Thursday, August 31, 2023

Annie Harrison's Italian Heritage

While I hate to start a blog post with a trivia question, let's begin with this: Can you name the Italian women of the Canon?

Emilia Lucca of "The Red Circle" will immediately come to mind.

Lucretia Venucci, spoken of in "Six Napoleons" will be one you might search out.

And, of course, Annie Harrison of "The Naval Treaty."

Now, Mr. Rich Krisciunas, he who was this year's Treasure Hunt Master for the annual John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt, will tell you otherwise, being a legal scholar and lover of Latin (What does that have to do with this? Well, wait until a certain test has answers revealed). But let's take a look at Miss Harrison through Watson's eyes:

"She was a striking-looking woman, a little short and thick for symmetry, but with a beautiful olive complexion, large, dark, Italian eyes, and a wealth of deep black hair."

Annie (easily short for "Angela") had a brother named "Joseph," the English version of "Giuseppe," the most common male name in Italy, according to Wikipedia. Angela's brother Giuseppe is a bit of a villain, of course, and attempts to make off with the titular naval treaty, regarding Great Britain's policy toward the Italy-Germany-Austria/Hungary alliance and what England might do if the French navy overpowered the Italian navy in the Mediterranean Sea. Something that would be of great interest to Italy, one would surely think.

Now, a superficial reaction to Annie Harrison might be "But her name is 'Harrison'! That's not Italian at all!" Harrison is a truly English name, meaning "son of Harry," of course. Really English. The kind of English that an Italian spy trying to insert himself into British society might take on to replace his true last name, just as "Giuseppe" could so easily go with "Joseph."

And why not encourage one's sister to meet and develop a high-ish level government official, if one were such an agent of the Italian government?

"She and her brother are the only children of an iron-master somewhere up Northumberland way," is the cover story Watson hears about Percy Phelps's fiancee. Not that John Watson does not call Percy her fiance, after he has gotten details about the relationship from his friend. No, Watson says "she stayed on to nurse her lover." Watson does not tend to use that word "lover" unless there's something about a relationship he doesn't approve of.

Clearly Annie and her brother are working at cross-purposes at the time of "Naval Treaty," but even siblings (if they truly were) working undercover as Italian agents in England could be very competitive with each other. And sticking close to Percy Phelps was still bound to have more rewards to come for an Italian agent, even if the naval treaty was important enough for Guiseppe to make a run with, if he got the chance.

There is a lot of evidence for Angela "Annie" Harrison (if, indeed, that is her real last name) was actually very Italian -- and truly a bella donna, if you are into the Italian language as much as Italian beauties.

I leave it to the jury of my fellow Sherlockian legions to decide, should this issue raise it's fine Italian head at a later time. But the evidence seems rather strong at the moment.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Mortality of Sherlock Holmes

 The good Carter and I were contemplating eternity over dinner the other night. Eventually the conversation drifted to Sherlock Holmes, of course. I can't help myself.

Something in us likes to think things can somehow last forever. Even the most practical and irreligious of us probably has some corner of our mind where we skip pondering our refrigerator going bad, or some other instance of things just not staying the same. Life and death may be where we focus our deepest deliberations upon brevity versus eternity, but everything has a "best if used by" date when you look closely enough . . . even Sherlock Holmes.

We have heard the phrase "the immortal Sherlock Holmes" many a time, and the classic Vincent Starrett line, "Who never lived and so can never die," of course. But even Sherlock Holmes has a date with Neil Gaiman's Endless goth girl at some point. We'd like to think otherwise, for to contemplate Holmes's finish is a very, very big thought.

Sherlock Holmes is woven into human culture, human legend, human iconography. But it is very possible to envision his departure before the extinction of humanity itself. A little bit of a dark age. The fall of Western civilization followed by a purge of its cultural remnants. Humanity existed for a very long time without Sherlock Holmes before 1887. We might find someone to replace him come 3784. 

I think its important that we see Sherlock Holmes as the fleeting blip in cosmic chronology that he is, for one simple reason: It reminds us to just enjoy the hell out of him now. 

The spirit of Oingo Boingo's song "No One Lives Forever" was introduced to me at a dance party once, and it's manic energy lined up with a grim reminder speaks volumes. "Celebrate while you still can, at any second it may end . . ."

That collection of Sherlock Holmes books you've stocked your shelves with? It's never going to have anyone else enjoy it as much as the person it was built for by the person who knew what it needed.

Those friends who've shown enough interest to actually choose to spend some time with you unasked? Roll out the carpet, as those hours will pass and you'll have to get back to your chores.

Yes, yes, carpe diem is an old concept, we all know that. And the thought of Sherlock Holmes as immortal is not limiting our fun, but adding something to it -- his immortality gives us some feeling that we ourselves will be remembered. Since Conan Doyle's writings have outlasted the man for almost a century now due to Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlock Holmes fandom is about a century as well, there is a feeling that our writings about Holmes might continue to exist past our time. He gives us the idea that our fun might be remembered, clipped to his coat-tails. Sherlock Holmes just feels like forever.

And as humanity goes, and even fictional humanity, Sherlock Holmes  is a fairly young guy. Robin Hood has been with us since at least 1370 . . .  he's seven times as old as Sherlock! And then there's folk like Hercules and his clan, which might come in at about twenty-seven times as old as Sherlock Holmes. And  King Gilgamesh, whose story is definitely that old. Will little Sherlock Holmes make it as long as those guys? Now, let your fannish knee-jerk "YES!" subside for a moment before you answer. What do those other stories offer humanity that keeps them going forward, despite changes in language, despite changes in their story, moving through time beyond their original text.

Time is a fascinating thing, and history as well. And while concepts like "immortal" and "forever" give us both comfort and security in our loves (and are actually simpler to think about than the life journey through time that even a candidate for legend must go through), we can miss things by holding them too dear.  Something to ponder, as Sherlock Holmes always has been.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Networking the Sherlock

At this point, it's pretty much clear that one overly-wealthy man-child decided to trash a social network site for petty reasons. As that network had a fairly robust Sherlockian community where even a one-topic blogger like myself could build over a thousand followers, seeing it getting bruised and battered has not been a happy thing. Many bolted for the doors. Many stayed put and hope to keep the connections they built there. And some even scattered themselves across multiple outlets, just to make sure they were covered.

So now the top of my favorites bar looks like this: 

Some of those are probably dead already, like some of the Discord channels that have been attempted over the years. And some day I'll get back to trying to figure out Tumblr after it defeated me a decade ago. 

So where do we go, what do we do to connect with fellow Sherlockians? Long gone are the days when The Baker Street Journal acted as the central hub for American Sherlockiana once per quarter. Things are moving a little more quickly now. (And quarterly is so long a period that I actually didn't notice I hadn't resubscribed and wasn't getting issues until late summer. There's just enough other Sherlockian channels that you can be distracted from such a thing.)

Podcasts are nice (he said as a podcaster) and I like a weekly update podcast. I wish we had a something like The Watsonian Weekly that was a little more "current news and events" which I had originally intended for that podcast, but as much as I hate to say this about ol' Johnny boy, he isn't really a good lynchpin for a Sherlock Holmes . . . oh, wait, he's Watson. He should be a great lynchpin. I'm an idiot.

The thing of it is, we just have so much available to us now. And while the internet connects us, it's also a vast landscape where we're spread out as well. We've now learned how easy it is to connect across oceans, but haven't quite figured out how to bridge cyberspace territories.  And where do we focus our attentions? 

Their are definitely levels of closeness with our friends: texting friends, Facebook friends, e-mailing friends, friends we see on certain Zooms, etc.  All our personal networks are varied levels of a variety of connection means. We use what tools suit us, and those tools are not always stable these days.

But as Watson said, "We can but try." (I always want to give Holmes credit for that, since he dressed it up with "Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior.") And on we go.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

What's Going On With This Picture?

 Okay, so this picture:

Holmes and Watson taking a three hour stroll in "The Resident Patient." In some versions of the story, it's been a hot 90 degree day, but Holmes says there's a breeze, hence the walk. But they're all bundled up and Watson even has his face wrapped in a scarf. Because Sidney Paget drew that picture for a the original version of the story, where, when asked to stroll, Watson "gladly acquiesced, muffling myself nose-high against the cold night air." But when Watson's agent decided that "Cardboard Box" should be retracted from public prints, but also wanted to keep that 90 degree day mind-reading section.

So there's that.

Looking at it once again during our local Peoria Sherlock Holmes library discussion group, though I saw something else. In the original text, it's clearly stated that "Resident Patient" is in October of the first year that Holmes and Watson were sharing rooms. Watson says he didn't want to go out in the autumn wind all day due to his "shaken health." And that makes sense, because he's not all that long back from Afghanistan. And he's wearing that muffler, to keep warm, even if Holmes does keep him out FOR THREE HOURS.

But Watson isn't the weird thing in this picture. Look at Sherlock Holmes.

He has a cane and he's got his arm wrapped over Watson like he's using the doctor for support. Put those two things together and it betrays a potential infirmity more than simple shipping. Look at Watson -- wound or no, the guy looks solid and upright. He's not leaning on Holmes in any way whatsoever. Holmes is actually hanging on him.

Was Holmes the one who was suffering from some weakness in autumn 1881, still recovering from some ailment? (Like residual effects of an infected dog bite that initially put him down for ten days?)

Still, a three hour walk is no simple thing. And maybe the cane is a youthful affectation. And his was keeping Watson close for whispering comments about passers-by on the street. That look on Holmes's face has mischief in it, while Watson is staring straight ahead a little too intently as if trying to pretend he didn't react to whomever Holmes is quipping about. That guy in the weird hat that you see between their own heads? The lady they just passed?

And how is that hansom cab not running over anyone, especially that little boy?

There's a lot going on there. But just as we don't know for sure just why "Cardboard Box" got pulled and then used to abuse the weather of "Resident Patient," we can't be sure how deep the tale this picture tells goes. Or doesn't go, but you know how we like to ponder our Holmes bits.

Even in his pictures.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Of course, we started another Sherlockian society!

 Some occasions bear a special commemoration. A dinner in someone's honor, a rare guest in a foreign land, or . . . well, Sherlockians. We should always especially commemorate Sherlockians and any of those fine moments we spend together. So when Monica Schmidt offered that she and the notorious Greg Ruby might passing through Peoria on a Tuesday and were available for lunch, I quickly decided that it was worth taking the day off and doing some proper hosting. I mean how often do we get both a Two-Shilling Award winner and a One-Shilling Award winner here on the same day?

But what to have for lunch, what to have for lunch? What would Sherlock Holmes do?

"He cut a slice of beef from the joint upon the sideboard, sandwiched it between two rounds of bread, and thrusting this rude meal into his pocket he started off upon his expedition." -- "Beryl Coronet" 

So off to Alwan's meat market for an English roast, I went, found some decent brioche buns, and the menu was started. This being the midwest, a good old seven layer salad and baked beans were a quick addition. And not too many people know that somewhere after Sherlock Holmes and cinema, I do love pie. Eating pie, making pie, serving pie to friends. So I asked, and Monica suggested peach. Usually an apple pie guy, but I always enjoy trying out something new. And it does go so well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Monica and Greg arrived in good time and we immediately set to filling plates, talking Sherlockian stuff, and just enjoying the rare late-midweek Sherlockian company. But as we paused for everyone to finish sandwiches, etc., before cutting into the pie, we had one more thing to do.

There are now Sherlockian societies for eating oysters, breakfasting at Waffle House, eating at Culver's . . . so why not one for eating as Holmes did in "Beryl Coronet?"

Membership certificates were at the ready, Peter Blau had been made aware for his list, and the inaugural meeting of "Roast and Rounds: A Rude Meal Society" took place. I had always been intrigued by the thought that Sherlock Holmes once had a meal that could be somewhat re-created at the local Arby's, so what is now described as a society for "Ill-mannered roast beef sandwich dining" on Peter's list just had to come into being. ("Ill" being short for "Illinois," among other meanings.) 

Of course, this being an informal sort of organization, the certificates were a little more formal than necessary. Any time Sherlockians gather over roast beef and bread, membership certificates scrawled and witnessed on napkins will work just as well -- and I had considered making special napkin membership certificates for the occasion, but time was short.

After pie and ice cream, we went upstairs to the specialty rooms of Sherlock Peoria's home base, the Star Trek room and the Sherlock room, where another rare bit of business was about to happen. A lot of us have had that pleasant experience of first visiting another Sherlockian's study, but this was a visit to not only a Sherlockian study, but the podcast studio of The Watsonian Weekly and Sherlock Holmes is Real. So with the advance permission of our guests, I opened up the microphone and recorded the first half hour of their looking around the room just to see what it would sound like. And if an edited down version of that would make for interesting podcast content. That will be coming up on the next Watsonian Weekly, so we shall see.

Another hour or so of lively and fun conversation followed, including a little consultation on the mystery of an anonymous piece of mail I received a month ago. Monica and Greg did not prove to be Holmes and Watson, or Watson and Holmes, on that case, but we don't have enough seamen with tobacco-stained fingers in our lives these days to make mysteries more easily solvable. Eventually it came time for them to return to the road, en route to the twin cities of Champaign/Urbana, where my own Sherlockian journey began in 1978 when the good Carter discovered the Double-Barrelled Tiger Cubs and connected me with the organized Sherlockian world. And from there,  our visitors were heading on to Indianapolis and all the Sherlockian celebrations that that city has to offer.

Having Sherlockian friends come to visit is always a treat, and Monica bringing Greg along on her familiar drive down I-74 was actually quite an event here in our big little river city. One of these days, we shall organize something worth getting a few more folks here all at the same time . . . but maybe not all in my study at once after I make pie for all of them. 

In the meantime, if you've got roast beef sandwiches and Sherlockians, there's a new society you can fly the banner of. I'll send you a PDF of that membership certificate you can even all sign, just as we did.

It's been a good Thursday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The old Sherlockiana and a new Sherlockian's path

 One thing I really enjoy about the Sherlockian world of 2023 is less insistence that one must read all of the rare old collectable works before doing one's own analysis of the Holmes Canon. Suggesting that anyone go on a never-ending quest to study the history of the field before being able to contribute is more than gate-keeping -- it's throwing a fresh soul into a maze of ever-increasing complexity and going "When you get out, only then will your ideas be worthy."

The downside, however, is that when anyone gets out of that maze, they will be so imprinted and so worn into the shape demanded by the maze, that any fresh ideas they might have had are gone. "Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people," some wag once said, and there's a grain of truth to that.

Now, I'm not saying I'm happy past Sherlockians passed. And I'm not saying there's nothing to be learned from older works. But the thing about Sherlockiana is, so much of it lies in our own discovery of what's around each corner. A lot of the older works are just compiling the facts that exist in the original Canon itself, wherein the writer was just documenting their own journey through the lore, cataloging and compiling. A good share of our reference works are just that -- someone who took notes as they read and then was able to publish them.

This really became clear as some of us started to focus in on the order of Holmes's cases as they occurred in Holmes and Watson's lives. There's a natural desire by folks to line the sixty accounts up to form a natural biography of Sherlock Holmes, and almost every person who attempts to line them up does it before reading the ever-increasing number of books on the subject. We've been discussing that topic a bit in the past few years, and no single must-read work had risen to the surface. The original stories are all we appear to expect anyone to have read, and fresh reactions to that data is what seems most desired.

Old Sherlockian works are fun to find and dig into once one has fully embraced the hobby of Holmes, but outside of actual historical studies, biographies, and the like that collect extra-Canonical facts related to our favorite subject, Sherlockiana is always about someone's enjoyment of pondering the classic works and their stars captured for us to enhance our own enjoyment. And the thing we tend. to enjoy most is seeing someone new to the hobby exuding their own love of Holmes -- especially when they've got a fresh take.

Even Sherlock Holmes had his "There's nothing new under the sun" moments. His study of crime both helped him solve new cases AND bored him to tears once he had been around the track enough that criminal originality started seeming rarer and rarer to him. But he had to actually solve crimes for people, we don't have to solve Sherlockiana. It's the journey that we're all here for.

And a great journey it is, whether one was doing in early in the twentieth century or now.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Opposite of Con Drop

 Okay, I'm not going to start this one by telling you what a great Sherlockian weekend I had a little while back. We all have those at a certain point in our fan life. And we know what comes after. Since Sherlockians didn't really have cons before ten years ago, we didn't call it "con drop," but that rough landing upon returning to real life after a weekend in the land of fellow enthusiasts is something that you just get familiar with. The higher you fly, the harder you fall . . . but not always.

There is another post-event effect that hits a lot of folks, and if you can fan the embers of that flame, it might just keep your balloon afloat for long enough to chart a new course. (Should there be hot air in this metaphor? You can judge as I go.) And that's inspiration.

Mixing with your fellow Sherlockians, listening to their talks, comparing notes at dinner or in the bar, you can pick up a lot of ideas for your to-do list. Some combination of things that never occurred to your before, some avenue of investigation or learning that tripped your trigger, some new friend with a plan they're pulling you in on -- there are a myriad of ways to come away with an exciting new project or past-time from a weekend surrounded by like minds.

And if you can fan that flame, it helps fight the con drop or other everyday ennui upon your return. But there's also one more thing to consider, that I think we forget sometimes.

Remember that person you were during a weekend of fellow Sherlock Holmes fans?

Open to new people and new ideas, maybe a little less judgmental and more accepting, possessing that happy knowledge that everyone there was one of your tribe? 

We're all better people when we're in that vortex of enthusiasm that comes from a weekend among our fellows. We like to say "Sherlockians are the best people," but, really, everyone is the best people when they're among their fellow fans (except for certain hooligan-based enthusiasms, of course). If you go to about any convention of people who truly enjoy a special thing, even if you don't know that thing, you'll find the best people there, because it isn't just the people. It's about who we are when we're happy and feeling accepted.

Is it possible to take something of that back to everyday life? To come back a little more open, a little more accepting, and possessing at least some measure of understanding that we're all in the same community and are together in this life?

Real life can be a miserable thing at times. Jobs suck. Families can be trying. It's never just the same as a weekend getaway. But sometimes, seeing that person we have it in us to be, after spending time in an environment that encourages that person . . . well, it can light a little flame in us that goes beyond inspiration for just something new to do.

Hold on to those lights when they come, protect them against the winds of everyday chores, and maybe the drop doesn't have to be as bad, waiting for that next time we get to spend time with our fellow Sherlockians.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

The Real Reason Holmes Had To Retire? Sheer Throughput!

 Sherlock Holmes, as we all know, had a mighty, mighty brain.

And we all know he retired from consulting detection in the early 1900s after only a couple decades at the job. By modern standards, that seems pretty young, but in the Victorian era one has to wonder if it was younger still. We have glimpses of why it was that Holmes retired, but not his full explanation. Rheumatism, boredom, Watson's "desertion" . . . surely there was something more to his choice to leave London and investigation.

While I am not going to compare my brain to Holmes's, the effects of my own age and our modern age combining are definitely giving me one theory as to why he gave it up: The sheer throughput.

I find myself becoming more and more forgetful these days, missing things in my e-mails, losing track of projects, but there is an obvious source aside from the subtle effects of age, and that's the sheer amount of data that has been rushing at me, both on the job and off. Sherlock Holmes, we know, was all about grabbing up as much data applicable to his profession as possible. He read all of the newspapers, he studied all of the topics that might be useful to him, and the ever-flowing parade of London criminals that he tried to keep aware of in a growing city? The city added two million residents between 1881 and 1901, not counting suburban growth!

Sherlock Holmes (like many a Sherlockian of the Ron DeWaal sort) set himself impossible goals in his youth and a never-ending path of information gathering. The amount of material that passed through that racing engine of a mind of his had to be astounding . . . and, eventually, unmaintainable.

Sherlock Holmes eventually had to retire just so he could quit being the Sherlock Holmes he had decided he was to be, early in life.

When looking at Holmes's retirement, it's interesting that he chose first to go for a quiet country life, and then next chose to become someone else entirely -- an Irish-American anarchist named Altamont from Chicago. Sure, he says "Strong pressure was put upon me to look into the matter" regarding his choice to turn spy, but there was also surely something attractive about just being someone other than Sherlock Holmes for a couple of years. Hanging out in America, making the social connections that would lead him back to England and Von Bork . . . yes, he was working, but he also wasn't taking case after case, called upon by Scotland Yard every time they got lazy . . . you know they had to bug him in Sussex now and again.

The amount of data flowing through the brain of an Irish-American in Chicago was probably quite a deal less than that through the mind of the London professional consulting detective. And, for a while, he got to quit being all that was Sherlock Holmes, a man of whom magic came to be expected.

I really can understand that these days.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

The shifting tides of the Sherlockian consumer

We do love Sherlock Holmes. We love things that have to do with Sherlock Holmes. And yet, there comes a time when practical purposes take over. And as changing of the generational guard takes place, we're starting to see something different occur. People are cleaning house.

Something you won't see in any of the pre-weekend promotions or much of the post-weekend write-ups about Holmes in the Heartland was the sheer amount of things raffled off, given away, or being sold at bargain prices by Sherlockians passing along things someone had collected whilst in the "I must have everything Sherlock" mode of their fan cycle. A good amount of stuff found new homes, and many things actively coveted by fellow Sherlockians for their rarity, but it gave one pause to wonder:

When is the amount of Sherlock stuff too much Sherlock stuff?

"NEVER!" someone out there is crying out at this very moment. Their heirs, or whoever has the clean the house when all is said and done, might disagree.

Anyone who has lived in the Sherlockian world for decades upon decades remembers a time when finding something with Sherlock Holmes's picture on it, or a new book in the bookstore about Sherlock Holmes was a moment of celebration, because you could go weeks or months at a time without encountering anything Sherlock. So you just grabbed it all. But the internet changed all that. You can now sit at home and buy Sherlock stuff until your bank account runs dry and your credit cards max out. So we've had to become a little more particular.

There are those things that you'd take if someone handed it to you for free, but would never seek out or spend money on. Then there are those books that you'd really like to have that are now running $300, $400, $500 bucks or more on eBay, if they're even available on eBay. And one starts to notice the difference. The "Shaw 100," a basic list by the foremost Sherlockian of the 1980s, was a somewhat attainable goal when it was created, but now? Good luck. Sherlockiana produced when the market for some things was less than a few hundred people is a rarity in a world that has nearly twice as many people and so many baby boomers at the peak of their disposable income.

But we're still seeing things being given away, out of both generosity and just the need to get it out of the house. There's opportunities out there for the young Sherlockian, to be sure. Yet it's also a time to look hard at those who came before you and everything they're trying to get rid of as a guide to what is going to be worth picking up to begin with. We all have our favorite things, those things we treasure that no one else is going to love quite so much as us. And suddenly, a lot of Sherlock things that we might not care so much about. And even new levels of worthless things, like Sherlockian video tapes.

We do love Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes he just gets harder to have around the house so much.