Saturday, January 27, 2024

From the Shaw 100 down to the Eckrich and Nunn 17

 After their interview about Canonical Cornerstones: Foundational Books of a Sherlockian Library on the Watsonian Weekly last week, the book's editors, Peter Eckrich and Rob Nunn sold me on immediately ordering a copy from Wessex Press. It was a good interview, and the duo spoke highly of their notable list of writers. When the book arrived this morning, I was immediately struck by the slimness of its one hundred and twenty-five pages, even though that makes perfect sense for a book of seventeen essays and an introduction or two. But it set me to thinking . . .

Jim Hawkins is quick to remind us of John Bennett Shaw's influence on our hobby of late, and I was just reading some of Jim's notes on Facebook this morning, which brought the Shaw One Hundred to mind. Since the final version of Shaw's list, others have made some attempt at such a foundational list for a Sherlockian collector, but nothing gained the traction of Peter and Rob's new book, and it's succinct list of seventeen. And from one hundred down to seventeen? That's some Marie Kondo style housecleaning!

Shaw's list, as many of us know all too well, contained some rarities, some true collectables. Very hard to find and afford, all told. The Eckrich and Nunn list, while not cheap to buy all at once, is easily acquirable. Doing a quick online shopping trip, I found I could buy almost all of it for $255.14, not including The Baker Street Journal, which is either a whole collectable hard-copy quest, or a less challenging but still problematic search if you go digital with what's available. (There was also a particular item on the list that I made a substitution for that the author of the essay on might not consider perfect, so I won't call it out.) All told the most expensive item of the Eckrich and Nunn seventeen is the Les Klinger Annotated, which is in that weird niche of being newish and not yet reprinted.

Shaw's list was that great collector's opinion at each moment he came up with it. The Eckrich and Nunn list was concocted in a more democractic manner, surveying, asking, and asking again. And, with John Bennett Shaw being John Bennet Shaw, Sherlockians of a certain generation were not wont to argue with his choices. The Canonical Cornerstones, like any democratically elected group, is up for debate -- there is one item on the list that I actively hate. But Peter and Rob state in their introduction that their hope is that the book leads to discussion of what Sherlockian books are key for the enthusiast looking for something to add to their collection . . . and I'm sure that will come.

To look at the landscape of Sherlockian works out there, past, present, and still coming, as they never stop coming and think that even a hundred books form a perfect core collection is a bit mind-boggling. And Canonical Cornerstones: Foundational Books of a Sherlockian Library was published for and marketed to a particular, more traditional sort of Sherlockian. We do have our prejudices as a hobby culture and we do like to stay inside the box a little bit -- if you look across your own shelves, you might discover a favorite or two from folks you never hear of in our normal circles.

But we do like a good shopping list, a goal, a mile marker in our reading travels. This new, more travel-sized list, with sales pitches from those well qualified to give them, makes a much easier start than what we had before.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Sherlockian Ghosts of Past Selves

When you go to the movies, sometimes it makes you think about the topics involved for a while after the movie is done, and I see a few movies. And being an ardent Sherlock Holmes fan, I often put Sherlockian twists on those thoughts. Thursday, for example, I saw The Beekeeper, about a secret organization of uber-vigilante beekeepers and thought about Sherlock Holmes having something to do with its origins. Then on Saturday, being a bright and sunny day despite the cold, I ventured out to see the latest incarnation of Mean Girls, a musical tale of social orders and how we treat ourselves and others. Which I then cast around in a Sherlockian way as the evening went on.

Except I wasn't thinking about Holmes, Watson, and their friends. I was thinking about the Sherlockian life. One, hopefully, cannot find too strict a parallel between Mean Girls and Sherlockian life. I mean, the head of the Baker Street Irregulars isn't exactly Regina George, the queen bee of North Shore High School . . . unless you count the part about who gets to eat at what table. But the trials and tribulations of the characters in that movie do get you to reflect a bit on your own past, social flubs, toes you might have stepped on, people you actually hurt. If you're at all self-aware, that list gets longer with time, and the memories are helpful aids in not doing THAT again.

So, I put a little post on Facebook on how sometimes all that comes back to me, more unforgettable than Watson's original name (which I forgot last week) or that guy who did that one thing . . . you know! That one guy! Anyway, it seems that our memories tie to our feelings and thus we get the oddest little moments stuck in our head. For example . . .

The year was 1984. The place was Dubuque, Iowa. Someone introduced me to a Sherlockian of note from the east coast. The name was familiar, but I couldn't place it, right on the tip of my brain. I fumbled around trying to remember where I'd heard the name until the person I was being introduced to politely made and excuse and move on. I never really had the chance to talk to that person after that, and they eventually passed away, and I was just left with this really awkward memory.

A decade later, somewhere in rural Minnesota visiting the home of a lesser-known but incredible collector of things that went Sherlockian and beyond, I got over-enthused and cried out "[Insert name here] is God!" I mean, what does that even mean, but it sure horrifies proper church folk. And it has come out of my mouth on a later occasion or two as well. I mean, I don't think anyone I've ever met is actually George Burns (old movie reference, kids) God on Earth, but when you really get excited you can say some weird shit. And I do.

Have you ever completely pulled a website off the web because you didn't like the hosting service, when you had people who had regularly contributed to the thing? Probably not. Yeahhhh . . . there's little mistakes you have to live with, and then there's big ones like that. A scion falls apart. A friend gets their bridge burnt in the pain of a moment. And suddenly you find yourself treating a blog post like it's your confession booth and the internet is your priest . . . say ten "Hail Marys" and don't post it.Unfortunately, I'm not Catholic.

But, what I am is a Sherlockian. And this little cult of ours is such a gloriously forgiving place to be a social klutz, a cranky ol' grump, or even a misanthropic hermit.  And while a life may hold many memories of moments we aren't exactly proud of, this hobby also can give plenty of moments of hearty camaraderie, moist-eyed affection, and just happy memories to counterbalance all that. It isn't perfect, and none of us are certainly perfect, but a fandom, a hobby, a culture of friendship needs a little forgiveness and the opportunity to forgive on occasion, especially if we can find it in our hearts to forgive ourselves.

Because that's the person you have to look at it the mirror every day, until Dracula converts you or something. (Which starts to look like a decent option as the aging process moves along. Sorry in advance, future victims.) (Damn, didn't I say I was socially awkward! Almost had this thing wrapped up with a nice bow and started talking about draining people's blood for eternal youth. Apologies to everyone with blood in their veins out there. Warm, life-filled bl . .. STOP IT!)

Okay. Time to hit "Publish." Don't think I'll put this one's link on the socials, though. This one's for those of you that care enough just to read past the previous entry that had a link. Thanks for sticking with it!

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The self-discipline of the Sherlock & Co. Baker Street Irregular

Two things I really get along with came together this morning. The podcast Sherlock & Co. now has a Patreon, and a Patreon that offers some really sweet options. TOO sweet, actually.

My now-weekly excitement for the latest episode -- "Red-Headed League" this week!!!! -- has become . . . well, almost troubling with the embarassment of riches. I was enjoying the once a week thing, and doing our little podcast discussions on The Watsonian Weekly every two or three weeks when a two or three part story wrapped up. But now?

For six bucks a month, at their "Baker Street Irregulars" tier, you get all three parts of "Red-Headed League" the minute the first one drops. As a big fan of the podcast who does Patron and is not $30 a month rich, I immediately went for that middle-tier without hesitating. It's a great podcast, and I always think good art needs encouragement. But, having done that, I was immediately confronted with what previously was three weeks worth of Sherlock & Co. right there and available, transcripts and all.

Yes, I know it's unbecoming to whine about having it too good. Fitting yet another subscription into the budget when everything is now a monthly subscription isn't easy. But now I have to ration these beauties and have some self-control. On the good side, these are adaptations of the good old Sherlock Holmes Canon, so it's not like the endings of the mysteries are going to be spoiled if I don't listen immediately. But there is a lot going on with these that still could be. Moriarty sneaking in before "Final Problem." Marianna finally taking on a Mary Morstan place in John's life. All the little add-ons any adaptation brings along with it.

Sherlock & Co. has been a continual treat since its start, and offering its fans some really great Patreon benefits is a move that folks were asking for -- podcast listeners are probably more used to Patreons than anyone else. And here we are. This may not be a BBC Sherlock level wave of Sherlock Holmes fans entering the traditional spaces . . . yet. But I have a strong feeling about the show, and the podcast adding a solid Patreon to Watson's interactions with listeners is some next level stuff. 

Going to be fun to see how this goes.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Sherlock vs. Sherlock: The Barbenheimer Metric

 It's January, that time of year that brings back memories of theatrical Sherlock Holmes movies releases for me. One that did well with the public, one that did not so well with the public. But both had an impact, and both lead actors, our Sherlocks, have had ongoing success as actors on the big screen.

Rarely do we see two of our screen Sherlocks, however, go head-to-head in other roles in movies released on the same weekend. And rarely do we see two screen Sherlocks in movies of comparable quality released on the same weekend. Yet in the summer of 2023, we did.

One saw a worldwide box office success of $1,441,528,220 dollars. The other $805,600,000. Our two Sherlock actors played a part in the biggest movie phenomenon of the whole year, and both were notable in their performance and, while not starring, playing key roles.

Those two actors: Robert Downey Jr., playing Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer, and Will Ferrell, playing "Mattel CEO" in Barbie.

Yes, Robert Downey Jr. from 2009's Sherlock Holmes and Will Ferrell from 2018's Holmes and Watson. Both January movies that shall remain in my memory as ground-breaking Sherlockian films. Each has its haters among our ranks, but each brought something special and brought it to the big screen in the January's that followed their release.

And I don't want to be an internet troll here, except maybe to one friend in particular, but I'd like to point out that on the now famous Barbenheimer weekend, when two Sherlocks competed on screens everywhere, Will Ferrell's movie did better.

That is all. Happy January!

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Thoughts from the Saturday morning after . . .

 One of the things the greater share of humanity doesn't do well has always been allowing for two opposing thoughts to co-exist. "You're either for or ag'in it!" the crusty old-timer might demand, in that fictional headspace where archetypes live. But sometimes they do.

Earlier in the week, I did my semi-annual gripe about the BSI investiture system. "Oh, please, suh, may my friend have a shilling?" and all that. The non-transparent "benevolent dictatorship" might be pleasant mystery on one level, but it allows for entrenched bias on others. Yet, at the same time, I'm always very happy to see my friends get invitations and investitures. Why?

The answer is simple. The system may not make me happy, but everyone who passes through the societal gauntlet is happy at finishing the race, and I am happy that they're happy. Maybe sometimes even too happy, if I read a particular name wrong.

I don't participate in the nomination system, as one of the few voices to publicly criticize the BSI shilling business, the exclusive nature of the dinner, etc., I've never been a favorite of the ruling class, and as such, don't want to hurt anyone's chances by the powers that be seeing my name at the bottom of a letter of recommendation. I mean, you compare something to a Nazi eugenics program once or twice, you might get a reputation. It is what it is.

But Sherlockiana as a whole is a wonderfully welcoming world, and Zoom has opened it up even more. You no longer have to go to a particular Sherlockian's city or they come to yours to make a friend. We all do better in person, 'tis true, but the new connectivity is opening doors and offering opportunities like we never saw before the great pandemic. Our Sherlockian friends connect us to other Sherlockian friends and we can now meet more folks over the course of a year than ever before, across oceans and national borders that some of us might never cross. And when we do get to finally meet our new Zoom friends in person, what a grand thing that is. Having a lot of Sherlockians you hold dear is easier than ever, especially if you've been at this a while.

And when it's their special day, whatever the reason, you delight in their moment. Systems can be flawed, but our friends are still our friends. Both of those things can exist at the same time.

So congratulations to all who made the shilling list in New York for 2024 -- Rudy, Bob, Liese, Derrick, Fabienne, Danna, Jessica, Chuck, Daniel, Olivia, Maxine, Tom, and George. I'm quite pleased you get to be in the club that I will continue to hope figures our a way to open its doors to everyone one day.

We haven't eliminated the impossible in that hope, and as improbable as it remains, it's my truth.

Friday, January 12, 2024

The Partie Carré Experiment

 There was a lot of fun to be had at the Dangling Prussian virtual pub night on Zoom tonight, our annual fill-in for those of us who don't make it to New York for the birthday festivities. Some wonderful Sherlockians showed up, many of the usual suspects and some very happy surprises. Good conversation, toasts, our third puppet Sherlockian premiere, the induction of new members into the Montague Street Incorrigibles, and the very first time for a fun experiment in Sherlockian play.

And it worked.

With our core team of players being Mary O'Reilly as Sherlock Holmes, Edith Pounden as Dr. Watson, Kristen Mertz as Inspector Gregson, and Heather Hinson as Inspector Lestrade, we all saw a new client, the young blonde Lucy Slaney and her nanny Lanny come rushing up the seventeen steps and into the sitting room at 221B to begin the case that our Watson would come to call "The Adventure of the Scented Invalid." 

As I've probably explained elsewhere, with Zoom as our medium all the other attendees got to be parts of Sherlock's brain and feed our Sherlock information as they wandered from Baker Steet to the Surrey countryside in a sort-of "Dungeons & Dragons" style that require no dice and orc-fighting. We decided to call it "Skunks and Scalawags" at some point as the mystery involved a skunk brought over from America. Characters abound, from Brixton Bob, the simple carriage driver who liked his beer, to a certain dancer who held a grudge against inspector Lestrade, to a young boy in a Watson mask who was happy to meet the real Sherlock Holmes. The murder room was thoroughly searched, time was spent in a local pub (too much, according to Brixton Bob, and in the end, Inspector Gregson solved the case?

What the heck?

If you've ever played Dungeons & Dragons as it should be played, you know that it's a story not just being told by the dungeon master, but by the players as well, with the "yes, and . . ." quality of improv. Our Lestrade came up with a clue that was not at all in the script. A wandering naturalist, a singing milkmaid, and "maid number two" showed up out of the blue to add to the tale from the audience. Instead of dice-roll fighting, the key to getting past certain barriers in this game were things like singing or agreeing to a witness's unreasonable demands.

It took an hour and a half for "The Adventure of the Scented Invalid" to play our and be successfully solved, which is the right length for a movie. As Watson once wrote "It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy," but I think wound up with more of the former.

In any case, it was fun and we're definitely doing it again, and definitely before next January. The same game could play out with different people in different ways. And the best thing: It was an experiment in Sherlockian fun that worked. In the early 2000s when we tried a role-playing society out called The Dark Lantern League, I think this is the part we were missing -- it just took Zoom to make it possible.

Thanks to all the folks both mentioned above and unmentioned who were there helping us wander the halls of Morfield Manor and save an innocent skunk. We can never say it enough: Sherlockians are just the best people!

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw 2024

 Being a Sherlockian will inevitably take one to unexpected places in one's life.

This past Saturday, I found myself finally attending a meeting of a Sherlock Holmes society where I was the only human present, a meeting of the Bovestrians of Ragged Shaw. The Bovestrains, named for that moment in "The Adventure of the Priory School" where Holmes concludes, "... it is a remarkable cow which walks, canters, and gallops," hinting at the possibility that someone is out there riding cows instead of horses. Thus "bovestrian" instead of "equestrian."

The group started with some digital trading cards put together by my friend Mary O'Reilly back in September of 2021, after the idea of a society with that name came up at our local library Holmes group meeting. 


Other cards followed that fall . . .

And, eventually, in January of 2022, a meeting of the Bovestrians . . .

Baskerville the hound, Lucinda the cobra, Teddy the Mongoos, Car and Buncle the geese, and Toby the tracker dog all showed up for the first story discussion, showed at the first Dangling Prussian pub night. (Oh, wait, Silver Blaze was there, too! Missed her photo. Sorry, S.B.!)

To see how the first and second meetings of the Bovestrians went, here are a couple of links:

This year, we'll get to look in on the Bovestrians one more time, which might be the last for reasons that will become apparent when we get to see it on Friday night at the Dangling Prussian virtual pub night. It's also the first meeting that I got to attend, even though the Bovestrians seem to think I founded their group, even though I did none of the amazing work that went into gathering what has to be the first non-human Sherlockian society on planet Earth. (Credit Mary O'Reilly and her Doctor Doolittle-like skills there.) 

Like I said at the start, stick with Sherlock Holmes long enough, and he'll take you to some very unusual places.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Shilling Week Thoughts

 This is always a weird week for some of us.

For a whole lot of our little fandom, it means travel, socializing, a sort of Sherlockian family reunion based on the love of Holmes that courses through our veins. If you go to other destination gatherings of Sherlockians throughout the year, eventually you will start hearing the question "Are you going to New York?" bandied about. The Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend has grown into almost a full week of socializing for the hard core or New York based Sherlockian. It's quite a thing.

And at its core, the reason for that city and that weekend, is the annual invitation-only dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars -- the tradition. And at the core of that dinner, the fuel rod that powers its place in the fandom, is the awarding of the BSI shilling, a simple Victorian coin affixed to a certificate, that serves as the most highly regarded recognition in Sherlock Holmes fandom.

It's not an Oscar or an Emmy, awarded for skill at a specific aspect of a creative art. It's not a diploma for accomplishing a level of education. What it comes closest to is a knighthood awarded by the reigning sovereign of Great Britain, that country Sherlock Holmes hails from, and a land that American fans of Holmes prize, often enough to add a "u" to the word honors when describing the BSI shilling. In a land supposedly free of an aristocracy or caste system, we still like to create our own versions of such things.

The annual awarding of that BSI shilling will give you two things: One is a lifelong (with some notable exceptions) invitation to the annual dinner where the shillings are awarded. The second is the ability for yourself and others to tag the three letters "BSI" at the end of your name. Editors or event coordinators can use those three letters appended to your name to give you a certain status to readers or attendees if they aren't familiar with your work, like a certification of a certain level of Sherlockian ability.

Yet the Sherlockian level of ability that it mainly certifies, at this point, is your ability to go to New York and attend the annual awards dinner whilst staying interesting enough to those who put it on to keep inviting you long enough to award you. How do you stay interesting enough?

Well, that's the question. Before he left his post as head of the organization, previous chair of the Irregulars, Mike Whelan tried to lay out some guidelines for those who would follow him. They weren't codified, and the final choice, after suggestions are made by the membership, is always in the hands of the current host of the annual dinner. I don't know if Dracula fans have an annual dinner where their master vampire makes new vampires, but that would be kind of cool, wouldn't it? Sigh. We can't just help but try to create hierarchies. It's in our DNA.

Having come up in a time when women weren't allowed to be invited or awarded the BSI shilling, I will always have burning questions in my head about the whole process of "You are BSI material!" versus "You are not BSI material." Just because we took away one plainly ridiculous barrier to the process doesn't mean others still don't exist. Economic factors enter in. "Can the person you want us to invite afford and make time to come to New York?" As we watch the economic shift that has been creeping up between how the "baby boom" generation had it and how their grandkids have it, the country club aspect of the fancy dinner becomes more apparent. "A true fan will make it work," becomes the unspoken guideline.

But the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend in New York is a great big party and a good time. Those thoughts are for the rest of the year for those busily enjoying this week. For those of us sitting the trip out, however, we wind up having to do something with our time, wondering if we will go next year, what would that take, and if it's worth the cost -- a question which will get a resounding "YES!" from so many quarters it doesn't bear asking.

Still, sometimes you have to wonder about some aspects of it, especially this week, as we celebrate Sherlock Holmes, a man who would definitely put up with none of it. [Mentally insert a GIF of Sherlock Holmes blowing a party blower with that weird litttle horn noise.] Watson might enjoy it, though.