriage. Maybe Sherlock Holmes was the actual "giant rat of Sumatra."

Theory Two:

Whoa, I like that Theory One way too much. I should stop here. But let's go on . . .  what else is the world not prepared for? Holmes quickly turns to the supernatural subject of vampires and dismisses it with "No ghosts need apply." Was Matilda Briggs a ghost story? Was that why E.J.C. sought Holmes out for vampire dealings, as he'd already dealt with a ghost for Morrison, Morrison, and Dodd? But Watson wrote a whole novel about Holmes's successful action against a demonic hound, so the world would probably be okay with that. Unless Holmes himself served as John Constantine in the matter and actually performed some hoodoo. "You're a wizard, Sherry!"

Theory Three:

Rats are gross. A great big rat is probably the grossest of all. The world is not prepared for something involving a whole lot of rat feces on any given day. 'Nuff said.

Theory Four: 

Holmes was using the word "ship" as slang for "relationship" way before anyone else, thus making it a ship called "Matiggs" or "Brilda," as the hidden love of Matilda and Briggs was not something the world could handle. Frank A. Briggs, the fifth governor of North Dakota, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, the progressive writer who spoke out for women, Native Americans, and other causes long before we tend to think of such activism existing. The mere thought of shipping her to a North Dakota politician is pretty nuts, so, yeah, world not prepared.

Theory Five:

WHO THE HECK IS E.J.C.?  Is he the whole reason for the dodge? Edward J. Cullen? You mean the Twilight novels are true, and Holmes was covering for those sparkle vampires all along? "Hey, Sherlock, somebody's about to expose us! Deal with it so I can keep going to high school and dating young girls, and not get found out, like Matilda Briggs almost did. Good job on that! Love, Edward J. Cullen, actual vampire." I suspect Matilda Briggs as being the mother of Edwards earlier Bella Swan.

Okay, if I've wandered onto Twilight turf, it's time to shut this theory session down. Logical synthesis is a rather tricky bit of the Holmes method, eliminating the impossible needs to come in quick, but I'll have to let you handle that part. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Sherlockian brain synch

This post might give away how slowly I read non-fiction, but do you remember a few posts ago when I mentioned reading You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy, and its reference to the Algonquin Round Table? The Algonquin has its Sherlockian connection to some of us, but moving on to chapter two I ran head-on into a more direct Sherlockian connection, which is making me start to wonder about what Kate Murphy's hobby might be.

In the book's second chapter, Kate Murphy relates a a neuroscience experiment that took place at Princeton University, where one subject would listen to another subject describe a scene from BBC Sherlock. Brain waves from both subjects were monitored, and it found that the brain of the person listening to someone talk about BBC Sherlock started to have the same neural patterns as the person who had watched the show. Their brains started synching up.

Does this work with every subject in the world? Maybe. But thanks to that Princeton experiment, we know for certain it works with Sherlock Holmes!

That explains a lot about my state in coming away from 221B Con each year. The amount of different people that I listen to across the hourly panel discussions, added to the other random chances to converse and listen, make for a whole lot of different brains lending their patterns to synch. And by the end of the three days spent at the con, I know we're all just a little more attuned to that community of folk than when we arrived.

But Sherlockians have always been synching up, for as long as I can remember. It's a part of why we do it, finding this one set of human-shaped concepts moving through a word-sequenced set of sixty paths that starts our initial recognition of a familiar carrier of that pattern. (Ooooo, suddenly Sherlockian fandom sounds like an alien parasite invasion, doesn't it? What if Conan Doyle was infected by a word-virus from the ether that he transmitted to others via his pen? It's Five Million Years to Earth, but with a giant glowing Sherlock appearing over London. Well, this just took a dark turn. Time to exit this parenthetical.)

Anyway, to get simple for a minute to tie this off: Sherlock friends good. Book tell Brad that.

Sherlock Holmes and the Serial Book Murderer

A cute little item came along the Twit-feed yesterday about someone cutting a copy of Infinite Jest in half for portability and being called "a book murderer" by a friend. And it made me laugh, not just because I think Infinite Jest should be sold in pieces, for those of us that bailed on it under a hundred pages in, but also because "You call that guy a book murderer? Pish posh!"

Because if you love books, and I mean really love books, you've probably had to put a few down over the course of your life. I've walked one outside and spiked it into the garbage in a moment of passion. I've tossed dozens of books out a two story window into a dumpster. I've burned books. And I've lovingly dissected a book to look at its component parts, then used parts from different books to assemble a Frankenstein's monster of a book. If books had their own FBI's most wanted list, I . . . well, honestly, I don't think I'd even be on it.

For the truth of it is, as much as we donate books to library, museum, or church book sales to ease our consciences, not all those books sell and the next rung on the book chain doesn't always want all that either. Books get water damaged. School textbooks live horrible lives and become the most unwanted thing of all. And while one can live in an ivory, bookshelf-lined tower, at some point, somebody has to take out the trash, especially if you're in the book business, even temporarily.

And also, burning a book can be therapeutic, even if it's the only copy in existence. Add that to my list of crimes, though suspend the sentence as it was my own novel.

But even the biggest book serial killers among us have their weak spots. This year I'm flying down to 221B Con, which means a couple of banker's boxes of books that I've set aside this year won't wind up on a giveaway table until next year. Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle get spared an uncertain fate in a local book sale time after time, as I've seen what happens to those books, and I'm not a complete psychopath. Have I ever sacrificed a Sherlock Holmes book on purpose in the dark of night? Well, I won't say . . . something, mumble, mumble, mumble. Every religion has its holy book, and Sherlockiana comes damned close to being a religion for some of us.

Yet even if you spare Sherlock, I recommend taking out at least one of the paper bastards that dominate our lives, just to show them who's boss. And can't you think of at least one that deserves killin'? If you can't, you probably don't read enough, or have limited yourself to that one sacred topic. Or just spend your time reading internet fic, the one place you can place a novel and know it will never be burned . . . maybe just evaporate one day as the tech fails.

Sherlock Holmes is in no danger of disappearing from our culture anytime soon, so I'm sure he's not worried about the book murderers out there any more than he was worried by Moriarty, Moran, or any of the fifty others who wanted him dead. And I would wager Sherlock murdered more than one book himself during his career . . . hmmm. We're going to have to think about which one that might have been now, aren't we? (Not the royal "we," I'm including you.)

Monday, January 20, 2020

A second hand first time.

We all get only one first time. Thirty-three years ago, I had mine.

This weekend, however, was a pleasant little echo of that experience, thanks to reports and pictures from my friend Rob Nunn getting to do his first trip to the Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in New York City. Now, Rob and I are two very different cats (excuse the dated hipster slang, but I'm feeling it tonight). I love "Holmes and Watson." Rob thinks that's daft. Rob is a major mover in the Beacon Society. I was the one person at their very first recruitment meeting who didn't think the Beacon idea would work. (Rob gets to be right about Beacon, I, then get to be right about H&W, right?) Anyway, as different as we are, there are things we share as humans and Sherlockians.

Like the way we think of our fellow Sherlockians as celebrities. Sure, we do have some actual celebrities, names people other than Sherlockians know. But then there are the people we have heard of and read for years. The people on our shelves, our walls, and our Twitter feeds. The event-runners, the podcasters, the dinner speakers, the editors, and the legends. When you get to go somewhere and get all of those people in one place, at a point in your life where some of them know who you are as well . . . that's a pretty good moment.

Sure, there are some nice bookstores in New York. There's a dealer's room that'll drain off any excess cash after you shop the stores. There's a fancy dinner in fancy clothes, a fun dinner where you can where fancy clothes as well, a speaker, an auction, cocktails, etc. But not a lot of Big News comes out of the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend every year, because mostly people are just enjoying the company of their fellow Sherlockians. That's huge.

It was fascinating to look at all Rob's pictures and then dig out my album of pictures from my 1987 trip. The first thing you notice? More than one gender! Rob's pictures would actually give you the idea that there are now more women in New York for Sherlock's birthday weekend than men. In my little album, you have to get to the last two pages to see anyone who isn't male. And then, there's only four: Teddie Niver, Dore Nash, Evelyn Herzon, and Tina Rhea. Seems like a lot when you push the names together like that, but if you had to flip through all the suit-and-tie guys I had to get past to get to them . . . yikes!

The second thing I picked up from all of Rob's reporting was how much the social whirl has grown in the past three decades and change. It didn't happen all at once, and definitely had increased from that 1980s start to the last time I was there, but the expansion doesn't seem to be letting up. New York is a great metropolis with so much to do, but it's a real testament to our hobby that with all those other things to do and sites to see, we'd all just rather see each other. (I know it was my third or fourth trip before I saw a Broadway show, the Empire State Building, the library, or any museum.)

But while it was grand to see Rob enjoying the hell out of the weekend and all its denizens, seeing it all from a distance was good enough. Sherlockians can be found in less bustling towns with easier dress codes, and 221B Con really scratches the big event itch for me while constantly showing me something new. And I still wonder why there's never been a Sherlockian event in Las Vegas, because . . . hey, it's Las Vegas. I definitely have a feeling that Rob will be back in NYC again, though, and that makes me smile.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Listening and the Algonquin

In one of life's odd coincidences, I started reading You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy on the very same weekend that many a friend and acquaintance is enjoying the Baker Street Irregulars functions in New York. The coincidence was not because nobody wasn't listening, but because in the very first chapter, "The Lost Art of Listening," Kate Murphy writes about the Algonquin Round Table.

The Algonquin Round Table, for those not familiar, was a particular table at the Algonquin Hotel off Times Square, where various writers gathered in the 1920s for bouts of wordplay and wit. The Algonquin Hotel, being home base for the Baker Street Irregulars for many years, gave that bit of literary lore one of its Sherlockian ties, and even though it was always reserved for the editor of The New Yorker in the 1980s, one could sneak in during the wee hours for a photo.

A Sneaked Photo

The Algonquin Round Table, with writers like Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker tied to it, is used by Kate Murphy to illustrate how even a lively and entertaining group who met every single day could still be "profoundly lonely and depressed people." She quotes Parker saying, "The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for the chance to spring them . . . There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn't have to be any truth." The parallels to Twitter and the chase for clever tweets that garner likes makes for an easy comparison.

Coming upon that part of the book was one more reminder of those pilgrimages to New York that I did make for Sherlockian purposes, before tuxedos overtook suits and disposable income became less disposable. Looking back across the years at this point, it's interesting to see which conversations and fresh new acquaintances stuck in my memory . . . which must have been those I did listen actually to, for my memory to hold on to them so firmly. There are the faces which finally got attached to names, of course, one of the big benefits of the yearly gathering, but it's the conversations that I wish I could remember more of.

I should be finished with You're Not Listening well before April's 221B Con, which is a place I spend most of my time listening anyway, as the con is always a wellspring of Sherlockian ideas and varied points of view that one can't help but want to absorb every last bit of it. The airport Marriott may not have any historic tables to sneak a photo at, but I think the notorious Floor Bacon fills that role quite nicely. For this particular weekend, though, I just get to be envious of those who are willing to do NYC in January, and keep on reading.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Did Holmes and Watson set the buddy cop trend?

So many things will set the Sherlockian mind pondering some angle of our favorite detective. Today, for example, I was pondering my trip to see Bad Boys for Life, the third movie in the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence buddy cop franchise. I started the day considering Martin Lawrence's character, Marcus Burnett, as the Watson of the piece.

And Marcus Burnett is a Watson, of sorts. His principle purpose in the movies is to be the ordinary guy to Will Smith's super-slick action hero, Mike Lowery. And while Marcus doesn't chronicle the adventures of his partner, if you ever remeber the name of any movie character, you'll remember "Mike Lowery" just because Marcus enunciates it so well, so often in the first film. Marcus is also a little bit of the comic relief Watson, as many have been over the years.

But considering Lowery and Burnett as a Holmes and Watson pair, I had to start considering other action movie buddy cop combos, and how they might have a Holmes and Watson dynamic, the cool eccentric and the regular everyman. Remember the Letheal Weapon series, Riggs the outside-the-box detective, and Murtaugh, the family man that just wants to retire? Do they fit a basic Holmes-Watson pair dynamic?

There a certain cliche in such movies of the old veteran teamed with the young rule-breaker, and in a lot of classic Holmes films, Watson is seen as the elder of the pair, with Holmes as the fresh idea guy. In official police situation, the elder partner is usually the dominant one due to the experience factor, so you're more likely to see a Holmes/Watson dynamic in a non-official team-up -- the cop being a Watson paired up with the special-talents consultant, whether it's mystery writier Nick Castle in Castle or Satan himself in Lucifer. (The oddball consultant always gets the name in the title, it seems.)

But sometimes, the non-Holmes-and-Watson buddy cops give us a new light on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Take Marcus Burnett, who I started this article with. He's the talker of the pair, always rambling in stressful situations, always worrying aloud. The John H. Watson we see in the Sherlockian Canon seems like a quiet guy, "You have the grand gift of silence," and all that. But remember that we are seeing Watson through the filter of Watson's pen.

What if Watson was really a extremely non-stop talker, and Holmes's quip about his "grand gift of silence" was completely sarcastic? What if Watson edited his own chatter down to near non-existence It wouldn't be lying exactly, so as not to offend a certain writer who titled his book and blog Watson Does Not Lie. It's possible.

Seeing Holmes and Watson everywhere has its perks.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The first annual Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards!

This weekend, in addition to all of the other Sherlockian festivities which kick off the new year, we will also be seeing the live recording of the first annual Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards. Since more podcasts are recorded live and by the living, adding that word might be just to fancy things up a bit, but isn't that what awards are all about? Fancying things up a bit?

Now, the thing about awards is that they glorify the giver as much as the receiver, as awarding bodies rarely have the stature of those they are handing the awards to. And that's why we want to give all you Watsonians out there the chance to not only nominate, but pick a winner. Here are the rules:

1. The categories for all Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards (a.k.a. "the Watties") must have something somehow related to John H. Watson.

2. All Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards must have four nominees, and one winner chosen from those four.

3. All Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards should have a positive spirit or at least be good-natured enough to not bum out any listeners.

4. You can give a Watty to any person, place, thing, or other form of anything, just stay within the other rules. Just try to hit a category that no one else will think of, to avoid ties.

5. All Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards and nominations should be sent to or DMed to @bradkeefauver on Twitter to be included on the awards podcast. There might even be another way to award one this weekend, but announcing it to the Watsonian world will require sending it my way, either in text or audio form. All nominations and awards must be in by midnight, on Friday, January 17th.

Okay, that's basically it. It's awards season, so let's celebrate our favorite doctor/chronicler/best friend/love interest/partner/slashfic character with some awards! Why let those silly Oscars have all the fun? (And, come on . . . that movie got a best picture nomination? Sheesh.)

"England is England yet?" Well, Sherlock is Sherlock yet.

As an over-sixty guy raised in Sherlock Holmes from another era, I always get a lot from the arrary of viewpoints every month on The Three Patch Podcast. And, as of this month, that super-team of podcasters hit their hundredth episode with some retrospective bits that really make one think. And this time there was one point that really struck me straight-away.

Coming up in the eighties, one quickly noticed that a lot of Sherlockians in America were, very naturally, Anglophiles. Patriotic citizens of the U.S. of A., of course, but also with a strong bias in favor of the mother country. Even our most beloved Sherlockian poem and its line "England is England yet, for all our fears," played that chord so well over time, even though it was written referring to the destruction of war the country had endured through, and would again.

But now we're in a different time, when Brexit has torn England apart from the inside, just as America has had its own struggles, and some very questionable choices paired with some quite evil movements have made one wonder if a newly minted young Sherlockian is going to feel the same about old Mother England. Victorian times, may have their attraction, until one starts really considering the damage colonialism and class systems were doing. Great place to base a steampunk alternate universe on, but the real history, which we're getting better awareness of all the time . . . well, problematic.

The classic line about Mycroft Holmes, "You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the British govenrment," does not come off as complimentary for poor Mycroft in a modern setting. (Though, lord knows an American counterpart would look pretty damned terrible as well, and probably something of a Nazi. Stephen Miller's younger brother is probably out there pretending to be Sherlock these days.) Ay-yi-yi. And with even one of Britain's princes bailing, things just aren't what they were.

But lest I sully the sacred ground of Sherlock with too much political discourse, now when I see England in my head, I'm as apt to envision BBC's Shameless as I am the London of Holmes or Bond. Time shifts things a bit . . . is Nero Wolfe's brownstone in a posh neighborhood these days? Or would he never leave the house for other reasons that just eccentricity? As much as we like to believe in things that last forever, time gets us all, and all our loves, in the end. Which is basically why the best stuff is adaptable.

When we got a massive Sherlock surge thanks to the BBC ten years ago, it wasn't because they tried to recreate a faithful Granada adaptation of Victorian lit. No, they swung for the fences with a brand new version of Sherlock Holmes, G. Lestrade, Irene Adler, Milverton, etc., etc., etc. They added new folks to the legend, Molly, Anderson, Eurus. New tricks with text messages and blog posts. And for better or worse, our major motion pictures have gone with new angles as well. It's how legends survive.

Every country has its mythic version, and undoubtedly England's will survive the realities of the everyday as it always has. King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table haven't been around for a very long time, and yet that vision remains. A vision of a dream that failed, perhaps, and maybe that's what we get now. But the hope of that better thing persists. Just as a London where the greatest detective mankind has ever known is ready to solve the unsolveable, and give its citizens one last chance for clarity and answers.

One has to have some hopes on a Monday. Onward.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Vocation, Avocation, and the New Detective

Having just come off a very heavy work week, which drained all the good Sherlockian time, my thoughts quite naturally turned to that whole "doing what makes money" versus "doing what you love" question we all face. Some rosey-gazed folk always preach "do what you love to earn a living," but in practical terms, that falls into the "crystals with healing properties" category of something that just doesn't seem to work for anyone but the rare few.

Sherlock Holmes did what he loved, of course. Young Sherlock seems to have been something of a "murderino" to put it in terms of a current podcast hit. He also worked out his own skillset and created his own occupation from scratch, based upon his avocation. Yet, one gets the feeling that, like so many who turn hobby into career, he started with some family money backing him up. It wasn't a lot, and he still had to share rooms to get a good address, but he sure didn't pay Mrs. Hudson by laying around the flat so often and solving puzzles for match-girls, governesses, and lost-and-found items brought in by neighbors.

When Sherlock Holmes says "I am a poor man" and pats that nice check at the end of "Priory School," he's not doing it as a joke, even though he probably isn't that poor at that particular moment. (Did his hiatus in Asia and Europe drain his funds?) He's probably just reminiscing about the start of his career when the cash flow wasn't so good.

Still, Sherlock did well enough that he was able to retire and leave London at a relatively young age and buy a place in Sussex. And, as we oft forget, he did have an ability to find other work when he needed it. While he used his disguise as a groom to get information in "A Scandal in Bohemia," he slid into that role very easily and made a few coins at it. And that Irish-American named Altamont surely had to have some visible means of support during his American stint. Holmes surely had to hold down a whole lot of short-term jobs during his wide-rambling life.

Lucky for him, doing what he loved included being able to do and understand other jobs besides that of the detective. Other opportunities were available. For most of us, though, a vocation and an avocation are two decidedly different things. And if we're lucky enough, the joy of the latter actually makes the doing of the former worthwhile, and the balance of the two makes for a pretty fair life.

Careers can by puzzling things, especially for the free-lancer like Holmes. And we don't even want to get into the work-life of a John H. Watson . . . "hanging out with your buddy" for long periods isn't really something that looks good on the resume. But that's a consideration for another time.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Sherlock Holmes and . . . sigh . . . Dracula

I have long contended that t'were Sherlock Holmes ever to actually cross over with Dracula, he would expose that legendary monster as big a fraud as the hellhound of the Baskervilles. "No ghosts need apply," and all that. Sherlock Holmes is about the really real world, and not that silly imaginary overlay we like to hold in front of our eyes like a piece of stained glass.

Yet, like Holmes and the Ripper, those two products of the Victorian era, Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula, always line up. They are more perfect opposites than Holmes and Moriarty, reason versus superstition, a much more serious battle than good versus evil ever fought. In any book or movie where Holmes and Dracula cross paths, Dracula has already won just by existing. In Holmes's world, Dracula simply does not exist.

And yet, for tellers of tales like the now-notorious Moffat and Gatiss to slide from a Sherlock series to a Dracula series, the act feels quite natural. All those tricksy bits used in Jekyll, Doctor Who, and Sherlock can come back to play, and with a fine cast, including at least one notable holdover, there's a lot of fun to be had there, for those not nursing a grudge from past sins.

Dracula, like Sherlock, is one of those classic tales that some will always wish were told as always, like ritual. And then this, and then that, and oh, didn't they just capture that perfectly. I am not one of those. I delight in Dr. Watson thinking Sir Henry Baskerville owns Stonehenge, just to alleviate my boredom with a touch of the new, no matter how ridiculous. Perhaps that's why I love Holmes and Watson so much more than many of my fellows, as a lovely romp that captured something of Holmes and Watson without boring me with the rituals. So when Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss start playing with the toys of our culture, I rather enjoy their jerking the chains of the ritual.

Still, I fear that it might lead to more bringing the master vampire into the world of the master detective . . . and it's still a place he just doesn't quite belong, as tempting as crossovers always are. But, as the saying goes, "for those who like that sort of thing, that will be a thing that they like."

At least one hopes so. If we have to cross the streams, at least it best get us the desired result, whether we're Ghostbusters or not.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Seasons of Sherlock

It's a very fertile time for surveying the Sherlock Holmes landscape.

No major Sherlock is currently holding the field. Cumberbatch seems to have faded a bit from absence and that season four collateral damage. Miller is heard spoken of even less. Brett seems to be rising just because the fans who never left him are more audible in the lull. And Downey? Those movie release flashes of popularity are hard to factor in, as he's both in the far past and the far future.

When no one Sherlock is dominating, all of the Sherlocks pop in and out of the Sherlockian landscape. It's a little like very slow moving weather patterns, looking at the ebb and flow of popular Sherlocks. We each carry our own microclimates with us, of course, as we may take to a given Sherlock more or less than our compatriots.

One sees this comment or that pop up as some moment summons a callback to a given Sherlock. Sherlocks are defined in their best or worst moments, depending upon our particular leanings. The truth of the matter is that we probably need ALL the Sherlocks right now. Whether one goes by the motto "No Holmes Barred" or "All Holmes Is Good Holmes," there is a basic need that Sherlock Holmes satisfies that might be needed more than ever right now. What need?

That people will actually listen to a clear-eyed smart person, maybe?

That someone out there can see through all the "There's a hell-hound on the moor!" stories concocted by some evil shit for their own purposes, perhaps?

That justice exists, even if it's via ships mysteriously sinking with all aboard?

Yeah. All of those. Maybe it's good that no one Sherlock dominates the landscape right now, because we probably do need ALL of the Sherlocks.  The phrase "seasons of Sherlock Holmes" can mean a lot more than years of a TV show, and the one we're in right now might just be the one we need.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Your first deerstalker

Have you had your first deerstalker yet?

Even BBC's Sherlock had his first deerstalker moment, which was a happy little bit of fan service that even non-fan's got the point of. The deerstalker is iconic, and eventually, even those of us that hold it in high reverence as a crown we're not worthy of donning (which was a view I legitimately held as a young bull-pup) have to put one on at some point.

For me, it came as a Christmas gift, and when you're given a gift of any sort of apparel that you can toss on in front of the giver, it seems only polite to put it on. And in 1978, I got that very Christmas gift, and I put it on.

But even at that, I didn't put it one, make a serious Holmes-face, pick up a curved pipe and turn to show off my silhouette. No, I undid the flaps and pulled them over my ears. It was my first hands-on encounter with that particular piece of headgear, i had to see how those ear-flaps worked!

It's been a good deerstalker -- back in the day when such things were hard to find, I loaned it out to the local theater company and it had to be dry-cleaned, but it held up well and came back to me a bit softer, a wee bit shrunk, missing a label, but still in good deerstalker shape. 

There are three main deerstalkers in my great pile of hats, one that belonged to my old neighbor, and one that belongs to the trusted companion. A few of the cheap costume ones are here too, picked up for specific purposes over the years. But that first deerstalker remains the deerstalker, my deerstalker, to this day. I think one of us has weathered the years a little better than the other, but then, I never loaned myself out to a local theatrical company. The poor hat had to teach me that lesson.

We get a lot of "first Sherlock" stories, but I'd bet there are some good "first deerstalker" stories out there as well. Mine's not particularly memorable, but there are those that have probably seen a lot more travel and a lot more adventure upon Sherlockian heads. Hopefully we'll get to hear some of those one of these days.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

It's 2020! Loose the hell-cat!

Welcome to a new decade! And it's party favors are already here. As Les Klinger tweeted on the last day of the year, as in yesterday:

Three favorites among the later Sherlock Holmes stories have entered the public domain. And not just stories . . . characters!

Kitty Winter, the hell-cat from Hell, London, has been loosed upon the world. And lord knows, there's a character with many a story to tell! If Kitty was the Human Torch, she couldn't have more fiery terms used to describe her. She is a "brand." She is "flame-like." She has "blazing eyes," "fierce energy," and she literally burns a man with her vengeance.

We never learn just what Kitty suffered at the hands of the Baron, but it's enough that upon hearing it, the courts gave her the lowest possible sentence for a horrific crime. They couldn't find her innocent, but whatever came out in that trial convinced a judge that she had been punished enough and that the Baron deserved what he got.

Kitty Winter is also the one woman who got to work with Sherlock Holmes during his detective career. Later, Martha of the unknown last name got to work the spy game with him, probably assigned by Mycroft or some other secret government agency. But Kitty was the woman is many ways that Irene Adler fans wish she got to be.

And now she's in the public domain, her sentence over with. Sherlock Holmes might be able to grab her and drag her out the door of 104 Berkley Square before she lays the whupass on an infuriating Violet, but the copyright police won't be holding Kitty back any more.

No doubt there will be vampires in Sussex that we didn't hear of before, and more Garridebs than should ever be in the world, but, ah, that Kitty Winter! When the clock struck midnight, you might even have heard a distant laugh from that flame-like avenger somewhere in the distance, as her spirit flew free to roam.

Because it's 2020. And the hell-cat is loose.