Thursday, February 27, 2020

Going back to when Watson didn't know things

Out of the ten people who met to discuss the first three chapters of A Study in Scarlet at our local library group (the Sherlock Holmes Story Society) tonight, a full 30% of them had read Boccaccio's Decameron, the book the corpse had in its pocket. I was very impressed. As a long-time Sherlockian collector, I own a copy, but as a lazy intellect, I can't say that I've read it. (But I read every page of Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man, so don't write me off completely.)

In any case, it was a great discussion tonight, as ever, and one of the earliest points made was an observation by Mark of the similarity of some of the writing in chapter two of A Study in Scarlet to that of Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," pointing out that chapters one and three had slightly  different styles. It made me wonder if, perhaps, Doyle being inspired by Poe's tale, had put some of chapter two down before he had written chapter one.

Doyle's writing also came up in the question of whether he had an editor -- a point I don't think I've ever heard brought up before. Having seen manuscript facsimile's and their closeness to the printed text, we can safely say that Doyle pretty much had it down, and didn't need much help. (Which is also where is little issues with that wandering wound and Watson's married life come up.)

I was shocked to learn that Inspector Gregson appears a lot more times in the Canon than I remember him appearing. (We all like Lestrade better anyway, don't we?) But over all, the opening chapters of A Study in Scarlet being some of my favorite parts of the Canon, I just luxuriated in every part of the night's discussion.

Most of us come to Sherlock Holmes at some point other than when Watson does, and get to come back and read those first words with the joy of knowing how great Watson's life is going to get. The little mysteries of the new room-mate may have Watson wondering, but we gleefully watch him try to puzzle Holmes out. Comparing it to a love story, we never really have that defining moment where Watson realizes his full admiration for this unique individual all at once, but the path is certainly there, and just the fact that Watson is writing a book about the man says something.

Other notes: There are probably more descriptions of Holmes's fingers in STUD than in any other story. When your group just does the first three chapters, there are spoilers in chapter four and beyond that some people don't know yet. (Like Mormons!)  And I completely messed up the last name of a major player in a past Watsonian Weekly episode, so get ready for a correction this week!

Getting together to discuss Sherlock Holmes is always a great time, so if you don't have a local library group, I'd recommend stating one. It might take a year or two  to really build up some steam (our first year had a couple of "iffy" months when I was worried it wouldn't take), but I'd bet it gets there eventually, just by giving folks the chance to let their enjoyment of some very enjoyable tales come out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Three Tales of Mr. Barker

Those boys from The Final Podblem pack so many observations into a reading of a Sherlock Holmes story that occasionally the drop a thought that makes me go, "Somebody really should pick that up!" And most times I don't make a note, or don't get time to follow up, but this week they hit a particularly choice one, so I grabbed a piece of paper and made myself a note.

As they walked through "The Empty House" this week, Nick and Casey came to Watson approaching the part of Park Lane where the murder of Ronald Adair took place. Watson sees and small crowd has gathered and writes: "A tall, thin man with coloured glasses, whom I strongly suspected of being a plain-clothes detective, was pointing out some theory of his own while the others crowded round to listen to what he said."

"It sounded to me like the gentleman dressed like Dracula from 'The Retired Colourman,'" Casey observed.

"Oh, maybe it was him!" Nick promptly agreed. This is a slightly abbreviated version of the conversation, but only slightly. I was immediately going "Wait! Detective Barker! Let's discuss!" as one does with good podcasts, at least mentally, as the hosts move on.

Let's talk about that fellow from "Retired Colourman," "my friend Mr. Barker," as Holmes calls him.
"A dark man with gray-tinted glasses and a large Masonic pin projecting from his tie," as Watson writes him, as well as an earlier description, "He was a tall, dark, heavily moustached, rather military-looking man." There's even a third use of "tall" to describe him, so he definitely fits the bill of the tall detective-seeming fellow in "Empty House."

Sherlock Holmes refers to Barker as "my hated rival upon the Surry shore," which makes one wonder if Barker didn't decide to take up Holmes's profession after Sherlock Holmes "died" in 1891, putting him in just the spot to be theorizing about the Adair murder to try to advertise his detective skills on the streets. But we needn't stop at that simple origin.

His name is Barker. He's tall. He has dark features. He's buddies with a detective. He would be keenly interested in Moriarty's demise and inspired by Holmes's sacrifice.

And that's a guy we have definitely seen before.

Cecil Barker of The Valley of Fear. Tall, with a fighter's face, strong black eyebrows and "masterful back eyes" . . . just no moustache as yet. He understood a crime scene, even then. And both Barker of The Valley of Fear and Barker of "The Retired Colourman" are described as looking "stern" as some point in each narrative. This has to be the same guy!

Checking the Annotateds, there seems to be no note of anyone going "Hey, Barker is Barker!" but probably just trusting that a.) Watson doesn't recognize Barker in "Retired Colourman," and b.) Holmes actually says, "You had not met Barker, Watson." Both points can be easily discounted because a.) It's been over ten years, Barker now has a moustache and sunglasses, and Watson didn't even remember him in "Empty House," and b.) Remember that whole thing about how Watson heard about Moriarty in The Valley of Fear and then forgot about it in "The Empty House?"  Well, if he can forget about Moriarty, he can certainly forget the face of Cecil Barker.

The full life story of Mr. Cecil Barker and his rise as a detective would make an excellent read, and I'm probably a complete fool for writing this blog post and not a novel series featuring the man. But, hey, such things take time! Feel free, anyone with the time to take up that task. I'll buy your book!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The real Sherlock Holmes test

What makes a Sherlock Holmes a Sherlock Holmes to you?

When a certain adaptation came along a while back, certain critics of said adaptation referred to it as "Sherlock Holmes in name only," a cutting critique, and one that more than a few disagreed with. But it brings us back to that question with which we approach every new Sherlock: Is he recognizable to us as Sherlock Holmes?

I was reminded of this lately when the good Carter and I disagreed over a particular Star Trek offering. One of us thought it definitely wasn't what they defined as "Star Trek," but the other accepted it as a worthy bearer of the name. The difference, as we discussed it, was in what those two words meant to each of us . . . and that was two different aspects of the same show.

As I continued thinking about it, while we tried to define what we each saw as objective reasons for our case, I realized that defining what "Star Trek" meant to me wasn't something that one could define coldly and replicate as easily as a mathematical proof. It was an emotional trigger.

And the same applies to Sherlock Holmes.

I can say "A Sherlock Holmes must be clever, he must surprise us with a solution we never saw coming, and do it with a touch of dramatic flair," as well as go on for hours with descriptions of every characteristic I hope to see in a Sherlock, but in the end, I just have to like the guy. And who knows how that chemistry works for any of us.

Jeremy Brett didn't do it for me, nor did Jonny Lee Miller. Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch did. Peter Cook didn't. Will Ferrell did. Roger Moore didn't. Christopher Plummer "kind of" did. And when we get into odd shades of Holmes, I don't even know how Robert Stephens sold me as Holmes, but damned if he didn't pull it off. (Maybe it's just that opening monologue on how Watson has readers thinking he's different from what he is. A perfect set-up!)

In any case, as much as we all like digging into what a particular actor showed us about Sherlock Holmes, I'm now very curious as to what all those actors say about us. We now have a vast enough array of Sherlock Holmes actors that if you used every one of them on a "Yes/No" test of "Is this guy Sherlock Holmes to you?" I'd bet a sovereign that you could create a personality test with reliable results based on all the Sherlocks a person thought worked, and those that person thought didn't. (And when I say, "bet a sovereign," I'm not talking about the coin. I've got a leader I'm more than willing to lose on a bet.)

Our Sherlocks are so varied and so plentiful that one could easily work up a matrix by running some other personality factor questionnaire concurrent with a massive Sherlock favorites study. (Well, if all the subjects knew all the Sherlocks -- kind of an important factor. Probably have to show clips, and add some unknown Sherlocks just to make the test more valid.) But it could be done, in any case.

Instead of asking what makes a Sherlock Holmes to you, maybe we should be asking what makes you from your Sherlock Holmeses?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Okay, so I can't know it all. But I can keep my eyes open.

A curious new thing happened to me this morning. A Sherlockian I know posted something to several social media lists I follow, and what I saw was this:

I could pretty well deduce the causes for that post not appearing, reflecting upon my own settings and administration of social media, but it reminded me of that new part of our hobby that I've been thinking a lot about lately, the fact that we're not seeing all of Sherlockiana any more.

Did we ever see all of Sherlockiana? Well, if you want to go to absolutes, we never did. If one teenager in one small Iowa town handwrote their own story of Sherlock Holmes, and than teen never met another Sherlockian, nobody was seeing that work. But the obsessive completists and collectors of our world always pushed hard to make sure we knew it all existed. Ron DeWaal's bibliographies, Peter Blau's newsletters, The Baker Street Journal's quarterly "Baker Street Inventory," and the legion of Sherlockians who fed such efforts all prided themselves on catching everything that referenced Sherlock Holmes that they could.

Enter the internet. The search engine. The social network.

Tools that, at first, were amazing in their simplest forms. We could search the Canon Holmes for a single name and have it pop up instantly, instead of painstakingly reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes one more time just to see how many times shoelaces were used (bootlaces, as something to draw personal inferences from, in "The Yellow Face" and "A Case of Identity" -- and also Milverton's killer mentions her husband's "boots I was never worthy to lace." Wow, fancy boots!).

But eventually, as happens with all software, everything was built and rebuilt so that it was no longer in its simplest form. Behind the scenes, hidden Clippy the Paperclips started tailoring our experiences to both aid and persuade us using their arcane algorithms, and suddenly my internet search of "Sherlock Holmes" and your internet search of "Sherlock Holmes" started bringing up different results, even fighting with us at times. ("Are you sure you didn't mean the more-popular item that's spelled similarly? Here are those results!")

There are more Sherlockians than there even were, and we're starting to find ourselves splitting into denominations. It fits the pattern, as the hobby has long been likened to a religion, and we now have our Catholic church and our Protestant variations. We all choose the way we want to view Sherlock Holmes, old or young, gay or straight, Canon-copy or extrapolated fresh, and the digital majicks can create a world around us based on those choices.

Copyright law didn't manage to hold Sherlock Holmes down to a specific commercial entity, but we've seen enough to know that the next major Sherlock Holmes could have enough trademarkable variation to make that version of him a super-popular, corporate-controlled character. A large enough corporate interest deciding to work its will in promoting that character could, without our knowledge, make sure that new Sherlock Holmes is the Sherlock Holmes for a generation. Or two. Or . . . .

Here's where one could just leap, arms spread wide, into an apocalyptic fantasy of underground Sherlockians huddled around a surviving copy of the Doubleday complete, reading those original words by fire-light. But even apocalypses are rarely that simple. We'd probably have a sheltered corner of a huge landfill where some collector had dumped his library at the very least. There are always those who prefer the apocalypse, as it limits the range of things they have to think about. If the whole world just becomes five Sherlock Holmes books, hey, we can be complete again! We can see it all!

The trick, I think, to any social change, to any paradigm shift, is simple awareness. Maybe we can't ever know it all. But when we at least know there's something out there we don't know, recognize that it exists, and maybe have some idea as to the reasons for the gap, and ways to correct it if we so desire.  And what was Sherlock Holmes always about?

Being aware of what was actually going on in the world around you.

Our hero has become more pertinent than ever.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sticking with "baritsu" and Barton-Wright can suck eggs

"We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanaese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me."
-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Final Problem"

"You say 'bartitsu' and I say 'baritsu,' You say 'Bar Tits Sue," and I say 'Barry Tzu.' Burbeebee, bratyty, burrbeebee, oh why-why . . . let's just hug and dive right off!"
-- Me, being silly

Okay, just between you and me, I've never really bought into this Barton-Wright "Bartitsu" scam that emerged in 2001 when a martial arts website stumbled across an old Pearson's Magazine article. It's probably just me having a "Don't spoil my childhood!" fan moment after twenty years of Sherlocking before anyone in the world discovered such a thing existed, but it also demonstrates an issue that Sherlockiana has dealt with from the start: Sherlock's reality versus history.

The grand game of Sherlockiana begins with the premise that Sherlock Holmes existed in our own past. Enough Canonical detail lines up with history that it seems an easy enough proposition to play with and have a little fun. But here's the quandry: If Sherlock Holmes is real, wasn't Irene Adler also real? And if Irene Adler was also real, why isn't there any record of her outside of the Sherlock Holmes stories?

In the past, Sherlockians have tried to say Watson used pseudonyms and found historical people to identify as the Canonical ones. "Irene Adler" was surely Lillie Langtry, that sort of thing. But by shoe-horning a figure in the Holmes Canon into history, they always lose a bit of their individuality, their own luster. As cool as you may want to say Lillie Langtry was, she was no Irene Adler.

And on top of that, if you're saying Irene Adler wasn't Irene Adler, how are we to trust that Sherlock Holmes was Sherlock Holmes and not an actor standing in for Crime Doctor John H. Watson who was really doing all the work? Or Conan Doyle himself, actually being Holmes and Watson and having all the adventures? That way lies silly-town.

If you want to play the Conan Doyle game and go "Oh, Doyle saw that Pearson's Magazine article and didn't spell it right," sure, I'll buy that. But to go "Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective hero of all time, defeated the greatest criminal mastermind in the world by using some shlocky martial art a guy named after himself that didn't actually survive until the modern day," I say thee "Nay!"

Sherlock Holmes gets to have his own martial art. Watson gets to spell things correctly. Tinkerbell resurrects when I clap my hands, and screw you if you want to argue that she doesn't. Baritsu, as Sherlock Holmes used it and Watson wrote it was being used by other heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow before anybody re-read an old article and a movie fight choreographer stumbled across it for Robert Downey, Junior.

Personally, that's my line in the sand. If you want to come at me with not-so-elegant Barton-Wright Bartitsu to change my mind, I'm afraid you're going to have to fight Sherlock Holmes. And he knew baritsu. And baritsu? Nobody beats baritsu.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Fans, Stans, and Fancy Dans

Define "Sherlockian."

Merriam-Webster defines it as "adjective: of or resembling the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes especially in the exercise of unusual powers of deduction."

Google's primary source says, "adjective: relating to or characteristic of Sherlock Holmes, especially in showing great perceptiveness" as well as "noun, informal: a fan of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle."

There we go. "A fan of Sherlock Holmes."

Yet for the entirety of my forty-plus years as a Sherlockian, there have been those who insist that while they are a Sherlockian, they are not a fan. They're an enthusiast. Or an aficionado. Or something else far too scholarly to be called merely "fan." And yet fans there are, or else why are they focusing on this single subject? How are they attracted to it without being fans? Some cold, machine-like logic that mathematically directs them toward the study of Sherlock Holmes?

C'mon, you sillies. You're fans.

Since a certain Eminem song has come out fans have a new way to elevate themselves above the worst of our lot. Now instead of going all "aficionado" we can just single out those misbehaving fans as "stans." (Definition, for those who don't know: "an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.") Some of us might freely self-identify as stanning for Sherlock Holmes, but for the rest, that term is always there for that "Jeez, I'm not that bad!" moment.

Can a doctor be a fan? Yes. Can a lawyer be a fan? Yes. Can a literature professor be a fan? Yes.

No matter how serious or learned you may be in one aspect of your professional life, you have to do something for entertainment, and unless your Sherlockian activities account for 100% of your sole, sustaining income, there must be a fan in there somewhere. But, of course, here in America, we know one thing -- anything English is fancy, and Sherlock Holmes, therefore, is a fancier's hobby. (At least here in the U.S., you folk of other nations can speak for yourselves.) We can sip our hot tea, listen to Vivaldi, and dramatically turn the page of our leather-bound Literary Fancier's edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  The aficionado is a sort of role-play, really, just as the wine connoisseur is something of a role as well. Remember the days when beer drinkers were common folk? They got fancy on us, too.

Fans can be Stans, and Stans can be Fancy Dans. And that's okay. Fancy without going "true fan" or gatekeeper can be pretty cool. We all get to play our own game our own way. And since the origin of the word "fancy" is as a contraction of the word "fantasy," it fits most of the creations of the fan, being all fancy like that.

And we all should be able to fancy that, even the least fan-sy of us.

Final versus Final versus F . . .

If you've ever tried googling "The Final Podblem," you might have encountered the problem with naming something so close to something else with a very prominent and similar name.  This issue also recently occurred with the Doyle's Rotary Coffin book No Holmes Barred, as dropping the "m" out of that line is apparently a very popular search for porn. But this week, "The Final Podblem" finally got to "The Final Problem," and it brought forth all sorts of thoughts from the lads, as well as all sorts of thoughts from the aged Sherlockian listener.

It was a joy to hear someone discovering "The Final Problem" for the first time, wondering about so many things that Sherlockians have debated for nigh on a century. It brought out how much you can know about Moriarty without having ever read the Moriarty Canon, and what someone might think is in those tales just from all the times large chunks of "Final Problem" are used in movies or television when Moriarty shows up. And even I'm not sure where Moriarty having an air-gun cane is from at this point, though it sounds mighty familiar. It's a pity that "The Final Problem" occurs in the middle of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, too, as even a first-time reader knows immediately that there's a whole lot of this Sherlock Holmes book left that surely must have Sherlock Holmes in it.

About two-thirds of my way through the podcast, however, I had to wait for the supper I'd been working on to cook a bit, took a look at Twitter, and found a concern about the episode, which got it pulled down and then put back up. Not sure exactly what that concern was, but while I find great joy in hearing folks new to the Canon Holmes discussing it, there's an "F" word that I know can be a perilous stroll by the edge of a cliff in any discussion: "fandom."

Whether you're talking about the older part of Sherlock Holmes fandom (which is a fandom, despite some hoity-toity arguments to the contrary) and the newer part, there are some third rails that nobody should touch. As editor of The Watsonian (which I am working on, by the way), I've had to warn at least one writer away from a certain subject, and as long-time Sherlockian, I've raised the ire of a few folks in decades past with a flip or fiesty comment about their holy of holies. Fandom is a place where you're welcomed and loved for your common interest, but along with that comes making the thing such a part of your being that you can react as if physically harmed if some aspect of it seems disrespected.

And as much as we might feel the holy fire of righteous anger and virtuous indignation, part of being a long-haul fan is knowing not to hurt the younglings and frighten them off the thing they're just getting into, even when a little guidance might be necessary. Certain topics are usually best saved for one-on-one conversations with other Sherlockians, though when you do something like podcast or blog on the regular, you are going to get to those on occasion, if no other Sherlockians are handy to vent to. Trust me on this, there's a certain Big Sherlockian Institution that I always need to bite my tongue on and let bygones be bygones. But we're all humans, we all fuck up on occasion. (That "f" word? Not as troublesome as some others.)

Anyway, I was very glad to see that "The Final Podblem" got their footing back and re-released the episode this morning, no matter what the issue. And I'm not the saying this for the lovely plug they gave 'The Watsonian Weekly" at the end of this episode. (Why do we care about Watson so hard? Decades of fanning Holmes and needing a change of scenery without leaving the pleasant countryside of Canon.) Give it a listen, if you haven't tracked it down yet.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Your Sherlockian Fantasy Island

Fantasy Island saw its latest reboot this weekend, as a Blumhouse theatrical release, and despite the horror-leaning look of its preview, it remained true to the original Fantasy Island at its core: You go to the island, you get your fantasy, you learn a lesson, and a short guy named Tattoo shows up. The main premise of Fantasy Island has always been a "Monkey's Paw" sort of "Be careful what you wish for," and as Sherlockians? Well, somebody's always going to wish for Sherlock Holmes.

The one time we got to see a Sherlock fantasy play out on Fantasy Island back in 1982 was a little story called "Save Sherlock Holmes," where a bored security guard had a fantasy to help a great detective, and the island's host, Mr. Roarke, supplied him with an adventure helping Dr. Watson rescue Sherlock Holmes. When it was all over, the island's guest decided he was happy doing department store security work after all.

That guy was definitely no Sherlockian. One adventure with Sherlock Holmes and he goes "Never again!"?  Really? Was this some Tooter Turtle bullcrap propaganda about being satisfied with things as they are? What if a real Sherlockian got sent to Fantasy island? What story would we then see? A lot of different Sherlockians out there, so let's go through a few scenarios.

The Smartest Person in the Room Fantasy. This is the obvious one -- a fantasy to be Sherlock Holmes. Pretty cool until it comes to the point where Fantasy Island has to teach you a lesson, probably about Watson's worth and how it's okay to be just regular smart.

The Baker Street Three-Way Fantasy. Okay, let's get this one out of the way. We know someone out there wants a Cumberbatch-Freeman sex-thruple thing for their fantasy. I expect the lesson there would be in all the mornings-after maintenance and putting up with their living habits, the occasional Mary Morstan appearance, etc.

The Best and Wisest Friend Ever Fantasy. So now that we've gotten the sex fantasy out of the way, how about that room-mate who writes how wonderful you are for a major publication/new channel and gets you both famous. Or the best buddy who drags you along on their exciting adventures, but is competent enough to make sure you're always mostly unscathed. Not sure what lesson Fantasy Island will want to teach you there . . . maybe that you really don't want to be famous, or that exciting adventures get old after a while? Seems like a stretch, but okay, worth it!

The Victorian England Fantasy. Well, if you insist. The smell alone will probably be your lesson learned in that one.

The Greatest Sherlockian in the World Fantasy. For once, one that doesn't have Sherlock and John in it, just you and all your fellow Sherlockians. Except your book is the universally hailed final word on all things Holmes and Watson, you are the Stan Lee of every Sherlock Holmes film, and just having you speak at a Sherlock Holmes event increases attendance by . . . however big the venue is. The lesson you learn? When you're the greatest, nobody else's Sherlockian work entertains you any more. Boooooo.

The Sherlock Kingdom Amusement Park Fantasy. Maybe it's just me, but I've always just wanted at whole Disney theme park done as Sherlock's London. Hansom cabs, rides like "Moriarty's Underground" or "Haunted Baskerville Mansion." Victorian England without the poverty or smells and food service that's seen a health inspector. And rides. "Agra Treasure Boat Chase," "Moriarty's Hired Special," "Reichenbach Bungee," "Devil's Footpath to Madness," "The Solitary Cyclist's Ride" . . . such good rides could come from the Sherlockian Canon. The lesson behind it all? Like Vegas's "Star Trek: The Experience," the attendance probably wouldn't hold up and it would close after a far-too-shot exstence. Sigh.

The Greatest Sherlockian Library Ever Fantasy. I forgot all about this one when I first wrote this, then saw a picture of Charles Prepolec's library on Twitter. The lesson comes when you're seventy years old and have to move all of those books.

But as fic archives like AO3 show us, there are more Sherlock Holmes fantasies out there than one poor over-worked Fantasy Island could deal with, should it decide to start making Sherlockian dreams come true. The above are just the few that popped off the top of my limited head.  If we could send all of our Sherlockian friends to such a place and see the results . . . oh, that would be a fantasy in itself.

As if this hobby itself weren't something of our chosen fantasy . . . .

Friday, February 14, 2020

This Valentine was no saint

Pity poor Violet Westbury.

As Violets in the life of Mr. Sherlock Holmes go, she's probably the one that gets the least attention. Her case, "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans," has that really bland, over-long title and isn't one of the more adventure-y adventures. Or even one of the most interesting. But what makes matters even worse?

The poor woman can't even enjoy St. Valentine's Day.

You see, poor Violet was in love once.

Her beau might have been just a government clerk, his career just beginning, but he was chivalrous and patriotic and full of that happy energy of a lad with a dream. Violet Westbury wasn't one of those Canonical women who hooked up with an abuser or her step-father in disguise. She had a love and a future.

Until Colonel Valentine Walter came along. And suddenly, Violet's true love is not only dead, but the prime minister himself is thinking her love is a traitor to all of England. Valentine's brother specifically makes reparations for the cad to England once Sherlock Holmes exposes his villainy, but is there any possible reparation for Violet? Does any one of these powerful men, including Sherlock Holmes, give her a second thought? Noooooooo.

The Queen of England herself gives Sherlock Holmes a nice reward. But Violet?

When we last see her, she's just hanging out at her once-future-mother-in-law's house on the outskirts of town, dealing with their common grief. Hopefully someone, perhaps a thoughtful John Watson, came by to tell her that her dead love died trying to defend his country's secrets before the story went public in The Strand Magazine thirteen years later. But once she knows, what's she left with?

A holiday all about love with the same name as the privileged brat responsible for her true love's murder. And it's even "Saint Valentine's Day."

Poor Violet Westbury. Let us hope she found love again, enough to make her forget that awful connection.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A day to celebrate Sherlock Holmes

A fresh take on our ancient detective friend is one of my favorite things, which is why I enjoy The Final Podblem and Three Patch Podcast (when they tend towards Holmes and Watson -- ASMR on the last was apparently my personal bridge too far, but on to next time). For a newer Sherlockian, discovering some classic bit from the 1930s is pretty darned cool, but, eventually, having seeing those ideas circling for forty years definitely lowers their effectiveness. And where another person might let them settle into "honored tradition" mode, the dull sameness of such routine has never been my particular cuppa.

So when the FP boys, following the lead of a certain other iconoclast Sherlockian, brought up the arbitrariness of Sherlock Holmes's birthday on a recent episode, I found great joy in their question, "Why didn't they just pick 2/21 for Sherlock's birthday?"  It's a lovely question.

One might say, "Oh, that's just silly! Why would Sherlock Holmes's birthday would be the same as his street address?" Ah, but remember this fact: Sherlock Holmes chose that address, even though he couldn't afford it. He wanted that address badly enough to take on a room-mate and any issues that might come along with that. And why would Sherlock Holmes want to live at 221 Baker Street?

Consider the personality of Sherlock Holmes. He delights in putting important treaties in server platters for unveiling. He claps his hands when he's amused. There's an inner child in Sherlock Holmes that does not hide well at all.

And Sherlock Holmes wanting to live at the same number as his birthdate, if the rest of the set-up is pretty good? Makes as much sense as "Oh, it sure seemed like he had a hangover in that one story!" (And seeming secret intent of "It's really my brother's birthday, and he was a Sherlock Holmes fan!") But you can't fight city hall, nor the internet proliferation of the first thing it finds, so the many other options that various Sherlockians have proposed for Holmes's birthday do not readily appear in a Google search.

It's a curious development, the way Google seems to have decided things like Holmes and Watson meeting on January 1, 1881, a point Sherlockian chronologists would spend much time working out and arguing for their own pet theory in the snail mail age, and as time goes on such dates are apt to be accepted without argument . . . with a few exceptions. BBC Sherlock made it plain on John Watson's bog that January 31st was the date the modern incarnations met, which was quite kind of them. It also leaves fans of that show splitting off their meeting-day celebrations like a splinter sect of the same religion.

But I really like the idea of finding a place in our hearts for 2/21 for another reason. Freakin' Star Wars stole May the 4th from us. It should be the day reknowned for Holmes's greatest victory, at a cost of his friend's grief, to be sure, but a victory nonetheless. And how did Star Wars attain date dominance? A lousy pun. So if we gotta go simple to stick in the minds of regular folk, 2/21 has a 4/20 numeric charm to it. 

The thing about holidays, whenever they occur, is the celebrating of them. Pick a day, hold a party. Next year, hold a dinner. The next year, hold a conference. Do that enough years, get some others to carry it forward, and you've got yourself a holiday. Eventually, Google will even get on board.

Just make sure you get a really fun reason for picking the day, so when your star fades, those that come after will go, "Oh, that make perfect sense," even if they haven't been indoctrinated in tradition first.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Grumpy Sunday morning comic book read

In another time, I might have felt a little more enthused about Adler, a new comic series from Titan Comics that began this week. For starters, here is the cover I wound up with . . .

This is apparently "Cover C" of four options and something that might have been passable on a novel, but on a comic book? Nope.

Page one of the comic, instead of a splash page, is the credits. All male names.  Page two of the comic is the cast of characters. All female names. And plainly League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but Women. We just wasted two pages calling out two things that aren't really positives for the comic, as well as spoilers -- if you have to explain the cast to me before the story, it betrays a certain lack of faith in the story. Also, that you're really trying to sell the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen thing.

Once we finally get to the story on page three, the art is pretty solid. There's a real focus on eyes in this story, and the ladies do tend to use a bit too much eye-liner on the underside of their eyes -- something I'd hesitate to criticize were this book produced by actual ladies.  As to the story itself, Jane Eyre is basically John Watson, coming back from war, needing a place to live, and Miss Havisham, who seems more of a brothel owner than a spinster, takes her to a lab to meet her Sherlock, Irene Adler.

Where is Sherlock Holmes in this world, you ask? Well, he's in Dartmoor chasing a hellhound, a fact we learn from Professor Moriarty, Irene Adler's nemesis. Ayessha pops in at the last, wearing exotic bikini armor while she sneaks around London, her part in the story unclear, but she has a vampire girlfriend, whom page two told us was an assassin. The last panel is a nameplate for Madame Curie.

For a book called "Adler," Jane Eyre seems to see all the action, and Irene is basically Sherlock Holmes in a dress thus far. Professor Moriarty gets to be the main character on about 25% of the pages of the book. The art is good enough to make one wish the story was an actual attempt to explore Irene Adler's character and give her some adventures of her own to make it seem like she should have a comic book.

One for the Sherlockian collectors, who might want all four covers. Otherwise, well, IDW has a comic called Wellington that has a demon hound in it that will probably satisfy your Sherlock-comic fix a little better.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

No Marvelous Books Like This Barred, For Damn Sure!

You will, along your Sherlockian travels, find those who take their Sherlock with many a spoonful of seriousness stirred in. I am not among them. I worried less about dotted "i"s and crossed "t"s and more about whether or not fun was had . . . a horrible attitude for one who occasion finds the word "editor" appended to his Sherlock role, I'm sure, but I've got other places to go for no-fun that actually pay me money. And, when I only have to spend $4.44 of that money to get the latest book on our dear Sherlock, well, that makes me even happier.

But the best thing about the newly released paperback No Holmes Barred: Being a Scrapbook of Homesiana isn't just that low, low price in a world of books costing ten times as much. It's the feeling behind it. This isn't a book that's going to make you do more work in the study of its pages. It's a Sherlockian safari taking you on a wandering tour of both the familiar and unfamiliar, a jungle of prose, poetry, art, and articles where the unexpected awaits the flip of a page. Should I give away those surprises for the sake of review, or to entice you to buy (or download) this book?

NO! It's only four dollars and forty-four cents. Cheaper than two bean burritos and a small Diet Pepsi at Taco Bell, and that's pretty darned cheap. If you're not going to buy a four dollar and forty cent book just because it is all about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, well, you're not the sort of person that I'm going to waste my time trying to entice into anything. Seriously!

The motto of Doyle's Rotary Coffin is "No Holmes Barred," which is also the title of the book, and to those who fully accept that motto, whether or not they've printed out and signed their official membership card to join Doyle's Rotary Coffin, this is a book one can find some of that affection for in its acceptance of how varied a creature Sherlock Holmes can be.

Also, there's a wonderful bit of history entitled, "The Greatest Achievement Ever Made in a Holmes & Watson Film: Holmes & Watson," which the good Carter enjoyed having read aloud to her this evening in its entirety, especially at its glorious climactic crescendo which placed Holmes & Watson on its true place in Sherlockian history. And that's not even the best part of the book, but I just had to mention it for . . . well, reasons.

So HERE'S A LINK TO THE AMAZON SITE THAT SELLS IT. You know what you need to do. Godspeed.

Another fascinated reader.

Snatching Delusion

Let's look past the gender in this particular statement from Sherlock Holmes for a moment:

"If I tell [them] [they] will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, 'There is danger for [they] who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a [person].' There is as much sense in Hafiz as Horace, and as much knowledge in the world."

Normally as we look at that line from Holmes's earlier, more sexist days, we just see the gender bias. Drop that distracting element out and you see two distinct things: First, that Holmes was a multi-culturalist. And second, that delusional m-f-ers are trouble. And I would even argue that though the original statement singled out a particular gender, the gender not mentioned is even more dangerous when their delusions start getting snatched away.

Sherlockians have long discussed whether Sherlock Holmes made the right call in allowing his client's delusion to persist in "A Case of Identity." It was pretty much the equivalent of letting Sir Henry Baskerville keep thinking his family was cursed by a deadly demonic hound, rather than dog-murder by a greedy cousin. Holmes could have just been lazy or unsure of his own interpersonal skills in just not wanting to deal with the fallout for telling Mary Sutherland the truth.

Holmes's quandry is one of the more relevant points in the Canon when it comes to American government at this point, and probably Britain's too, but I'll let those folks speak for their system. In America, we definitely have a whole lot of people trying to snatch delusion to the fan club of a certain charlatan, and said fan club just isn't having it. And like Holmes's old Persian saying, there are certain dangers to be feared from those who insist a little bit too hard in their delusion.

Sherlockians have always had this fun little game of pretending Sherlock Holmes was a real part of human history, and it always amused me a bit when some overly-literal soul would cry out against it, fearing that the game might actually cause non-Sherlockians to believe that Sherlock Holmes was real. That never came to pass, but with the internet's connection and amplification effects, we've seen a whole lot of other fictions come to be taken as reality, whether it's as far-fetched as space aliens infiltrating society or as mundane as holding that a basic scientific principle is false. Knowing where the actual line between fiction and fact is, well, that always seemed like something Sherlockians were good at, having danced on that line for a hobby. Like any large group of humans, however, some of us are better or worse at that.

But, in the end, we're all in the position of Sherlock Holmes at the end of "A Case of Identity" or The Hound of the Baskervilles. Do we let delusions persist? Or do we at least attempt to point out that maybe things aren't exactly as our countrymen believe them to be on occasion?

One wonders what Holmes would think now.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A Multiverse of Strand Magazines

This morning I bumped into another collection of Sherlock Holmes stories that I'll probably never get the chance to read. Doctor Watson has been very busy, it seems, and if we ever thought he might have gotten married far too many times, his tin dispatch box is starting to look like Doctor Who's TARDIS with a seeming infinite capacity to store items in a limited physical space. (Hmmm, "Doctor W." and "Doctor W." . . . coincidence?)

Sigh. This is going to be one of those mornings where I just can't stay on topic. Too much time spent on my non-Sherlock job this week, I suspect and the ideas are just spilling out. I mean, and I'm digressing here, in writing the above paragraph, I realized that Sherlock Holmes being John Watson's One True Love might just be the Universe's solution to patching the "Watson seems to have been married like six times!" problem in the Canon. Even following Paul Thomas Miller's credo of "Watson does not lie," his marriage details were certainly under-reported to the point of "maybe that wasn't everything we assume it was."

But back to all these pastiches . . . somebody needs to start doing censuses of the "untold" cases, because we're hitting the point where some of the ones Watson mentions in the original Canon have hit double digits in their post-Canon versions. Heck in the last five years we've had eighteen volumes of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, and some of those are the size of the original Canon itself. Where John Watson once had just one literary agent, he now has a legion of them, taking advantage of a free market in Sherlocks. Gone are the 1980s, when every Sherlockian with a bookstore nearby was reading the same Sherlock Holmes novel that had just been published.

Is there anyone out there who actually has a handle on all of the Sherlockiana published across all mediums in a given month? Even a collective of Sherlockians who has taken up the challenge of tracking all the new work coming at us? The Baker Street Journal hasn't been keeping up for some time, and even The Three Pipe Podcast has wandered on to other topics than Holmes fic. Sherlockians, like those of a certain end of the political spectrum, have so many passions that we don't often come together in an organized effort as much as we would like. Pouring out our own Watsonian creations seems to be what we're spending most of our energies on, and that is definitely an individual endeavor.

Had John H. Watson been a novelist and stayed strictly within that format, however weak or strong one considers his four attempts at it, I doubt we would be having the flood of new Watson works we're seeing today. The short story is a manageable goal that almost any writer can accomplish, and collecting short works is an easy way to put together a book. Conan Doyle might have figured that out first, as he was ahead of the pack on so many other things when it came to Sherlock Holmes, but in creating those tools, he really ensured his legacy would go on for a very long time . . . .

. . . even if he might be spinning in his grave at what he unintentionally accomplished. The name of our pastiche-appreciation society "Doyle's Rotary Coffin" did not come up for no reason. Where Sir Arthur once sat at home appreciating the income a series of short stories brought him from The Strand Magazine, he surely now sits in whatever afterlife he has earned, soaking in the multiverse of Strand-equivalents, bringing in whatever feelings they now bring up in him, be it eternal joy or unending torture.

Because the chief of whichever afterlife Doyle got has got to be continually going, "Hey, Arthur! Have you seen this one?" And that entity is probably the only one who's keeping up.