Monday, May 30, 2022

Moments for Sherlockian remembrance

 Sometimes I worry a bit that traditional Sherlockiana is too influenced by money.

America's oldest Sherlock Holmes fan club's main membership requirement seems to be the ability to attend an expensive dinner in an expensive city. Events, subscriptions, and books with prices set for a generation that didn't have the economic headwinds of those who came after. The fact that our love of Sherlock Holmes is often exploited, as with all fandoms, by those who just want a little more profit.

And then I remember the 1930s.

Late in 1929, the Great Depression hit, and life got hard. Nobody had money.

But the previous four decades had flooded the landscape with copies of Sherlock Holmes books, both pirate editions and legitimate copies. Complete editions had just started to come out, and Conan Doyle's death in mid-1930 closed the book on the Sherlockian Canon. And in October of 1930, radios across America were playing Edith Meiser's Sherlock Holmes adaptations for all who could listen.

Sure, the Sherlock Holmes stories had fans before. But that primordial soup of the 1930s, a time when imagination was the one entertainment everyone could still afford, Sherlockiana underwent its most rapid early evolution, a period of influence that folks would look back on for decades after. 

Putting an obstacle in a stream always brings new currents, and we've recently lived through a major obstacle that brought new currents to the old hobby. We're probably going to see some more obstacles in the years ahead. Pandemic limitations, economic limitations . . . who knows what else awaits us?

We can't live in the past. Tomorrow is always coming. 

But there are things to remember from yesterday that sometimes make tomorrow a little more hopeful, despite what may be troubling us at a given moment.


Postscript: As I was writing this, I remembered that once upon a time I was in the same room as Edith Meiser, the great writer of Sherlock Holmes on radio. It was the 1987 Baker Street Irregulars dinner, my first invitation there, and this important Sherlockian lady was toasted at the cocktail hour and then hustled off to the ladies dinner simply because she wasn't male. Someone whom it might have been nice to hear speak, someone whose work with Sherlock Holmes should have been lauded with so much more than a drink. But I was a newb of a Sherlockian back then and didn't appreciate the full impact of that regal looking lady on our hobby amid all the chaos of a first trip to NYC. Sometimes you just don't know the full weight of a moment when you're in the midst of it.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Watson's Documentary Footage of the French Interpreter

 It has been many a month, but Talon King and Paul Thomas Miller have informed me that they're having another meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Realist Society to study the original Watson documentary footage of "The Case of the French Interpreter" this Sunday. 

It's actually a recording of their podcast Sherlock Holmes Is Real, and I'm a bit suspect of how societal this "Sherlock Holmes Realist Society" is and not just a ruse for drawing in guests or an audience for their recordings. But I guess one could investigate that -- personally, I will be otherwise engaged.

Their firm belief that John H. Watson was a pioneering documentary film maker, and that the videos found on YouTube disguised as a 1950s TV series are a true audio-visual record of Holmes and Watson's time together always challenges what we know from Watson's later, written version of things. And this week's discussion should be a big one, questioning the very existence of Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft, among other things that were not exactly as we thought they were.

It has been said that Sherlock Holmes Is Real and the Sherlock Holmes Realist Society is that very old Sherlockian game being played at another level. It has also been said that this might be the most delusionally silly corner of our entire Sherlockian hobby. (Though I can't imagine what dastard would even repeat such a slander . . . oh, wait . . . I guess I just did. Unless I just made it up now, and then I wouldn't be repeating it.) Anyway, they seem to believe the whole documentary footage thing, and if you are willing to encourage or at least quietly tolerate such behaviour, you are welcome to join the podcast recording this Sunday on Zoom.

The invitation runs as follows: 

When: May 29, 2022 01:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada) 

Register in advance for this podcast recording and meeting: 

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

And if you do, good luck to all involved!

Actual Photo of Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Reconsidering Moriarty Once More

This month's tale for our local discussion group was one we're all very familiar with, "The Final Problem." And as I considered it this time around, I found myself mentally breaking this short, short story into two stories: The London story and the Escape from London story. The latter always gains our focus, as the death of Sherlock Holmes is a turning point for the entire Canon of Holmes. But the first half, the half we often see as prologue to that big event, is where we learn of Professor Moriarty for the first time.

And it all goes by so quickly.

So very quickly. We don't often stop to fully appreciate what we're being told.

"My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration of his skill."

"Hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind."

"Dark rumours gathered round him in the university town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his Chair and come down to London . . ."

Now think of every villain who crossed the threshold of 221B Baker Street. Think of Watson picking up fireplace pokers and grabbing chairs, sensing the threats of the bad, bad men that wandered into the sitting room he shared with Sherlock Holmes. Now think of the one time Sherlock Holmes considers it necessary to have a gun in his pocket. And the one man Sherlock Holmes felt he needed the gun for.

This was 1891. A phrase like "horror" being applied to crimes has a high bar to get over, the Jack the Ripper murders being only two years behind London. And even then, on February 13, 1891, a prostitute was found with her throat slashed and the belief was that the beat constable had interrupted the killer's work. And what was it Moriarty said . . .

". . . by the middle of February I was serious inconvenienced by you . . ."

Maybe it wasn't PC Ernest Thompson who interrupted Frances Coles's murderer after all . . .

Consider this for a moment: A math professor comes down to London and criminals just suddenly start consulting him on how to get away with their crimes. A man like that must have some credentials to cite, some previous crimes he infamously got away with, right? You don't just come down to London and start a criminal empire from scratch -- maybe you start with one enterprise, like prostitution, establish yourself as a man not to be crossed by making some examples, and build quickly from there.

And if a man comes to your apartment you know for his horrific knifework, you do keep a gun in your dressing gown pocket. And if a maniacal genius thinks he's just going to take you out at Reichenbach Falls without a gun, well, maybe it's because the blade is his weapon of choice.

"Then will come the greatest criminal trial of the century," Holmes says of Moriarty's hoped-for capture, "the clearing up of over forty mysteries, and the rope for all of them."  

But only if Moriarty was captured. And only if all the evidence came to trial. And if Moriarty disappeared into a Swiss abyss, anything the British government (or the man who was same) decided did not need to be public knowledge was not made public knowledge . . . .

There's a very great mystery in the question of why Sherlock Holmes never worked the Jack the Ripper case, the greatest mystery of his time as a detective. And there have been multiple stories by multiple authors full of conjecture about him doing so. But what if Watson actually had already given us one, so very long ago . . . and we just didn't see it for what it was?

Dark rumours, indeed.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Watson's Room Behind Holmes's Bed

 "There is just room behind the head of my bed, Watson."

The discussion of "Dying Detective" led by Bob Katz at Saturday's meeting of the Sherlockians of Baltimore brought that line to mind again. And it baffles me every time.

The head of a bed traditionally is pushed up against the was, with a few inches in the gap at most. Turning the bed at a diagonal, so it creates a triangular space in the corner of the room, works to leave enough space for a full grown man, but it's a very impractical way to place a bed. 

We must assume Holmes had a solid wooden headboard and not just a frame of metal bars back there. Was it a single width or double? And if the bed was placed on the diagonal was there enough room for Watson to squeeze in and out? Such mundane, practical questions take all of the excitement out of Watson's hidden witness situation and almost beg for something more.

Watsonian apologists love to blame printing errors for problems with his dates and locations, but what if we took this tactic for this bed situation? What if the typesetter left a single letter out?

"There is just [a] room behind the head of my bed, Watson."

Okay, it makes no sense for there to be some little door leading to a little room behind Holmes's bed. About as much sense as it would make to somehow think that it was Watson's room, like he was somehow a little person who lived in the wall behind Sherlock's bed, and just popped out when Holmes would knock him up for a case. Yes, that theory makes no sense at all. 

But it has more charm that Watson's "Maiwand" being actually "space," and his "Jezail bullet" being "cosmic rays" which made his body all rubbery and stretchy and able to slide behind headboards. (That was a reference to the origin of the Fantastic Four's Mr. Fantastic, if you're not a comics person.) Or some theory about Watson actually being a life-size cardboard photograph of some apothecary advertisement doctor that Holmes became infatuated with and would slide behind his headboard when other people were around. That's not charming at all.

So you can see what a problem that weird "behind the head of the bed" line is. 

Was the bed on wheels, so Watson just rolled it out and rolled it back?

"There are the wheels, Watson," Holmes exclaims. "Quick, man, if you love me, crush yourself against the wall, and don't budge, whatever happens!" Okay, so I added the "crush yourself against the wall part." And the wheels were probably just a reference to the sound of the villain's carriage outside.

Watson never really describes how he gets out from behind the bed -- at all. So no help from the other end of that scene. Little hidden room, contortionist Watson, rolling bed? How weird do things have. to get to make that weird conclusion to "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" work?

I have to go to bed now. I sure hope there's no one behind it.

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.


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 . . .