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!





Friday, July 30, 2021

Yeah, we got some real lulus.

 There's been a subject that I've been trying to get to all week.


Now, that might have been inspired by a particular incidence of truly unacceptable bullshit from a Sherlockian that came our way as a part of this lovely mixed-up social state we're in at the moment. But the comment truly came from decades of spotting that one weird, weird apple on every Sherlockian tree.

Sherlockians are warm, wonderful folks for the most part. If you're here, hopefully you've had firsthand experience of that. If you love Sherlock Holmes, chances are that we love you. You're a rare bird, a special find, and someone we wish we had more of. In fact, we love a dedicated Sherlockian so damn much, that we'll accept a few real peculiarities as a part of the package. Sherlock Holmes was a bit of a weirdo, wasn't he? Of course, we like a little weird!

The problem is, accepting a little weird, sometimes you just open the gate to A LOT WEIRD. Which is good. Being accepting is good. But you know how it is with serial killers . . . once they get away with one, they don't stop. It's the same with any rude behavior, even those that don't take lives. Our acceptance is a double-edged sword. It opens people up to let their best selves come out to play, but it can also let their worst selves come out, too, especially in an environment of enthusiastic devotion.

If this age of allowing people a choice of pronoun, I suppose it's okay for me to finally accept that you can have your own choice of other descriptors. If you want to be an "enthusiast" or an "aficionado" instead of  a "fan," that's okay. If you're only doing it because you're the sort of prick with a need to elevate yourself above other people that likes our thing, well, I suppose we even should be kindly toward your personal issues. But the minute your personal grandiosity starts making other folks feel unwelcome in this space, because we were kind enough to allow your royal ass in here . . . well, you've kinda broken the covenant, haven't you?

That's where we have to draw the line. 

Not talking permanent banishment here. We have to give sincere apologies a chance. And we can specifically ask for them, when needed. Because here's the thing: A lot of us come to this welcoming world for two reasons: a.) We love Sherlock Holmes, and b.) Our social skills suck so badly in the normal world that spending time with those who can overlook that lack in the glow of the Holmes fires.

We have to be a little forgiving, and offer a few second chances, because . . . well, I don't know about you, but I stumble into pissing people off on occasion. And I might be a little like my cat -- if I get bored enough, I'll start chewing on the hand that is petting me, just because it's the nearest thing. (Doesn't mean that old hand doesn't need a nip now and then, of course, just to remind it there's a beastie here.) And some of us are just socially awkward enough not to know when we've offended -- unless you're really raging offended, and then we might just run and hide and make little "yeeks" noises.

Being social is hard. It truly is, and, man, the skills didn't improve with quarantines. And, yes, right now there are some folks out there that need a proper spanking. But don't let them ruin your pleasant place. Just send in a good spanker if you know one.

Sherlockiana. The weirdness is a feature, not a bug, unless it is a bug, and then, well, you know the line from "Copper Beeches."

(Somehow "Smack! Smack! Smack!" just got a little kinky after that spanking bit. Please ignore that. Except I just called it out, didn't I? Sorry. Weirdo. Can't help it.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Would Doyle have gotten the pips?

 You might have heard the story about the black crepe mourning bands worn by London fellows after the death of Sherlock Holmes in the pages of The Strand Magazine. It's not documented well enough for a few skeptics out there, but personally, I believe it has some roots in truth, even if it was only one guy, and the story grew as it was retold over the years. Sherlock Holmes fans existed in 1893, and some of them were certainly upset to see him go.

So, one can understand that someone somewhere surely had a reaction strong enough to pull out the black crepe mourning band for a day. 

We now know, of course, that Conan Doyle was lucky.

Listening to an interview with comic book writer Dan Slott last night, telling of death threats and bodyguards immediately after a comic book came out where Peter Parker died and Dr. Octopus took over his body and life, I couldn't help but think of Conan Doyle. The Peter Parker death was in a comic book, with decades of history of superheroes dying and coming back as a prelude, so you'd think it wouldn't have been a thing. But it was. And Conan Doyle, with his ground-breaking serial detective, had no such foreshadowing. What was different in the 1890s?

No social media.

No immediate reactions shared with the world. No pundits trying to fill air-time by saying Doyle was imposing his beliefs in chaos by killing a champion of law and order. No legions of fellow fans who experienced that Reichenbach moment at exactly the same time as you -- since your home probably only had one copy, even family members could not fully sympathize until twenty minutes later after they had read it.  Even the craziest of fans might have had time to cool down a bit.

And given that any death threats had to actually make it into an envelope, into a mailbox, and to Conan Doyle's hands, well, plenty of additional time to cool down there. By the time Doyle wrote his memoirs in Memories and Adventures, the worst he could recall was some lady addressing him as "You brute!"  Maybe there were worse letters. The subscriptions drop that The Strand Magazine experienced definitely indicated some strong feelings on the matter. Perhaps the equivalent threats to those a writer like Dan Slott got in 2012 did happen, they just weren't spread beyond Doyle's dustbin.

I often wonder how Sir Arthur would fare in the world we find ourselves in today. He was an active, involved sort of man, and would definitely have raised some strong opinions far beyond those resulting from just killing Sherlock Holmes only to bring him back later. But it's probably better for us if we don't do a "Bill and Ted" and get him into a time machine to current times. (Should I have said a "Time after Time?" I fear that film is losing its currency among our younger peers. Bill and Ted at least got a recent sequel.) Someone of us would surely be unhappy with him.

At least he would have probably been pro-vaccine, being a doctor and all . . . though that has gotten at least one doctor some death threats in the last year. And would the FBI count orange pips as a credible threat, or just a fan thing? 

Who knows? It's definitely been a long road from 1893 to 2021.


Monday, July 26, 2021

A new kind of A.S.H.? Maybe not.

 I don't watch as much professional wrestling as I once did, but I still enjoy a good storyline or a good gimmick when it comes to my attention. And with the WWE's Monday Night RAW hitting its usual Twitter spots tonight, my interest was piqued by a newly super-heroic masked wrestler named Nikki A.S.H.

A.S.H. -- Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, right?

Those ladies (and later gentlemen, but c'mon, we know they're just being nice to us) who have been adding serious fun to the Sherlockian hobby since the sixties, those are the A.S.H. we know.  And while I don't know if the self-proclaimed Nikki A.S.H. , formerly Scottish wrestler Nikki Cross a.k.a. Nicola Glencross, is a prime candidate for our version of A.S.H., it still tickles my Sherlockian fancy that she's using those three initials in the ring.

It's now short for "Almost a Super Hero" in the WWE, but I'd give that meaning to our own A.S.H. as well, especially those who had to keep their Sherlockian enthusiasm buoyed against the tides of male Sherlockian judgement over the decades. Keeping your hand in the game when the elder societies of some of our elder cities, especially one in which you lived, firmly held on to "boys only" far longer than anyone should have, well, that takes fortitude that not every male Sherlockian could lay claim to.

And in the last decade, we've seen some real Almost Super-Heroics upon the part of certain ladies of the A.S.H., long before they were recognized by established Sherlockiana. Some held up established structures with a mighty strength, some flew into uncharted terrain with courage of their convictions. All without the little cultural boost of being all boy, old boy, or the good boy. (Yes, it's harder to admit it's there when we fail, fellas, but you know it's there.)

We have a lot of Almost Super Heroes of Sherlockiana, and a lot of Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, too. And I really hope Nikki A.S.H. does well in the wrestling world, where injuries and just "turning heel" come far too easily. I like seeing those letters out there.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

"It was an old acquaintance"

 Looking at the cases of Sherlock Holmes from a chronologist's point of view (Don't run away! I'm not writing about Sherlockian chronology in this post!), gives one a slightly different perspective on Watson's texts. Certain words jump out more strongly in the desperate hunt for clues as one reads a particularly date-cryptic tale. And so it was tonight with "The Dying Detective."

You may remember the tale, and the Scotland Yard man we are introduced to therein: "It was an old acquaintance, Inspector Morton of Scotland Yard, dressed in unofficial tweeds."

As I was currently debating the decade of this tale in my mind, those words "old acquaintance" were pointing me toward this case taking place later in Holmes's career. They also puzzled me a bit. For how was this "old acquaintance," a Scotland Yard man whom Sherlock Holmes trusted for a particularly important trap, someone we had never heard of before? One would expect old friend Lestrade to be the one waiting outside to catch Culverton Smith, as he came for Sebastian Moran in another very important moment of capture.

But if this was a later case, and The Strand Magazine had boosted Lestrade's reputation as someone who worked often with Sherlock Holmes, there was a chance Smith might recognize Lestrade on the street and sense the trap about to be sprung. But Inspector Morton, to both readers of Strand, Smith, and also ourselves, is an unknown. Yet an unknown who was a trusted friend to Holmes and Watson.

Here's where I got a really good idea that fell apart quickly, because it was based on a flawed remembrance -- as in who was the fiance of Helen Stoner? Well, it wasn't Cyril Morton! I always found the opening of "Speckled Band" interesting because Watson promised someone, most certainly Helen Stoner, that he wouldn't tell the story until after their death . . . and somehow he knows when that day has come, like he stayed in touch with her after she married Percy Armitage. And with the possibility that both his wife and the man who saved her from snakebite death dying around the same time, I had this really great theory that Percy Armitage became inspired to become an investigator of crime.

Well, when I thought his name was Cyril Morton . . .

But we all know that Cyril was Violet Smith's fiance, right? Of course, we do.

So is it still possible to shoehorn Cyril Morton into giving up electrical engineering and getting on at Scotland Yard out of his admiration of Holmes? (Or perhaps because his wife kept going on and on about how great Sherlock Holmes was, and he felt he had to compete?) I don't know, but man, do I hate to give up on Inspector Morton having an origin earlier in the Canon.

So how old was that "old acquaintance?" Hmm.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Fans in Critic's Clothing

 We used to have this profession that I'm not sure exists any more. It was called "critic."

What a critic was, basically, was someone who wrote well enough that a media outlet paid them to offer their opinions on a subject to the readers or viewers. We still have those, I guess, often called "pundits" in the world of news-o-tainment (and at this point, their opinions are often not their own), but the playing field has changed dramatically with the mighty hordes of opinion-offerers that rampage across the internet.

One used to consider the most prominent critics experts in their field -- a movie critic knew movies, a literary critic knew books. And while they had insights, they often had so overwhelmed their poor brains with so much material on a subject that they had killed their ability to feel the pure joy of encountering a thing with the pure joy of the innocent.

Rob Nunn's "Interesting Though Elementary" blog considered Sherlockian critics in its latest offering, as Rob has been reading through the wealth of past Sherlockiana and running into those who didn't like Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes movies or Jeremy Brett as a TV Sherlock. "So even though some things are remembered fondly, if you look close enough, there are critics in the weeds."

At which point, I, someone local media has deemed "a Sherlock Holmes expert" on more than one occasion, grumbles quietly, "I still don't like Jeremy Brett, nor remember him fondly." Because I am not a proper critic, I am a fan.

Sherlockians know a lot about Sherlock Holmes. We have a deep-seated idea of who Sherlock Holmes is, and what makes a good Sherlock Holmes . . . to us. We can be quirky. Personally, I think Will Ferrell's Holmes was a lot more interesting than Jeremy Brett's @##$@# @#$*@#$$* version. Yeah, those aren't all cuss words, but I'm sparing you that, because I'm not a proper critic.

"A proper critic" implies that there are experts in the field who can pass an objective and true judgment of a performance, but do they really exist? The way you become an expert is by loving something, being a fan of that thing, but no one becomes a fan of a thing because they love every incarnation of it. Usually there is the one triggering version that sets a fan on their course to expertise, even if it is the mental image that Conan Doyle's words conjured in their brain.

When the mass of fans for Benedict Cumberbath's Holmes rose up a decade ago, I think we saw an example of the best critic we have -- the innocent who comes upon a thing for the first time and goes, "WOW, THIS IS GREAT!!!" The old Rathbone and Brett fans of established clubs were not alway quick to sign on, but Cumberbatch was producing the fans of the future, a necessary part of the cycle. As Cumberbatch fever has tempered, Brett fans reclaimed some ground, gaining converts among the fresh faces, just as Rathbone fans did when Brett came on strong, and the cycle continues.

At some point one starts to see the generational cycles, and finer points become clear. We don't have the records of Basil Rathbone fans getting pissed off when he left the Victorian era and started fighting Nazis the way we have living memory of Benedict Cumberbatch and the dread season four. (Of course, it was WWII, and everybody who wasn't a Nazi pretty much hated Nazis, so it was probably less troubling to Rathbone fans of the day.) And the meaning of words themselves, like "critic" starts to shift more toward one aspect of meaning than another, as the era of the professional critic fades.

We will always have "experts" who are fans at their core, biassed as can be but covering it up with writing skills and knowledge of the past (and . . . sometimes . . . claims of being an elevated "afficionado" or the like), and there are going to be those who viciously go after the new Sherlock on the block for being different from their most beloved. (Or Watson, or the Irregulars, as we saw in the case of The Irregulars. Enola is lucky enough to be new and not have previous fans.) But it's the love of the first-timers that buoys any Sherlock to the top and gives us fresh Sherlockians.

And you have to love that. Who needs critics?

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Diary of the DRC Treasure Hunt, Day Fifteen: The B-list Sherlockian

 Even within the Doyle's Rotary Coffin Treasure Hunt, there are challenges within challenges.

Take item 36 on the infamous list: "One photo of four different things from the Canon which start with the letter 'B.'"

Easy enough. My brain immediately went to book, bed, bottle, and beast -- I could grab the cat, sit on the bed with a book and a bottle, and the deal is done, right?

T'were it only that easy. I am a Sherlockian you know.

Here is my photo for item 36 . . . .


By my personal count, there are twenty-six items from the Canon in the photo above that begin with the letter "B." Care to try to find all twenty-six?

I'll wait.

While I'm waiting (and the answers, by my count, are going to follow below), let me claim twenty-six as the current WORLD RECORD for most Canonical items beginning with "B" in one photograph. The challenge has been made and laid out for anyone who wants to break that record and claim to be the greater B-list Sherlockian than yours truly. 

But back to this photo . . . .

Here . . .

are . . . 

the. . .

answers! 

1. Bed
2. Book
3. Bottle
4. Beast
5. Bear
6. Bird
7. Bank (The duck is a bank. Once you've gotten four certain ones, you can add some ones which may need to have their case argued.)
8. Black pearl
9. Brittannia
10. Bible
11. Biography
12. Box
13. Bust
14. Boot
15. Box
16. Blue ribbon
17. Boy
18. Buttons
19. Bread
20. Butter
21. Bowl of a pipe
22. Beard
23. Bowler
24. Bow
25. Bull's eye lantern
26. Brick

There's a brain, but it's covered. There's a Baker Street Irregular, but the judges might throw that out. (Probably stretching their limits with "boy.") Can the same item count twice, as with the bird and the bank? I dunno. The DRC Treasure Hunt sub-challenges have no rules, which is part of the fun. Go ahead, be a better B-list Sherlockian than me, and we can start a B-list Sherlockian club for anyone who gets above four items for number 36 on the DRC list.

Onward!

P.S. Here's number eight on the list: "A photo of you dressed as someone from the Canon."


Professor Presbury

P.P.S. Number twenty-three, "A photo of a street sign which involves the name of an obscure character in the Canon.




The good change

 "I think the change would do you good, and you are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes' cases."

There is a line we'd all love to hear in our lives, delivered by Watson's spouse at the beginning of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery." The advice is echoed repeatedly in an old Sheryl Crow song, but with a mention of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde and no nod to our favorite detective. "A change would do you good."

Sometimes we need a little help with change. Routine is comfortable. The thing that made you happy yesterday has a good chance to make you happy today. "You are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes' cases." Yet, even that interest can turn into a dutiful slog -- in that opening to "Boscombe Valley," John Watson has not been living with Sherlock Holmes, going on case after case with the detective. He's working as a doctor, with the domestic life of a married man. Sherlock Holmes is a happy change for Watson. A good change.

Sometimes we get jostled out of our life's train tracks by big impact changes, and very few folks haven't had some of those in the past couple years. We've seen a lot of good come out of some of those, too, new options, the chance to see what the important things were (and the things that might have not been so important). Change comes unasked sometimes, and we just have to make the best of it. But in Watson's case, on that June Saturday in 1889, he chose to spin the wheel of Sherlock Holmes and see what adventure awaited.

And while we don't have Sherlock Holmes himself beckoning us to take a break for a little adventure, we do have that lovely creation, recently started, "The 2021 Doyle's Rotary Coffin Treasure Hunt." From it's earliest moments, Sherlockiana has been about the random celebration of Sherlock Holmes, which takes as many forms as there are different personalities in the people doing the celebrating. The sixty item list of suggested things to get photographic evidence of in that list ran an amazing gamut from shopping for books to meeting a new Sherlockian to creating art or a cocktail. Cosplay. Movie viewing. Research. Generosity. Nostalgia. And something in there is definitely going to be a change from your normal Sherlockian/Holmesian routines. A good change.

In a hobby that will, hopefully, be with you your entire life, you're going to go through some different phases of interest, exhausting one field, moving to another. Personally, I avoided Sherlockian chronology like the plague for a decade or two, and now I'm creating a monthly newsletter on the topic. As Watson well knew, you never know where you'll wind up when you're following Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

And sometimes, it can be to a change that will do you good. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Diary of the DRC Treasure Hunt, Day Nine

Today, it was time to loose the hounds!

Pacing myself in working at the Doyle's Rotary Coffin Treasure Hunt between now and December 26 isn't proving as tough as I thought -- this is a most distracting summer! Still, time marches on and photos must be taken. 

Item number thirty one, "A photo of ten different copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles," seemed easy-peasey at first. And then I remembered the box of varied paperback copies of that very novel that I delivered to a certain 221B Con support suite with a couple boxes of snacks one year after a house-cleaning purge. All of the paperbacks where gone!!! Did I even have ten copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles left in my collection, if I didn't use any of The Complete Sherlock Holmes or Baring-Gould Annotated editions? Well, it wasn't quite as easy as it once might have been, and several items got knocked off shelves in the process, but here's the photo fulfilling that item:


I added some bonus Hound bits in there to beef it up, along with the steel Hound silhouette that my brother had made for me from the "Weekend at Baskerville Hall" logo. Since you have to be in the photos, in whole or part, I let the part of me get in that would want to add a certain book to the set do its job.

But I'm learning my lesson: Some of the photos in this scavenger hunt are going to take some real planning. Nothing can be taken for granted. But there looks to be some real fun to be had in the list, and I am only on my third checkmark of Hunt.

Sound the hunting horn, loose the hounds, and let the hunt continue! 


Saturday, July 3, 2021

Sherlock Holmes has con drop

 Conan Doyle famously concluded his poem "To An Undiscerning Critic" with the words, "The doll and its maker are never identical" to point out that he was not Sherlock Holmes. That, of course, does not rule out Conan Doyle basing parts and pieces of Sherlock Holmes's life on his own experience. Take this passage for example:

"Even the triumphant issue of his labors could not save him from reaction after so terrible an exertion, and at a time when Europe was ringing with his name and when his room was literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams I found him a prey to the blackest depression."

Such words do not come out of the void by magic. And while Conan Doyle definitely had other people in his life who fell prey to depression, he was also a man of accomplishment, a man who could decide upon a goal and work hard to achieve it. And we know he succeeded in many a goal, even by the summer of 1893 when "Reigate Squires" was published, containing the above passage. 

If you've ever worked hard to put on an event, you know that the greatest congratulations always fall on you at that moment your work is done and you are the most exhausted -- the moment the event is done. Other massive projects might not get the praise quite so immediately, but the cycle can still hold. And even when the effort made is just one to enjoy one's self as much as possible, like at a Sherlock Holmes weekend, when it's over, and everyone else would expect you to be most pleased . . . well, you're tired and vulnerable. Vulnerable to flu bugs, depression . . . even just disappointment at returning to the routines you had before you got to go to war with Professor Moriarty and throw the rules out the window for a while.

Am I equating Sherlock Holmes's foiling of Baron Maupertuis and his colossal Netherland-Sumatra Company schemes to a Sherlockian just going to Atlanta or Minneapolis or New York for the weekend or one of our own little projects? Well, yes . . . he wasn't real, you know (something I can safely say, having referred to Conan Doyle at the outset). But Sherlock Holmes's trials and tribulations are like the man himself -- a heightened version of the rest of us. And his post-event drops are likewise enlarged. Watson doesn't have to travel a very long way to pick us up.

We get to wonder what particular incident in his own life might have inspired Conan Doyle to pen those words about Holmes in that room full of telegrams. A loss of vigor after a round of congratulations for one of his achievements? Just another thing that connects Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes and the rest of humanity, which is a big part of why these stories work so well.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Diary of the Doyle's Rotary Coffin Treasure Hunt, Day One

 It was opening day for the first-ever Doyle's Rotary Coffin Treasure Hunt today, and the key phrase for today had to be "Pace yourself!" We have six months until Blue Carbuncle Day to complete the sixty tasks that Paul Thomas Miller has set out for us, and there are one hundred and eighty three days left to go. It would be far too easy to charge into the list, do all the easy ones this week, and then get discouraged for the months remaining. So today, I limited myself to two items of the sixty.

First, number sixteen, a photo of a musical Holmes. Here you go:


Yes, it's that fabulous singing Sherlock, Will Ferrell! And, just in case there's a quibble, there's also a photo of a drawing of a musical Holmes from the musical Baker Street. Here's the thing, though: I'm checking off "A photo of a musical Sherlock Holmes," but if I get anywhere near Will Ferrell in the next six months, I'm upgrading this with a photo of the actor himself. That's part of the fun of this -- you aren't limited to just settling for your first try. You can upgrade!

And my second checked-off entery, number four, a photo of an object mentioned in the Canon.



It's an egg-spoon! You remember the famous egg spoon that Watson used to point at the article "The Book of Life" in A Study in Scarlet? Used specifically for eating boiled eggs, egg spoons were traditionally made from bone or horn so they would not discolor from use because the sulfur in eggs would tarnish silver. I dearly love my little egg spoon, which was a gift from that grand Minnesota Sherlockian Pj Doyle who brought it all the way back from Scotland.

I've quickly discovered that our treasure hunt journey isn't just about taking the first photo that you can -- it's also about choosing the best option that represents who you are and what you value about Sherlock Holmes. The list from Doyle's Rotary Coffin are prompts, really, only instead of prompts inspiring us to create a fictional tale of Holmes and Watson, they're prompts to show something of ourselves.

Two checkmarks down, fifty-eight to go!




Saturday, June 26, 2021

A real Sherlockian challenge!

 The hobby of Sherlockiana is a past-time with a million roads to enjoying yourself, and some of them are actual roads. Collecting photos of state highway signs of the four? A Sherlockian has done that. (Don Hobbs) Whether trying to find imaginary places in the real world or just putting sixty stories in the proper order, Sherlockians and Holmesians can find diverting little tasks to both relax from their daily duties and celebrated their love of Sherlock Holmes. And now we have a new one.

The Doyle's Rotary Coffin Treasure Hunt begins tomorrow, on Sunday, June 27th, and will run until Blue Carbuncle Day, December 27, 2021.

"Six months?" you ask. "Why do we need six months for a simple challenge?"

Follow the link and look at the list. The DRC Rotator in Chief, Paul Thomas Miller, has concocted a list that is more than just a simple list of items to take pictures of. Yes, they all do require photos, but many of them are adventures in themselves that you are challenged to go on.

"A photo which proves where Holmes went to university." There has got to be a story behind that one when you're done.

"A photo of the Holmesian puppet show you put on for a bemused non-Holmesian friend or family member." Having done that one before using an office cubicle wall as my stage, I can attest that it takes a certain level of intestinal fortitude, or at least a devil-may-care attitude.

Some are as simple as "a photo of your newly bought Holmesian book from a second-hand bookshop," but they are, in the main, not just photos, but experiences. Happy moments of connecting to Sherlock Holmes that any Sherlockian or Holmesian will find some pleasure in. Much of it are things we'd do anyway if we thought of them. And many are things I don't think anyone has thought of before. ("A photo of a homemade Holmesian robot.")

We have to wait until tomorrow to start, but I am looking forward to it already. I'll be posting my pictures on this blog site as the adventure goes on in the next six months, but the ways to collect your photos are as variable as the possible pics themselves. Tweeting, FBing, creating your own coffee table book, just sharing them with one Sherlockian friend you've decided to compete against (and placed a wager with, of course -- there are no actual prizes for this competition, but discrete wagering cannot be stopped!).

If you didn't notice the link at the start of this post, here it is again. Start revving those imagination engines, because like the latest Fast and Furious movie, which also came out this weekend, the Doyle's Rotary Coffin Treasure Hunt is about to go to some ridiculous lengths you never saw coming. (But it's all about family, right? That's an F&F joke, in case you're completely Holmes-focused and wondered what Mycroft had to do with the Treasure Hunt.)

Get on it!

Friday, June 25, 2021

The easy target

 That grand Sherlockian David Stuart Davies stirred up a little discussion on Twitter this Friday afternoon, as good a time for stirring discussion as there is, I suspect, as we office drones grow bored. It looked like this:


It prompted so many thoughts in me that I couldn't just tweet a line back -- so many parts and pieces to react to! 

"... have we had enough . . ."

I'm getting into my mid-sixties, I've had quite a lot of Sherlock Holmes and have I had enough? Well, of some things, yes. There are pastiches out there that my fresher counterparts love that give me indigestion. And as much as my friends love Jeremy Brett, I filled up on that boy early on. Adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles? I definitely am full up on those. I really wish I could whittle down this big ol' Sherlockian belly of mine, but it has been decades in the making, at it's hard to starve myself to the point where I start craving more of certain Holmes mental victuals. 

"... enough of comic/parody/farcical versions of Sherlock Holmes? Such an easy target . . ."

Three words: Holmes and Watson. Here's the thing, if it was as bad as its critics say it is, Sherlock Holmes is apparently not so easy a target at all. And I loved it, more than any Holmes comedy ever, which makes it a rare bird for me as well. While it is easy to do a parody of Sherlock Holmes, and much of the general public does like its clownish Holmeses, I don't think a truly great comic version of Holmes is easy at all.

And second thought: Robert Downey Junior, Jonny Miller, and Benedict Cumberbatch -- While not parody, both seemed to like to take occasional jabs at Holmes and perhaps find reason to laugh at him as much as with him at times. They were not completely comic, of course, but there was certainly comedy there.

Remember that opening to "Three Garridebs" that reads, "It may have been a comedy or it may have been a tragedy." The comedy would seem to be based on the characters of the real and faux Garridebs of the tale, not Holmes and Watson. But that was the Original Canon. Movies and television are something else entirely, and one could, with some work, rank comedy content percentages that vary widely. Ronald Howard's 1954 series is very high on the comedy scale, while the movie Murder by Decree had, to my memory, exactly two comic moments in its Jack the Ripper tale (the pea and the scarf).

"A dark, serious version in the tradition of Doyle . . ."

For some reason The Irregulars on Netflix comes to mind with that statement, though the Doyle tradition that show follows is more along the lines of his supernatural fiction more than his Sherlock. How dark and serious can Sherlock Holmes go? We've seen as dark as The Last Sherlock Holmes Story in older pastiche and "Oh, lord, don't make me remember that!" dark among the fan fiction in the last decade. The tradition of Doyle is a tricky thing, as so many have tried to emulate it over the years, which brings me to my final thought after musing upon David Stuart Davies's tweet for a Friday.

With Sherlock Holmes, I think almost anything can work if the writer or director is skilled enough, which is basically true of all fiction. What is preposterous in the hands of an amateur can be mind-blowing in the hands of a master. But DSD is right, no matter what the skill level of the creator, we could definitely use more Holmes-work at the highest public levels that portray both Holmes and Watson with respect and not treat the detective genius like a Big Bang Theory sitcom nerd, or his friend and partner as the frustrated member of The Odd Couple (yet an older sitcom).

There's still some solid gold to be mined there, in hands skilled enough to do the job.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Garrideb one-night wanderjahr

 A good Sherlock Holmes story discussion night with our local Peoria library group is always a stimulating event, but tonight's took us on an even more varied and diverting path than normal with that classic "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs."

The good Carter proposed that if this tale had appeared before "Red-Headed League" in the Canon it would probably get a lot more credit, and I agree. There is a lot of rollicking fun in the tale, and beyond that, it has such a wide range of details and little historical easter eggs for you to do deep dives into that you can have some real fun with it.

For example, did you know the classic game "Pit" was created twenty years before Watson first wrote of Alexander Hamilton Garrideb supposedly making bank off the Wheat Pit in Chicago?

So, it's pretty easy to play Alexander Hamilton Garrideb in the Chicago Wheat Pit on Sherlockian game night, because there are definitely wheat cards in the game! (And don't go, "Alexander Hamilton Garrideb wasn't real!" lest you fall into a spiral of meta.)

And of course, the fact that Garridebs appear on Ancestry.com came up! 


Which you and I might know as notorious Sherlockian pranksters of New York and St. Louis areas from decades ago, but as time passes, many a Sherlockian or student who does that search is going to think that Garridebs do exist! Thanks to archived data, held without the story of how it got there, the Garridebs will have moved into some people's reality.

"Killer" Evans is the only person to whom the word "killer" is used in the Sherlockian Canon, despite the plethora of murderers, and his Chicago origins in a 1924 tale give him ties to Al Capone and the rest of the Chicago mob of that era, despite his story taking place in 1902. And, speaking of crime, I was reminded my personal edition of The Newgate Calendar is the edition revised and published well after Sherlock Holmes says he has "a portable Newgate" calendar in his memory.

Holmes suggests Watson take a "siesta" immediately after referring to the Wild West -- and the fact that "Killer" Evans only shoots people who already have drawn a gun on him (including Holmes and Watson) gives him a real quick-draw gunslinger image, and a little more of a sympathetic vibe than many a villain. (I contend that Watson's words "Killer returned to those shades from which he just emerged" aren't just a poetic way of saying "prison" -- I think he escaped back to the underworld.)

So many echoes of other tales: a forger named Evans, a name from the Doyle construct a name machine "Mor" + "croft" this time, an elderly gentleman who must make a trip so Holmes can get into his house, a butterfly collector, someone who comes to London in 1893, a card game involved shooting, something under a carpet . . . this story is practically a quiz on other stories!

And don't get distracted by that look of "loyalty and love" when Watson gets shot -- ponder the sequence that comes right after that section:

"It's nothing, Holmes. It's a mere scratch."
He had ripped up my trousers with his pocket-knife.

A bit of a bodice-ripper of a romance going on there, eh? Homes, BE-have!

Really, something for everyone in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs," and I could probably go on a bit more, but why spoil it all? Is "Garridebs" the best of the Casebook tales? One definitely could make a case!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Sherrick and Warty

 Part of the Sherlockian curse is seeing Holmes and Watson combos in every other partnership that comes up. Sometimes that parallel feels weaker than others, and sometimes it just hits you like a giant rat jumping off a ship from Sumatra. 

Take that Back to the Future duo, Doc Brown and Marty McFly . . . genius science guy and normal kid . . . almost . . . maybe . . . but, nawwww. Maybe if you tweaked them a little further, though. If you made Doc Brown a little more narcissistic, gave him an addiction, and then had Marty just trying to live a quiet life with the girl he wanted to be with, but unable to resist the temptation to go on adventures.

Oh, wait, that's Rick and Morty.

The Cartoon Network's late night dark, dark comedy actually might come closer to a Holmes and Watson pairing than a lot of mystery-solving duos. Because what do Rick Sanchez and Morty Smith do? They have strange adventures. The unpredictable genius pulling the normal fellow out of his regular life to deal with things unknown to science, yet always putting order back into the world eventually . . . even if they aren't exactly the same when it's all said and done. There's something to all the madness of the cartoon that sparks a certain Sherlockian flame that many a routine murder mystery misses completely.

Of course, the internet being what it is, I'm not the first to come up with this theory by any means -- Reddit turns up a lengthy digression on Rick-as-Sherlock. And of course there's a YouTube video where they meet. And fic -- every idea ever has been done in fanfic, or will be.

As season five of the obnoxiously over-the-top series kicked into gear this week, it's time again to look at Rick and Morty and see that little bit of Holmes and Watson they evoke if you can catch it out of the corner of your eye. Rick's new arch-nemesis Mr. Nimbus isn't exactly Moriarty, as a Looper article claims (more like Prince Namor, rival of the Fantastic Four's Reed Richards for the love of his eventual wife Sue), but the fact that the Looper writer wanted to make that parallel shows that the Sherlock-ishness of Rick brings such things to mind. 

The Holmes and Watson in Rick and Morty is definitely there, and a part of our old friends that I'd definitely miss, t'were it not.

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Hands of a Mycroft

 One's curiosity is always apt to take a person down some twisty-turny rabbit holes, but Saturday morning a look at at completely ridiculous premise went somewhere completely unexpected. It started simply, with noticing a tweet from Margie Deck looking for a book review refuting the idea that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was Jack the Ripper. Doesn't seem like something that needs arguing against, so I followed the link Mark Jone provided to a Doings of Doyle review of a book titled The Strange Case of Dr. Doyle: A Journey into Madness & Mayhem.

The book being reviewed sounded just wonderfully horrible, with a weird narrative of Conan Doyle giving tours of Ripper sights. As the author leads the tour, he keeps spouting weird things he himself has done, and the review does an excellent job of seeing what source material was twisted to get fiction from facts.

The bit that took me off course was when the review reported Conan Doyle's diary saying, "By the way as an instance of distraction of mind, after skinning a seal today I walked away with the two hind flippers in my hand, leaving mittens on the ice."  The book seems to have distorted this into Doyle doing this: "His mittens frozen solid, he thought he would have some fun by cutting off two hind flippers of the seals he had skinned, putting them on his hands as replacements."

That's a dreadfully horrific turn as mental images go, invoking the Kevin Smith film "Tusk" if one was unfortunate enough to have seen that movie. But what makes it all the worse is this passage from the Sherlockian Canon:

"I am glad to meet you, sir," said he, putting out a broad, fat hand like the flipper of a seal.

That was John H. Watson's first impression of meeting Mycroft Holmes, and that description has always haunted me. The fact that Watson would describe his best friend's brother so seems quite mean, and it makes one wonder if Mycroft's hands didn't fully develop in the womb . . . or something worse.

Throw into this the notion that Conan Doyle could have possibly equated seal flippers with hands, either as mittens or costumery, and I had to start wondering what might have been going on with Watson, Mycroft, and Doyle all the more. Or was it just the Mycroft imagery that put that weird twist in the minds of the authors of The Strange Case of Dr. Doyle?

Google searches turn up a line from The Long Night of White Chickens by Francisco Goldman that reads "I have never, I tell you solemnly, been more in love with anybody or anything than that policeman's seal-flipper mitten . . ."  Of course, the policeman's mitten simply looked like a seal's flipper to the character involved -- not his hand. 

Mycroft Holmes's hands will always concern me, thanks to Watson's remark. And the hint of a Conan Doyle connection lending a Franken-Mycroft to what was already a potentially were-seal situation with Sherlock's pinniman sibling makes matters just that much more concerning.

Or maybe, just as Sherlock was the thinking machine of the family, Mycroft was the pinball machine.

Plainly, the hands of Mycroft Holmes are a route toward madness.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A worthy try at Sherlockian omniscience in book form

 One of the best bargains in Sherlockiana arrived in my mailbox Monday after I'd downloaded it for free the day before -- the Baker Street Almanac 2021. Having just gotten back from vacation with copies of Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street waiting for me, it may have not been such a big thing to get a new Holmes book in the mail, but Baker Street Almanac is really more than just a book.

It really taxes my brain just a little bit to try to take in what Baker Street Almanac is. Collections of essays and stories, one understands immediately. but "An Annual Capsule of a Timeless Past & Future," as the BSA subtitles itself? The wrapping, the enclosures -- I get the green bag it comes in this time, as greenbag.org is where you get the thing from, and the slide-off ribbon was much less complex than the string ties of past years, but the visors with an upside down "V" and "pscc" and "1901" on them?

More stuff to tax the brain!

Okay, 1901 is the year "Priory School" takes place, which is annotated within this year's Almanac. "ps" has to stand for "Priory School." But the "cc?" Charing Cross? Card club? Corn-chandlers? I suppose I'll have to read the almanac to find out. Ah, but there's the challenge!

Ross E Davies has assembled an ever-expanding team of editors, writers, and agreeable content creators in one place, and the diverse wealth of pure data they put between the covers of the almanac is, as I've said, a bit mind-boggling. It might seem to trend toward the Sherlockian old school, since the "new school" of our hobby is a bit nebulous, far-reaching, and . . . well . . . the book would go from mind-boggling to madness inducing. Could any one tome report on everything in the Sherlockian world in a single year, the way years have been lately?  Life is just not as simple as it was in those olden times when The Baker Street Journal could pretty much keep up with our hobby by itself.

Of course, the absences are hard to notice in the deluge of info that the Baker Street Almanac showers the reader with. A critic only begins to challenge it after a first impression that it has near-omniscience, and who could expect God-level knowledge for the mere thirty dollar price tag of this production?

Having Peter Blau's Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press for the year all condensed in one place is divine enough, as Peter remains the best-informed among us, a position he's held for decades. Scion reporting from across the globe is only limited by having correspondents to report it all (and I shan't call out those groups I found notably absent, but wish they were there).  Adding another annotated version of a Canonical tale each year is a treat (though I fear I won't survive until the Almanac completes its Canon), as are the other surprises that await the reader.

The Baker Street Almanac 2021 is a marvelous accomplishment now in its fourth year. Definitely a great resource for the old hand at this hobby, and a wealth of info for the newer Sherlockian if they are mentally prepared for it. (One could almost picture a total newb getting a little freaked out at the arcana and finding some easier to grasp fandom.) And the mere fact one can download it all for free at http://greenbag.org/almanacs/BS/bsa.html should really eliminate the need for any further review from a mere itinerant blogger. Go have a look for yourself!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Sherlock Holmes's actual autograph!

Sometimes, you just don't realize things right away.

In reviewing the Baker Street Almanac 2021 this morning, I suddenly found myself having to stop in my tracks when I was trying to figure something else out and I realized that Sherlock Holmes hand-wrote part of the Canon. My inner fanboy got all excited, maybe not to the level of discovering an authentic Holmes autograph, but still . . . Sherlock Holmes wrote the very words I was looking at, at least according to Watson and his publishers!

Sherlock Holmes drew this map, so it's his handwriting, right? Has to be!


Which is all very cool. But then I read what I just wrote and thought "Sherlock Holmes's autograph? I think all the letters needed for that are somewhere on that map, in Holmes's handwriting!" And ala the old TV Adam West Batman, when energetically announcing it was time to go down the batpoles, I had to shout, "To the Photoshop!!" and run upstairs.

Sure, there are a lot of better things I could be doing this morning. More practical things. But I am a Sherlockian with a dream. A little crude photoshoppery, and voila!


AN ACTUAL SHERLOCK HOLMES AUTOGRAPH! (Of sorts.)

Surely in the hundred year history of this hobby someone has done this before. There's some tickle in the back of my brain that says I might have read of such an attempt somewhere. But, like good old Sherlockian chronology, there's just something about doing it for yourself.

Holmes had to have better penmanship than that, didn't he? Or was he one of those celebs who is sloppier with their own signature than any normal handwriting he would do? I'm no signature expert, and would welcome further exploration into a proper Sherlock Holmes signature from those who are -- one more field of Sherlockian study to explore!


Monday, June 14, 2021

The April 3, 1894 rebirth

 Coming back from my first vacation in a great while, I couldn't help but think of Sherlock Holmes on April 3, 1894. Yes, Mycroft kept his rooms intact for the three years since he left. And, yes, Watson is on board to get back into the detective business with him. But Sherlock Holmes was on a three year vacation. Restarting any job after a two or three week vacation is hard enough. After three years?

Well, Sherlock Holmes isn't exactly anxious to return to the old status quo. As Lestrade arrests Colonel Moran, intent on charging him with the attempted murder of Sherlock Holmes, the returning vacationer tells him, "I do not propose to appear in the matter at all. To you, and you only, belongs the credit of the remarkable arrest which you have effected."

Having brought down Moriarty's mafia a few years before, Holmes probably isn't anxious to stir up any vendettas, but beyond that -- Sherlock Holmes definitely can see the advantage to being able to shock any criminals with his return from the dead for a while. But what of his other plans?

A guy doesn't come back from a three-year vacation and return to his old job without a few new ideas, or at least a fresh perspective and maybe some objectivity that wouldn't have been there otherwise. In "Norwood Builder," Watson pretty clearly explains the new status quo.

Watson has sold his practice and come back to 221B at Holmes's request, a move Holmes pushed along by getting a Verner cousin to buy Watson out with money Holmes provided. Watson gets to take notes, but Holmes has strictly forbade the doctor from any more publishing until Holmes allows it. (Which pretty much doesn't happen until Holmes retires from London.) Holmes really wants to stay off the grid, but the Strand Magazine damage is done and not everybody seems to have heard about "The Final Problem," as is evidenced by John Hector McFarlane crashing into Baker Street just ahead of the cops to beg Holmes to clear his name.

Yes, time away always provides us with fresh ideas, hopes, and plans, but as with 221B's invasion by McFarlane, we can never escape all that came before and the expectations our clients have for us. ("Clients" being whoever our job functions to do things for.) It is very hard to get out of being you once you slip back into the old routine.

Keeping Mrs. Hudson's rooms intact at 221B was perhaps Sherlock Holmes's greatest mistake if he wanted a fresh start. Surely Mycroft could have boxed up his brother's stuff and moved it to a new place. Yet a part of Sherlock Holmes apparently wanted that address that was so well known, and with it, a local clientele like Peterson the commissionaire. He probably missed some of those familiar faces, even while thinking of all the benefits a fresh start would bring.

Curiously, while we often think of him as the brandy-pouring doctor, "change" is the cure-all that Watson seems to prescribe as much as anything else. Getting away for a time is the best medicine Watson knows. And if one is going to cure death itself, as Holmes did, a three year "change" certainly did the trick.

Other changes after that? Well, that's a Sherlockian study for another day.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Unmatched in 2021?

 A thought occurred to me this morning that actually amazed me a bit. 

I know we Sherlockians are a dreadfully biassed lot in the. direction of a certain consulting detective, but think really hard and answer me this: In the 134 years since Sherlock Holmes has walked the ether of this Earth, has there ever been a detective to match him?

It's easy to just exclaim a knee-jerk "NO!" but give it a moment. Seriously dig into your mind and see if you can actually find anyone who comes close. I mean, you can find detectives that might come close in one aspect or another. Brain power. Teamed with the perfect partner. Just total cool. But all at once?

Sherlock Holmes is the perfect package. The icon. 

He's a prodigy when you need a prodigy. He's a person struggling with issues when you need an inspiration for overcoming weakness. He's a friend/partner/lover of whatever emotional degree you need to set the bar at. I really can't think of anyone in our legends or lore that compares. He doesn't just solve murders, he helps people solve their lives. (Well, when successful -- but then, his notable failures just make him all the more perfect.)

Part of Sherlock Holmes's perfection is that Conan Doyle has not been his only creator in all that time. Holmes as been interpreted, not just by actors, but by writers and fans, who have all done their best to communicate the Holmes in their heads. Some interpretations are better than others, of course, but they usually teach us something, even if it's shining a light on a missing piece that causes us to realize the importance of that aspect of the detective.

Perhaps his only flaw is that he could be a little more genetically diverse and a perhaps agendered, which I'm sure he will probably be more and more in future incarnations. His Victorian origins aren't going anywhere, and ACD Canon shall remain, even if the naysayers do a cry similar to the old "If you say Watson wrote the stories, people will forget Doyle!" The original texts aren't going anywhere. (I would love to know how many copies of ACD Holmes reprints exist worldwide at any given moment -- there are always multiple new editions in stores, and always a place for a copy on a household bookshelf.) But a good Sherlock Holmes being Victorian, male, or white is proving less necessary with each passing year.

So I still have to wonder: Has anyone matched our beloved Sherlock even in 2021?

I really don't think so. Let me know if you come up with any contenders.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

The untold tale that hides in plain sight

 "Eight of us, five convicts and three sailors, said we would not see it done."

James Armitage, Evans, Beddoes . . . those are the names we know of the original eight who escaped from the convict-ship Gloria Scott. Hudson, the burned survivor they picked up after, bedevilled them, but what of the other un-named five? We hear nothing of them. Or do we?

There's another little mystery of the bad ship Gloria Scott, which came up tonight during our discussion of "The Sussex Vampire" at Peoria Public Library's Sherlock Holmes Story Society, that of Sherlock Holmes's famous index.

"Make a long arm, Watson, and see what V has to say."

Holmes, of course, is not speaking of the hero of V for Vendetta, but his homemade encyclopedia. And in that "V" volume, he reads: "Voyage of the Gloria Scott. That was a bad business. . . . Victor Lynch, the forger. Venomous lizard or gila. . . .Vittoria, the circus belle. Vanderbilt and the Yeggman. Vipers. Vigor, the Hammersmith wonder. . . . Vampirism in Hungary. And again, Vampirism in Transylvania."

Everything in that volume seems to fit, with the exception of "Gloria Scott."

Wait . . . Sherlock Holmes read "Voyage of the Gloria Scott." And there's the "V." But such an ordinary noun, not a proper noun at all. Or is it?

It only took a few seconds of Google searching to encounter passenger lists from ships of the 1800s on Ancestry.com with folks whose last name was "Voyage." A few of them, actually.

And we have five un-named survivors of the Gloria Scott, two or three of them criminals. Is it possible, one of them was named "Voyage?"

"That was a bad business," Holmes says, "I have some recollection that you made a record of it, Watson, though I was unable to congratulate you upon the result."

Is that just a disparaging remark on Watson's published case "The Gloria Scott?" Or something more, a mention of a story that Watson actually couldn't form into an account worthy of publication. The story of Holmes and Watson's encounter with an unrepentant criminal name Voyage, still active after escaping the prison ship that was supposed to make sure he stayed in Australia.

A yet untold tale hiding in plain sight.

Who was this man Voyage, and how bad was his business? Did Holmes specifically track him down, along with the other mystery men of the Gloria Scott? Or was it just a chance encounter between the career criminal and the greatest detective in England, which is not so much chance given those two professions?

I am definitely intrigued.

The names we give ourselves

 Lately I've been working under the guise of a "Sherlockian chronologist" in playing with the dates of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories, and rather enjoying that term. We fans of Sherlock Holmes have called ourselves a lot of things over the years, sometime getting a little contentious or uppity along the way, but most of our labels, be they "Sherlockian," "Holmesian," "Watsonian," "afficionado," "enthusiast," or simply "fan," are self-assigned. But did you ever stop and go, "Why the 'ian' thing?"

One site says "From the Latin -ianus, in which the -i- originally was from the stem of the word being attached be later came to be felt as connective." And yes, we do occasionally make an ass out of ourselves for love of Sherlock, but "Sherlock-anus" seems a little extreme, doesn't it?

So why not something a little nicer?

I mean, I'm loving "Sherlockian chronologist," so why not "Sherlockologist?" Even though we do it for entertainment, the study of Sherlock Holmes is the thing for so many of us, designating Sherlockology as a branch of knowledge and calling its practitioners "Sherlockologists" makes perfect sense. (Okay, you UK folk can go with "Holmesologists," is you want, but you might have people thinking you're into homeopathy or something.)

And why couldn't one take it a step further and just be a "Sherlockist" practicing "Sherlockism?" Sounds a bit religious, and you might have to do some cosplay, but I'd like to meet a Sherlockist . . . oh, wait, would they be fun? Or very strict and too serious about their Sherlockism and its tenets. ("Come on, take the first cab! We're in a hurry!")

I liked that "Mare of Easttown" fans were going with "Mare bears," but rhyming Sherlock gets weird fast. "Sherlock jocks," "Sherlock warlocks," "Sherlockacrocs," "Sherberts," "Holmes loams," "Holmes gnomes." That last one is the best of that bunch in my mind, but the movie Sherlock Gnomes might make it way too confusing.

 We might be moving to more specific nicknames anyway, like those regulars of 221B Con, the "Bees." And the Doyleans might be about to toss some fresh new slang in at some point. ("Doylies" may not be it, though.) 

The "ian" thing puts a Sherlockian in a class with libriarians and vegetarians, rather that being a "Sherlocker" or "Sherlockor," which would put us with lawyers and authors. And as much as certain clubs had to split off female auxiliaries due to their membership practices in ancient times, we never got "Sherlockesses." (Though "Irregulars" and "Adventuresses" did give America both of those suffixes.)

Are there any other suffixes or terms for the hobbyists of Holmes that we have missed out on?

A moss rose by any other name would be just as much an embellishment of life, to borrow from Shakespeare and Sherlock.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The test we take without taking it

 Sherlockiana is a wide open hobby. At out best, wee can enjoy discussing Sherlock Holmes with someone who just walked out of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows as much as comparing the plots of "Red-Headed Leage" and "Three Garridebs." We do like to test ourselves and occasionally invite faux gate-keeping into our world, like Frank Morley's original BSI crossword or the Beacon Society's Fortescue Scholarship Exams, but none of those are ever seriously used to weed out the novices. Those are primarily for those of us who have been around a while and want to see how fast our Sherlockian car will go.

Yet there is one test that we game-playing Sherlockians tend to take without realizing it, a test that some have occasionally tried to keep away from the newbies for fear it will frighten them off. And yet the test remains, and eventually, most pass it without evening realizing they did. No degree, no applause, no ceremony. You just are no longer troubled by that longtime Sherlockian system we call . . .

The Jay Finley Christ abbreviations.

Four letters for each of the sixty stories in the Canon. ABBE, 3GAB, CHAS . . . each of them bring to mind a full story title in the mind of a Sherlockian seasoned in the traditional scholarship. It actually has two levels, too -- the first being when you recognize CHAS as "Charles Augustus Milverton," and the second being when you want to abbreviate "Charles Augustus Milverton" and go "Oh, CHAS," instead of "CHAR, maybe?"

We rarely lay out a list and go, "Put the title next to each abbreviation," or vice versa, but there can come a time when you're just comfortable with them. And it doesn't come quickly, the same as in learning any field's specific buzzwords. Do they frighten off fresh, young Sherlockians? I sincerely doubt it. If you're the kind of person who can't stand ENGR in an article about Victor Hatherley, you're probably not the kind of person who wants to read an article about Victor Hatherley to begin with. And if you love "Engineer's Thumb" enough to want to learn more about Victor freakin' Hatherly, the pet name of "ENGR" probably is just going to be one part of your intimate bonding to that case.

The Christ abbreviations have raised their four-letter heads up again big time with Paul Thomas Miller's "Chapter and Verse" version of the Sherlockian Canon. If just the abbreviations were going to frighten people away with their arcane nature,  "SIGN1:14" (Don't look that up, I picked it at random.) is going to make those same delicate folk soil their drawers. But that's okay. No shame on needing Depends in this day and age. You can still be a Sherlockian and we'll let you in.

But magic needs its mysteries, its hidden knowledges, and the tales of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are indeed magical. The mark of a certain sort of adept at one branch of that magic is knowledge of those silly four-letter codes. It's just a mile marker you pass along the way, and not a toll gate that you have to complete to pass through.

A test we sometimes take without knowing we're taking it . . .

What's out there.

 The plague of misinformation that hit us the same time as the actual pandemic last year was historic, and shows no signs of letting up. But is it possible that this isn't new and we're just discovering how ignorant as a species we can be?

Remember back in 2008, when a British TV station polled about 3000 people and found that 58% of them thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person? Well, I'm sure the advent of BBC Sherlock and Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes movies help fix that somewhat, with more people thinking of him as a TV or movie character, but the poll, which also had about a fifth of its British respondents thinking Winston Churchill was a fictional character (Well, he did meet Doctor Who!) did make a definite statement.

For some reason, this morning I was reminded of the time I was in Toronto for a Sherlock Holmes conference in the nineties and bought a unique collection of Holmes stories in a bookstore near a local college. The clerk was quick to tell me about Conan Doyle's opium addiction in great detail and with such authority that even though I knew not a word of it was true, I just let him go on to see where this was going. I was not a good steward of Sherlockian knowledge that day, and just left him with his beliefs, bemused at just how weird the whole experience was. Hopefully some other attendee of the conference set him straight later that day.

Over the years I have occasionally heard a Sherlockian object to "playing the Game" as pretending Watson wrote the stories is often called, expressing the fear that people might start to believe the jest. And every time, I would immediately react with "There might be one or two folks who get tricked for a moment, but people aren't that stupid."

These days, one starts to have doubts. If a certain network, a certain political party's "It" boy, and a few other folks all signed on to Sherlock Holmes being a real person whom history had conspired to turn into a fictional character, Sherlockian conferences would start to be an entirely different creature than what we've known in the past. Conan Doyle would be seen by at least 30% of America as the greatest hoaxter since PT Barnum (all the while ignoring the greater hoaxter who just pulled off this hoax). And the Flat Earthers would get a real run for their money.

The thing is, I still have a hard time ever seeing that happening, as purveyors of false narratives really don't want Sherlock Holmes becoming a popular hero of our time, whether he's real or not. The more folks who believe in Sherlock Holmes out there, whether they believe him real or a marvelous character of fiction, the more folks there are that believe in what he was all about: Exposing the false narrative. The demon hound is just a big dog. The devil in town is just the vapor of an African herb.

The gag of pretending Sherlock Holmes is a historical character finds its most piquant flavor in the fact that Sherlock Holmes himself would be all about exposing a historical Sherlock Holmes as a fake.

We are not a perfect species. Even the best of us has smarter days and dumber days. But do we have to worry about Sherlock Holmes escaping into reality in people's minds and destroying civilization as we know it?

I don't think so. We should probably try to help poor Conan Doyle get past those opium addict rumors, should they rise up in bookstores. Celebrity gossip is the worst.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Our risen energy levels and the next state of the world

 It's Sunday night, I'm exhausted, but I just have to push out one more blog post.

Because here we are.

The vaccines are starting to open things up in the U.S. and we're all starting to have to deal with two worlds at once -- the stay-at-home Zoom world we created to get by and some version of that old social meet-and-greet world we left behind. Saturdays that were full of Sherlockian Zoom meetings are going to find birthday parties for four-year-olds, sporting events, and everything else pushing in on that space very, very quickly, not to mention actual Sherlockian gatherings.

And beyond that, have you noticed the energy in the Sherlockian world that rose up during this pandemic?

TV shows, movies, and best-selling books have brought us influxes of new Sherlockians and the energy they bring in the past, but the new connections we were pushed to, the change in focus our lives took, and even the very hard possibility that death could strike a lot sooner than any of us expected, all swirled together to give existing Sherlockians energy levels we've rarely seen rise up for non-Sherlock reasons.

New societies, new creative ventures . . . so many things that have touched us all. And now the question becomes, how much of this can we sustain without burning ourselves out? If we do truly get covid out of our daily concerns, how much of it will stand the competition of everything else flooding back into our lives? 

This is such an exciting time to be a Sherlockian, and there's just something very pure about it. It's not just a single aspect of the hobby, like one new media excitement. It's all of it. The old, the new, the borrowed, and the BLUE.

Time to get some sleep, I think. We're all going to need it.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The pastiche experiment fails

 "It's not you, it's me."

There's a reason that break-up line became a bit of a trope years ago. While one person has tried their best to make a relationship work, the person that wants out of the relationship knows full well why it isn't working, but doesn't want to cause any more damage than they have to on their way out the door.

So, when it comes to new Sherlock Holmes stories, which are coming out by the seeming millions of late, I have to say it:

It's not you, it's me.

After avoiding Sherlock Holmes pastiches for a long time, I tried to go back, picking a popular book that seemed well-regarded among my fellow Sherlockians. I tried reading, losing myself to the narrative, riding along with Holmes and Watson for the adventure presented. But I kept getting kicked off the train.

I know the original characters and their sixty-story universe too well at this point. And I know Doyle's skills, and the things he could do that another author might be awkward at pulling off. Add to that mix forty years of headcanon -- everything that evolved in my own brain after repeated exposure to the original Canon. I just can't read a book where the little cartoon angel and little cartoon devil on my shoulders are both screaming "FAKE! FAKE!"

Fic based on TV shows doesn't bother me. AUs don't bother me. But anything that tries to adhere to the original universe and starts dropping in modern attitudes, obvious historical research, or take a character to a very weird place . . . WAH-HAH! Off the narrative train I get kicked. (Not sure who the metaphoric conductor doing the kicking is, but he probably looks a bit like me.)

At this point, those who still enjoy pastiches are a bit like my friends who enjoy beer. 

"Try this one," they'd say, "you'll surely like it!" I can't tell you how many dozens and dozens of craft beers I tasted before realizing it was just the hops and grain taste -- beer was just not my thing, and I needed to stick to ciders, meads, or other non-grain based beverages. At some point, you just have to accept your state.

I'm a little jealous of my friends who get to enjoy new Sherlock Holmes stories, just as I'm jealous of any person younger than me, getting to experience those things in life only fresh eyes can enjoy and having first-times the like of which cannot be repeated. But on the good side, Sherlockiana is a broad enough hobby that there is always some aspect of it that you ignored previously that still waits for you to enjoy at a later date.

My pastiche years were great years, and a good part of the reason I love Sherlock Holmes so much now. For a modern reader, they often act as a gateway drug to Doyle's prose which was written for readers that weren't living in 2021. I know they helped me enjoy his work more. But, sadly, I think those days are done.

So, as I leave pastiche behind again for a while, and lose myself in the work of a modern author and the non-221B world they have created, I just have to sigh and go, "not you, me," and dive back into Sherlockian chronology . . . which few Sherlockian chronologists even enjoy reading.

Life is weird, isn't it?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Judging his "Jonathan"s

 "His wife and his children awaited him at home, but no father ever returned to tell them how he had fared at the hands of his secret judges."

-- One of those parts of the Canon we don't look at much

How judge-y are you feeling of late? Hopefully not much. Hopefully not going full-on Jefferson Hope,  "I knew of their guilt though, and I determined that I should be judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one," because that last part is just plain illegal. It's best to stop at "jury," because then you have friends who agree with your judgment. Now get ready for a swerve.

Why does Sherlock Holmes call Jonathan Small by his first name?

"Jonathan, with his wooden leg, is utterly unable to reach the lofty room of Bartholomew Sholto."

"And rather to Jonathan's disgust, to judge by the way the [sic] stamped about when he got into the room."

"Jonathan I shall leave to you, but if the other turns nasty I shall shoot him dead."

Sounds like he rather likes Jonathan, the purported baddie of The Sign of the Four.

"There is nothing at all new to me in the latter part of your narrative, except that you brought your own rope," says Sherlock Holmes,  which is either deduction or . . . he just knew the way any of us know something: He had heard it before.

"Is there any other point which you would like to ask about?" Jonathan Small asks Sherlock "affably." Then departs with "Good-night, gentlemen both."

What a charmer he is!

Jonathan has a limp, from the most severe sort of leg wound, in a tale where another John that Sherlock Holmes is rather fond of suddenly has a leg wound.

It's been a long day, I'm a bit tired, and as you saw from that sudden topic change, rather distractable. But, still, why the heck was Sherlock Holmes talking about Jonathan Small in a very familiar tone like that?

Hrmmmm.

Friday, May 7, 2021

A new tool to be added to your Sherlockian toolbox

 I don't get into my day job on this blog, but one of the parts of it is working with a software that is always under development. It's makers are constant adding new parts and pieces, new abilities, and then kind of going "you guys figure out the best use for this." And with their substantial user base, and the more clever among my ilk, folks do often come up with some pretty good ways to use the latest thing.

One of Sherlock Holmes's greatest strengths was doing that very thing -- looking at techniques and tools from other professions and going "How can this benefit detection?" It's a very human talent that has served us well, for the most part. I bring all this up, because this week, somebody handed Sherlockians a tool that we don't quite know the best use for yet.

The energetic and imaginative mind of Paul Thomas Miller gave us "Chapter and Verse Holmes" this week, a version of the complete (depending upon where you are, due to copyright) Canon that has Bible-like numbering of each line of the sixty stories. We've been using the Jay Finley Christ abbreviations for a very long time now (much to the whiney consternation of some anti-Christs) and this takes it to the next level.

Remember when Watson considered breaking up with Holmes? (STUD 1: 60)

Now, you're probably going "Sure, you saved time typing that reference, Brad, but I don't have 'Chapter and Verse Holmes,' despite the fact you linked in in this post twice now!" True, but you know what that also means? I now have a secret code for communicating with my fellow adoptees of "Chapter and Verse Holmes" for passing messages in Canon-speak.

The Porlock-like use of this new work for secret messages is just one of the potential applications for it. Paul didn't create it for that, but like I said, we humans like to find other uses for our tools. It's what we do.

Over the decades, Sherlockians have been handed a lot of tools for our study of Sherlock. Getting a "search" function for the Canon was a very big deal, but before that, we had concordances -- three different ones, each created with different thoughts in mind. Now, you might wonder what use a concordance has when searches are available, but can a search engine find every first name in the Canon? Can it list every insect? Nope. Concordances are still great for subject listings.

Sherlockians have traditionally like to do a massive amount of work to hand their fellow Sherlockians a treat, and some go really go that obsessive extra mile. Sherlockian chronologists fall into that category and since Paul Thomas Miller has already done that deed once, we can certainly see he has the gene for it, and he's young enough that you have to wonder what comes next. Hopefully he'll never succumb to the Ron De Waal bug and try cataloging everything ever written about Sherlock Holmes, which was once almost possible and now is beyond the grasp of any mere mortal.

But he is to be much congratulated in this moment, however, for handing us one of those tools we can play with now or tuck away for use decades from now as suits our fancy. Get out there and download whatever version of "Chapter and Verse Holmes" that your local copyright restrictions allow -- it won't be there forever (at least not on Paul's site), and you may wish you had someday, especially if some of us annoyingly tell you things like "Quit STUD1:72!"

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Moriarty among the carnivores

In the mood for a little dark Sherlockian ponderance today? Here you go.

We still aren't sure exactly what killed Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, as much as Sherlock Holmes feels certain that something did.

The fall? Drowning? Maybe a hungry bear, looking for a fish, who found a mathematics professor just lying there on the bank?

That last possibility sent me down a rabbit hole, as so many Sherlockian details do, into discovering that by the end of the Victorian era, the Swiss and their tourists had pretty much wiped out all major carnivores in Switzerland. Wolves, bear, even the lynx, pretty much gone from their country. Hailing from Illinois, I can understand how that happens. My ancestors pretty much did a bio-purge on this area as well.

So what might have taken out a crippled Moriarty, as he lay, barely breathing, having dragged himself out of the water with the last of his strength?

Well, it probably wasn't a bear. With the last bear in Switzerland to be killed on September 4, 1904, chances are that they weren't too plentiful in 1891. Wolves were long gone. Lynx had become like bigfoot, since cats are always harder to spot, being night predators. The Swiss even seem to have wiped out vultures during the 1800s.

So, once we have eliminated the impossible, what carnivorous beastie remains that might decided to take out a barely-alive math tutor on the banks of the Rychenbach?

Otters.

After a decade of comparing Benedict Cumberbatch, such a perfect visualization of Sherlock Holmes for reasons we couldn't quite understand, to otters . . . well, the truth becomes apparent. It was an otter that surely finished Moriarty and put that image into our collective consciousness. Sure, they're smaller than bears or wolves, but after that fall, it didn't take much. And there was plenty fishy about Moriarty.

We'd like to forget about Profesor Moriarty after he went over that cliff's edge. Sherlock Holmes sure seemed to -- unless the hiatus was Holmes actually taking the time to make sure. But nature was not about to forget about the criminal mastermind, at least not for a little while . . . .