Monday, August 30, 2021

The worst Sherlockian thing you can ever create

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And what is your conclusion?"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The monkey in the room

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


It's the monkey thing.

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

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

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

It's the perfect medium for that mess.

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

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

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

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

Oh. Wait.

This story is about sex, isn't it?  

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

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

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

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

And Watson would know.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Irish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Ritual

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

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

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

Well, that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Memorandums of Sherlock Holmes

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

-- "The Illustrious Client"

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

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

Who else uses these business memos in the Canon?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Trial and Boscombe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, person.

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

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

Monday, August 16, 2021

The strange recurrence of Mrs. Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Let's talk about Llamageddon . . .

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

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

Our Sherlockian llamageddon is a conflict of sense and nonsense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Being bored accounts for so very much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The mysterious Diogenes

 Let's talk Diogenes Club.

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

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

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

The Diogenes Club was definitely an escape plan from something.

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The odd fish pulled from the Sherlockian book pond

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

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

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

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

So what did I buy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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