Monday, October 31, 2022

Mrs. Conan Doyle's Spooky Hand

 This All Hallow's Eve, that time when the mystic membrane between the living and the dead is said to be at its most permeable, I just can't stop thinking about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's second wife and her spooky, spooky hand.

I don't know if you've ever read Pheneas Speaks: A Striking Message from the Hereafter, Reported by Arthur Conan Doyle, M.D., LL.D. (which is a very real book) but it's chock-full of messages written by the hand of his wife when if was under the control of a ghost, a kind of possession as it were.

One of the earliest ghosts to take over Mrs. Conan Doyle's spooky hand was E. W. Hornung, four months after he died of a bout of flu that turned into pneumonia in France. Hornung was Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, author of the Raffles series, and a had a real rift with Doyle over some W.W.1 business. But all was forgiven, at least by Hornung's ghost, who was suddenly all agreeable about spiritualism, which he hadn't been in life.

Personally, if I was a ghost, I don't think I'd be getting into the hand of my brother-in-law's wife just to tell the guy he was right about everything. In fact, on the other side of the equation, I don't think I'd trust some random ghost possessing some body part of my wife, even if he did get a ghostly character reference from a family member as the supposed Hornung did. And if a ghost can use someone's hand to write clear text, what other things could that hand be doing, say at night, in the same bed you are in?

Conan Doyle was a very trusting soul, that's all I'm saying.

You would kind of expect his first wife to slip into his second wife's hand and write him a note or two. It seems like she would be extremely motivated to do so, and also be readily hanging out with her son, who was the first to take control of the possessable hand. And even if she didn't, I'm sure there would be a lot of "Mom says . . ." coming through in the notes.

Getting back to E.W. Hornung -- that guy was even a writer! He gets the chance to pen some words from beyond the grave and he just writes stuff like, "It is so nice to be free from my asthma?" The supposed Hornung possessing the hand even communicated that he was doing literary work in the afterlife and that what he's writing there is "so much more vital. It really counts." But could he bother to put any of that great prose on the paper in front of Doyle's wife? Nope. Seems to me you'd want a little of your afterlife better works to make it back to the living.

"Pheneas" the ghost that eventually hogged all the hand possession time, has a name with Hebrew roots meaning "serpent's mouth or oracle," according to some sources. And if that doesn't sound like the start of a Blumhouse movie, I don't know what does. One of these days, perhaps Warner Brothers will work their way back from Ed and Lorraine Warren's exploits to those of Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle. (Side note: I got to spend an evening at a local college event where Ed and Lorraine were giving their slideshow presentation once. It was as creepy as you'd expect it to be.)

So my toast to you on this Halloween eve: Here's to your spouse's hand continuing to only work for the brain that's attached to it. And may your own stay yours as well, at least until you get the glass raised and a good drink past your lips!

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The blundering Prime Minister

 Lately there's been a bit of Prime Minister news over in Paul Thomas Miller Land, as some of us call the UK. There was the one goofball that vaguely mirrored our own goofball, and the one that was in and out in a dash, but in tonight's discussion of "The Noble Bachelor" at our local Peoria library group, I was reminded of one other, the one whom Sherlock Holmes called "blundering."

The guy gets overlooked a lot, because he shows up in a fun quote about Anglo-American relations that always makes we Americans happy. Sherlock Holmes likes us!

"It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes."

Okay, let's also ignore how a guy whose brother "was" the British government thinks that America and Britain are going to team up and take over the whole world, and get to that blundering part. Yes, there's a lot to ignore there, including that flag, but back to "blundering."

The monarch of folly, we have seen in the Hamilton musical, of course, King George the Third.

But the blundering monarch, Lord North (his courtesy title -- let's not get into how you have to use first names on second sons like Lord Robert St. Simon for the moment) a.k.a. Frederick North, the Second Earl of Guilford, as his friends surely called him, was often seen as "the incompetent who lost the American colonies." (Hey, Wikipedia says!)

So, fresh off of his appointment in 1770, Lord Freddy North (as we disrespectful American bloggers are now going to call him) stopped Spain from taking over the Falkland Islands and was all full of himself, as one would be. Some longtime political activists in American did that big tea dump in Boston, and Freddy decided to punish the city of Boston, closing their port, taking over their state government, and declaring that any officials of the Crown accused of a crime got to have their case decided in England and that all witnesses for the prosecution had to pay their own travel fees to cross the Atlantic for the trial. (So basically, Brits with a government appointment could get away with anything.)  George Washington called that last part "the Murder Act," as it basically allowed it. 

So, having ticked America off, Lord Freddy told some Sackville guy and the Earl of Sandwich. (Yep, that Earl of Sandwich!) to deal with figuring out how to deal with the rebels. (Does this make the Earl of Sandwich Lord Freddy's Darth Vader?) That didn't work, he then went "Hey, America, we'll take back all the BS if you quit fighting us!" and America went "Nope!" Lord Freddy was forced out of office in 1782 with a motion of no confidence, having basically blundered his way into losing the middle of North America. (Let's pretend all of the above was a "Drunk History" report and not a sober Sherlockian's recitation, shall we?

On the good side, Fred didn't screw up Canada for England during his term. He saved that for some PM in this century. (Now's your chance, Canada! They're distracted!)

So there you have it, the Prime Minister whom Sherlock Holmes insulted the worst. Was he also giving the current Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury (not the salisbury steak Salisbury!), the compliment of being the potential PM to ally with American and take over the world with that crazy flag?

Could be. The guy did have Mycroft working for him. And not so blundering, I guess.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Tips For A Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend In New York City

With plans being made for January by many a Sherlockian in the months ahead, it seemed like a good time to post some practical tips for going to the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend in New York City from someone who knows very little about anything involved. (Hey, it's the internet! Go read a book if you want expertise.) 

The "Christopher Morley Walk" is a tour and not an affected gait. There is no need to practice it before going to New York, especially if you saw how to do it on TikTok. (Also, be prepared to explain TikTok to older Irregulars if you forget and they ask why you are walking funny.)

If you hear the familiar voice of Rich Krisciunas seeming to come from thin air, look upward. He is probably towering over you and the owner of that belt buckle you thought was a subtle advertisement for something.

The Mysterious Bookshop has an actual street address. We don't live in Harry Potter's world and you don't have to find "Conundrum Alley" or some other area unseen by muggles.

The annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars does not allow the playing of "Pokemon Go" during their dinner meeting, even if there is a nearby gym with a deerstalkered Pikachu as the raid boss or you have a "lucky friend" at the next table.

The S.P.O.D.E. (Society for the Prevention of Oysters Destroying Earth) society of Sherlockians has become so prolific that even Sherlock Holmes cannot think why the whole of New York is not one solid mass of S.P.O.D.E. members, so prolific the creatures seem. They are even rumored to have their own brand of plates. Take care to stand near the exit of any room that begins to fill with S.P.O.D.E. members.

If the Doily Ann awards coincide with the week of the Sherlock Holmes festivities, be sure to ask anyone you hear talking about them to spell what they're talking about, lest you wind up at a crocheted doll display, rather than the ACD Society event.

The William Gillette Luncheon is seventy-four years old, and in all that time, William Gillette has never attended. It is said his ghost still wanders the streets of New York in January, hoping someone will buy him lunch. However, if you see a raggedy version of William Gillette in Time Square that is solid to the touch, do not take them to lunch without having them perform a monologue from their play Sherlock Holmes first to prove their identity.

And, lastly and most importantly, if you can't go to New York, come to the Friday night Zoom hangout for the rest of us, Pub Night at the Dangling Prussian. It's a Zoom, and you know how those work.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

A Second Pub Night at the Dangling Prussian

 Once a year, upon a certain January evening, a certain group of Sherlockians comes together and inducts new members. A ritual for the bestowing of membership occurs and certificates are given to those involved. And then a year passes until they meet again . . .

No, I'm not talking about THAT society. This is the one that just met for the first time last year.

Yes, it's time for another six hour Zoom meeting for those who can't make it to New York City for the Sherlockian festivities on January 6, which we call "Pub Night at the Dangling Prussian," where we swear in new members of the Montague Street Incorrigibles and figure out ways to occupy ourselves for the longest non-symposium Zoom of the year.

Last year, we had some music, some trivia, some puppets, a very hairy stand-up comedian, a whole lot of conversation, and clandestine messages from our spies in New York. This year, what will be on the agenda?

No idea. It's only October.

But we do know that it's a good night for a Zoom, and we do know that not everyone can fit a trip to New York into their schedule on a given year, pandemic or no. Even if we just sit around and chat with whoever wanders in, it's still a good night for connecting with our fellow Sherlockians, talking of old times, future plans, and all the ephemera surrounding our friends Holmes and Watson.

Will any Canonical characters show up? Will there be entertainments, presentations, or surprise appearances from that one Sherlockian you haven't heard from in a while? Maybe, maybe not. But we will be inducting new members into the Montague Street Incorrigibles, which only happens on this one night of the year (with one rare exception) during the swearing of the MSI oath.

Here's the advance registration link for this marathon of Zooming: 

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

And if you know you're going to have the evening open, and always wanted to do a presentation for a bunch of Sherlockians in a venue where silliness is allowed and most Sherlockians of Importance will be occupied elsewhere and unable to see you (We don't record!!!), get in touch, because this is the place to do something like put on a gorilla suit and tell bad jokes. 

Pub night at the Dangling Prussian is back, past and future Incorrigibles -- Friday, January 6, 2023.

"As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has given her notice, but there, again, I fail to see how you work it out." -- John H. Watson, "A Scandal in Bohemia"

Be like our mascot Mary Jane and get noticed, because we never know how it's going to work out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Your Halloween treat . . . or trick!

 So you like Sherlock Holmes, you like monsters, and you don't want candy in your adult trick-or-treat book bag . . . what's a Sherlockian to do?

Welllll, some months ago, this fellow named Rob Nunn who is hot into putting collections together approached me with this idea. He had heard Ray Betzner give a talk on a hidden werewolf in the Holmes Canon and loved it so much that he thought someone should put together a book of articles along that line. Me? I'm not really a publisher or editor sort these days, but I do have a few connections among the rare birds of the Sherlockian world, from Holmes conspiracy podcasters like Alan King to a guy . . . well, a guy with some Canonical ancestry named Nathaniel Barker-Harris, whose mom ran a midnight creature feature on a little TV station in Moorville, Kansas.

So, I help Rob out with a few introductions, help him recruit a few folks to write for this book, and voila!

The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes.

Seventeen articles exposing the dark, monstrous side of the Canon. No ghosts need apply. And what have we to do with the lunacy of walking corpses who can only be held in their graves by stakes driven through their hearts? No smoochie-woochie romantic vampires either. Just monsters, monsters, and more monsters. By some very interesting writers.

And despite what that cover might look like, it's a paperback, at a very affordable paperback price. (Said cover is actually a revision of a work by J.G. Wood, whom you might remember helping Sherlock Holmes identify a certain monster of a sea creature off the Sussex coast.)

It's a weird little book of essays, ready to gather proper dust on your arcane shelves of obscure Sherlockian lore, with the profits going the the not-so-weird Beacon Society.  And you can still get it shipped to you, at least in the US, in time to properly prepare yourself for All Hallow's Eve.

It's now on Amazon (US) at this link: though others on Amazon sites across the waters are soon to come. 

We now return to your regularly scheduled blog postings. Though they aren't really regularly scheduled.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The One Pro Wrestling Match in the Sherlock Holmes Stories

"The back door was open, and as he came to the foot of the stairs he saw two men wrestling together outside."
-- Inspector Forrester's description of Mr. Alec Cunningham's account in "The Reigate Squires" 

It is the only true wrestling match of the entire canon of Sherlock Holmes. And, like modern professional wrestling, there are those who say it was entirely "fake," even proposing that Mr. Alec Cunningham watched no wrestling match at all. And there are those who say "performative, choreographed" wrestling, as we know pro wrestling today, did not begin until the 1920s. 

But in April of 1887, we have Cunningham describing see a backyard wrestling match, that stands as a primordial example of the sports entertainment pro wrestling we know now. Note how one can so easily describe the contenders:

In this corner, "a middle-sized man, dressed in some dark stuff," from parts unknown. In the other, William "The Coachman" Kirwan. It's no coincidence that one hundred and twelve years later, the WWE would feature a commentator, executive assistant, and eventual interim general manager named Jonathan William Coachman -- an obvious tribute to Kirwan's legacy.

The actual moves in the match aren't described, but Kirwan dies from a "shot." In modern wrestling, the term is now a "shoot," which is an unscripted, actual attack, which is very dangerous to its target. If it were really a bullet wound, wouldn't there have been some mention of blood in the account? No. This was all about the Cunningham's trying to cover up a tragic backyard wrestling accident. 

Why didn't Sherlock Holmes get that? Well, sports entertainment wrestling was still pretty much unheard of in 1887, and even though we like to think Holmes knew everything about everything, sadly, he didn't.

"Of course, we do not yet know what the relations may have been between Alec Cunningham, William Kirwan, and Annie Morrison," Holmes admits at the end of his investigation, having just found the note which read, "If you will only come tonight at quarter to twelve to the east gate you will learn what will very much surprise you and maybe be of the greatest service to you and also to Annie Morrison. But say nothing to anyone upon the matter."

Doesn't that sound like Cunningham was simply setting up a match for "the Coachman" and his number one fan (or manager?) Annie Morrison? Sherlock Holmes doesn't bother to talk to Annie after being throroughly distracted by the Cunninghams simply trying to show him some of their wrestling moves. He simply came up with an interpretation of the events that would get him back to Baker Street the quickest, after Watson forced that vacation on him.

"The Reigate Squires" has always been a troubled tale, with American publishers changing the name to "The Reigate Puzzle" as they saw the obvious difficulties in Holmes's solution. I would even suggest that the original title was "The Reigate Square," before Watson's agent took out any references to the "squared circle" of the wrestling ring found in Cunningham's backyard.

Do I go too far? Or did Sherlock Holmes not go far enough?

Monday, October 3, 2022

Is John Watson enough?

 When the news came out today of a new TV series featuring Dr. Watson as the lead character, I got pretty excited. I mean, content for a podcast like The Watsonian Weekly doesn't fall off backyard plane trees. And then the details started to emerge.

Written by Craig Sweeney, a name I immediately recognized from CBS's Elementary's writing stable. Being produced in conjunction with CBS Studios. And this full description from

In Watson, a year after the death of his friend and partner Sherlock Holmes at the hands of Moriarty, Dr. John Watson resumes his medical career as the head of a clinic dedicated to treating rare disorders. Watson’s old life isn’t done with him, though — Moriarty and Watson are set to write their own chapter of a story that has fascinated audiences for more than a century. Watson is a medical show with a strong investigative spine, featuring a modern version of one of history’s greatest detectives as he turns his attention from solving crimes to addressing the greatest mystery of all: illness, and the ways it disrupts our lives.

Modern. Moriarty. Medical show. All challenging bits for a pure Watson show.

We've had Elementary, with modern and Moriarty. We've had House, with modern and medical. But here's the biggest issue I'm really wondering about, and I do a podcast on the guy:

Who IS John H. Watson?

Without Sherlock Holmes, who really is he? His "everyman" qualities make him our human doorway to Sherlock Holmes, but that same flavor of character vanilla is not really the thing to carry a TV show. How do you build a stand-alone Watson who can carry his own set of stories without being a faux Sherlock stand-in? That phrase "one of history's greatest detectives" makes one wonder if he is a Watson borne of Ben Kingsley's Watson mold from Without a Clue.

And what is going to make John Watson, the guy best known to us for his brandy prescriptions, capable of "addressing the greatest mystery of all: illness, and the way it disrupts our lives?" That's where we start going . . . ummmm . . . House 2.0?

Were this a sequel to Elementary, in which Lucy Liu's Joan Watson returns to medicine, the above description makes sense. But the male pronouns throughout definitely make it seem like an entirely new item. 

At the end of the day, this announcement is like watching an old-fashioned motorcycle daredevil point at the Grand Canyon and go, "For my next ramp-jump . . ."  

It's going to be an interesting couple of years to see if this gets the air it needs to fly. But I sure hope it does. I know one weekly Watson podcast that could using the material to talk about.