Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Buy-laws thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 28, 2021

A "Curious" book beef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Elementary revisited 2021

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

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

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

So here I am, back at Elementary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, January 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not everybody has that.

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

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

One more Sherlockian thing before I go

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 22, 2021

Riding where Basil and Nigel rode

 Sherlock Holmes has been to Washington. I have not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wound up in a parking lot.

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

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

Even if you just wind up in a parking lot.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The puzzle after the puzzle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Ex-President Don Murillo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The economics and uses of Sherlockian scholarship

 I own far too many collectibles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The height of Sherlockian scholarship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 15, 2021

Puzzles and gentlemen thieves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Adventure of the Disappearing Sherlock Holmes Musical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Bad jokes or Sherlockian chronology, you decide!

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The mechanism of the BSI

 As a rule, I don't congratulate those who are awarded membership in the Baker Street Irregulars each year. And there's a reason for it, beyond my personal history with that particular practice and managing to get myself un-congratulated within two months my own induction. It's because if we should congratulate anyone each January, it's the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Baker Street Irregulars began as a party by a celebrity inviting his celebrity friends to dinner. It's a great way to start any organization, because everyone who looks up to those celebrities is going to want to join the club. And even after those celebrities fall from the public eye, people can explain to their friends how and why those folks were celebrities and re-celebrate them. 

Would the Baker Street Irregulars be what it is today without the Morleys, the Queens, the Asimovs? As a Sherlock Holmes fan group of no-name fans, just happy for each other's company? A truly objective observer would have to say "no," I think, and the club might actually have been the better for it.

In earlier times, when travel to New York City was not so easily done and half the population was barred from attending in any case, the ratio of great Sherlockians in America to BSI members was pretty easy to keep balanced. You had to have a certain level of investiture in the hobby itself to want to make the trip, and it was a lot easier to get an invitation. You could practically get one BSI from every local scion society make it a bit of an unofficial congress. But with the rise of mass media, the word got out to Sherlock Holmes fans that might have never connected with the BSI before, and demand outgrew supply for membership in the club beyond all possibility of keeping up.

And the Baker Street Irregulars dinner became an awards dinner.

Without the awarding of the shillings, the BSI dinner can be a dry and lackluster event, with rituals like the "Buy-laws" and the Musgrave Ritual that have been repeated to the point of meaninglessness. One of them was even written as a joke, and suffers the flaw of any joke told annually for eighty or so years. Every year, it seems, the head of the group mentions how the awarding of new memberships is is favorite part of the evening, and he's right. It's the one part of the evening that Sherlockians always talk about the next day, without fail, often to the exclusion of anything else that happened that evening.

And at this point, with such a limited supply of memberships being doled out, those awarded are usually people that the average Sherlockian thinks already were Baker Street Irregulars. Their place in our hobby has already been so established that by bringing people like Ashley Polasek or Steve Mason into the club, the BSI is actually validating itself, not them. While maybe not celebrities to the general public, such folk are celebrities to their fellow Sherlockians, and thus the original celebrity-boosted aura of the Baker Street Irregulars still gets perpetuated.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, if it is done honestly and without pretense. Converting the BSI dinner into an annual Sherlockian awards dinner might be a refreshingly self-reflective bit of honesty. This year, there was so much pushing of BSI publications at the event that it seemed a bit like a publishing company's corporate affair, and that's not going to make anyone's night. Just going full-on awards show might raise the entertainment bar a bit, the topper of which this at year's event was that very strange appearance by Mrs. Hudson.

Separating the awards shillings from the membership would also give them a path to opening the club up a little bit. Not every member of the Academy has to attend the Academy Awards. Getting members into the group earlier in their Sherlockian careers rather than later might not be a bad thing. But I digress. And I am aware that there is a certain devoted-to-ritual element within the group that looks at any new idea as anathema, especially from the outskirts of the cult where we get a little too bored with the same-old, same-old a little too easily. But, hey, trying to be optimistic and positive here!

So let me close with this offer of congratulations, in the appropriate direction:

Congratulations to the Baker Street Irregulars for adding some new, and very nice, feathers to their cap this year. And good luck with next year, to them and to us all.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Next year's Sherlock Holmes Day weekend

 Having seen what a January Sherlock weekend looks like without a geographical center, the Sherlockian world has definitely added still more arrows to our social quiver. And we all have hopes for next year, with vaccines rolling out as we speak, and look forward to things getting back to normal. The thing is, when we go back, we now have an opportunity for "normal plus" with all that we've learned.

So, if all goes well, is next January just "Party in New York for those who can! Screw the rest of you!"?

I don't think that has to be the case.

We don't know what this year will bring, to be sure. But those of us who can say for sure that we're pretty sure we won't be in New York next January in any case can start discussing what we might have for our fellow non-travelers on that weekend. And for those who are still going to New York? Broadcasting events even though they have in-person attendees would be great for expanding knowledge of, and drawing future participants to some events as well. Things don't have to be either-or, if there are willing volunteers to run Zooms off-site.

Way back when the Friday night dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars wouldn't allow women, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes created a second event for that night so more people had something to go to, a natural evolution of the weekend, which has continued under various names ever since. After this year, is it time for a third event as a continuing part of that evolution, for those who can't get to either of those? (Admittedly, Friday evening limits it to mainly participants from the US and Canada due to time zones, of course, but one step at a time.)

Even though this is that post-weeekend time when projects abound and one doesn't want to over-commit, it might be time to start thinking about that. As a habitual non-attender of the New York weekend, I'm pretty sure I'll be in the same place next year that I was this year. I'm also going to definitely be increasing my Zoom skills even if I'm vaccinated and getting out to other weekends in other cities. So this isn't just a "someone should do that" situation. I'd be interested in having a conversation with anyone who might see this as a worthwhile endeavor to get involved in, as there are a lot of possibilities. And we've got a year.

We've seen how many strange new things that a single year can bring to our lives. Maybe in 2021, we start making sure they are strange new good things.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Calling all Sherlockian chronologists!

With all the gatherings and special purposes of Sherlockians spotlighted this weekend, I couldn't help but notice that a certain faction was not appropriately represented. Primarily because said faction has traditionally been a lone wolf subculture of Sherlockiana, a place where every member is actively trying to prove themselves right and the other members wrong. I say "members" here even though we don't yet have a club, which is why a couple of us thought it was time to put out a call once more and start such a thing.

In other words, HELLLOOOOOO Sherlockian chronologists!

We know you're out there, trying to keep a low profile so as not to attract too much attention to one of those art forms that might keep you from getting invited to the cool kids parties. And we know who the real cool kids are, don't we?

Yes, anybody can wear a bow tie, but Sherlockian chronology comes from the soul.

Now, my friend Vincent Wright of Historical Sherlock has put forth this idea before and had a few takers, yet didn't have the time to put such a thing into motion. And having decided that 2021 is my year for Sherlockian Chronology, having made my last pilgrimage through the Canon for those purposes around the turn of the millennium, the idea seemed to dovetail with what I was going to be working on anyway. And the aforementioned sage of modern chronologists is on board as well.

The thing about Sherlockian chronology is that we all have to tread over the same ground to get to the finer points, and it feels like there are certain basics which we can help smooth the road for our future chronologists on. Decades ago, first Andy Peck, and Andy with Les Klinger for a second edition, gathered the dates from previous chronologists in what today would basically be an Excel spreadsheet, because not everyone had the works those dates originated from. What that set of tables didn't give you, however, was the rationales for those dates, many of which could be summed up with a key point or two. And that was just for the works by chronologists who did the complete Canon. 

Were such a work to be gathered today, it would be out-of-date nearly immediately, as new ideas on things like Watson's marital state are occurring all the time. What Sherlockian chronology now needs is a community effort, and an ongoing watch of developing thought as the field advances. (Sounds pretty puffed up and serious, there, doesn't it? C'mon, it's still Sherlock Holmes play, with history involved as needed, calm down.) It time to see if we can gather together and have some fun with this [expletive deleted]. 

We've got some definite ideas on what that gathering of the minds will look like (not if person, or even on Zoom), but first it would be good to see who is out there and might like to admit that they've got a little chronologist in them. You can reach me at bkeefauver on gmail if you're interested, and you can also take a little time to think about it as I'm sure the topic will come up here again as things move forward. It is the end of the big January weekend, a time for rash project choices, so be careful! 

This little effort is overdue, however, so I know I'm ready for it.

"It's time for some Sherlockian chronology!" -- Potential motto for potential something.


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Back to the Gaslight Gala!

 It had been a while since I was at the Gaslight Gala, usually a Friday night favorite, a bit livelier than the more ceremonial Irregular dinner, so I love that they have the chance to pick up BSI folk this year. When the slideshow ended and David Harnois was about to start hosting, Michael McClure did a fine job of representing his home state of Illinois by sticking his tongue out at the camera. (We're just trouble here in downstate.

Since I've already fumbled a comment on toasts this weekend, I will carefully say that the trend in toasts to small papers does allow for a varied succession of speakers. It would be interesting to hold a symposium of toast-length papers and just see how many speakers one could line up on a Saturday -- though there is probably no Guinness record for Sherlockian symposiums.

A bit of reader's theater with David Harnois and Charles Prepolec doing "How Watson Learned the Trick" fit the bill for a Zoom event perfectly enough, with Charles's perfectly coiffed moustache starring centerstage.

A little musical performance from Karen Wilson to the tune of "Modern Major General," which is perfect Victorian era material, and then we get a five minute break . . . and at normal Sherlockian events I don't get a visual reminder that I need to wash dishes after the event is over.

Jessica Schilling's toast to Josiah Amberly is delivered with such liveliness that she deserves a special call-out, despite my current reticence to speak of toasts. Her microphone betrays that she's into some form of voicework, even if it's just podcasting, and it shows. Cindy Brown notes a cello or somesuch instrument in the background in the chat, deducing she's a musician. Somebody needs to get her on a podcast. 

The Groaner Quiz by Carla Coupe and Steve Mason was the best and worst thing at any Sherlockian event, and I applaud their courage and determination in putting us through FIFTY of the most awful Canonical title based puns . . . wait, is Michael McClure talking about Violet Hunter's underwear for his toast? Well, that was a good follow-up to that quiz, for sure. They're rolling now, as Mary Alcaro tosses a "beech" pun into the intro to her Canonical reading. (Side note: From what I've seen of her name in various places, I thought Mary Alcaro was a much older person. A sign of an accomplished individual, I must deduce.)

The event is winding up with the song "In Holmes and Watson's Time" which is introduced with a "I can't remember the last time I heard this sung," when it's been so long since I've been in NYC that they were singing it when I was there last.

And we get a link to the after-party, in which Monica Schmidt will be shuttling another melee into breakout rooms after the initial mass gathering. Her skill at swiftly converting people to co-hosts to move into breakout rooms has become much admired after the afternoon breakouts at "Lost in New York."

The thing about breakout rooms, unless there's some celebrated individual that you want to hear discourse, the larger ones are just not as much fun. Six or eight folks without that sort of conversation dominator one drifts away from at a live cocktail party is usually ideal, and gives you the chance to meet someone new, catch up with someone you haven't seen in a while . . . a bit like you would do at a live function. With Zoom breakouts you have to have a little luck since there isn't the potential for so many combinations of conversation groups -- you have as many as you have, and can't grow smaller or larger as needed, breaking off from a larger group with a subgroup, etc.

Tonight, though, it seemed to work out pretty well for the little group I wound up with, and at one point we even started cobbling together a Sherlock Holmes mystery involving grocery stores and long haul truckers (which might, admittedly, need converted to markets and wagon drivers of the Victorian period to not go full-on Elementary, though, now that I think about it, it is totally an Elementary pastiche waiting to happen).

In any case, the weekend just gets better and better, and we definitely have some real heroes managing our shared Zoom environments to make all these things happen. Let us not forget them when this time is over -- though somehow, I think they will still be leading an online side of our community that crosses boundaries that used to hinder us before we were forced to overcome them. 

There's a lesson there, I think.

Sherlock Holmes Day weekend continues!

 Having gotten the annual invitation-only ritual out of the way late Friday afternoon, the most festive weekend in Sherlockland rolled onward. Saturday morning brought this lovely video confection from he-who-dares-to-YouTube, Paul Thomas Miller, which truly captures family life with a Sherlockian in the house.

The Beacon Society got up and met at 9 AM Central time, which would be 7 AM on the West Coast, I guess. It's a sign of what good-hearted and dedicated individuals those Sherlockians are, and since I was just watching Paul Thomas Miller videos and pondering taking a shower at that time instead of attending, well, I just have to settle for being proud of them. They have really built and grown since their first gathering at the Algonquin Hotel so many years ago.

The gathering of the John H. Watson Society came at 11 AM CST, with our traditional toasts, and two sessions of "The Watson Game," a total "Dating Game" rip-off in which a person cast as Sherlock Holmes must choose from three Watsons based on their answers to Watson-based questions. Rob Nunn and Sandy Kozinn were our winning Watsons, although all of our Watsons were winning, because they were Watsons! We tried to keep the program tight, knowing that other Zooms were coming, and the formal program ended after 45 minutes, but I kept the meeting running for any who wanted to socialize.

The William Gillette Luncheon Zoom came an hour after the Watsonian meet-up, and many of those at our gathering moved on to attend that. I heard it was a short program followed by break-out rooms, but since the remaining John H. Watson Society crew were sort of a break-out room of our own that wasn't being dominated by a random person or persons (as happens with those, sadly), I didn't feel like I missed much. And getting my fortune told by the rare and mystical Psychic Ghost of Silver Blaze fortune-telling cards during the last part of that chat made it worth the whole loss of the Gillette event.

One of the interesting parts about this Sherlock Holmes Day Weekend Saturday is that there are so many Zooms going on, announced through so many channels, that one would only hear about some of them at the Zooms before or after. The "Lost in New York with a Bunch of Sherlockians" was one that I overlooked somehow, even though I have been to one of Jerry Kegley's events of that name in NYC many, many years ago and I had good time. Trying to sign up at the last minute is always a dice roll, but thanks to Jerry, I did get in.

That event begins with a whole lot of chat until 78 people hit. It's always astounding to me that at this point in the pandemic and the weekend, there are still a few stragglers who have still not had Zoom experience and decided to finally try it out. Chrys Kegley gives a little bit of the background to "Lost in New York with a Bunch of Sherlockians, which was "conceived in a hotel room." Learning they outgrew the library room at Kennedy's some time ago tells me just how long it's been since I attended -- the library room is my memory of the event. Names like John Farrell take me back as well . . . there's much nostalgia involved in the New York's Sherlockian weekend, which I think is part of what drives it forward every year. It isn't just Baker Street of 1895 being recaptured.

Sherlockians waxing nostalgic is probably the best marketing that the Sherlock Holmes Weekend has, and every year just feeds that body of work. It really comes on strong in a weekend when everyone is held back from the city. The West Coast is well represented at this event, surely because it was created as an out-of-towner event for those who had no other places to go during a certain point of the Holmes Weekend. Beth Gallego, Chuck Kovacic. . . the latter talking about his incredible 221B room, which has to be the most well-researched 221B recreation in the world. Every time I hear Chuck speak on it, there's new information, as he has learned so much in his quest to be as historically faithful to Holmes's time at Baker Street as possible.

The "Lost in New York with a Bunch of Sherlockians" was a great event, and the breakout rooms were my favorite breakout rooms thus far, even though in moving between them, Monica called me out on my previous blog post, which has been updated accordingly.

On to the Gaslight Gala, after a dinner of popcorn, peanuts, and apple pie.

Friday, January 8, 2021

A crabby barefoot Irregular with a cat attends an annual "dinner"

Going to Zoom was probably a harder turn for the Baker Street Irregulars than most local Sherlock Holmes societies, I think. But the rituals were observed, and the evening took place, getting over at 6 PM local time for me.

I was still at work when the Baker Street Irregulars dinner started this year. Never good with time zones, I put 5 PM on my calendar early on, and then never went back and reconsidered that it was EST in subsequent invitations. Apparently I missed the toast to "the woman" and dropped in during what seemed like a bunch of commercials for books published by the organization.

The reading of the "Buy-laws" followed, a boring time even if you're in New York and present, but mandatory, I suppose.

The toast to Mrs. Hudson came next -- apparently Denny Dobry in drag as a drunken Cockney Mrs. Hudson? I haven't to admit, I was not expecting to go "WHAT THE HELL?" at this event, and it made me laugh to consider if this had actually happened in a NYC clubroom. 

Regina Stinson followed that bit of crazy with a good, normal toast to Mycroft, which was very calming after that previous act.

Tim Greer's toast to Mrs. Watson went all historical on Watson's wives, citing past Sherlockians,

Monica Schmidt . . . now, is it just me, or did Sherlockian toasting used to be not all five minute papers? . . . anyway, she did a toast to Sherlock Holmes. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Monica's toast was actually only two minutes and change long and I wrote those words before it was complete. My apologies to Monica and all toasters under five minutes long.)

Coming in late has made me very crabby (well, life and age might be a part of that, too). But there's a cat on my lap now, so that's cool. 

Ira Matesky toasts Jay Finely Christ for the toast to an Old Irregular. This is, as the BSI goes, a more recent addition to the program, coming along about the time that BSI history got to be a big part of the group. Another five minute paper.

Don Hobbs read "The Musgrave Ritual," and we were asked to respond appropriately in our own homes. Probably something that works better when everyone chants together in a room. Oh, wait, I'm not drinking. I should be drinking. I get faked out by Don's photo-library that reproduces his old library which has moved on to library care.

Bonnie MacBird gives the first talk, one on Mazarin Stone. Moving between windows to look at the program for the event, I accidentally start Bonnie's good, and her talk's segue into a film clip is one of the slickest transitions I've seen on a Zoom call all year. She gives a lively talk, probably better from her home and not on a microphone at podium. Bonnie ends with a sip of her tea, which is a lovely little bit of punctuation that wouldn't work in a normal setting.

Henry Boote played a musical interlude on piano, to the tune that I always associate with the musical "Hamlet" done on "Gilligan's Island." (Bugs Bunny and Gilligan twisted a lot of classical music for some of us Boomers.) There's just a visual of Holmes's dressing gown colors draped like a flag, with a BSI logo and "Musical Interlude, featuring Meyers, Toronto" on the screen, but then video comes back with a live vocal performance about the "Mazarin Stone" by Shara Boote, then Henry sings his own tribute to Mike Weland.

Steve Rothman, editor of The Baker Street Journal, gives a history of The Baker Street Journal.

That gets followed by Steve Doyle talking about Mike Whelan, the former leader of the club, whose term ended last year. Being a fellow Indiana Sherlockian, Steve is more than qualified to present the history of his fellow Illustrious Client.

Les Klinger follows to talk about the book he recently collected about Mike, and Mike comes on to express his appreciation for the book.

It's "Let Us Stand Upon the Terrace" time, and Marsha Pollak goes down the roll of Irregulars who passed this year. Of all the rituals of the night, this one is sombre no matter where you are, Zoom or banquet room. It lasts for quite a while this year, and if you had a pizza delivered halfway through it during the actual dinner, it might get you removed from the room. Not that anything like that happened during this year's event . . .

The "investitures" come next and Michael Kean says he will do it again in person for these folks. It's always interesting to see how many of the people you know, and there's a few good ones from my personal experience this year. 

Sarah Montague delivers a very dignified reading of "221B," and it's done. An ad for the BSI website comes up and music plays. 

And it's 6 PM, with a whole evening ahead of me. Usually, in New York, it would be ten or after, and there was still much socializing to be done, into the wee hours. This year, I'm going "I should go see if Kathy wants to watch 'The Flight Attendant,'" which is kind of like a year where I didn't just attend the Irregulars dinner.  I don't think I've attended any other Zoom that didn't give as strong a sense of loss. 

Because the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars isn't really about what happens in that banquet room. Rituals like the Buy-laws and Musgrave Ritual kind of lay there on a Zoom webinar, without the silence of the room full of people to give them dignity. The awarding of different prizes isn't the same without crowd appreciation for those awarded. The lack of laughter from your fellow attendees in the webinar format needed for an event with a couple hundred people attending is sorely missed. 

Hashtag #BSIWeekend was active on Twitter, but not as heavily trafficked as what I'm used to during 221B Con, where the populace is much more online-oriented, so there wasn't much entertainment to be had there. Probably a combo of non-Twitter-y Irregulars and the no-social-media strictures of past dinners.

It was a transitional year for the Baker Street Irregulars, in any case, so it was bound to be about celebrating their departing leader as the new one ran his first meeting. But, the BSI really does need to consider looking outward and not inward a little more in the future, as the constant references to its own publishing during the meeting were a bit much this time. There's a whole Sherlockian world outside BSI, Inc., and a whole year of that world going some amazing places.

As weird as it was, I think the highlight of the evening was that freaky Mrs. Hudson roleplay by Denny Dobry.  In the midst of a burlesque show, it might not have had the impact it did, but during an event giving to ritual and the expected annual things, Mrs. Hudson's act was a wild extravagance. (But despite anything Rob Nunn says, it was not better than Will Ferrell's Sherlock Holmes. Sorry, Denny.)

More thoughts to come on this evening, but for now I think I'm going to go watch "The Flight Attendent."


The 2021 BSI dinner change

 There are several things about 2021's annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars that are very, very . . . very . . . different, and it's not just that it is online. Having to go remote over the internet forces a lot of other changes on to the event, and the list is not short:

Relaxed dress code. Sure, there is no formal written dress code for the BSI dinner, but it's become more formal as the years have passed, basically becoming a Sherlockian dateless prom.

No banquet meal.

No new acquaintances or conversations that come from being assigned to a table with certain people.

No venue atmosphere.

No cocktail hour.

No big audience reactions. Virtual meetings may have silent clapping, chat comments, etc., but none of it works the same as applause or a mass vocal reaction.

The ability for members and invitees to attend without the cost of a trip to New York.

But perhaps the biggest change is the fact that the big exclusive event of American Sherlockiana is now on even footing with every other Sherlockian event that has happened during quarantine. Take away New York City, a fancy club setting, all the other things above, and it is now comparable to every other scion society function that occurred online this year. Someone could literally go, "Well, that wasn't as good as the online event held by the Finley Problems of Finley, Alabama."

Yes, there has always been the potential for comparison by the privileged few who get to attend, but the entire New York vacation aspect of it has tilted the scales for many an attendee, and the exclusive nature does the rest of the work -- if you get to be at the high-prestige event of the American Sherlockian world, you don't want to admit that maybe it wasn't quite as cool as certain things that anyone could show up for.

Going to be an interesting year, especially with a new show-runner starting up on on BSI Inc., and a real reset point for when things do go back to in-person events. We've been learning a lot from our new connectivity . . . at least those of us who have been participating. It's interesting to consider those Sherlockians one knows who never seem to show up on even the best-attended Zooms gatherings. (And I'm sure I'm not the only one scrolling through the faces to see who's at each meeting I go to.)

So, here we go. The grand old club in a brand new space today. Big change for an institution that's not fond of change. Let's see what happens.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Ah, poor Brother Morris!

 There are unloved step-children among the citizens of the land of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlockians avoid them like they're Hugh Boone in need of a bath. In fact, Hugh Boone in need of a bath would get more attention than they get. Most of us probably wouldn't even recognize them by name.

Like Brother Morris. Okay, I'll give you a moment. Brother Morris. Anything?

Yeah, he's from that Scowrers segment of The Valley of Fear. And that poor guy -- it's not only Sherlockians that aren't giving him any love. Listen to his own whiney tale.

"I found that I was under the orders of a black villain and caught in a meshwork of crime. What could I do? Every word I said to make things better was taken as treason, the same as it was last night . . . If I leave the society, I know well that it means murder to me, and God knows what to my wife and children. Oh, man, it is awful -- awful!"

Yeah, Brother Morris got in over his head.

"I had a conscience and a religion; but they made me a criminal among them . . . Maybe I'm a coward. . . . Anyhow I went. I guess it will haunt me forever."

Brother Morris is actually the guy in the story with the job of saying the title out loud: "It is the Valley of Fear, the Valley of Death. The terror is in the hearts of the people from dusk to the dawn. Wait, young man, and you will learn for yourself."

Brother Morris happens to be doing all his whining to the guy coming in to fix matters, who gives him a very Holmes-like "goodbye and . . ." adieu: "Well, so long, Brother Morris, and may you find things go better with you in the future." And after much more no-Sherlock story, that same fellow tells Morris this:

"It's him or us. I guess this man would destroy us all if we left him long in the valley."

One wonders if Brother Morris ever really figured out what was going on with the people around him, or what the full truth of his world was. His community probably didn't think too highly of him when the movement he had been a part of was done, whether or not he actually took repercussions from either side, neither of which were probably too happy with him.

Of course, maybe, I missed something in Brother Morris's story, because . . . yeah . . . Scowrers Non-Sherlock section of The Valley of Fear.  Is it because he isn't a well-written character, though?

Well, I think there might be a few current Americans that seem real similar. to Brother Morris in a lot of ways, so he's definitely not unrealistic. But he's certainly no Sherlock Holmes.

And we do like stories better with the likes of Sherlock Holmes in them. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Birthday Party


Happy Sherlock Holmes Day!

Next year, I think I'm going to try just going with January 6th as "Sherlock Holmes Day."

I mean, really, that's what it is -- a holiday to celebrate Sherlock Holmes.

And the whole concept of January 6, 1854 being the date Sherlock Holmes was born . . . heavy sigh. To a Sherlockian chronologist of even rookie status, putting that exact date on something with no concrete Canonical provenance just makes one shake one's head. And what's that Vincent Starrett poem that we all like so much say?

"Who never lived and so can never die."

Yeah, childbirth is something for mere mortals and really gross old-timey gods. Even the idea that someone out there could have a dried umbilical cord from Sherlock Holmes as a sacred relic in their Sherlockian trophy case . . . well . . .

But we just want to give him a birthday cake and presents, and take him to Simpson's so the wait-staff can sing him that non-legally-troublesome birthday song that was restaurant popular for a while and bring him special dessert.

All of which sounds just so not-Sherlock-Holmes, despite the fact that "The Adventure of the Furtive Festivity" exists and is very cute.

Why does it have to be his birthday?

If it's "Sherlock Holmes Day," we can actually up the level of celebration to parades and other public displays. Birthdays are a pretty limited commemoration, really, one that doesn't rise above a certain level when the birthday person isn't present, as Sherlock Holmes will most likely never be.

Unless he gets actually born somehow. Then, I guess, we can celebrate his birthday.

Approriate afterword for this January 6: Yeah, today was just not a good day to celebrate anything in America. Especially a human being known for his intelligence. On to next year.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

BBC Sherlock's greatest mistake

 Folding some laundry with my personal playlist on shuffle tonight, and up came "How It Was Done," the background music for the fake-out version of how Sherlock survived the fall off that rooftop. Very much the perfectly timed caper that answers the question in perfect detail down to a healthy kiss for Molly. The question never got an actual answer, as the writers had been served an impossible task: Coming up with something that both worked and hadn't been already invented by some fan.

Considering the rise and fall of that iconic series in Sherlockian history, one always has to wonder "How did it all go so wrong?" I mean, not for me personally . . . I was too busy trying to figure out what was going wrong with CBS's Elementary to get expectations about its older sibling. But, you know, everybody that had expectations. And here is what I decided was Sherlock's single greatest mistake:

It gave its viewers time to think.

I mean, c'mon, the BBC can accomplish a lot with short-run television, but three episodes every two years? That's a helluva lot of time to think.

While the cast and crew was enjoying all that time off, the fans were creating their own version of the show. Thousands, actually. BBC Sherlock became a hivemind creation of a whole lot of people who weren't being paid to write three scripts every two years. People who were writing a whole lot more.

As much as we deride American television's long term practice of pounding out an hour a week from September to May, you know what that didn't do?

It didn't give the fans time to think. You can't come up with an entire novel's worth of headcanon in the week between episodes. But in two freakin' years? I'd love to see what the parallel universe where Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu's characters gave their fans two years to play between three episode seasons, with the limited content of those three episodes. (As well as what Stephan Moffat and Mark Gatiss would have done to those characters . . . we'd still get Eurus, I bet.)

One can pick at details of BBC Sherlock's run all day (or all two years) long. But in the end, so much of what caused the Great Displeasure was just that they took their hands off the wheel for long periods of time and let the fans steer, even if it wasn't "Canon" proper, even if it didn't have actors or screen time. Something got created between seasons that took on a life of its own.

There are so many movies that I have enjoyed thoroughly while seated in the theater, then got to the parking lot and suddenly realized, "Oh, wait! That was crap!" But it was only because the film-maker gave me no time to think. One of the worst movies I ever saw gave me so much time to think that I wrote a better ending in my head than the one I eventually got.

And that is not something a creator should ever do. Probably Sherlock's biggest mistake, too.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Toxically masculine Sherlock offered a curious little piece today on BBC Sherlock and CBS's Elementary and their lead characters' toxic masculinity.

Not a topic I'm usually disposed to discourse upon, but since Doyle's Rotary Coffin has placed an even more dangerous challenge in my path today, it seemed just a part of the day. And, actually, the two themes sort of go together -- Toxic Masculinity Holmes would fit well in the DRC's "Worst and Obtusest Man" theme.

The phrase "toxic masculinity" tends to trigger a reaction, depending upon how one heard it most in being first  introduced to it. Even if one has dwelt among the beastly denizens of a boys high school Phys Ed locker room and knows full well the monsters therein, it can evoke a bit of a cringe for the gender stereotype aspect. (Side note: "Toxic" implies poison, where the worst of masculinity has always been the blunt force trauma. Even as a full grown adult, that's still the part that concerns me most about any problematic member of the sex. But that takes us out of this parenthetical and back to Sherlock.)

In the Salon article, the writer gets into how TV Sherlocks exhibit all sorts of toxic masculine qualities, except violence. They leave Watson out of the piece, and as he seems the more violent sector of BBC Baker Street, given to physically abusing Sherlock off-puttingly much, even in the "comic" moments of Holmes's return from the dead. Watson and the blunt force trauma.

In Elementary, of course, we get a Holmes and Watson where neither of the pair spontaneously beats on people, helped by the fact that Watson is in no way masculine, toxic or otherwise. It makes for an interesting note to compare the two series. While I always felt that the CBS show was the less intellectual of the pair (Sorry, E-fans!), when looked at through that lens it seems a lot more cool and cerebral, leaving the violence to its villains.

Overall it seemed like the Salon article was taking all of Sherlock Holmes's negative qualities and assigning them to his gender, when many of them are non-gender-specific bad behaviours. Which brings me back the upcoming Doyle's Rotary Coffin collection of bad Sherlock.

How bad can Sherlock Holmes get? Well, there were the villainous Sherlocks of The Last Sherlock Holmes Story and The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, but one always feels there was something even worse in him. Adolph Hitler loved The Hound of the Baskervilles and had his own adaptation made, but Holmes probably didn't go full-on Nazi for that, and have Stapleton be secretly Jewish or somesuch. There's toxic, and then there's TOXIC. Considering how dark things got for a work or two in the last DRC paperback, However Improbable, one wonders. (A descendent of Sherlock Holmes becomes the unlikely Trumpian President of the United States? Dark! Not writing that!)

Holmes's masculinity is definitely as aspect that might lend itself to such a collection, though, if one is thinking of heading in that direction.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Irregulars having a little fun

I stumbled upon this picture this afternoon from a 1937 collection, and it seemed appropriate for the week ahead, as Irregulars of regular and irregular stripes hold their own celebrations of Sherlock Holmes's birthday. The kids in the picture are having their own streetlamp party, and they well could have been among the ranks of Holmes's own lot. 

The book it is from, Victorian Panorama by Peter Quennell, seems to have made it to Peoria from Glasgow, bearing the marks of "Baillie's Institution" that it seems to have been liberated from at some point. Conan Doyle's uncle gets a mention in the book, as well as Conan Doyle, but no Sherlock Holmes, just "The dense yellow fog that plays so important a part in the romances of Jules Verne and Conan Doyle had not yet lifted." Sherlock Holmes would probably give a bit "I told you so!" to Watson, were they to stumble across that line -- Romances! 

But we get to see how Irregulars might have amused themselves when not hunting up people, cabs, or boats for Sherlock Holmes. The book is full of pictures of Covent Garden flower-women, Scottish fish-wives, shooting parties, and the like, as well as the occasional celebrity.

Did Holmes pose as smugly as Blondin, after doing his impersonation of the "King of the Tightrope," as that fellow's photo shows? I wouldn't have put it past him. And if Holmes wants to strike that pose again this week as he celebrates one hundred and sixty years of life, he certainly deserves it!


Saturday, January 2, 2021

Once more into the breech

 There's a thing about Sherlockians. Sometimes if we don't have a book of something, we make a book of something.

Since I was starting work on another run-through of the Canon to settle my little chronology issues, and maybe produce something of worth, I had to do a little gathering of the work of one of our great modern chronology experts, who had mainly published his previous work in the local club newsletter about ten years ago. Vincent W. Wright was kind enough to supply me with the missing bits I didn't have, and once I had gotten it all in order, the next step was finding a place to put it, and putting it on a bookshelf -- though it's not going to stay there long. My own gathered tome doesn't fit there nearly so nicely.

Chronology work is, at the same time, both arcane and absurdly simple. Much of it is treading over the exact same ground as every chronologist that came before. Same-old, same-old, same-old, yet perhaps it's that aspect that makes one always think there is something new to offer. And as it contains classic Canonical questions that will, as with all classic Canonical questions, never have an answer that will satisfy all of us, the challenge remains eternally open. It's the quiz beyond all quizzes. The chance to pit one's Sherlockian powers against the ancients of the cult, to put it at its most grandiose. But also a chance to connect with one's peers and see how they're doing with that same little puzzle.

It's a great solitary activity, but the fact that there are no absolute answers means there are no winners in this game. No one gets to stand above all others when it's done. Time to make this more of a group activity? And how would that even work with so many of us being particularly solitary in the sort of personality that gets draw most to such things.

Perhaps it's time to find out . . .