Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Full Spectrum Sherlockian

 We were discussing pastiches the other night, and it got me to thinking about all the different ways we celebrate Sherlock Holmes. And in considering it, I started to realize there's a bit of a spectrum to it all. And in delineating it out, it seemed to need a coding system to it, and I bet you can guess what the "R" and the "F" stand for. So here's my first draft:

  • R4 - England. (This topic more favored by Americans who aren't living it every day.)
  • R3 - The Victorian period in England, its history and culture.
  • R2 - Conan Doyle's place in the Victorian period, his life and literature.
  • R1 - Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, the history of their creation and publication.
  • F1 - John H. Watson's Sherlock Holmes stories, the history of their creation and publication.
  • F2 - Sherlock Holmes's place in the Victorian period, his Canonical life and career.
  • F3 - The 221B Baker Street period, the non-Canonical history of Canonical people, places, and things.
  • F4 - Any world with Sherlock Holmes in it.

Me, I tend to stay in the "F" end of the pool, where we splash around and play. The "R" side of the pool is where the swim team plays by the rules of their swimming and diving sports. Some ambitious swimmers can do both sides of the pool, of course, being disciplined and staying in the swim lanes for certain events, then coming back to enjoy the water slides and lazy rivers, but that's not to say that the "F" side of the pool doesn't have people working just as hard at their fun as anyone on the "R" side.

Worn that metaphor out yet? I think so.

Anyway, the thing that has kept Sherlockiana alive all these years isn't just that people love that Sherlock Holmes. You can only read the original sixty stories so much, no matter how much of a purist you are. At some point you have to go outside the Canon proper and find something else to do, some other trails to follow. Could be studying Conan Doyle, could be writing your own stories, but they emanate from the same place: that love of Sherlock Holmes that takes you beyond level one, be it in the direction of "R" or "F." 

And here's the other thing -- there's so much Sherlock Holmes out there at this point that there are Sherlockians who didn't start their journey at "R1" or "F1." If you came to Holmes from Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes, for example, you might have started at F4 and worked back to F1, maybe even continuing the journey to R2 or R3. It's very common to wander around that spectrum in search of a comfy place to settle. And I can already see the problem with a linear view of the spectrum. Where do the people that love to study the history of Sherlockian fandom find a spot on there? How about Holmes film historians? 

Suddenly it seems there has to be an "R2A" or "F4B" for Christopher Morley or CBS's Elementary. Some things just can't be put in a box, no matter how hard you try, kind of like the reason the DSM has had five editions since its inception in the 1950s. (Not to say that Sherlockiana is a mental disorder -- I'll leave that diagnosis to some of our friendly experts in that field.) We don't need to classify our fellow Sherlockians.

But the exercise of pondering a spectrum of Sherlock Holmes fandom is good for reminding yourself of all the varieties of folks and fun we have within this hobby of ours, and taking a panoramic view of just how lovely it is when you step back and look.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Valley of Fear-ly Odd Nudity

 Another Holmes discussion group eve at the North Peoria library, and always some new treat from an old story from one of our regulars. Tonight Dale pointed out the oddest part of phrases regarding how the victim was dressed:

"He was clad only in a pink dressing gown . . ." is a plain enough phrase. The dead guy only had on a pink dressing gown, right? But then you finish the sentence, and find " . . . which covered his night clothes."

Don't night clothes count as clothes? But it doesn't stop there!

"There were carpet slippers on his bare feet." How could his feet be bare if he had slippers on?

And in both cases: Why does Watson seem to want his corpse to be naked so badly? It's almost as if he is giving us hints to the answers to this mystery. The dead man came wearing different clothes and got shot in the face. Then somebody stripped him down, so he was naked at one point, at which point one of the men who stripped him down also got naked. Is there a secret Sidney Paget drawing somewhere where the naked dead man is laying there while the naked live man starts to dress the dead one in his clothes?

Or of the naked live man putting the naked dead man's clothes into the moat before scampering off naked to find more clothes?

Should we even let children read The Valley of Fear with all this shocking implied nudity!?!

And John Douglas went immediately into the hidey-hole of his after the clothes-switch, and Watson never states he was wearing anything but a wedding ring when he comes out, so are we to then surmise that the entire final scene of the mystery has a naked man in the middle of it?

Watson's narration is quick to leave that scene and move on to the flashback part of the novel, possibly so he doesn't have to describe John Douglas finally getting dressed again.

There were a lot of other comments about The Valley of Fear tonight, and the fact that Allan Pinkerton seems to have thought about suing Conan Doyle for turning a private conversation into a novel really fascinates me. But the true surprise was finding out just what the naked truth of this novel was.

It's practically the Poor Things of its day!

Monday, March 25, 2024

Crimes Against Sherlockiana


Gotta love ‘em. Just spent a very lovely weekend in the heart of one of our little "family reunions" as some have called a good Sherlockian weekend. One of my favorite moments even occurred after it was all over and done, when everybody just decided to have their departure breakfast, not in the hotel's free breakfast lounge, but at the local Waffle House. Waffle House restaurants are not that big, but there were fifteen of us, taking up all the booths and seats in the main seating area. Old friends, new friends, and a great spirit of community.

There's a lot of love in Sherlockiana. But at the same time as I was enjoying this weekend's festivities, another friend was going through the opposite side of the coin. Because Sherlockians may be the best people in the world, a fact we will state easily after a good weekend like the one I just had in Dayton, but we also have our assholes and we also have our tempers. We discuss Sherlock Holmes, not politics or religion for the most part, which is our lovely common ground. And most of us have the good sense to steer away from politics or religion when those come up. Texans and Californians can sit down at a Sherlockian dinner table and get along just fine.

But occasionally, one of us will get all fired up with righteous anger at some matter or the other that has nothing to do with the Sherlockian world (or within it) and cause a hard break with another Sherlockian. This has happened twice in the last six months with different folks that I know of, and it's something that happens in communities. Fighting, when it doesn't get physical, isn't necessarily a crime. And being an asshole in itself isn't a crime. But when we get put in a situation where we have to start deciding who our better friend of two Sherlockians is . . . it almost starts to feel like crime and punishment, because oftimes, somebody is going to get ostracized from part of the community, or exile themselves rather than put up with a certain person. Either way, we lose.

As a Sherlockian who has behaved badly upon occasion (and still can blunder into that realm on occasion), but still considers himself a sweet and lovable soul, I really hate to see when this stuff happens to other people. Nobody wins, even if one of the parties gets a whole "God is on my side!" self-righteous thing going and won't let go of it. (Been there, done that.) Because once you start @#$%ing with people's friends, they may not come at you directly, but you can start getting quietly left off guest lists and other such things.

I'm seriously thinking about dropping a person off a certain list I manage right now, for going after one of my friends. And I hate that. It's been done to me, and I don't want to be that person. Nobody wants to be a gatekeeper, even if that gate is only for one individual. (But, goddammit, you don't go after people's friends.) We should all know better, or at least learn that at some point. And we might be at a point where someone needs to learn to do better, because no matter how right you think you are, when you do damage in our Sherlockian community, more people are gonna feel it than you realize. And you might just rob us of some talent we really enjoy, which is definitely a crime.

Sherlockiana is a great community, as we know. Communities as a whole, are a key part of the human experience. But living in a community does not come without some work and some responsibility. We have to actively work on being our better selves, forgiving a few moments of bad choices now and then, and taking serious care when deciding that someone needs to be excommunicated from our personal version of that Sherlockian community. While nobody has the power to completely banish someone from Sherlockiana, even with a full cancellation campaign, a lot of folks will decide to leave due to one asshole treating them badly, or one incident where they got triggered to behave a little badly themselves. 

We miss those people. Our numbers are not so large that we don't notice new gaps. And we're always glad to see a familiar Sherlockian face turn up at a gathering just like a surprise "221B" sticker on a bumper in a parking lot, or a bunch of folks at a Waffle House.

So be careful out there. 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Holmes, Doyle, & Friends: Nine

Outside of the BSI weekend in New York, I don’t think any. place has hosted many Sherlockian weekends as Dayton, Ohio. Decades and decades of weekends, organized by different generations of hosts and hostesses, have brought Sherlockians to Ohio for both scholarship and fun in about any way you can imagine.

My day began very early, as I wanted to join the latest gathering of the Southern Waffleers

After an hour or so of dealer’s table browsing and socializing, David Harnois began the program with “Setting Up Camp: How I Build A Scene.” Using the classic tent joke for his example, David showed us the layers of building an audio scene in Audacity. I learned a few things for my podcast work, which may or may not be a good thing, depending upon your view of the proliferation of podcasting at this point.

Kira Settingsgard came up next, starting with a disclaimer that her talk titled “We Love Sherlock ... but Would Sherlock Love Us?” would not involve diagnosing anyone in the Canon or not. Would Shelrock Holmes come to Sherlockian events? What were his attachments based on? What were his attachment styles? We soon learn it’s “dismissive or avoidant” . . . and suddenly I’m feeling very called out as we get into what that means. Her analysis of Holmes’s friends is fascinating and shows us just how real Sherlock Holmes was as a character.

I like a talk where I get details of the Canon I had never thought about before, and Kira’s point that both Watson and Victor Trevor bonded with Holmes at a time when they had a dog is very interesting.

A break follows, and time to dash around and see what the other vendors have to offer, which is tricky when you have a dealer’s table to man, which I did this year.

After the break, Texas Sherlockian Tim Kline starts his talk singing, and quickly gets into talking about games and Sherlock Holmes’s appearances in them. Did you know the very first Clue game had Sherlock Holmes’s name on the box? Yes, Doyle’s kids didn’t like that very much and made Parker Brothers take it off. There are more games with Sherlock Holmes on them than you ever imagined, and Tim rolls through more weird and wacky bits about Holmes and games than I can easily mention here. Another great talk -- the variety this year is far-ranging and enjoyable so far.

Madeline Quinones follows time with a history of Sherlockian podcasts -- can you believe we’ve had enough podcasts and time with them passed to have history? Starting with “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere,” the grandpappy of Sherlockian podcasts” (which is a weird thing for me to say for such young show), Madeline walks us through more podcasts than any of us knew existed, and makes me realize that these weekends are going to be more and more a source of learning just all that exists.

That brings us to lunch, and I have to say -- Madeline did a good job of holding my interest and winding up before hunger started distracting me!

After a quick sandwich lunch, more dealing and shopping in the dealer’s room, David Harnois and Mike McSwiggin portrayed Holmes and Watson in a little “playlet” reminiscent of a certain Abbot and Costello routine. A recent Dayton staple, Ira Matetsky, educates and entertains us on Liberty magazine and its time running later Sherlock Holmes stories. A memorable key fact toward Doyle’s motivations for his last run of stories for Liberty -- adjusted for time and inflation, etc., Ira estimates Conan Doyle was making about $85,000 per story.

Ira winds up answering questions and gets in a good ad lib about not getting a spirit connection from Doyle in the next world, which leads well into longtime BSI George Skornickel speaking on Conan Doyle spiritualism.

A break celebrates Bob Sharman’s birthday, which happened to be today, with a cake with his face on it. My particular dealer’s table went into “going out of business” mode, slashing prices to nil, which tends to move some merch. And then it was time for Max Magee to explain to us one path to becoming a Sherlockian. Where do we fit on his Sherlockian version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? He then illustrates what each step entails, complete with hats. Was Max’s talk so enjoyable for us because he was talking about us? I would not say that was NOT the case.

After Max has explained the levels of Sherlockiana to us, it is only fitting that the last speaker of the day is a top level Sherlockian like Burt Wolder. In lieu of a slide show, Burt gave us all a souvenir card reproducing Conan Doyle’s 1929 drawing “The Old Horse.” Burt’s talk then goes through the various boxes loading the wagon of Doyle’s life in his drawing with well-thought expertise. It’s a novel way to look at Conan Doyle’s time. He brings it back to our own lives in the end. And with that, the program begins to wind to a close.

On to happy hour and banquet time!

Friday, March 22, 2024

Dayton 2024 - The Friday Night Festivities

 The "Holmes, Doyle, & Friends" symposium in Dayton, Ohio each spring is an annual event, and as with any regularly occurring event, traditions will be born and traditions will continue. With Dayton, there are the official parts, like the Friday night reception held by the Agra Treasurers, and the unofficial parts, like certain dining habits or . . . for the third year in a row, some karaoke.

I'm going to limit things to first names here to protect the innocent, even though you might know a few of these folks. I'm a big fan of karaoke for people who don't usually sing. Bars full of good singers are kind of obnoxious, but a bar full of normal folk challenging their limits can just be a good time. And Sherlockians like a good time.

The biggest problem with Sherlockians singing karaoke, I think, is that not enough popular songs have been written about Sherlock Holmes or used in Holmes films. We don't want to hurt ourselves doing "Stayin' Alive" just because Moriarty used it as his ringtone. 

So "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" starts the evening by our Sherlockian champion of karaoke, Ira. Me, I've the courage of a shameless fool, so I'll attempt "Shake It Off" and lower the bar for all that comes after. David, Madeline, Steve, Regina, Ira again, me again . . . and many an abstaining individual, especially those who want to have a voice to do their presentation the next day. 

But there is one song that tradition (and Ira) requires we do on these evenings, and I think this time around we started a new tradition: Ending the evening with that one song, and getting as many people as we can to sing it. That song?

Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street." It's actually not too had to sing, even if you start singing "DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO DOOOOOO!" along with the saxophone riffs. Monica, Max, Ira, and myself joined for the finale this time, and I hope we get more on Saturday night, as we head back in for another round.

For now, though, it's time to sleep before tomorrow 7 AM Waffle House run . . . another growing tradition, thanks to a certain Texan. 

More to come!

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Sherlockiana, the Lower Bar, and Those Two Initials

 One of the great things about Sherlockiana, or any fandom, that you never hear mentioned is the low bar for talent. I don't want to insult anyone here, but let's be honest.

We love Sherlock Holmes and all things Sherlock Holmes. We want to create journals, newsletters, websites, anthologies, events, etc., etc. in honor of that love. And we need content for those things. If you've ever been an editor of anything but one of the top prestige journals, and you're not a complete ogre, you have, at some point, accepted something you might not have taken just to give someone a chance to see their name in print. And that's a good thing.

We all have to start somewhere. And we all need to practice what we do and build our skills. So that acceptance of beginners' work is a good thing. Many a skilled writer or speaker of today got their start in a fandom. I would hesitate to call myself "skilled" at this point, but everything little thing I know about writing, I learned from practicing on the Holmes field in little newsletters and journals. If you do something enough, chances are you're going to get somewhat better.

Enter that cursed non-human thing we call "Artificial Intelligence."

It's not our friend, whose feelings we don't want to hurt. It's not an original artist whose skills we want to encourage by giving it a pass when it can't draw hands or plainly steals from better artists. It's software to provide an easy tool for performing a task that was previously done by humans, that will be exploited by those who don't have talent and don't want to learn actual skills.

Our fannish enthusiasm is going to draw a lot of Sherlockians to AI, and already has. If you love Sherlock Holmes, you want more Sherlock Holmes, and if a machine will churn out more Sherlock Holmes for free, an ardent fan is going to use that machine. And an ardent fan is probably going to be willing to overlook a few flaws in the final product, just as we've done for years with human-produced work. But when we did that in the past, we were always inviting another human into our community by accepting their work.

Do we want to invite ChatGPT into our community? Do we want to see it at events, have dinner with it, enter its name on our club rosters and get excited if it gets a BSI shilling some future January?

No. No, we don't.

So we probably shouldn't lower the bar for AI just because we want more content and want to encourage it to do more work. That space that it fills in a journal could be filled by someone who may eventually become a dear friend, rather than a collection of bits and bites . . . who, admittedly, is trying to become people's chatbot friend in many a venue. You might even be able to sit alone in a restaurant with your device and have dinner with that software pretense of a human, but you aren't going to invite other people to join you and that thing are you?

So maybe we want to hesitate in welcoming this new non-human writer/artist/"friend" to our Sherlockian ranks in any form for a bit. We'll talk when Mr. Data shows up and pretends to be Sherlock Holmes. But for now?

Let's force that stupid thing to try a little harder.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Most Important Day in Sherlockiana!

 I'm going to do something unusual this week and give you the words that I am going to be speaking into a microphone on the Watsonian Weekly podcast on Sunday night, because I think you need the forewarning to prepare for Monday -- the most important day in all of Sherlockiana! And, no, it's not "Hug A Holmesian Day" on March 11, a week later. In fact, we should really celebrate this entire week ahead of us with all the fervor of that arbitrary January business . . . or more, actually. Why? Well, let me tell you, as I'm going to actually tell those blessed few who listen to the Watsonian Weekly at the start of each week.

So here goes . . . 

March Fourth is here, and I don’t know why we don’t celebrate this day more than some made-up birthday date or Reichenbach Falls day. for March Fourth, most likely the one in 1881, is the day that John H. Watson meets the real Sherlock Holmes for the first time. Not the day he met the man, not the day he met the chemist, but the day Watson meets Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first and foremost consulting detective as they embark upon the case Watson would first call “The Lauriston Garden Mystery.”

Sherlock Holmes has finally explained to Watson what he does for a living over breakfast on March Fourth, and as they finish that conversation, a commisionaire brings Holmes a letter from Tobias Gregson, whom Holmes calls “the smartest of the Scotland Yarders,” with Lestrade coming in a close second as “the pick of a bad lot.” 

Watson reads the letter, and what is his immediate reaction?

“Surely there is not a moment to be lost. Shall I go and order you a cab?”

Watson isn’t even thinking of going along with Holmes, but his first instinct is to help. Not as a partner, not as a chronicler, just as a guy in the same room who knows immediately that what Sherlock Holmes does is important.

Holmes hustles about, getting ready to go, and tells Watson the most critical words in the entire Canon, three words we sadly overlook in favor of that Afghanistan line when the two first met. And what are those three words?

“Get your hat.”

That’s all it takes. The trigger for the creation of the Sherlockian Canon as we know it.

“Get your hat.”

“You wish me to come?” Watson asks politely to confirm the implied invitation. And Holmes, being Holmes, gives a casual, “If you have nothing better to do.”

And he knows Watson has nothing better to do. He also sees how excited Watson is about the whole thing. And we next read those wonderful words: “A minute later we were both in a hansom, driving furiously for Brixton Road."

It is a beautiful, wonderful, glorious moment and one we should all celebrate March Fourth for, by . . . I should think . . . at least following Holmes’s command as Watson did on that day.

Get. Your. Hat.

March Fourth, a date and a homonym that need to be celebrated. March forth, it’s March Fourth! But get your hat first. Because it's the day that all our Sherlockian adventures truly began.