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 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?


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?


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 . . . .