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!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Batman/Sherlock Holmes crossover nobody needed

 Sherlock Holmes and Batman have crossed path more than a few times in comic books or idle Sherlockian chat. And of all those times, perhaps the worst crossover was the one that occurred . . . as many a bad idea does . . . in the mind of a sixties advertising executive.

Familiar with the movie A Study in Terror from 1965? 

If you watch the trailer for the movie, it comes off as straight horror.

"If you are a woman, you walk these streets at your peril . . ." it begins, and for the first minute of the trailer, it doesn't even mention Sherlock Holmes and just goes straight for pure fright. And even then, as the narrator goes "Sherlock Holmes, the original special agent, forerunner of today's thrillmakers" you have to wonder if he's referring to James Bond. But after that, back to frightening, shock music as the word "TERROR" fills the screen in blood red, followed by "PREPARE YOURSELF FOR SHOCKS!"

The last words you hear in the preview?

"You'll never see anything like it this side of Hell!"

(Quiet down, you Holmes and Watson haters!)

But that was the movie's trailer. Have you ever seen its poster?

Whoever was coming up with the advertising for the American release in August of 1966 went, "Hey, that new ABC show Batman is hot stuff with the kids! Let's make it like that!"

"Here comes the original caped crusader!" might have been enough. But noooooooo, they had to make absolutely certain you thought Sherlock Holmes was like Batman by adding a bunch of burst it sound effects, borrowed straight from what you saw twice a week when Batman and Robin punched out crime: "BIFF!" "POW!" "CRUNCH!" There's even an "AIEEEE!" next to a cleavage-leaning victim, which makes it really weird.

Because in 1966, TV's Batman was a campy, comedic goof-fest that the kids loved. And I was one of those kids. Did my parents take me to see A Study in Terror, and chance the coin-toss of whether I'd become Holmes or the Ripper as a result? No, they did not.

Truth be told, at this point, I can't exactly remember if I ever saw A Study in Terror. But I'm pretty sure it didn't have Holmes and Watson in a brawl with the Ripper's henchmen while comic book sound effect popped out with every punch and kick and peppy fighting music played. And I'm really certain that "Elementary, my dear Watson!" didn't pop out on the screen in a similar manner, as it does on the poster.

But somebody was high enough to come up with this poster in 1966, and somebody else (whom I can't help but picture chomping on a big half-smoked cigar) went, "Great! Run with that!"

To this day, I still wonder -- did somebody actually take their Batman-loving kids to this Victorian nightmare just because of this poster? And how did that turn out?

Perhaps I'll have to let my inner child watch a double feature of some Batman episodes followed by A Study in Terror and find out one of these days. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

The worst Sherlockian thing you can ever create

 Let's talk about the monkey's paw of Sherlockian creations. The art form that we all want to try, yet in its very practice is a devil's bargain, a deal with a price beyond what any right-minded person would pay. Yes, the worst Sherlockian thing you can ever create.

Now, I know there are people who will argue with the preceding paragraph. And I would wager those people have not made this devil's bargain. Perhaps they are people who have feasted at the table of one who did, or just are so deep in our little cult that they can't see . . . well, really, maybe they're just positive, happy individuals whose dark side does not run as deeply as mine. (I just finished watching a couple episodes of American Horror Stories, so I might be tainted at the moment.)

In any case, I was out for a stroll with a friend tonight, walking a long local trail with a canopy of trees, looking so much like Sleepy Hollow in its daylight form. And, curiously, at one point in the trail a voice out of the foliage said, "Hello, boys!" And the gleeful trickster of my office appeared out of nowhere to greet us, which was very weird during a four mile trek, that he should appear at the moment we passed his portal to the trail . . . but that wasn't the part where I became accursed.

No, that part was the sign at one of the trail crossings that read "No equestrians on trail."

"No equestrians," I thought aloud. "But what if I was to ride a cow up the trail. That's not equestrian . . . no, that's a . . . bovestrian!"

And then my Sherlockian brain went click -- click -- click.

"And what is your conclusion?"

"That it is a remarkable cow which walks, canters, and gallops."

Yes, "The Adventure of the Priory School" and its remarkable cows, cows ridden by bovestrians.

Only, wise Sherlockian that you are, you're probably going, "But those weren't cows, they were horses with special shoes!" And I would say, "Yes, but did we ever see those horses doing that?" And I am also being mildly influenced by an ancient text by Pope R. Hill, Senior I recently read that contended most of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories had an alternate subtext of a plot that Conan Doyle coded in. (Such a pity that Pope Hill came along before YouTube. He could have fit right in.)

And, having tripped upon the concept, what was my first thought as how to use it?


Have I ever told you the story my mother tells, of when I was a lad of about six or seven, and I gathered up a bunch of papers and insisted she take me to my club meeting? I couldn't say what the club was, where it was, or what the papers were for, but I was very bothered that she wouldn't take me. To this day, I don't know what was going on there, but as you can see, I have a long-lived passion for clubs that do not exist.

So, "the Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw." Such a perfect name for a Sherlockian society.

But what would they do? Why would they sign the roster?  Well, given certain other paths I have been following lately, it only makes sense that it would be a society for alternate readings of the Sherlockian Canon, such as bovestrians appearing in "Priory School" would imply. But another scion society?

Didn't I just pull together the Sherlockian Chronologist Guild with Vincent Wright, and aren't I currently dog-paddling with John H. Watson Society zooms and podcasts, trying to keep my head above water? But this is the monkey's paw aspect of Sherlockian society creation . . . we all wish to be connected with like-minded Sherlockians, even if it's with more tendrils of connection to people we have already connected with, like some network of cyanea capillata sharing a bay.

"And still, poor soul, I had this morbid hanker for inventing clubs," Christopher Morley once wrote in "On Belonging to Clubs." He goes on to describe how successful on of said clubs came to be, and all the various encumbrances that now needed performed to serve said club, but ended the brief essay with those happy words, "But not be me." Christopher Morley escaped his own little deal with the devil of Sherlockian societies, by creating one with enough allure that he could tempt others to adopt and raise the thing. Of course, like any new parent who displays the joys without the burdens, Morley inspired others to give birth to societies as he did, which means we now have more of them than there are folks willing to adopt. 

And I've already left some society orphans in my wake, which haunt me to this day. So you will forgive me for certain metaphors and tone in this particular blog post. I was, in truth, exorcising a demon. Clutch your Canon tightly to your breast, and hope he doesn't look your way.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The monkey in the room

 Our local library group met again tonight to discuss "The Creeping Man," via a mix of masks, vax, and Zoom, and I really think we isolated the problem with any discussion of that particular story.


It's the monkey thing.

Once you bring up the fact that Professory Presbury was a man-monkey, a discussion group just can't take their eyes off it. We tried. We tried hard.

The college, the fiancee a third of his age, the client, the daughter, and that perpetual Sherlock Holmes story favorite, the dog . . . all fell by the wayside as we just couldn't help but stare silently at the fact a man was injecting himself with monkey serum on a regular basis. Even our biggest proponent of the goodness of any Sherlock Holmes story was going, "Good for the first two-thirds, then the monkey serum came in!"

As I wracked my brain to find a way "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" felt like a true Sherlock Holmes story, it kept turning black and white in my head, with Basil Rathbone's Holmes turning up. How many times did Rathbone face a weird, scary monster of that era? The Hound, the Creeper, the Scarlet Claw . . . a rampaging man-monkey lurking in the shadows was perfect for the world of Rathbone's Holmes. Had it not been for patriotism and those damned Nazis entering the picture, perhaps we would have gotten a film titled The Creeping Man out of Rathbone and Bruce.

It's the perfect medium for that mess.

Not that the writing in "The Creeping Man" isn't clever, with such wonderful lines as "Come at once if convenient -- if inconvenient come all the same." It's just that plot driving straight for a spectacular monkey-splash of a crash. And it all started so well, too. We don't even notice the horrible contradiction Watson throws at us:

"Mr. Sherlock Holmes was always of opinion that I should publish the singular facts connected with Professor Presbury, if only to dispel once for all the ugly rumors which some twenty years ago agistated the university and were echoed in the learned societies of London."

(Okay, first -- why not "of the opinion" and "once and for all?" Was it lazy Terrence's day to typeset The Strand?)

But here's the thing. Even though Watson still has "reticence and discretion," if you're trying to clear up ugly rumors once and for all, wouldn't you put the actual name of the university, instead of "Camford?" If Professor Presbury is so famous, people would know. And if you're talking about a sixty year old that got mauled by a dog twenty years ago . . . oh, wait.

Oh. Wait.

This story is about sex, isn't it?  

When explaining the story to Watson, Holmes goes "He is, I gather, a man of very virile and positive, one might almost say combative, character." Why is Holmes gathering that Presbury is so very virile? Something Watson used discretion to leave out? And what was the point of the monkey serum in that sixty-one-year-old's life anyway? Smoother skin? Longer life? No, this is 2021, we know that the men of his era were just waiting for Viagra. And Lowenstein of Prague was probably all about finding the horniest monkeys he could.

If his final moral lecture of the story, Holmes points out the trouble humanity would have if "the sensual" get to prolong their (sex) lives. And the detective is all over finding an inn in town with clean sheets, so you know that he's a little tired of getting hotel rooms after "the sensual" have been trysting about. But here's the thing -- Holmes leaves this case with a vial of monkey serum in his hand and a desire to make contact with Lowenstein. And then he retires. And then, in the very next story in Casebook, we meet Maud Bellamy, a young lady of whom Holmes writes, "Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart, but I could not look upon her perfect clear-cut face, with all the soft freshness of the downlands in her delicate colouring, without realizing that no young man would cross her path unscathed."

Why is Sherlock Holmes so suddenly having the mind of a young man? Could he have worked with Lowenstein, intent on perfecting a serum to extend the life of his mental faculties, and gotten a very libidinous side effect out of the bargain? Maybe he didn't start courting Maud after "The Lion's Mane" (though my money is there), but how else to you explain that weird Mary Russell stuff that is rumored to have gone down after that time? Just which ugly rumors was Holmes trying to dispel?

Is that truly the "monkey in the room" of "The Creeping Man?" When old guys start going after young girls, the word "creep" always does come up in some fashion, and perhaps that title, along with the way Watson wrote it up, was not actually discretion about Presbury but an admonishment to Sherlock Holmes himself to keep his thoughts off the young ladies of Sussex. There was probably a perfectly lovely, age-appropriate Violet Hunter still out there somewhere, who might enjoy a little bit of monkeying around. 

And Watson would know.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Irish

 You'd think this would be a time to blog about Afghanistan, but it actually might be more timely, in a Sherlockian blog, to write about the Irish. Like many a Northern-European mutt, Ireland made it into my bloodline, so I've always had an interest in the Irish. As, plainly, did Arthur Conan Doyle. It was in his blood as well.

There is so much of the Irish in the Sherlock Holmes stories, from "a devil's brew of Irish civil war, window-breaking Furies, and God know what" to McMurdo having "an Irish tongue in his head." Famous soldiers, "dancing Irish deviltry" in a lover's eyes, and Sherlock Holmes going Irish to foil a German plot. As much as Conan Doyle depicted South Americans as all hot blood and good looks, the Irish are shown in all their passionate loves and hatreds.

I remember a piece I read some time back about how the Irish tendency toward certain addictions was actually genetically bred into them over time by being a land constantly fighting occupation. Century after century of rebels gave birth to a breed of folk born to charge into battle, and when no battles existed, they had to so something to quell those furies. It seemed to make sense.

This morning, I happened across a piece in The Atlantic by a man whose military service was years of listening to the other side communicating with each other on the radio, and what he learned of that people, who, much like the Irish of old, had been fighting occupation for a very, very long time.

I don't know about you, but when things really get bad, especially when I was younger, I'd tell myself things to puff up my spirits and keep myself going. Whether it was that I was stronger, smarter, or better looking than I actually ever was, I'd tell myself whatever little lies were needed to get out of bed and on to the next thing. And that is what the listener to that adversary heard. The spirit of a people that had to do whatever they could to keep going. And it reminded me a little of the Irish of old. Something that seems to show up sometimes even in the blood of an American mutt like myself.

Of course, centuries of war also keep people from evolving socially when they're busy fighting, so when the fighting is done, you're left with some pretty messed up people. And what comes of that isn't pretty. Lord knows the Irish have been a troublesome bunch over the years. Even though Conan Doyle didn't portray Professor Moriarty, the great criminal mastermind, as Irish, he does still have that very Irish name, doesn't he? Messed up indeed.

There are times when we like to think of our enemies as something less than people. Even among our own countrymen, right now, we look at some who call themselves "patriots" and see something lesser. Some of them are waving the flag to line their pockets, of course. But some are telling themselves what they need to tell themselves what they think they need to get through another day, even if it's taking them down a very unhealthy path. The human race remains much as it has been, which is probably why the stories of Sherlock Holmes always ring so true to us, even now, connecting us in ways we don't always understand.

And we all keep doing what we can, dealing with our fellow man as best we can. Like the man once said, "We can but try -- the motto of the firm."

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Ritual

 I finished reading another book series that I loved tonight. It seems like a few of my favorites seemed to be wandering to their final chapters of late, and a good finish for a beloved character always makes me think about that magic that authors do. And what we're all doing.

So many Sherlock Holmes stories being written out there, being published, almost more than it seems will ever be read. But we're nearing the eight billion mark for planetary population, so we do have more than a few readers available. But still, what are we even doing?

A good, original character comes from an author's very soul, their life experience, their loves, their working out of just how this world works. None of us are Conan Doyle, doctoring on whaling ships, learning observation from Joe Bell, and every other momentary tidbit that fueled his fires of creation. So when we pick up our pen or our fingers over the keyboard, what are we even doing, attempting to conjure that most magical of creatures we know?

Well, that.

It really is an attempt at true magic. We're trying to summon Sherlock Holmes in our own mind, and if we're truly successful, in the mind of someone else. To hold that spirit intact long enough for those readers to finish a story or book without feeling a wrongness that makes them banish that creature of the mind. And like all the best magic, it's a very complex ritual.

Watson must tell the tale. He most likely will set the scene in Baker Street. A client will come in.

It's practically drawing a chalk pentagram on the floor of a wizard's tower, it is. The magic words must be said in the correct order, and be the correct words . . . even though the spell must be different every single time. Using too many of Conan Doyle's words in Conan Doyle's order will break the spell every time, and reveal you as the sorcerer's apprentice.

It's a ritual as carefully observed as any rigid orthodoxy, yet as loose and free as a Wild Hunt. Order and chaos existing in the same conjuring. An impossible thing, and yet . . . and yet . . . maybe just improbable? Maybe something that can be done?

For one other person. Or two. Or even thousands. But rare is the Sherlock Holmes conjuring that works on everyone who knows that spirit. 

I suspect those of us who resist the urge for the most part do so out of fear of the magic's power, and just how badly it can go wrong. But you can't fault anyone for trying. We know the feeling of that walk back from Reichenbach Falls, knowing we'll never see our friend again unless something truly amazing occurs. 

Sometimes it does, and you get "The Empty House." Sometimes it misfires and you get "Wisteria Lodge." Even the Merlin of this metaphor didn't hit every mark. And the ritual goes on.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Memorandums of Sherlock Holmes

 "Holmes noted it down and sat, still smiling with the open memorandum-book upon his knee."

-- "The Illustrious Client"

It really sounds like something important, this memorandum thing, but less so when one calls it by the modern short-form, the "memo." It's even less fancy seeming when one looks up the definition: a note or message used in business or diplomatic settings. So Sherlock Holmes has his business notebook on his knee. And every bit of glamour goes right out of the consulting detective business.

Because the business just became more business-like. Can you imagine if one of the collections had been titled "The Business of Sherlock Holmes?" Whew.

Who else uses these business memos in the Canon?

Well, Jonathan Small thinks Pappy Sholto might have written treasure memos, but no. Belgrade sends them to England so they can sit in Trelawney Hope's dispatch box. And Professor Moriarty carries one around with him . . . which makes it odd that Sherlock Holmes has never been seen with a memorandum book until after he sees that Professor Moriarty carries one.

But is it Holmes taking cues from his arch-nemesis, or is it just that, by 1902 and the memorandum-book, the "agency" he refers to in "Sussex Vampire" is an actual business grown beyond his one-man-plus-Watson-sometimes show? Or a worse theory -- was his memory starting to go by 1902, en route to the condition portrayed in the movie Mr. Holmes? (Though if things were already going downhill in 1902, I doubt brother Mycroft would have sent him to spy in American a decade later.)

My worst take on that memorandum-book is that it's the one clue that Moriarty was actually the one that survived Reichenbach and took Holmes's place, and "Empty House" was really a twisted take on Moran killing Watson then taking his place at the side of the new "Sherlock Holmes" as the new "Dr. Watson."

Surely they couldn't have gotten away with that, could they?

And here I thought memos and memo books were just dull, dull, dull. You never know what's around the corner with Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Trial and Boscombe

 In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the stories that define Sherlock Holmes as a serial entertainment, there's a mystery with a capital "M." In that series of twelve stories, six are actual adventures, according to their titles, a format that would skip Memoirs entirely and return in Return. And one capital "M" mystery according to its title, "The Boscombe Valley Mystery."

And it's a murder mystery. The only real murder mystery in the first twelve stories.

Oh, you might say that "Five Orange Pips," "Twisted Lip," or "Speckled Band" are murder mysteries for two of those are about protecting someone whom murder is coming for, and the other has no real murder at all. No, "Boscombe Valley Mystery" is the one with a corpse and that "Who killed this victim?" that a true murder mystery demands.

And, though I know it has its champions, as all Sherlock Holmes stories do, I must say that "Boscombe Valley Mystery" is a pretty weak murder mystery.

A guy gets clonked in the head and killed. Outdoors, where you can get clonked in the head pretty easily. Tree limbs, extra large hailstones, wind-blown debris, and those are without human agency. And then there's that weird transcript of the coroner examining the "witness" who is the prime suspect in the case, Sherlock Holmes fussing about the barometer, and the victims's last words being "a rat." Oh, there's forensics and Sherlock Holmes being smart, but not, perhaps, clever.

Was "Boscombe Valley Mystery" the Victorian equivalent of the movie Crocodile Dundee, just trying to make a few bucks by trotting out those curious Australian chaps for the audience, a ploy that doesn't work as well now that we've evolved well past Crocodile Dundee and even Crocodile Dundee II ? Hmm.

But let's be honest. If Sherlock Holmes's legend depended solely upon "Boscombe Valley Mystery," he would be about as popular as Ellery Queen is today. The one true murder mystery in his initial quiver of adventurous arrows and it is as forgettable as an episode of some CBS procedural whose name won't offend anyone reading this. (Choose the one you forgot most!) Of course, I've probably already offended someone who thinks Ellery Queen is still a vital detective in the genre. And that person probably loves "Boscombe Valley Mystery," too.

Sorry, person.

Anyway, there it sits amid the more colorful, memorable adventures, sandwiched in between "A Case of Identity" and "The Five Orange Pips." When you're following a story remarkable in that the client is so stupid she doesn't know she's dating her step-father . . . well, actually that story is pretty memorable for that fact alone. I'd wager if you started asking Sherlockians to list the first twelve stories without preparation, "Boscombe Valley" might be the least-remembered, and having said that, I feel badly for picking on the poor thing. So I suppose I shall quit blogging for the moment.

And coo-eeee to you, Paul Hogan, wherever you are. I think Conan Doyle would've liked you.

Monday, August 16, 2021

The strange recurrence of Mrs. Turner

 Okay, let's talk about one of those really weird parts of the Canon: Mrs. Turner.

You know the story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," Mrs. Turner bringing in the tray of cold beef and beer for a light five o'clock meal before Holmes and Watson head out to pull a stunt on Irene Adler. In that story, and that story alone, she appears to be the landlady at 221B Baker Street.

But did I say "that story alone?" My bad.

She also appears in a second story, "The Adventure of the Empty House," but only in the original manuscript. And in that original manuscript, someone has clearly crossed out "Turner" on page 39 and written in "Hudson."

The first of the original short stories, and the first of the return of short stories over a decade later. This has perplexed the scholarly crowd who look upon the life of Watson's literary agent to see if Conan Doyle had some familiar landlady in his life named "Turner" for inspiration. And even if he was so impressed by some woman of his acquaintance, but keep mixing her up with Mrs. Hudson?

Unlike "A Scandal in Bohemia," the manuscript of "The Adventure of the Empty House" actually refers to Mrs. Hudson specifically a few pages before Mrs. Turner slips in. There's definitely an ongoing mix-up here, a need for the chronicler to keep correcting himself. And the solution should be fairly obvious: Mrs. Turner was Mrs. Hudson's real name.

Why else make the same mistake thirteen years later? Why slip up within a few short pages? A person would have to commonly think of that lady by that other name almost all the rest of the time when not writing up Sherlock Holmes's cases. And if Watson hid the landlady's name beneath a "Hudson" disguise, wouldn't we suspect "221B Baker Street" of being a cover-up address as well? Ah, the slippery slope that this mystery so quickly leads us to!

Papers found in the possession of Arthur Conan Doyle perplex us on a lot of things, like Watson being in San Francisco, in love with a girl pursued by Mormons. Mrs. Turner. "The Adventure of Shoscombe Abbey." The connecting threads such bits give us would use up yarn on a conspiracy bulletin board, for certain. Especially when Mrs. Turner disappears after the first story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and then a whole family of Turners turn up three cases later, missing a Mrs. Turner.

But was Mrs. Turner ever really missing, or just living under an assumed name, borrowed from Sherlock Holmes's first case. It would seem a mystery worth Sherlockian investigation.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Let's talk about Llamageddon . . .

Let's talk about Llamageddon, because we don't want to talk about Afghanistan.

Both are topics that come to Sherlockian minds because of a mistake. One was a teeny-tiny mistake by the writer of "The Adventure of the Empty House," and a teeny-tiny "llamageddon" of literary confusion. The other is an astronomically larger mistake, made by three world powers over centuries, and for a great many citizens of that place, an ongoing armageddon, if a "final battle" can be ongoing.

Our Sherlockian llamageddon is a conflict of sense and nonsense.

Sherlock Holmes returns from three years abroad and report, "I amused myself by visiting Lhassa and spending some days with the head Llama." The side of us that is no-nonsense knows that Sherlock Holmes said the word "lama" and it was simply transcribed incorrectly by his biographer, who confused the South American farm animal with a Tibetan holy man.

Ironically, less than a decade later in 1904, the British would invade and capture Lhassa. No llamas were harmed during that invasion.

But sometime in 1891-1893, Sherlock Holmes spent a few days hanging out with the 13th Dalia Lama, who was around the age a modern lad would be learning to drive, sixteen or seventeen. And by all indications, a bright fellow and one who believed in change -- just the sort who would love spending a few days talking to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. It's really impossible to say, though, because Llassa of the 1890s is something most of us don't have good info on.

I have three books on Tibet and Lhassa, but they're all definitely from a colonizer's perspective and old enough to have a bit of racist slang in spots. History is a very tricky thing, as it is so often recorded from the perspective of a single culture.

Sooooo, Llamageddon! An incredibly low-budget movie full of non-actors who happened to have access to at least one llama and enough proficiency with special effects to make his eyes glow and shoot death-beams while the llama basically acts like a llama, which is rather just calmly walking around. What does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes?

Well, we've seen Sherlock Holmes in a movie with dinosaurs, which aren't in the Canon at all. But there is a head llama in the Canon, and one could reasonably adapt that fact into a mystery involved a glowing-eyed space llama with more fidelity than Asylum Films and its robotic kraken. Ridiculous, you say?

These days, the occasional moment of the ridiculous is a welcome respite. Sherlock Holmes and llamas seems like it might be a good thing, if anybody wants to make another llama movie. They seem pretty cooperative.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Being bored accounts for so very much

 "What is the use of having brains in our profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous. No man lives or ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villany with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it."

That is Sherlock Holmes in 1881. At the very beginning.

He hasn't gotten the merest whiff of Moriarty yet, and he's complaining about how boring the detective business is, practically on day one. He's plainly had enough experience with the real world of London crime and Scotland Yard at this point to make at least some generalization about the matters, but, still, this is Sherlock Holmes AT THE BEGINNING.

And when, ten years later, he just goes "Heck with detection, I'm going mountain climbing. Maybe there's an abominable snowman up there. I wonder what's up with Tibetan Buddhism?" Was he really just taking a three year vacation? Or was Sherlock Holmes, like a certain author, actually just done with it and moving on?

Like any other human being, we'd like to define Sherlock Holmes as a constant. We're lazy that way. We resist letting the children in our lives stop being children in our heads, even when they're thirty-five. Keeping track of the personal evolution of everyone we know is more than a brain can handle. And a guy like Sherlock Holmes, with an active, seeking mind who says things like "I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation?" That guy is gonna go through some changes.

It's funny how fanfic often portrays Watson, the damaged vet, as the sexual one when we have this guy center stage. Sherlock Holmes may have said "I should never marry myself" -- which is actually just acknowledging that a long-term committed relationship wasn't going to work for him -- but the mysteriousness that he ascribes to women in "The Second Stain" would actually attract him like a moth to a flame. And remember that "flame-like" woman he actually takes on as an accomplice for "Illustrious Client?" I am definitely not trying to say Sherlock Holmes restrained himself to the hetero-normative by any means. Quite the opposite. This guy was horny for life in all its pathways.

Sherlock Holmes, as much as he proclaimed a focus on detection, really wanted to know everything about everything. He retrained himself, the brain-attic metaphor, etc., because he knew that omniscience was practically impossible to attain, but think about his profession for a minute. It wasn't really about crime at all, which was why he took non-criminal cases. He just wanted to find things out, to dig into some previously unknown alley of human experience with each new client. No wonder he was chasing monkey-men and pseudo-vampires by the end of his career.

Sherlock Holmes did not need Joe Chill to shoot his parents in an alley to become a detective. He didn't need his father murdering his mother over a dalliance with a math tutor. And he certainly didn't need some boarding school mystery with a cult that shot hallucinogenic darts to become who he was.

Sherlock Holmes just had to be really, really, irritatingly bored. Detective, explorer, undercover government agent . . . musician, chemist, martial artist . . . all of the other paths weren't stars in the distance he followed, but roads he was goaded upon by the pricking of the boredom stick. Had he lived in 2021and started life with video games and dozens of streaming on-demand channels, maybe Sherlock wouldn't have been nearly so interesting when all was said and done.

But in 1881, things could get pretty dull. Motivatingly so.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The mysterious Diogenes

 Let's talk Diogenes Club.

Started so a bunch of guys could read newspapers and magazines in comfy chairs . . . sooooooo . . . a library? (They have comfy chairs these days, at least in Peoria.) No talking is allowed upon pain of expulsion, three strikes and you are literally out, like it was designed by the strictest of stereotypical shushy librarians. 

Mycroft Holmes was one of the club's founders. Now, we all assume Mycroft was a bachelor who lived alone, which would mean his place was probably pretty quiet and he could do all the reading he wanted. Soooooo . . . he did it to save money on periodicals? But as I said, he was one of the club's founders. He had to put enough money into the thing that he surely could have bought his own magazines. And even his business-startup baby brother could afford all the newspapers he could read.

Are we making too large an assumption in thinking Mycroft had no one in his lodgings that he was trying to escape on a regular basis? If not a family, a really annoying counterpart to his brother's Watson? We have a definite bias toward characters in books we read to not give them any more family and friends than we are handed in the pages we read.

The Diogenes Club was definitely an escape plan from something.

We sometimes consider the Diogenes Club a place for people who didn't like people -- but why would someone leave a perfectly good private apartment to go somewhere and sit among other people, even if they aren't talking?  I've seen cats that don't particularly like each other sit a few feet apart and ignore each other, but those are cats and who knows what they're thinking? Members of the Diogenes Club wanted to be among like souls, to see and be seen, yet not interact. Were their social skills that horrific that they needed the no-talking rules just to pretend they had social lives?

Or was this a club for souls who desperately needed some control in their lives, to go somewhere where no random interactions could happen. A prison, of sorts, that didn't lock you up, but locked the world around you up. There have been many a theory that the Diogenes Club was tied to the early intelligence community of Great Britain. (Why do we never hear of the other Not-So-Great Britain?)

One can theorize all sort of things about the Diogenes Club and what it reveals about Mycroft Holmes, but theories are all we really have. It sure looks good on paper, but beyond that? So many questions.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The odd fish pulled from the Sherlockian book pond

 Today was quite a throwback to both earlier days and one of those dreams you have of finding a little bookshop with all those things you wish your local bookshop just happened to have. Apparently word on the street (some Sherlockian street) that a little shop in Verdin, Illinois had gotten a Sherlockian collector's books at some point in the past year or so and was worth a visit.  Since Verdin is somewhere between Rob Nunn's city and mine, Rob invited me to meet and shop and have lunch.

Unfortunately for Rob, "Books on the Square" has two locations, the Verdin one and one a half hour north in Springfield,  and computer navigation can be a fickle mistress, so while I arrived at the shop at the appointed time, Rob found himself a half hour away. And while I am a good and patient soul, standing on the town square in Virden, Illinois for a half an hour with the only thing of interest in site being the one bookshop we were going to look at . . . well, I went on in without him.

When the clerk asked, "Looking for anything in particular?" however, I replied, "Not really," just to give Rob a fair to get there before I found anything of Sherlockian import. I had already discovered another building the owners had with a one dollar book sale, but exploring that past the edges of the dollar books, I found an amazing selection of E.W. Hornung "Raffles" books and a nice looking biography of Henry Ward Beecher, so I did give him a little time. But as Twitter followers have seen, I still discovered the cache of Sherlock long before he got there. And it was, indeed, a good one.

There were a lot of things one just does not expect to see in an Illinois town of 3,514 people. Not just the recent manuscript reproduction series by the BSI, but the British and French reproductions from earlier days. The Adventure of the Shoscombe Abbey was definitely one I hadn't see before. All of the red-backed BSI history series stood attentively in line. Conan Doyle biographies that weren't on my shelf of Conan Doyle biographies, and that sucker is a few feet of them. It was one of those shopping experiences where you knew your budget was definitely going to run out before your desires ran out. (Thanks to the internet, you definitely don't get the bargains you got in 1985 when even serious dealers didn't always know what they had.)

So what did I buy?

Well, at this point, I've got almost all of the mainstream stuff I really want, and I'm not really a completist collector, going for function over numbers. But when the price is right, I'll still go for something that's just strange, and that's where a couple of my purchases went. First, Ira Bernard Dworkin.

I have sung the praises of Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times on this blog before. It is some remarkably weird and wonderful fanfic, if you're of the mind to enjoy the Plan Nine from Outer Space of Sherlockian pastiche. Finding that Dworkin had a second book -- Sherlock Takes a Wife and other Modern Tales, well, picking that up was a no brainer. I didn't even open it to see what treasures it held until I got home. What treasures were those?

Well, other than "Sherlock Holmes Takes a Wife," the nine-chapter, fourteen page "novelette" at the start of the book, the contents were the same as the earlier volume. But did I regret buying a book with the dedication "To the millions of admirers of the greatest private detective in all fiction, who had waited over 100 years to see him get married: WAIT NO MORE!!!" -- well, how could I? 

So, I know the millions of you who couldn't get your hands on this 1994 volume want to know just who Sherlock Holmes married, so I will spoil that part: At a wedding performed jointly by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Bishop of South Africa, attended by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Sherlock Holmes marries Miss Wynona Mogambo, member of Parliament and barrister-at-law.

As Sherlock Holmes puts it, "Even Irene Adler, who out-smarted me in the Scandal in Bohemia, can't compare to her. After all, I'm only 45 years old, and not completely immune to gorgeous femininity when I see it -- and I've seen her. I never dreamed I could see such a combination of beauty and brain . . ."

Well, sorry, Mary Russell. Me, though, not at all sorry for that purchase.

But here's the real weirdie of the trip . . .

This is one of those books that is kind of baffling just to figure out the author's intent on a light perusal. It seems that Conan Doyle wrote a book from beyond the grave titled Thy Kingdom Come that was too big to be reprinted during World War II.  "Since the demand for the book has remained constant and unsatisfied, it has now been re-published, re-written, and revised throughout." Huh? Conan Doyle's ghost okay with that, I wonder?

Weird enough for you . . . just wait!  It's autographed!

For some reason, this volume seems to be autographed by, not "editor" Ivan Cooke," but by Michael and Mollie Hardwick, the authors of The Sherlock Holmes Companion among other Sherlockian items, in 1963, six years after it was published. Why did M.E. Howard Bury, if that was the book's owner, have the pair sign this book at a time when they should have been signing their 1962 Companion? Did he have that one at home, and was just buying this one the day they were in the store?

The book is one of those lovely things whose owner left pieces of their life inside as well -- a note listing all of the gifts in "Twelve Days of Christmas," a pamphlet from The True Healing Series, No. 3 entitled "Loneliness and its Cure" with the handwritten note "Excellent series." And some inked-in corrections for mispellings or typos in the ghost author's work.

These are the sorts of finds I miss hitting old bookstores to encounter. You can always find the popular items if you're willing to pay the price. But these curious little items you might have only heard rumors of, with strange little stories of their own to wonder about -- they're the real bargains in the bookstores.

As we checked out, the clerk remembered that when I came in and was asked "How are you?" I had replied, "Hungrier than I should be for this time of day," and offered restaurant suggestions. The choice pick had to be Showtime Lanes, the bowling alley that I thought was a strip club when I had originally driven into town. It turned out to be one of those lovely local diners with a refrigerated display of pie selections (I went for cocoanut creme, Rob for cherry) and a really good tenderloin. (That's a deep fried pork sandwich, for you non-Midwestern heathens out there. Don't make me explain Rob's "horseshoe.") Rob and I chatted away for a goodly couple hours, not long enough for the old Christopher Morley "three hours for lunch" standard, but long enough to feel a little guilty for occupying table space and the staff's attention.

It was quite a fine Sherlockian Wednesday, and a nice end-of-summer vacation day from work.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

End of July SOBs

 I am the sort of dedicated Sherlockian who will stop halfway through viewing Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar to attend a meeting of the Sherlockians of Baltimore. I am also the sort of idiot who, even though he has blog-reported on panels as they happen at a Sherlockian weekend, never realized until now that I could actually do the same with a Zoom Sherlockian gathering which I am not hosting. So let's have at it, shall we? Clicking "Join Meeting" now.

Oh, but I just got too anxious and got on twenty minutes early to see Vincent Wright and Ann Marlowe talking -- sixteen Sherlockians on. already. Greg Ruby test-blasted the Olympics theme over the Zoom, and concussion talk began. Cindy Brown asked Jerry Margolin if he had any new art (he always has a nice bit of his collection displayed behind him), which leads to Jerry chatting with longtime Sherlockian artist Jeff Decker. Always interesting to see where these pre-chats go, and, gladly, this one is trending Sherlockian and not pandemic-based, as so many have been.

Vincent is a welcome last-minute addition to the speakers for this meeting, and we find he's going sans notes for this one, and he threatens to do the whole thing with his hands held up like a stick-up victim to prove he's not using notes. And then we get to see the Lego London his wife made for him.

We're up to thirty-two attendees with six minutes to go, and the chat is becoming all the more random . . . though mostly about Legos.

Okay, I'm not going to name names, but scanning the screens of attendees, I see a Sherlockian that I actually thought was a historical member of our cult from long ago. You never know who will turn up at these Ruby-run Zoom extravaganzas. Vincent mentions the Amazon truck and I realize I didn't check the mail after the truck came through, so I had to run upstairs and look. Nothing!

Up to forty-eight participants and Roger Johnson pops in from across the Atlantic -- so many folks in the chat wishing everyone "good evening" that he's definitely not the only one. It's just twelve noon here in Peoria.

And then the Olympic theme starts the meeting for real, with Greg in his Coca-cola t-shirt leading off. The next SOBs meeting will be in person with vaccine cards required (after some threatened lawsuit nonsense prior to this one on that topic -- glad that got dealt with). Karen Wilson comes on to mention the Scintillation of Scions next weekend. Steve Mason talks about the Beacon Society, the Barque Lone Star meeting tomorrow, and their upcoming book Holmes and Me. Denny Dobry reminds us of his open house (also requiring vaccines), and we get a little deeper into the lawsuit threatener and how unwelcome they've managed to make themselves. Robert Katz also offers to do free physical examinations to those who show up without a vaccine card. We've hit an interesting point in this pandemic.

Bruce Harris promotes his new book, Madeline Quinones promotes her podcast, and I remember how shyte I am at promoting anything. The promoter gene just didn't make it into my DNA, but glad to see my fellow Sherlockians getting the info out there.

Mark Alberstat begins his talk "ACD and the Olympics" to an audience of fifty-eight attendees. Conan Doyle was a big sports fan, which I, sadly, am not. Would Conan Doyle have considered pro wrestling as a sport? I may have to ask. The pic from that era of the British women's swim team and their dowdy chaperone makes me laugh a bit. England was doing so poorly in the 1912 games that Conan Doyle apparently had a letter to the editor about creating a "British Empire team" before the games were even over.

Mark has written about this in Canadian Holmes, so I won't go into great detail here. You can join the Bootmakers of Toronto and get access to electronic editions of that journal if you really want to get the full scoop on ACD and the games. But Conan Doyle was such a letters-to-the-editor guy that you know he'd have been a Twitter beast. The man did not keep his opinions to himself.

Mark finishes to the traditional muted "clap-ter" of Zoom world, and questions begin. No known pics of Conan Doyle at the Olympics, or if he attended more than one day. 

Vincent Wright starts his talk -- and I've been trying to hear him talk again for years. He's up to about thirty-two chronologies in his spreadsheet collection, which is something the Sherlockian Chronologist Guild will always be interested in. His talk is on his original chronology paper that was presented at events in five different states -- and how he later learned it was based on a flawed proposition.

He started looking for ads in the papers of 1881 that might be for the available rooms-for-rent at 221B Baker Street for his 2010 presentation at the Scintillation of Scions. Finding a couple for 33 Baker Street and 48 Baker Street, then an ad for Cleveland Square apartments not far away with "Apply to Mrs. Hudson" in the ad, as well as some others. Further ad research had him checking for "B" apartments being rented at the time as well. Vincent is a thorough, deep-diver of the historical record, to be sure.

He goes on to explain how 23 Baker Street became his ultimate solution to 221 B Baker Street, and, now, what has gone horribly awry with his beautiful solution. (Apparently Vincent is wrong about things a lot less than I am. Which is probably literally true.) And how he had to deliver the paper in Chattanooga and then immediately tell his audience that it was wrong.

"Modern numbering inserted" -- the three words that were my friend's downfall. Baker Street as it was in 1881 had number 23 on the east side of the street. Glad I'm a chronologist and not an addressologist at his point. A lot of folks fought to keep Vincent's theory alive, but, alas, he could not hold to it as the truth.

And April 26, 2014, Vincent Wright retired his paper. I gave his talk an "Excellent!" in the chat and was delighted to see Roger Johnson's reaction pop up as exactly the same. Half of Sherlockiana and our research is just the experience we have playing those games, not the results themselves, and Vincent Wright's talk was a nice combination of the two. Some of the best presentations I have ever heard are the ones that combine the speaker's enthusiastic path to the discovery with the discovery itself, so this one was right in that pocket.

Bob Katz starts a discussion of the first three chapters of A Study in Scarlet. "She was a gorgeous blonde in a bikini and I shot her in the abdomen," is his theoretical opening for a Mickey Spillane version of the book before he points out how unsexy the actual opening is. It makes me realize that I did not start my love of Holmes with that opening -- I came to it with delight after I had already been lured to Holmes elsewhere. 

Bob starts proposing that there are more great lines in A Study in Scarlet than the rest of the Canon and he calls on Vincent Wright, who just started eating McDonald's fries from his grandson, which distracts us from the heretical nature of that statement. At the hour-and-a-half mark of the meeting, I have to shut the camera off and wander off for what we call a "bio break" at my office.

Bob is making a point about Holmes's visitors in those early chapters, pointing out how an excited Jewish peddler appears, then Holmes talks excitedly about Stradivariuses, then much later tells Watson how he got a deal on a Stradivarius from a Jewish broker. I don't think I've ever made that connection before, and watching Sherlockian eyes light up, I don't think I'm alone. Some folks theorize he came to 221B and was excited because the peddler realized he sold it to Holmes much too cheaply.

After a good forty years at this game, I love when someone gives us a beautiful "Ah-ha!" moment like that, showing us something new in what we've been looking at all this time. There's a lot more discussion of whether or not Holmes was a doctor, and enough other points that Vincent goes "How do I even have time for all this?" Bob Katz has tossed out so many thought-provoking points, I empathize completely.

Karen Wilson delivers then delivers the quiz on those same three chapters of A Study in Scarlet. And if nearly sixty Sherlockians can't answer every one of them, I should be much surprised. Nobody even gets tripped up by that tricky "first words" question that SOBs like. Did anyone get all twenty-five correct? I don't know.

About this time, my cat comes yowling up and wants lap-time.

A little more discussion of the fly in the ointment prior to this particular meeting, and total support for all Greg Ruby's efforts, and we're done, a happy finish to a very good Sherlockian meeting.

And my cat starts biting me and we have a little tussle. On to the next!