Saturday, March 6, 2021

The spot where Sherlock Holmes stood

I have a little puzzle for my Sherlockian site experts out there.

When visiting downtown Indianapolis on a trip long past, the good Carter and I had the chance to go to Monument Circle and climb the towering Soldiers and Sailors Monument there. Inside that aged edifice's little observation deck at the top, the small space once visited by Arthur Conan Doyle makes one realize a rather significant thing: At some point, you have to be standing where Doyle himself once stood. It's too small a space to miss doing so, if you move around at all.

That experience made me wonder something more elusive. With all the Sherlockian sites that we know exist, and we know Holmes was at during a given case, Simpson's, Bart's, etc., is there any place in London or elsewhere that you can go to and know, yes, this is a spot where Sherlock Holmes himself once stood!

Cumberbatch's Holmes, yes, you can do that. Other TV and cinema Holmeses as well, I'm sure. But the Canonical original? Is there a place we can definitely say he stood?

As I write this, my mind left England and has started to wonder about that precipice at Reichenbach Falls. Is that the best option? It surely seems like his native land would hold at least one site, and you don't have to go all the way to the place Watson (and surely one or two Moriarty brothers) thought was the scene of a great tragedy. And London would seem to have to hold some such space.

Perhaps the best candidate for a spot Holmes occupied would be the door to a building or room. While be could be or not be anywhere in a decently sized room, everyone has to pass through the same doors. What a great photo collection that would be, too! Doors Sherlock Holmes passed though, with you yourself standing in each one. We really don't give doors the credit they deserve, do we, just taking them for granted.

Doorlock Holmes is a character in some Lego thing, I see, after searching for Daffy Duck's incarnation, which was spelled "Dorlock" in "Deduce You Say." But "Doorlock" would also make the nice name for the practice of taking pictures of doors Sherlock went through, or studying same. (Oooo, he had to touch the knobs, too, didn't he?)

Any other ideas on places one can specifically say that Sherlock Holmes took up space? (And if you want to be the wag and say "He didn't because he was as fake as WWE wrestling!" well, I'm sure there are some very muscular sorts that would like to talk to you, as they do when such things are said.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Why is Sherlockian chronology so much fun?

Getting a major project over and done is always a relief, and the start of the next thing can be a lot of fun. But the choice of next thing for me this January was one of those aspects of Sherlockiana that has long haunted me, more of a feeling of obligation to finish something than just a choice for pure fun. Having purged myself of my 1980s demons with a book on the subject, it was time to deal with Sherlockian chronology, what seems on the surface like one of the more boring topics in the entire hobby.

"I find any chronology the stupidest sort of reading among the writings about The Writings," James Montgomery wrote in 1953, and I can't say I disagree with him entirely. Maybe not the stupidest, but the one that's the least fun to read. Sherlockian chronology is not a niche for those whose joy is reading alone. Not stupid in its content, perhaps, but stupid as a choice of reading material.

So why dive into it, assemble chronology Avengers into a Sherlockian Chronologist Guild, and start putting out a monthly PDF newsletter on the subject, which many, like Montgomery, might consider "the stupidest sort of reading?"

Because the fun in Sherlockian chronology isn't in the watching the sport, so much as getting down on the field and playing. You have to have a certain sort of mind, I suspect, one that likes to put things in order and obsess over small details. The serious Sherlockian chronologist is probably not your cocktail party gadabout, as they're probably going to go quiet into their own thoughts at a given moment and leave the conversation. (I'm guessing and stereotyping here, so don't take this as a hard-set opinion.)

But what is any part of Sherlockiana other than an entertainment to take us away from our day-to-day troubles? 

This week, I had a little bit of a tooth issue for a few days, and I noticed in that time, I was having some real fun working with the chronology of a couple of cases and all the thoughts on those cases from past chronologies. The chance to deep dive into such a simple part of the Canon, ignoring everything but the line of time itself, was the perfect thing. In an era that stimulates attention deficit at every opportunity, finding a focal point to anchor one's self for a time . . . well, that's a genuine treat.

Walking through the writings of John H. Watson with the slow deliberation that serves chronology best seems. to serve as an antidote to the hyperactive consumption of media that's so easy to fall into, multi-tasking with things like binge-watching a TV show while playing a video game and having a text conversation, all at the same time. And, personally, I find pleasure in that alterative, as Watson might call it.

Sherlockian chronology isn't fun like fun things are fun, if that makes any sense. But there is something joyful to be found there at the right moment. And I seem to be having that moment right now.


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The mystery of Cadogan West

 It struck me like a bolt of lightning tonight that we have a very curious crime in our Sherlockian Canon, and a flash of insight zoomed into my brain. So listen.

Technical papers are stolen from the Woolwich Arsenal from a secret government project that will give the British Empire elemental superiority. We are told that it was all about a submarine, something that history tells us failed and failed again for the British Navy of that time. Of course, why would Mycroft Holmes, or that government that he was imbedded in the heart of, allow a detective story writer reveal such secrets just over a decade later? Wouldn't Watson just substitute some other mildly futuristic-seeming secret for the real deal?

And what if the submarine was that substitute secret?

And what if the true secret was something much more incredible, and the crime that took place an even higher level of incredible?

Cadogan West, it seems at first, was thrown from a train. "It could only have come from a train," the old railway man at the scene says. West's head is crushed as if by a horrible impact born of speed.

Cadogan West was a man keeping a secret from his fiancee, Violet Westbury. And on the night in question, she says, very specifically, "Suddenly he darted away into the fog."

He darted away. 

Now, I'm sure by now there are a few among the readership who are picking up traces of where I'm going with this. Secret researches and experiment. A man whose last name is West who speedily dashes away from his fiancee upon seeing something she doesn't. And a family line with connections and enemies who are known for traveling through time to change history by eliminated key turning points.

Yes, I'm going to say that Violet Westbury might have been pregnant at the time her fiancee died. And in keeping that matter socially acceptable, moving somewhere else as a widow named "Violet West" would have made perfect sense. Her child grew up, had a child of their own, and so onward . . . until we get to a young man named Wallace West.

Here's the point where anyone who is not into DC comic book continuity is apt to be leaving this essay. Thanks for letting me tease you along this far, have a nice rest of your web surfing. Because I'm about to say that Cadogan West was the ancestor of Kid Flash (later the Flash proper, successor to Barry Allen), and that the government resource that Mycroft was having Watson call "submarine" was actually the speed force, and that Cadogan West was the first Victorian speedster, killed, not by a spy, but by a speedster from the future named Zoom who hoped to end Wally West's bloodline right after it first picked up a connection to the speed force.

It fits all the patterns one sees time and again in Flash comics: A speed force connection being passed on from generation to generation. Villains who like to alter the timeline. And while traditional lore might try to say that Wally West just happened to get hit by the same random chemicals and lightning bolt as his eventual uncle Barry, after finding himself drawn to the Flash for years before, it makes more sense that the speed force was always in that West line, just waiting to be triggered again after Cadogan West being a part of that long-before government experiment.

Cadogan West being killed in a super-speed battle by a more experienced speedster from the future is a crime that Sherlock Holmes could never hope to solve -- or admit the truth of, if he did solve it. Spies would serve the story, as would the submarine, when Watson wrote it up, and the British government's experiments in hyper-acceleration of the human body would remain a secret, and a secret process destroyed by that same villain from the future as well.

There are a lot of histories out there, and one never knows which ones will rub up against the Sherlockian Canon so nicely. If it turns out a "Flash-y" one does, I think I'm okay with that.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Fans versus diversity

There's a thing about the follows I've chosen on Twitter and the way the site's algorithm feeds me tweets: Time after time I see a huge social media backlash to something I don't ever see, or can even identify the source of. This week, it all swirled around something someone somewhere wrote about the casting of Royce Pierreson in the new Netflix show The Irregulars, coming this month, as well as the Baker Street Irregulars themselves.

Apparently that someone somewhere prefers their Watsons, their Irregulars, and probably all of Victorian Britain as white and predominantly male. And they defend that stance with "it's historical," not factoring in that the history books were written for the most part, by white guys, and we live in an age where a lot of folks are just figuring that out. It to HBO's The Watchmen for a large share of America to learn of the horrific Tulsa race massacre, an event that should have been in every history book, so it's not surprising that folks of varying non-white skin tones are starting to slip into our Sherlockian fictions as well.

We've got a lot of catching up to do.

And in Sherlockiana, what might be the oldest fandom outside of those that became religions, we've definitely got catching up to do. Because fandoms might be the worst at accepting change, simply because of the basic premise of fandom itself.

I enjoyed this thing. I enjoyed it so much I want to repeat the experience. And I want to enjoy it as much as I did that first time. And for many fans, fandom becomes ritual: In order to enjoy that thing as much as I did then, it must be exactly as it was then. It's a very primitive, superstitious instinct that we apply to a lot of things: Pizza. Sports. Coffee. You name it, there's someone out there that it insists the only way to do it is the way they enjoyed it most. My old friend Bob had that mindset about eating chili, of all things.

Fans can be the biggest picky eaters in the world, metaphorically wanting chicken strips and french fries at every restaurant they go to. Ironically, fans can also be inspired by that thing they love to be the chef in the kitchen and try to mix new flavors and create new recipes for cooking their chicken and potatoes, discovering ways to eat them that they end up loving better than breaded chicken white meat and deep-fried bars of potato.

But nobody can dig their heels in deeper than a fan, fighting for something they love specifically the way they love it. Sherlockiana has had those issues since its early days, when the Baker Street Irregulars supposedly threw Rex Stout into the snow outside for merely suggesting that John Watson was female. And that act being played as the grandest jest for decades to come -- and said club wouldn't allow female fans to attend their meetings until the 1990s, so the misogyny pretty much fit their rituals of the Game.

But the bigger trend we've always seen in Sherlockiana has also always been "Sherlock Holmes is like me." Golfers wrote essays about Sherlock as a golfer. Members of any given religion would try to show that he was of a similar mindset. And those takes were accepted. So why can't we just open it up and let Sherlock Holmes be like everyone? Sherlock Holmes can be the black detective hero for a black Sherlockian. Sherlock Holmes can be a trans detective hero for a trans Sherlockian. Sherlock Holmes can be a fashionista detective hero to a fashionista Sherlockian. And none of those things hurt anyone's love of Jeremy Brett in Jeremy Brett's TV show.

Sherlock Holmes is . . . and I hate to say this, due to my own Sherlockian leanings . . . a fictional character. Holmes was many things, even in Conan Doyle's original writings, and Sherlock will be many, many more by the time the rest of the writers in the world are done with the character. Every new incarnation not only gives us a new way to look at Holmes, but also the chance to bring others in and see something of what we love in this special human.

I really love the fact that I've seen more reposts and agreement with @_TheAntiChris 's original post on the topic than I've seen anyone disagreeing with it. Sherlockiana is moving in the right direction. Some of us have just got to get over a few of the classic foibles of fandom first.

We'll always have chicken strips. Let people have coq au vin.

Friday, February 26, 2021

That height thing

 It's funny the things that tweak your Sherlock Holmes triggers.

Overly handsome Holmes? Never had a problem with it. Henry Cavill followed in Roger Moore's footsteps, who followed in . . . well, let's not debate handsome, as I know there are plenty of folk who find Brett or Cumberbatch so, even thought they're more character actor than traditional leading man in the superficial beauty department. (And I probably shouldn't even say that.)

Holmes of a different race or gender? No problem there, just get that personality right. Miss Sherlock was a marvelous proof of that.

But there's just this one thing . . . well, two things, but we'll get to the second soon enough.

Something about a Sherlock Holmes who is noticeably shorter than Watson just bugs me somehow. Robert Downey Jr. really stood out in that area. Sure, he looked like Tony Stark a little too much, but it was always the fact that he was shorter than Watson that just seemed odd to me.

Is it because Holmes's biographer looked up to him, as do we, which makes you think "tall" for some deep reasoning of the human brain? Or the Canonical "rather over six feet and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller" that Watson gives us so specifically?

I don't know, but when I saw the photo from the Netflix's The Irregulars, their Sherlock looked short and I went, sadly, "Oh . . ."

Looking up the actor on IMDB, however, I found that Henry Lloyd-Hughes was listed as six foot one, so not so short . . . except his Watson, Royce Pierreson is six foot three. He just has a tall Watson.

Hmm, tall Watsons . . . perhaps as we raise Watson in our esteem after escaping the Nigel Bruce years, he gets to be taller now. Seems fair.

For now, I won't get into my second trigger of an instinctive "not my Holmes," but it's nice to see that our next one fits Canon, even if that wasn't what I first thought.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Watson's favorite author

 John H. Watson doesn't tell us too much of himself in his chronicles of Sherlock Holmes. Favorite foods? No. Details of his marriage or possible offspring? No. What his club was? No.

But he does tell us of one stormy evening when he's enjoying a nautical novel by William Clark Russell, indicating that he's read more than one by calling it "one of Clark Russell's fine sea stories." Watson doesn't tell us about reading any other authors, but we know he likes Clark Russell and his tales of the sea.

Clark Russell himself was less than ten years older than Watson, the son of British composer. The author was born on Broadway in America and went to private school in England where he got to be friends with the son of Charles Dickens. But here's where it gets weird.

Looking for a life of adventure, as all boys imagine, Clark Russell joined the Merchant Navy at the tender age of thirteen. Thirteen. Headed for the worst summer camp ever, where Clark Russell stayed for the next eight years, his health, as Watson would later write about himself "irretrievably ruined." And like Watson, that health-ruining experience would set off his entire career as an author. Those eight years gave Russell the raw material for the rest of his life of writing.

He got married a few years later and started having kids, but it would be a good ten years after he left his service as a seaman before he would start writing sea stories. He worked as a journalist and an editor, writing novels for women under female pseudonyms, thinking stories of life at sea could not compete with writers like Herman Melville. 

Having gotten a good bit of writing experience and building up some steam before his second sea novel, The Wreck of the Grosvenor, became his breakout hit. (Russell's seems to have liked shipwrecks as the best way to get drama in his sea story plots.) The Wreck of the Grosvenor was initially published anonymously and was most popular in America, which was big on -- ironically -- pirating books back then.

My favorite Clark Russell novel, The Frozen Pirate, came soon after in 1877, and I favor it strongly as the book Watson was reading in "Five Orange Pips," especially considering that in some universes Watson's ancestors have to deal with frozen Sherlocks, including one that Watson helped put into that state. (Possibly getting the idea from The Frozen Pirate? Very well could be!)

Russell lived until his late sixties, but pushed out nearly a hundred books in his lifetime, so Watson naturally had to admire him not just for his novels, but for his productivity as an author, as well. And I'd be very curious about when their paths might have crossed -- something that might make a nice little pastiche. 

Maybe that's for Clark Russell's next birthday, though. For this one, his spirit just has to settle for a hearty "Happy Birthday!" from fans of his fan.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

And now, a rant about "mouse"

 Tonight, I hit a real crisis of Sherlockian faith.

Dressing gowns again. Earlier, you may recall, I worried that Sherlock Holmes was some sort of trophy-collecting serial killer because he had a gray dressing gown and the man he might have killed, Grimesby Roylott, had a gray dressing gown on when he was killed. But I was wrong.

Sherlock Holmes did not own a gray dressing gown.

He owned a mouse dressing gown.

An in looking into that color called "mouse," I discovered tonight that it is truly a pale taupe, a mix of brown and gray that often gets mixed up for one or the other of those colors.

But the BSI necktie is purple, blue, and gray. Bill Mason's monograph Deeper Shades: The Dressing Gowns of Sherlock Holmes and the Psychology of Color spends much time on the meaning of that dressing gown being gray. The rubber mouse that I have for no good reason is gray.

And now I find that the color in "mouse-coloured" is actually taupe?

TAUPE? Rhymes with "soap?" And "nope?" And, also . . . "dope?"

That's very close to the sombre grayish beige dress that Mary Morstan wore when Watson first was crushing on her. Did Watson buy Holmes this taupe monstrosity of a dressing gown because he was into taupe?

Light taupe is an awful color for a dressing gown, especially Sherlock Holmes's dressing gown, sure to show stains from whatever chemical experiment he was working on. (And don't tell me he was too tidy to spill -- remember his hands when Watson first saw them? "Discoloured with strong acids." If he's doing that to his hands, his clothes aren't getting special treatment.)

I liked gray. Gray was the color of Holmes's eyes and who doesn't want a dressing gown to match their eyes? And Watson could wear the purple dressing gown and they'd color-coordinate. Gray was fine. Gray was great. I liked gray.

A light taupe dressing gown. What a fool I have been.

The Sherlockian world as I knew it is upended. I just can't believe in anything any more.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Sherlock Holmes, serial killer?

 This evening I was doing some innocent chronology work when I stumbled upon glimpses of a nightmare. The passage that spawned said vision was written by Watson with these words:

"Beside this table, on a wooden chair, sat Dr. Grimesby Roylott clad in a long, grey dressing-gown, his bare ankle protruding beneath, and his feet thrust into red heelless Turkish slippers."

That's the corpse of Dr. Grimesby Roylott we're looking at in that sentence, a man who was alive shortly before, yet is now dead due to the actions of one Sherlock Holmes. Yes, yes, Holmes was just defending himself from a deadly snake, one might argue -- but wouldn't your instinct be to knock in from the bell-pull and kill the thing with whatever you have on hand? And with what controlled force would one have to lightly whip a snake on a rope just enough to convince it to slither backwards whence it came. Was it ever even on that bell pull? Watson doesn't see anything but Holmes going through the motions of beating at the air.

Now, it might seem rather a stretch to accuse Sherlock Holmes of purposefully murdering Grimesby Roylott with his own swamp adder. One wants a motive, and he has none. Without motive, Sherlock Holmes would have to be someone who just kills for pleasure, like a serial killer. And what else do serial killers like to do to remember the joy of a kill? They like to take trophies. And Sherlock Holmes didn't take any trophies, of course.

Well, of course not . . .

Except what color was that dressing gown we see more often than the others? Mouse was it? Some shade of gray, right?

And that tobacco holder of his, what was that again? A Persian slipper?

Yeah, for the lover of iconic Holmes possessions, that corpse of Grimesby Roylott is a lot creepier than most corpses when one considers the details. Normally we read "Speckled Band" so early in the Canon that we forget those two bits of Roylott's by the time we see them again. 

The main argument for Holmes's innocence is that John Watson would surely recognize those two things he'd seen on a corpse, leaving an impression strong enough for him to write about later . . . unless that was exactly the reason he did write about them later, to send a cry for help that Scotland Yard readers of The Strand would definitely not pick up on. T'would be a same if no one noticed it for over a hundred years.

Are any other pieces of Holmes's life things we also find at the murder scenes he went to "solve?" Or are the ones we see from moments that followed a story like "Five Orange Pips" or "Greek Interpreter," moments no one but Holmes and his victims got to see.

Suddenly, I have questions. Dark, dark questions.

A Mount Everest of pastiche

 There is more going on in the Sherlockian world today than ever before, and like Ferris Bueller said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

As someone who lost enthusiasm for reading pastiches long ago, I don't stop to take notice of too many these days, as they seem to be flowing around us in an endless river. When a friend writes one, or an author I'm already fond of goes for it, I'll dip a paw into the river and swoop up a literary salmon, being an old bear about such things. But in general I don't stop and take notice of most of it.

But last night I was fishing around for Watson podcast news and starting looking over the MX Publishing website, at which point I realized that The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories is on its twenty-first volume. And I'm not even sure if some of those have multiple books in them. In any case, that is a whole lot of books, something you could start collecting at this point and take some time gathering them all up and finding a shelf or two to put them on.

One could get into all the writers MX has had in that series, or that they help Undershaw, but it's almost like the Grand Canyon at this point -- you first have to just stop staring at the sheer massive wonder of the thing. It's almost like it's out there just challenging you to read the whole thing, like climbing Mount Everest for a reader. I mean, once I challenged myself to read all of Three Patch Podcast's fic recs for a single episode, and while that was a bit of a climb, I didn't think I'd die before making it all the way through. Looking at a twenty-one volume set starts giving you those kind of thoughts.

While the BSI Press has many more books under its belt at this point, their Manuscript series is still in its teens. And with many a page taken up by manuscript reproductions, it makes for a collecting/reading challenge as well, but The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories is still a lot more daunting. 

For me, stumbling into the current state of the series was a little like seeing that little toddler nephew of a friend who grew to be a massive adult at some point when you weren't paying attention. One can't help but be taken aback, and taken aback so much that I stopped working on my Sunday night podcast and had to blog about it.

Congratulations to David Marcum and everyone at MX for pulling that off, and here's hoping it goes for many years to come.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Mycroft's plan

 I always enjoy listening to fresh thoughts on our friend Sherlock Holmes and his cases, and this morning's listen to the Highly Improbable podcast commenting on "Noble Bachelor" was very rewarding, especially on the point of a certain Sherlock Holmes quote. The podcast hosts calling it out for its oddity to a modern ear made me ponder it, and that pondering took me somewhere I don't think I had been before.

"I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes."

It's far too easy to focus on the flag imagery in that statement and overlook the rest. I've made one of those flags before. It's a fun little craft.

But let's get down to the meat of it: "world-wide country."

One Earth. One country. And a UK/US union ruling it all, apparently, given that choice of flag.

United Federation of Planets, this ain't.

There are some other curious parts to this statement as well: "I am one of those . . ."

It isn't just some idea Sherlock Holmes came up with. There are others thinking about this notion, apparently, which our history books don't tell us of. Where this all gets particularly interesting is when you combine Sherlock's statement with his later words about his brother Mycroft: "You are right in thinking that he is under the British government. You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the British government."

Sherlock Holmes wasn't someone who cared much for politics. Watson listed his original thoughts on Holmes's political knowledge as "feeble." But he did grow up next to a man who was very interested in politics and how the government should work. So where do you think this idea of UK/US global domination might have come from?

"One of those," he says. Is he just taking some boyhood fantasy of his brother's and pretending it is more widespread than it actually was? Or is he actually talking about a quiet movement to encourage such a future?

Sherlock's quote also has "the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years" as the thing that will possibly prevent such a future, and we assume "far-gone" to mean the past. But "far gone" just does not mean the past. It also means "a bad and worsening state." What if he's speaking of the folly of having a monarch in the future, or the blundering of too much power in a future prime minister? Like either of those could cause problems for this global plan?

Mycroft Holmes remains largely a mystery to us, with ties to things in the Sherlockian Canon as subtle and unknown as Professor Moriarty's works. But I can't help but think he's definitely behind this particular statement of his brother Sherlock's in "The Noble Bachelor."

How great were Mycroft Holmes's secret ambitions? Did such ideas pass with youth, or were they quietly being worked at throughout his career? That mystery, as large as the man himself, remains.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Sherlock Holmes gives someone a Valentine

 February 13 is a good day to create a Sherlockian Valentine’s Day, I think. We made it Watsonian Valentine's Day at the John H. Watson Society meeting for today, and shared valentines for John Watson. But today worked especially well because the number 13 is important to the one time a Sherlock Holmes actually gave someone a Valentine, which I was sure to point out today, as follows.

The scene is 13 Caulfield Gardens, in West London, a flat-faced row house with roof over the doorway supported by a couple of columns. It’s the kind of neighborhood that has children’s parties in the evening, and the residents are very used to the underground rumbling along behind their houses now and then.


In the study in this house, Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Mycroft Holmes, and G. Lestrade are all seated, waiting for a very special visitor. A knock comes on the front door, Sherlock Holmes lets the new arrival in, and all is good until their visitor sees the other three men in the study, at which point Sherlock Holmes has to grab him by the collar and throw him into the room.


In that act, that simple act of throwing a man bodily into a room, Sherlock Holmes is literally giving his brother, his room-mate, and his favorite Scotland Yard inspector a Valentine.


Sure, it’s the handsome Colonel Valentine Walter, a delicate featured man with a long light beard, a broad brimmed hat, but Holmes whistles at the sight of him.


“You can write me down an ass this time, Watson,” Holmes says. “This was not the bird I was looking for.”


Sherlock Holmes says he was expecting something with wings.  And why not? Why shouldn’t a Valentine look more like a cupid, with wings and a bow and arrow.


So February 13th for Sherlockian/Watsonian Valentine's Day? I think so.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Valentines for our dear John

 A call went out for the next Zoom meeting of the John H. Watson Society for folks to bring their valentines to the good doctor at Saturday's meeting, and I'm curious as to what that will bring. A lot of us in America were used to the old grade school routine of buying the variety pack of little cards of featuring some cartoon characters and scrawling classmate names on the little envelopes, but how many of us have actually created a valentine, be it poem, art, craft, or just lovely sentiment?

John Watson deserves our valentines, if anyone does, since he had to take a bullet wound to see any sort of affection from his closest companion. And our love for that good friend and his chronicles certainly makes him deserving in our eyes. But with only a few days left until that Saturday Zoom, I still haven't gotten my act together to produce a proper valentine, due to several job-related distractions this week. But February 13 is coming, and even though Watson might forgive me for not getting him flowers or a card, I will certainly feel pretty guilty showing up at the JHWS meet empty-handed. 

(Not saying, of course, that anyone else has to have a valentine to attend -- our meetings are open to all comers. You can email podcast@johnhwatsonsociety.com for the zoom invitation.)

But what suits Watson best? A man of words, so poetry? A man who liked to describe the attractive client, male or female, so something of visual beauty? A man who didn't get enough chocolates, so . . . well, I might feel bad eating Watson's chocolates for him, being a sort of Santa-and-cookies situation.

Perhaps Watson would like a valentine from some character in the Canon he admired. There were a couple I know that he was sad never to hear from again. Or it might be fun to construct a hypothetical valentine from a particular moment in the Canon -- one is tempted to write Holmes's card to Moriarty from 1891 when he "inconvenienced" the professor around Valentine's Day in mid-February, but that wouldn't be for Watson. Moriarty deserves no cards.

The John H. Watson Society meeting will be a show-and-tell for Watson's valentines, so I guess it's time to dig out the red paper and paper doilies. Little Tonga-Cupids probably might be too much, or just weirdly inappropriate, even though he was a bow-and-arrow kinda guy. Who knows?

But I'd better get to work now, in all the senses of that phrase. Happy VD prep! (Apologies to anyone with actual VD for that line. Take care of yourself, and take care in spreading your Valentine's Day cheer! Even John might have had it once, according to some Sherlockians.)

Monday, February 8, 2021

The dear old ruddy-faced woman

"You're letting him . . . kill Martha . . ."  

"What does that mean? Why did you say that name?"

A couple of silly lines from a very silly movie where that single first name changes everything. In Sherlockiana, that name has not had nearly so much impact. In fact, it's the name of one of the few characters in the Sherlockian Canon that people seem to actively want to erase.

A woman, seen through a window with a lamp beside her on a table. "A dear old ruddy-faced woman in a country cap." She knits and pets the cat  on the stool next to her.

"She might almost personify Britannia," the villain's friend says, thinking it an insult to the country they're working against. Not knowing the very real irony in his words.

Eventually she's curtseying and smiling at Sherlock Holmes, who expresses his utmost confidence in her, a very rare thing for a man who started his career with an admitted distrust of those of her gender. She's his agent, reporting to him the next day at Claridge's Hotel in London, a five star hotel in Mayfair. It's a hotel so nice, so tied to royalty and artistocrats, that we seldom, if ever, hear of Sherlock Holmes fans staying there, even though it still exists.

No common servant is going to be reporting to Sherlock Holmes at Claridge's.

She is something of a mystery, Holmes's Martha, and, ironically, some Sherlockians seem to hate mysteries. They cast Holmes's landlady, Mrs. Hudson, as the skilled spy, or the singing star Irene Adler, which is a sort of "Martha erasure." Hudson and Adler were remarkable women, but don't we have room in Holmes's life for a third remarkable woman?

Yes, yes, there were more than three total -- not forgetting Kitty, Maud, Mary, the good Violet, etc. But this Martha . . . this intriguing, mysterious Martha whom a cat respects as a friend . . . Martha is something special and never seems to quite get her due.

"So long as you were here I was easy in my mind," Sherlock Holmes says of her. He's not worried about her. He trusts her skills, even when circumstances have him waiting overlong for her signal. She knows Holmes's plans -- really think about that -- she knows Sherlock Holmes's plans ahead of time. No one ever gets to know Sherlock Holmes's plans ahead of time. But Martha does.

She is called an "old lady" by Watson, but Sherlock Holmes is sixty and looking like Uncle Sam at this point, and we always suspect Watson of being older still. Martha seems to be a contemporary of the two. And it's been many years since their comfortable partnership in Baker Street. The tale of how Martha came to be working for Sherlock Holmes, gaining his trust, is one of the great untold tales of the Canon. How many years was that trust being built? Was she around for the Watson era, unwritten of for her infiltration skills in service to Holmes, if Watson even knew of her?

Trying to trim dear Martha with a Mrs. Hudson or Irene Adler shaped cookie cutter leaves a lot of good dough left over, and we have to be careful with such trimming.

We may not know what Martha means, but we certainly know why a Sherlockian might say that name. Martha is definitely a character worth returning to, and a woman who is fascinating all by herself.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Erratum Moriartium, or yet another rise and fall

 


So, at the beginning of 2020 I was doing a little cleaning, looking at the filed of letters and other tidbits from my Sherlockian past, and thought, "I should gather all this info and do a book on the Sherlockian eighties." The pandemic hit, time at home became the standard lifestyle, and it seemed like the time was right, especially with the occasional mandatory furlough week from work during the roughest spots. 

I sorted all the paper ephemera into ten piles by year, 1980 to 1989, and as I did, realized that the 1980s was such a decade of Sherlockian amazement that my resources, while hefty, could not fully do justice to a full history of that decade and Sherlock Holmes. There was so much that happened in that decade that I didn't come close to getting the full story of, nor know proper details of. But I had my story, and curiously enough, my story from 1980 to 1989 had an arc. A rise and fall, if you will. Maybe not A Star is Born level, where I walk into the sea at the end, but a definite journey through the best and worst of Sherlockian fandom.

So I wrote it, got a couple of great beta readers in Paul Thomas Miller and Rob Nunn, commissioned some nice cover art from Chris Aarnes Bakkane (who does such great seventies Holmes and Watson art), and then ran it by the good Carter, who did as much caretaking of the work as I would allow her time and agreeableness to do. There was just one little last detail . . . since I was mentioning all of the aforementioned people in the acknowledgements, I didn't let any of them read it. And it was in those heightened excitement last moment of putting the book together that I apparently didn't read those acknowledgements as closely either.

And Moriarty appeared. Literally.

And extra "Moriarty" in the acknowledgements that makes no sense at all, which, when the new book arrived and I let the good Carter read with all pride and joy, she saw immediately. One more rise and fall.

Appropriate, somehow, and I can live with it. If nothing else, the Sherlockian eighties taught me that I'm far from perfect, and that's the way life goes. So, anyway, I have this new book, and you can read it if you want. Still not sure I want to let all that decade of my life out there, but too late now!

Find it at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08VCKZBFF .  I promise not to go on and on about it,

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Scanning the clickbait

 If you do news searches for Sherlock Holmes related headlines, or really, are just interested in anything at all and look at a news aggregator like Google News, you know clickbait -- those lovely headlines that only exist to lure you into clicking on them in hopes of something you want. Season five of Sherlock is very popular with clickbait producers.

A second level of clickbait is the "Well, duh!" headline that directs you to an opinion piece, like "Netflix's Best New Sherlock Holmes is Lupin, Not Enola Holmes" from a site like Screen Rant. They like Netflix's Lupin right now, and also have a headline "Lupin: Why Sherlock Holmes Can Appear in Part 2," an example of a third level of clickbait headline -- the one that might supply a tidbit of info you didn't know, but is fairly common knowledge among longtime fans. (Yes, Lupin and Sherlock Holmes had crossovers in Lupin's original books -- but in this series, Lupin is a fictional character that the main character has based himself on, so, hmmm . . .)

Some clickbaits look at other clickbaits to create their headlines, like "New Lupin Theory Says Sherlock Holmes Could Appear in Season 2," where someone plainly had to do nothing more than scan the headlines was just creating their own clickbait based on the others out there.

There's the teaser headline that you know is just there for you to argue with if you're looking for a reason to have an argument with the air: "Sherlock, Mycroft, or Eurus: Who The Most Intelligent Holmes Sibling Is." (Not clicking it, but guessing Eurus, unless one wants to debate the meaning of "intelligent" which is something for a field more professional than Sherlockiana.)

And, of course, Hollywood gossip where the headline is all the info you need: "Robert Downey Jr. Reportedly Pushing For R-Rating On Sherlock Holmes 3." Do I care why? No. Am I worried that it might be R-rated and my parents won't let me go? Or that I can't send my under-age kids without accompanying them? It seems like you would have to be a very specific sort of Holmes/Downey fan to click on that one.

And eventually we come full circle with the other Hollywood gossip headline, the celeb opinion: "Martin Freeman Thinks Sherlock Season 5 Could Definitely Happen." Good for him, but again, do we need to read past the headline? I'm surprised those season five Sherlock clickbaits still get enough clicks to exist at this point. Is there just a handful of desperate, over-caffeined Sherlockians out there biting on that bait every single time? Or folks that just finished binging the series?

Once you wade through the clickbait, you always get local theaters putting on Holmes plays, or some feature from an actual news source, but it's a long scan. I don't know how often I would do it if I didn't check for news nuggets for the Watsonian Weekly, since it's all pretty much the same week after week. 

But it's a part of Sherlockian life that's definitely something Sherlockians of old didn't have in their quiver of activities. Ah, the internet.

Monday, February 1, 2021

A new Sherlockian paradigm?

We all know how much the world has changed in the last year, but for me at least, it's slowly sinking in how much the Sherlockian world might be changing long-term based on the changes pushed on us in the last ten months or so. (It hasn't even been a year. Astounding.) Yes, yes, Zoom meetings, we know, we know. But without actual social gatherings to delight in the company of our friends in person, a lot of energy had to find somewhere else to go.

Now, I don't want to suggest it had anything to do with the ACD Society that raised its flag this morning -- one can see the signs that it has been building up for a while now. But the much less ambitious Sherlockian Chronologist Guild? Probably wouldn't have happened without a series of pandemic-triggered events (one of which I hope to be letting the world at large know about on Friday). But it's more than that.

How many new Sherlockian friends and acquaintances have you made since we've been locked down? I know I've gotten to know more than a few new folks. And so many of those new connections have brought new opportunities for collaboration and creativity in ways that will pay off for a long time to come, I suspect. You can see it all over the place, where the human energy batteries that fully enthused Sherlockians are got plugged into something more than a local scion society or single event. 

Unlike a new Sherlock, a Brett or Cumberbatch, charging up the old hobby, the things we're seeing now seem to be "coming from inside the house," as the old horror movie trope goes. Why?

Because the more we connect as Sherlockians, the more energy each individual Sherlockian has for the thing itself, all the parts and pieces and related side interests of Sherlockiana itself. The scholarly side gets more energy. The goofy side gets more energy. The films get more consideration. And the Canon, that good old philosopher's stone of a book, gets more users tapping it for whatever magic at which they excel.

I had a lovely two hour chat over zoom on Sunday with perhaps the oldest Sherlockian friend who doesn't live in my house, and it really made me think about the opportunities we've been given by this horrific world-wide event that's knocked us out of our routines. There has been loss, there has been pain, and our lives will never be the same. But amid all that, there has been hope for better things. We've seen that things can be different, and a "different" thing can sometimes be an "improved" thing.

I have a feeling 2021 is going to be a very memorable year for Sherlockians. In a good way, too.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Buy-laws thing

 Ever since the virtual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars this year, I've given an occasional thought to the "Constitution" and "Buy-laws" for that club, originally printed in The Saturday Review of Literature in 1934, since I had to sit through an out-loud reading of that apparently holy text, grown a bit worn with time.

The $35 registration fee for this year's BSI zoom said it included a printed copy of the program and a souvenir, said souvenir turning out to be a four-page newspaper called OUR CONSTITUTION & BUY LAWS, which focussed on said Constitution and Buy-Laws of the Baker Street Irregulars, the one official document of the Baker Street Irregulars. Lincoln's Gettysburg address, it is not.

But let's walk through it, for those of you who have the pleasure of not having had it read to you or sent to you as a souvenir this year.

Article 1: The group studies the "Sacred Writings." The sixty stories. The Canon. Cool.

Article 2: You can be eligible to be a member if you pass a test on those stories decided by the club officers and they think you're okay.

Article 3: The officers are a Gasogene (president), a Tantalus (secretary), and a Commissionaire (who runs hospitality services for the members).

After that come the "Buy-laws," which is basically a drinking game after four toasts to the Woman, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and Watson's second wife, all held at the annual January 6th meeting. The game goes like this: Somebody quotes the Canon, you say what story and context the quote came from or else you buy a round of drinks. Special meetings are allowed for if two of any three members call for a meeting, and a concern is expressed for if the members are of opposite sexes so no one thinks they are fooling around, with a special clause for clients of The Saturday Review of Literature who are apparently allowed to look like they're fooling around, no problem.

The last part I shall quote directly: "All other business shall be left for the monthly meeting. There shall be no monthly meeting."

Nothing in there about paying $35 for a Zoom seminar, so, plainly, things have evolved. And yet that "Constitution" remains unchanged. And much retold.

Does anyone play the drinking game any more? Is there a Gasogene or Tantalus? We know the Commissionaire survives to organize banquets, because those exist. But beyond that?

Well, we know there is business now, as the flyer for BSI books that was inserted in the program this year, as well as all the mentions at the dinner, so there might also be monthly meetings we don't know about. Members are decided by who the officers think is okay, but no test is involved. And that drinking game would definitely be impossible with between one and two hundred people. I'm no BSI historian, but I'm pretty sure the document was never really used as a governing document for the club.

So what really is the BSI Constitution and Buy-laws at this point? Magic words that raise the ghost of Christopher Morley? A church ritual that must be performed with the last line spoken en masse by the congregation? A tradition that's a tradition because it's always been a tradition?

 Unlike Vincent Starrett's revered poem, "221B," there is nothing of Sherlock Holmes in it, so it can be a bit of a puzzle.

Someone out there can write a glorious paean to it that explains what I'm missing, and The Baker Street Journal will surely publish it. You might have to attend the BSI dinner faithfully ever year to do so, and even then, work yourself up a little bit to get to the place of writing such a song of praise, and I've only made it to about the four-timers club when it comes to that attendance. But it would be a good thing, because as the decades pass, new Sherlockians are probably going to more and more find themselves going, "Huh?"

Yeah, I probably shouldn't be such the iconoclast about a document that holds no sexism, racism, or other bad stuff of the past beyond binary gender implications. But, honestly? I was just hoping for a little better souvenir.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

A "Curious" book beef

 At some point late last year, in that time between my birthday and Christmas, I was feeling rather generous with myself and Kickstarter-ed a book project, The Curious Book of Sherlock Holmes Characters by Mike Foy. Even with update emails notifying me of its progress, success, and mailing, I was still left wondering when a very large and heavy package arrived from Florida yesterday, just as I was about to go pick up some Asian to-go for dinner. 

I wish I'd have grabbed a pic of it before unwrapped it, as it came much like past Baker Street Almanacs, with a ribbon that tempts you to remove it without destroying it -- this one, however, had a Sherlockian wax seal at the cross-section of the ribbons, so even my practiced ploy of sliding the ribbons did not fully stop its destruction. The ribbons and the cloth map of London that wrapped the book came off, at which point I found I had purchased a coffee table book.

The Curious Book of Sherlock Holmes Characters is the size of a high school textbook, and the ornamental metal corners definitely make it a book for laying out and not shelving with others, lest it rip at them like an evil race car with those spike hubcaps. And if that metaphor seems a bit harsh, look at what the book immediately started doing . . .


Yes, it started creeping up on the smaller paperback edition of Jack Tracy's The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana. Now, I'm not in favor of books that bully other books, but I knew from the start that these two books were going to be at odds with one another. They immediately pulled out their entries on Paul Kratides and started to go at it.


Curious Book immediately pointed out Encyclopaedia's lack of pictures, and the sexism in the latter not giving Paul's sister Sophy her own entry.  Encyclopaedia mocked Curious Book's great amounts of white space and using the same picture twice on the same page just to highlight different characters. After that, things turned nasty, and in my head, I could hear Curious Book calling Encyclopaedia's author a mother-killer and I had to separate them before Encyclopaedia could retort or pull a knife.

Even then, the back and forth kept going. "You're out of print!" "Ever hear of a bookstore?" The hardcover of the Tracy book tried to step in, and Orlando Park's double-dustjacketed Sherlock Holmes, Esq. and John H. Watson, M.D.: An Encyclopaedia of Their Affairs tried to jump in on the side of The Curious Book of Sherlock Holmes Characters, as it has had a grudge against Encylopaedia since that book first insulted it in its introduction. Who's Who in Sherlock Holmes and the Bunson Encyclopedia Sherlockiana, both paperback and hardcover, moved in and suddenly things started to turn into a prison-yard brawl, the klaxons went off, and the whole library went into lockdown.

It would be nice to simply be able to review a book without all this conflict, but these old Sherlockian book-prisons are just full of trouble. I envy newer wardens who can bring a brand new book in like this and just let it be what it is: A useful result of hard labor that one can get some work out of, without some other book knocking its ornamental metal corners off just for spite, as has happened twice.

And despite all of the above, I'm pleased with this new addition to the library, bit of a luxury item that it is, and I think I've found a spot for it where Tracy won't bother it for now. I'm hoping that thinking it's being held up by even larger books will keep it in line.



Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Elementary revisited 2021

 Well, I was feeling grumpy about something else entirely tonight, and a bit disappointed that the new episode of Prodigal Son doesn't air on Hulu until 2 AM, when something else on that streaming service caught my eye: our old friend Elementary from CBS. Since I was feeling so crabby about an entirely different thing, why not try watching that seven-season thorn in my Sherlockian paw and see what the first episode looks like in 2021.

A lot has happened since September 27, 2012, when it was near-directly competing with Cumberbatch and Freeman for modern Sherlock of the planet. And since that time, I've spent much time delineating the worst of that show, picked apart its nits, irritated a fan or two, and generally learned to accept, if not love Jonny Lee Miller's version of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. 

Ironically, I give BBC Sherlock a lot of credit for that acceptance. Sherlock spawned a million universes of fanfic and a con that celebrated them. The Elementary panels at 221B Con never won me over, but the growing appreciation for a thousand varieties of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson opened up my mind past the "like/don't like" binary system of fanning Holmes. The Baker Street Babes came up with "All Sherlock is good Sherlock" to put that into words, but I wasn't even one hundred percent on board then. There are definitely bad Sherlocks out there, in all our heads. Doyle's Rotary Coffin then made their motto "No Holmes barred" and everything clicked into place, just in time for me to find my Sherlock Holmes adaptation true love, "Holmes and Watson."

So here I am, back at Elementary.

Johnny Lee Miller is much more palatable now. His accent isn't as bothersome, and I actually like his quick line delivery. The weird pull of Holmes's retirement beekeeping as a character bit for the first episode is still weird, but okay. Lucy Liu's Watson is awfully American. (And I just watched Kill Bill last week, so I can't get her exposed brain out of my head.) But she still gets a free pass, as she did the first time around, because I just like Lucy Liu. 

Lestrade reminds me a wee bit of my brother now, as we've aged a bit in the last nine years.

I like that Sherlock's turning point in the episode is from seeing TV wrestling, which makes a nice counterpoint to him busting into the opera in the next scene to get Watson. They spent a lot more money on the first episode than so many later ones -- look at all those extras! 

And Detective Javier Abreu . . . where did he go? I like how he calls Holmes "Prince Charles." Bell just wasn't sassy enough with Sherlock.

I suspect one of the things that set me off about this Sherlock back in 2012 was the fact that he's such a freakin' mess from square one. He doesn't get to impress Watson and us with how cool he is before we find out the mess that lays behind that cool. He's even physically damaged goods already after wrecking Watson's car in a dramatic moment, running around with bright red cuts on his face.

Oooo, so much depends upon that whole thing about rice making a laundered cell phone work. Have we given up on that yet? Feels like it. And that final pop tune sure doesn't hold up. 

This being streaming, it rolls into episode two, and Sherlock is being a complete weirdo, claiming he had hypnotized himself and that's why he suddenly shots "amygdala" in the middle of his recovery group meeting, then declares the time and walks out. Yeah, suddenly I'm back to my old feeling of "Oh, this is a show for people who think really smart people are deeply flawed to be that smart, so they can feel better about not being smart." And there, once again, I've insulted every fan of that show . . . and in 2012, I didn't realize for a while that Elementary had fans. (Also didn't think America would elect a . . . well, we won't go there.)

Later, when the show would focus on neurodiversity a little more, I think Holmes didn't act quite so goofy. But here at the outset, he's a little random in his abnormal behaviors in a way that . . . well, let me ask you this: Did you ever find Big Bang Theory a little offensive? Ever get seriously bothered by a friend deciding their party theme should be "nerds" and what people costumed like? Well, if you've ever had either of those feelings, you probably have an idea why Elementary got on my nerves early on. 

I almost made it through the pilot episode thinking only happy thoughts about Elementary. And maybe I was even okay until it rolled into episode two. But then it all came flooding back.

This may be one of those blog posts that I just add to the batch without posting a link on social media. Good to have on record, but maybe not making overmuch of it. "No Holmes barred," and that that.

Cheerio.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Here's to the editors! Which isn't me!

"Editors" seems to be my theme of the day today.

Later on, I'm having the meeting that will mark the official hand-off of editorial duties for The Watsonian to Sandra Little. The good Carter, professional editor that she is, has been doing a little work for me on a project that's coming very soon. There's something I need to look at for another editor's project I'm in. And in cleaning up my basement warehouse, I've hit the boxes that represent my time publishing The Holmes & Watson Report.

I say "publishing" because even though I was listed as "editor-in-chief," I am just not an editor. The good Carter and Bob Burr, who edited our local scion journal Wheelwrightings and was once offered editorship of The Baker Street Journal, did the actual work of proofreading and beating up the manuscripts that came in for The Holmes & Watson Report. I just accepted everything that came our way . . . and really didn't do much else for it.

That point was driven home in going through the piles of corrected articles, all printed out for proofing even if they were sent to my at-the-time AOL e-mail address, when I came to a little hand-written note from Bob attached to an article from a rather well-known Sherlockian.

"Brad, I ran out of patience with this. I'm sure I've missed some stuff. Please have Kathy give it a look. How the heck can anyone submit something in this form?!"

And how could the editor-in-chief pass something to a proof-reader in that form? Well, because I had two meticulous proofreaders behind me. Some day a book that Bob Burr owned might find it's way into your collection, and you might recognize it by the highlighting and correction of typos that he made while reading any book. 

A really good editor isn't something one just decides to be, I think. A really good editor is something someone is, then just finally finds something they can edit. And it isn't just proofreading. A good editor can do developmental edits, helping a writer mold their work into its best form, its best chance to communicate the ideas within to a reader. It's a skillset that involves a little of what makes a good writer, a touch of the obsessive-compulsive, and a focussed eye for detail -- and all those qualities applied on a consistent, reliable basis. Some of us might have those things at a given moment, but consistently over a long-term project?

Not everybody has that.

Some day, if I have reason to write a full autobiography, I think I'd title it "A One Draft Life," because I don't even have the patience to edit my own work for a second draft -- too busy heading on to the next thing. It's the kind of thing that makes for a blogger or a hack writer, and I'm okay with that at this point. At some point in life, one hopefully learns to be happy with who one is. And life itself is a first draft, really. (If you figure out a way to go back and edit it, let me know!)

So here's to the editors, who are much in my thoughts today!



One more Sherlockian thing before I go

A conversation with a Sherlockian friend got a little existential yesterday afternoon.

We were discussing Sherlockians of the past, and how, in addition to their works and how familiar they could feel even though we never met them, how they made us very aware of our limited time on the planet. It was the second discussion that I'd had in the last few days about Sherlockians who are no longer with us, and it's not hard to come up with a list of those whom I'd have liked to have heard more from before their untimely departures. Add to that the list of Sherlockians whom you'd like to just share current developments in the hobby with to see the joy in their eyes, and the numbers start adding up.

I don't know if it's the pandemic, crossing the sixty year mark, or both, but I've started thinking of projects in terms of "I'd really like to accomplish this before I die." Nothing earth-shattering, nothing that will make me famous or leave my heirs wealthy, just things that would make my last breath a satisfied sigh. 

I always think of Columbo, the TV detective who would be about to leave any room and then go, "Oh, one more thing . . ."

Because with Sherlockiana, it always seems there is just one more thing. It might be a silly thing. It might only have meaning to me myself. But, oh . . . one more thing. Which is good for some of us who like to keep our brains occupied. (Keeping brains occupied is probably the reason the entire field of Sherlockian chronology exists, I suspect.)

By the end of this week, I'm hoping that two more boxes on my to-do list will be checked off, but . . . what's that odd twinge in my back? (Don't be a problem, don't be a problem, don't be a problem.)

Friday, January 22, 2021

Riding where Basil and Nigel rode

 Sherlock Holmes has been to Washington. I have not.

But in the age of marvels in which we now live, I decided tonight to take that drive up Pennsylvania Avenue that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson took in the movie Sherlock Holmes in Washington, via Google Maps streetview mode. Movie geography has always been a fascination to me, ever since I saw an airplane make what had to be a right turn by what I knew of Las Vegas as I watched the movie Con Air. So I wanted to see how Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce's classic ride would go. 

In the movie, they were last at the Senate Office Building, except you could probably walk over to the Capitol from there, without driving like you were coming from the White House. Here's where our Baker Street Boys started:


As you can quickly see, our views of the trip were a little different.


That big building they are about to pass on the left doesn't seem to be there in our current world. And actually, it wasn't even there in the Rathbone movie's version of Washington, as a few moments later, here's what is on Holmes's left.


It's street with shops, and something called "APEX."


I got what looked like newer developments. But it's been almost eighty years, so that makes sense.


Rathbone Sherlock's final look at the Capitol building looks something like this.


I wound up in a parking lot.

It would be quite a video for some modern Sherlockians to attempt to recreate Rathbone's speech in a convertible driving up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol. Of course, they might want to wait a while after recent events. 

Being a Sherlockian has so many fun little aspects to it, and taking a trip into the world of an old movie on a Friday night is not all that unusual. And you just never know how it will all turn out.

Even if you just wind up in a parking lot.





Thursday, January 21, 2021

The puzzle after the puzzle

Jigsaw puzzles have become a new fancy during the pandemic, and Baskerville Productions came out with one just in time for mid-winter distraction. (My verbiage seems to be a bit tainted by watching Bridgerton at the moment, so forgive me if I get a bit courtly.)

After a week or so of work, I finished the first side of "Piecing Together the Canon," a lovely picture of what is either 221B if Sherlock Holmes was a trophy collector or the room of his greatest fan, populating it with items to remind themselves of his sixty cases. But are all sixty represented? The titles around the edges, yes, but in the artwork itself?

Having finished the puzzle, I printed out a list of the full sixty and began to tick them off.

At lunch today, I found thirty-nine of the stories in the picture, and have to admire the work it takes to visually represent some of the tales. You find yourself going, "Why is that lamp so smokey? OH!"

When I get back to it, I think I'll have to bring a magnifying glass, as there's a letter with writing so small that I can't quite read it with my normal vision. And I swear some stories get referred to more than once, so I might have to go back to the Canon to double-check those second, less-obvious references to see if they don't point to a different story. (Detailed knowledge can sometimes be as much a hindrance as a help.) 

And if this second puzzle-after-the-puzzle wasn't enough, there's still the other side of the puzzle to do once I've finally decided to take this one apart. (Of course, I did solve some of it already -- the benefit of a two-sided puzzle was that if the all-black parts with no pattern were a little hard, you could always flip those areas and solve them with the easier side, then flip them back.)

Sherlock Holmes did like his puzzles, but even though jigsaw sorts of puzzles were invented in the 1760s, and "jigsaw" puzzles became a thing in the 1880s, Holmes was probably too busy with detection to waste time with one until his retirement. And even then, they didn't really hit their stride until the Great Depression in the 1930s, so maybe he never got to them.

But their mysteries can still be a good thing for the student of Sherlock Holmes, having done two about him in the last few months.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Ex-President Don Murillo

 Being a British-based series of stories, the Sherlock Holmes Canon doesn't mention presidents much. In fact, there's only one use of the word "president" in that whole mass of verbiage:

"... this period includes the case of the papers of Ex-President Murillo ..."

Unlike many another such mention, that line in "Norwood Builder" actually refers to another case that we've actually read. But like a few other mentions, this reference doesn't exactly line up with the facts were were given in that story.

The papers of Ex-President Murillo? What papers? There aren't any papers of note in "The Adventure of the Wisteria Lodge."

Don Juan Murillo, the dictatorial president of the Central American country of San Murillo, was known for his cruelty and his ongoing flight from punishment resulting from that cruelty. He fled to Paris, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, England, and when his past started to catch up to him, he fled to Spain, and was finally murdered by his enemies.

Don Juan Murillo is one of those folks whose path never actually crossed that of Sherlock Holmes, one of those villains whose legacy actually just spawned other crime and mystery in its aftershocks for Holmes to investigate. We never knew the full extent of his crimes, but they were bad enough that his name alone immediately causes Watson to recognize him as "the most lewd and bloodthirsty tyrant that had ever governed any country with a pretense to civilization."

Don't mistake any of this as a definite parallel to a certain ex-president we wave good-bye to today in America. Murillo was really good a being a villain:

"Strong, fearless, and energetic, he had sufficient virtue to enable him to impose his odious vices upon a cowering people for ten or twelve years," Watson wrote. "As cunning as he was cruel, and at the first whisper of coming trouble, he secretly conveyed his treasures aboard a ship with was manned by devoted adherents."

Murillo milked his country dry for about a dozen years and then ran off with the treasures he piled up after he had gotten so bad that "there was a universal uprising against him." Murillo plainly didn't have an effective bunch of disinformation networks and social media working for him in San Pedro, but still made it over a decade in his dictatorship presidency.

We never hear what happened in San Pedro when they were finally free of the bastard Murillo. Sherlock Holmes refers to it with "the backwoods of San Pedro," but did he mean the whole country or just its actual backwoods regions? 

Hard to say. But they were certainly rid of Don Murillo. And I'm sure they were very happy about that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The economics and uses of Sherlockian scholarship

 I own far too many collectibles.

I'm not talking about books on my shelf I bought as a rarity, like a bound set of Strand Magazines. I'm talking about books I bought to read and use, like old Magico reprints. I recently went to look for one that I didn't buy back in the 1980s, thinking I would never be interested in a certain aspect of Sherlockiana, and was kind of amazed at the three-digit prices even a reprint now commands.

That made me realize two things: 1.) Up and coming Sherlockians can't afford this stuff, unless they're the over-sixties folks who are coming to the hobby later in life with their bankroll established, and 2.) The current generation of Sherlockians isn't reading these books. Is that a crisis? Hell, no. But it does indicate that there might be a little difference in Sherlockians coming up than those who gestated three or four decades ago.

One of the big errors that happens in any fandom is the "YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT IT DID!" fallacy, as people are very into their own nostalgic moments of bliss. It's natural. But we can't ever expect folks who came up in a very different world to relate to seeing Young Sherlock Holmes in a theater at age thirteen when it's impossible for them to have done exactly what you did. Books might seem a little different, because we can all read the same book, but even books have a freshness date. In the late eighties I had a book that reknowned collector John Bennett Shaw included in his "basic" library of one hundred Sherlockian books, because, at that time, it was ground-breaking. Now? Not so much, nor not necessary to own. (Also "basic" has some new connotations now, doesn't it?)

There are a ton of classic Sherlockian works that no new Sherlockian really needs to read. The original sixty are our primary data source, and those are almost everywhere. Current Sherlockians might write articles on topics covered by those in the past, but their perspectives are usually different and their writing styles more palatable to a modern reader. (There are the crazies in any generation, of course, who write stuff too weird for any but a few similar minds, but that's another matter.)

Sherlockiana will always be a hobby of collectables, as we are few compared to the population of the world, and we create things in small amounts that later are desired by more people. And we somehow keep going ahead without having read every single thing ever published by our fellow fans, and doing pretty well with our limited background. And how many completist collectors have just filled shelves without contributing knowledge learned to our general populace?

There's more to say on this topic, like "What the heck does one do with all these old books as they lose their personal use?" but that's for another time and another post. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The height of Sherlockian scholarship

 There are those who seem to grasp the high art of Sherlockiana better than most, those with a vision that rises above the same-old, same-old. And even though they might be celebrated for some seemingly unrelated aspect of their personality, like their comic wit, there are deeper veins of gold running through their work which can go un-noticed.

I only bring this up because today is the release of the new monograph Was Sherlock Holmes an Elephant? by Paul Thomas Miller.

As a lucky beta reader of this work, I can give you an early review of this 56 page paperback and tell you this: It answers the question "Was Sherlock Holmes an Elephant?" -- a question never before asked in Sherlockian history -- as studiously and with as much detail as will ever be needed, perhaps more than was needed. It is both a ground-breaking and an authoritative work on the subject.

If you were wondering if Sherlock Holmes was a golfer, a Buddhist, an American, a dancer, or anything else, this is not the book for you. If you were wondering if he was an elephant, look no further. Here is the answer. And something more.

Am I going too far if I say this book encapsulates so much of what is the pure spirit of Sherlockian scholarship since its first inception with Knox, Morley, et al? Sometimes, it is in the simplest things, like Sherlock Holmes looking at a moss rose, where one sees all of Providence reflected in its full glory. And this simple work, this pondering upon a great detective and a great beast, might just be one such rose amidst our wild garden of Sherlockiana.

All this said, however, let's really not go on about it lest it go to Paul Thomas Miller's head. If we continue to tell him what a grand Sherlockian he is, he's apt to be stricken with the centipede's dilemma and lose all ability to do what he does. It is for we mere mortals to wonder at such accomplishments and dash our heads against the Canon for not have seen such revelations before.

So, was Sherlock Holmes an elephant? I'm not giving out spoilers. As with the best of Sherlockiana, it is the journey, and not the destination where we find the most rewards.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Puzzles and gentlemen thieves

 We haven't had a good gentleman thief in a while. Especially one with a history involving Sherlock Holmes. Or "Herlock Sholmes." That's why it was a nice little treat to discover Lupin on Netflix on the same night I broke open my new "Piecing Together the Canon" jigsaw puzzle from Baskerville Productions.


This new Lupin is inspired by the original fictional character by Maurice Leblanc from the early 1900s, who put Sherlock Holmes in his Arséne Lupin stories until Conan Doyle griped and Leblanc had to change the name. It was an ambitious goal -- putting one's main character, a criminal, up against the greatest detective. The best of the gentleman thieves pull off their elaborate heists with flawless perfection, and even when the plot is uncovered, slip off to some distant beach or other sunny shore. And Sherlock Holmes doesn't really mesh with that.

The closest thing to a gentleman thief in Sherlock Holmes is probably John Clay of "Red-Headead League." He has a truly wonderful heist planned, and could well have been off on that distant shore with a fortune to live out his days on . . . well, if not for Sherlock Holmes. Professor Moriarty is supposedly the master planner, but we never see those plans, and he distances himself far enough his crimes to lose any cool factor associated with them. (Did he plan John Clay's heist? He's certainly never getting credit for it if he did, Granada not withstanding.)

The thing is, Sherlock Holmes is closer to the gentleman thief than any of his opponents. He is the gentleman detective, who, occasionally might dabble in crime as needed. And he pulls off his solutions to cases with the panache of a gentleman thief finishing a heist, both very similar to stage magicians in their doing the seeming impossible, but without that veneer of false wizardry.

Side-topic: It's interesting to look at the place of Penn & Teller among stage magicians. While others encourage the thought that they might be performing "magic," the Las Vegas duo never leave the audience without the sure knowledge that it's merely trickery and stagecraft, on purpose. Sherlock Holmes would approve, I think, passing up so many chances to be thought of as a worker of miracles. But back to gentlemen thieves.

No, let's switch to two-sided jigsaw puzzles. Sounds ridiculously hard, the two-sided jigsaw puzzle, if one has never attempted one before. Seems like it would take a veritable genius, a wizard of jigsaws to solve one, right? Take a close look at the picture above. Notice how the pieces are, for the most part, in color? One of the sides is in color, which makes the job a little easier. Yet there are still completely black and white pieces on the color side. But given the two-sided jigsaw puzzle, one quickly notices a detail that one ignores on a standard puzzle: the cut. On the front-facing side, the cut rounds down. One can tell one side from the other simply by touch . . . at least in this case.

The benefit of the two-sided jigsaw puzzle is that it's two Sherlock Holmes puzzles in one, and that's still a pretty cool thing. And like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, not as impressive once certain facts are explained to you. Also, doing a puzzle on a topic one knows well is always good fun, as that little extra edge of going "This 'Bos' piece definitely goes with the 'comb' piece!" makes for some pleasant moments.

So it's Lupin and Sherlock Holmes puzzles for more than a few evening's entertainment for a while.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Adventure of the Disappearing Sherlock Holmes Musical

 Listening to However Improbable, usually a Sherlock Holmes read-through podcast, doing an episode about the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, they hit a fact on the outset that I did not know: Billy Wilder originally envisioned The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as a musical. One of the hosts exclaimed how much she would love there to be a Sherlock Holmes musical, especially this movie as a musical, and I went, "Oh, yeah, there was that one musical . . ."

And now, I'm not talking about the one fabulous musical segment of Holmes and Watson, nor any of the bits in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother. No, I'm talking about that full-on Sherlock Holmes Broadway musical Baker Street. Remember Baker Street? No?

Most of us forget about Baker Street at some point, if we ever knew of it. I have two different vinyl albums of its songs, and I constantly forget about it.

It was called “the hottest Broadway musical of 1965 on its original cast album,” getting rave reviews from the critics according to that same album.  Although it seems to have largely disappeared from the theater scene these fifty-five years later, in 1965, Baker Street was supposedly setting box office attendance records, but the fact that it closed after 311 performances before the year was out, however, makes it seem like the initial attendance dropped off after pretty quickly. 


The play is the usual mish-mash of Sherlockian elements: Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and the Baker Street Irregulars all get stage time. It starred Fritz Weaver as Sherlock Holmes, Wallace & Gromit's Peter Sallis as Dr. Watson, Inga Swenson as Irene Adler, and had the first Broadway parts for both Christopher Walken and Tommy Tune.


As I pointed our in a past Watsonian Weekly, Watson is disrespected immediately at the start of the play, where the client immediately refers to him as “Dr. Watkins or something of the sort.” It also plays with Watson’s wound giving him a live “Oh yes, I picked up a Jezail bullet in my . . .” at which point Holmes cuts him off before we find out where. 


The play does have Canonical details aplenty to delight the Sherlockian, but it also has chorus lines of dancing girls playing native Americans, which might not go over quite so well today.


Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and Dr. Watson all get their own songs, Watson ironically singing that all he wanted in life was to be a married man. Sherlock Holmes is getting distracted by his growing crush on Irene Adler, so the hetero-norm of Baker Street is far different from what Billy Wilder would have toyed with in his Private Life musical. (Though in the movie, as is, Holmes can still seem pretty straight, though the "However Improbable" podcasters definitely have a different opinion.)


Irene Adler seems more often Holmes’s partner in Baker Street than Watson is, and [SPOILING IT!] at the very end of the play, Sherlock Holmes leaves Watson to supposedly go look for Moriarty in America, something the Will Ferrell Holmes and Watson also seems to have paid tribute to Baker Street with, except in this case, Holmes is going alone, intimating that he’s going to hook up with Irene.


It's not a badly written play, but the staging is very ambitious, requiring a little more than a local repertory company probably would want to do. And, personally, I don't think the songs hold up at all, which doesn't give anyone the motivation to put it on in 2021. 


Baker Street made its splash in 1965 and then faded into Broadway history records. I haven't met any Sherlockians who are fans of the thing, and anyone who saw it live must be pretty old at this point and aren't talking it up. I hope we get another, one day, that we can talk up as the years move on.


Baker Street, however, didn't seem to be it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Bad jokes or Sherlockian chronology, you decide!

Vaudeville Watson:  "What's the difference between @#%&$ and a Christmas goose?"

Vaudeville Holmes:  "One of them is most unimpeachable!"

••••••••••••••••••

Vaudeville Watson: "How is getting a loan on a beryl coronet better than #$%&@ holding a leadership position?

Vaudeville Holmes: "Because the security on the beryl coronet loan is unimpeachable!"

••••••••••••••••••

Vaudeville Watson: "Say, Holmes, when you were out chasing the Hound of the Baskervilles, it seemed to me that you were a lot like @#$*%$ $%#&#!"

Vaudeville Holmes: "Oh, really Watson, why is that?"

Vaudeville Watson: "Because you both had two tinned-peaches!"

Vaudeville Holmes: "If you go for the Ikey Sanders joke, I will kill you."

Vaudeville Watson: "But Holmes, Ikey Sanders only practiced what he peached!"

(Vaudeville Holmes starts beating Vaudeville Watson with his deerstalker.)