Monday, March 30, 2020

Tiger Kings of the Canon

"When the troubles broke out he would be friends both with the lion and the tiger . . ."
-- Abdullah Khan, The Sign of Four

Every now and then, a Netflix documentary series runs wild among its viewers, and this month a little thing called Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness infected the populace staying at home to avoid spreading the infection of worse. And, like every other trend, the Sherlockian mind is going to quickly turn its themes toward the details of the Holmes Canon. And, boy, oh, boy, does this one have some places you can go.

Tiger King quickly gets into the peccadillos of big cat fanciers, how much they love to play with the cubs, and how they use the cats to impress their preferred potential sexual partners. Of course, that's not happening in the Canon, right?

Have you met John Watson?

John Watson, the guy who meets a girl he likes and within forty-eight hours is telling her his old war stories about tiger cubs? If the man had a cell phone, he'd have been whipping out selfies of him and the tiger cubs. One might think Watson's love of tigers stops there, but how many times does he compare the man he loves best to a tiger? "Holmes sprang at his throat like a tiger." "Holmes sprang like a tiger on the marksman's back." "With the bound of a tiger Holmes was on his back." Even when Holmes is jumping Watson, we read, "In and instant, with a tiger-spring, the dying man had intercepted me."

There were, of course, those folk of the Canon who much more closely resembled one of the private zookeepers of the Tiger King series. Grimesby Roylott kept that menagerie on the grounds of his Stoke Moran estate. "He had a passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to him by a correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon . . ."

There was the "Tiger of San Pedro." There was "Tiger Comac." And then there was the man whom Sherlock Holmes fears the most in the entirety of the Canon, the man whose presence kept Sherlock Holmes out of London for three years. The tiger hunter, Sebastian Moran. His "bag of tigers" was "unrivalled." So determined and deadly was he that he once "crawled down a drain after a wounded man-eating tiger." Sherlock Holmes reverses Moran's tiger-hunting techniques to capture the predator, but does this weird monologue on Moran's bloodline which includes the line "You will see it often in humans," like Holmes is . . . dare I say it? . . .something apart from homo sapiens. Like a tiger of a man, perhaps? Did Sebastian Moran know exactly what/who he was hunting, before his prey captured him?

Metaphors can take us to fantasy all too swiftly, but the image of the tiger runs throughout the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, and Watson seems to be at the center of it all. Waiting in the dark for a night-time vigil in "Black Peter," Watson's mind goes straight toward the big cat: "What savage creature was it which might steal upon us out of the darkness? Was it a fierce tiger of crime, which could only be taken fighting hard with flashing fang and claw . . ."  There might be a rampaging circus lion, as well as a lion hunter in later stories, but the tiger still dominates the big cat side of the Sherlock Holmes legend.

Which brings me back to that Netflix Tiger King.

If you spent any time with Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness it's pretty easy to go, "Man, those big cat people are freaky!" But there's an aspect of the documentary that also could make you think we might be kind of lucky that video cameras don't follow Sherlockians around a whole lot. When you grow a community of enthusiasts, you're going to have some eccentrics. And some very unusual stories. And maybe a few suspected murders. But books are a whole lot less video-friendly than tigers, so we're probably pretty safe from that for a little while.

But, just to be safe, let's not start murdering people, disappearing, or hiring killers any time soon, Sherlockians. The Cumberbatch generation has been pretty suspected-murderer-free so far, as far as I know, and that is a very glad trend.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Culverton Smith's Bullcrap Disease

There are things that we just take at face value in the Sherlockian Canon. We focus and overthink on many a point, but there are a lot of things that few of us stop to think about until something in our lives points us in that direction. So let's talk "Dying Detective."

Victor Savage is murdered by his uncle, Culverton Smith, supposedly with a disease.

The transmission method for this disease? Sharp spring in a joke box pricking the finger.

Like certain folk of the modern day, the writer and people of the story try to tell us this disease is the fault of the Chinese people, which demonstrates how little we've really moved on from the prejudices of the Victorian era. But apart from that business, how was this disease supposedly spread in whatever land it came from? Was there a fad of spring-loaded joke boxes?

This supposed disease seems to need to be introduced right into the bloodstream, but how many blood-borne diseases can live on a steel spring for a day or two?

Remembering tetanus fears of years past, which came up whenever a barefoot kid cut their foot on a rusty nail or piece of glass, one might compare the spring-loaded disease to tetanus, but with tetanus it wasn't the sharp object so much as the bacteria-laden soil around it. Put that rusty nail in a box for a few days, would it still have been as deadly?

Sherlockians have attempted to identify the disease Culverton Smith had weaponized in that manner also used to connect someone like Irene Adler to a more historically based figure like Lily Langtry, but as close as they've come, no direct hits. Smith's disease is like Grimesby Roylott's snake or Professor Presbury's serum of langur, something that seems very much to come from some alternate reality where things work a little differently.

Stepping back from what we are told in the story for a moment, taking the basic facts -- Steel spring pricks finger, victim dies -- the thing starts to sound more like a poison than a disease. And how often in earlier times, did murderers use poisons to kill their victims and blame it on illness? If you listen to murder podcasts at all, you start to notice that happened quite a bit.

Of course, a poison that causes as many disease-like symptoms as we see in "Dying Detective" might be unusual, but we don't really see those symptoms in that story, do we? We see Sherlock Holmes pretending to have symptoms, just to satisfy whatever crazy ideas Culverton Smith (not a real doctor) had in his head to get him to confess.

At a time when we're all refreshing our memories on how diseases are transmitted, the whole steel-spring-in-a-box murder method in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" starts to look a little more shady than even a shady murder weapon should. But, like Culverton Smith, I'm no doctor. And those guys are a little too busy right now to be thinking about such silliness as joke-box germs of the Victorian era. But it'll be worth another look when time is available, to be sure.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Madness of the Remote Sherlockian

Welcome to the world of the remote Sherlockian.

It may be a little early for a complete adaptation to that role, but as someone who has been living that life for years, welcome! The crazed hermits of the Sherlockian world twitchingly bid you enter our world of creeping madness!

Think that's a little hyperbolic? Hey, you don't get called "the worst person in our hobby" for nothing, y'know! I've got a resume to back it up, as well as a Peoria tradition.

This whole train of thought came up recently when a friend mentioned the Hounds of the Internet, and the first thing that came to mind was my old friend and neighbor Bob. Bob was a very invested Sherlockian hermit, who avoided NYC like it was a coronavirus center from day one, yet still got into the Baker Street Irregulars based on his contributions to the cause of Sherlockiana, back when the group was a little more about the Sherlockian world as a whole and not so much about just working for the BSI itself. See that comment? That's the comment of a remote Sherlockian right there.

We're disconnected enough that we bitch about things just a wee bit more. Bob steadily and publicly complained about The Baker Street Journal never arriving by the month on its cover date, in the days before the quarterly switched to seasonal cover dates. Did he influence that change? Well, I might question the motives of anyone too quick to say "He most certainly did not!"  The established order hates for anyone to think that such mad hermits influence them in any way. Things do happen for reasons, though, acknowledged or not.

But Bob was a thorn in many a side, and on the Hounds of the Internet, his repetitive horrible jokes and recipes got him booted from the group more than once. He was retired, didn't venture from his house much, and had to do something to cure the boredom, a situation a lot like Sherlockians are suddenly finding themselves in today. Retired Sherlockians who live apart from the urban centers have often found themselves in this state, and with no peer pressures to steer them to a proper course, can come up with the best and maddest of ideas. (Also, once you cross the age 60 mark, you can also get a real "who gives a flamin' fock" attitude" -- that just comes with the age.) We'd probably have had less wacky pastiches pre-internet if not for such retiree situations.

So here we are in 2020, socially distanced, and our remote Sherlockian population has temporarily skyrocketed. How mad will things get? How many out there will start singing "Let It Go" and spinning in their desk chair before launching into the sort of Sherlockian crazy previously reserved for the hermits with self-published books, blogs and multiple podcast channels? Only time will tell.

But, hey, times are tough. Release that stress any way you can. And if you need anyone to look the fool first, just to ease your stepping into the waters of creative abandon, just give a shout-out to your local crazed Sherlockian hermit. They're up and ready for the job!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Robot Dinosaur Redux

It has taken me a while to catch up to an ahead-of-the-pack Sherlockian like Heather Holloway, but I finally have seen something she suggested long ago on Facebook, and I think we've had a taste of that thing we all hoped for . . . a sequel to a beloved Sherlock Holmes movie . . . with the possible issue that the film was made before the movie I consider it a proper descendent of. But that's how it is with things that are ahead of their time.

What am I babbling about this time? Why, 1994's Tammy and the T-Rex, of course! What else?

"An evil scientist implants the brain of Michael, a murdered high school student, into a Tyrannosaurus," IMdb tells us. What it doesn't tell us in that line? It's a robot T-Rex. And where have we seen a robot T-Rex before?

You know.

The 2010 Asylum Sherlock Holmes, a.k.a. Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs.

The evil Thorpe Holmes, elder brother to Sherlock, is a robot-creating genius, terrorizing London with a murderous mini-T-Rex, a gigantic kraken, and a tik-tock girl set to murder the Queen. He's foiled by baby brother, of course, and such a crisis in the largest city in the Victorian world would surely have cause laws against such mechanicals for years to come. And who could even recreate the work of a Thorpe Holmes anyway?

Until almost a century later. A scientist working outside of the law, one Dr. Wachenstein, manages to re-create Thorpe's work with one small problem: How did Thorpe Holmes give his creations such independent life? How did they hunt, attack, and kill without an operator? Dr. Wachenstein solves the issue by implanting a human brain in his robots. Was that Thorpe's secret method? Was his prostitute-stalking mini-T-Rex doing so because he had implanted the brain of Jack the Ripper in it, after the murderer mysteriously disappeared from the criminal scene?

Very few people in Tammy and the T-Rex have last names, so could Michael or the titular Tammy have been descendents of Sherlock Holmes or John Watson? Could their inevitable match have come from those two bloodlines being drawn together again across time?

My headcanon can't seem to help but want to tie the two movies and their robot dinosaurs together in one common Earth. Are there other robot dinosaur movies that take place there as well, all the result of that mad genius Thorpe Holmes's reign of terror upon London?

To paraphrase a very wise man: The multiverse is big enough for us. All robot dinosaurs need apply.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Jeremy Brett quarrel

We all have our favorite Sherlocks and our non-favorite Sherlocks. We love connecting with people on the ones we love, and, well, we also love connecting with people on the ones we don't really love. No one wants to be a hater, but sometimes a Sherlock just doesn't do it for you. It happens.

A lot of people have connected over their lack of taste regarding Will Ferrell's Holmes, and I get that. Not everyone can be cool. That's why Fonzie was the breakout character on Happy Days. (For you future generations: Happy Days was this popular show about the 1950s in the 1970s, much like That 70s Show in the 1990s-2000s. Every twenty years, we have to celebrate/mock our past. But I digress.) Yet sometimes, our dislike of a particular Sherlock does not really connect with our peers, and we find ourselves needing to explain matters.

So let's talk Jeremy Brett. Yeah. Jeremy Brett.

Granada Television produced what is undeniably some of the finest adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes Canon ever with their The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Things might have gotten a little strange toward the end of their Case-book and Memoirs runs, but overall, those productions were nothing short of amazing. From the Baker Street sets to the recreations of Sidney Paget drawings, there was so much to love about that series.

But at its center: Jeremy Brett. Yes, I said "but."

I really don't like going here, as I know what a beloved figure he is to so many Sherlockians, but as the matter came up a little while ago on The Final Podblem podcast with much disbelief that a human could find displeasure with Mr. Brett, it seemed like a moment to explain my reaction, and maybe provide a target for folks to release their virus quarantine stress by reacting to same.

In 1984, when Jeremy Brett first donned his top hat and walked into our Sherlockian lives, I was at a high point of Sherlockian enthusiasm. Connecting with the Sherlockian world, writing for journals and newsletters, just in a fever pitch of loving Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. My mental image of Holmes had been influenced by Rathbone, Stephens, and Cushing, but largely came from the Canon, and even when pretty boys like Roger Moore and Christopher Plummer played the role, they knew that Sherlock Holmes was one thing above all others: The coolest cat in the room. A genius, asexual James Bond.

He wasn't twitchy. He didn't have weird little facial tics. And when he said the line "Data! Data! Data! I can't make bricks without clay," there were some mother-loving exclamation points in that statement. Jeremy Brett's choices in portraying Holmes were entirely different from my mental image of the character, and set amid an otherwise perfect Baker Street scene, just served as the grit in an otherwise comfortable fit. Were this a less Canonical production, like Elementary, not as big a deal, but to give a Sherlockian at the height of his fanaticism something that is SO close to perfect and then eff it up with some scene-chewing acting that pulled attention where it shouldn't be?

Let's tie it to something that might be more relatable for some: Season four of BBC Sherlock. (And maybe some episodes before that.) Many of those who love Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson were so much more infuriated by those latter episodes because the earlier one were just so very good, and so much what they wanted from the series. They'll hold those grudges for long into their Sherlockian lives, because at a time of fever pitch, they got so very close to that perfect thing they saw in their heads, and their team missed the shot over and over in the final quarter. You just don't get over that stuff, even though it lessens with time. You may even allow that later viewers might not find the issue nearly so awful as it was to you at that time, but it remains with you, as any experience makes you a part of who you are.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The Doublemeat Palace season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jeremy Brett . . . who, okay, might not have been as tragic as those other two, but still . . . moments in time we never get back, that could have just been so . . . well, you know.

As generations pass, kids grow up watching The Phantom Menace without knowing what a disappointment it was for some. Sherlockians come into Holmes with Jeremy Brett as a standard starter place. And that's cool. A lot of folks found him perfectly lovely back in the day. I don't insist upon my view of the matter, as I know it comes from my own path to Sherlock Holmes. We all have our paths to how we come to be who we are.

And how about that Will Ferrell, though? Something about the way he just caught some essence of Holmes while still being a Will Ferrell character . . . chef's kiss!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Things Get Weird

Are things a little weirder than normal where you are yet?

Not anything seeming to directly having to do with the circumstances in which we find ourselves, you understand. I mean, we spend a lot of times in our houses normally. But yesterday, a Sunday, when I'm normally just hanging around, working on the Watsonian Weekly, I found myself fencing with a life-size Sidney Paget Sherlock, using a Hello Kitty baseball bat, to the the Beastie Boy tune used in a Star Trek movie.

Things are getting weird.

Later that day, I came up with a bigfoot hoax and recruited the only confederate available to give my clan something to ponder on Snapchat. I don't think it will take Sherlock Holmes to debunk my Rodger-Baskerville-ish cryptozoological scheming, but then, I wasn't trying to take over the Keefauver ancestral estate, either. (It's only existed for one generation anyway.)

Actual photo from Keefauver Hall

Saturday was Swearlock Holmes GIF day, so I guess it wasn't a sudden shift. 

The thing is, this is only the start of the shift that in our axis of "normal." Has it only been a week? After organizing on online dance-off for later in the week, tonight I had to try to hit the mental reset button with a little jigsaw puzzle and Blackbeard's Ghost on Disney Plus. (Did 1960s Disney just go, "Hey, let's make The Ghost and Mrs Muir a buddy comedy!"?) And why are so many jigsaw puzzles art of bookshops? This is about my third bookshop jigsaw puzzle.

Well, tomorrow night, who knows what will happen? Another "Watson House Calls" podcast is partially done, so there might be that. But beyond that? Who knows?

Things are getting weird. But then, I guess they didn't start all that normal here in Sherlock Peoria land, anyway. On we go!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Vas dere a vampire in that valley of fear?

"Vell, I vant to tell you right now . . ."

Okay, is that me doing a bad Dracula impression?

"But did she tell you who it vas?"

She is plainly the vampire's victim, right?

"I dare say not, the leetle baggage! Perhaps she did not vish to frighten you away."

If you don't recognize those lines, you haven't read the non-Sherlock parts of The Valley of Fear lately. That's Conan Doyle's lines for the heroine's old German father, Jacob Shafter. It's actually a very restrained Conan Doyle, if you've ever read the manuscript reproduction of his Angels of Darkness. Those "angels of darkness" weren't vampires either. But then there's this lady . . . .

"Away wid ye to Frisco, you and your books! Bedad your coat tails would be the purtiest part of ye in my oies. I'd rather marry the tinth part o' a Saint than be the wife o' a wanderin' book shop!"

Oh, this must be the victim of the vampire from Limehouse, not the "leetle baggage." But we won't delve any further into that little pit of awful caricatures. Back to the Canon!

Eventually we get a German baron in the Holmes Canon who doesn't sound like a vampire at all, Baron Von Bork. We had a pretend count, the Count Von Kramm, very early in the Canon, in "A Scandal in Bohemia," but even that guy doesn't put on the vampire accent like Jacob Shafter.

Jacob Shafter who conveniently runs a rooming house, by the way, and as soon as he sees a relationship growing between her daughter and a lodger, he goes, "But you vill find other lodgings, mister." Is he protecting his daughter or her love interest here? Was there something else to fear in this valley of fear besides the local social club?

It's been a long day, I may be reaching way too far, but who doesn't want more vampires in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes? (Or maybe just in parallel universe Canons that don't mess up the original.)

I certainly vant to vish for more.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The monkey's paw of the home workspace

Remember that over-used line "first world problems?" That thing where you're complaining about something that clearly demonstrates how lucky you are? Well, amid all the many troubles of the world right now, one of my issues is the fact that I get to work in a room full of Sherlockiana.

I've always resisted working from home when opportunities presented themselves. I enjoy getting out of the house and around the company of the random folk an office building provides. But when current pandemic demands called for setting up a workstation at home, I gave in and set up a card table next to my normal workspace, so I could just spin my chair and go from my avocation to my vocation. The great hardship of working from home, it seems, is not spinning back.

Discipline, discipline, discipline!

Yesterday,  I caught Thirsty the deerstalkered duck staring at me, then realized he was staring at me from another side of the room as well. It seemed worthy of a video to toss on Twitter, but waiting until I was properly off the clock was a bit of a push. Taking my eyes off the workstation screen for a moment leads them to one Sherlockian path or another, something that doesn't usually happen here as being focused on one Sherlockian thing doesn't tend to let other Sherlockian things distract you. But a work thing?  Well, this . . .

Very quickly leads to some silly idea like this . . . .

That can't be touched until the end of the workday.

And with all the worries that are hitting all of us right now, the urge to dive into something silly and/or Sherlockian is huge. Just tying that sentence made my guts give the growl of a future ulcer, which just adds another stresser.

So excuse me while I go work out and get some of this stress off before the workday begins, a thing I am damned delighted to still have, even though it's requiring more discipline than ever.

Take care.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The rarest Sherlock Holmes books of all!

We all want to find that rare old Sherlock Holmes book, tucked away in some forgotten corner of an over-stocked vintage bookseller. Or maybe we prefer eBay, this being 2020. In any case, there occasionally comes a find like no other, a book that, not only we haven't seen before, but that we can't find listed in any resource, online or off.

Did I just find such a book, and am now posting to brag about it? Did you have a little thrill up your spine when you saw the image above this paragraph? And did you, like Paul Thomas Miller might have rightly done, see that author's name at the bottom and curse the villain who bedevils poor Sherlockians with book covers created in Photoshop?

With our computer fakery resources we can now imagine such wonders as non-existent books and actually show our friends. We can, if we feel the urge (or the guilt, as happened last fall) to attempt to create that imaginary book. And while that's possible, until time travel is invented, we can't actually seed those things in some hidden spot in the past for our future finding. But still, there is just a little joy in imagining such things, and, maybe, for a moment, thinking that the Mandela effect just might have taken them from this Earth at some point. (Or maybe I'm creating a future Mandela effect here. hmm.)

In any case, some night's I just enjoy playing in Photoshop, as do many others. But this time, I'm not spending a month writing the words that fit inside the mythical cover my Photoshop time produced!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The socially distanced community of Sherlockiana

Hi, Sherlockians.

I doubt that too many of you haven't caught on that things are going to shit very quickly in this pandemic situation. This is the first real weekend of it here in America, and it really feels like the start of something not very pretty at all. The thing of it is, what happens from here on in largely depends upon all of us and our fellow humans. We've already seen some really bad behavior, some really stupid behavior from people who are desperate to do anything to exert some modicum of control over things we have no control over. Even just running out for one last Friday night at the bars, bullheadedly keeping to that vacation, as careless as those acts may seem, are about trying to still feel some bit of control.

Nobody wants to spontaneously jump into being a hermit, which seems to be the best measure for our communities, socializing across distances instead of gathering in person, staying home to find some entertainment without leaving the house . . . but, hey, wait a minute! For a goodly number of us Sherlockians, that was always our way to begin with! Social distancing? You mean there are other ways to live? For those of us outside the major cities, Sherlockiana has always been about social distance.

We have our travellers, our clubbers, our event politicians, but for so many of us, Sherlocking just comes down to what we read, what we study, and what we write. Solo activities. At the end of those solo activities, we do hope to get some interaction as a reward in most cases, finding some way to present our fictions or facts to our friends. But a little alone time has typically been fuel for the fire for us.

And yet, Sherlockiana is, and has long, long been a community.

I was struck by this in reading 221B Con's latest challenge as hotel contracts haven't gotten on board with coronavirus necessities just yet. Hopefully, the situation will right itself, but if not, will this be the end for one of this hobby's greatest annual events? I strongly suspect that the community that has grown up around the con will find a way to answer with a resounding "NAY!" I know I'm on board for whatever I can do. (If I'm still . . . well, this is where the dark side of my personality kicks in, and I will spare you those demons.)

But cover your ears, kids, old Uncle Brad is about to start swearing.

But here's the thing: This fucking hobby was born in the Great Depression. Our forebears survived the Spanish flu pandemic. They held this hobby close through two world wars, where Baker Street itself got blown to shit. And that wasn't just because Conan Doyle wrote some really good stories and some really not as good ones that had the same character in them. It was due to the connections that Sherlockiana gave to its faithful, and even when nature took its course and some of the best and brightest ran out of time, Sherlockiana has gone on.

From a distance.

Our numbers have never been large enough for Sherlockian societies to be as plentiful as Rotary Clubs, scout troops, Legion Halls, or whatever social order you'd care to name. That's why our occasional weekend gatherings are so special. And yet, the rest of the time, we're still doing our Sherlockian thing.  So we can be smart, socially isolate, be who we are, and maybe, just maybe, come out of this with more Sherlockiana ready to go when it's over with.

Take care of yourselves. Use those Sherlock-inspired smarts. And keep an eye on the rest of our community, as we are going to need big fun when this is all over, for sure!

Much love,
Sweary old Uncle Brad

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Happy Hug-A-Holmesian Day!

"I sat up half the night, hugging myself over it . . ."

                               -- Hall Pycroft, "The Stock-broker's Clerk"

Happy International Hug-A-Holmesian Day! (And NIGHT!)

Why is today, March 11th, Hug-A-Holmesian Day, you ask? What, you don't like hugs?

But if you must have reasons, for one, the charismatic leader of Doyle's Rotary Coffin, Mr. Paul Thomas Miller, set out to give virus-free hugs all over the Twitter-verse today, as is his tradition (now), and a lot of folks happily joined in. We seem to be on the verge of a world-wide absence of human contact right now, and even virtual hugs are quite a wonderful thing.

(Especially to our friends in Europe, after a certain idiot just gave a certain speech as I wrote this.)

Margie Deck has reminded us that March 11 is the day in 1942 when Vincent Starrett wrote that most sentimental of Holmesian works, "221B." And if that poem doesn't describe a place where Holmes and Watson exist, safe and sound, in a giant cosmic hug, I don't know what does.

According to one chronologist, Gavin Brend, the first hug in the Canon occurs in March of 1886. What is that hug you ask? Well, it's Alexander Holder hugging some beryls to his chest in "Beryl Coronet," but consider this: The one other prominent mention of that very noun, used proper, is Beryl Garcia Baskerville from The Hound of the Baskervilles. And who did Beryl's husband look like? That's right, Hug-o Baskerville!

The Sherlock Holmes stories are full of Hug-o guys, from Baskerville to Oberstein to a long line of graves of that name in "Shoscombe Old Place." Hugs are all over the Canon of Holmes if you just know where to look. If we wanted to name a society of Holmesian huggin today, we could easily call it "the Huguenot Extraction." (Which actually covers those who want out of hugs as well.)

No hugging anyone "in a bear's embrace" and covering them with kisses, as that's bad "Red Circle" form. But it's okay to follow Watson's example when "I dashed from my chair and threw my arms around Holmes," if you want to get some "Devil's Foot" urgency into it.  And even enemies deserve a nice hug, as Professor Moriarty knew. Holmes might have misinterpreted that moment in "The Final Problem" when "he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me," just as Watson would later do. Had Sherlock let the Professor stay on the cliff a moment longer to explain himself, who knows what might have transpired. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Don't do rush hugs next to cliffs!)

So "International Hug a Holmesian Day" comes to us with an excellent pedigree and a worthy intention, so I know I've added it to my annual calendar to prep for next year. You might want to do that as well. (And remember, whatever your gender, consent comes first! Don't be a giant Gorgiano!)

Wait a minute . . . who was hugging whom here?

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Sherlocking in the Time of Coronavirus

Okay, let's step out of the non-lethal Victorian fogs of fictional London for a moment and get to our current miasma, that lovely, lovely coronavirus. All of our chickens seem to be coming home to roost with this little pandemic, and even our comfortable haven of Sherlockian joy cannot remain unaffected.

Every spring brings such delights as Holmes, Doyle & Friends in Dayton and 221B Con in Atlanta, and their timing this year could not be worse. Especially if one was intending on flying to one of those spots, with all the human contact air travel brings, as well as that traditional ailment known as "con crud" that tends to infect folks in the aftermath of fun social weekends.

As a lifelong Sherlockian it's very much in character to swing a fist and go, "Damn the tapanuli fever, full steam ahead!" But as a guy who works in the hospital business and fully aware of how overfilled our medical facilities get during a normal flu season, the idea of a rampant viral spread is pretty scary, even if ninety-five percent of the victims do get over it. If all the hospital beds, etc. are occupied with virus patients, the normal things people need medical treatment for have to be triaged in as well, and collateral damage is a very likely possibility. And that's just one factor.

As a son, as a nephew, a son-in-law, and friend, there are still a lot of folks in my orbit who are more at risk than I, and given recent birthdays, well, technically I guess I'm in the "at risk" category now, too. And while 221B Con as a whole is maybe a little younger and a little healthier than many another gathering of Sherlockians, it's also one of the largest gatherings in the hobby. And large gatherings mean adding a few points to the percentages. 

We're still twenty-three days out. Quarantines are currently being set at fourteen days. If everyone and everything behaves, we could see things level out, but humans are notoriously unreliable when it comes to a mass coordinated effort toward any beneficial effect. And the horses could be out of the barn at this point, in any case.

Soooooo, tonight I sent a little notice off to the 221B Con panel organizer that I am taking back my panel applications. The plane ticket is paid for, the hotel reservations are there, so there's still an open window if twenty-three days see a different scene that what we're seeing happen elsewhere in the world. But at some point, one has to be a little responsible in one's Sherlocking, no matter how much the love of the hobby, and think of those we might affect.

Take care of yourselves, my friends, and pay close attention to the world around you. Don't mess with fevers or dry coughs. And don't bother looking for Sherlock Holmes quotes about washing your hands.

"He must have stayed in the room some little time after the murder, for we found blood-stained water in the basin, where he had washed his hands, and marks on the sheets where he had deliberately wiped his knife."
-- G. Lestrade, A Study in Scarlet

Monday, March 9, 2020

Meanwhile, in the Culverton Smith lock-up . . .

Some nights, you just have to go with a prevailing topic, get into a Sherlockian aspect of it, and then just play, even if your art skills don't quite live up to the idea. (This particular idea inspired by a comment on the "Dying Detective" episode of The Final Podblem podcast.)

Friday, March 6, 2020

Ready for one more "Annotated?"

This month, I know a lot of us are looking at coronavirus news, then ahead to 221B Con, then back to the coronavirus news. But what else can we do by optimistically forge ahead, and perhaps find some lovely comfort in one of those sweet things that we get to enjoy on the road to the con. For me, that means doing something that some might fear worse than the coronavirus: Watching the movie Holmes and Watson for what is at least my twelfth(?) time. Or maybe fifteenth. I lost track long ago.

That movie is one of those darling pieces of cinema that I could just live inside of, capturing much of the essence of Holmes and Watson and also being a beautiful love story with good character arcs. And while there are those who just can't get past their own issues with the film to see what I see there.(What, did you think I'm been kidding all this time?), an evening spent with Holmes and Watson is, to me, a fine evening, even now.

But down to business -- tonight's run was completely 221B Con prep. Notice a panel entitled "The Annotated Holmes & Watson" on the list for the convention? While the list of who gets to be on what panel has yet to come out, I'm really hoping that past experience of suggesting a panel increases one's chances of getting on that panel holds true again. Verbally and visually annotating a ninety minute movie in about fifty minutes or so should prove a worth challenge for the panelists, and pacing is going to be key.

Having already one authoritative deep dive into the movie, "The Greatest Achievement Ever Made in a Holmes and Watson film: Holmes and Watson," for the book No Holmes Barred (Still the best bargain in Sherlockiana for $4.44 from Amazon, or free as a PDF at the group Doyle's Rotary Coffin's website.) I've already explored a lot about the film, but there is so much more still to get into. Like the original Doyle Canon, it's a very thick tapestry of detail and color for us to explore.

Last year at 221B Con, Holmes and Watson was awarded the Best Sherlock Holmes Film of 2018*, so it's well deserving of this "scholarly" treatment this year.

One of these days, my friend Rob Nunn will attend one of these sessions and finally see the clouds part and the Thomas-Kinkade-style beams of light shining Holmes and Watson's true glory down upon him, but until then, the rest of us just have to happily bask in that glow whenever we get the chance, as we hope will happen at 221B Con this year.

There are worse things that can go viral, to be sure!
* The Best Sherlock Holmes Film of 2018 was not an official presentation of 221B Con, it's organizers, 99.9% of its attendees, or any other official body. Just the guy who placed that sticker on about twenty-five little trophies. Still, it's an award and it was presented.

Origin Stories

When we think of superheroes, and it's easy to include Sherlock Holmes in that category, we tend to think of that starting point called the origin story. It's the place where they truly become who they are. And over the years, many a writer has tried to give Sherlock Holmes an origin: his father killing his unfaithful mother, his sister killing his childhood bestie . . . somehow, like Batman, there must be murder to cause one to investigate murders in the minds of some. But in the Canonical end, our dear Sherlock has no origin story. He simply is.

Watson, however, has a very definite origin story that we're all familiar with. Wounded soldier needing a place to live shares rooms with an enigmatic stranger, who he writes of and becomes a partner to. Watson's origin story is very much suited to the Victorian age of empire if you think about it . . . the British military moves into strange terrain, discovers a unique indigenous people there, then exploits what it found there for Queen and Country.

Too far? Too lefty political? When so many of Watson's adventures with Holmes turn out to be defending or avenging Britain's citizens against Americans, Italians, South Americans, Andaman Islanders, Central Americans, even Asian viruses, and eventually German spies . . . well, it really does make it a fitting sort of origin for Watson.

Sherlock Holmes prides himself on French blood, relaxes in France on hiatus, refuses to follow his brother's path into the British government, and disdains the nobility. And yet Watson is always there to represent the British jury or to have a crush on Queen Victoria (oops, slipped into Holmes and Watson turf there -- but that was SO Watson, wasn't it?)). John H. Watson just grounds Sherlock Holmes as England's man in a way Mycroft never could.

While one might propose that the Stamford introduction is the origin of Holmes and Watson, the pairing we know and love, Sherlock Holmes was going to be Sherlock Holmes even without Watson. True, he might not have survived being Sherlock Holmes as long as he did, but his origin lies elsewhere, always untold. John Watson is the one with the origin, the man with the story.

So does that make Watson the true superhero of the team? Hmmm.

Monday, March 2, 2020

One author, sixty stories, good enough!

There are many cautionary tales about getting what you want not always being what's best for you. And never has that been more clear than with the thing that most Sherlockians would really, really like to have: One more new tale in our Canon from the original source, with some prime Sherlock Holmes in it. But for over ninety years now, our core Sherlock Holmes Canon is limited to sixty stories. We can reboot, adapt, mutate, headcanon, and generally pastiche all we want, that Canon stays firm. No surprises. Nothing we haven't already dealt with.

That became a very comforting thought with this week's season finale of that classic of British television, Doctor Who,  last night. Without getting into specifics or spoilers, the current creators pretty much completely turned over the apple cart. After six decades of folks trying to write new Doctor Who scripts that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Eventually, a new generation is eventually going to attempt to boldly color outside the lines -- it's been happening in comic books for years with favorite characters like Batman or Spiderman, and especially with lesser characters like Aquaman, who has had and lost the same wife and child what seems like a dozen times. (They don't die all that much, he just gets rebooted back to bachelorhood.)

When Canon is not limited, as in the work of a single author, the life story of a character becomes multiple life stories as they live far past retirement age. Doctor Who got to regenerate an entirely new body, which helped some, but apparently not enough. Sherlock Holmes? The original Sherlock Holmes? He started up in the 1880s and retired in 1903. 'Nuff said.  True, we've seen versions of him in World War 2, using a cell phone, or in the 22nd Century, but they're versions. Nobody is trying to tell us it's really and truly the same guy from those original sixty, only this, this, and now THIS!

And while Sherlock Holmes is proof from revolving creators trying to keep the same franchise alive, that boxed-in Canon gives us one other great benefit: Every creator after Doyle gets to use that sixty-story-box as their launching pad. Whether they're trying to add an untold tale to Holmes as we knew him or create some new alien version of Holmes on a planet full of sentient candy canes, they've got those same raw materials to draw inspiration from as desired.

If we were to get our hands on a genie-lamp or monkey's paw and actually get an up-to-par Sherlock Holmes novel or new set of stories from Conan Doyle himself, we would survive, of course. But in working to come up with Fresh Sherlock, who knows what ACD would have to pull? Remember The Valley of Fear? "Hey, Moriarty's back, and Watson now knows about him before he knew about him in that other story!" That was just after a ten-year gap when Doyle was giving the fans their wish. Who knows what that guy would pull after a ninety-year gap! (There's your monkey's paw twist.)

Practicing gratitude is probably a better practice than practicing your wishes. Also, practicing love of Sherlock Holmes rather than . . . well, I'm not going there, but I wish the folks at BBC's Doctor Who good luck with all those apples rolling around.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Multi-fan versus Mono-fan

It was a good Sunday for a long walk today. It was also the first day of the month, when the Three Patch Podcast comes out.  And with such a long podcast, freshly delivered, it made for good company during a nice Sunday stroll. Alone with a good podcast and my thoughts, I always have more thoughts, and this month's episode "Once and Future Fandoms," was very thought provoking.

Now, one might take a look at TPP episode guide and go, "Hey, you're a Sherlockian! Why you wanna listen to some segment that's half an hour on the TV show Merlin?" My first response would be, "Hey back! Merlin was a good show! I watched every episode!" Being a Sherlockian doesn't mean you're just a Sherlockian. In my early days as a Sherlockian, I remember so many of my favorite Sherlockians also being self-professed Trekkies. Or Whovians. Or all, woo-hoo, three.

Sherlockians who grew up in the TV generations liked television. Sherlockians who grew up in the radio generations liked radio. Sherlockians who grew up literate like reading. And whatever medium you like, you tend to enjoy the best content in it, in addition to the Sherlock Holmes parts. It's the sign of a fine and active mind.

A goodly number of new Sherlockians we gained in the BBC Sherlock wave came with another fandom already in their pocket. That was seen as one more reason to build walls by the older Sherlockians who were a little afraid of this influx of TV-inspired fans, conveniently forgetting how many of their number signed up due to Basil Rathbone and Nigel-effing-Bruce (whom I dearly love as one would a dotty old uncle, but come on!). There was some notion that there existed pure Sherlockians, superior to these adulterated multi-fan Sherlockians.

But if you look back at the founding fathers of Sherlockiana, they were also fans of many another thing. Fine and active minds, as I've said. John Kendrick Bangs was doing Sherlock Holmes crossover fic in 1897, and folks have been mixing their other loves with their Sherlock fanning every chance they've gotten ever since.

And say what you want about the past, our future as humans is definitely not going to be single-minded. Done binge-watching a favorite show on Netflix? Guess what? Next Friday is an entirely new series you just might come to love. Choosing where to invest your fannish time becomes a major life skill, as we have such a bounty of entertainment riches now, with so many that are really, really good. The days of going, "Well, I guess I'll watch TekWar because it's the only genre thing on," are far behind us.

Mono-fanning didn't even exist when we thought it existed. In the 1980s, once you ran out of Sherlock Holmes material to collect or read, you'd find yourself suddenly picking up the fiction of Christopher Morley, just because he liked Sherlock Holmes, too. Soon, you might find yourself with a small collection and visiting a Morley-related site, neither of which activity really had to do with Sherlock Holmes. You could evolve a side fandom of the Baker Street Irregulars society, of Conan Doyle's non-Sherlockian work, of Vincent Starrett bookishness, the list goes on and on, but those growths only came from attempting to stay within close contact with Sherlock Holmes.

Not to say any of those subjects close to Sherlock Holmes weren't of quality, or worth of study, but at close inspection, they don't have that much more to do with Sherlock Holmes than the TV show Merlin. And all it takes is for someone to write some really popular Sherlock/Merlin crossover novel that the copyright gods approve of, and suddenly Merlin has a lot more to do with Sherlock Holmes.

Does mono-fanning, "pure" fanning really exist at all, or is it just a concept for when we want to do a little gate-keeping or find an excuse for our disapproval of something? Or is it just something we see when we look at a human who has passed on so long ago we don't see what a multi-faceted wonder they truly were?

I don't know. But when I take these long Sunday walks, I tend to think about a lot of things I tend to do a lot of wondering as I'm wandering. Thanks, Three Patch, for your latest efforts.