Sunday, June 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two checkmarks down, fifty-eight to go!

Saturday, June 26, 2021

A real Sherlockian challenge!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get on it!

Friday, June 25, 2021

The easy target

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Garrideb one-night wanderjahr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Sherrick and Warty

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

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

Oh, wait, that's Rick and Morty.

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Hands of a Mycroft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A worthy try at Sherlockian omniscience in book form

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

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

More stuff to tax the brain!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Sherlock Holmes's actual autograph!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, June 14, 2021

The April 3, 1894 rebirth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Unmatched in 2021?

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

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

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

Sherlock Holmes is the perfect package. The icon. 

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

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

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

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

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