Sunday, July 31, 2022

Blogaugust (Blaugust? Blogust?) Eve

 Lately it seems the frequency of my blog posts has fallen off, and even though I know the reasons for it -- sundry other regular Sherlockian output -- I can't help but be a little disappointed in it. A weekly Watson podcast and a monthly chronology newsletter are nice and all, but our most time-threatening ideas are always those that come with a regular routine. Take today, for example. "It's Sunday. Time to put out the podcast." Add a family social event, a little time with a friend, and the day is gone, outside of maybe an hour to fold laundry and watch whatever HBO's newest thing's latest episode is.  

We really just have a wealth of enjoyable things available these days, and focusing really becomes an issue. And blogging, that random outpouring of words on mostly Sherlockian topics, starts being the thing I just never get to, even though I have always enjoyed it and found it a bit calming and therapeutic.

So, for the month of August, I think I'm going to try to hit the keyboard on a daily basis for a blog post and see what happens. Does that make it "Blaugust" or "Blogust?" The first sounds like I'm going to write about Peter Blau, which would be an entirely possible way to fill a month. Peter's been a constant in Sherlockiana since I was birthed into this world. The later just looks weird and wrong. Blogaugust?

I realize, of course, that I'm totally jinxing my month by pointing at the skylights with my imaginary blogging bat as I step up to the plate, but I do work best with goals. And daily blogging might actually force me to pay attention to some other Sherlockian chores that need to be done, just to have material to write about. I don't want to become a Charles Blaugustus Milverton and start pouring out the blackmail material from my safe out of desperation. (Just kidding! I don't have a safe full of blackmail material -- unless it's just to blackmail myself, and that's not in a safe.)

So . . . Blogaugust? Here we go.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Thursday night at the "Beech"

 We can never get our innocence back once gone. We can never read anything again for the first time. But what we can do is listen to those with fresher reactions than our own, and let them remind us of what it was like before our minds became all-spoilers. Tonight was our monthly discussion group at the local library, and once again I got to delight in listening to local fans of Sherlock Holmes bring the freshness back to me, this time with "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches."

You see, I'd forgotten what a gothic horror show "Copper Beeches" truly is.

The weird coil of hair matching Violet Hunter's own. The perception of an unidentified moving figure on the other side of a door. The creepy comedian, his shade of a wife, and their fledgling sociopath of a son. After decades upon decades of loving "Copper Beeches," everything in the story is an old friend, however creepy it started out. Silly Jephro. That wacky kid. And ol' chompy doggie. Just well-loved road signs en route to an elopement and Watson just being disappointed Violet Hunter didn't find a place in their lives!

And if I'm not seeing the dark side of "Copper Beeches" as much as I should any more, consider how dark Sherlock Holmes is taking it in the story itself.

"You know, Watson, that is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and the impunity with which crime may be committed there."

Now think about that line in context. Sherlock Holmes is on his way to Copper Beeches to see what is going on with all the weird stuff Violent Hunter told and wrote about. And he also says this:

"I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them."

Seven explanations. And only one of them was "hiding a daughter from a previous marriage from the man who was coming to elope with her." The other six? Probably not nearly so happy, given what Holmes just said about the impunity of crime in those isolated houses like Copper Beeches.

I was always curious to know what Holmes's seven separate explanations were, but given what he just said about the isolation and potential for horror? Do we really want to know just how dark Holmes's mind was turning in coming up with what might have been awaiting at that place?

Personally, I like to put this story in 1889, which is earlier than many chronologists do, and even 1889 comes after the terrible autumn of Jack the Ripper. If Holmes's mind wasn't Ripper-dark before Jack came to town, it surely was after. And he'd already seen one country house with snakes in the air vents and lurking orangutans and jungle cats, as well as one with a great murderous dog and a heir who liked to cocoon his wife to a post. (Suddenly Watson's responding to "He's gone for the dog!" with "I have my revolver!" seems very natural -- the hound of the Baskervilles business wasn't all that long before.)

In a way, it's a shame the title of this story is just based on some trees next to the house in question and not something more ominous that reminds us what horror lurks within. "The Adventure of the Hair That Was Mine But Not Mine" or "The Figure Beyond the Door," something like that.

Still, a good library discussion group night brings it all back, and tonight did just that.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

"Sherlock Holmes fans will love . . ."

 There's a question that I perpetually have when reading book reviews from some source whose primary purpose is book reviews, and that's this: Was the phrase "Sherlock Holmes fans will love [insert title here]" written by a Sherlockian? Or was it inserted by some bored reviewer just looking for something positive to say about a book that they really weren't all that interested in?

Perhaps I'm just a cynical old fan-boy, but that phrase has bothered me since I was a cynical young fan-boy. 

Does the review mention any other Sherlock Holmes tales by way of comparison, the less classic the better? Do they get into writing about Holmes at a level beyond "smart detective who solves murders?" What are the subtle bonafides that show the reviewer is someone I can trust?

I suppose one asks certain questions of any review, but that moment when a reviewer seems to parse out Sherlock Holmes fans as the main readers who will enjoy a book -- "Well, those people will like it!" -- is always a moment I start to question the review's worth. Without any other indicators that the writer is a kindred spirit, that moment is the one I tend to go, "not one of us."

An over-reaction? A bias from being a part of a fandom that, even in its hey-est of heydays still numbers far below things like any sort of foot-ball or boy band? (Find me an office water cooler with, "Hey, did you read the latest Sherlock Holmes Magazine yet?" as a common convo and I shall go work there.) Maybe. Or perhaps it's empathy.

I was once asked to write an introduction for a pastiche that really wasn't that good. I had my reasons for not turning it down -- I was the second or third choice behind much more respectable Sherlockians who didn't have t he reason I had for accepting the challenge. And what I wound up writing was something that was basically "Sherlock Holmes is great. This has a character called Sherlock Holmes in it." Since the introduction was a part of the finished product, I have tried to justify my part by the fact that anyone reading it would have already bought the book, unlike a review. But, man, the struggle of writing that piece has stayed with me.

Ironically, the preceding little diatribe was inspired by Ray Betzner's post of a 1967 book review by a man whose Sherlockian credentials are as impeccable as they come with the headline "Recommended for all Sherlockians." Just the fact that the word "Sherlockians" was used in the publication's headline shows that someone in the process had some knowledge of the fandom, and if it was Starrett's editor who gained that tidbit from just working with his writer, well, that's a very good sign.

But my negative reaction to that sort of "Sherlock Holmes fans will love XYZ" review remark has been with me a very long time, because I've been seeing it a very long time, especially from those weird little review-churning spots that novice writers tend to quote with delight. Proceed with caution when it turns up.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

A visit to Watson

 When you host a podcast called "The Watsonian Weekly," you can't help but fixate upon that not-so-uncommon name. And a couple of weeks ago, during a trip for work, I just had to take a certain off-ramp.

This one.

So I had the driver take the exit. Yes, "the driver." I had to take these lovely pictures through the windshield. I'll let you imagine my driver having a chauffeur's cap and appropriate chauffeur-wear.

And of course, it wasn't right their off the interstate. There were still two miles to go. Suspense,

And there it was.

Plainly under the control of the Freemasons. Or the Baptists. The Methodists seem to be fading from power, and the 4-H prefers to keep their influence under the radar until the four horsemen appear.

One could tell Watson remembered the Moriarty 221-Burning of 1891.

The necessary post. The pavement in front is nicely over the neighborhood soils.

And a place to keep tin dispatch boxes.

And, of course, that ultimate Moriarty protection device, the high place involving water that you put your name on just to taunt the former crimelord like "Watson isn't afraid of heights. Just come up and see, Professor Moriarteee! What? Too scared now? Yeah, I thought so.

Sooooo, that's what you can expect to see if you go to Watson, Illinois. I forgot to pick up any dirt to go with my Sherlock, Texas dirt. Not going to compare it to Watson, Oklahoma, the other Watson I've been to. Nobody at this Watson talking about Don Hobbs all the time. No grade school with a tiger mascot. But that makes two, and now I'm probably going to have to do more.

We'll see. Not really a good source of podcast audio this time, especially if I forget to record there. But next Watson? Who knows?


Sunday, July 3, 2022

It still matters

 "What's the Supreme Court going to do next, kick women out of the Baker Street Irregulars again?"

Even though our hobby provides a nice distraction from the everyday world, as the above comment shows, the Sherlockian brain is not one that completely removes itself from the outside world. After all, a good share of the Sherlockian "game" is wrapping Sherlock Holmes in our actual history. So it gets very interesting when someone thinks it's best to just ignore our history.

We can't wish away Steve Dixie, Tonga, or that Wisteria Lodge cook. And even if some parents don't think schools should teach all of the things that slavery brought to American culture, we still will have "The Five Orange Pips" in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. While our Holmes-based social gatherings are there for pleasure and not protest movements (with a few pleasant exceptions), there are still certain topics that are going to come up.

Recently, for instance, a friend mentioned a particular Sherlockian puzzling over why younger Sherlockians who weren't around for the male-only BSI still found that something worth being angry about. Personally, I was around then, and still have a lot of residual anger, but let me try to empathize with a younger Sherlockian . . . which is kind of the point.

The fact that bad injustices are recent enough to exist in the living memory, and that we still have folks still alive who were . . . and possibly still are . . . okay with the way things were, well, that might be a little irritating. Because if those attitudes still exist, there's always a chance, however slim, that we could slide backwards, as we are now seeing elsewhere in American life. Electing one black president did not end racism. Allowing women into the BSI did not mean Sherlockiana was suddenly not dominated by males of a certain generation.

We can look at history and go "That wasn't my fault!" while enjoying the prosperity passed down to us from forebears who weren't denied the rights that others of their generation were denied. Would some folks who were made members of the Baker Street Irregulars in the 1970s and 1980s have gotten in if women had been given an equal chance? Would their influence on the decades that followed been as strong? The ripples of history are subtle, and not without some worth in considering.

When BBC Sherlock came on the scene a decade ago and its newly minted Sherlockians were dismissed as mere "fans" by those attempting to gatekeep the hobby, the one actual gate being kept suddenly started using "We're a literary society!" as an excuse, despite decades of love for movies, plays, and other television shows being a consistent part of the hobby. Had women been a part of the BSI since the 1930s, I really don't think that wave would have been quite an issue, because it wasn't just young, it was largely female.

The past creates the present, shapes the present, and never leaves the present. If we are going to celebrate it with nostalgic reminiscences, even for the parts we weren't present for, we can still be outraged at that same past as well. 

Yes, the Supreme Court is surely never going to cast its eyes on our little world and reverse the decision to allow women into America's flagship Sherlockian group. But it doesn't mean that we can't slide backwards all by ourselves without a little attention and care.

So be angry about the past you weren't there for. Call me out for all the acid I spewed on CBS's Elementary years and years ago. Somebody's got to keep us geezers in line.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Kayfabe Sherlockiana versus Shoot Sherlockiana

Are Sherlockiana and pro wrestling all that different?

Now, before you answer, let me qualify that statement a little bit: Are parts of Sherlockiana and pro wresting all that different?

If you say "wrestling," you can mean two things: One is sports entertainment "professional" wrestling. The other is the official sport, from high school to Olympic level. Both are wrestling -- each just comes to mind first for some people more than others.

Which is kind of like Sherlockiana.

The idea of mixing Watson's records with our own historical record to expand Sherlock Holmes's universe has been with us from early on. It's fandom at its purest, finding a way to further your enjoyment of a limited resource. And a lot of Sherlockians love the hell out of that "game."

But as Conan Doyle transitioned from wacky celebrity to respected historical figure, as The Baker Street Journal went from fan-produced to college-press-produced, as academic careers were inspired by the stories, Sherlockiana gained an actually serious side to match its fake-serious side. And as before, many a fan of Sherlock Holmes found Conan Doyle's history and other works a way to expand their enjoyment of that limited sixty-story resource.

Wrestling has similar commonalities, notably Olympic wrestler Kurt Angle who crossed over to professional wrestling. While Ronda Rousey's bronze medal was for judo, she was also an Olympic athlete who made it to pro wrestling. Mark Henry, Bill Goldberg, Brock Lesnar . . . the list of athletes who crossed over from "serious" sports to "sports entertainment" is long and storied.

The phrase "Sherlockian scholarship" began as a sort of written sports entertainment, but as real academic work on the author and subject came along, the word "scholarship" could be seen describing actual scholarship about Sherlock Holmes, as well as the old game play "scholarship."

Which is a lot like the word "wrestling." Context is everything.

Except WWE's Monday Night RAW or AEW Dynamite don't tend to mix Olympic-style Greco-Roman wrestling and tag-team matches in the same show -- which, given the limited audiences and venues of Sherlockiana, we often see both kinds of scholarship in the same publication or program.

While most Sherlock Holmes symposiums are single track (and 221B Con is especially multi-track), it might be interesting to see a Sherlockian weekend that ran a dual-track program with academic scholarship and scholarship entertainment running side-by-side, where one could go back and forth as one wished. (Given enough audience and presenters to do such a thing.)

Kayfabe Sherlockiana and shoot Sherlockiana (to use the pro wrestling terms for the staged and real moments in the ring) are a balancing act our hobby has been doing for a while now. We don't want things to get too boring, but we do also enjoy a bit of respectability in our fandom. We may never get gold medals or championship belts (even though it would be really sweet if we did) but looking at our hobby from the lens of wrestling is not without its benefits.

And I will stop there, as . . . well, I'm stopping there.