Friday, May 29, 2020

Complicated times.

"You know my methods in such cases, Watson: I put myself in a man's place, and having first gauged his intelligence, I try to imagine how I should myself have proceeded under the same circumstances."
-- Sherlock Holmes in "The Musgrave Ritual"

Sherlock Holmes was a wise man, on that, I think most of us can agree.

And perhaps he was never more wise than in the statement above. Empathy. Trying to see another's point of view. Trying to just understand. Sherlock Holmes used that skill, among many others, to walk into so many situations that made no sense whatsover, and saw just what was going on.

Now, take the statement above and replace "intelligence" with the word "anger."

Tonight, I am angry, about as angry as I get without letting go. And that little choice, that momentary decision to just let it all out, that second when you know it would just feel so good to let it all out . . . yeah . . . it comes with regret most times. But as much of that emotion as I'm feeling tonight, I know that there are people out there whom I can't do a Sherlock Holmes and put myself in their place. They're carrying an anger that my life, my happy home, my sense of safety, has kindly never let me feel. I know it exists, because I'm a human being and still share that humanity with those folks.

I can't put myself in that other man's place tonight. But goddamn, how angry he must be. 

Sherlock Holmes had some other skills too. He could look at patterns in the mud, patterns in people's behavior, patterns in orange seeds in the mail, and see the larger picture. It was never just about the mud or the pips. Sure, he might have stopped at the mud splatters, "Watson, your boots are muddy, should we have Billy shine them up for you?" but we wouldn't read those stories, for some bore who just didn't like Watson having muddy boots. No, Holmes looked at those boots and saw the story behind them.

But the patterns, too, are almost beyond us. The web's have been woven over decades, not by Moriartys, but by clumsy worker bees pursuing single objectives without looking at collateral effects, with so many motives. Greed, egotism, sex . . . it would be so lovely to see a master plan at work behind it all, to just go, "Hey, if we shove Jeff Bezos off a waterfall, this all gets fixed!" (Yes, I know Jeff isn't the guy we most want to shove off that falls, but he's got a worldwide web under his control, so good Moriarty metaphor.) We'd like one simple answer like that, one hound with phosphorous on his face unleashed by one greedy cousin, but it isn't that simple. It took all of us to get here.

There's a reason we love Sherlock Holmes. He solves seemingly unsolveable things, and if we could solve things, we wouldn't love him so much. We can't come close to being him.

John Watson on the other hand, a man who was willing to travel with a stranger to a demon-haunted land just to see if he could help, even if Sherlock wasn't there, that guy we can do a fair impression of. To be brave when we don't understand, to listen to explanations that weren't immediately apparent to us, to allow other people to use their own skills, learning, and that little thing called "science" to show us facts that we didn't know before, whether or not we like them. John Watson had the hard job at 221B Baker Street, just being ready to help even when he wasn't the one who got noticed, got credit, or got to even seem smart.

And he knew how to wait and to listen. That, in the end, is how we come the closest to putting ourselves in another person's place, even if there is no way to truly ever feel what they feel. So maybe tonight, in this moment, we try to put our own reactions aside long enough to listen, like Watson.

It may be all we have.

If you decide to leave Sherlock stuff for a bit, which is my general specialty, here's a guy worth listening to.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Does the Canon have an expiration date?

As fans of Sherlock Holmes, we like to think of him as eternal.

And to some extent he is. The legend, the icon, the archetype, all that is a part of our culture now. But the original ACD stories? Classics, indeed. Favorites of many a living human, yes. But generational change is going to impact how future folks see those same tales.

After reading "The Adventure of the Wisteria Lodge" for our monthly Sherlock Story Society discussion at the Peoria Public Library (currently on Zoom), the good Carter remarked on how racist the story was with respect to any non-white, non-English people in the story. While we all go "Hey, that Three Gables thing is awfully racist!" it's slowly creeping up on most of us that the Italians, the South Americans, the Greeks, the anybody-but-regular-Brits tends to be seen as the problem to be solved.

Even if it's just a "fiery and passionate" woman with "Welsh blood" or the "fiery tropical love" of a Peruvian (both of which add a charming bit of sexism to the racism), there are many a trait from caricatures apparent when it comes to those of foreign birth. Where once we finally just went, "Steve Dixie is awful!" more and more people are looking at characters like his boss, Isadora Klein, with a scrutiny she didn't get before.

Even that best of Conan Doyle's tales of dealing with race, "The Yellow Face," has that very unfortunate title and main issue that there's something to be worried from that face of a different color. Replace "Yellow" with "Ghostly" and you not only can do the same story, but it actually becomes more eerie. Not just the possibility of a dead husband in the neighboring cottage, but a seriously dead husband back there.

Movies tend to show their age in a much more obvious way. The clothes, the dated dialogue, all those details that can make the whole venture seemed a bit foolishly dated. They are easily seen for what they were: products of a less considerate age. Literature, especially that deemed "classic," is usually of a quality that doesn't call itself out so quickly. And yet, over time, the details emerge. E-books of the "complete" Sherlock Holmes become less complete.

The bathwater around this baby is the same bathwater as in years past. Our awareness of how dirty it is sure has changed in the last forty years. But here's the thing: Sherlock Holmes is popular in Japan. Sherlock Holmes exists in India. Sherlock Holmes is well known in lands where the words aren't exactly the same as the words we read in England, America, Canada, etc. And yet, Sherlock Holmes is still enjoyed with different words.

We call those sixty stories "the Canon," comparing them to the Bible or some other Holy Book. And the thing about the Bible? It's been read and enjoyed in several different English editions for a very long time. As the Canon of Sherlock Holmes falls completely out of copyright, could it be time for a new edition of our own Canon? Something a little more cleaned-up for modern and future readers?

There will always be those purists who cry "blasphemy!" at such a thought, but there are also those legions who enjoy Sherlock Holmes in words that are not at all Conan Doyle's, in every form of fiction we have. What would a little polishing of the diamond hurt? There are actually a lot of differences in our existing editions, and super-purists still go back to the original Strand Magazine version if they feel the need. Or even the printed manuscripts.

Sherlock Holmes is eternal. But every single word of those sixty stories needn't be, if we want to show some thoughtfulness and care for people other than ourselves. That's what so much of the questions we face now really are: Are we just thinking of ourselves, or caring for our neighbors?

Even here in Sherlock-land.

Postscript: And can you imagine the joy some congress of Sherlockians would have debating every change in the creation of a New Modern Complete Sherlock Holmes? You know they would, even in the most heated debates along the way.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Return of the Dangling Prussian

It was both 1895 and 1985 when I first went into the bartending business on 2/21 of those years.

The above is a completely factual statement, oddly enough. How?

The Dangling Prussian.

There's a whole long involved story about how the Prussian came to be, besides the rumors of the fate of a particular German spy. It involves Dubuque, Iowa, an Englishman, and a Spider. But the short version is this: I wanted to do virtual Sherlockian meetings before the internet existed. When all we had was the good ol' U.S. Postal Service. Impossible, you say?

Well, even if you don't, there is one place where the impossible is very possible, where Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson live on, and where it is always . . . always . . . 1985.

Armed with only an IBM Selectric typewriter and a group of friends who liked to write letters, I gathered nine Sherlockians in the upstairs clubrooms of a pub called the Dangling Prussian. Gordon Speck, Jim Duval, Paul Herbert, Bill Cochran, Pj Doyle, Pattie and Terry Brunner, the good Carter, and myself became part of the story of a meeting -- the first meeting of a brand new Sherlock Holmes society called "the Montague Street Incorrigibles."

Everyone had been asked to send in some words of greeting, some general conversation on the story for the evening ("The Musgrave Ritual"), general musings on other topics, and, eventually, comments on the previous meeting. Those words were woven into the resulting story of that meeting on February 21, 1985, in the inn where it was always 1985.

We met three times a year, and little props came into the meeting packet to enhance the experience, including recipes for the annual banquets -- well, except for the time Moran was the caterer and packets of instant gruel arrived with the meeting story. The sergeant-at-arms was the big fellow who ran the inn, named Arminius Detweiller, and I served as the club secretary, working part-time behind the bar for Detweiller as the 1895s went by.

Inside the Prussian by Troy Taylor

The one-big-story version of the Montague Street Incorrible meetings lasted three years, with all the work it entailed, and then, in 1991 (and also 1895) the Prussian re-opened as an amateur press association -- another pre-internet make-do, where a publication was collated from individual pages sent in by the members of the association. That first gathering, with original Incorrigibles Pj Doyle and myself, adding in William Ballew, Peter Blau, Bob Burr, Wally Conger, Linda Reed, Tina Rhea, and John Stephenson. That version lasted until 1998, and got a lot more raucous, with some members writing their own stories of the goings-on downstairs in the main bar-room of the inn. Signora Ricolletti was hired on by Detweiller as the club's formidable bouncer, and despite that, there was at least one big fight with Alexander Holder.

Canonical characters did show up quite often during both incarnations of the Dangling Prussian, and I really wish it could have been kept open until 2004, when the Dark Lantern League -- a full role-play group -- started up, and could have me there. But that's another story.

The reason for this little trip down memory lane is my being invited to bartend virtually once again after twenty-some years, for a happy hour at the Dangling Prussian, this time over Zoom on Friday night June 12th, as a part of the massive Scintillation of Scions on-line symposium.  That Friday night will feature fifteen different guest bartenders, each with their own bar/lounge, ranging from the Tankerville Club to the Petri Wine Bar, with some really fun hosts. You have to be signed up for the symposium to join in, and it might even get a little crowded -- the sign-ups for the Scintillation have been impressive.

I got the late shift, so who knows what the crowd will be like at that point. This time the story is definitely going to write itself, though, so I will be very curious to see how it works out. (Oh, and by the by . . . the bartender at the Dangling Prussian prefers mead and mead-based ciders and wines for the drink specials. I mean, c'mon, Sherlock Holmes didn't retire to a vineyard like Jean Luc Picard, now, did he? And if anyone deserved the spirits of the gods, it was our consulting detective friend.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Adventure of Micah Clarke

Every now and then, I sort through my shelves and go, "Why do I have all these copies of Micah Clarke?"

And then I squint up my face to demonstrate that I'm thinking very hard and ask my tortured memory cells, "Did I even ever attempt to read Micah Clarke?"

More evidence for the camp that believes I might be one of the worst people in our hobby . . . well, their hobby. I'm a lovely Sherlockian, by my lights. But I suspect  a few Sherlockians also consider being a Sherlockian means being a proper Doylean, and when it comes to that? Oh, yes, I am a horrific Doylean, and I've got the spinning Doyle coffin to prove it.

So, back to Micah Clarke. I have these books for two reasons, the first being the predecessor to the information superhighway, the antique superhighway. In other words, the interstates full of antique malls that appeared across this land and then started fading fast when eBay started scooping up all the good stuff. There was a period, a lovely little period in the last century, when you could actually find Sherlock Holmes items for a buck or two at said antique malls. And if you didn't find Sherlock Holmes, you could find Conan Doyle.

And one of the most common ways to find either Sherlock Holmes or Conan Doyle was in cheap hardcover editions of pirated novels printed before all the copyright arrangements were nailed down between American and England, and Conan Doyle had proper contracts in place.

A Study in Scarlet and Micah Clarke were two well-plundered sources of pirate booty. The former was just as commonly found as the latter in the earliest antique mall days, but no Sherlockian ever stops to go "Why do I have this old copy of A Study in Scarlet?" Micah Clarke, though?

One wonders, now and again. I do need to read it one of these days, I suppose.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Love in a time of horse factory explosion

After being recently confused by an attempt connect our current pandemic with Sherlock Holmes in "The Dying Detective," I was relieved to be reminded of a true Canonical pandemic reference while listening to this week's "The Final Podblem."

Of course, they didn't specifically mention it, a certain member of that podcast team being a lying liar who can pull off an outlandish fabrication without a hint of falseness. As their review of "The Yellow Face" came to the fate of Effie Munro's first husband, instead of dying of yellow fever, he was suddenly dead of an explosion at the horse factory.

T'was an early morning, one of those where a man of a certain age awakes feeling oddly enough in parts of the body that hypochondria set in ("Is this it? Is this when the [Insert Killer Ailment Here] gets me at last?"), so I shall claim multiple excuses for starting to look up Canonical horse factories. You know . . . those CANONICAL HORSE FACTORIES that Sherlockians have discussed for all of my forty years in this business.


The Canon has a leather factory (Close!) and a bicycle factory (That surely ran the horse factory out of business.), as well as a bust factory and an artificial knee-cap factory, but as you probably well know, not a single horse factory. Not the little factory in Sweden that makes wooden horses. Not one of those gruesome joints were they make horse steaks and horseburger. And not a subcontractor for Westworld's robotic steeds.

What would a Canonical horse factory be, except one thing: A handy diversion from a yellow fever pandemic that was supposed to help divert we stupid laymen one step further into thinking a horrific yellow face at a window was the result of ravages of yellow fever. I don't think I ever quite fell for that one. But in Victorian England? A young medical man trying to pull a literary trick on the average Jimmy England? Oh, yeah, yellow fever will give you permanent yellow ugly-face, sure.

But this is 2020. We're much more medically savvy than the common Victorian. Right?

Well, I would be putting on airs, but those explosions at the Victorian horse factories really have me in a funk. Poor John Hebron.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Darkest Golden Age of Sherlockiana?

Man, I hope I don't die soon.

Too dark? Hey, being over sixty in the age of pandemic really puts a tinge of existential threat on things. I mean, even that silly phrase, "existential threat" is just a way of fancy-word sugar-coating "HEY, THIS THING COULD KILL US!" Not like all life isn't about just staying alive. Whether you're a brother, or whether you're a mother, you're stayin' alive, stayin' alive . . .

Because, HEY! Once you get past all the disease, death, unemployment, ignorance, et cetera, et cetera, ET FRIGGIN' CETERA, there's a lot of really good stuff going on in the Sherlockian world right now. The sheer number of cool ideas spinning around our mental planet like an asteroid belt of gifts from Santa's sleigh since the cosmos shook our cage has been a real teaser for better things ahead.

Too many metaphors at once? Maybe. But that's kind of where I am.

The wave of "Hey, I can attend Sherlock Holmes society meetings anywhere!" is just one part of it. To combat the stresses of everything else, I think our brains are just naturally coming up with beautiful little trail markers to try to distract us. "Oh, look, here's a path you haven't explored!" And when one of us goes down that path, others notice, start that way, and diverge onto their own sideroads. It started before the pandemic hit, but the pressure of an "existential threat" seems to be adding a quiet push of "USE IT OR LOSE IT!" behind it all.

Thanos is snapping his fingers, time to find your Avengers, to borrow from what may be the last blockbuster ever, if the theaters close down for good. (See, there's a thought we never used to have even come up. Existential threats!)

I've written before, I think, about how Sherlockiana didn't really come into being while Doyle was churning out stories, killing Sherlock, bringing Sherlock back, etc., when life was good. No, it took a Great Depression, a World War, a pandemic, and all the other crap the early twentieth century had to throw at humankind to spin a few folks into birthing Sherlock Holmes fandom. Sherlock was there, fun to read and all, but that next step . . . that thing that turns the raw material into a diamond . . . is the pressure. Doyle provided the vein of minerals to mine. The times created the miners to dig it.

Waking up in the morning to a genius take on Holmes and Watson from one of our better prospectors is starting to be a regular thing. And things that didn't used to have "Sherlock Holmes" written all over them are now getting red glowing letters with that name appearing on them like a targeting laser.

Things to do. Research to look into. Words to write. People to see? Well, that one's a little harder, but we'll get there. Hope you're finding bright spots in all this, because they seem to be there.

Man, I hope I don't die soon.

Monday, May 18, 2020

An unexpected boom

When Sherlock Holmes closes a door, Jefferson Hope breaks out a window.

That might be the best Sherlockian allusion to make for what we're now seeing as humanity gets over the initial shock of transitioning to pandemic life. With local scion meetings, banquets, symposiums and all the in-person stuff being shutdown, did our lives suddenly have less things to do?

Not if you have a good internet connection.

Where we were once limited by distance, an ambitious Sherlockian can now attend gatherings in Dallas, Seattle, New Jersey without paying air fare or taking time off work. The John H. Watson Society, a group too widespread to gather regularly, threw a meeting together in a week or two that went very well. And Zoom calls aren't the only shift. The Baker Street Irregulars, usually known for print endeavors, have launched a video blog as a direct result of the shift. The Scintillation of Scions changing to online this year may not be a permanent change for them, but they are blazing new territory for other Sherlockian events of the future.

Sherlockians plainly know what to do with lemons. Every flaw Conan Doyle ever let slip into his works has resulted in some beautiful blooms from Sherlockians using those flaws as seeds in their mental gardens. This pandemic trouble was just one more little Watsonian slip, once we realized it wasn't going to kill us immediately.

Even here in my own little corner of the Sherlockian universe, what started as a nightly relaxation when I found the usual video game wasn't working during corona stress, has turned into a new Sherlockian mini-hobby: Photoshopping books into imaginary Sherlockian works for my library of dreams. A week's furlough took me down a rabbit hole of vacation-in-place (but shifting in time) that led to about a third of a draft for a book, which is continuing even now . . . and, yes, Sherlockian, what else?

If Covid-19 doesn't kill us, Sherlockiana just might, as all this piles up. But then, we always knew that a thorough investigation of Sherlock Holmes takes a life(time).

So here we go, once again.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

What Happened to Mary

Okay, so here's a curious sidelight on where Sherlockiana will lead you.

You may have noticed the book covers from "the library in my dreams" that appear on my Twitter or Facebook feeds every night, you know that usually I take some old book and play with it a bit in Photoshop. We've gathered a lot of old books in our house over the years -- I love those with illustrations printed on the cloth of their hardback covers, and sometimes will pick one up just because it's such a pretty book. Other books on our shelves come down from my mother, and even my grandmother. Tonight, because of the tempting title, I displayed one as it really looks: What Happened to Mary by Robert Carlton Brown.

We all wonder what happened to Mary Morstan, John H. Watson's wife, so the title makes the Sherlockian imagination run wild. Could it be that Robert Carlton Brown knew something of Mary's fate we did not?

After posting the picture tonight, I started becoming curious as to what the book was actually about, and quickly found it was more than just a novel.  What Happened to Mary was the 1913 novelization of a silent movie and stage play, given to my grandmother by her mother. For illustrations, it includes photos from both the movie and the play. The idea of a novelization from an era when Sherlock Holmes was barely done with his active career is very cool, and now I'm finding myself drawn to this Mary to see what parallels to Mary Morstan might show up and give clues as to that Mary's fate. I mean, look at this . . .

Mary is rejecting one of her "many suitors." We knew Watson's wife drew "folk who were in grief ... like birds to a light-house," but did she draw unwanted suitors as well?

And what secrets do Mary's baby clothes have to tell? We know her father sent her back to England, a country where she had no relatives, as a child, her mother having died some time before. There is so much we could stand to learn there as well.

Perhaps it's just all wishful thinking on my part, that a book with a title that lines up with Sherlockian dreams came along at a time when I was thinking about Sherlockian dream books. And to consider that any two women who just share the name "Mary" might bear parallels to one another and reveal secrets on their name-twin is sheer folly. But madder things have been done in the name of Sherlock Holmes, so it's worth a look, isn't it?

Of course, it's not like there aren't a thousand other things to do right now. Being a Sherlockian shut-in seems to make the projects multiply rather than reduce them, here at Sherlock Peoria. But we'll see where this odd 1913 side road leads, in any case.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Reaction to a Resurrection

In the end, we can only say what comes from our own hearts.

It's not often that I approach a Sherlockian subject with pure emotion, but during a discussion of "The Empty House" in a Zoom meeting of the Parallel Case of St. Louis, I found a point in the Canon in which my opinion was based upon no logic whatsoever. Just emotion.

In BBC Sherlock, we know how the Reichenbach fall played out. Sherlock made John watch him die, hid behind a crypt while John mourned over his grave, then showed up later with a cute moustache and a goofy waiter act when John is having dinner with his wife. This John then flew into a recurring rage and bashed him repeatedly. That makes sense.

In the original "Empty House," every part of that story is tempered. Watson doesn't see Holmes die, just gets a note. Holmes flees over the mountains, knowing he's still being stalked, and doesn't hang around, peeking around corners for the readers to see. When he comes back, he's in disguised, yes, but he's also avoiding a sniper until he can end the threat. He takes risks, but has returned at a time when Watson seems to have lost his wife, and is alone again. And Watson shows no sign of anger at seeing his friend alive again. They have a few hours of private time together that we readers are not privy to.

Until BBC Sherlock came out, I don't remember hearing a lot of thought that original Canon John Watson would have been furious with his Sherlock Holmes. His joy at Holmes's return was the reader's joy at having our old friend back. And without the added theatrics of BBC Sherlock, watching the fall, toying about while not far away, I still just cannot see why OC Watson would feel anything but pure joy upon finding his friend was once more alive. Am I a sociopath, who can't empathize with human feelings? Quite the opposite.

My youngest brother died last fall, and I feel that loss all the time. It was the hardest death I've had to face thus far in life, and were he to suddenly show up at my door, laugh in my face, and flat out go "I tricked you!" would my immediate reaction be anger? If it was there at all, it would be buried in sheer love and I couldn't punch the guy with arms that were just hugging the shit out of him. I think of other friends, and the feeling is the same. Grief is hard, loss is hard, but to be given the gift of a return at a point where you truly had come to understand how much that person meant to you, the kind of understanding that only comes with loss?

I don't think I could feel much outside of the joy at that point.

You know we quote that damned Vincent Starrett poem far too much, but, oh boy, did he hit the nail so many times in that one poem. When it comes to Sherlock Holmes, "Only those things the heart believes are true," and sometimes your heart just makes your headcanon . . . or is that, then, "heartcanon?"

Adaptations will go where they will, and often shade our images of our two friends. But I think I've found my baseline when it comes to a reaction to a resurrection: Heartcanon.

John Watson's own Cool World

It's fascinating, sometimes, what thoughts a confluence of events will put into your head. This week, two different podcasts collided in my head to create a headcanon theory that just makes perfect sense.

The first podcast was the ever-lively Final Podblem, which tackled the racism of the story "The Three Garridebs," as well as racism in general, this week.

The second was the movie-rewatch podcast How Did This Get Made, which went back to talk about the "not quite Roger Rabbit" bomb called Cool World.

The Final Podblem guys had read bits by Martin Dakin and others that argued for and against Conan Doyle being the true author of "The Three Gables." There have always been Conan Doyle fans who put him on a pedestal beyond mere human flaws, and even though I didn't remember reading any arguments that he didn't create the obnoxiously racist Steve Dixie, I could believe such thoughts were out there. And in any case, we all know Doyle didn't write "The Three Gables," or any of the Canon, except maybe the third person stories -- John H. Watson did. (And Sherlock Holmes, in two cases.)

Since the guys were talking about "Three Gables" as a rare exception, after listening, I brought to their attention the manuscript found in Doyle's closet for "Angels of Darkness," a play full of racist stereotypes that were apparently Conan Doyle attempting comedy. Unless it was really Watson's work, of course . . . bear with me on this.

Then I listened to a retrospective on the movie Cool World, the story of a man in prison who creates a comic book universe of stereotypes, then, when he leaves prison, gets sucked into that world he created, and has to deal with those stereotypes, including a male-wish-fulfillment-fantasy woman that his mind dreamed up. And that suddenly kicked me back to John H. Watson.

John H. Watson, we know, wrote A Study in Scarlet. John H. Watson is a character in the world of "Angels of Darkness," that version of the second half of A Study in Scarlet with cartoony characters, as well as a version of Lucy Ferrier that is in love with John Watson. Start to make sense yet?

If someone did want to contend that Conan Doyle didn't write the play he had stashed in his closet the whole time, and said person also contended that Conan Doyle was the agent for a real Dr. Watson, then who wrote Angels of Darkness during the darkest time of his own life?

Wounded and worn in both body and mind, John Watson was attempting to tell the story of Lucy Ferrier and Jefferson Hope, yet, with nothing else to do but lie around his hotel room and then 221B Baker Street recovering and staring at his room-mate, Watson found himself being drawn into that story. Watson fantasized a version of the latter part of A Study in Scarlet where Lucy Ferrier fell in love with him in a weird cartoony world where even Sherlock Holmes had a doppelganger based on the name of the street his former lodgings were on, "Sir Montague Brown."

Using a Cool World perspective, "Angels of Darkness" suddenly has a place in the lives of Watson and his agent Conan Doyle, as a weird place Watson's mind went to during a most troubled time. It might even make a better movie than Cool World itself, because, trust me, that thing sucked. (For fans of Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger, though, still watchable.)

That manuscript found in Doyle's things being exposed by the BSI press almost twenty years ago was definitely a hard pill to swallow when it came to one's view of Conan Doyle. Wrapping it with a candy coating of Watson in post-war delirium as headcanon helps smooth it out a little bit, but at the same time, we should never, ever forget the racism that has run so throroughly and deeply through our culture, even for good-intentioned folk like Conan Doyle, our grandparents, our parents, and ourselves. It's something we all have to be mindful of, no matter how non-serious a guise it might try to sneak in under.

And, as with Watson recovering from his war traumas, hope to get better one day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Reverse Darth

Okay, it's early morning on May 5th, and the social media topics from yesterday are still swirling around the waking brain. As always, there was a certain little battle playing out on May 4th for the true blue Sherlockian: "May the Fourth Be With You Day" (a.k.a. Star Wars Day) versus the "historical" Reichenbach Falls Day.

While the former was just chosen fairly recently (Hey, forty years is "recent" in Sherlock fan time!), Reichenbach Day has been with us since "The Final Problem" was published in 1893. Sure, we didn't call it "Reichenbach Day" but "The Day Sherlock Holmes Died" has been with us since Sherlock Holmes "Died." (Boy, am I putting quotation marks around a lot of things this morning!)

The events of that fateful day are well known to us in both of their versions: The one in which Sherlock Holmes was thought by John Watson to have died, and the one where Sherlock Holmes knew he lived. In both, Holmes and the great criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty face off in final battle atop the Swiss waterfall. In the one we knew in 1893, both plunge over the cliff to their deaths. In the 1903 "What Really Happened" version, however, we learned that a Japanese wrestling technique called Baritsu enabled Sherlock Holmes to slip out of Moriarty's grasp and only the Professor went over the falls.

So, what does that have to do with the Star Wars movies, other than sharing a date due to a pun?

Well, nothing really. Unless your brain does an early morning mash-up.

I don't think Star Wars is at all based upon "The Final Problem," but it does like to do one thing that the earlier tale did: Drop enemies from large precipices to their death. It happens a few times in the series, but the first, and most prominent, occurs in The Empire Strikes Back, where our hero and his great nemesis face off and those shocking immortal words are uttered: "No, I am your father."

See how a morning brain might mash this up?

While we always have wondered why Moriarty, the great criminal mastermind, decided to hand-to-hand wrestle with Sherlock Holmes in Switzerland, rather than shooting him -- or better yet, have his personal sniper Moran shoot him, maybe he, like Darth Vader was holding back for paternal reasons, as he revealed to Sherlock Holmes, "No, I am your father."

But when Sherlock responded with "No, that's not true. That's impossible!" he wasn't the one who was beaten, bruised, and hanging on by one hand. And he wasn't the one whose let go (maybe just because Sherlock wouldn't help pull him up, rather than a conscious choice to fall and hope for the best).

Suddenly, Sherlock Holmes wandering the world in search of his true identity and coming to terms with Moriarty's words makes a lot more sense than him hiding out from Sebastian Moran for years and years.

Did Holmes and Moriarty pull a "Reverse Darth Vader" at the falls? Did Sherlock Holmes later find out that Irene Adler was really his sister? And does anybody really need an Emperor character and a bunch of Ewoks in their story, which would have to be the Andaman Islanders in the case of Sherlock Holmes? And do Star Wars Day and Reichenbach Day occur on the same day for a cosmic reason, to guide us to the hidden truth of Moriarty's role in Sherlock's life?

So many questions, because somebody back in 1979 made a pun!