Thursday, May 19, 2022

DON'T SET THIS BOOK ASIDE! (An Important Warning)

 Like many a Sherlockian, I seem to have a little fetish about books. Book wallpaper, tiny books, extra large books -- decorating one's house in a bookish theme gets to be a point of pride, when one can do it. But have you seen those horror movies where someone's pride brings on the nightmare that will inevitably destroy them by the end of the movie? It might be a monster. It might be a curse. It might be a mystifying phenomenon that defies all logic.

Yes, that last one.

You see, the postman brought a package today. A book from Amazon -- you might have heard of it, A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller. The doings of that society are something of a legend, especially of late as they rejected the omni-present Sherlockian Rich Kriscuinas from being present at one of their meetings. (And he's, as I said, omni-present, as Sherlockian meetings go in my experience!)

But here's where it gets weird. I had just gotten home from work, had a full plate of evening activities, so I set the book aside. I watched Star Trek: Strange New Worlds with the good Carter, as is our habit this month. I finished the latest issue of Sherlockian Chronology Guild's Timelines for the assistant editor to proof. And then I went into our book themed guest half-bath to powder my nose. (Well, let's keep this out of the "you know," so I was powdering my nose, okay? It's worked for years for the one gender, so why not?)

Anyway, I looked at the decorative shelf with the itty-bitty books and saw this . . .


Why was there an itty-bitty copy of A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller in with my itty-bitty books? I rubbed my eyes and turned away. Unfortunately, I turned towards the book wallpaper that adorns the opposite wall.

And there I saw . . .


A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller was now a part of the wallpaper.

Had I accidentally eaten hallucinogenic mushrooms for supper? Had someone laced my mead with LSD?

I ran upstairs to the sanctum of my study, where I could shut out the world and regain my wits. I dropped in my chair, got my rapid breathing to slow to a calmer pace, convinced myself that everything was fine, all was good . . .

And then I turned . . .


A massive, monstrous copy of A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller had merged itself with the very furniture. Did I scream? Did I half fall down the stairs trying to reach the copy of A Demi-Decade of the Shingle of Southsea, The World's Greatest Sherlock Holmes Society by Paul Thomas Miller that had come in the day's mail, to start reading its records of the Shingle of Southsea, the world's greatest Sherlock Holmes society and mystical source of some ancient and terrible power that will curse you if you don't pay attention to it?

Yes. Yes, I did. The first line read, "And in 2017, the great and powerful Paul Thomas Miller decided he wanted what other Holmesians had . . ." 

Apparently the great and powerful Paul Thomas Miller has also decided that I must pay attention to his book as well. So, this night, I will read until sleep takes me and hope that is enough for this book's insatiable desires for attention, and that it lets my dreams alone and allows me to go to work in the morning.

But first I must beg of you: DO NOT SET ASIDE THIS BOOK WHEN IT ARRIVES AT YOUR HOME! THE BOOK WILL NOT LIKE IT!

May the Force be with you.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Gregson? Gregson? Anyone seen Gregson?

 Sherlock Holmes dealt with a lot of Scotland Yard detectives. The ever-ferret-like Lestrade. The young and promising Stanley Hopkins. The big man, Bradstreet. And then there's the guy who gets TV parts, pastiche roles, great name recognition, but Canonically? Just not really present. And that man is . . .

Tobias Gregson.

He's got a first name, unlike Lestrade. He's got a premiere appearance as Lestrade's buddy cop (well, of sorts) in A Study in Scarlet. And he's "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders," according to Sherlock freakin' Holmes. The smartest!

Yet he never really comes around 221B Baker Street like G. Lestrade or some of the others.

Sure, he writes a nice letter to Holmes just before we first meet him:

"My dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes," it begins. Gregson then writes up the "bad business" in an efficient, yet detailed manner (Note, this was the original adventure of "the empty house.") and explains why it's "a puzzler" worthy of Holmes's time. Gregson gives the time he will be at the scene, that he is holding the scene "in status quo" waiting for Holmes, and closes with, "If you are unable to come I shall give you fuller details, and would esteem it a great kindness if you would favour me with your opinion."

The "Yours faithfully" that follows all that sucking up stays true to form, and one has to almost wonder if Gregson wasn't being a little sarcastic. His relationship with Holmes is definitely a rather intriguing one.

"It reminds me of the circumstances attendant on the death of Van Jansen, in Utrecht, in the year '34. Do you remember the case, Gregson?"

Note that Gregson and Lestrade are both standing right there. Yet Holmes quizzes "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders," like he thinks Gregson might know the answer. In The Valley of Fear, Holmes counsels Inspector MacDonald on reading crime history, and I'd wager Mr. Mac wasn't the first to be given such advice. Was Gregson an early adopter of Sherlock Holmes's lessons, and had done some of that study?

Unlike Lestrade, outside of A Study in Scarlet, Gregson never comes to Holmes for help. Holmes says Gregson has in the past, in a line spoken in The Sign of the Four. But in "Red Circle," Holmes just ran into Gregson as they both followed separate trails to the same crime scene. In "Wisteria Lodge," Gregson follows a suspect to 221B Baker Street. And in "Greek Interpreter," a case in which Sherlock surely wanted to put his best foot forward since his brother Mycroft is really his client, Holmes brings Gregson on board for official help himself.

Yes, when it's important to Holmes, poor needy Lestrade gets passed over for "the smartest of the Scotland Yarders."

It becomes plain very quickly why Gregson doesn't appear too much in the Canon past he early appearance -- he doesn't need Sherlock Holmes nearly so much as Lestrade does. He might have actually taken Holmes's example to heart and become a better detective to reach that point in the early 1880s. Or he might have just been pretty good at the old-school Scotland Yard investigative style of going around asking folks if they saw something. But Holmes gives us hope of something better from Gregson.

"Well done!" Sherlock Holmes tells Gregson after asking him for his theory on the case, "Really, Gregson, you are getting along. We shall make something of you yet."

There's a hopeful tone there, something we don't see Holmes using with every Yarder. Did Holmes make something of Gregson in those early years that Watson barely chronicled? Did Gregson graduate from calling Holmes to crime scenes like Lestrade, to just getting the occasional advice that didn't require Watson tagging along taking notes? 

But when Mycroft presents Sherlock with a case, who does the world's best detective call?  

Well, he wasn't around for more than three of Watson's cases, but . . . Tobias Gregson.

How Bad Can You Hurt Them?

 "In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and fired two shots. I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh."

-- Conan Doyle putting the pain to Watson

A lot of Sherlockians really enjoy seeing Watson get shot in "Three Garridebs."

You know why -- it's not the cry of pain that Watson doesn't put into his account, it's Sherlock Holmes's show of concern for his friend. (It's kind of a stupid show of concern, if you really think about it, as Holmes goes "For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!" and Watson's truest reply should be "Dammit, Holmes, he shot me! It hurts like a $#%@%!") From an author/character point of view, Conan Doyle had Watson take a flesh wound just to show Holmes's reaction and give the readers a little treat. It's what writers do, abuse their characters for our pleasure.

It's one thing when a character's creator does it, but what about when a fan does it?

If you are a great fan of John Watson and you love the character dearly, how much pain are you willing to put him through to give yourself and your friends a jolly time in your writing and their reading?

Ever since I first read Star Trek fan fic in the eighties, I've been aware of fan writers doing damage to their characters to get an emotional result. There was actually a known sub-genre of Trek slash fiction called "hurt/comfort" that involved damaging a character so another character could get emotional in caring for them. Mr. Spock, being a lot like Sherlock Holmes, required some prodding -- and sometimes painful-to-someone-else prodding, and some horrible future-tech sort of damage prodding at that.

With Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, I've always had a real problem with putting the pain to the boys. I like them too much. I can fall into denial about the level of Holmes's drug problems very easily, and have never really liked Meyer's revisionist text (which also steals a true Moriarty from us). Watson can have marital troubles, a few hallucinations from pre-existing trauma, sure -- I've done both in my writings. But he's never suffering too much from either, having Holmes as his happy place in both situations.

It's an interesting alchemical formula, this mix of how much one loves a character versus how much pain one will put them through to see them behave in a way one wants them to. The black market of fan fiction has always dealt in the "Let's see what we weren't shown!" of things. And if Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson never did anything but what happened in the sixty original stories, that's fine with me, because those stories offer enough headcanon that, like Steve Rogers, "I can do this all day" just elaborating on what's there. Horrible hansom cab accidents or Moriarty-run torture scenarios aren't in my wheelhouse.

For some folks, however, they are a fair price to exchange for an intensity of emotion, enhancing our friends to a new level of excitement. It would be good fun to run some elaborate study of Sherlockians with a barrage of questions, generating some numbers to correlate, generate, blah-blah-blah-cate, and all that data analysis stuff to see how we work as a culture. Some interesting questions there, I think.

How bad can you hurt them for a story? Or would you rather keep them in a bullet-proof glass case of Canon, safe from all harm? And how do we fall on that spectrum with Holmes and Watson from "Gruesome Slow Murder" to "Impervious Immortals?" There's an interesting curve there to be sure.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Sympathy for the King

 Okay, let's get controversial.

The King of Bohemia takes a lot of heat, the latest form of which has been a meme calling him a douche. Everybody loves Irene Adler, even if they don't want her to be Sherlock's one true love, and, naturally, the one person who has a bit of a disagreement with Ms. Popular is somebody we just have to poop on, right? I mean, he was a royal, and you know how those pompous royals are. Poop on him and all his kind!

But I had this little notion . . . what if the King's secret wasn't what we always thought it was.

The common thought was that he had a sexy little romp with the singer, was sure she was still in love with him, and wanted to stop his marriage. But, this tale being related in that measured Victorian manner, we don't really know that Wilhelm and Irene had a sexual relationship, now do we?

"Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back," Holmes says. And how are those letters proven to be authentic? There's a photo of Wilhelm and Irene together that shows they were close. Close.

But what if they were simply close, good friends, and the King was discussing his conflicts in his own sexuality, his desires versus expectations of him and his office? What if Irene was simply someone who supported the King's true feelings about himself, to the point where she gently threatened to out him if he was going to marry out of a sense of duty alone, opposite his true nature? And the idea of the King and Irene once being close and kindred spirits brings up other questions.

"But she could not love him," the King says of Irene's match with Godfrey Norton. We assume it's because the King thinks Irene loves him. But what if it's because the Irene he knew, his kindred spirit, wasn't someone who fancied men back in the day? Kindred spirits. But things change, and sometimes we can't accept changes in our friends so easily. 

My point here is, while we have a story, we just might not have the true story.

Yes, the King is bad at disguise. Yes, he has all the issues of a spoiled royal. But is he really a bad guy?

Just look how easily he gives in to letting Irene Adler go at the end of the story. He doesn't want to stay in contact with her because he harbors some great love for her. He trusts her assurances in the letter that she's going to leave him alone. He sees some echo of his old trusting friendship with Irene in that letter from their correspondence past. Irene's words are enough for him. That's not the way a bad guy reacts.

The King might not be a smart guy. Or a smooth guy. But is he really that bad?

Part of the issue with Watson's chronicles has always been that he's a man of his era and holding back so much about himself and the people he and Holmes were dealing with. Yes, the King was a bit of a doof, but he's also one of the best-dressed guys in the Canon. And soooo generous! Does he ask for any of his thousand pounds of gold and cash back? No. Does he give Holmes the ring right off his finger? Yes. Does he even give Holmes another very valuable snuffbox as a present after that? YES!

(Wait a minute . . . who was Wilhelm really in love with here? Side issue! Back to the thread.)

We've always known Watson probably wasn't getting the Sherlock/Irene dynamic correct in his intro to this story. But what if there was a whole lot more going on here that Watson just didn't want to pick up on, or admit to his readership? What if we were all just a little too quick to judge poor Wilhelm, as we all go fawn over the purdy lady as Watson so often does?

Milverton. Gruner. Roylott. There are some right awful sorts in the Canon. And occasionally Holmes even gets a baddie as a client, as with that retired colourman. But with Willie G.S. von Ormstein?

I'm not so sure any more.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Watson's Long Recovery

It seems sometimes that John Watson is holding back a lot of details about his personal life in his chronicles of Sherlock Holmes. The details of his marriage. His on-again, off-again medical career. His own retirement. But early in his writings, when he thought he might still be chronicling "The Reminiscences of John H. Watson," his pen was a bit more forthcoming.

"What's the matter?" Sherlock Holmes asked him in A Study in Scarlet. "You're not looking quite yourself. This Brixton Road affair has upset you."

"To tell the truth, it has," Watson replies. "I ought to be more case-hardened after my Afghan experiences. I saw my own comrades hacked to pieces at Maiwand without losing my nerve."

"I saw my own comrades hacked to pieces."

That is not a statement to breeze past. "Case-hardening" is that method of blacksmithing a weapon's edge that's been around since well before 1000 BC. But Watson is no edged weapon. And seeing his fellow Englishmen carved up by Afghan knives and swords, barely escaping by being thrown over a pack-horse and led to the safety of British lines.

He spoke of his health being ruined beyond recovery, but there was plainly a level of PTSD there that we barely glimpse in his writings. And consider how those writings came along.

John Watson moved in with Sherlock Holmes in early 1881. That spring he would learn of Holmes's occupation and go with Holmes to Brixton road, to follow the investigation that would eventually be written up as A Study in Scarlet. We don't know exactly when he wrote that novel, but it apparently wasn't in shape for a publisher until 1887. And what of his other cases with Sherlock Holmes?

Well, we know for certain of one in 1883. ("Speckled Band," a mystery with no dead bodies on the ground until . . . well, things went a little sideways there at the last.) And the next one after that?

1887. "The Reigate Squires" was something of a break-through for Watson, a case he didn't want Holmes to take, as Sherlock Holmes was recovering his own health.

John H. Watson had a long road to full recovery, something I don't think we always appreciate. There's a tale in those years between 1881 and 1887 that Watson was not ready to share with the Victorian reading public, it being a time when showing vulnerability was not something men did. Were he writing today, I think John Watson would have an autobiographical tale of that period that would have been his most inspiring work.

Someone out there in this world of Watsonian manuscripts might have already discovered such a thing, as tends to happen, and I'm just not aware of it. Do I want to read it? There's a question. 

It could have been a very hard journey. There's a reason we don't quote that "hacked to pieces" line a lot.

John H. Watson will always be a more complex fellow than we can easily ponder.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Remember when one hundred was a good-sized number?

 I was thinking the other day of one of those things past that is quickly moving from "useful tool" to "curious historical artifact." Hopefully I won't be committing blasphemy in the eyes of any fans of that great Sherlockian of decades past, but I'm referring to "The Basic Holmesian Library" by John Bennett Shaw. First created in 1979, then revised in 1983 and 1987. It remains the great base for a classic Sherlockian collection -- as of 1987.

The thing is, we've come a long way in the past thirty-five years.

A lot of the classics on that Shaw list are like Alfred Hitchcock movies, well-crafted, pioneering, yet laying out the tricks, techniques, styles, and patterns that other content-creators would build upon, be inspired by, and entertain future generations of Sherlockians with. Some bits have definitely been improved upon since the original came out. And that's not a bad thing. What would we be as a hobby if we topped out in 1987?

We had one annotated Canon in 1987. Now we have at least four. 

Only one published manuscript reproduction existed in 1987, and then only two years old without much analysis or bonus material. Now there are . . . well, I'm not going to stop to count, but it's well into the double digits.

Only one novel-length pastiche found its way on to the list: The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Richard Boyer. At this point, it's hard to imagine putting a single emulation of the originals that far above all others -- but there weren't all that many novel-length pastiches back then.

Seven books on Conan Doyle made the list, out of the thirteen biographies available at the time. And I'm sure we can all come up with at least one Doyle biography published since then that would belong on any list. And then we have the books Shaw couldn't even have imagined.

From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Bostrom? Holy moley.

There are definitely some no-brainers out there, but I think any current list would need a short essay for each book arguing its case. Y'see, there was this other thing back in the 1980s -- Shaw had our trust. Not saying we all don't have trusted sources these days, but I don't know if we all would agree on that person, or their personal approach to the hobby. So much has changed . . . or . . . well, diversified . . . spread out. Publishing got easy. Technology gave us tools nobody had before the 1990s. And we have a lot more Sherlockians and Holmesians than we did when some of those early small-print-run items were published.

When Shaw made his list, another man named Ron DeWaal was keeping his own lists -- of everything Sherlock Holmes related. Everything! And for a time, he seemed to be keeping up. DeWaal was a runnner. He had stamina. But even he couldn't keep up.

The one running record we've had since even before Shaw's list has been Peter Blau's Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press -- now fifty years and a nigh uncountable number of pages. A log of material reported to and discovered by Peter over all those decades has done an amazing service to Sherlockians. But in the last decade of wild internet proliferation of Holmes-related bits in every form of media?  Even Peter is only human.

One hundred is such a small number in today's Sherlockian world. And yet once, it seemed like a really solid Sherlockian library that could capture all the most important works. We always knew Sherlock Holmes had the stamina of an immortal, but did we ever think his bulk would start approaching Godzilla-like proportions? 

Just as "millionaires" used to be very rich folk, a basic library of 100 Sherlockian books now seems like a decent start and leaves us looking to a new number. Three hundred? Five hundred? I'd hate to even guess. No number is going to contain this hobby at this point.

And a Sherlockian future with no limits does not seem like a bad thing at all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The name of Dr. Watson's umbrella

 We often associate Watson with his revolver, sometimes with his medical things, possibly with a flask. Curiously, we leave off that most useful possession of Watson's from The Valley of Fear.

"By the way, you have that big umbrella of yours, have you not?" Sherlock Holmes asks his friend.

Yes, Watson had an umbrella, and a big one at that. Watson's answer to Holmes:

"Certainly -- but what a wretched weapon!"

Are we to infer that Watson has fought someone with an umbrella before? Maybe. But I think there are far deeper inferences to be made, far more ominous theories to spin 'round that bumbershoot.

One of the key umbrella appearances in the Canon is from the somewhat-disguised tale "The Second Stain," in which Watson refers to the "Premier's thin, blue-veined hands clasped tightly over the ivory head of his umbrella." He's not telling us directly whom that Prime Minister was, but, come on! His key defining trait is that umbrella and his age? William Gladstone was associated with umbrella's both in political cartoon and song for bringing disparate groups together, as I understand it. The umbrella is clearly a signal, an emblem of who that nameless Premier truly is.

Looking at the only other two umbrella references in the Canon, one belongs to John Openshaw, whose life disappeared into the river the very night Holmes and Watson met him. The other belongs to James Phillimore, who went into his house for his umbrella and was never seen again. Umbrella's seem to indicate men who were no more. So what does that make of Watson being the one other person in the canon with an umbrella?

Note that the story "The Problem of Thor Bridge" is from The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, the one collection that shows the least Watson influence. Watson wrote the preface to His Last Bow. Watson's literary agent must do that duty for Casebook. Watson wrote all of the stories in His Last Bow, except for the titular spy tale. Three of the tales in Casebook are non-Watson, and one is actually an adaptation of his literary agent's little play.

And in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, we get "Thor Bridge"s reference to the unfinished tale of "Mr. James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world."

And what was that line in the missing husband story, "The Man With The Twisted Lip?"

Oh, yes. "Or should you rather I send James off to bed?"

James Phillimore, the husband who disappeared. John Watson, the man whose marriages have never made any sense. Could they have been one in the same?

Remember how Watson thought of himself during his infatuation with Mary Morstan?

"What was I, an army surgeon with a weak leg and a weaker bank-account, that I should dare to think of such things?" And then, "Was it fair, was it honorable, that a half-pay surgeon should take such advantage of an intimacy which chance had brought about?"

Watson has real self-esteem issues about being enough to date a woman. We know he proposed to Miss Morstan. We even are led to believe she accepted. But what if she didn't, or had second thoughts and later took back her "yes?" What might that have done to the poor doctor, who was constantly seeing Sherlock Holmes taking on other roles to do things like woo the maid Agatha in "Charles Augustus Milverton?"

Would it be enough for Watson to set up a practice as "Dr. James Phillimore," who was oh-so-much-more than a half-pay surgeon with a weak leg? ("Oh, no, it's a shoulder wound! Completely different! Not at all near the masculinity area!") Was James Phillimore the man who married, and then later, for reasons that are not quite clear to us, disappeared from the face of the Earth, just as John Watson reappeared at Baker Street?

It's a big umbrella that Watson has, according to Sherlock Holmes, the man whom we know wrote some of the stories in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Might he have written one or two more, and perhaps given us that "James Phillimore" reference as a clue to he absent friend's less noble moment?

In the year 2022, we're learning more and more to accept the failings of those we look up to, their humanity, their mistakes. Perhaps it's time we let Watson have a few honest bad moments as well.

The clues are certainly there, in that Canon that covers many a truth, just like a big umbrella.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Jonny Watson, his pal Henry, and his dad Sherlock Holmes

 At Sunday's meeting of the Crew of the Barque Lone Star, Bob Katz went to great lengths to lead the discussion down the path of The Hound of the Baskervilles being a tale of suspense, rather than a mystery. You never know what Sherlockians are going to draw from one of those familiar tales, and getting someone to pick out "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!" seemed to be like pulling teeth. The discussion made for a good re-examination of the classic novel, which was turned into what was definitely a horror movie to kids of 1939.

To kids of other eras, who didn't see it in the same theaters they saw Lugosi's Dracula and Karloff's Frankenstein in the same decade, the effect might not have been the same. The thought of The Hound of the Baskervilles competing with any modern horror movie seems a little ludicrous, even though I'd love to see a modern sequel where the curse of the Baskervilles was real. It wasn't even that scary back in the 1960s, when we were watching it on Sunday afternoon TV on my local station.

Horror, no. Suspense, maybe. Adventure . . . YES!

Bob Katz's dive into Hound's genre on Sunday made me realize what The Hound of the Baskervilles really was to me when you broke it down: An episode of Jonny Quest.

The 1960s version of the cartoon Jonny Quest was a kids ultimate fantasy, going on amazing adventures in exotic locales with your best pal. And there was always something monstrous lurking nearby, whether it was frogmen in monster suits, overgrown komodo dragons, or even a pterodactyl who somehow survived tucked away in South America with a Nazi or two. The demon hound that chased Sir Charles Baskerville to death would have fit in perfectly in Jonny's world.

Sometimes Jonny Quest's monsters were real, and sometimes they weren't. Sometimes fake abominable snowmen got taken out by real abominable snowmen. But Jonny and Hadji (we won't dwell too long on Hadji with a modern eye for this post) got treated with respect by the adults around them, and, as with so many kid heroes of the day, were definitely not over-protected in their explorations.

Yet like Jonny Watson and his new pal Henry Baskerville, whom I now see and Jonny and Hadji parallels -- when things got to their most tense, and the monsters were about, they could depend on a man of science and a man of action to make sure they came out all right. Sherlock Holmes filling in for Dr. Benton Quest is an excellent fit, so much so that I'll allow Inspector Lestrade to be Race Bannon in my mental match-up of The Hound of the Baskervilles to a Jonny Quest adventure.

As I explained this to the good Carter, she immediately wanted to place Hound as a Scooby Doo parallel, but Scooby Doo was always a goof, with funny chase scenes and never a real threat of danger. Jonny Quest took its mysteries and monsters seriously, just as Watson's Dartmoor adventure does.

The Hound of the Baskervilles may not be a proper Sherlock Holmes story, with the detective missing out on a goodly portion of the narrative, but as a Jonny Quest story, with Watson as Jonny?

It couldn't be more perfect. It practically animates itself in my head, with the hellhound appearing in the opening credits montage. And that's just fine with me.

Playing the Game Backwards

 I don't think anyone ever had as good a reason to dislike something I wrote as much as Philip Weller did when I came out with The Armchair Baskerville Tour in the mid-1990s. Weller, I was reminded during Sunday's talk by Jim Webb at the Crew of the Barque Lone Star meeting, was the world's foremost expert upon the locations of the novel The Hound of the Baskerville at that time, and was very fond of Dartmoor. The real Dartmoor.

Myself, being bookish, non-traveling American, wrote an entire book about a time and a place within a novel that, to me, was best experienced as a sort of virtual reality. Like 1880s London, it wasn't a reality that I thought existed, and was always content with the one in my imagination. Moors and metropolises are two different things however, and while Dartmoor might be a very real place to a Briton like Philip Weller, to me, it might as well be Narnia.

And I treated it as such in The Armchair Baskerville Tour.

The grand game of Sherlockiana has always been about melding history and Holmes to move Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the real world, and I have heard some overly cautious folk worry that playing that game might rob Conan Doyle of some credit somehow. But nobody worries about the opposite thing of treating Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as being as real as a professional wrestling victory.

If Holmes and Watson really lived in London, really went to Reichenbach Falls, and really wound up in Sussex, the minute one starts to doubt the reality of Holmes and Watson in the slightest, the reality of London, Reichenbach, and Sussex starts to fade a bit as well, like some photo of Marty McFly in Back to the Future.

"England is England yet, for all our fears. Only those things the heart believes are true," the very American/Canadian Vincent Starrett famously poeticized, which makes it sound like if we don't believe in England and clap for it like a dying Tinkerbell,  we might suddenly not hear from Paul Thomas Miller again. 

In the era of both "Birds Aren't Real" and bigfoot tracking training, the lines between parody play and true believers are blurring like no one in the early days of Sherlockiana could have imagined. Does someone among America's three hundred and twenty-nine million people actually believe that England is a mythical place? Given all of the stupidity evidence currently out there, one would have to say "yes." And if you google "Is England real?" you quickly find "Well, it's not really an actual country any more." That doesn't help.

It's enough to make one want to curl up in that wicker chair at 221B Baker Street and just not think about it all for a while, isn't it? Because that's an option.

Or . . . wait . . .  

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Time to get past Watson's "marriage"

 "I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centered interests which rise up around the man who finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street . . ."

-- John Watson, "A Scandal in Bohemia"

If one reads much Sherlockian chronology, which I do not advise if one wants to stay awake and alert, one sees a lot of excuses for Watson saying it is autumn when the writer thinks it wasn't, or that it was October when the writer thinks it's April. They come up with all sorts of flips and flops just to make Watson's marriage make sense, when the true fraud is obvious and blatant: the marriage fraud.

And nowhere is that fraud more evident than the paragraph above. It's practically Watson trying to convince us of his heterosexuality after an awkward moment at the ballet. 

"My own complete happiness" -- know any real husbands who use that phrase?

"Master of his own establishment" -- and if he was using the "complete happiness" line to placate his wife, would he then follow it with a declaration of household mastery?

And then there's that thing about Holmes's "Bohemian soul" in a story entitled "A Scandal in Bohemia," where Watson shows a Hercules of a man dressed for the Met Gala declaring himself the "king of Bohemia." European bohemianism was  an artist or writer seceding from conventionality in both life and art, by its very Victorian definition, and in that paragraph, John Watson is trying very hard to say, "I am a conventional man, living a conventional life, with house and home and wife." (That last part is just because Paul Thomas Miller's them to The Watsonian Weekly echoes in my head a lot.)

And yet, he betrays himself . . . oooo, how he betrays himself. 

After that whole trumped-up business about his complete happiness and his "home-centered interests," where does Holmes remain?

". . .  in our lodgings in Baker Street."

And there it is. As much as Watson fusses over what a happy married home he has (something barely referred to elsewhere), he is somehow still lodging with Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street. 

One case, Watson's supposed wife is away visiting her mother. Later that year, Watson is supposedly proposing to the orphan Mary Morstan after just a few interactions. Personally, I'm getting just a little tired of Watson's need to tell us he's "experienced" women of three continents. Name some damn names, Watson! (Especially after you're supposedly married to a woman.)

But I suppose the good doctor will be vexing me with his shenanigans for many years to come, despite any protests upon my part. It is plainly keeping me from the "complete happiness" that marriage provides, as well as being full master of my own establishment.

But at least, you know, I know where our lodgings are.

Sherlockiana's Newsletter Nineties

 Last week I set about cleaning and sorting some of the banker's boxes of Sherlockian stuff I have piled in the basement, and specifically got into sorting Sherlockian newsletters. And I quickly noticed something: There seemed to be a massive amount of them from the early 1990s.

Now, one could put this down to a particular period of interest in the subscribers involved (my newsletter piles represent the past of two different Sherlockians), but it suddenly occurred to me that it wasn't just a newsletter fad by a couple Sherlockians -- it was technology.

In the 1980s and before, to put out a newsletter, you had to figure out some way to publish your newsletter. Somehow, you had to get your typewritten pages into multiple copies, and that wasn't easy. Mimeograph machines in a workplace, little local printers . . . it wasn't something everyone had access to. Copy machines ran off that slick paper from a roll like fax machines at first. Some people still did it, but you had to have resources that not everyone had access to.

But in the late 1980s, a couple of cool things happened. Apple made desktop publishing a thing and copiers from IBM and Xerox got a whole lot better. Suddenly, as the nineties came on, some folks were even printing newsletters right off their PC's printer in their own homes, which never happened before.

What we had in the early 1990s was a small window of time where printing was now easy and the postal service was still our main method of communication. Print newsletters would continue, of course, with some hardy examples holding on for thirty years or more. But there was a five year span where things kind of went nuts, I think. (Just making broad observations here, don't cite me as proper history.)

Newsletters were so popular that in January of 1992, I find that there was a meeting of "The Central Press Syndicate," a scion for editors of Sherlockian newsletters, at the Algonquin Hotel during the SH birthday weekend organized by Bob Hahn. Eight Sherlockians were in attendance, including Florida's Ben Wood, who was a newsletter champion of that era. A list of recommendations for how the society would work was made, and apparently sent out to newsletter producers of the time.

Did the Central Press Syndicate continue on? Would a full historical survey of the Sherlockian society newsletter be a worthwhile study? (Seems like good fodder for a BSJ Christmas Annual, if nothing else.) It's definitely more work than I'm ever going to undertake, with podcasting, Zoom meetings, and the various other Sherlockian whims of the moment. But it does seem like a fascinating subject, and one someone should start grabbing data on before it fades into the trash bins of history. (Sherlockian newsletters are damned hard to shelve.)

Now that newsletters seem to be moving steadily toward being completely PDF and the printing is left to the subscriber, an end-to-end retrospective of the print-and-mail days of the form seems very possible, especially with archives like the U of M one up there to study. But when those studies are even done, I'm sure of one thing:

The 1990s will show the peak of that graph.



Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Valley of Fraud

 The Valley of Fear is a different tale. 

First, there's the thing where Moriarty seems to have been tacked on in a wraparound to the main story.

Second, there's Sherlock Holmes, who, even though he supposedly knows Moriarty is involved, acts like he's on vacation this entire case, picking up tourist brochures, eating heartily at high tea. He's having a fine old time.

And third, there's this thing Mary O'Reilly brought up at tonight's meeting of our local Peoria discussion group: A guy pops out of a wall to hand Dr. Watson the manuscript of his novelette.

With that little bit of framing, the reality of this case finally occurred to me: That manuscript moment was the whole point of this Birlstone Manor House stage play.

"A real downright shorter, Mr. MacDonald!" the local goober proclaims to the three men from London, which is a weird way to describe a gruesome murder, but actually exactly the way a local goober would describe the latest local theatrical production.

Sherlock Holmes, as uncharacteristic in his pace of investigation as all else, seems to take his time in getting to the "dead" body and remarks, "Dear me! These injuries are really apalling," in the manner one would in playing "let's pretend" with a child.

Is it possible that this entire case was a set-up just so that a former Pinkerton who was a friend to Sherlock Holmes, but unknown to Watson, could sell Watson on his adventure manuscript?

There's just enough off in this tale to bear some consideration that way -- and, after all, Watson does seem to have bought into the story and published the thing, when all was said and done. And Watson even used John Douglas's title, which he tells Watson when he hands him the manuscript.

As usual, story discussion night at the library has given me an entirely new perspective on one of Watson's tales. And this time, a bit of a different view of Watson, as well.

Reading them books!

 Sherlockian reading habits sure can change over time.

When I was in college, I read every book I could find with Sherlock Holmes on the cover. As it was the late seventies, and The Seven Per Cent Solution had proved to the world that Sherlock Holmes could still make for a New York Times bestseller, there were a lot of those on the paperback racks. I also carefully worked through The Complete Sherlock Holmes, slowly noting specific details, trying not to miss any wonderful thing about the great detective.

Forty-five years later, my reading pace has slowed down a lot, as a.) I'm not the carefree college student,  b.) I like writing stuff, and c.) How many times have I read those same sixty stories?

I guess I could be reading right now. And tonight is our local discussion group's meeting on The Valley of Fear. And I'm beta reading a book-length work for a pal. And I need to compare two texts for a certain investigatory effort. But here I am, spurred by a comment or two on buying books versus reading books.

When I was younger, I remember more than one person coming into my book room and going "Have you read all them books?" (Maybe they weren't that rustic sounding, but I like to pretend so in my remembrances.) And I would enthusiastically go, "Yes, I have." But now?

Well, I guess you could say that, having read all sixty of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, I technically have read the contents of every weird pirate edition, collection, reprint, etc. of those stories -- just not from the specific books themselves. Collecting will make you a non-reader faster than anything.

I've also got a lot of pastiches that I've strapped on my parachute and bailed out of a few chapters in. That seems to happen a lot these days. And, lord knows there are more books out there that most of us can even afford to buy. 

Things may change with retirement, I suppose, if I don't accidentally step on my glasses ala Burgess Meredith in that ancient Twilight Zone episode at a critical moment. But that target is still many days away. And the writing sure isn't going anywhere. But we shall see.

For now, off to work!

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Writing for the Sherlockian few . . . or one . . . or . . .shelf?

 Was it John Bennett Shaw who first paraphrased Churchill by saying, of Sherlockiana:

"Never has so much been written by so many for so few."

That quote raised its figurative hand and waved at me this morning as I prepared to compare two Sherlockian texts and write up my results. Almost none of you have read those two texts -- not due to rarity, just due to lack of interest -- and my essay containing the results might get read by two dozen people if I'm lucky. 

So why am I doing this?

Hey, Sherlockian here!

Do you know how many mountain climbers there are out there, when we have no televised mountain climbing events?

At the meeting of the John H. Watson Society meeting last Saturday there was some discussion of folks who didn't shelve their books until they had read them, and I was dead sure those folks don't buy the same books I do. And even then . . . one has to look at the massive number of thick collected works that are being produced these days and go, "Somebody is reading all of these things cover-to-cover? I don't believe it."

I know of some voracious Sherlockian readers who seem to be able to plow through essay after essay after essay, and I still doubt those folks have read every chronological work on their shelves cover-to-cover. Those fall more into the category of reference books, like an encyclopaedia, though, so I guess we can forgive that. And when it comes to Conan Doyle biographies, one might get the same pass. While not a big fan of the life of the author himself, I do keep a well stocked shelf of those in case he comes up. The ones I've read end-to-end, though? Carr and Stashower.

I have collector friends whom I wonder if they've read half of what they have, but that's an entirely different category, and perhaps why I will excuse some of the "unreads" on my shelves. I have been a collector on occasion. But the fact that I also tend to write things that I don't expect many people to read speaks to a sort of reverse-collector mindset, like I'm just hoping for someone to shelve the data just to make their Sherlockian squirrel brain get a hit of dopamine for hiding a nut.

Fandom is a fascinating world of behaviours all its own, and Sherlockiana doubly so.

Things could be worse, though . . . working in the corporate world, I see many more pointless endeavors every single day. So, at least . . . Sherlock!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Where did Sherlock Holmes get a sandwich?

 There's a pair of lines in "The Red-headed League" that came up during a discussion this week that are just going to keep me wondering:

"There is Mortimer's, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane's carriage-building depot. And now, Doctor, we've done our work, so it's time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land . . ."

So, the Vegetarian Restaurant was right there -- would that be where Holmes took Watson for that sandwich and coffee?

We know that the Baker Street rooms were a regular source of sandwiches for Holmes -- Mrs. Hudson seemed to keep some beef and bread on the sideboard for just that purpose. Sherlock Holmes makes one for his pocket on his way out the door in "Beryl Coronet," and Watson refers to him "devouring sandwiches at irregular hours" during "Second Stain" as he ran in and out.

When he's further away from Baker Street, as he was in "Naval Treaty," he gets sandwiches from the little village inn in Ripley to keep in his pocket (as well as filling his flask). His famous cloak must have had some nice, large pockets for sandwich-toting, a feature I rather admire.

Early on, in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes tells Watson that he depends upon his skills at observation and deduction "for my bread and cheese." While not strictly vegan, a sandwich with bread and cheese and some cucumbers or pickles, might have passed for "vegetarian" in the early 1880s? I'm not expert in historic vegetarianism, but it seems possible.

So I just have to wonder if that Vegetarian Restaurant (note the capital letters, which makes it seem like that was its name and not just a description) put Holmes in mind of getting a bite to eat and patronizing Jabez Wilson's neighborhood eatery. And what was on that sandwich!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Back to the lab again

 Well, here we are. Some of us had a very good weekend last weekend. Sherlock Holmes was discussed.

The road back is full of rain, impatience, and food that probably shouldn't be in the diet plan. Impatience, because after all the ideas, spins, and plans that came up over the past few days need to be remembered, noted, explored, and reconsidered.

The transition back to our everyday, of course, can be rough. Suddenly the bills are due again, the job stuff is back, the bean burritos at Taco Bell are a cheap, fast lunch . . . suddenly, we are mere mortals again, having left our own personal Olympus. There were gods, goddesses, and non-binary deities there. 

Writers. Artists.  Podcasters. That actor guy I have always loved. (Seriously. It freaks me out a little bit, and my social skills are weak enough when not freaked out.)

Zoom lords. The smartest people on specific subjects. Party people. The best parts of everyone, coming out for a holiday weekend. No matter what the convention, folks coming out to enthuse about that thing they love is a chance to see the best in them. And what is closer to a heavenly realm than that?

Ah, but then like a certain angel with a TV series, we get tossed from that happy place, back down into what suddenly feels like the capital "P" pit itself for a bit. And yet . . . and yet, we bring something back with us. Like another capital "P" mythic, we bring the fire back with us.

It might be a little, portable flame. Or we might come home ablaze like Johnny Storm himself. But once we're back, it's time to put that energy to use. 

I have a feeling this year might not be entirely easy. A lot of unpleasantness is on the horizon in so many directions. We might have some real problems to deal with. But here's my takeaway from last weekend, and that magical place that only existed for a few days: All those divine beings that inhabited that special place? They didn't vanish when the weekend was over. They spread out across the land, back to their private lairs, secret gardens, tower rooms, and the locals who they may or may not know worship them. And that's kinda hopeful. That's kinda cool.

I want to hold on to that thought for a while. Because there is that whole year again until next time. And just about the time my hopes might start to dwindle, and I might be going "did that really exist?" the next version of it will start the cycle again.

Back to the lab again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The rose that is Sherlockiana

 Of all the lines in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, there is one that I think best describes our hobby.  It may not seem that way at first glance, in context, but let's look at it a little more closely . . .

"What a lovely thing a rose is . . . Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to be to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it."

Sherlockiana is, when you consider it, a man-made rose. It is a lovely thing, a definite embellishment of life. It doesn't feed us, or house us, and isn't really necessary for our existence, as much as it might feel that way to the serious addict like myself. 

Coming back from a few days immersed in the hobby and its friends, as one does at 221B Con and other events, I couldn't help but think how much the fact that I got to enjoy this past weekend was a sign that things are going pretty well. No pandemics hammering us. No natural disasters from here to Atlanta. No civil war. And then the personal list: Still healthy enough to make the journey, with an income that makes it possible, and no personal crises that need tending for the moment.

Sherlockiana, like that moss rose in "The Naval Treaty," is an assurance -- an assurance that life is going pretty well at present, well enough to indulge in an embellishment like fandom.

While the more serious among us might go on about how it's important literary scholarship at certain levels, or how it's important that we capture all the history tied to Holmes, at the end of the day, it's a fellow we heard about in the story, and someone we can all survive without. If *POOF* Sherlock Holmes has vanished completely from our lives, enough that we don't even remember him, we'll have other heroes, other joys, and our own character will probably stay intact. Many a Sherlockian has disappeared from the scene to dive into a career, a family, or some other consuming need and returned to us years later, alive and well.

And those of us who aren't retired do that every day anyway, for the most part. Go to work, try to put Holmes out of our heads for eight hours, and get the job done, without the help or ease of Sherlockiana. But when the day is done, if everything went well, we can mentally stroll into 221B Baker Street and drop into that basket chair to see what the boys are up to. And in that moment, be assured that our lives are going pretty well.

Perhaps, as I grow older, I'm much more cognizant of everything it takes for me to get to Atlanta from Peoria for a few glorious days. I know my own health's ups and downs, all the things that can go wrong with a car driving down the road (a semi blew a tire right in front of me this trip, and I managed to safely make it through the rubber shrapnel and sudden slowdown), and have probably thought of every other worst case scenario that would stop me in my tracks in the worrisome days leading up to arriving at the Atlanta aiport Marriott.  But none of that did happen, and I'm now back home, happily assured that things must be pretty okay for me to have enjoyed such a fine weekend.

So here's to the rose that we call "Sherlockiana," our highest assurance of the goodness of life at any moment we're doing it, even in as little a thing as writing this blog.

Monday, April 11, 2022

221B Con 2022: The last of Sunday

 Come one o'clock on Sunday, it was time for the second panel that I had worked on for this year: "Creating Your Own Baker Street Timeline." And that was exactly my goal for everyone who attended -- starting them off on creating their own timeline of the sixty original stories of Sherlock Holmes.

The panel started as panels, do with RabidSamFan/Cindy Dye and I discussing the basics and basic problems of putting Watson's works in a sensible order: the varieties of date references, the marriage issues, etc., etc. It bears a little similarity to the "Arthur 'Continuity' Doyle" panel as the problems with the continuity stories are also the problems of Sherlockian chronology. But the title was "Creating Your Own Baker Street Timeline," and that's what came next. Everyone got handed a Sherlockian Chronology Sorting Deck, sixty cards with each of the sixty cases represented, as well as a few explanatory cards.  

The card system had indicators of which cases were published before the hiatus ended, which was our first sort of the deck, and any date references from the stories, which was our second sort. Accounts with references to Watson's marriage had a dotted line border on their cards, stories with references to other stories had those notes on their cards, basically the cards condensed any basic details for dating the cases into what would fit on a card so you could make your first attempt to put the stories in order without re-reading the entire Canon.

Since this one hour of chronology sorting would get you about a solid third of the Canon worked out, yet lead you into wanting to finish, the brilliant suggestion was made that doing something like this at the beginning of a weekend, then reconvening to discuss results later in the weekend would be an ideal way to explore individual chronology choices, and I loved that. The deck was an experiment, after all, the first draft of the idea, based on a thought I've had since diving into Sherlockian chronology -- it's a topic with many rather dull books on it, but that's only because it's a game you play, not one you watch from the sidelines. The cards just make the playing a little easier.

After that hour came another lunch from the Füd Trück -- a meaty pulled pork sandwich and a caesar salad this time. The weather was pleasant enough to sit out at the hotel's outdoor area surrounded by green, a nice spot not everyone knows about. Steve Mason, the good Carter (who had missed a lot of the weekend from not feeling too well), and I got to talking and didn't realize the next panel we wanted had started at 2:30 instead of three, so we were then late for Curtis Armstrong and Ashley Polasek's hour of Sherlockian movie analysis and other stories. This had a rather odd result.

Are you familiar with the Mandela Effect, where some fact of reality runs counter to something you've held in your brain, and for a moment it feels like you've wandered into an alternate reality? Well, I had one of those upon learning that Charleton Heston actually did "Crucifer of Blood" as a TV movie and not just a theatrical play. Steve actually had to google it and show me that such a thing was real. I suspect our local cable didn't carry TNT in 1991 when it came out, and the movie was so bad no one ever went "Oh, you have to see this!" in the past thirty years. But that wasn't the only weird part of the Curtis/Ashley panel.

As the hour came to a close, Curtis gave a signal and the entire audience stood up and did an arcane sort of dance and chant, as if they'd been in some secret cult all along. Having come in late and not knowing having heard any reference to any sort of odd dance routine the whole time, this was a second reality-bending moment, as most 221B Con panels -- well, none really -- have ever ended with a spontaneous dance-and-chant moment. 

We had a little break to recover, as the room reset for "Our Last Bow," which is always 221B Con's final panel. The room fills up and the con's organizers, Kath, Crystal, Heather, Taylor, and . . . well, I hope the con's volunteer organizer will forgive me for not remembering her name here, as the newer member of the team -- I should take notes . . . all sit up on stage and take any comments, questions, or kudos on the weekend we all just experienced. Kudos always outnumber complaints, some good suggestions always get made, and we get to learn reasons for certain choices or ways the hotel worked, as well as the fact that the hotel staff enjoyed us as a group and had no complaints at all about us.

It's always a really nice hour and fine way to wave good-bye to the con itself for the year.

After that, everyone goes their separate ways, finding dinner, getting little room parties going, having a Zoom call with the John H. Watson Society, etc. This year a goodly cluster of folks made a last stand in the hotel bar in the midst of the incoming sea of folks for some Monday convention about medical devices or something. Sunday nights can be pretty sad at the end of 221B Con, as one sees the magical time of a hotel full of Sherlockians shifting back to the real world of a regular hotel full of strangers, but that little "circling the wagons" in the bad made for a nice place to stop down for some final chatting and a chance to say good-bye, before Monday morning departures start.

It was really tempting to stay in the bar until the last person left, but after two very late nights, I really needed the sleep so I could handle Monday's driving. (After waiting out rush hour, which I now am.)

Next year is the tenth anniversary of that glorious first 221B Con, and, man, what a ten years it has been! Sherlockiana has long had weekend workshops, thanks to John Bennett Shaw's inspiring lead in that area, but no full-on conventions. It took BBC Sherlock to light that fuse and the courage of those original five founders of 221B Con to give us something completely new to our ancient fandom. And we'll definitely be celebrating that next year.

A lot of "old school" Sherlockians still haven't tripped to the con yet, and a few have dropped in, not enjoyed the fifty percent of things that don't focus specifically on Sherlock Holmes, and fled the scene. But as BBC Sherlock's light has faded a bit, the con has kept half its programming Holmes/Victorian based, which is literally between twenty and thirty different sessions -- more than any other Sherlockian weekend you'd care to name. And that little group of five of us elder Sherlockians who huddled together surrounded by a thousand "youngsters" back in 2013 has grown with each year, as more and more folks learned the secret of Atlanta's Sherlock Holmes convention. It still might not be for everyone, but I would also have to say that everyone is not for 221B Con. 

To paraphrase an old line from Marvel's Agents of SHIELD tv series, 221B Con is a magical place. Wonderful, unexpected things happen here every year. (When a durned pandemic isn't halting the world in its tracks.) And every year I leave more than ready for next year, and this year, I am definitely ready. 

It all flew by so fast . . .

Sunday, April 10, 2022

221B Con 2022: Here goes Sunday!

 Was I somehow in a conga line to "Jump in the Line" from Beetlejuice at almost 1:30 AM last night, waving a Norwegian Explorers Christmas annual about (among other things)? And yet still able to have breakfast with Howard Ostrom before his 10 AM panel on Chinese detective television?

YES! It's 221B Con! I love this place.

Howard and I have been friends since we found ourselves at the very first con going, "What is this glorious thing with so many young Sherlockians?" At breakfast "Howardhausen" showed me the wrestler Danhausen on a YouTube video showing the unboxing of a Lego 221B, as well as Danhausen putting on a deerstalker (which puts him on Howard's famous list). Forty-five minutes later, Howard is talking about 2012's The Bullet Vanishes, a Chinese movie that is basically a re-do of Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes with a detective called Son Donglu. The reach of the man's knowledge and research is pretty incredible. (As is the thirty-page handout he gives to the attendees of this panel.)

Okay, halfway through that panel, I suddenly realized my limits, and my internal readout was flashing "Low Power Mode" and as soon as it was over I had to head upstairs for a 25 minute power nap to recharge. I still made it back to the big room for "Beginnings and Endings: Two Tools in a Writer's Bag" only a few minutes late. Hated to miss any of  "Mycroft Holmes: Antagonist or Enabler," but that nap was necessary due to a random hotel alarm clock alarm at 6:30 AM (how that happens a few nights into your stay in that same room, I do not know). "Beginnings and Endings" is the largest panel I've been to so far, with six panelists, all writers, I'm guessing though I missed the intros. I do recognize Liese Sherwood Fabre, whom I've had the chance to chat with several times this weekend.

The subject of tags and warnings on books comes up, and the question of "At what point does a warning become a spoiler?" is rather interesting. "An epilogue is evidence of a tender writer," is a good bit of wisdom that comes along when the discussion gets to endings. The climax followed by a cuddle is a reference that comes up a lot, showing that the panel does have a bit of a fanfic leaning, but even in a non-romantic tale, I think "cuddle" is close to synonymous for "cozy" in terms of leaving the reader in comfort space. There are a lot of good thoughts floating about in this panel, which brings me to that side of 221B Con that I haven't hit on much in this year's path -- this is a creator con.

Where a lot of Sherlockian events are "learner focused," where attendees gather to enhance their enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes with new info on history or lore, there's a whole side to 221B Con that is about techniques for producing content: art, writing, podcasting, crafting, cooking, making dice . . .  all that enthusiasm for whatever you love has to come out somehow, and it's fun to see where it does.

New term for today: "pantser" as opposed to plotter. Good to have google sometimes, where I learned it's to differentiate those who write by the seat of their pants instead of laying out a plot ahead of time.

Sad to see on Twitter that Mrs. Hudson's inflatables are coming down even as I listen to this panel -- 'tis Sunday and the end is nigh. Still most of the day left, but . . . [heavy sigh].

After this, gotta run to pick up the chronology supplies for the 1 PM Sherlock Holmes timeline workshop at 1:00, so going to sign off for the moment. Back soon!

Saturday, April 9, 2022

221B Con 2022: Saturday, Saturday

 It's 10:15 AM, and I'm in a Magnus Archives panel. Now, one might say (if you are not my friend Mary), "What are the Magnus Archives?" Is that connected to Sherlock Holmes? And that eternal question, "How did I get here?"

Well, there is a "What else are you into?" factor to 221B Con with its array of content. Whether you came to this place via Conan Doyle, Jeremy Brett, Benedict Cumberbatch, or just friends of same, Sherlockians and their associates tend to have interests in common. So if you wander into a panel that's completely unknown to you --- like this one, about a horror podcast much beloved by everyone in this room -- there's a strong chance it's something you might want to try. And hearing what people love about that thing will definitely tell you whether you want to try that thing.

I had already stopped in the Stranger's Room to talk to see how the con's Diogenes Club folks are doing, and down to the dealer's room (realizing I would have to take purchases back up to the room, so holding out a little longer.

At the half-hour mark, I slip down the hall to "Canon and Mythos," a panel on the crossover areas of Holmes Canon and H.P. Lovecraft's mythos of horror. August Derleth comes up by the ten minute mark, a fellow who seems to be coming up a bit this year, and Arkham House's combo printing both Lovecraftian horror and Sherlockian pastiche. Lovecraft's racism comes up, of course, and The Mountain of Madness and Other Stories gets a recommendation as a gateway to avoid his worse works that time.

This is the point of 221B Con, early on Saturday, when you start seeing the panels you're going to have to miss out on if you're going to get everything done you need to do. Plans fall apart, regrets begin to surface, but the roller coaster car of this ride has left the station, so it's time to just hang on and ride.

I was going to avoid "Venereal Disease in the Sherlockian Canon" at all cost, but as is typical of 221B Con, I ran into Marilynne McKay in the Stranger's Room who told me that was her presentation. Marilynne is the sort of speaker who is completely comfortable at the head of the room, doling out facts with a healthy seasoning of warm wit, making a potentially gross-gross-gross topic a very rewarding hour.

After that came food time, and the füd trück was offering a good selection of things today (Why umlauts on the spelling of "food truck?" Emphasis! The arrival of the füd trück was a greatly welcomed thing when the con first got it, and like all legend and lore of the con, it is celebrated in our con culture.) The weather outside was very cold this year, and the hotel kindly opened the doors to its unused steakhouse and let us take our lunches in there. I chose the black bean burger, a side salad, and a brownie, and wound up lunching with Madeline Quinones, Ashley Polasek, and Curtis Armstrong in the steakhouse, which was a very happy thing, and prepared me for the full Ashley brain sitting in the Alpha Inn Goose Club Pub Trivia hour, which I then left to prepare for.

The Alpha Inn Goose Club Pub Trivia hour was something I originally came up with for a 2020 Holmes in the Heartland conference in St. Louis that never happened due to the pandemic. That year I had also prepared to test my pub trivia building skills at 221B Con before that event, and since the 2020 con was also cancelled, a full two years ago. Way back then, I had made some wooden coins with a goose for souvenir score tokens, and finally getting to use them was a great relief. The other thing about me doing a "pub trivia" event? It's really going to be a game show. I grew up in the era of the daytime game show and the genre is burned within me.

So mix Family Feud, Jeopardy, some ding bells, a prize box with a five-second limit, and Steve Mason in a white hoodie turned into a goose costume, and you get what I think a trivia contest should look like. The British Museum team on the right side of the room squared off against the London Library on the left side of the room, and in the end, I forgot to ask for counts of "Goose Club pence" to see who actually won. I would guess it was the British Museum, the team with Dr, Ashley Polasek on it, but the London Library team also had Howard Ostrom among their brains, so it was still a good competition. Many goose jokes were made, the movie "Holmes and Watson" got mentioned, life was good at the Alpha Inn.

But nobody wanted any of the blue carbuncles that Steve the goose kept coughing up. Covid safety, I guess.

Another nice social meal, this time with Ed, Kristen, and Madeline, a touch of Charleton Heston in the hotel room as I spent a little time with the relaxing good Carter, then down to listen to a bit of "Mystery and Archeology" to hear the current state of archeology work, then over to Historical Men's Fashions, which were being expertly explained and demonstrated -- cuffs, collars, cravats, ascots, waistcoats, and some fascinating history on all of it. Since I came in a few minutes late, I'm not sure who the presenter is, but he knows his stuff.

When he gets to questions, I slip over to "How to Podcast" to see if I can pick up any tips -- I do have to put out an episode of the Watsonian Weekly this week. Everyone's podcast experience is different, but certain familiar commonalities come up. Running gags, "shooting shit" episodes, how bits just evolve with a podcast. Editing podcasts comes up as a key determinant of how length and how often a podcast comes out are determined. Editors are so key. Finding someone who actually likes editing audio? A miracle.

I like that this year's panel is emphasizing how you have to do this for the love of doing it, without expectations of profit or sudden popularity. Some discussion of being a podcast in a network comes up, which is interesting to me as a lone wolf podcaster -- the community of podcasters seems to be a major factor in non-commercial podcasts, with some of the benefits of cross-pollination publicity. 

It's good to hear what other podcasters are dealing with in their podcast lives, especially when they're doing very different things from what you do. Of course, this session gets a little bit feeling like "discussing my second job," so maybe not as much fun as some other panels. Podcasting is something where I really enjoy writing and creating content (even if it's one-draft rough and messy stuff) but the work side -- editing, publishing, routines -- is still work.

Unlike blogging, which is just type-type-type-publish! Speaking of which . . . it's 9:16 PM, let's drop this report!

221B Con 2022: Thank gawd, it's Friday!

 221B Con finally came back today.

It's just sinking in now, as I sit in my second session of the evening, listening to four Sherlockians discuss Sebastian Moran, three of whom I definitely know, the fourth person harder to identify under her mask. We're all masked here this weekend, even though much of the surrounding world now goes without, even a lot of us in the bar. It's a fascinating combination -- recognizing the reality we've all been living with while discussing the fantasy characters we all love.

Yes, I just called Sherlock Holmes a fantasy character. You have your fantasies, I'll have mine. (Not talking sexual, perv. Calm down.) Anyway, 221B Con is always one of my real life fantasies, too.

After getting a good morning walk in, I sat down with some friends finishing their breakfast, which somehow turned into larger group waiting for lunch, which, when it came, took a full hour from order to getting food . . . did I care? Actually, no. The conversation was keeping me satisfied until the food finally came. Also, it was both the official John H. Watson Society con luncheon and the Reichenbach Falls Lemming Society 2022 member induction. Fourteen people signed the Lemming book, which is what it takes to be a member (with one exception). Sometime earlier in this paragraph, a floor bacon tour was conducted, and our con hosts were happy to come out of their workroom and point out the famous spot on the hotel floor of con lore, after the tour guide failed to find it.

Registration for the con started early, vaccine cards were checked, the restrooms became gender neutral, and badge ribbons were obtained.

A John H. Watson Society zoom happened a bit after that, with Madeline Quinones hosting, and me wandering around the hotel zooming with my phone.  I had to leave that when my old friend Pj Doyle turned up, whom I hadn't seen for years and years. 

When the con fully began at five P.M. -- pause as the Moran panel I'm writing this is erupting during a fancasting debate over whether or not Tom Hardy could play Sebastian Moran --anyway, when things started, the first panel I went to was a roundtable called "The 2(0)21 Sherlockian Society -- A Round Table." Since it was a panel without set panelists, and I was pretty sure I suggested it, I volunteered to run up front and lead the discussion, and was soon joined by Steve Mason, as well as helped a lot by Kate the back-of-the-room volunteer. We wound up filling the hour with good discussion, and I think we did the con well.

Due to the covid cleaning breaks, we got time to have a little post-session hall discussion, a quick wander of the dealer's room (which has some amazing stuff this year, like you find nowhere else), and into the Moran session as mentioned earlier. About thirty or so people in this one and some lively discussion of Moran with almost everyone in the room engaged and putting something in at some point. There are fewer rooms running at once this year, pandemic measures and all, and they're like Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear, size-wise. Moran got the Baby Bear, as did the scion society panel, which was, as Goldilocks always says, just right.

That brought me to 7:30 and another dinner in the hotel bar. Working their way through the menu pretty quickly, and the salmon with vegetable and parsnip puree was good, as was the company, which is pretty consistent this con. A quick room trip, then down to geek pub trivia, designed by con hero Heather Holloway. By the time I get there, my team has formed and named itself "The Five Orange Dips." Heather's choice of three question rounds is a good one, and we rolled through topics at a goodly pace: Movies, literature, science, the names for beasties in groups . . . and we got to assign point values to our answers to make sure our strongest choices got the best shot. 

Quick cut to end result: Out of the five or so teams, the Five Orange Dips got second place and five bucks in con cash to spend in the dealer's room. It's ten o'clock at this point, time to buy tickets to the burlesque show that benefits the Beacon Society and teaching kids Sherlock, then a quick retreat to the bar for a drink. My comrades from the Parallel Case of St. Louis, Kristen and Ed and I discover that the blackberry fizz on the bar menu is an excellent choice, and after a couple of those, head over to the show.

The geek burlesque show at con is always some hooting and hollering fun. The dancers' choices of characters were deeper pulls this year, but they always do a great job, acts referencing Buffy, Cowboy Bebop, and Overwatch among others with a Weeping Angel finale. The standout had to be the Ministry of Silly Walks number, though, which was kinda unbelievable. For discretion's sake, I won't name which member of our party was inspired to get up and dance during the show, but just going to put that out there.

Okay, it's Saturday morning now and I need to get moving. And I'm guessing those blackberry fizzes didn't have too much mescal in them, as I'm not feeling too bad after more drinks than I've had in a row in quite some time. On to Saturday!


Friday, April 8, 2022

221B Con 2022: Pre-Con Thursday

Settling into 221B Con's hotel about twenty-four hours early is about right, I think. I'm not the only one, of course, as the first familiar face I saw this trip was in front of us at the registration desk. And since it was @CumberCurlyGirl, who had also been in Dayton last month, I plainly wasn't the only one glad for all the events this spring, either. (Excuse the use of Kyndall's Twitter handle here -- unlike Holmes, Doyle & Friends in Dayton, 221B Con is a very Twitter-active event.)

But maybe I shouldn't have apologized about Twitter in that last parenthetical, because it's a real key for enjoying the con.  While I ran into Chris Zordan in the hallway on our way to our room, it was Crystal spotting my arrival on Twitter that let me know she and Shana were down at the bar to pop down to say "hi." And got me into Kyndall's Sherlock Cards Against Humanity game for a bit after dinner. 

I do like Twitter for events.

The good Carter and I went to supper in the hotel bar, whose menu, like many places, seemed a bit more limited after Covid did its thing. While Atlanta's airport Marriott is great for a lot of things, access to food is always a limit, as it's like an island that takes a little driving to escape, unlike previous con hotels. After dinner, I got a holler from the St. Louis contingent at the con, Heather, Kristen, and Alisha, and got to talk to them for a bit -- asking everyone what panels they are on from the get-go is always a good idea for steering your later course, so I got my start on that.

While dining, the good Carter noticed Con Air on the bar TV, so when we returned to the room and she put it on, Nicholas Cage lured me into finishing that movie's final ride with his determined "I'm gonna show you there is a God." The bizarre Las Vegas geography of the last part of that movie always fascinates me. (What is that long, long tunnel in the middle of Fremont Street?)

Once I was done being distracted, I ran to Starbuck's to pick up some Cheez-Its, said "hi" to that aforementioned Cards Against Humanity game in the lobby, got the crackers, then saw Greg Ruby was in the bar with Steve and Rusty Mason and Shana Carter, which rated a stop. Then back to delivering the Cheez-Its, back to play Cards Against Humanity for a round or two (of which, the BBC Sherlock version Kyndall had, with its many customized cards for fic-level topics, was very cool and fit the game perfectly). I one the first round by supplying the answer "John's moustache" to the question "What does Sherlock keep in his pocket?" Sometimes you just get the perfect card in CAH.

After that, I got back to the Masons, the Ruby, and the Shana in the bar, ordered a fruity red rum drink that had some name, but I since I actually ordered "some fruity red rum drink" I don't remember. And there we chatted until nearly midnight, with a road-weary Madeline Quinones joining us at some point.  My brain was pretty foggy by the time I finally called it quits, but we had covered a whole lot of topics, from the possibility of Talon King being at the con to how those Baker Street Elementary kids were going to deal with an Abbey Grange situation. Luckily, I sat far enough away from Greg Ruby to keep from poking his face with my finger to prove he wasn't just a Zoom screen version of himself.

So, all in all, a lot of hopeful signs for a good 221B Con this year, the biggest of which is just that we're securely inside the hotel and ready to rock. The number of Sherlockian faces I saw yesterday was actually a lot larger than just those noted above -- the thing about coming to this con year after year is that you become familiar with a lot of folks you don't know and never talk to, just because out of the hundreds and hundreds of folks who come,  a goodly share are regulars and create the friendly familiar atmosphere that fills the hotel for a few days.

And we're just about into it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

A Whist-ful Thought for an Idle Moment

 As one never knows the needs of an individual moment at places like 221B Con, and there will be Lemmings present (whether they know it or not, as yet), I would like to reprint a useful bit I had in our local scion journal some decades ago, retitled as:

A Simple Game of Whist


(With color commentary by expert player of cards, Mr. Sherlock Holmes)


First obtain a standard deck of playing cards. (Traditional whist is played with two decks, one being shuffled while the other is dealt. Sherlock Holmes, it would seem, preferred the informal one-deck game.)


“I had brought a pack of cards in my pocket . . .” (REDH)


Get together four people including yourself.


“. . . as we were a partie carree . . .” (REDH)


Cut cards to determine who will be partners with whom, those drawing the highest two cards playing against the lowest two, aces counted as low.


“A confederate who forsees your conclusions and course of action is always dangerous.” (BLAN)


Cut cards again to determine the dealer, then have the fellow go through the usual shuffle, cut, and deal procedure common to most honest card games. He should deal thirteen cards to everyone, turning his own last card face up.


“We are getting some cards in our hands . . . .” (SHOS)


That last, exposed card's suit is then announced as trump, and the card is taken into the dealer's hand.


“You see that we hold all the cards . . . .” (GREE)


Play begins with the player to the dealer's left, who lays out a card for all to see.


“It's not an easy one to play.” (SHOS)


Following a clockwise rotation, the other players do likewise, each playing a card of the same suit as the first if they have it. If they don't have any cards of the leading suit, players can lay down whatever card they wish.


“I see the fall of the cards.” (BRUC)


The round or “trick” of four cards is won by whomever has the highest card of the suit led (and unlike the draw for partners, aces are counted as high), unless a card from the trump suit has been played by a player out of cards in the leading suit. In that case, the highest trump takes the hand. (Taking a hand by means of a trump is usually called “trumping,” but "ruffing" was the original term for it, dating back to one of whist’s progenitors “Ruffs and Honours.”)


“When the other fellow has all the trumps, it saves time to throw down your hand.” (MAZA)


The winner of that round plays the leading card of the next trick, and the others follow as before, playing the suit of the lead card if possible.


“We must see what further cards we have in our hands, and play them with decision.” (HOUN)


The play progresses in such a manner until thirteen tricks have been won and lost, all the cards having been played. At that time the score is totalled, one point being awarded for each trick over six (called “odd-tricks” in the parlance of whist) that a team has won.


“At present it must be admitted that the odd trick is in his possession, and, as you are aware, Watson, it is not my habit to leave the game in that condition.” (MISS)


Another hand is dealt, played, and scored, the game continuing until one team's score gets to seven points. Another game begins, and the winners of the best two out of three games win the entire match or “rubber.”


“. . . you might have your rubber after all.” (REDH)