Thursday, May 18, 2023

Moriarty in the Middle

Once upon a time, Sherlock Holmes had a series finale.

Of course, this was in December 1893, when the word "series" didn't mean television, baseball, or even a definition of what was happening in The Strand Magazine at the time.

"The Final Problem" was, however, for all intents and purposes, the series finale to the Sherlock Holmes series of stories, and it was a pretty cool one. Sherlock Holmes, master detective, faced his evil opposite, Professor Moriarty, master criminal. And like a true positive and negative charge, they cancelled each other out, both gone forever in a tale that just might have been a little too short for all that it truly deserved.

But then the series got rebooted. 

Like everything else where popularity and potential cash flow lure everyone back to the table, Sherlock Holmes came back for a second series. We don't think of it that way now, at our current distance from the thing, but our predecessors and those alive at the time, often saw pre-Reichenbach and post-Reichenbach Sherlocks as two different entities. And there is a distinct difference in the level of the tales if one divides them at that point. Sequel serieses are never quite the same.

In the middle of all that, we find Professor James Moriarty, the criminal genius who never fully got to live up to his full criminal superstar potential. Killed almost as soon as we met him, his absence mourned in later tales, but never truly facing off with Sherlock Holmes, even when he supposedly took Holmes down with him. Instead of being a rising threat throughout a series, culminating in a fantastic climax, poor Moriarty gets to be the ghost story told at the campfire in many ways, always seen through someone else's telling of his tale.

No one suffers from pasticheurs unable to recreate the original Canon magic as much as Moriarty. The market is there for him. Every creator that decides to attempt to jump the Reichenbach canyon like an old-time motorcycle daredevil sees the potential in him. And yet he remains, Moriarty the Unfulfilled, Moriarty the Over-Used, inspiring cats in musicals and latter villains of all stripes. Simply because he came along in the middle, for a creator that saw him as an escape hatch.

The irony of how we're missing "more" in Moriarty is palpable. 

Moran, Mormons, Morgan, Morecroft, moors . . . it's almost like his creator wanted Mor-ish darkness to pervade the series. (Let us raise questions about Morstan and Mortimer and the evil they bring!) But Moriarty himself just never gets what he truly deserved.

Too bad, Moriarty. Too bad.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Sherlo-Eurovision 2023

 Our Sherlockian ties lead us down so many paths we might not have otherwise wandered. This weekend it was the Eurovision 2023 finals, thanks to a certain other Will Ferrell movie besides Holmes and Watson and my friend Paul Thomas Miller's hearty endorsement. And why not?

The twenty-six finalists led off with Austria's "Who the Hell is Edgar?" a song about Edgar Allen Poe, of all people. Since Poe and Austria are both Canonical, I could see I was going to have to favor the songs of Canonically Sherlockian countries. So Austria got points, but not full marks as it appears in "Austrian" in Watson's writings instead of just the country.

Portugual didn't fair much better as Watson's "Portuguese" gets them on the board, but their song just didn't inspire me to give them any extra points for being the "Xango de Baker Street" country.

Switzerland got full Watson name points, and being mentioned by Watson in the same sentence as missing Eurovision favorite Luxembourg helps, but . . . just not charmed by that song.

Awww, Poland isn't Canonical? Pity, I liked the classic pop star vibe on that one.

Serbia gets a partial Watson point for Belgrade being in the Canon, but I've forgotten their song already as I try to catch up. Ditto for France, despite its heavy Watson mentions.

Aw, damn, Cyprus? Why are the non-Watson countries my preferred songs?

Spain is coming on strong, with full Watson points and a strong performance, but I will admit a slight bias toward the English-lyrics songs, so probably not in my top three. Who is already in my top three from the semi-finals? 

Australia! As Canonical as hell, a song that sounded like it was direct from the top forty of some decade past, and then non-prettiest act in the whole show. (Hate to be superficial, but got to give them credit for not being pretty young things in this show.) They haven't been up yet, so I'm eagerly awaiting their return.

Sweden is creeping out the good Carter with her finger-talons, looking like a Swedish were-beastie, and "Swedish" is as close at Watson comes to mentioning Sweden. Kind of a shame, as she's putting on a show.

Okay, side note: Which Canonical character would Hannah Waddingham be best cast as? I can't say Irene Adler, because the idea of Hannah pretending to be a boy seems nigh impossible watching this show. Violet de Merville, maybe? "A wonder-woman in every way." And she could do the ice-cold face-off with Kitty Winter, to be sure.

Poor Albania. Strong performance, no Watson-points.

Okay, Italy is definitely coming off as a "three continents Watson" act. His voice is a little over-whelmed by the volume of the music and back-ups, though, which a notice happens sometimes with these acts.

Estonia suffers the no-Watson points fail, which is sad for a truly class act.

The "Finns" as their Watson qualifications name them, have a truly wacky performance "Cha Cha Cha" that's a real ear-worm. Points to Finland!

Czechia make it into the Canonical competition thanks to Prague's multiple Canonical mentions, and their long-braid sisterhood anthem (I think!) seems to come across despite not being in English. 

Ooo! Australia time! I was hoping their band name "Voyager" might be Canonical, but no luck. They just get me rocking out every time. And I like the "promise me it's gonna be all right" lyric.

"And Belgium?" "Yes, and Belgium, too."  Gustaph and his big hat deserve the full Canonical country reference from "His Last Bow."  So many of my favorite songs in this competition take me back decades, like Belgium's entry, which makes me wonder what the target demographic for Eurovision is.

Armenia falls prey to Watson non-mention, but I have a feeling Watson would like her performance. Would he like Moldova and it's cult-like ritual of a song? I think Watson might feel like Moldova needed Holmes to investigate just what was going on there. And Ukraine, sorry Ukraine. You didn't overcome the Watson mention.

Norway, though. Memorable Canonical mention and a grand epic of a song "Queen of the Kings," which could be Irene Adler's title if you think about it. So solid points to Norway.

With six countries left, I am again amazed, as I was at the semi-finals, just how fast this show moves!

Germany? YIKES! Oh, they're Germany all right. Scary as hell, Canonical as hell, and whose face is tattooed on their singer's one bare leg? Yeah, Germany puts on a show.

And Lithuania . . . trying so hard for a non-Canonical country! And Israel? C'mon, Watson! Nothing in Holmes's cases from Jerusalem or something?  I think Watson would like their entry, dancing and all. 

Slovenia, the good Carter's favorite, get snubbed by Watson too, as far as I can see. I think Sherlock needed to get John more trips around the Continent. Their band name "Joker Out" gets a small nod from "See here, my joker," in VALL.

Croatia has to get an non-Canonical honorable mention for being the weirdest damn thing in a weird night. Hairy military Village People who wind up in their underwear? Real crowd-pleasers in any case. One more song, and who is it? WHO IS IT?


Mae Muller starts off inside her own head, which is kind of a Sherlock thing to do. And "the notorious Muller" is Canonical! Britain is giving their Canonical all! 

Paul Thomas Miller is giving it to Germany though, with Finland in second. I honestly don't know who should win. My musical taste stand up to no critical review, as it's mostly based on movie sountracks. If I can't picture a scene in a movie to a song, it just doesn't do it.

Well, the results are a ways off -- going to fix some party food, but posting this now!

POST SHOW UPDATE: Well, Sweden won. But Paul Thomas Miller predicted Finland would rise with the audience vote and they did almost take the crown, being the only act to cross 300 points in audience popularity, so his Eurovision savvy is pretty solid. But at least a Canonical qualifier made it to the top, even though we were hoping for a little closer race in the jury voting. Overall, though, it was a great time and I look forward to next year.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

221B Con 2023: Afterthoughts

So tonight I had a nice little reminder that "Oh, yes, I had one more blog post about 221B Con that I hadn't tied a bow on and published!" and after a workday whose anger-producing moments weren't leaving my head, I had remembered that doing something for those you love can clear away that frustration sometimes. So I took some pumpkin chili over to one family member, piled up some special books for another kinfolk, and then got a nice note that brought me back to all my Sherlockian con-cousins.

So back to that blog post, already in progress . . .  

There's nothing like getting the most out of your time off work, and this year's little spring break down to Atlanta for 221B Con, has really felt like I did get the most out of it. Still catching up on sleep, but doing well at it. So what was this year like?

First, as anxious as I was about road issues with a fully packed rental car leading up to the trip, I found that final drive from Nashville to Atlanta something akin to inner peace. The spring greenery that we hadn't quite gotten in Illinois yet combined with the certain knowledge that that interstates 24 and 75 had only ever taken me to that Sherlockian Shangri-La which only appears for three days each year . . . well that combination seemed to just set my mind at ease. No worries, no thoughts of the job or daily chores. Just a beautiful trail to a special place, kinda magical in its way, for interstate.

Second, going the vendor route this year and missing most of the programming proved one point that I'd always suspected: I don't go to Sherlockian weekends for the programs. Sure, I enjoy a good panel discussion, a good talk, learning new things. But I wouldn't travel twelve hours, eight hours, or even three, just for that. It's the chance to hang with Sherlockians enjoying themselves. And we do enjoy ourselves at 221B Con, even if you spend your whole day at a vendor's table just people-watching and chatting up passersby.

Third, Paul Thomas Miller is real, and just the pleasant company you thought he was, even when being abused by a podcast microphone.

Fourth, I think Sherlockian karaoke is the trend of the 2020s. Sure, 221B Con has had it for years, but after Dayton and Atlanta both had good shows with some surprise Sherlockians at the mike for such very different weekends, it seems to be on the rise.

Fifth, 221B Con has existed for ten years and has, at this point, definitely built a community. A community with its own customs, lore, and personality. You can ask what "floor bacon" has to do with Sherlock Holmes, but you'd basically be asking what the song "We Always Mention Aunt Clara" has to do with Sherlock Holmes in earlier times. We can certainly justify it as a stone memorial to Altamont who was "bringing home the bacon" in "His Last Bow," just as Aunt Clara was justified as being Irene Adler way back when, but really it's just another part of the lore of a specific Sherlockian community. And the con is a specific Sherlockian community.

I usually get a few more blog posts in about the content of the con each year, but I got a little sidetracked this time around as I decided to experience a different side of 221B Con in the vendors room. I hear they always need volunteers, so I may go that route at a future con to try that side as well. Did you ever just enjoy being a part of something so much that you wanted to sample all the parts? If not, I hope you get there one day. I hear there's a loneliness epidemic out there, and for a few days a year, it's good to get a booster shot against it. 2024 can't come soon enough!

Monday, May 1, 2023

The Conan Doyle PR Echo Chamber

 With a recent story of the Pinkertons going after a Magic: The Gathering player because he got some wrong cards sent to him,  one can't help but reflect upon Conan Doyle's very different treatment of the Pinkerton Agency and the Mormon Church in his two split-story novels.

In A Study in Scarlet, the church members are definitely the baddies, even though a serial killer is stalking and murdering them. In The Valley of Fear, the private "detective" agency is shown to be practically an official police force, working on the same side as Sherlock Holmes, Scotland Yard, and good folks everywhere, with Professor Moriarty stalking and killing their agent. Both entities have had their good and bad days, though one has shown some improvement as the years past, while the other . . . well, recently sent by a corporation to intimidate a card game fan.

One of the great parts of the Sherlock Holmes stories has always been how they are interwoven with historical detail. It gives them a sense of reality, and has sent legions of Holmes fans to the history books to find out more about a great many things. Yet, at the same time, Conan Doyle was definitely not an objective news source or place to learn accurate historical detail. His defense against being called "the Fox News of the Victorian era," as one might be tempted to do, was that he was writing fiction, pure and simple. His name was attached. to each story and not that of John H. Watson, his narrator. (And the guy who actually wrote the stories. Yes, I have to add that complete conspiracy theory -- it's my Sherlockian "brand" as the kids like to say.)

The lone agent of The Valley of Fear, Birdy Edwards, a.k.a. John McMurdo (Spoiler!), a.k.a. John Douglas (Spoiler again!) acting as an anti-terrorist James Bond is definitely an extremely one-sided portrayal of the Pinkerton's history of union infiltration on behalf of corporate entities, even though it is based on James McParland's infiltration of the violent Molly Maguires -- Conan Doyle definitely didn't come back to write a second novel based on the 1892 "Battle of Homestead" where the Pinkertons just sent in a larger force to break a strike.

It's interesting to compare Sherlock Holmes's work as a British private agency, who did work for the government or the rich when he felt the cause was good, with the American Pinkerton's work as a private agency with a bit more strictly profitable agenda. Holmes definitely comes out looking better.

Of course, Sherlock Holmes always had Conan Doyle writing on his side of any matter, so even there we might want to question Watson's literary agent's biases in reporting the Holmes-front news.