Saturday, July 22, 2017

Can't stop the John Watson's Island!

Turning every episode of Gilligan's Island into a parallel universe sitcom called John Watson's Island doesn't happen overnight. Can it happen over the course of one summer? We shall see.

31. The Diogenes Club. Since most of the castaways are not as used to John Watson writing his memoirs as Sherlock is, they start becoming suspicious about how they are being portrayed when he won't let them read his first drafts. Each of the castaways then decides to write their own version of episode fifteen's events ("The Newgate Squire") and we see those played out as if they were from the real episode, with Irene, Moriarty, Mycroft, Mary, and Lestrade each being the hero who saved them all from the Australian penal colony guard instead of John. Sherlock destroys each version by citing details disproving each story after they're told.

32. The Sighin' of the Two. When Mycroft Holmes splits the seat of his pants, he realizes that the island has taken his normal daily routines from him and that he's putting on weight. In order to keep on the strict regimen he prescribes for himself, Mycroft has himself handcuffed to Lestrade and orders the inspector to keep him on track. Much hilarity and awkward romantic moments follow that are network-television enough that the viewers are left to their own interpretations of what exactly went on in this episode. Fans have many arguments.

33. The Missing Tree-Forter. When a trunk containing a magician's act washes up on the shore, Mycroft suggests they use the props to frighten off any primitive Scotsmen who might wander on to the island. Irene Adler says she was a magician's assistant early in her career and can teach everyone some tricks. Moriarty wants to learn how to saw Sherlock in half, but Irene convinces him to learn the disappearance box trick instead, and Moriarty makes Sherlock disappear. Only when it comes time to make Sherlock reappear, the second half of the trick won't work. John realizes that Sherlock is taking another one of his "hiatuses" and comes up with a plan. The castaways make a wax dummy of Sherlock and start pretending it's just the same as having him there, which makes Sherlock, who has been watching from behind a large rock crypt, irritated enough to return.

34. The Resident Painter. After Professor Moriarty finds a freshly painted portrait of a child hanging in his bar one morning, the smell of cooking breakfast lures painter Jean Baptiste Greuze out of the treeline. Greuze claims to have faked his death and came to live on a nearby island where the magic waters have kept him alive to an age of over one hundred and seventy years. Seeing Irene, Greuze decides she is a muse sent by the gods and starts painting her portrait. Sherlock and John talk to Greuze while he paints and find he has a way off the island. Moriarty hears this, then tells Greuze he knows where some fabulous scenery is, takes him to the top of an island waterfall, and pushes him off, killing the painter. He tells the others it was an accident, but that Greuze's death means his collection of paintings will retain their current value, and that Irene's half-finished portrait will be a nice bonus for her.

35. John Hamish Moriarty. After John Watson pushes Professor Moriarty out of the way of a falling tree, Moriarty decides that he owes his life to John, and makes him heir to his fortune and criminal empire. Taking Watson as an apprentice, Moriarty starts teaching John in Crimelord 101. John goes along out of niceness, but soon notices Sherlock drifting away, Lestrade refusing to go fishing with him, and Mary telling him it is a poor life choice.  John tells Irene of his situation, who tells him what she thinks he should do. Moriarty starts noticing that Watson was much more stupid than he previously realized (and he acts a lot like Nigel Bruce), and eventually tells John he has changed his mind and that the criminal empire should die with Moriarty.

36. Ye Olden Punched Nose. John Watson comes up behind Sherlock while Holmes is experimenting beating the corpse of an island bore and gets hit square in the nose. John's nose swells up comically large, and the castaways realize that they have no medical knowledge to help the doctor if something happens to him. Watson decides to teach the castaways first aid, but Moriarty keeps using the lesson practices to try to kill Sherlock in various manners. Sherlock finally anesthetizes Moriarty with island-berry-ether he's concocted in case surgery is needed. Mary convinces John to let her put a mud pack on his swollen nose, but when it dries he has a rock-hard face mask that won't come off. John winds up sitting in front of 221B Island Street looking like a beggar and the other castaways bring him food out of pity. Finally, Sherlock gets tired of John's absence, gets a bucket of water and a sponge, and peels the hard clay mask off, telling them all that his time at medical school will suffice if John needs help in the future.

And so ends the first season of John Watson's Island.  Thirty-six episodes. Current seasons of CBS Sherlock Holmes comedies would only do twenty-four, but since even in its alternate universe, John Watson's Island could only hold out three years, making its total run still less than five and a half seasons of a modern show.

Conan Doyle, however, did pretty well without a writer's room for this two twelve-episode seasons of Adventures and Memoirs  in The Strand Magazine.

The "smoking pistol" controversy.

My newsfeed on Sherlock appears to have a bit of a battle going on this morning between The Smithsonian and The Washington Post.

The Smithsonian has been pushing an article all week that the Holmes Canon is responsible for the phrase "smoking gun," which seemed trivial enough that I never bothered to read it until this morning, when The Washington Post online decided to start arguing the point. And now that I've read both? They're pretty much pointless hoo-hah.

"Smoking gun" as we use it metaphorically means indisputable proof of someone's guilt. It's a metaphor. It doesn't mean the guilty party was actually caught with a smoking gun in their hand. Yet apparently, in 2003, word-guy William Safire wrote that the passage in "The Gloria Scott" where "the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand at his elbow" is where that cliche comes from.

Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes get credit for a lot of original things, but trying to give them their due for "smoking gun" in this instance seems flat-out silliness. IT'S A METAPHOR! The guy that first used it as a metaphor is the one who gets credit, not Doyle, and not, as the Post carries on this ridiculous argument, any prior person who wrote about gunpowder smoke coming from any projectile firing weaponry.

We really just have too much time on our hands these days. And I'm saying that as a blogger who just wrote a post arguing about an argument that started for no good reason, got carried on for no good reason, and continued here for no good reason.

But, hey, Sherlock Holmes!

Friday, July 21, 2017

"We are faddy people."

There are, perhaps, those who would suggest that Sherlockiana was a classier joint in decades past, before the Cumberbatch came to call. Take the 1980s, for example. Jeremy Brett was appearing on PBS doing Canon-faithful adaptations of "The Red-headed League," "The Copper Beeches," and "The Final Problem." All class, right?

What a grand year it was when those came out, 1985 -- so similar to 1895 -- and Sherlockians were serious, noble, and had . . .

. . . this.

The "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" sign. All caps with an exclamation point in that diamond of cautionary yellow.

There were a lot of those signs back then, based on the "BABY ON BOARD!" sign that someone saw in Germany and brought to the U.S., preying on that always-caring maternal market. You didn't want someone to choose to crash into your car if your baby was in it, after all. It was a couple of years before we had the term "road rage" yet, so the thought was that apparently, rational drivers would make the proper choice and avoid crashes with vehicles carrying babies. (Yet it came just about the time all fifty states had car seat laws put into place, so babies in cars were just on people's minds.)

Parodies followed, which was an odd thing considering child safety was the issue being parodied, and at some point late in the game, someone decided people might not want to crash into cars that held Sherlockians in them either. After all, we were all watching Jeremy Brett and, hence, worth of such no-crash considerations. Or, since 1985 was also the year Young Sherlock Holmes came out, maybe we were hoping the association of his baby-face would cause people not to crash into us.

As you can tell by the non-sun-bleached aspect of the one in the photo, my "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" sign never saw use in a car's back window. It was just another Sherlockian collectible picked up in an era of extreme collecting. And I think it puzzled me then as much as it puzzles me now, being based on the sort of humor used in the weak-tea likes of Epic Movie, Date Movie, and Disaster Movie where "Look, this thing is like another thing!" seems to be all that the makers think will bring hilarity. But perhaps its just an artifact from an alternate universe we've never seen.

Is there a parallel universe where "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" signs denote useful information for the regular folk to call upon said occupant of a vehicle to solve mysteries if they happen to be on the scene? Or dispense wisdom from the Sherlockian Canon as needed, or just desired?

"Look, Mom! There's a Sherlockian on board! We are saved!"

But who was ever really "on board" a car anyway?

Pardon me, I have to go listen to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, raise my pinky, and be all classy for a while. Being an elder Sherlockian takes gravitas, after all. Because we have to seriously work on forgetting parts of the 1980s.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Here's the thing about blogging . . . it is way too easy once you get in the habit.

You write, you hit "publish," you see if any comments come in. It's a routine, like any other. And enough people read it that you don't worry overmuch about trying to hit a single target. If one person out of a hundred gets some joy out of it, you can feel like you did something. But tonight, I broke out of my routine for a change.

The John H. Watson Society put out a call for submissions for its October journal, and having recently joined said society, submitting seemed like something I should do. So I concocted something a little different from what you usually read here, ran it through a few reviews, a few changes, and then sent it off. And this weird thing happened  . . .

I actually felt nervous.

More nervous than any public speaking engagement I've done in the past five years . . . those have actually gotten pretty comfortable. And definitely more nervous than tossing something out to those stalwarts who read this blog on anything close to a regular basis. Anyone who returns to this stream of words is probably familiar enough at what's coming to not get to outraged.

I suspect it was the fact that, unlike what I wrote earlier about blogging, I was sending a bit of writing off to a single target, an editor-in-chief with a respectable writing ability of her own, in an area where my own skills aren't really proven. (Leaving out details in case I do make The Watsonian, to keep it a surprise.)

Submitting a creative work to a journal, publisher, or any place where a thumbs-up, thumbs-down is expected is another muscle that exercise builds up, and I fear all this blogging has let that particular muscle atrophy in me, leaving it in need of physical therapy . . . like a few that show up needing that as one nears sixty. (It won't be my first.) I do need to exercise it more.

This blogging thing is just so darned easy.

Does a creator's intent matter?

Let's talk about writer Arthur Conan Doyle and film-maker Ed Wood for a moment.

I use Ed Wood in this instance, because while there are writers of his ability out there, they don't tend to attain the fame that he did. But Ed Wood and Arthur Conan Doyle were both creators who attained prominence for their creations, so I think he will suffice for the point I'm going to explore.

Ed Wood made a little sci-fi/horror movie called Plan Nine from Outer Space. I say "sci-fi/horror" because that was Wood's intention. What he actually created was a comedy that audiences have enjoyed for decades now as just that . . . a comedy. Which it wasn't made as.

So if a goodly number of people start enjoying Holmes and Watson as a gay couple, is it any more problematic than the legion of fans who enjoy Plan Nine from Outer Space as a comedy?

As long as I've been a Sherlockian, I've seen folks trying to claim authoritatively what Conan Doyle thought about this or that. Sometimes it seems on target, sometimes it seems like they're stretching some quote out-of-context to suit their purposes. In the end, though, all everyone is working from is the same set of words as everyone else and interpreting those words as their individual mind will. Piling on the words to have Doyle corroborate himself always gives us the best picture, but even at that . . . who really knows what's going on in anyone's head?

What we do have, however, is the product Doyle produced and handed over to the public for their entertainment, to enjoy as they chose. Just like Mr. Ed Wood.

Because of the quality of that product, as well as the fact Doyle is more "historical," having died longer ago, we tend to take Doyle a little more seriously. People raise the question of his intent and seem to think that should govern how we view his characters . . . out of respect for the dead or somesuch silly notion that gatekeepers enjoy trotting out in their seriousness.

But let's be honest. The only thing they're defending is their own worldview, and trotting out one more "how you should behave" to try to justify it. You know those people. (Heck, I'm doing it here.)

Conan Doyle was no Ed Wood, of course. Wood was a shlock film-maker who didn't make his horror movie horrific enough. Doyle was a great writer!

But step back and look at on part of Doyle's work: John Watson's marriage.

It's on again, off again. Mary Morstan never really returns as a character. A wife seems to die, then Watson seems to leave Holmes for a wife eight years later. Conan Doyle is horrible at writing an ongoing male-female relationship in the Canon of Holmes. One might argue that they are mystery stories, not "Watson's romance" stories, but at that point you're actually just flinging the barn doors wide open. If Doyle's point wasn't Watson's romance and he didn't care about it, an interpretation of a monogamous, Mary-faithful Watson suddenly has equal footing with an interpretation of closeted Victorian John who was in love with Sherlock. If the writer's intent isn't clear in the text itself . . . the interpretation of which can change over time . . . the reader can enjoy it however they choose.

Which is what audiences do.

Nobody is going to propose that you should properly enjoy Ed Wood's Plan Nine from Outer Space as a frightening horror movie because that has to be what Wood intended. And a big part of the Sherlockian game from its earliest days was the fact that Sherlockians were not enjoying the Canon as Doyle or his offspring intended.

Because in both cases, that's where fans found the fun was. And if a new generation of Sherlockians finds the fun somewhere new in those same stories, that'll be where the fun is then. It'll be their world eventually, they get to do that.

All we can do is enjoy what we enjoy and let others do the same.*


* This view may have evolved since earlier postings in this same blog about a certain American television show, which, quite honestly, the writer did not think anyone enjoyed. Still learning such things.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The logical synthesis of fanfic.

So little time, so much to read.

And every month's listen to Three Patch Podcast brings just a little more added to the "I want to get to that someday" list. They have some pretty solid recommendations if you listen for what seem to be classics of the form. But sometimes, their discussions themselves become just as much fun as a good read. Case in point, the "We Ship It" segment for July, featuring the Jolto pairing (John Watson/James Sholto).

While Jolto is definitely going to be a hard genre for me to get to (as much as I love movies, war movies tend to be on my no-fly list, and this is all about soldiers), the fans on this audio panel (Cookie, Vanetti, Monika Krasnorada, and Bree) find it very hard to confine themselves to existing storylines involving Watson and Sholto, and just start coming up with completely new possibilities for the characters interacting. While amazed that a character with so little air time and a seemingly dead-end relationship with John Watson could be so fascinating, they just keep making James Sholto moreso as they ramble on . . . which is some perfect podcasting.

John Watson's war years and military service is one of those areas, both in BBC Sherlock and Doyle Canon, where a few skeletal details set up legions of potential tales. And just as Victor Trevor comes from Sherlock Holmes's college days to inspire wonder at that duo's time together, James Sholto comes in for Martin Freeman's Watson. (In the Doyle Canon, we'd have to place Murray in that "old army buddy" role.) Attempting to flesh out what happened in that time, around the few details that are presented, is not only classic Sherlockian brainwork, but classic Holmes detection as well.

"I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them," Sherlock states during "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches." And what is an explanation but a story of how someone got from point A to point B, which Sherlock Holmes was constantly trying to work out. His results, when edited down to the one provable theory, were solutions and not prose narratives (at least until Watson got his pen going), but Sherlock was spinning fics about the characters of every drama he came across. Just like the "We Ship It" crew from this month's Three Patch.

There is a definite "new scholarship" angle to the work of fan fiction. Instead of going for dates and measurements to calculate the like of the Musgrave Ritual, there are explorations of personalities and relationships in ways that can only be done in fiction. And we have more of it going on now than any time before us in Sherlockian history.

It's fun to be able to hear some of that work coming together while doing a little cooking and washing up, especially for a Sherlockian who has been around long enough to have heard so many retreads of well-worn pathways over the years. And that was tonight.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Lady Sherlock Holmes.

Another fun day on the ol' Twitter, where the fuss and the counter-fuss spool up for a given newsbit. My favorite among today's early contenders:

Doctor Who is going to be female in the next go-round. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor is still a single-thread-continuity character, so the impact of his transition might be felt a little harder by his fans, but we all knew it was a possibility. So let's get back to Sherlock Holmes.

Just how would Sherlockians react to a full-fledged, major media female Sherlock Holmes? We've had some pretty great versions done on YouTube and elsewhere, but they weren't at the Downy/Cumberbatch/Miller level. And don't give me the "Well, Watson has been a woman!" excuse for Sherlockians being accepting. Watson has been Nigel Bruce. Sherlockians of the past have shown that they pretty much would accept a pig as a Watson if you keep your Sherlock close enough to their image of the Master Detective.

But Sherlock Holmes . . . ah, Mr. Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street . . . could Sherlockian culture as a whole accept him as a woman? And which would be harder of these two choices: Accepting Sherlock Holmes as a woman or accepting Sherlock Holmes as an American. Especially here in America where we tend to think a solid British accent brings intellect and class along with it. American James Bond knock-offs have never held a candle to that chap. And an American female Sherlock Holmes? Well, you might as well just make him a Martian with tentacles to many a Sherlockian.

But here's the thing about re-works, reboots, and re-imaginings . . . you can do ANYTHING and get away with it if the writing is good enough. ANYTHING. The problem we see consistently, especially in sequels and reboots of known properties is that the writers think they can slap a deerstalker, a pipe, and a few weak observations on a detective and he's Sherlock Holmes. Writers use successful known characters as a crutch, don't work at real characterization, motivation, or plot quite so hard, and the result is pretty awful.

But take something like Battle for the Planet of the Apes or Westworld (both done in 1973), give them to some thoughtful writers and talented directors, and you get something so much better than the original that an audience doesn't just accept, but welcome it. I'd propose that BBC Sherlock was much the same . . . taking the thought of Sherlock Holmes in the modern day, which had been tried many times before, and doing it so well that it never seemed like there was a question.

It's this part before we see the story that's so rough for some people. They just can't imagine anything besides what already is. And from my own experience, I definitely know that there are some things you don't want to explain to people before you can show them enough of the finished work, so that their mind can actually see the thing and go, "Yes, that's a great idea!" Letting a limited imagination try to fill in the blanks on anything is risky business, and on a creation that they're only given a single fact on, like a female Doctor Who, it's nigh impossible to get their buy-in. They only know what they know.

Changing Doyle's Sherlock Holmes into something other than a Victorian white man isn't a taboo, it's just a creative challenge, a test of the imagination, both for those who currently dream of it and those who will inevitably accomplish it in the mainstream. (And great kudos to those who have already achieved that goal out of the mainstream.) One day it will come, just as surely as Johnlock and every other potential Sherlock of worth.

I have more faith than ever in the creative arts these days. I just wish we could get our crap together on more practical matters.