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.

1 comment:

  1. We will be posting the "A-Z List of Sherlock Holmes Performers" on Ross K. Foad's website as soon as it reaches 8,000 (very shortly, its at 7,966 as of the moment, and we add daily). When I began collecting books I remember trying to get all Shaw's Top 100 list. With all my moving around the books unfortunately had to go. Yet, today I find it sufficient just having Mattias Bostrom's "From Holmes to Sherlock," David MacGregor's "Sherlock Holmes: The Hero with a Thousand Faces," and Les Klinger's "Annotated Sherlock Holmes" on my shelf, and my own databases (which dwarf anything DeWaal compiled) in files on my computer.