Thursday, December 30, 2021

The last blog post of 2021?

 Boy, this pandemic is killing my blogging output. How can a virus weaken one's blogging without the writer getting the disease, you ask?

Well, first came the lockdown, those months when we were all suddenly at home doing jigsaw puzzles and watching Tiger King. (Okay, so maybe you resisted that. I didn't.) I started digging through old files and decided to write a book. By the time The Rise and Fall of an Eighties Sherlockian came out earlier this year, I had pretty much decreased my 2020 blog posts to almost half the number of the year before.

And then, even as that project finished and 2021 began, what happened? I kicked off The Sherlockian Chronologist Guild and its monthly newsletter, Timelines. A fairly niche topic right? Shouldn't take up all that much mental space, right?

Twelve monthly issues later, with a grand total of twenty-six subscribers, I have learned otherwise. There are more rabbit holes to Sherlockian chronology than most ever suspect, and as tiny as twenty-six subscribers might seem for any normal area of interest, I was dead sure the entire Sherlockian world was going to have no more than eight interested parties. You don't do Sherlockian chronology for popularity, that's for darned sure.

But what did that chronology occupation do? Drop my blog post count from 2020's all-time low by another twenty percent! 

And as 2021 starts, I find myself occupied by January 14's Pub Night at the Dangling Prussian, which has gotten my few blog posts of late. Throw in some other hot topics that I am trying to keep my mouth shut on for various reasons, and my output for the month of December has hit an all time low of TWO posts so far. While always a busy, distracting month, December of 2018 had twenty-nine posts as I was reading fics and going to see Holmes and Watson multiple times while its short run in theaters held up.

Ah, happier times.

But the pandemic hasn't killed this blogger* (*yet!) so we shall hope that 2022 brings more things to write about that aren't sidelined off to the chronology corner or some tome on the eighties.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Canon of Afterlife Sherlock Holmes

It is a rather fascinating thing to me that Arthur Conan Doyle, a man who took great stock in communicating with spirits in the afterlife, was not the one who made contact with Sherlock Holmes after his death at Reichenbach Falls. True, Conan Doyle did come out in the early 1900s, claim Sherlock Holmes was not dead after all, and hand us a contrived account of Holmes reversing his boots to fake his death so new stories could occur. But during that time when Sherlock Holmes surely was dead, from 1893 to 1903, there was another fellow communicating with the dead, and Sherlock Holmes.

This, of course, was American writer John Kendrick Bangs, who, it seems, possessed an enchanted typewriter, capable of being operated by those on the other side of the veil. There were four books in the series of afterlife accounts from Bangs, A Houseboat on the Styx, The Pursuit of the House-boat, The Enchanted Typewriter, and Mr. Munchausen. All are out of copyright and available on Project Gutenberg, and the middle two of the series, published in 1897 and 1899, feature Sherlock Holmes.

And here's the thing: In both those books, Sherlock Holmes tells of a previously unpublished case.

In The Pursuit of the House-Boat, we find "The Brighton Mystery," which Holmes tells to his fellow Shades in chapter seven. And if you think Watson made Sherlockian chronology confusing, Holmes says the case  was "some ten years ago when I first took up ferreting as a profession." He and Watson were spending that summer together in a Brighton hotel at a time when books being sold about him were already stirring autograph-seekers to come after him.

In The Enchanted Typewiter, we get Holmes teasing a full book called Memoirs I Remember written by Holmes himself with twelve new stories. The first is called "WHO THE LADY WAS!" in which Sherlock Holmes returns incognito to living London "by a special dispensation of his Imperial Highness Apollyon" after being dead three years to find the world's largest diamond for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, when an amnesiac woman poses a second puzzle for him. (Shades of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes!) Apparently the afterlife has done Holmes no favors, as "Lion's Mane" or "Blanched Soldier" this is not. (And, c'mon, even those aren't Watson-quality.)

Is there enough in those two appearances to get a real feel for this post-life Sherlock Holmes, for some current author to attempt a full-blown pastiche of Holmes in Hades? Is it even possible to out-do Bangs himself in this case for a fellow American, easier than topping ACD? John Kendrick Bangs was definitely a writer of his times, and maybe not as timeless as other "classic" writers, so a modern take on that curious incarnation of Sherlock Holmes might even be more enjoyable for our fellow moderns.

There is surely some fun to be had there.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The NaChronoWriMo report

 At the end of October, I decided that instead of participating in "NaNoWriMo" (National Novel Writing Month) this year, I would devote my month to "NaChronoWriMo" and spent the time with Sherlockian chronology. Was my final word count the hoped-for 50,000 that NaNoWriMo participants shoot for?

Heck no! The current total is 13,177. (And a good chunk of those words are Watson's!)

But I did make it through the entire Canon, and met goals that went beyond word count. That word count also did not count writing for the Sherlockian Chronology Guild's monthly newsletter Timelines, a sideline that has definitely cut into my blog-posting time this year.

Other excuses? The sudden rise of the Dangling Prussian virtual Pub Night on Zoom, January 14th. As is always the case with our diversely multi-tentacled Sherlockian hobby, just as you're fighting to extricate yourself from one tentacle of the beastie, another one starts to wrap itself around you and demand your attention. (And if that metaphor was just a little too exciting to you, we know where your internet searches have been taking you. * wink *) (Hey, it's another blog post on Sherlockian chronology! I had to make it more exciting somehow!)

It's been a good month of chronology work, though, the results of which will, I hope, come up before too long, into the pubic view.

On to pub-work December!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

My Conan Doyle Book Problem

 It's exciting to fill shelves with books when you're younger. It's fun to carefully peruse the shelves of old and used bookshops, with their random selections from sources unknown. But there comes a time when the gleeful cry of "You can't have too many books!" just makes you shake your head at the folly of youth.

Because books can be a blessing and a curse. It's a marvelous thing to want to know something and be able to reach up to a shelf and find something that even Google doesn't know about. But books are also physical objects with a certain weight, and a space requirement, and when they leave shelves and overflow into boxes, those can be some heavy boxes.

And they can be hard to get rid of, especially if they are ancillary to one's specialty.

At this point in my life, I really don't need any books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that don't have Sherlock Holmes in them. As much as we owe the man, I'm not really a fan of the fellow. I'll send him a mental thank you card now and then, but there are so many other new writers our their that need my casual reading time, and my Sherlockian reading time is, well, all about Sherlock.

So what does one do with boxes of non-Sherlock Conan Doyle books? Seems a pity to dump them on the local used paperback shop, library sale, or Goodwill store. (And you don't want to know what happens to books that fall down the food chain and are never bought. There's no magical library of unwanted books out there.) Knowing there's a special interest in a certain kind of book makes it harder to dispose of. And while there are folks interested in Conan Doyle works out there, are there currently enough of them to serve as owners of all the copies of The White Company in existence?

I'm having some doubts.

Would scattering old Doyle books to the winds encourage the reading of said author, when more genre specific works are out there? You might notice that I'm purposefully avoided mention of eBay -- dealing with random retail customers in any venue is something for those with tougher hides than me.

The great gap in Sherlockian weekend workshops and events hasn't helped matters -- grand gatherings are always good places to offload a few things to interested parties. And while 2022 was looking hopeful, the words "omicron variant" this past week have cast a dark cloud. But who knows?

For now, I'll probably do what I've done in the past: Fill banker's boxes and stack them in the corner of some room that shouldn't have any more bankers boxes in it. But those probably need to be dealt with before my back can no longer deal with a banker's box of books . . .


Friday, November 19, 2021

A Dangling Prussian Registration Link!

If you didn't get on the RSVP list from the earlier post and get the e-mail version of what lies below, here's some new details on the Dangling Prussian pub night on January 14, along with a registration link. The word will start getting spread further this weekend, but, hey, you're special!

You are invited to Pub Night at the Dangling Prussian on Zoom.. 

When: Jan 14, 2022 06:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada) 

Register in advance for this gathering: 

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

The Schedule (all Eastern Time U.S.)

6:00 to 8:00,  Happy Hour

Join for general chat and wander the tables of the pub for conversation and friendly faces. Zoom might call them “breakout rooms,” but we’re reserving them under the names …

The Brett party’s table (perhaps to discuss television)

The Rathbone party's table (perhaps to discuss movies)

The Starrett party's table (perhaps to discuss pastiche)

The Watson party's table (perhaps to discuss the Canon)

The Morley party's table (perhaps to discuss the Sherlockiana)

I mean, folks at any table can talk about whatever they’re going to talk about, of course. And from 7:00 to 10:00, pub trivia questions will be randomly sent out to the tables. If the occupants of said table at that moment can answer that question in a private message in the chat to the host, their table scores a point, and a winning table will eventually be announced. (Not being a formal competition, you can always jumps table and beef up an underdog’s points — it’s really just about the fun.)

Also, you can get inducted into the Montague Street Incorrigibles upon entry, should you so wish. There’s a small ceremonial bit.

8:00 to 9:00, As Formal A Program As You’re Going To See

There will be toasting, first and foremost, and some entertainments are currently being lined up. Again, this is going to be about the fun. No serious presentations on pub night.

9:00 to Midnight, Anything That Didn’t Get Done Earlier

You’ve heard of rap battles, but have you ever heard of a limerick brawl? Now you have. Singing? Dancing? Reports from any other events or misadventures in the rest of the world that night? Who knows, it’s a Zoom party. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Tiger Tyrant of San Pedro 2

 "I tell you, Eugenia Ronder murdered her husband. People are trying to kill me, and I'm running for my life."

-- Juan "Don" Murillow, Tiger of San Pedro, from an undisclosed location

The story of Don Murillo captured the attention of readers everywhere in 1908. The attention of one reader in particular shot toward that account more than any other.

"You know why I wasn't in part two of 'Wisteria Lodge?' Because Watson forgot about me. He got so excited by the Tiger of San Pedro that I just didn't exist to him any more. It wasn't until that story came out in 1908 that I even heard what happened to my close personal friend Garcia."

-- John Scott Eccles, sociable bachelor and Canonical character

"John was always telling that double-barrelled tiger cub story. He loved tigers. And he really, really hated that famous tiger hunter Sebastian Moran. Do I think he was involved with the Tiger of San Pedro beyond what he wrote in that story. It was 1892. 1892. Sherlock Holmes was dead in a river in Switzerland."

-- The late Mary Morstan Watson, to a friend before her mysterious disappearance

"It was 1889 and I wanted to take my children to the circus. That's all. Was this Watson at that circus? Did he know how far a murderess would go to discredit a witness from another country? Try to look up San Pedro in any encyclopaedia! You find San Cristobal and then William Sancroft -- there is no San Pedro!"

-- Juan "Don" Murillo, Tiger of San Pedro, a country no one has heard of

"Was it a fierce tiger of crime, which could only be taken fighting hard with flashing fang and claw?"

-- John H. Watson, creating an imaginary criminal in his head in "Black Peter"

"Yes, Watson liked to pretend Eugenia was horrible to look at. But the way he'd go on about her figure, how perfect her mouth was, how pleasing her voice was . . . I mean, it was just a few scars. He didn't have any problem taking her to Simpson's with Sherlock and me after I got sprung from the joint."

-- Kitty Winter, reputed hell-cat from Hell, London

"I mean, who the hell is 'the Marquess of Montalva, and why did Watson want people to think I was him after he was murdered?"

-- Juan "Don" Murillo, Tiger of San Pedro, not a marquess

"You know Watson waited to publish that story until Sherlock Holmes was undercover in America and couldn't give him hell for making up all that 'Tiger of San Pedro' crap. What he did to Eduardo was bad enough."

-- Ricardo Lucas, a.k.a. "cat-like" Lopez, whose family's reputation had a second stain by Watson's pen

"Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife."

-- Sherlock Holmes, apparently refusing to say Eugenia Ronder's name

Saturday, November 13, 2021

A virtual pub night to celebrate Sherlock Holmes!


Attention all scalawags, layabouts, rapscallions, and full grown street urchins of the Sherlockian, Holmesian, and Watsonian worlds!

On Friday night, January 14th, a pub of legend is opening its Zoom doors for an evening of distraction, gossip, merriment, and feats of mental brawn, as the Dangling Pussian plays host to the Montague Street Incorrigibles Non-Annual Non-Dinner!

What’s that you say? You’re not a member of the Montague Street Incorrigibles? Well, for one night, and one night only, you can sign Arminius Detweiller’s big membership book and join the club. (Bring your own pen. Maybe some paper might be good, too. You really do have to sign the book — under whatever alias you’re going by that night.) But even if you don’t want to join such a motley crew, we’ll let you come anyway.

It’s just going to be about having a little fun with whoever else decides to show up. And there will be fun. Trust me on this. (Or don’t, because I’m a rapscallion too.)

Friday night, January 14, 2022, cocktail hours starting at 6:00 P.M. Eastern U.S. Time Zone, main Incorrigible congress and program starting at 8:00 P.M. E.T. 

Registration Zoom Link: 

Or for more info, write to

Hope to see ya there!

The ever-distracting Sherlock Holmes

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm practicing "NaChronoWriMo" this month -- National Chronology Writing Month -- and churning away at Sherlockiana's least-loved past-time. This isn't a new thing for this year, as the Sherlockian Chronology Guild has had a new issue of their PDF newsletter, Timelines, in their e-mail boxes for the past ten months straight, and that involves a little writing on the subject. But this month, yes, this month I decided to dedicate myself to the subject.

And I'm trying, but you know Sherlock Holmes.

Somebody mentioned 221B Con, and I started thinking about what panels awaited there. Somebody mentioned Sherlock's birthday weekend in January and the subject of Zoom meet-ups for that weekend became an exciting topic. Somebody mentioned Sherlockian role-play and that brought up a Sherlockian role-play society from the early 2000s that might need another go. There are just so many potential things one can do around Sherlock Holmes that the distractions come far too easy.

And there's only so much time in the world, right?

Anyone who collects Sherlock Holmes things is bound to have a side collection or two. Once collecting is in the blood, it has a definite tendency to spread. One of my little side collections is all about the superhero Flash and all the other super-speedsters of pop culture (just added a Makkari figure to that set, if you're up on your MCU). Why the attraction to that particular super-power? Because those characters are the ones with the best chance of getting it all done!

Sherlock Holmes would have made a good super-speedster. His wide range of interests and constant desire to avoid boredom are a perfect fit for it, and . . . well, what was his drug of choice? A strong stimulant. 

And at this point in writing this blog post, a full seven days ago, someone reminded my that I promised to proofread a somewhat longer Sherlockian project for them . . . which I did . . . and then, and then, and then . . . I really need to get weaned off caffeine at some point, but the siren song of the kola nut calls and no mast to lash myself to . . .  

Well, as the distractions pile up and the chronology needs a'doing, I should just stop this and do that, shouldn't I?


Sunday, October 31, 2021

The changing of the guard

 It is always sad to lose one of our Sherlockian number, and this weekend news came out of a large loss in our community, the passing of Mike Whelan. Following not so far behind the passing of Jon Lellenberg, it really gives one a sense of the generational changing of the guard in Sherlockiana.

Both men were dominant Sherlockians who were powerful influences upon our community, and well known for butting heads on issues regarding the Baker Street Irregulars. Both had their own camps of friends and followers, and both had good sides and bad sides to their views on how things should be. Fortunately, Sherlockiana has never been "Ford versus Chevy," "Republicans versus Democrats," etc., or I suspect we might have had a very interesting American Sherlockian Civil War at some point. No, we're more of the "herding cats" sort of community, which does have benefits on occasion.

With the passing of Mike Whelan and Jon Lellenberg, and their influence, we are really entering an entirely new phase of Sherlockian life, a generational change. It took Julian Wolfe not only stepping down as leader of the BSI, but passing on, for women to be allowed in that club, as respect for the former leader carried that tradition on a bit further than it should have. And while neither of our recent losses had that specific of a disputed agenda for the community to move past, we are entering a period where those influences are no longer felt as strongly as they were as the months pass.

When we lose any friend or family member, we don't just lose that person, we lose the part of our lives that only came from their presence. Even if they lived far away, or we only saw them on holidays, that ongoing experience, the special yams they brought to the dinner table for the feast, are gone. And maybe nobody can make the yams the way that person did, but as time passes, someone else brings their best dish to the table enough that a new favorite emerges. Generational change occurs. 

Mike Whelan was one of the most influential, if not the most influential figure, on the course of organized Sherlockiana over the past three decades. Three decades! His legacy, those those many books, events, and encouragements that happened over that period, is now cemented into history. And the terrace of our traditions will be bearing a weighty load as we approach January and that NYC dinner, as it truly marks the end of an era.

The Sherlockiana of the 2020s awaits. Where does it all go from here? I don't know if we can even say who has a clue at this point. But there is still time for fond farewells as that ship leaves the dock.

See you later, Wiggins. And by the way, I did dust the top of that refrigerator.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Basil's first weekend

 As the generations have turned, we have found ourselves awash with mature Sherlockians to whom The Great Mouse Detective is a true classic of Sherlockian cinema. As a Sherlockian in my late twenties when it was released on July 4, 1986, I'm a little less enchanted with the Disney animated feature, as I was not in its intended target audience at all. What was I looking forward to that weekend?

Well, let's set the scene.

When The Great Mouse Detective rolled into theaters, Top Gun had been out for nearly two months and Tom Cruise was still king of the box office with the number four film in the country. Karate Kid II had been out for two weeks and was still in the number one slot. Ferris Bueller's Day Off was still holding strong at number seven for that weekend. Labyrinth was in its second week and dropping out of the top ten with its weird David Bowie baby-snatching. But what were the new movies competing with our friend Basil?

Of the five movies that premiered that Fourth of July weekend, the one I actually wanted to see most was the least popular, a little cult-classic that skewers the John Wayne white savior trope in ways audiences weren't ready for in 1986, the Kurt Russell movie Big Trouble in Little China.

Coming in fourth of the five newbies was music superstar Prince's movie Under the Cherry Moon.

Third was About Last Night, a typical eighties comedy-drama with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore as the pretty young stars.

Second was our hero, The Great Mouse Detective, the only real option to take the kids to that weekend.

And beating all of those, to come in first among new films (and eighth at the box office against the heavyweights I mentioned at the start) was Psycho III. Yes, Norman Bates beat Sherlock Holmes at the box office that weekend.

The next weekend, all five movies dropped one position in box office rankings, with About Last Night kicking Psycho III down to third place in those five.

And the third weekend after its release, The Great Mouse Detective was holding fairly firm at number twelve in box office as most of the others fell away, but still had never cracked the top ten.

It's fascinating to look at all the "failures" of that weekend which people still watch today, and compare it to more successful films like About Last Night or two I have yet to mention, Legal Eagles and Ruthless People, that nobody watches today. Streaming has given us the ability to go back and look at cinema's oddities and its special films, but the mainstream mediocre stuff gets washed out and supplanted by new mainstream crowd-pleasers as the crowds change. 

And while Top Gun fans age and await a new sequel with their practically senior citizen action hero, The Great Mouse Detective holds a warm spot in the hearts of its grown-up fans (and older Sherlockians child-like enough to embrace it as the years have passed).

And then there's the odd Sherlockian who liked Big Trouble in Little China enough that he actually cosplayed Jack Burton at a con once. But maybe he was on a Great Mouse Detective high still when he went into the theater for that movie on that same July 4, 1986 weekend. True or not, it makes a good case for the defense.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Mrs. Ronder's other secret

 Our Sherlock Holmes Story Society met again this week, both at the Peoria Public Library in masks (five of us) and on Zoom (six of us) to discuss "The Veiled Lodger" this evening. And though the thin nature of Holmes and Watson's part in the tale had many wondering if Conan Doyle was losing his touch, the discussion, as always, inspired me to wonder.

Wonderment A: Eugenia Ronder was a woman virtually enslaved by a pig of a man since she was apparently assaulted by him as a teenager, then forced to wed for legitimacy, completely in his control her entire life. And yet, when he is killed and she is incapacitated on that very night, her fortunes are somehow held intact for "many a weary month" while she recovers from near death. In the male-dominated Victorian era, how did this poor victim manage to hold on to the fortunes her husband built up when she barely had control enough to keep breathing? With immoral cowards like the pretty boy Leonardo heading for the hills with whatever they could grab, how was she not left penniless on a roadside en route to Wimbledon?

Wonderment B: What was Watson's problem in writing this story? A man who is normally kind to and fond of the ladies he encounters describes a nice, motherly landlady thus: "Our visitor had no sooner waddled out of the room -- no other verb can describe Mrs. Merrilow's method of progression . . ." Mrs. Merrilow, a woman Watson surely knew would one day read the tale, "waddled?" I could hardly believe our good doctor would be so unkind!

Wonderment C: Given my chronological bent, I had to consider Mrs. Ronder's timeline.  "On this particular night, seven years ago," Sherlock Holmes says when telling of the lion attack upon the lady. And earlier Holmes says to Mrs. Merrilow, "You say that Mrs. Ronder has been your lodger for seven years and that you have only once seen her face." Wait a minute -- if Mrs. Ronder was attacked seven years ago this very night, how did she show up at Mrs. Ronder's boarding house with a veil and a bunch of "hard cash" at the same time, when we know she was barely alive and recovering for months?

Wonderment D: In addition to this being Sherlock Holmes Story Society night, the founders of the Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw, the Sherlockian society dedicated to cryptozoology in the Canon, were also in communication regarding their trading cards for this tale.

Put A + B + C + D together with one more line from the story and all becomes clear. That line?

"He might as soon have loved one of the freaks whom we carried round the country as the thing which the lion had left," Eugenia Ronder says of her disfigurement. (Can you hear the quiet chanting yet? "One of us . . . one of us . . . one of us . . .") In addition to a lion, a strongman, and a clown, Ronder's Wild Beast Show had freaks. And when all hope was lost and all turned their backs on the mutilated woman the lion left for dead, who took Eugenia in? Who stealthily gathered up Ronder's fortunes and used the money to buy a home for themselves and their fellows, including the remains of their former leader's wife?

The freaks.

We are told what a pig-face Ronder had, what a beast of a man he was, like something out a freak show himself. And if Ronder's Wild Beast Show had a pig-man, is it so unlikely that their "freaks" also included a woman with webbed feet like a duck? A woman who cared for Eugenia Ronder from the very moment she was so devastatingly wounded?

It was said by an ancient Sherlockian sage named Professor Pope Hill Sr. that every story in the Canon held a secret second tale beneath it, and it would appear that Mrs. Merrilow's story is one of those. So here's to "Ducky" Merrilow and her tender care of perhaps the most ill-treated woman Holmes ever met.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


November is fast upon us, and with it, the month many a writer accepts the challenge of "NaNoWriMo," National Novel Writing Month. It's an excuse to go on a mad writing spree of wild abandon, and I've enjoyed it thoroughly when I've been able to commit to the rigor of setting a 50,000 word goal for the month. It tempts me every year, but this year I just can't clear my obsession over my Great White Whale.

What is that Great White Whale, you ask?

Sherlockian chronology. It vexes me.

'Tis a subject that will vex anyone who insists upon an answer, that much is true. But that is not why I'm vexed. I've seen a path through it for a couple of years now, but haven' committed to walking the path I've mapped in my head -- THAT is what vexes me. Next month, I'll do it. Well, okay, not this month, but NEXT month. And so on and so on.

The thing about NaNoWriMo in November is that it isn't really about writing. It's about commitment and dedication, focus and discipline. Moving past waiting for inspiration and just pushing the words out. And, in the end, you get something that might be a book. And that is a goal I can get behind . . . even with a different-than-novel purpose.

And so, with this blog post, I am stepping to the plate, pointing to the bleachers, and saying, November shall be my NaChronoWriMo. My National Chronology Writing Month.

Where a typical participant in NaNoWritMo hopes to produce something someone will eventually read, I will head into this knowing that my success means adding another unreadable tome to the great pile of unreadable tomes on the subject. It is the most pointless endeavor possible in some ways.

But, hey, I'm an aging male who isn't wasting Earth's resources shooting myself into near-space at least. At worst, I might use up like one one-hundredth of a tree for the five collectors who get a print-on-demand copy of the thing. And it may free me for a time from this curse we call "Sherlockian chronology" that Conan Doyle placed upon us. (Yeah, they say "the curse of Conan Doyle is about murders and suicides," but, no, it's pretty much just Sherlockian chronology.)

So NaChronoWriMo in a few short days. Feel free to join in. Or just go on being happy.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Unpopular Opinions

 A Sherlockian library can contain a lot of non-Sherlockian material. Sometimes you pick up a book for only one piece about Sherlock Holmes in a collection, especially when it comes to the oldest school of Sherlockians, like Father Ronald Knox, who only wrote the one Sherlockian essay. And one definite gem in that category is a slim volume titles Unpopular Opinions by Dorothy L. Sayers.

If you're not a fan of Lord Peter Wimsey, you might not be familiar with the author, whose main body of work occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. And in 1946, at the age of fifty-three when a person tends to have built up a few opinions on things, Dorothy Sayers published Unpopular Opinions.

In the introduction, Sayers explains that "all of the opinions expressed have in fact caused a certain amount of annoyance one way and the other." She goes on to say that three of her essays were so unpopular that the very people who commissioned their writing suppressed them before printing could occur.  For one, she received the response "American readers would be shocked by what they understood of it." And after tackling Christianity, Britain, sexism, mechanization, biased reporting, and other big issues of politics and religion, she winds down the collection with five pieces concerning Sherlock Holmes and company.

Looking at the collection at as a whole, one can see many a line that would stir up a good online argument in the modern day, and looking at the book from this distant remove, her Sherlockian bits don't seem all that controversial. Indeed, her essay "Dr. Watson's Christian Name" is now the next thing to Canon in Sherlockian circles, as "Hamish" has been widely accepted as the perfect solution to an "H" middle name that would allow his wife to call him "James" on one notable occasion.

Do we have "Unpopular Opinions" in Sherlockiana any more? There was an age, legends tell us, where a man could get bodily thrown out of a Baker Street Irregulars dinner for suggesting that Watson was female. We do still have folks with strong opinions on matters Sherlockian, 'tis true. But do we see much backlash against any particular bit, or do folks just go off into their corner and group with those of a similar mind, rather than trying to convert the unconvinced? 

The biggest controversies in Sherlockiana that I can recall of a more recent vintage have revolved around individual Sherlockians, and not Holmes or Watson. And even there the controversies are often at some back-channel level where one notices something is going on, but doesn't quite understand the full story. We've a lot of Watson in us, it seems, with our unrecorded cases in that area, but perhaps it's for the best. We don't really want to get into . . . well, I just don't want to get into that . . . in our relaxing hobby time.

I really wonder what Sayer's trajectory of unpopular opinions would have been in the social media age, though. Would she have navigated it with agile deftness, or slammed headlong into a wall of trending unpopularity? It's amazing how many of her arguments still ring true with battles we're still fighting to this day. Humans don't evolve nearly as fast as science fiction would hope.

Sherlockiana, however, keeps ringing true as well. That's nice enough.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The game is . . . not Sherlock Holmes?

 It is very, very hard to create a game that captures the spirit of Sherlock Holmes.

If you've played many Sherlock Holmes games, you're probably well aware of that fact. And there are a lot of obvious reasons for that, foremost among them that none of us is Sherlock Holmes and our opponent is rarely Moriarty, or even John Clay. As with writing pastiche, there is an element of bottled magic to any Sherlock Holmes experience that is darned hard to catch.

But putting that magic in a game . . . and there have been some really good games based around our guy . . . well, that is an even greater challenge. Why?

Well, what is a game but a little ordered reality where only a set number of things happen in a certain number of ways. It can be as complex as a dungeon master's elaborate story with room for improvisation, or it can be as simple as flipping cards to see what number comes up versus a second number from another flipped card. But rules and limits can kill surprise -- our favorite sports often succeed when they do just due to the randomness of kinetic energy and prevailing winds mixed with the unreliable factors of human performance. Table games do have variables of human performance, but there's only so much variation allowed. You aren't going to pass go and suddenly make three thousand dollars, instead of two hundred.

Sure, you can improv the heck out of some role-playing game. But Sherlock Holmes was not a random and spontaneous creature -- his dramatic successes were built from all that came before by a master craftsman. And here's the finer point when it comes to games:

Suppose one of your fellow players was a veritable Sherlock Holmes and played the game with all the panache and genius of Holmes himself -- are you content to be a Watson and just thrill at being along for the ride at that other player's success? Do we ever play games to enjoy the other person winning?

Maybe you do. I hope you are that rare soul who just plays for the other person's success -- we all do that with children sometimes, I think, but not so much with our fellow adults. The world needs more noble Watsons and a few less wannabe Sherlock Holmes's who don't quite do the job.

Which is the feeling one often gets in the aftermath of a Sherlock Holmes game -- "Well, that wasn't exactly Sherlock Holmes at work!" Or maybe it's just me.

I've enjoyed Sherlock Holmes games that I think I would have enjoyed just as much without the Sherlock Holmes trappings. 221B Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes, The Time Machine, for example, could have used any old time traveler and I think we would have had the same amount of fun, and solving things like the Kennedy assassination might have made more sense. But we do love seeing Sherlock Holmes in things, and games give us new art, new ways of thinking about him and his crew, and a chance to interact with Sherlockians and non-Sherlockians like around the detective.

But capturing that imp in a bottle is trickier in the medium of games than books, movies . . . maybe even anything other than musicals and ballets. (Excepting, of course, for that musical interlude in Holmes and Watson. I have yet to be exorcised of that demon, for those of you whom were concerned.)

But, as the great man himself once said, "We can but try -- the motto of the firm."

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The one lighthouse one a vast ocean

 "Indeed, I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of [pastiches], so prolific the creatures seem."

-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Dying Detective," edited for topic.

Yesterday morning, I had an idea for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche that I rather liked. But while I enjoy writing, and even writing fiction, the thought of writing a pastiche just seemed . . . well, I hate to even use the word but . . . pointless. Is there a crying need in the world for one more novel or short story of Sherlock Holmes? Is there a single reader out there with access to a library or bookstore who has no tale of Sherlock Holmes to read?

I've gotten a similar feeling before when walking into a Barnes & Noble and looking across the aisles at the massive amount of new books in that one building. Does the world need yet another book added to this great sea of books? What could I possibly have to say that would add to this mass of words in some meaningful way?

Those are very depressing sorts of thoughts, the sort of thoughts that kill motivation dead and freeze the corpse. Motivation is a funny thing, though. It doesn't take much.

I recently saw a creator being asked about what he does when he has no motivation, and his response was basically, "Do it anyway." It's funny how we look at motivation one way for our creative efforts and another way for day to day life. We want inspiration to write, but we brush our teeth, wash our dishes, go to work, and do a thousand other things with no motivation whatsoever. They're just what we do.

Writing became like that for me at some point in my life, more habit than inspiration. This blog, for example, whose pace only starts slowing when other writing is going on, like the recent chronology newsletter or Nanowrimo. Left alone in a cabin with no hope of an eventual reader, I would still write. But writing a specific thing, like a Sherlock Holmes story? Well, that takes one more ingredient -- the yeast to the flour, to using a baking reference. (Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street, still available on Amazon!) (Wait, did this blog post just have a commercial?) And that ingredient is a target.

Sometimes all it takes is knowing that one person would enjoy reading the specific thing I'm going to write. Or one person asking that I write a thing. Or one person that stumbled into a trap set and thought a novel was real when it wasn't and then I feel guilty and write it as my penance, just to make my fabrication into a real thing so I didn't actually lie if you think in four dimensions. (Well, that one was a rather unique circumstance.)

How much fanfic has been created just for the delight of that one friend the writer knows would have their day brightened by a tale of a favorite character? And even if you're your own best friend -- entire books have been written because the author wanted to read a thing and it wasn't available. (The Elementary Methods of Sherlock Holmes, for example, barely available anywhere.) The key to a really enjoyable write always seems to be just having a reader in mind.

It's a great lighthouse for steering your ship in the vast ocean of creative work. And sometimes, when an idea comes along that doesn't have that target reader, it gets washed away by all those reasons like the ones I started this essay with. (Or just lack of time. That might be the actual case this time.) 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

A young man's hero

 When Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, he was twenty-eight years old.

The author, as we most often picture him, is the walrus-moustached old gentleman, a fellow who seems like he would be perfect company for Nigel Bruce, sitting around chortling in that good old fellow sort of way. The only live-captured video we have of him is as a man much older than thirty, walking wearily down to take a seat, which does much to cement that image.

But that was not the man who created Sherlock Holmes.

The man who created Sherlock Holmes was still in his adult youth, still full of that vision of a human being's unlimited potential. He had yet to be worn down by life, or had the expectations of his fellow man lowered by repeated encounters with the dullards among us. Sherlock Holmes is a hope, a vision, a place in the grandstands where one baseball of a human being is going to make that home run of an ascent.

Sherlock Holmes was a young person's creation.

As November approaches, and many a writer starts thinking about stories to tell, and folk to populate those stories, the characters we create are born of not just our experience, but our visions of what makes a human being. And those visions change over the course of a lifetime. Many a Sherlockian has noted how Sherlock Holmes seemed to change from the early stories to the later, but, in truth, we know that the change was not in Sherlock, but in the hand holding the pen.

Those last investigations of the Casebook all revolve around old folks and their problems. Gone are the newly-engaged and those beginning their careers that we saw in the early stories. And even Sherlock Holmes himself is retired and wandering the cliffs of his seaside home. The world's greatest consulting detective could not have been created by the man writing those stories. No, Sherlock Holmes was a young man's dream of what a detective could be.

And the little arrogances of a young man as well: "Women are never to be entirely trusted, not the best of them," Sherlock Holmes said early on. While that might not have been young Conan Doyle's full belief, that suspicion did come from his head at the moment Holmes spoke it. Sherlock eventually seemed to get over that, though let's not get into that Steve Dixie moment as he later started losing his filters. Age is a mixed bag of changes, no matter who you are.

But once upon a time, a kid named Conan Doyle created a kid named Sherlock Holmes, both youngsters in their twenties. And I suspect that youth was a very necessary part of the alchemical mix to get the famous result. Do younger writers create better pastiches as well? (And does the age of the reader matter as to "better?") One has to wonder.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Humpty Holmes

 Sherlock Holmes quotes a few writers in the chronicles we have of him. He also quotes a few anonymous writers as well. And then there's the thing that doesn't make a lot of sense: Holmes and Humpty Dumpty.

Holmes paraphrase the rhyme in "The Bruce Partington Plans," a case which occurred in 1895. So we think, "Oh, he learned the rhyme in childhood!" But Sherlock Holmes is paraphrasing the modern version of the verse.

"I'm afraid," said Holmes, smiling, "that all the queen's horses and all the queen's men cannot avail in this matter."

Looking at what was available when Holmes was a lad, one finds things like "Threescore men and threescore more, cannot place Humpty Dumpty as he was before," and "Forty Doctors and forty wrights, couldn't put Humpty Dumpty to rights!"

Finding a version with "All the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again" prior to 1900 is a difficult task. A look at Google's Ngram viewer  even shows that "Humpty" is not being referenced all that much in 1895.

And yet here is Sherlock Holmes in 1895, seeming to paraphrase a popular line that won't come into its own for decades yet.

Now, the more fanciful among us might propose that Sherlock Holmes was a time traveler of some sort, coming by all his gifts via a future education and upbringing, possibly in which he read all about himself! But a more practical answer comes from looking at his use of the line in "Bruce-Partington Plans," and that all-important smile as he says it.

The words come immediately after he finishes reading a note from big brother Mycroft. And what do little brother's love to do, always being the physically weaker sibling growing up? Find other ways to torment big brother. And suppose you were a bright lad whose older brother was a bit chubby and took a fall.

Oh, yes. 

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the Queen's horses and all the Queen's men, couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again!"

Her Majesty was queen, both in Holmes's childhood and in 1895, so the rhyme makes sense. But who actually wrote that version? Certainly not William Wallace Denslow, who published a version with "king's horses" and "king's men" in 1901, if Holmes was using the line in 1895! Denslow was an artist, anyway, not a poet. L. Frank Baum worked with Denslow a few years earlier in 1897, using the same familiar version, but still, not as early as we see Holmes using it.

So I'll suggest a very simple theory: Sherlock Holmes wrote his own version of Humpty Dumpty to tease brother Mycroft, the version caught on, and changing as passed from mouth to ear and on to mouth to ear again, became the version we now know.

So when next you speak said rhyme, as a proper Sherlockian with a wide grin at ol' Mycroft, you should definitely use the Holmes version.

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
    All the Queen's horses and all the Queen's men,
    Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again!

It's all the more ironic when you realize that Sherlock himself had a great fall and did get put together again, but, hey, the rhyme's not about him!

Postscript: As our St. Charles friend pointed out, there was an earlier printed version that Holmes might have read. (For some reason, I saw by didn't read that reference.) On the other hand, Charles Ludwig Dodgson could have been a guest at the Holmes household and overheard young Sherlock teasing his brother . . .

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Complete Sheffield Holmes

 I've been saving this little review for time to immerse myself in the whole thing at once -- all four issues of Major Holmes and Captain Watson, and the two prose short stories that exist on them as well. Of course, first I had to put them in chronological order, being a Sherlockian chronology sort of eccentric. And, so, trying to keep this fairly spoiler-free, my read was:

July 1911
    The Adventure of the Errant Slipper: A Sheffield Holmes Mystery by Jeffery Ryder
    Then-Captain Sheffield Holmes goes on a tiger hunt and solves a murder at the same time, and along the way we learn how the son of Lord Sherrinford Holmes decided to take his uncle Sherlock as a role model, rather than his father or uncle Mycroft.

August 12, 1913
    The Case of the Emerald and the Elephants: An Imogen "Watson" Mystery by Jeffery Ryder
    Mycroft Holmes is tended to by a young woman from the Red Cross, and an all-female gang is dealt with. Seeds are sewn.

October 1913
    Major Holmes & Captain Watson issue two begins with a flashback revealing how Imogene Watson became involved with Sheffield Holmes. We then immediately return to the matters begun in issue one.

November 1913
    Major Holmes & Captain Watson issue three begins with a flashback introducing an interesting family member of Detective Inspector Brick of Scotland Yard. And then we return to matters left in issue two. (Which is good, because there was a major cliffhanger.)

January 1914
    Major Holmes & Captain Watson issue four begins with yet another flashback as Sheffield Holmes meets a very important person in his life, before returning to questions left in issue three.

April 1914
    Major Holmes & Captain Watson issue one begins, with Captain Watson gathers up Major Holmes to aid Detective Inspector Brick investigate a triple murder. They've been working together for six months at this time and make a good team. And a four-issue story follows.

    And that is the complete Sheffield Holmes, to date.

    When I reviewed the first two issues of Major Holmes & Captain Watson last year, I was quite taken with this new pairing, their new friends, and the great work in creating a Sherlock Holmes related comic book that actually worked as a comic book. It's a medium made for action, so it requires something a little more than straight Conan Doyle clonage, and Jeff Rider both found that sweet spot and recruited a good artist in Ismael Canales to make it work. After the first four-issue story arc with these characters, I can honestly say it's one of my favorite Holmes-related comic books ever, and that includes a full comic box of attempts to bring Holmes to the medium.

    While Major Holmes & Captain Watson does have certain names we see far too often in pastiches popping up, the comics do not stray from the original Holmes Canon, and also use one of those names in a quite original way. One has to wonder if anyone at Netflix has taken a look at this comic, or if they're over their Holmes moment, but it would definitely adapt into a nice little movie, or even an ongoing TV series.    

    I would certainly be glad to see it. In the meantime, you can find these folks at

Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw return

 Any Sherlockian cryptozoologists out there?

Well, I didn't want to do it, but you know how the old John Bennett Shaw saying goes, all it takes to start a Sherlock Holmes society is two Sherlockians and a bottle. (And something-something about doing without one of those.) A second Sherlockian has turned up who really wants to be in the society I named many a blog post ago when I said I really didn't want to start it, and you know what that means:



The Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw

The society for the pursuit and study of zoological oddities in the cases of Sherlock Holmes.


Because I came up with that name, and Mary O'Reilly really wanted us to follow up on Watson's theory that Roy the wolfhound was upset by Professor Presbury's financial transactions. Which is, indeed, a puzzle that is quite obscured by that other seemingly zoological oddity of "The Adventure of the Creeping Man," the professor's behavioral transformation. (Yeah, could just be psychological. And that makes Roy even more prominent as a zoological oddity. Why the hatred for movements aping a species he had never encountered?)

And cryptobiologic dogs worthy of our study don't stop there, as in "Lion's Mane" we see: "I saw the faithful little creature, an Airedale terrier, laid out upon the mat in the hall." First recognized as a real animal by the Kennel Club of England in 1886, is it an airedale? Is it a terrier? Did it first exist like the minotaur or griffin in myth before the Kennel Club declared it real?

When you come right down to it, the Sherlockian Canon is so full of zoological oddities that it's kind of amazing that we didn't have a society to study them before now. Snakes that drink milk and live in safes. Geese with crops. Worms unknown to science. (I have a long buried theory on that one that crosses over Sherlock Holmes and a certain Dr. Furter.)  They're as commonly discussed as Watson's wives, Sherlock's addiction, or any other topic you might name in Sherlockian circles. And even the creatures we accept as known entities, like cyanea capillata, are just weird.

So we have two Sherlockians. We've got bottles somewhere. And now we have another Sherlockian society.

The Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw. Onward!

(Card design by Mary)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

What makes a Holmes and a Watson?

Today I was thoroughly enjoying Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey, my second dip into what I was surprised to find is a twenty-five book series. I stumbled into the series at book nineteen, a random find at the local library, and was delighted to find they had the next in the series, all the while not knowing I had missed eighteen previous books. (A very happy discovery, really.)

When listening to Coconut Cowboy, the previous book, I took Tim Dorsey as a writer in the school of Carl Hiaasen, whose books I had enjoyed back in the day: A writer squeezing all of Florida's idiosyncrasies for every bit of comedic juice he can get out of them. But in my second Dorsey excursion, a new realization dawned on me: These were tales of a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

They aren't detective stories -- oh, hell no. The "Sherlock" of this team describes himself as a "sequential killer," as opposed to the typical serial killer. But, like Sherlock Holmes, we encounters people who have some issue in their lives and helps them deal with it outside the normal channels. That path is how he differentiates himself as a "sequential killer" -- he doesn't seek out victims, in the course of making life better for people, he just comes across people who just seem to need killed.

Unlike Dexter, the anti-hero of Dorsey's books, Serge Storm isn't really focusing on the murders, he's usually focused on something else entirely, like living out the lifestyle seen in the movie Easy Rider or the old TV show Route 66 for a time. Add in a fascination and encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Florida, whether history, biology, or culture, along with an eccentric genius for getting things done in unexpected, yet logical ways. He's a wonderfully complex and entertaining fellow, like Sherlock Holmes, living the life he's chosen for himself, again, like Sherlock Holmes.

His Watson, however, is a classic Watson in a model a lot of Watson fans might not like, but so true to the form. Remember Nigel Bruce's boobus Britannicus species of Watson? Well, Coleman, Serge's Watson, is a very American version of that. Constantly high or drunk in a very mellow "just living life" sort of way, Coleman is never quite sure where Serge is taking them, but is always completely agreeable for going along for the adventure. And like any good Watson, Coleman proves pretty useful on occasion, and serves as the perfect target for Serge Storm to explain everything a reader wants to hear.

Having only gotten to two books in this series, and those read perfectly by Oliver Wyman, I can't provide a full review of the series, but so far, I'm enjoying the hell out of them, and seeing the Holmes and Watson parallels in the characters of Serge and Coleman is offering some new insights on what really makes those two old favorites of ours so great. Recognizing something of the detective and the doctor in two individuals so very different in so many ways can be quite revealing.

Add in the fact that one can enjoy Florida's weirdness without actually being in Florida? (Sorry, Floridians, I am just not a humidity fan in the least. And we won't even get into the ocean or the swamps.) Perfect.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Good things, small packages

 I got a larger package in the mail today that included a smaller "package" inside it.

The Blazes, You Say by James Vogelsang, 39 pages, first limited printing of 25 copies, of which mine is number five. If you don't know Jim, you probably can't get a copy just yet, but I'm going to review it anyway, in hopes and encouragement that it might become available in some form in the future.

I don't tend to review Sherlock Holmes novels in this blog, as they're novel-length and rare is the Sherlock Holmes pastiche that I can make it all the way through without tossing it at some point. I am ancient and picky on that point. But comic books? Not as much time investment, and comic books are one of my favorite mediums, so SURE! (Another comic book review hopefully coming this week!)

The Blazes, You Say! is not a comic book like Marvel, DC, Image, Cloudwrangler, etc. produce. No, this is more along the lines of a Peanuts paperback: A collection of comic strips.

Jim Vogelsang has translated the entire story of "Silver Blaze" as we know it, into a series of thirty-nine comic strips, all laid out in four-panel pages, with each page having a four-beat funny to it. Like any comic strip, some catch you by surprise with a laugh, some just give you a little smile, and others offer a wry observation on the tale itself.

I know that there was a syndicated Sherlock Holmes comic strip at one point that tried to seriously adapt the Sherlock Holmes stories for newspapers, and I know funny comics like Funky Winkerbean tried a few Holmes parodies. But has anyone ever translated one of the stories into a daily funny comic sort of form? I don't know of any -- though, these days, it's a big ol' world, who knows?

Jim Vogelsang has long amused his Sherlockian friends with an annual Christmas card featuring 'Olmes and Watso', but he took it to a whole new level and I am delighted with every bit of it. The range of creativity that Sherlockians put toward spreading their love of Holmes seems to only be limited to the abilities of humanity itself, and I'm looking forward to both Jim's next work and the work of anyone who reads this blog and decides to push forward in their own creative endeavors to add more to our world -- even if only twenty-five comics get out and delight twenty-five folks who aren't me. It's a Sherlockian tradition, the small, gift run of something, and always good to see it continue.

The size of Jim's comic actually inspired another thought of something I'd like to see as well -- you know the thing where the first Sherlockian scholarship was a parody of Biblical scholarship? Well, extrapolate that down the line and I think we have a crying need for the Sherlockian Chick tract, a small piece of comic propaganda that demonstrate to any that read it the horrors that await you for following a non-Sherlockian path in life.

But that will take another artist with another style, I think, and for now I'm just going to sit here being happy with The Blazes You Say. It's some really good work from a long-time creator.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Doctor that the Doctor Extirpated

    "Our conversations were unnecessary for Dr. Mordhouse had arrived with a chocolate-backed book in his hand."
-- The original "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"

    I, the host of a weekly podcast called "The Watsonian Weekly," felt betrayed this evening, but my podcast's very hero, John H. Watson, M. D. 

    The evening started innocently enough. It was our local Sherlockian's society's night to discuss one of the Casebook tale, "Lion's Mane," the one written by Holmes in his retirement. I picked up Les Klinger's original annotated work on the tale, as I tend to do on such nights. And the first footnote stopped me in my tracks. Before I knew it, I was skipping re-reading the actual story and just following the footnotes. Then when I got home, I swiftly ran to the shelves to see if I had it . . . and I did . . . the Sherlock Holmes Society of London Westminster Libraries reprint of the original manuscript. I had forgotten.

    I had forgotten so much.

    Lately I had been studying Pope Hill Sr.'s works and his theory that there was a secret story behind every one of the sixty published stories of Sherlock Holmes, a very far-fetched notion, I thought. But here . . . HERE . . . was evidence that in at least one case, that wacky genius was absolutely right. There was another story layered underneath the first. And as to why it's there, well, that makes perfect sense too.

    Dr. Watson pulled some real shyte on this one.

    So, let's start with the fact that this is a story written by Sherlock Holmes. What's Sherlock Holmes do with his two attempts at writing up his Watson-less cases? He passes them along through the usual channels that Watson would -- Watson's literary agent, who dutifully hand copied Holmes's text to tidy it up a bit. And then, of course, said agent would have to show it to Watson.

    And suddenly we see large areas of crossed-out material in this tale, much more than in anything created by Watson. What's the first cross-out? Sherlock Holmes writing about Watson: "It is possible that he would in any case have rejected this case from his records for in his loyalty he would always dwell upon my successes."

    Watson would have rejected this case, Holmes tells us, and Watson immediately rejects those very words. Why? "He would always dwell upon my successes." And Sherlock Holmes does not succeed in the original telling of this tale by the man himself. Who does succeed?

    Dr. Mordhouse.

    Ever hear that name before, in the actual Watson-approved Canon? Of course not. Because if you think "cancel culture" is bad now, look at Watson did to his fellow medical man, the naturalist Dr. Mordhouse. Watson erased him from our history of Sherlock Holmes, so much so, that if Doyle hadn't kept the original transcriptions of the case, complete with cross-outs, we would never know Dr. Mordhouse at all.

    "Watson had passed beyond my ken," Holmes writes in the start of the story. Not much later he pens the words, "he was the one man who was on such terms with me that we could drop in on each other in the evenings without an invitation." The one man. One. And Holmes is not talking about Watson, whom he wrote in the other Holmes-penned tale, "had deserted me."

    And what did John H. Watson never do in all his years of partnership with Sherlock Holmes?

    Get to solve a case.

    And here, after they're apart, barely seeing each other for the occasional dutiful weekend visit, Sherlock sends Conan Doyle the second tale he would ever write of life on his own, and it's all about another doctor besides Watson solving the mystery.

    It's Dr. Mordhouse who shows up with J. G. Woods's book Out of Doors to explain what a cyanea capillata is. It's Dr. Mordhouse about whom the inspector asks Sherlock Holmes, "Have you heard the Doctor about that?" because Mordhouse says the victims wounds were not caused by a whip. And in the end, it's Dr. Mordhouse who does all the explaining.

    "Here is the book, Mr. Holmes." But that name is crossed out and replaced with "Inspector."

    Holmes told us (and Watson) at the start that Watson would have rejected this case because it wasn't one of his successes, just daring the good doctor to reject it. Watson, however, being a man of the pawkiest of humor and possessing a certain cleverness of his own, didn't take that bait. Instead, he made it one of Holmes's successes, and published away, rubbing Holmes's nose in it.

    "The relations between us in those latter days were peculiar," Watson wrote in "Creeping Man." Indeed they were. And in the middle of those seemingly contentious relations was one man who got erased from Sherlockian history as collateral damage: Dr. Mordhouse.

    "Doctor WHO?" you might ask. 

    "Don't go there," I will reply. "Mordhouse was his name. Remember it."


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Complete Robot Chicken Sherlock Holmes

Robot Chicken is an easy show to randomly drop into, being a nerdy adult sketch comedy show based on using stop-motion animation with action figures. They parody everything and anything from every medium of entertainment, and tonight I stumbled on to a Great Mouse Detective Basil bit. Which made me wonder: How many other times has Robot Chicken done Sherlock Holmes?


Results came up immediately, and I pulled up HBO Max on the browser and started watching.

Season three, episode 18, "Monstourage." At the 5:08 mark, a sketch begins with airplane pilots that eventually leads into Sherlock Holmes investigating the murder of the Queen. The whole sketch lasts fifty seconds, Sherlock appears to be voiced by Seth Green, and -- Rude Humor Warning! -- urine is involved.

Wait. That was it?

Until we get to Basil in season nine, episode four, "Things Look Bad for the Streepster," which technically is Basil at the 5:40 mark, and not Sherlock . . . that's it. (Eric Christian Olsen did the voice of Basil.)

I should work harder on blog posts instead of watching Robot Chicken

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A quick report on September's Parallel Case Meeting

 Yes, you can always get the full scoop on the latest Parallel Case meeting from their own blog in a few days, but as I enjoy live-blogging an event, oh, what the heck. Here's some early notes.

The Zoom meetings of St. Louis's Parallel Case always start with a round of self-introductions, so it's fun to hear where everyone is from as well as what their Sherlockian pleasure points are. Twenty-six folks, from coast-to-coast America, along with an across-the-seas Sherlockian or two, which is about the right number for everyone getting a word or two in. Societies from the Noble and Most Singular Order of the Blue Carbuncle to Doyle's Rotary Coffin are represented, as well as many Parallel Case, Harpooners, Occupants, and Hansoms . . . the near-St.-Louis Sherlockians, of course.

Rob Nunn, the meeting's host, always allows a little time for promotion of attendees' various Sherlockian pursuits, and we get:

A film discussion group:

A Moriary podcast:

A great publication with a deadline in four days:

A Sherlockian specialty club:

A chance to recognize a teacher:

The discussion of the story for the meeting "The Missing Three-Quarter" always starts with Rob summarizing the events of the story, but this time he barely gets into the client showing up when the attendees go off on the mystifications of rugby to the American mind. A point gets made using the phrase "those who play the game that Watson actually wrote the stories," and I write and delete a few comments out of the chat before I hit "enter." One has to be diplomatic with those Sherlockians who enjoy that whimsical study of Watson's literary agent as somehow important, and quippery can often be misconstrued. But the rugby talk continues. And continues. But there's a baby in one frame of the zoom screen, so that entertains the chat sidebar a bit.

When things move on, I'm surprised that Lord Mount-James offering Holmes "a fiver, or even a tenner" was actually the rough equivalent of eight hundred to a thousand bucks in modern money -- over the century, the old miser has become much more miserly in a modern reader's eyes. I always looked at it as "five or ten pounds" in modern pocket change.

The personality clash between Holmes and Dr. Armstrong comes up. Watson's lax knowledge of the medical community comes up.  And with those, the story places itself in a very different sort of period in Holmes and Watson's partnership, one that I'm going to have to follow up further -- and perhaps throw something together for the next issue of The Watsonian. One thing that bears remark is the balanced conversation of the Parallel Case -- it seems like everyone is getting a chance to contribute. 

Not going to get too far in detail, as you'll want to read the full Parallel Case report for that when it comes out. Holmes's use of "Sleepy Hollows" brings up a question of whether or not that was a reference to Washington Irving's classic story or just a general rustic town. (Or slang that arose from that much-earlier stories.)  Mark Twain enters the conversation, and since this is a St. Louis based group, not that far from Twain's Hannibal, Missouri, that's to be expected.

It was a good meeting. I almost got so distracted by an e-mail on Sherlockian chronology that I forgot to post this, but such is my curse. Looking forward to the full Case recap.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Not gonna die on that Hill

 Let's be honest. While a firm believer in each of us keeping their own head-canon to fill in the blank spaces Watson left us, there's particular phrase that I always tend to react unpleasantly toward, and that is "sub-text." The idea that Conan Doyle was laying a separate, under-the-main-text layer of story that only those with the right-colored glasses can see. "Sub-text" is a claim of knowing authorial intent, of presuming to understand a talented mind so well that their hidden constructions are plain.

And I will admit, perhaps I'm just holding a grudge against an ineffective high school teacher or two and their "theme of blood" during some banging on Hemingway or somesuch. But then we come up against the likes of Pope R. Hill, Senior.

A few of us in the Sherlockian chronology game have been vexed in the past month by Mr. Pope Hill. In 1947, Hill published a pamplet called Part One, in which Hill claims to have an unpublished eighty-thousand word manuscript titled Dating Sherlock Holmes, in which he blows previous chronology out of the water by exposing the secret key to Conan Doyle's works. Then in 1952, Hill publishes yet another pamphlet, The Sherlock Holmes Hoax, claiming his unpublished manuscript has grown to one hundred thousand words, and further explaining the theories proven within that mass of unseen text.

His theory is based on three supposed facts:

1. The Canon is full of errors.

2. The chronology of the stories makes no sense.

3. Pope himself had worked out alternate plots for each of the sixty stories from the clues within said stories.

Conan Doyle, therefore, did all of that on purpose, creating a new kind of detective story that offered the reader a second layer of mystery. Serious subtext. 

In 1951, Clifton R. Andrew called Pope one of "the authorities in the chronology." Seventy years later, Brian McCuskey surmised that Pope suffered from "the fundamental belief in yourself as Sherlock Holmes," based on how seriously he thought the mathematics professor took his theory of that hidden layer of Doyle's creation. The thing is, Hill seems neither an authority on chronology nor a Sherlock Holmes, as his 1955 article "The Final Problem: An Exemplification of the Substructure Theory" in The Baker Street Journal truly shows.

Pope R. Hill, Sr., was what he truly was: a mathematics professor, with all the Sherlockian baggage that designation entails. His 1955 article, showing the world Doyle's hidden "substructure" beneath "The Final Problem," comes to one very dark conclusion. And that conclusion was that Sherlock Holmes did actually die at Reichenbach Falls. And the professor of math lived.

Pope Hill's subtext, in what he pridefully placed before the Irregulars as a proving point of his unseen hundred thousand words, turns how to be something he has every reason to headcanon just to snuggle into his relationship with the sixty stories of Sherlock Holmes.

I kinda like Pope R. Hill, Sr. He had that quality some call "co-bit-ment," the dedication to committing one's self to a running gag (or "bit") past all sense or logic, which makes it all the funnier to the trickster and all the more puzzling to the observer. (Which then makes it even more amusing to said trickster.)

Whether he's going to prove a worthwhile study for the Sherlockian chronologists among us, however? Well, maybe there's some subtext I can find in his work.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Watsonball Run

 Let me start by saying this: I hate quizzes.

Not that fond of trivia nights, either. This is 2021. In 2021, the sheer width and breadth of human knowledge is greater than ever before, and our little brains just can't hold it all. They haven't been able to do that for a long time. And, you know what? Simple memorization is over-rated. I was always good at it as a kid, repeating things, drilling things into your head. But these days the real skill isn't what you can hold in your head, it's what you can access quickly. Sherlock Holmes had the right idea with his brain-attic, lumber-room thoughts.

Which brings me to the John H. Watson Society's annual Treasure Hunt. Rich Krisciunas came up with a pretty good one this year, the key to any good Hunt being that a person can understand the questions, for the most part. Yes, I few I didn't quite get what he wanted, but there was a reason: I was doing a speed test. A race. A "Watsonball Run."

Where as the JHWS Treasure Hunt is supposed to be a month-long affair, my own procrastination whittled that month to a single day. And for me, a habitual procrastinator, that sort of tight deadline is where the fun starts. Did I have all the info in my head? No. But were there enough clues tucked away in the gray, gray matter of my brain to navigate the Sherlockian highway at a high rate of speed?


But it's not just the driver, it's the tricked-out car in these things. Apple's "Preview" software has a pretty decent PDF search capacity it turns out.  And the true secret weapon of this race: a little (actually large) book called The Canonical Compendium by Steve Clarkson. "But that's a concordance," one might protest. "Searches made those obsolete." Yeah, you'd think that. Who needs Doubleday page numbers any more?

No, what you do need, however, is a list of every newspaper mentioned in the Canon and the story it appears in. A list of every surname in the Canon and its tale. Amounts of money. Housekeepers. Details you can scan and hope it triggers a memory or is something you can plug into that damned search engine and bring up the passage in question to see if it's the thing you need.

It's a new day in Sherlockiana, but the old tools have uses.

And you know what's really fun about racing through an open-book quiz on the Canon? You get to see so much of what makes those sixty stories fun, fit, and fab, and maybe catch some new thoughts along the way. Even though a one-day race through as much Canon as I could pass to get as many answers as possible might seem to be about the goal, it's the high-speed journey that was fun. There'll be time for leisurely appreciations on other days.

So thanks to Rich Krisciunas for putting together this year's Treasure Hunt, and I hope you had the chance to enjoy it, however you dealt with it. It's still on the JHWS site if you just want to peruse it. Just scroll down a bit. 

Oh, and I definitely did not come close to one hundred percent. Fun comes from knowing when not to do certain things, as much as what things to do. Have fun!