Saturday, February 17, 2024

Can a second Sherlock Holmes survive in a free Sherlock world?

Today I stopped in at the latest online meeting of the Praed Street Irregulars, the society dedicated to Solar Pons in the way the Baker Street Irregulars are dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. And there's a reason for that parallel, of course -- when Wisconsin writer August Derleth wrote to Conan Doyle and got a "no," he created a detective who decided to be the next Sherlock Holmes. His own Irregulars, his own "B" address, his own doctor companion, his own landlady whose name ended in "son," the whole kit and caboodle.

When I told a friend about the meeting, and its familiar Sherlockian speakers Peter Blau and Max Magee, they were a bit surprised that Peter was interested in Solar Pons. And then it hit me . . . to a Sherlockian who wasn't in the hobby decades ago, Solar Pons doesn't make much sense. Why would anyone need a detective who copies Sherlock Holmes when we have so much Sherlock Holmes?

I read all of the Solar Pons books back in the 1980s. In an era when the Holmes fan fiction was not coming hot and heavy and published pastiches were months apart, Solar Pons was the thing that got you by, not Sherlock Holmes but close enough and written well enough to do the job. We all read the Pons Canon back in the day. The whole Pons Canon even came in a boxed set of paperbacks.

Solar Pons has had a very loyal following for a long time. The Praed Street Irregulars who first organized in 1966. New stories have been written about him, new books are still coming out starring Pons. But like other ancillary Sherlock Holmes subfandoms, its numbers are a but a fraction of the main man's hordes. Yet they persist, despite never having a movie, TV show, or cartoon. (A character on Twin Peaks did get last-named after Pons, but that's as close as he got.) 

Would a CBS series starring some good-looking Brit as Solar Pons power him up to the next level? Could Pons survive a modern-day adaptation? How would a gender-bent Solar Pons work? Could he be in love with Dr. Parker? And could Solar Pons have his own Solar Pons, like a 1960s detective named Spellman Nonce with a partner named Dr. Halston living at 45B Cable Street?

With Sherlock Holmes free of his copyright chains and able to now morph into a thousand other versions of Sherlock Holmes named "Sherlock Holmes," Solar Pons remains more of a fixed point in a changing age than even Watson can now claim to be. Pons's copyrights are still in force with the August Derleth estate. It makes him unique.

And as today's meeting of the Praed Street Irregulars demonstrated, Solar Pons isn't done yet.

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Era of the Collected Work

 Sherlockiana has always come in waves.

A new screen Sherlock triggers a wave of fans. A best-selling pastiche teaming up Holmes with a historical character triggers a wave of Sherlock Holmes crossover books. Covid inspires Zoom use inspires online groups. And then there's the rise of the collection, once publishing a book became relatively easy.

Writing and entire book, especially and entire novel or nonfiction book on a single topic, is hard. Writing an essay or a short story? Not nearly such a mountain to climb. And if you get a bunch of people to do that easier task, and collect enough things to fill a book . . . well, you still have a book. And now, we have a lot more books having to do with Sherlock Holmes than ever before.

Sherlockiana has always loved a collection. Profile By Gaslight was collected by Edgar Smith in 1944 and remained a "must have" piece of Sherlockiana for decades, and is the only "many hands" collection to make it into Eckrich and Nunn's recent Canonical Cornerstones: Foundational Books of a Sherlockian Library. The 1990s saw a wonderfully ambitious series called The Case Files of Sherlock Holmes, where editors Christopher and Barbara Roden published volumes of essays where each book collected works on a single Sherlock Holmes story. (I'm a bit amazed no one has picked up that idea in the 2020s yet.)

But those are just the essays. Pastiches were held at the starting gate by certain Doyle offspring, with The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes being a rare exception to slip through the gate, collecting various authors works. Ah, but if those Doyle brothers could now see MX Publishing's The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, starting in 2015 and now up to at least 42 volumes -- well, that's a reaction I would love to see. Anthologies are now flowing steadily from various publishing outlets.

Our current wave of new Sherlock Holmes books is a bit overwhelming with all the available routes for publishing a book, including those that cost no overhead other than your own ability to format a file, and it shows no signs of stopping -- this wave has become a flood that will leave us in a virtual Waterworld of books on Sherlock Holmes. I always just shake my head at the enthused bibliophile claim that you can never have too many books -- tell that to the person who eventually has to clean out your house fifty years later. The only virtue of massive book collections is that their weight isn't the total back-breaker of massive vinyl record collections.

For both book buyers and anthology editors, selectivity has become a very necessary skill. Neither can have it all and would be mad to try. And time will sort things out somehow. As a movie fan, I'm always amazed at the amazing amount of movies out there that none of us have ever heard of, even though they came out in theaters nationwide at one point. Even movies we've seen and then forgotten existed. Yet some persist through time, either as classics or cult favorites. What will the classic collections be, fifty years hence? What will the cult favorites be?

Some of our younger friends might be influencing those choices as they wax poetically about the virtues of their favorites decades from now. If you're putting out a collection, you might want to consider sending them a free copy. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Case for a Modern Adaptation

 Okay, it's blasphemy time.

Today saw the release of the second part of Sherlock & Co.'s podcast adaptation of "The Gloria Scott," and I'll say it plain: This new "Gloria Scott" is better than the original. Here and now, in 2024 where we all live, Joel Emery has written a better version of the tale than Conan Doyle. 

And I will argue that point with anyone who thinks straight word-for-word adaptations of tales written for the denizens of the 1800s is what we all need now.

Yes, Doyle does get credit for the frame Emery hung his version upon, and the original is worth thinking about. But Joel Emery plainly did spend some time thinking about Doyle's "Gloria Scott," and what it would mean for the people in that story to be in the situation they're in. He took that, put it into modern words and a modern frame to best given a modern listener a feeling for what those events would bring forth in a person.

In the original tale, we are told how Victor Trevor was heart-broken and left England after the case was solved, but it's a postscript we don't feel. Sherlock Holmes is telling a story long after it happened, and it doesn't hit nearly as hard. Bringing "The Gloria Scott" not only to the modern day, but letting us listen to Holmes and Watson having to deal with the Trevor family in person puts us in touch with the drama in a way the original can't. Where the original is Watson sitting cozily in Baker Street while Holmes tells him a tale of his college vacation, we now get to listen in as the events unfold.

We now get a chance to really hate Hunter (the renamed Hudson) and feel badly for Trevor up close and personal before the twist hits and we find why James Armitage became a new man and never told his son about his past life. And this time, up close and personal, you can almost start to sympathize with the tale's Hudson when the truth comes out.

I don't think I was ever affected by the original "Gloria Scott" as much as I was by Joel Emery's modern adaptation. And while a Sherlock Holmes fan is always going to have a soft spot for Holmes's original detective origin story, having listened to why people think "Veiled Lodger" is a bad story this past weekend, I suddenly realized just how much "Gloria Scott" and "Veiled Lodger" are alike: More about somebody telling a story from the past than an actual investigation. Sure, there's that code bit, but how much investigation is Holmes looking at a piece of paper and in the next paragraph, going "Oh, it's really this." The code is just the woman in the mask to dress up the tale of a tale being told.

It's impossible for any human being to experience both Conan Doyle's "Gloria Scott" and Joel Emery's version for their first "Gloria Scott" to compare reactions. And you're probably going to find either one more interesting once if you enjoyed whichever one you got to first, unless a particular detail triggers your displeasure. A fan of the podcast might find Victorian prose a bit dull. A fan of the original story might get irritated listening to John and Marianna shopping. But if you're somewhere in the middle, and can enjoy both . . . well, go, you!

But it's 2024 and we are citizens of the twenty-first century, getting further and further away from that audience that the "The Gloria Scott" was written for with each passing year. An update that makes a story of our favorite detective resonate even harder with us right here and right now is something special.

So this week, I will be celebrating that something special. You have to take such moments when you find them.