Sunday, February 26, 2023

Sherlock Holmes without the Canon

 There was a debate that sprang up Saturday at the latest meeting of the John H. Watson Society that has been rolling around in my head all weekend, so I figured last thing Sunday eve is a good time to dump the thoughts out and begin the week anew. The point in question was of the importance of the original sixty stories to the hobby of Sherlock Holmes, and their importance in connecting us. 

You know me, I like to try hamburgers made from sacred cows on occasion just to see how they taste, so let's just shoot that bovine in the head and get it over with. Let's do a Thanos snap and make the original Conan Doyle works disappear from the Earth. We can't read them any more, in any form. Any adaptation that stays over fifty percent true to the original text, gone too. Gone, gone, gone.

But everything else remains. Sherlock Holmes remains. All the actors, all the movies, Laurie King books, Lyndsay Faye books, Bonnie MacBird books, Nicholas Meyer books, Elementary, Sherlock . . . even everything else written by Conan Doyle except Sherlock Holmes.

You know what? I think we're actually okay. We may have lost our favorite antique, our beautiful piece of art, our finely crafted centerpiece, but you know what? We're still filthy stinkin' rich in Sherlock Holmes!

Having 221B Con in my very bloodstream ("The con is never over.") has taught me again and again that we don't need Original Canon to share joy in Sherlock Holmes. Our inner definitions of Sherlock Holmes at this point come from a thousand different interactions with the character, who had a dozens of different faces speaking in even more different voices. We learned who Sherlock Holmes was from Basil or Jeremy or Benedict. We tasted other Sherlocks and went "YUCK!" which also defined him for us. We read comics, played games, and found friends based on that singular connection.

And our first question was never, "You read the original sixty stories, right?" The may be our most base level currency, but we'll happily trade in new Sherlocks. Sidney Paget drawing are nice, but the joy in a new piece of Sherlock Holmes art that just captures the man is a priceless moment. The same with prose, the same with film. And a new friend that squees "I LOVE ELEMENTARY!" and goes into depth on Joan Watson's pajamas is someone I'm going to enjoy talking to -- we may not be identical in our loves, but close enough.

Once Sherlock Holmes existed over a hundred years, the diversity collected in his composite being could not help but be reflected in the diversity of his fans views. And with video becoming a much more prevalent medium than the written word, we are definitely meeting true fans who never read the foundation works, yet are still lively and engaging folk. 

There will always be those resistant few who want to deny that diversity, as when certain establishment sorts tried to bunker themselves behind the definition of Sherlockiana as a "literary fandom," when film hobbyists and actor fans have been a part of our culture since William Gillette took the stage or Eille Norwood took to the screen. But that's born out of a fear of loss more than anything. And as I said earlier, we're filthy stinkin' rich in Sherlock Holmes. He's not going anywhere, even if we completely lost the original Conan Doyle Canon entirely. A thousand pastiches haven't diluted Holmes into non-existence. Will Ferrell didn't ruin Holmes for Hollywood. The number of people out there who truly love Sherlock Holmes keep him coming back, however they first met him.

That collection of words making up The Complete Sherlock Holmes is a great Bible of Sherlock Holmes. It's great we still have it, and surely always will. But it's does not contain all the great words on the detective, and hasn't for some time. And we can love those words, and the folks who learned of Holmes from those other texts, for adding to our Sherlockian world, not taking away from it.

Fear not. Sherlock Holmes lives. And lives well.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Sherlock Holmes versus Superman

 I like to ponder ultra-popular characters and consider why they hit a sweet spot with the public like they do. Harry Potter, for instance, has always made me think he came along just when technology we were using every day was starting to seem like magic, so Harry made a good icon for the age. Sherlock Holmes, of course, was something a bit the opposite, an avatar of science and reason when those things were on the rise in a period of change. And the other day I came around to thinking about Superman.

More recent films have tried to get into him being an alien and use him to speak of hating aliens, or looking at him as a god and tell tales of man's relationship with his gods. But neither of those really worked, because neither was what Superman was created to be. And what was that?

The anti-Sherlock-Holmes.

"BUT WAIT!" you might protest. "Superman is no Professor Moriarty."

No, Superman was a simple Kansas farm boy, raised on those wholesome American values that Ma and Pa Kent instilled in him. A real argument for nurture over nature. He might have had the whole "yellow sun gives me powers" bit of luck, but Superman's real core is the strength that his good wheat-field grown heart gave him to win battles over who?

The science guys. "Mad" scientists like Lex Luther or the Toyman. Silly creative imps like Mr. Mxyzptlk who could change reality. A guy literally called "Brainiac." And Superman even came from a planet full of scientist types who just couldn't seem to get it right. So, just as Sherlock Holmes came along when science was a hopeful beacon of the future, Superman seems to have arrived at a moment when we were going "Hey, wait a minute, maybe we should let our better selves keep technology in check!"

Superman doesn't have to figure out what the deal is with the demon hound on the moors, he just has to get in its way. Superman doesn't have to figure out that Hosmer Angel is really Mary Sutherland -- his x-ray vision can reveal the truth without having to think about it at all. (Kind of like Wonder Woman's magic lasso of truth -- a real cheat for skipping right to the answer without working it out.) And unlike that Sherlock Holmes, who thinks he's smarter than the legal system and lets some criminals go, Superman faithfully drops villains off at the police station to let the judge and jury do their work.

I just don't know if Superman and Sherlock Holmes would have gotten along. It would have probably taken Watson to act as an intermediary, as a probable fan of both approaches, impressed by the amazing powers of whoever he was with at the moment, and seeing the rightness of their cause. Because Watson has always been us, really, in dealing with the icon of an age. He'd have probably gotten on with Harry Potter too.

And now, a disclaimer . . .

 If you listened to the latest episode if I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, you might have heard something a bit unusual in Scott Monty's introduction of one of the guests, which included the line "Yet he's still a bitter, bitter old Sherlockian, and probably a monster in his own right." I have to tell you, I was a little shocked to hear those words from one of Sherlockiana's most trusted voices. I mean, Scott's such a nice guy, and all! 

But I probably shouldn't have been so taken aback, since Scott was merely reading from my little bio in the back of The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes, which I did actually write myself about myself. And Rob Nunn and I were on the podcast to talk about that very book. There are probably folks out there who haven't bought and read that book cover to cover, so I felt like I needed to blog a little disclaimer, just in cast anyone didn't catch the little wink in Scott's voice or my writing and were concerned that a nice podcaster was suddenly saying mean things about a poor innocent like myself. Here's the full bio:

Brad Keefauver is still bitter that he wasn’t asked to write for this collection and condemned to work in the galleys. He still manages to somehow enjoy all of the writers within this collection despite his utter jealousy of them all. Yes, he’s also host of The Watsonian Weekly podcast, the editor of Sherlockian Chronology Timelines, and blogs under the title of “Sherlock Peoria,” among other creative endeavors. Yet still, a bitter, bitter, old Sherlockian, and possibly a monster in his own right. But if you’re collecting essays for a book, please invite him to write something, and maybe he’ll be less bitter.

Yeah, no poor innocent had that written about him. I mean, come on, only a real narcissist would reprint his own bio from a book in his blog post, and just milk his own self-esteem issues for a sad attempt at getting one more person or two to pay attention to him, right?

Anyways, the point I'm getting to is one reason I find Sherlockiana to be such a marvelous hobby, and that for the most part, it's such a welcoming and accepting hobby that it embraces some real basket cases of all levels of tolerable and intolerable. If you think of the worst person you know in this hobby, I will bet you can find still a few other Sherlockians out there who think they're just the best. (Even if, occasionally, we might want to think hard about that, too.) Some of us may hold on to grudges a little longer than we should, but overall, we don't . . . for now . . . seem to have the divisive culture wars that social media algorithms and cable opinion channels love to stoke the fires to raise their own engagement along with the heat.

Which just made it sooooo weird to hear a Sherlockian publicly say something negative like that about another Sherlockian, even if it was done in good spirits with good intentions. Hence this sort-of disclaimer post. Probably not going to link it directly to the social media feeds, though, because it's just weird.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

An old theory resurfaces, along a potential revisionist history first meeting!

 I've got a pet theory that's a little wild. 

I mean, sure, like every other Sherlockian, I've got a whole menagerie of theories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but there is one I can't ever shake, and that I just feel in my bones.

It started on a trip to Glenwood Springs, Colorado with a friend of mine named John Holliday. John used to have a different name, but became disenchanted with it, and as a fan of John "Doc" Holliday, my friend decided to make that name his own. And Glenwood Springs is the site of the grave of that very Doc Holliday, but the locals will tell you that they're pretty sure his body isn't in that grave.

Grave robbers wanting a celebrity outlaw corpse? Okay, but there I was, standing at the grave of John H. Holliday with a friend who had changed his name and started a new life. And that old John H. Holliday seemed to have died the same years that John H. Watson first had his presence felt in London.

I mean, what else was I to think? Conan Doyle covered the tracks of a dentist whose American notoriety became too much by writing him up as a British doctor? Oh, he still teamed up with Sherlock Holmes, of course!

Holliday was born August 14, 1851. He had a grand moustache. And Sherlock Holmes had to learn about faking deadly illness from somebody. (Yes, I'm saying Holliday's coughing fits were a ruse to gain the upper hand in fights.)

But I won't belabor old points I've been making from 2003 on, since I published my treatise on Watson/Holliday in Baker Street West 1. For tonight, I have new evidence.

I was doing a little chronology work for the Sherlockian Chronology Guild, when I started considering the timeline implications of Sherlock Holmes reading from his good old index: "Venomous lizard or gila. Remarkable case, that!"  So Sherlock Holmes had a case having to do with gila monsters. Interesting.

More interesting? Some of the first published work on gila monster venom, which saw print in 1890, was done by a Dr. George Goodfellow of . . . ready for this? Tombstone, Arizona. The largest specimen of gila monster ever captured at that time was caught on a road near Tombstone on May 14, 1881, just five months ahead of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. And Goodfellow both treated the Earp brothers after that gunfight and testified on the behalf of the Earps and Doc Holliday at the subsequent trial, getting them out of murder charges.

So Sherlock Holmes dealt with a gila monster. "Remarkable case, that!" 

Was it perhaps so remarkable because it involved his actual first meeting with his Watson, in a place far, far away from St. Bart's Hospital, which a writer like Conan Doyle would naturally gravitate to in his fictionalization of John H. "Watson" and his friend Sherlock Holmes?

Like I said, it's a pet theory of mine. I just didn't ever realize that there was a Canonical lizard connection just sitting there in plain sight like that. (And one that can eat a third of its body weight in one meal, a fact I'm now kind of jealous of.) You just never know.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

A happy ending Canon?

 Okay, so it's Valentine's Day, and after an early supper, an early screening of Marlowe, and some fresh strawberries and ice cream, it was early enough to kill some time with something fairly light from the streaming world.  So Rosaline from Disney Plus? A romantic comedy take on two characters in the background of the classic Romeo and Juliet, which one approaches going "They can't die in the end of this one, can they?"

Well, spoiler, of course not. The tidy 90 minute movie stays true to Shakespeare but still manages to pull a happy ending and living lovers at the end. Maybe not in a fashion for those who tolerate no nonsense in their movies, but why would any no-nonsense person watch this whole movie? It does bring up a very big Sherlockian question, though, the Canon being our classic, just as classic as Shakespeare's works are to theater, and that question is this:

What if we just wrote happy addendums to all of the sixty stories?

Oh, no! John Openshaw fell in the river and drowned! Because he had an envelope in his pocket that said "John Openshaw" on it, according to Constable Cook of H Division! No way is that not conclusive proof that Openshaw died, and surely someone identified the body other than just reading the envelope. I mean, Sherlock Holmes had to at least . . . spend the whole next day going through Lloyd's registers and files of old papers. Hmmm.

It might take a stronger contrivance in some of the cases, and how far we want to go in bringing happiness to the tale. I mean, if we manage to somehow work out a way that both Stoner sisters live to a ripe old age, do we want to spare Grimesby Roylott, too?

Do we want Professor Moriarty to be talked into reforming and starting a new life under a new name by Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls?

The possibilities are endless, and would make another tidy collection in this age of seemingly endless collections. It would have to be all sixt . . oh. Dammit, I just thought of another sixty part collection that I still haven't finished. Somebody take this idea away from me, please, or tell me someone has done it already. Too many other things to do in this Sherlockian life, I tells you.

But back to my original inspiration, the random romantic comedy, which the Hallmark channel has turned into an industry . . . did you ever think about how many Sherlock Holmes stories are practically romantic comedies? "Noble Bachelor" to be sure. "A Scandal in Bohemia" could be worked into one easily enough. "A Case of Identity?" Give that girl a young gasfitter from the ball who was just waiting for Hosmer Angel to be out of the picture! But the romantic comedy Canon is an entirely different collection.

Wait, genre Canons? Oh, that's . . . that's . . . time to end the blog post. Good night!