Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Bruce-Partington pastiche

 Tonight was once again Sherlock Holmes Story Society night here in Peoria, and where I usually come away with a variety of different thoughts from our discussion, new perspectives, etc., this time I came away with just one, and it haunts me.

The story was "The Bruce-Partington Plans." The haunting thought?

I don't feel like Conan Doyle wrote this one.

We've always had the odd little authorship theories with Sherlock Holmes, be it our purposefully fantasy of Watson's work, the Fletcher Robinson business, or that one or more of his wives took a hand in it. But I never really felt like a tale has all the elements of a pastiche in it as much as "Bruce-Partington Plans." It is written well enough, yes, but it's written a bit too thoroughly.  

Yes, yes, it's practically the focus of Vincent Starrett's poem "221B" -- 1895, yellow fog, and all that. But when you compare it to other stories, the author spends a whole lot of time on details that he would not have dallied over in earlier times, entire visits to characters that seem unnecessary. And did we need one more "Violet?" Nothing cries out "pastiche" like a Violet.

Miss Violet Westbury, Mr. Sidney Johnson, Colonel Valentine Walter . . . one one starts down this path, those three all have the blandness of pastichery characters. Another mark of the pastiche? Here comes brother Mycroft. How about a Victorian celebrity? How about the Victorian celebrity, Queen Victoria herself, who practically waltzes into Baker Street in this tale. (Though she is, sadly, kept apart from her greatest admirer John Watson. Holmes and Watson headcanon -- catch the fever!)

Holmes decides to do burglary and doesn't know if Watson will go, even though we've already seen the two as burglars in "Charles Augustus Milverton." When Watson says he will go, Holmes jumps up to shake Watson's hand and looks in his eyes with "nearer to tenderness than I had ever seen." Some real Johnlocking going on there, because you know the writer had to be thinking "KISS! KISS!" and pulled back, knowing his editor wouldn't allow it. Okay, perhaps I went too far on that one for old school readers, but just look at some of the lines in this puppy:

"What do you think of it,Watson?" Holmes asks of the idea West's body was atop the train.

"A masterpiece," Watson exudes, "You have never risen to a greater height."

Really, Watson? Were you around for the other cases?

And that last line where the author actually gets in the title: "I have little doubt that the emerald pin will forever recall to my friend's memory the adventure of the Bruce-Partington plans." I mean, who writes cheese like that except a fan? 

Let's take this theory a step further. In 1904, Conan Doyle finished writing the stories that were collected as "The Return of Sherlock Holmes." After four years, in 1908, he supposedly writes "Wisteria Lodge" and "Bruce-Partington Plans." then he goes another coupe of years before the very excellent return to form with "The Devil's Foot" in 1910.  

"Wisteria Lodge" has its own problems, but at least in Brian W. Pugh's A Chronology of the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Pugh records that "Wisteria Lodge" was written in April, then published in September and October. "Bruce-Partington Plans" is recorded as being published in December of 1908, but no mention of it being written by Doyle is ever made. The manuscript for the story is said to exist in an "unrecorded location." Perhaps the team behind the BSI manuscript series had clearer knowledge of its whereabouts, but if it is ever subject to our scrutiny, what might that handwriting look like? Jean's? That of young Inness with embellishments by his father?

Something has always seemed a little off about "Wisteria Lodge" which came out during that 1908 island of the Canon. But with "Bruce-Partington Plans," the oddity is almost the opposite of the earlier tale -- it's' just a little too cozily fitting in that "just like a Holmes story" niche with a little more loving detail added in than Doyle usually took the time to add. It is a curious thing.

Any takers on this theory? Or just another wild conjecture from Peoria?


The clubbable Sherlockian

 There's a word out there that comes up in certain Sherlockian circles that I find rather questionable, and that word is "clubbable."

"Suitable for membership of a club because of one's sociability or popularity," according to Oxford.

"Fit to be a member of a club," according to

The actual meaning of "clubbable," of course, depends upon the club in question, or more specifically, the person or persons deciding who should get into that club. It's a vague term used in exclusionary situations where someone wants to get by without setting specific qualifications and would rather keep things at "only letting in people we like." Because if "clubbable" is about getting along with the club members appropriately, we all know who we get along best with: people we like.

"Clubbable" is one of those old white guy words you can hear coming out of the mouth of a stuffy cartoon high-society caricature of the sort that our current fictions tend to do better than. Racism and sexism get called out specifically. Bias against those who are specifically different gets spoked to specifically. "Clubbable" has certainly covered a lot of sins in its time, and maybe it's time we stopped using it to cover up any future transgressions.

It's 2020, guys, time to be as honest as we can, because lord know the dishonest are taking their game to whole new levels, and we have to be able to recognize truth, even in settings where nice people are doing nice things. It's kind of what Sherlock Holmes was all about, wasn't it?

Some folks are concerned with "cancel culture," and we've seen it raise its head in Sherlockian circles, right or wrong. But we shouldn't pretend it wasn't always here in a more subtle, backroom fashion. The Sherlockian holding a grudge against a few other Sherlockians and quietly taking shots in private settings has been with us for a long time, while that person maintains a public face that keeps them oh-so "clubbable." Others of us are not quite so shy with our opinions, for better or worse. But at least it's on the record, which will probably keep us "unclubbable" if the gatekeepers of clubbiness disagree.

Objective standards for any job candidate are the norm for businesses, and if a club is taking a more business-like model, qualifications and best-candidate traits make perfect sense. You hire for the best employees to get the job done you want done. For an actual social club, though? We all get to pick our friends, but if you want to claim to be something more and rise above the mediocre, sometimes you have to allow some differing opinions in. Maybe let yourself be challenged a little bit.

I doubt Sherlock Holmes would have found much use for the imprecise nature of "clubbable." And probably wouldn't have worked to fit into the mold of any club that demanded such. (Ah, good old crabby Diogenes Club.) It also sounds a bit like you're someone who wants to do nasty things to baby seals, but I'll let that alone for this diatribe.

I've probably clubbed enough for the moment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Enola's coming out party

 Well, if you haven't seen the big Netflix preview of Enola Holmes, and are not a "I don't do movies" sort, get on that right now . . . I'll wait.

After decades and decades of Irene Adlers, female Watsons, Mary Russells, and other women in Sherlock's orbit who complemented, competed, or co-existed in his shadow, it looks like we're about to get the cultural breakout of a female character embodying all the fun of Sherlock while being her own person. Not to downplay any of those ladies of the past, but this movie is giving us something new. Intended for a big-screen theatrical release in a pre-Covid world, Enola Holmes looks like she's going to make a splash, and possibly a bigger one with a Netflix release than she would have in theaters.

After Sherlock's last big-media sister, Eurus, was such a dark mess of a human being (with aspects that possibly did not reflect well on her male creators' thoughts on women), Enola comes across as a real bright and shining star of a Sherlockian movie character. Having the character portrayed by an actress who has already made her name with the Netflix show Stranger Things only boosts her visibility from square one. 

The fact that Henry Cavill, coming off his Netflix Witcher popularity and playing Sherlock Holmes, looks solidly cast as a supporting character in the preview, is also a plus. This doesn't look like a movie where we're going to be constantly waiting for Sherlock Holmes to show up again, with him being the only reason we wanted to watch it -- I'd watch this movie if it were "Enola Poirot."

It seems to have the pace of a Robert Downey Jr. film, the breaking-the-fourth-wall fun of a Deadpool, a touch of recognition of the past with a Paget-altered drawing, Helena Bonham Carter . . . and could Hole's "Celebrity Skin" be a better rocker to put behind that preview? Nice attitude.

What we have here is a thoroughly modern Sherlock Holmes film based on a well-thought-out book series, that looks like somebody was a.) paying attention, and b.) looking to have some fun.

And these days, who doesn't need a little fun?

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Sidekick abuse

 Contemplating some recent events in the world of comics as I watched another classic sidekick put through the wringer just to give his hero a story, I couldn't help but think of our Watson.

We never really total up the abuse Watson takes for the sake of Sherlock Holmes from day one.

John H. Watson literally takes a bullet just to meet Sherlock Holmes.

And worse than that, he gets a horrible abdominal illness that wastes him away and ruins his health so that he can do nothing but lay on the couch for months and watch his room-mate. Since he has no medical practice, his true calling, he's readily available when Sherlock Holmes gets a whim to invite him along to his first murder investigation.

Watson cannot have a happy marriage due to Sherlock Holmes. He can't help out his wife's friend without running into Sherlock Holmes and not coming home that night. And when Sherlock Holmes turns out to have faked his own death and needs to come back to London, the great author-god reaches down from the heavens over Baker Street and snuffs Watson's wife. (Or causes something so terrible that she leaves Watson for eight years, your call, neither good.)

Watson takes another bullet to see Sherlock Holmes cares whether he lives or dies. Watson is almost poisoned by deadly fumes just to see Holmes's heart, but never can explicitly tell us what he sees there. And those are just the big hits -- the little zings and stings of daily life with Sherlock Holmes must be accounted for as well.

While Conan Doyle never went so far as to have criminals kidnap, torture, or threaten Watson for their ends, most others who have taken Watson's pen in hand have given into that temptation. Put Watson in a Guy Fawke's bonfire just to get Holmes to save him. Let Moriarty torture Watson to mindlessness just to get Holmes's reaction. Make Dr. Watson the stupidest human in the 1940s just for a weak touch of comedy. Give Watson a failed affair with one of the poorer Mycrofts, just to test Holmes's jealousy. On and on the list goes.

While Sherlock Holmes takes some hits in his life, his personality, looks, gender, age, etc., etc. are never changed so dramatically from appearance to appearance. Does Watson feel pain from such wrenching shape-shifting on a regular basis, almost like the repetitive torments of a soul in hell itself? I certainly hope not. He/she/they has enough pain in the narratives themselves to consider his/her/their suffering in those interim limbos between appearances.

Feeling a great urge to write comfort pastiches for Watson now, where he just gets warm fuzzies and treats during the whole case. Is there a market for worlds where Watson gets to write in loving comfort?

I sure hope so.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The comfortable feel of a local Sherlockian group, even now

It was surely sometime in the 1990s when I last attended a meeting of the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn, the Sherlockian society of St. Charles, Missouri. St. Charles might be called a suburb of St. Louis, but it's also a picturesque river town all its own, so it was a great place for the good Carter and I to make a weekend getaway back when my first visit occurred.

Tonight was my second Harpooners meeting, and you know why: Zoom connectivity. Some of the same faces we saw in the nineties were still there, their "Blue Whale" Michael Bragg among them. J. Andrew Basford ran a good meeting, and it reminded me very much of the local meetings we used to have in Peoria: Toasts, some current news, a presentation on the story of the evening and some discussion of it. Probably similar to many a Sherlockian society, but being back to doing in on a Friday night at 7 PM Central Time, the time when Peoria's own Hansoms of John Clayton would meet on the third Friday of every month . . . it really brought a very familiar vibe that hadn't hit me on Zoom meetings just yet.

A good many go for the middle of the day on weekends, to expand their time zone reach, if they weren't doing that already. The evening meeting definitely cuts down on faraway attendees.  But even though the Harpooners did get one Canadian this time, and the two fellows you see everywhere these days, Steve Mason and Rich Krisciunas (not complaining, guys, you are enriching things wherever you go), there was still a distinctly local feel to it. Maybe because almost everybody was familiar to me, being just a few hours away, maybe due to their familiarity with each other.

It made me start to wonder if this might be the time to revitalize Peoria's old group, in this time when a few ringers can add to the local crowd via our new practice. But would a new version of our old local group add anything new to the mix we're seeing now? There are already an embarrassment of riches for the Zoom-happy Sherlockian, and most of us can't keep up as it is.

But I seem to learn something new from every group I visit, and the fourteen who gathered for tonight's Harpooners meeting were no exception. And such meetings always make me wonder where we're going in the future as Sherlockians. The Harpooners still have hopes to go back to in-person soon. But this "new normal" probably won't disappear when that day does come for many a function. And we may start to have groups with a "local" feel that are composed of people who are from all over the world.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of time," the famous first line goes, and I'm starting to see how that might work.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The strange bond between collectors and scholars

 On the latest episode of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, the head of the Baker Street Irregulars was talking about the BSI publishing business. Publishing is the biggest public-facing side of the group, all in all, and one big facet of BSI publishing these days is the ongoing attempt to publish reproductions of all available Doyle manuscripts. The discussion brought up the Irregulars role as a "literary society" and how the publishing of the manuscript reproductions was of great use to the study of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Can't argue with that, right?

But as someone who owns several of those volumes, as well as some Doyle manuscript reproductions done before the BSI took up the task, I was a little bit suspect of a completely scholarly motivation for reproducing the original manuscripts of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Having been around Sherlockians for forty years, and being an avid one myself, I know that certain other factors drive us with far more energy than pure altruistic scholarship.

Like collecting. There's a certain Pokemon "got to catch 'em all" aspect of the BSI Manuscript series that can't be denied. Once you start down that path, the lure of completing the set will always be there, even if you aren't really interested in what words Doyle crossed out and replaced in a given story. Or how the handwriting is different in some places than others. Just having a full set on the shelf drives one's obsessive/compulsive traits at some point.

But if you think about it, that's always been the case with collectors, who often don't care what something actually says as much as the fact they own it and can claim to have read it. Am I being hard on collectors here? Maybe, but they serve a very important purpose, however pure or impure we personally view their motives. They are the archivists, the ones whose personal mission it is to gather and preserve all of the data around Sherlock Holmes, even if they are so busy collecting they don't have time to fully explore what they have. That remains for others to do, especially if said collection goes somewhere like the fabulous libraries of Minnesota or Toronto.

John Bennett Shaw gained a reputation for being the greatest collector of his age, the great Sherlockian evangelist of his age as well, but not the greatest scholar, which was fine. He aided and abetted the scholars, like Ron DeWaal and his cataloging efforts, by just having that collection. There's a symbiosis between collectors and scholars that benefits both parties.

Not saying that collectors can't be scholars, or that scholars don't become collectors, or that we don't have other motives for owning a Doyle manuscript reproduction. There is a totemic quality to holding a copy of Conan Doyle's original creative act, putting the words to paper to conjure the genie, that makes those works magical in a way that even just owning one, especially for a favorite story, gives you the feeling of a bond that transcends time. There's a wizarding quality to the Sherlockian hobby that we don't consider nearly often enough as we toss Sherlock's magic around, and certain items become imbued with power beyond the mere paper and ink that built them.

It's the magic, I think, that really gave us collectors and scholars to begin with, as well as the writers, the artists, the performers, and all who roam the paths radiating from that central point of 221B Baker Street. All intertwined, all a part of that grand composite effect we call "Sherlockiana."

One has to wonder if Sherlock Holmes, were he alive and in his Sussex cottage right now, might be studying that great hive of a hobby that he inspired and trying to segregate a Sherlockian queen, however that metaphor plays out. Because it is one hell of a hive.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Fifty year old Sherlockian 'zines

 Sometimes, even and older fellow like me gets surprised at how far back some parts of Sherlockiana go. As long as somebody is able to reproduce type, stories of Sherlock Holmes appear in print. This afternoon I was taking a little time to sort a few things out and ran across an especially nice piece of our history.

September of 1971, and a Minneapolis Sherlockian named Ruth Berman is collecting Sherlockian material from other zines, and, with permission to reprint, collecting it into her own fanzine called SH-sf Fanthology and letting folks have those collections for a mere fifty cents a copy.

"The Martian Who Hated People" by Edward Ludwig, from a 1955 publication called Inside. "A Letter (Mycroft to S.)" by Jon White, from a 1968 issue of Fistula. "Moriarty and the Binomial Theorem" by Doug Hoylman and Proper Boskonian #6, and February 1971.

The next year, she was back again with a third issue.

"The Adventure of the Second Narrator, or The Case of the Doctor Who Had No Business" by Dick Lupoff from Pok-Pik '66 Souvenir Booklet. "Annotations in Afghanistan, a discussion by members of Apa-L" by Bill Warren, Len and June Moffat, Don Fitch, Ted Johnstone, Joyce O'Dell, and Dan Goodman from seven issues of Apa-L (numbers 258-264). A limerick from a 1971 Despatch, as well as art by Mary Ellen Raboglatti. The classic "Holmes was a Vulcan or 'Mr. Holmes, where have you lived?'" by Priscilla Pollner, which first appeared in Son of a Beach's first issue in 1970. And Ruth Berman's own "Sherlock Holmes in Oz," which had already seen print in the first issue of Oziana two years earlier.

I'm not sure how they were originally reproduced, as I didn't get my copies from Ruth Berman until the mid-eighties, when photocopying on plain paper was more common than in 1972. I know a lot of fanzine creators paid the high price for offset printing of their typewritten works back in the day. Things were a wee bit different almost fifty years ago. But, like I said at the start, people got their Sherlock-works out there any way they could. 

Science fiction fans have always loved Sherlock Holmes, I think, and that's one reason he could be seen creeping into fanzines before he ever had his own (unless you want to count The Baker Street Journal as a very high quality fanzine when it first came out, and a case could be made). And one can see both genders represented from early, early on, despite the "old boys club" feel some Sherlockian history gets, despite women like Dorothy Sayers being right in there with the best of them.

It's good to get a glimpse of what came before now and then, just to remember that the current version of the Sherlockian world didn't invent crossovers or fan art. (Though, man, is it at a whole 'nother level now!) And get reminded that Sherlock Holmes as a Vulcan has been a thought that's been with us for half a century as of this year. Half a century!

(And by the by, anybody ever ask Nic Meyer if, when Spock quoted his ancestor and comes out with a Holmes line in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was Spock quoting a human ancestor or a Vulcan ancestor? Mr. Spock had both, so the question was kind of left unanswered.)

Hold on to things, kids. Fifty years from now, somebody's going to need material to tell the other Sherlockians about, and it might just be you.

And one other thing. All of these goodies got distributed by the United States Postal Service. A service provided to everyone by the country in which we live for the completely reasonable cost of a few stamps. Not a goddamned business with profit motives governing choices. A public service like fire departments and libraries and the National Guard. Sorry for the sudden dark turn at the end, folks, but some bad shit is going down out there and we can't stick our heads in the sand. It's gonna get a lot uglier before it gets better, you gotta know that on this mid-August day of 2020.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Victorian England of our minds

The Scylla and Charybdis of writing Canon-based Sherlock Holmes stories, if I was going to venture a guess, would have to be how you portray Sherlock Holmes and how you portray the Victorian era. Because even if you have a really good feel for our hero, the times in which he lived often seem an unfathomable mess, just as any culture in any time period, for one reason and one reason alone: One size does not fit all.

In earlier days of my Sherlockian life, I remember writers finding some etiquette book and claiming the rules therein applied to everyone in London. Growing up in a time when Amy Vanderbilt was still the acknowledged American authority on proper etiquette, with books on the subject in every bookstore, I knew that to be complete BS. Why should our working-class Victorian counterparts follow book rules when nobody I knew did?

Sherlock Holmes's clients were definitely not all manor-house types. And even the murder mysteries did not all happen to the upper classes, as the trope-iest of murder mysteries since his time do. And even among the manor house class, the rules for any given house depended entirely upon the personality of the person who ran the house. If the person who ran the house threw his false teeth at his wife at the end of every meal, as is mentioned in the Canon, you know that the rest of the rules were probably loosely applied as well.

Human beings fudge their way around actual laws as much as possible. The thought that we're going to all agreeably go along with proper etiquette dictums is absurd. And that's an idea that needs to be applied to most things we know about Victorian life when it comes to populating a Sherlock Holmes story, now that we are so far divorced from that era. Take anything you read, think about the way an actual human would react to that idea, and go from there.

Think about all the articles that have been written by Sherlockians on "My Fifteen Rules for Writing a Pastiche," then think of someone in the future, who never read a pastiche of a Holmes story, finding one of those articles and going "Sherlockians of that era followed this strict set of guidelines for creating their fiction about Holmes." Usually those articles are one person's personal reaction to existing stories they've read and not a reflection of reality at all -- the reality was usually all those things we are told not to do.

In reading the works of Victorian writers, I am consistently amazed at how they were thinking the same things we were thinking, having the same problems with their fellow humans that we are having, and how certain things have never changed, despite the drastic differences in tech, hygiene, and entertainments. Those very human things -- love, anger, isolation, logic, mob-think, etc. -- are carried with us through the ages, and why certain story structures do as well. We crave the same thing from books the Victorians craved, which is why Sherlock Holmes still exists.

That point alone connects our present selves to the folk of Victorian England and reminds us that they weren't all that different from who we are now, as much as we'd like to put on airs of being all "future and evolved." They got addicted as we get addicted. Their hearts broke as our hearts break. And they loved a guy who could walk into a room and make the mysteries of life plain and simple, just like we do now.

They just got to do it with gaslamps and Hansom cabs.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Million Sherlock March

 Every now and then, you see a comment about the quality of Sherlock Holmes stories not being as good since Conan Doyle quite writing them. 

Of course, occasionally we also make comments about the quality of certain stories Conan Doyle wrote being not as great. But that was Conan Doyle, and we owe him a break or two for his bad later work due to what he created originally. Do we owe the same courtesy to Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss? Well, that's a personal choice. The point to be made in both cases is that behind every Sherlock Holmes is at least one human being who wove a version of Sherlock Holmes into a tale to be told.

People have good days and bad days, vary in their abilities, and so do the Sherlock Holmeses they create on any given day. And that doesn't even account for the varieties of Sherlock Holmeses we have based on individual tastes or the purposes of a story. Sherlock Holmes has been Jack the Ripper. Sherlock Holmes has been a time traveller. Sherlock Holmes has been a sexual dynamo with internal organs that don't quite match our own. And that leaves out all the mice, ducks, androids, aliens, etc. that have been Sherlock Holmes. Yet even a Sherlock Holmes who isn't human has something in common with every other Sherlock Holmes, and I don't mean the goofy cap, the pipe, or the coat.

Every Sherlock Holmes has a human being behind him that thought he needed to be brought into existence. Maybe for profit, often for love, but always for the reason of "Hey, Sherlock Holmes is good! Let's make one more Sherlock Holmes!" Good for what is up to that given creator.

But since Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, and even before Doyle himself stopped writing him, other Sherlock Holmeses started marching into our culture and our lives. You don't even have to seek him out -- he'll come to you via advertisements, Halloween costumes, and other random appearances. As his brother once pointed out, "I hear of Sherlock everywhere."

Have a million Sherlocks come marching into the world since his first arrival in 1887? Maybe not, but I have a strong feeling we'll get there eventually. 

The million Sherlock march continues every single day, like some invasion from an episode of Doctor Who, but less threatening unless you imagine them all at once, which is becoming increasingly easy to do. But it's time to stop rambling and go to work, so I won't be doing it now. Keep an eye out for them, though!

Monday, August 10, 2020

Conan has the abilities of Sherlock Holmes?

 Among the many podcasts I plow through every week is "Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend," where talk show host Conan O'Brien interviews celebs of just chats with his co-hosts. In the warm-up to this week's podcast with Jim Carrey, Conan told of a little trick he used to play during photo shoots and I immediately went, "Oh, Sherlock Holmes would totally do that!"

When a photographer would come in and set up to take pictures of him, Conan would simply look at the camera the photog was using. On the front of the camera would be the camera's name. For his example, Conan used the name "Hassleblatt." So, after making that observation, the photo shoot would go on, a little chit-chat would ensue, and eventually he'd ask:

"What is that? Is that a Hasselblatt?"

The photographer's eyes would widen in amazement, and he'd respond accordingly: "You're into cameras?"

And then Conan would bring out the other info he'd seen on the camera: "Yeah, is that a 4.4?"

He'd look at the brand on the tripod, make a similar comment, get a similar reaction, and then, being a natural goofball, Conan O'Brien would keep it up until what he was doing became obvious. But if he hadn't, if he had exercised the restraint of a Sherlock Holmes, he would have appeared as knowledgeable as Sherlock Holmes.

All from simple observation. Conan O'Brien, apparently, is good at paying attention.

It really makes you think about how much of Sherlock Holmes's methodology was just based purely on being open to the information available in a given situation, that thing available to any of us at any given time. In a time when so many people are definitely "theorizing before the facts," as Holmes would put it, and simply only seeing things that confirm what they wish to see, a simple example like that, of the seemingly remarkable effects of just simple awareness, is rather instructive.

Conan could have not even said a word, and just went home and explored what was good about that particular brand of camera, had is goal been to learn something new and not just make an impression. The data was there to begin a thread of education on a subject.

"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for last," Holmes once said, and even though he, like Conan O'Brien, loved to play tricks on those who weren't paying as close attention, there was still a core principle behind those tricks which makes them well worth our time to play on occasion.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The line I can't seem to cross

A fun little Twitter bit started going around last week, "Confessions that can get your BBC Sherlock card revoked," in which Sherlockians could express their most unpopular opinion. It's a light-hearted exercise, giving us a window into the diversity that exists under the same banner, and people participate freely because they know that you can't get your imaginary "BBC Sherlock card" revoked.

I hadn't really thought about that part, until a friend spelled it out -- fandom cards can't be revoked. You get to love what you love however you love it and still be in whatever fandom you choose. That shouldn't strike any nerves for anyone, right? Totally cool, right? You know what's coming now . . . a "but." Or maybe an "except."

Because this also happened to be the week that I'm struggling with a moral quandry where that thought pricks at me just a wee bit. We've come to that time of year when visions of the annual Baker Street Irregulars dinner comes up. Many an elder Sherlockian will now go, "Here comes the part where Brad hates the Baker Street Irregulars," roll their eyes, and write off anything that follows. But I've never hated the BSI en masse or the organization itself, I just this one little issue that evolved from the time when women were not allowed in the group based on the opinion of one man.

This is the time of year when members of the Baker Street Irregulars get to suggest their fellow Sherlockians for an invitation to the annual dinner or membership in the club. Our opinions of who should be given said fandom benefits then filter through the head of the club, whose opinion decides who gets those benefits. A one-man electoral college, so to speak, making sure that guest list limits aren't breeched and members don't bring a guest that could harm the proceedings. Makes sense, right?

Until that one-man filter decides he doesn't like women. Or hears an untrue rumor about a particular Sherlockian that takes years to clear up. Or just doesn't think you should have worn jeans to a certain event. The guy who didn't allow women used the term "benevolent dictator" to describe this gatekeeper position, which is pretty on target. One depends a lot on a dictator's benevolence, which is kind of a problem with that sort of system. You can't have your Sherlockian card revoked because you expressed a certain opinion, but . . . .

You can have your chance to attend a key event in the Sherlockian world revoked because you expressed an opinion that one guy didn't like. 

This is where my problem lies. We haven't yet crossed the line where the Baker Street Irregulars will kick you out for expressing an opinion, which is how I remain a member of the club. But the fact that that big flaw in the system still exists holds me back from participating in the annual suggesting of Sherlockians for an invitation, which I really wanted to do this year. But participating feels like accepting, and despite the fact that most traditional Sherlockians seem to think it's fine the way it is, as much as I want to play nice and get along, that's a line I still can't seem to cross.

Having had fandom hell rain down on me for being ashamed of belonging to a group that didn't allow women (based on the opinion of one man) has burned that line into me, a scar which most Sherlockians don't have. Even I sometimes want to go "Get over it!" and start typing up a recommendation for this person or that, but, nope. Until the invitation/membership policy of the Irregulars becomes a little more transparent and a little less "one man's opinion can block a good Sherlockian," I don't think I'll be able to indulge with a clear conscience. It's really not that much of a change to hope for, especially if one looks at every other change the group has made in the last three decades.

That's not hating the Baker Street Irregulars. The legacy the group was built on -- of fun, of encouraging the love of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockians of all kinds -- remains a worthwhile vision. It's the kind of vision that transcends one individual, and as our fandom has grown, being dependent on one individual to gatekeep the organization that used to be the very flagship of that fandom in America seems like an outmoded concept. Hope of change springs eternal. And maybe it has, or is about to happen, but nobody has told us yet. Sometimes those things happen, too.

And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe my little protest on this one point doesn't matter to anyone but me. But if you've ever found yourself in the sort of situation that can spoil your enjoyment of your favorite thing, and you're not a sociopath, you really don't want to see someone else wind up in that same spot. So you hold the line, even if your skills at pushing social change kinda suck, and, after writing a little blog post, go back to just having fun with the rest of Sherlock Holmes fandom, which is what we're here for anyway.

Even with a little damage from times past, and even with a line we can't seem to cross.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Did Sherlock dance?

One might forget that Sherlock Holmes didn't have the easy access to music that we do now. No iTunes, no YouTube, no MP3s, no CDs, no tapes, no records . . . well, gramaphones came out during his career, but recorded music wasn't really available until he was ready to retire. If Holmes wanted music at home, he had to make it himself, on his violin.

So I'm pretty sure that Holmes wasn't ever in the middle of indexing his records, heard a jaunty tune start up, and leap to his feet to start dancing. 

But "Red-Headed League" definitely tells us something about Mr. Sherlock Holmes:

"All afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible to conceive."

That finger waving tells us something. That's a man who wants to move his body.

You've been there, I hope. That place where the music takes you, but the situation won't allow full-out dancing. (Whoever invented the stand-up desk did not accounted for what happens when said worker at said desk starts getting into the music coming into their ear-buds.) But Sherlock Holmes was probably not the kind of guy who went to a dance hall, formal dance, or one of the other places Victorian London encouraged dancing to happen. So where was all that pent-up energy to be released?

I think John Watson pretty much told us in that same story, just before we get to the finger-waving.

"My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit."

An enthusiastic musician.

The very first thing that Sherlock Holmes brings up when discussing becoming room-mates with Watson isn't his very strange occupation, criminals, etc. No, the first thing Sherlock checks out with John is whether or not his violin playing is okay. He loves his violin.

And why does he love his violin? Because Sherlock Holmes plainly loves music.

And what does the violin offer that some instruments don't? A whole lot of physical movement while playing. It doesn't take much time on YouTube to see how many young violinists get into rocking out while playing their fiddle. Given the energy with which he through himself into every other aspect of his life, you know Sherlock Holmes threw himself into playing that violin.


Even though Watson never specifically writes it out, you have to know Sherlock Holmes was a dancer. Art in the blood may take the strangest forms, but music in the blood tends to take at least one specific, fluid form. It only makes sense that as he has expanded into the many lives he's leading in fic that Sherlock Holmes has been cast as a professional dancer more than once. The man had it in him.

Those dancing gray eyes of mirrored a dancing soul, even in a time when you had to make your own music just to cut loose.