Monday, January 15, 2018

So many Watsons!

Hearing a tax commercial today that mentioned IBM's Watson question answering computer system this morning, I had to check to see just which Watson it was named after. Unlike "Sherlock," Watson is a little more common, and, indeed, this Watson was named after IBM's first CEO, Thomas J. Watson.

Apparently, in the upper echelons of IBM, John H. Watson is not the first man who comes to mind when the name "Watson" comes up. But, to be fair, if an IBM guy says "Tom Watson" to someone else, that person might think of golfer Tom Watson. And one golfer saying "Watson" to another golfer could find the second golfer thinking of Bubba Watson.

That Watson actress whose name begins with "E?" Could be Emily or Emma.

The famous fictional Watson with a cult following? Oh, yes, Mary Jane Watson, Spiderman's longest love interest.

And towns named after a Watson? At least a dozen. If you start in New York, you can wander a whole series of contiguous states that have a town named Watson. West Virginia to Ohio to Indiana to Illinois to Missouri, and once in Missouri, you can head North to Iowa and Minnesota, South to Arkansas, Southwest to Oklahoma  . . . only New York and Alabama don't connect to that chain, making you wonder what a Watson did to offend Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

It's interesting to note also that while there are a lot of well-known folks named Holmes, as with Watson, nobody seems to want to name their town "Holmes." Which seems right somehow, as Watson has always seemed a more comfortable fellow to live with than Holmes.

The "Watson" and "Holmes" that Sherlockians like best, of course. Their qualities don't really wind up in all those others of those surnames. But that doesn't mean we wouldn't still like to see Katie Holmes and Emily Watson attempt to solve a mystery or two . . . .

Reviewing a newspaper article -- SH NYC birthday 2018.

To be on the inside looking out at an outsider looking in . . . well, that's pretty much the experience of a Sherlockian reading a newspaper article covering any gathering of the faithful. This weekend's piece in The New York Times was an interesting example of the genre, as the reporter spoke to a number of key folks about the annual Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend in NYC.

The most important facts of the story this time out, would seem to have been the ages of those involved, diligently recorded along with the quotes. 37, 79, 85, 71 . . . a few lucky souls like Burt Wolder escape having their ages specifically given away, but it's hard to miss the subtext: The young and female are moving into an old and male world. By the time a pair of Adventuresses get age-outed as 70, the article is nearly over, and still has a 34-year-old female in reserve before concluding.

All of the names mentioned were familiar ones, but until today I was always just going "older than me," "younger than me," and "waaaaaaay younger than me." (Which is, pretty much 221B Con.)

A lot of Sherlockiana's quirks get directly called out. It's kind of amusing how the reporter writes of the Baker Street Irregulars,  "Membership has long been shrouded in mystery," followed by the line, "Mr. Whelan, a retired executive from Indianapolis who has held the post for 21 yeas, called the decision about selecting new members entirely his."  Mystery solved, without Sherlock Holmes-level intellect needing to be called in.

Overall, the article does a good job giving an overview of the current New York Sherlockian scene, though a Sherlockian would prefer more on-the-ground reportage, something that we never get enough of. The unofficial breakfasts and lunches, the "hey, we're going to this bar, come along" organic meet-ups, the hot books getting picked up at The Mysterious Bookshop or the Saturday dealers room . . . all that free-flowing Sherlockian interaction is hard to capture, and those attending are usually far too busy to keep diaries of their little adventures (or the annual weight gain from all those meals, both organized and in between).

Hopefully, the Times article at least got the quotes right, which I hope has improved since recording devices became more prevalent, and reporters aren't dependent upon shorthand so much any more. In any case, I would be curious what a reader outside of our little bubble would come away with after reading the piece. From the inside, it was a lot of the familiar . . .  and ages.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sherlock Downey Junior

There are two overlarge images of Sherlock Holmes whose constant presence haunts my Sherlockian study. The first, which was created for a St. Louis weekend long ago, may be headed for Atlanta this year to live amongst the overlarge things that dwell down there. It's a Paget drawing, from the very first images of Sherlock Holmes ever seen by the world, and it is Sherlock Holmes to me. How could it not be?


The second overlarge image of Sherlock Holmes has "HOLMES" printed right across the center so I don't forget. It's a full-sized movie poster that I picked up in celebration of the first major motion picture featuring Sherlock Holmes in a very long time. And it's Sherlock is now generally thought of in America as one of the "big three" Sherlocks of our current generation.


But it's interesting to me that after all this time, and its constant presence for eight whole years, it's still a poster of Robert Downey Jr. to me. And I don't think it will ever really be Sherlock Holmes for me, like a photo of Benedict Cumberbatch or even . . . in a prophesied Anti-Sherlock sort of way . . . Jonny Lee Miller will continue to be. It's almost like somebody sent Robert Downey Jr. back to 1881 in a time machine, replaced Sherlock Holmes with RDJ, and brought Sherlock to the modern day, where he began living under the name "Benedict Cumberbatch."

Jude Law, curiously, is Dr. Watson to me. Law is an actor who, despite seeing him in dozens of movies, never solidified as a "Jude Law" character the way Downey has in my brain. Or maybe Law just actually looks more like Dr. Watson than RDJ does like Holmes. Robert Downey Jr. definitely has a more Lestrade-like build than Holmes's tall, bird-of-prey look.

While he'll always be known for playing Sherlock Holmes, I don't know that Robert Downey Jr. will be remembered as *a* Sherlock Holmes, like Rathbone or Cumberbatch, those fellows who personify Holmes in the consciousness of so many.

But maybe I'm completely wrong in that, and Downey has already imprinted his Sherlock on legions of younger Sherlockians, to be eventually celebrated as one of the greats. I'll be curious to find out -- let me know if you have any insights in that direction.

Welcome to Inadequacy Sherlockian-style!

One of the things I love about Sherlockians, with a few notable exceptions, is the lack of arrogance.

If you think about it, a certain humility comes naturally to the fan of Sherlock Holmes. No matter who we are, there was somebody who came before us at this point. No matter what we know, there's still so much more out there to find out. No matter what we've done, there's a thousand other things left to do.

The list of 221B Con panel topics came out this week, along with the online application form to get on one, and I've seen more than one con adept approaching the process feeling a bit daunted. And it makes sense, too. No matter how much expertise you have on any one topic, as you look at the list, you see the seeming hundreds you don't fit with. So by the time you get to that old friend of a topic, it's easy to feel a little "maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am . . . ."

And, on top of that, it's Big Sherlocking Weekend in the Big Apple, where mysteriously fabulous things are going on between those mysteriously fabulous people that seemingly all friends with every other Sherlockian. And some of them are getting a mysteriously fabulous honor for mysteriously fabulous reasons that surely everyone knows but us.

It's enough to make you go, "Dare I even call myself a Sherlockian?"

Okay, maybe not you. Maybe you're having a grand time somewhere this evening, or just watching Netflix before happily drifting off to sleep. But if you have even a whiff of those self-doubts, let me tell ya . . . .

Every year I go to 221B Con and sit in panel audiences in awe of the stuff being said by folks who never sat on a panel before. People who just love the topic they're talking about, and if it involves Sherlock Holmes in any way, they connect with other Sherlockians who often start to love some aspect of Sherlock that they didn't even think about before the con. What you love is what you learn most about, and when you start packing the favorite details in, some tasty new morsel is always there for another Sherlockian to enjoy.

So even if you really don't want to get out in front of an audience, it's fun to take a list like the 221B Con panel list, and just start making elimination passes at it. First run, shorten it to topics you at least know some little thing about. Second run, look at that short list a little harder, get to just the ones you care about enough to sit in the audience for. And then, on the third run, see what subjects you'd just enjoy talking about to another person for an hour. Chances are, there's somebody out there who would love to talk to you about that thing for an hour.

And that's what makes a Sherlockian, really. Everything else . . . the travels, the events, the ceremonial hoops . . . they're really all just there so we can talk to another Sherlockian for an hour or so. And if you've got that in you, well, you're just fine.

And, c'mon . . . you just read all the way to the end of this midnight ramble, which NO ONE would do if they weren't Sherlockian enough to tolerate this whole thing just to maybe . . . maybe . . . glean one more ounce of some potential Holmes insight.

So, go you. Me, I'm going to fall asleep now.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sherlock Holmes versus the Bat-man.

What we tend to forget, when we think about Sherlock Holmes dealing with other larger-than-life characters, is what Sherlock Holmes is actually about. Most of these encounters wind up like this:

"Hello, Count Dracula! I'm Sherlock Holmes and I am here to defeat you!"

But that's not what Sherlock Holmes does. As I've long proposed, in many a conversation with Sherlockian friends, a true Sherlock Holmes story would have Holmes solving Dracula. Not dealing with an actual vampire -- proving that this "Dracula" hokum was really just some smugglers putting fake fangs on an actor to cover their tracks.

And so it occurred to me the other day that the same thing would happen if Sherlock Holmes ever met the Batman. Not "Halloa, fellow detective, well met!" No.

Instead of The Hound of the Baskervilles, we would see The Bat-man of Gotham City.

The main problem is, in this case most of us known that the Roger Baskerville of this night stalker designed to scare the locals is a heir to a fortune named Bruce Wayne, so it isn't a mystery to us. But if you consider how Sherlock Holmes would first encounter it . . . it would be from the point of view of those who don't know what the hell is going on in Gotham. Probably some poor innocent that didn't know her father was a criminal, plagued by this cursed creature like the mothman of urban legends. A real John Openshaw sort of client.

Holmes would solve the mystery, of course, eventually confronting Wayne in his manor house, as Holmes was wont to do. And as with vigilante Leon Sterndale, he might let him off with some conditional warning. "Watson and I keep your secret, as long as you don't go too far," that sort of thing. I doubt Holmes would be pocketing a check from Wayne on his way out, as he did in the Holdernesse business, but a little souvenir in the mail the next day or so, a carved bat or something, might be appropirate.

In the end, however, Sherlock Holmes versus Batman is never a superhero fistfight. It's a detective versus a mystery, and that is the role both character fit to perfection.

Perhaps I should write one of these tales some November instead of just laying ideas out in a blog. But since Batman is caged intellectual property, it will have to be something else . . . owl-man . . . no, also taken. Nighthawk. Wraith. Catman. Fledermaus. All the good pseudo-Batmen have been pretty well taken by now. But be it hound or bat or dingo-yeti-of-the-outback, Sherlock Holmes will be up to the occasion.

Superman, however, is another matter entirely. But that's for another evening . . . .


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sherlock Holmes locking down his "cool" factor.

At first, it seemed like Benedict Cumberbatch was a fluke.

I mean, I started loving Sherlock Holmes at a fairly young age. But I wasn't a cool kid, and neither was Sherlock Holmes. He was the old guy on the old black-and-white Sunday afternoon movies. Yeah, he was pretty cool to me. But to the rest of the world? Sure didn't seem like he was a hip-and-happenin' sort of celeb to be a fan of.

It may be a little hard to admit, but back in the seventies and eighties Sherlockians were kind of like Trekkies who came decades too late to their chosen hobby. Most were older folks finally getting time to delve into something they always had loved. Sherlocking was definitely not the past-time of the cool kids. More of a nostalgia deal, without even the cache of steampunk. Oh, that Victorian era!

And then came the Cumberbatch revolution.

Benedict and Martin and clever scripts and young fans en masse. The coolness thermometer was starting to register levels we hadn't seen in . . . whole lifetimes. A fad? A blip? Given the rise in all of the former "nerd" culture tides, it was starting to seem like ol' Sherlock Holmes was going places he hadn't been since the original Strand Magazines.

But could he hang on to cool?

Enter Eurus Holmes, a shocking plunge into Sherlock-siblinghood, whose advent was noticeably blackened by it coming in at the seemingly-scheduled time for Johnlock's big moment. I am going to go out on a limb here and posit that Eurus, and all her plotlines, might have been better received had she been given a story removed from all the series baggage built up prior to her appearance.

Eurus, stepping back from it all a bit, is actually pretty cool.

And now we hear that Sherlock is getting a new sister, one without BBC Sherlock's series baggage, to be played by Stranger Things wunderkind Millie Bobby Brown, coolest character in one of the coolest TV series out of the near five hundred scripted shows made this year. Her name is going to be Enola Holmes, based on a young adult mystery series.

Not sure why Sherlock's sisters need "E" names . . . Elsie Patrick is suddenly looking better as a sibling than Violet Hunter . . . but if we get an Esther, an Electra, an Edwina, and an Eleanor in pastiche-land soon, we may have to dig deeper. But in any case, it's looking like Sherlock Holmes's current run of good fortune will continue.

And that's pretty cool, no matter what letter you put in front of it.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A tonic for Depression?

For mysterious purposes outside of our usual Sherlockian ends, I've been spending a lot of time on 1932 of late. Two years before the first birthday celebration for Sherlock Holmes was convened in New York City, important Sherlockian things were still going on. Connections were being made. Research was being done. And it is a very hard time to wrap a modern mind around.

The Great Depression was in full effect after its 1929 start. Prohibition had yet to be repealed, as it would be at the end of 1933. The phrase "doesn't know where his next meal is coming from" had a practical meaning most of us are lucky to have never known.

Radio had only just settled in as a regular entertainment that could reach multiple homes at the same time, and a woman named Edith Meiser was responsible for spreading Sherlock Holmes to literate and non-literate homes alike with the first radio series of adaptations starting in 1930. The Complete Sherlock Holmes may have been brand new, but even if you couldn't afford it there were enough collections, reprints, pirate editions, and the like out there that you could probably acquire some Holmes to read somehow.

Between the publication of the last new Sherlock Holmes story by Conan Doyle in 1926 and the flag-planting of Sherlock's birthday on January 6, 1934, a critical mass for Sherlock Holmes was certainly building, and I can't help but think it had something to do with just how hard times had gotten in the early 1930s. Sherlock Holmes's continued popularity for the previous forty years certainly had a lot to do with it, comparing to the modern forty-year run of Star Wars. But we're definitely not in need of light-saber distractions as much as Depression-era folk could use what Sherlock Holmes brought to the armchair.

At least . . . well, lets not get into economic or political issues just now . . . but Sherlock Holmes was just spinning himself up to his full height as some of the toughest times our country has seen were going on, and he's still with us today, in more forms than ever.

221B Baker Street remains our happy place, and as we face the seasonal affect disorder that can come with this time of year, Sherlockians will be spinning Holmes up once more, both this weekend and starting to prepare for the Sherlockings of spring. Because after proving his worth in harder times than we've seen of late, Sherlock Holmes is up for it.