Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw return

 Any Sherlockian cryptozoologists out there?

Well, I didn't want to do it, but you know how the old John Bennett Shaw saying goes, all it takes to start a Sherlock Holmes society is two Sherlockians and a bottle. (And something-something about doing without one of those.) A second Sherlockian has turned up who really wants to be in the society I named many a blog post ago when I said I really didn't want to start it, and you know what that means:



The Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw

The society for the pursuit and study of zoological oddities in the cases of Sherlock Holmes.


Because I came up with that name, and Mary O'Reilly really wanted us to follow up on Watson's theory that Roy the wolfhound was upset by Professor Presbury's financial transactions. Which is, indeed, a puzzle that is quite obscured by that other seemingly zoological oddity of "The Adventure of the Creeping Man," the professor's behavioral transformation. (Yeah, could just be psychological. And that makes Roy even more prominent as a zoological oddity. Why the hatred for movements aping a species he had never encountered?)

And cryptobiologic dogs worthy of our study don't stop there, as in "Lion's Mane" we see: "I saw the faithful little creature, an Airedale terrier, laid out upon the mat in the hall." First recognized as a real animal by the Kennel Club of England in 1886, is it an airedale? Is it a terrier? Did it first exist like the minotaur or griffin in myth before the Kennel Club declared it real?

When you come right down to it, the Sherlockian Canon is so full of zoological oddities that it's kind of amazing that we didn't have a society to study them before now. Snakes that drink milk and live in safes. Geese with crops. Worms unknown to science. (I have a long buried theory on that one that crosses over Sherlock Holmes and a certain Dr. Furter.)  They're as commonly discussed as Watson's wives, Sherlock's addiction, or any other topic you might name in Sherlockian circles. And even the creatures we accept as known entities, like cyanea capillata, are just weird.

So we have two Sherlockians. We've got bottles somewhere. And now we have another Sherlockian society.

The Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw. Onward!

(Card design by Mary)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

What makes a Holmes and a Watson?

Today I was thoroughly enjoying Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey, my second dip into what I was surprised to find is a twenty-five book series. I stumbled into the series at book nineteen, a random find at the local library, and was delighted to find they had the next in the series, all the while not knowing I had missed eighteen previous books. (A very happy discovery, really.)

When listening to Coconut Cowboy, the previous book, I took Tim Dorsey as a writer in the school of Carl Hiaasen, whose books I had enjoyed back in the day: A writer squeezing all of Florida's idiosyncrasies for every bit of comedic juice he can get out of them. But in my second Dorsey excursion, a new realization dawned on me: These were tales of a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

They aren't detective stories -- oh, hell no. The "Sherlock" of this team describes himself as a "sequential killer," as opposed to the typical serial killer. But, like Sherlock Holmes, we encounters people who have some issue in their lives and helps them deal with it outside the normal channels. That path is how he differentiates himself as a "sequential killer" -- he doesn't seek out victims, in the course of making life better for people, he just comes across people who just seem to need killed.

Unlike Dexter, the anti-hero of Dorsey's books, Serge Storm isn't really focusing on the murders, he's usually focused on something else entirely, like living out the lifestyle seen in the movie Easy Rider or the old TV show Route 66 for a time. Add in a fascination and encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Florida, whether history, biology, or culture, along with an eccentric genius for getting things done in unexpected, yet logical ways. He's a wonderfully complex and entertaining fellow, like Sherlock Holmes, living the life he's chosen for himself, again, like Sherlock Holmes.

His Watson, however, is a classic Watson in a model a lot of Watson fans might not like, but so true to the form. Remember Nigel Bruce's boobus Britannicus species of Watson? Well, Coleman, Serge's Watson, is a very American version of that. Constantly high or drunk in a very mellow "just living life" sort of way, Coleman is never quite sure where Serge is taking them, but is always completely agreeable for going along for the adventure. And like any good Watson, Coleman proves pretty useful on occasion, and serves as the perfect target for Serge Storm to explain everything a reader wants to hear.

Having only gotten to two books in this series, and those read perfectly by Oliver Wyman, I can't provide a full review of the series, but so far, I'm enjoying the hell out of them, and seeing the Holmes and Watson parallels in the characters of Serge and Coleman is offering some new insights on what really makes those two old favorites of ours so great. Recognizing something of the detective and the doctor in two individuals so very different in so many ways can be quite revealing.

Add in the fact that one can enjoy Florida's weirdness without actually being in Florida? (Sorry, Floridians, I am just not a humidity fan in the least. And we won't even get into the ocean or the swamps.) Perfect.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Good things, small packages

 I got a larger package in the mail today that included a smaller "package" inside it.

The Blazes, You Say by James Vogelsang, 39 pages, first limited printing of 25 copies, of which mine is number five. If you don't know Jim, you probably can't get a copy just yet, but I'm going to review it anyway, in hopes and encouragement that it might become available in some form in the future.

I don't tend to review Sherlock Holmes novels in this blog, as they're novel-length and rare is the Sherlock Holmes pastiche that I can make it all the way through without tossing it at some point. I am ancient and picky on that point. But comic books? Not as much time investment, and comic books are one of my favorite mediums, so SURE! (Another comic book review hopefully coming this week!)

The Blazes, You Say! is not a comic book like Marvel, DC, Image, Cloudwrangler, etc. produce. No, this is more along the lines of a Peanuts paperback: A collection of comic strips.

Jim Vogelsang has translated the entire story of "Silver Blaze" as we know it, into a series of thirty-nine comic strips, all laid out in four-panel pages, with each page having a four-beat funny to it. Like any comic strip, some catch you by surprise with a laugh, some just give you a little smile, and others offer a wry observation on the tale itself.

I know that there was a syndicated Sherlock Holmes comic strip at one point that tried to seriously adapt the Sherlock Holmes stories for newspapers, and I know funny comics like Funky Winkerbean tried a few Holmes parodies. But has anyone ever translated one of the stories into a daily funny comic sort of form? I don't know of any -- though, these days, it's a big ol' world, who knows?

Jim Vogelsang has long amused his Sherlockian friends with an annual Christmas card featuring 'Olmes and Watso', but he took it to a whole new level and I am delighted with every bit of it. The range of creativity that Sherlockians put toward spreading their love of Holmes seems to only be limited to the abilities of humanity itself, and I'm looking forward to both Jim's next work and the work of anyone who reads this blog and decides to push forward in their own creative endeavors to add more to our world -- even if only twenty-five comics get out and delight twenty-five folks who aren't me. It's a Sherlockian tradition, the small, gift run of something, and always good to see it continue.

The size of Jim's comic actually inspired another thought of something I'd like to see as well -- you know the thing where the first Sherlockian scholarship was a parody of Biblical scholarship? Well, extrapolate that down the line and I think we have a crying need for the Sherlockian Chick tract, a small piece of comic propaganda that demonstrate to any that read it the horrors that await you for following a non-Sherlockian path in life.

But that will take another artist with another style, I think, and for now I'm just going to sit here being happy with The Blazes You Say. It's some really good work from a long-time creator.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Doctor that the Doctor Extirpated

    "Our conversations were unnecessary for Dr. Mordhouse had arrived with a chocolate-backed book in his hand."
-- The original "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"

    I, the host of a weekly podcast called "The Watsonian Weekly," felt betrayed this evening, but my podcast's very hero, John H. Watson, M. D. 

    The evening started innocently enough. It was our local Sherlockian's society's night to discuss one of the Casebook tale, "Lion's Mane," the one written by Holmes in his retirement. I picked up Les Klinger's original annotated work on the tale, as I tend to do on such nights. And the first footnote stopped me in my tracks. Before I knew it, I was skipping re-reading the actual story and just following the footnotes. Then when I got home, I swiftly ran to the shelves to see if I had it . . . and I did . . . the Sherlock Holmes Society of London Westminster Libraries reprint of the original manuscript. I had forgotten.

    I had forgotten so much.

    Lately I had been studying Pope Hill Sr.'s works and his theory that there was a secret story behind every one of the sixty published stories of Sherlock Holmes, a very far-fetched notion, I thought. But here . . . HERE . . . was evidence that in at least one case, that wacky genius was absolutely right. There was another story layered underneath the first. And as to why it's there, well, that makes perfect sense too.

    Dr. Watson pulled some real shyte on this one.

    So, let's start with the fact that this is a story written by Sherlock Holmes. What's Sherlock Holmes do with his two attempts at writing up his Watson-less cases? He passes them along through the usual channels that Watson would -- Watson's literary agent, who dutifully hand copied Holmes's text to tidy it up a bit. And then, of course, said agent would have to show it to Watson.

    And suddenly we see large areas of crossed-out material in this tale, much more than in anything created by Watson. What's the first cross-out? Sherlock Holmes writing about Watson: "It is possible that he would in any case have rejected this case from his records for in his loyalty he would always dwell upon my successes."

    Watson would have rejected this case, Holmes tells us, and Watson immediately rejects those very words. Why? "He would always dwell upon my successes." And Sherlock Holmes does not succeed in the original telling of this tale by the man himself. Who does succeed?

    Dr. Mordhouse.

    Ever hear that name before, in the actual Watson-approved Canon? Of course not. Because if you think "cancel culture" is bad now, look at Watson did to his fellow medical man, the naturalist Dr. Mordhouse. Watson erased him from our history of Sherlock Holmes, so much so, that if Doyle hadn't kept the original transcriptions of the case, complete with cross-outs, we would never know Dr. Mordhouse at all.

    "Watson had passed beyond my ken," Holmes writes in the start of the story. Not much later he pens the words, "he was the one man who was on such terms with me that we could drop in on each other in the evenings without an invitation." The one man. One. And Holmes is not talking about Watson, whom he wrote in the other Holmes-penned tale, "had deserted me."

    And what did John H. Watson never do in all his years of partnership with Sherlock Holmes?

    Get to solve a case.

    And here, after they're apart, barely seeing each other for the occasional dutiful weekend visit, Sherlock sends Conan Doyle the second tale he would ever write of life on his own, and it's all about another doctor besides Watson solving the mystery.

    It's Dr. Mordhouse who shows up with J. G. Woods's book Out of Doors to explain what a cyanea capillata is. It's Dr. Mordhouse about whom the inspector asks Sherlock Holmes, "Have you heard the Doctor about that?" because Mordhouse says the victims wounds were not caused by a whip. And in the end, it's Dr. Mordhouse who does all the explaining.

    "Here is the book, Mr. Holmes." But that name is crossed out and replaced with "Inspector."

    Holmes told us (and Watson) at the start that Watson would have rejected this case because it wasn't one of his successes, just daring the good doctor to reject it. Watson, however, being a man of the pawkiest of humor and possessing a certain cleverness of his own, didn't take that bait. Instead, he made it one of Holmes's successes, and published away, rubbing Holmes's nose in it.

    "The relations between us in those latter days were peculiar," Watson wrote in "Creeping Man." Indeed they were. And in the middle of those seemingly contentious relations was one man who got erased from Sherlockian history as collateral damage: Dr. Mordhouse.

    "Doctor WHO?" you might ask. 

    "Don't go there," I will reply. "Mordhouse was his name. Remember it."


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Complete Robot Chicken Sherlock Holmes

Robot Chicken is an easy show to randomly drop into, being a nerdy adult sketch comedy show based on using stop-motion animation with action figures. They parody everything and anything from every medium of entertainment, and tonight I stumbled on to a Great Mouse Detective Basil bit. Which made me wonder: How many other times has Robot Chicken done Sherlock Holmes?


Results came up immediately, and I pulled up HBO Max on the browser and started watching.

Season three, episode 18, "Monstourage." At the 5:08 mark, a sketch begins with airplane pilots that eventually leads into Sherlock Holmes investigating the murder of the Queen. The whole sketch lasts fifty seconds, Sherlock appears to be voiced by Seth Green, and -- Rude Humor Warning! -- urine is involved.

Wait. That was it?

Until we get to Basil in season nine, episode four, "Things Look Bad for the Streepster," which technically is Basil at the 5:40 mark, and not Sherlock . . . that's it. (Eric Christian Olsen did the voice of Basil.)

I should work harder on blog posts instead of watching Robot Chicken

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A quick report on September's Parallel Case Meeting

 Yes, you can always get the full scoop on the latest Parallel Case meeting from their own blog in a few days, but as I enjoy live-blogging an event, oh, what the heck. Here's some early notes.

The Zoom meetings of St. Louis's Parallel Case always start with a round of self-introductions, so it's fun to hear where everyone is from as well as what their Sherlockian pleasure points are. Twenty-six folks, from coast-to-coast America, along with an across-the-seas Sherlockian or two, which is about the right number for everyone getting a word or two in. Societies from the Noble and Most Singular Order of the Blue Carbuncle to Doyle's Rotary Coffin are represented, as well as many Parallel Case, Harpooners, Occupants, and Hansoms . . . the near-St.-Louis Sherlockians, of course.

Rob Nunn, the meeting's host, always allows a little time for promotion of attendees' various Sherlockian pursuits, and we get:

A film discussion group:

A Moriary podcast:

A great publication with a deadline in four days:

A Sherlockian specialty club:

A chance to recognize a teacher:

The discussion of the story for the meeting "The Missing Three-Quarter" always starts with Rob summarizing the events of the story, but this time he barely gets into the client showing up when the attendees go off on the mystifications of rugby to the American mind. A point gets made using the phrase "those who play the game that Watson actually wrote the stories," and I write and delete a few comments out of the chat before I hit "enter." One has to be diplomatic with those Sherlockians who enjoy that whimsical study of Watson's literary agent as somehow important, and quippery can often be misconstrued. But the rugby talk continues. And continues. But there's a baby in one frame of the zoom screen, so that entertains the chat sidebar a bit.

When things move on, I'm surprised that Lord Mount-James offering Holmes "a fiver, or even a tenner" was actually the rough equivalent of eight hundred to a thousand bucks in modern money -- over the century, the old miser has become much more miserly in a modern reader's eyes. I always looked at it as "five or ten pounds" in modern pocket change.

The personality clash between Holmes and Dr. Armstrong comes up. Watson's lax knowledge of the medical community comes up.  And with those, the story places itself in a very different sort of period in Holmes and Watson's partnership, one that I'm going to have to follow up further -- and perhaps throw something together for the next issue of The Watsonian. One thing that bears remark is the balanced conversation of the Parallel Case -- it seems like everyone is getting a chance to contribute. 

Not going to get too far in detail, as you'll want to read the full Parallel Case report for that when it comes out. Holmes's use of "Sleepy Hollows" brings up a question of whether or not that was a reference to Washington Irving's classic story or just a general rustic town. (Or slang that arose from that much-earlier stories.)  Mark Twain enters the conversation, and since this is a St. Louis based group, not that far from Twain's Hannibal, Missouri, that's to be expected.

It was a good meeting. I almost got so distracted by an e-mail on Sherlockian chronology that I forgot to post this, but such is my curse. Looking forward to the full Case recap.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Not gonna die on that Hill

 Let's be honest. While a firm believer in each of us keeping their own head-canon to fill in the blank spaces Watson left us, there's particular phrase that I always tend to react unpleasantly toward, and that is "sub-text." The idea that Conan Doyle was laying a separate, under-the-main-text layer of story that only those with the right-colored glasses can see. "Sub-text" is a claim of knowing authorial intent, of presuming to understand a talented mind so well that their hidden constructions are plain.

And I will admit, perhaps I'm just holding a grudge against an ineffective high school teacher or two and their "theme of blood" during some banging on Hemingway or somesuch. But then we come up against the likes of Pope R. Hill, Senior.

A few of us in the Sherlockian chronology game have been vexed in the past month by Mr. Pope Hill. In 1947, Hill published a pamplet called Part One, in which Hill claims to have an unpublished eighty-thousand word manuscript titled Dating Sherlock Holmes, in which he blows previous chronology out of the water by exposing the secret key to Conan Doyle's works. Then in 1952, Hill publishes yet another pamphlet, The Sherlock Holmes Hoax, claiming his unpublished manuscript has grown to one hundred thousand words, and further explaining the theories proven within that mass of unseen text.

His theory is based on three supposed facts:

1. The Canon is full of errors.

2. The chronology of the stories makes no sense.

3. Pope himself had worked out alternate plots for each of the sixty stories from the clues within said stories.

Conan Doyle, therefore, did all of that on purpose, creating a new kind of detective story that offered the reader a second layer of mystery. Serious subtext. 

In 1951, Clifton R. Andrew called Pope one of "the authorities in the chronology." Seventy years later, Brian McCuskey surmised that Pope suffered from "the fundamental belief in yourself as Sherlock Holmes," based on how seriously he thought the mathematics professor took his theory of that hidden layer of Doyle's creation. The thing is, Hill seems neither an authority on chronology nor a Sherlock Holmes, as his 1955 article "The Final Problem: An Exemplification of the Substructure Theory" in The Baker Street Journal truly shows.

Pope R. Hill, Sr., was what he truly was: a mathematics professor, with all the Sherlockian baggage that designation entails. His 1955 article, showing the world Doyle's hidden "substructure" beneath "The Final Problem," comes to one very dark conclusion. And that conclusion was that Sherlock Holmes did actually die at Reichenbach Falls. And the professor of math lived.

Pope Hill's subtext, in what he pridefully placed before the Irregulars as a proving point of his unseen hundred thousand words, turns how to be something he has every reason to headcanon just to snuggle into his relationship with the sixty stories of Sherlock Holmes.

I kinda like Pope R. Hill, Sr. He had that quality some call "co-bit-ment," the dedication to committing one's self to a running gag (or "bit") past all sense or logic, which makes it all the funnier to the trickster and all the more puzzling to the observer. (Which then makes it even more amusing to said trickster.)

Whether he's going to prove a worthwhile study for the Sherlockian chronologists among us, however? Well, maybe there's some subtext I can find in his work.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Watsonball Run

 Let me start by saying this: I hate quizzes.

Not that fond of trivia nights, either. This is 2021. In 2021, the sheer width and breadth of human knowledge is greater than ever before, and our little brains just can't hold it all. They haven't been able to do that for a long time. And, you know what? Simple memorization is over-rated. I was always good at it as a kid, repeating things, drilling things into your head. But these days the real skill isn't what you can hold in your head, it's what you can access quickly. Sherlock Holmes had the right idea with his brain-attic, lumber-room thoughts.

Which brings me to the John H. Watson Society's annual Treasure Hunt. Rich Krisciunas came up with a pretty good one this year, the key to any good Hunt being that a person can understand the questions, for the most part. Yes, I few I didn't quite get what he wanted, but there was a reason: I was doing a speed test. A race. A "Watsonball Run."

Where as the JHWS Treasure Hunt is supposed to be a month-long affair, my own procrastination whittled that month to a single day. And for me, a habitual procrastinator, that sort of tight deadline is where the fun starts. Did I have all the info in my head? No. But were there enough clues tucked away in the gray, gray matter of my brain to navigate the Sherlockian highway at a high rate of speed?


But it's not just the driver, it's the tricked-out car in these things. Apple's "Preview" software has a pretty decent PDF search capacity it turns out.  And the true secret weapon of this race: a little (actually large) book called The Canonical Compendium by Steve Clarkson. "But that's a concordance," one might protest. "Searches made those obsolete." Yeah, you'd think that. Who needs Doubleday page numbers any more?

No, what you do need, however, is a list of every newspaper mentioned in the Canon and the story it appears in. A list of every surname in the Canon and its tale. Amounts of money. Housekeepers. Details you can scan and hope it triggers a memory or is something you can plug into that damned search engine and bring up the passage in question to see if it's the thing you need.

It's a new day in Sherlockiana, but the old tools have uses.

And you know what's really fun about racing through an open-book quiz on the Canon? You get to see so much of what makes those sixty stories fun, fit, and fab, and maybe catch some new thoughts along the way. Even though a one-day race through as much Canon as I could pass to get as many answers as possible might seem to be about the goal, it's the high-speed journey that was fun. There'll be time for leisurely appreciations on other days.

So thanks to Rich Krisciunas for putting together this year's Treasure Hunt, and I hope you had the chance to enjoy it, however you dealt with it. It's still on the JHWS site if you just want to peruse it. Just scroll down a bit. 

Oh, and I definitely did not come close to one hundred percent. Fun comes from knowing when not to do certain things, as much as what things to do. Have fun!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Batman/Sherlock Holmes crossover nobody needed

 Sherlock Holmes and Batman have crossed path more than a few times in comic books or idle Sherlockian chat. And of all those times, perhaps the worst crossover was the one that occurred . . . as many a bad idea does . . . in the mind of a sixties advertising executive.

Familiar with the movie A Study in Terror from 1965? 

If you watch the trailer for the movie, it comes off as straight horror.

"If you are a woman, you walk these streets at your peril . . ." it begins, and for the first minute of the trailer, it doesn't even mention Sherlock Holmes and just goes straight for pure fright. And even then, as the narrator goes "Sherlock Holmes, the original special agent, forerunner of today's thrillmakers" you have to wonder if he's referring to James Bond. But after that, back to frightening, shock music as the word "TERROR" fills the screen in blood red, followed by "PREPARE YOURSELF FOR SHOCKS!"

The last words you hear in the preview?

"You'll never see anything like it this side of Hell!"

(Quiet down, you Holmes and Watson haters!)

But that was the movie's trailer. Have you ever seen its poster?

Whoever was coming up with the advertising for the American release in August of 1966 went, "Hey, that new ABC show Batman is hot stuff with the kids! Let's make it like that!"

"Here comes the original caped crusader!" might have been enough. But noooooooo, they had to make absolutely certain you thought Sherlock Holmes was like Batman by adding a bunch of burst it sound effects, borrowed straight from what you saw twice a week when Batman and Robin punched out crime: "BIFF!" "POW!" "CRUNCH!" There's even an "AIEEEE!" next to a cleavage-leaning victim, which makes it really weird.

Because in 1966, TV's Batman was a campy, comedic goof-fest that the kids loved. And I was one of those kids. Did my parents take me to see A Study in Terror, and chance the coin-toss of whether I'd become Holmes or the Ripper as a result? No, they did not.

Truth be told, at this point, I can't exactly remember if I ever saw A Study in Terror. But I'm pretty sure it didn't have Holmes and Watson in a brawl with the Ripper's henchmen while comic book sound effect popped out with every punch and kick and peppy fighting music played. And I'm really certain that "Elementary, my dear Watson!" didn't pop out on the screen in a similar manner, as it does on the poster.

But somebody was high enough to come up with this poster in 1966, and somebody else (whom I can't help but picture chomping on a big half-smoked cigar) went, "Great! Run with that!"

To this day, I still wonder -- did somebody actually take their Batman-loving kids to this Victorian nightmare just because of this poster? And how did that turn out?

Perhaps I'll have to let my inner child watch a double feature of some Batman episodes followed by A Study in Terror and find out one of these days.