Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Adventure of the Not Guilty Bachelorette

Well, you can just call me "Batman," because I'll always be here to fight the Mad Hatty-er.

My peer in the blogosphere, Rob Nunn, has backed up his case against the honourable Hatty Doran Moulton as some sort of villain. Thus, I find myself answering the call amid the darkness of this September night to once again defend one of the true innocents of the Sherlockian Canon.

Again, I will start with the unimpeachable testimony of Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself, who counseled, "You must make allowance for this poor girl, placed in so unprecedented a position."

T'were Hatty Doran Moulton of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" anything close to the villain Rob casts her as, she could have simply denied her previous marriage to Frank Moulton, which no one else knew of, gained her noble title by marrying Sir Robert, and kept all the family money coming her way no matter who she married. She had nothing to gain from going back to Frank. No motive for the act whatsoever, except for true love, and without motive, as we all know, a criminal case easily falls apart.

And take Hatty's own testimony about the St. Simon engagement: "Then Lord St. Simon came to 'Frisco, and we came to London, and a marriage was arranged, and pa was very pleased, but I felt all the time that no man on this earth would ever take the place in my heart that had been given to my poor Frank."

After hearing her true love was in a massacre and hearing no more news for over a year . . . a period in which she was actually ill from grief . . . Hatty, sure that her one chance at love was over, let a marriage be "arranged" to please her father. A dutiful daughter . . . and a faithful wife, when she finds her husband still lives . . . how could anyone cast this lady as a villain?

I will admit, some might have a certain political bias against her. In his original post, Rob said this about Hatty believing the story of her husband's death: "Has this woman never heard of fake news?" And there evidence of Rob's bias may be coming out in that -- the papers did refer to Hatty as "a Republican lady," someone he would expect to be familiar with "fake news" even though she died long before a Republican politician made those words famous. But we must not let such modern political issues throw false light on the clear cut case for Hatty Doran Moulton's innocence.

When you truly look at Hatty Doran Moulton's situation, her closest Canonical counterpart can be found in Irene Adler Norton, perhaps the most impressive woman Sherlock Holmes ever knew. Both women had two of the ultimate cases of white male privilege, a king and a lord, with designs upon them, and both tried to slip away with the commoner they truly loved, only to have Sherlock Holmes take their side at the end, even though he had been hired by their noble ex.

Would we call Irene a "villain" for outsmarting Holmes? Would we call Hatty a "villain" for outsmarting Lestrade? (Who knows, Hatty might have even been Lestrade's the woman!) Nawww.

Smart women had enough obstacles to deal with in Victorian England. Let's not add any more burdens to their memory with such accusations.

But, hey, if you want to call Sherlock Holmes "The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street," well there's a book for that now, thanks to Rob Nunn. I just hope he doesn't decide to do a similar book about Hatty Doran, as I don't want to take the time to write a book-length rebuttal. But I will!

Friday, September 22, 2017

The money thing.

None of us likes to talk about money. It's long been one of the great trouble spots of marriage, of friendships, even of a hobby like Sherlockiana.

And these days we're seeing it more prevalent in this hobby than ever before, thanks to two big generational waves and the gap between them. A lot of the baby boomers who rolled into this hobby in the sixties and seventies are doing quite all right for themselves in their retirement, and take for granted that their lives have been just the way life works. On the other hand, we have that great influx of Sherlockians that came to us thanks to the Downey/Cumberbatch wave, a great many of whom are still paying student loans the size of home loans their predecessors were taking out at their age.

And it's not just the generational differences. When I was in college, I could buy every new Sherlock Holmes book that came on the market without putting too big a dent in my budget, which was entirely based on part-time jobs. And there weren't nearly so many Sherlockian events that one needed to buy an airline ticket to fly to. And none of them had paid celebrity autographs. Commercial interests have entered all fandom experiences in ways they never have in the past.

There were differences in our incomes in the 1980s, but at a Sherlockian weekend, you never really seemed to notice them too much. The base price level of Sherlockiana seemed be set up for bookworms, because nobody wanted to waste too much money on other things when we could be spending it at the city's bookstores. And those things that did cost a little more? The Strand magazines and rare old books? Finding them was the trickiest thing, and sometimes you could still luck into a real deal. So when somebody did get something good, you were just happy for the fact that they found it, not going "Oh, well, guess they just had more money than anyone else watching eBay that day."

Ah, eBay. The first harbinger of wealth awareness. Early on, I remember a Sherlockian friend talking about certain old volumes always being bought up by the same familiar buyer whenever they came on the site. My friend knew exactly who was grabbing up the items he saw in their common shop and knew exactly why he wasn't getting them: the number of bucks in his bank account. But it hasn't just been eBay that gave us a newfound wealth awareness. The whole internet seemed to want to chime in, even in the most innocent of social media comments.

A simple humble brag can now be posted to numbers of people once only attained with the full circulation of The Baker Street Journal, the top Sherlockian communication method of its day. Shelf porn doesn't require being friendly enough with a person to go visit their house, at which point you liked them well enough to be delighted at their good fortune, rather than envious. And when a big event happens, you can now start ticking off hundreds of people who are attending when you aren't, just by glancing through social media.

It's easy to feel less than able in the current climate of Sherlockiana, because there is alway something you won't be able to do, or buy, or even just get to. And it doesn't help that a few of the people who do get to do all of the things kind of suck. Tradition overrides empathy a lot of times in a fandom as old as Sherlockiana. Some corners of the fandom can seem to claim ownership of the true Sherlockian world a little more than happens in younger fan cultures. We have our narcissists, just like many other parts of life, who will always need someone to claim to be better than.

But money? Pay close attention to the big money folks in the hobby, and to those with less. And see where the most creativity is coming from.

Sherlockiana itself was born during the latter years of the Great Depression, when poverty was the name of the game. Nobody was living as comfortably as they liked. But with some paper, a pen, and a copy of a completed Sherlock Holmes canon, good things could still be had. And we have so much more than paper and pens these days. Even if we aren't living large in an urban Sherlockian center with a goodly disposable income.

Whether it's in the Great Depression of the last century, the one that might lay ahead, or just dealing with your own bank account on a Friday night, the money thing is always going to suck. But you aren't alone in that, because that's kind of the point of a community like Sherlockiana. There are things here that can't be bought, and will never be, things of yours that you don't even realize will make even the wealthiest Sherlockian a bit envious at some point.  (Trust me on this -- I'm a very jealous person, and some of you out there? Wow.)

It's good to consider and be considerate of income disparity in our world, inside and outside Sherlockiana, every now and again. And perhaps help fight the rising tide of inflation if you find yourself in a position to do so. Because we are, and have long been, a community. And a pretty good one at that.
Holmes folded up his cheque and placed if carefully in his note-book. "I am a poor man," said he, as he patted it affectionately and thrust it into the depths of his inner pocket.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In defense of Hatty Doran Moulton.

Sometimes, Sherlockians like to just make trouble.

Having lived next door to a man whose greatest joy was seemingly getting himself repeatedly kicked off the Hounds of the Internet, I know this well. So I tend to forgive little outrages like the one my friend Rob Nunn committed over at his blog, Interesting Though Elementary, earlier this week. Forgive, yes. But let stand unopposed? As the mighty Thor would often shout under Stan Lee's scribelage, I say thee nay!

For Rob has a real bone to pick with Ms. Hatty Doran Moulton of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor." After saying he might have come to a contest for "Worst Villain of the Canon" to argue her candidacy for said position, Rob refers to the poor girl as "vile," states that she sucks, and cites her absence from a Baker Street Babes list of female characters as more evidence of her awfulness.

Now, I don't know if Rob was stood up at a wedding by a California girl himself once upon a time, or harbors some other grudge, but personally, I am rather proud of Hatty, a fellow American who stayed loyal to her man under the tremendous pressures of British society. Allow me to call my first witness to Hatty's quality of character: Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

"I trust that you at least will honour me with your company," Sherlock said to Hatty and her husband, once the unforgiving Lord St. Simon had coolly stalked out of 221B.

"Honour me with your company," one of the greatest minds in Victorian England says there. Can you imagine the sheer joy of hearing those words directed at you from Sherlock Holmes? Sherlock Holmes, a man with such a keen eye and such a perceptive brain that he knows more about you than anyone else at first meeting. Sherlock Holmes, whose skill at judging character and looking for deceit, weakness, or villainy was at the highest level. And also, Sherlock Holmes who viewed the average social summons as calling upon one "to be bored or lie."

Sherlock Holmes did not invite just anyone to dinner at 221B Baker Street.

And yet he invited Hatty Doran Moulton and her husband. Did he invite Flora Millar? No. Did he invite Inspector Lestrade? No. Did he invite his own brother, Mycroft? No, no, no.

He invited Hatty.

Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I could go on all evening about the fine qualities of this upstanding daughter of the American West. I could draw in Lord St. Simon's testimony of her strength, courage, and nobility. I could read newspaper reports of her fascinating persona. And of course I could call up what her maid Alice's loyalty reveals about the sort of person who inspires such a bond. But do I need to say anything more once you have seen how Sherlock Holmes himself judged this woman?

Again, I say thee nay!

We have many a villain to turn our glares upon in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, and that we shall all do, as we enjoy his battles against them. But Ms. Hatty Doran Moulton shall never be among them . . . unless you are the sort who would also write a book proclaiming Sherlock Holmes a villain!

Monday, September 18, 2017

An interesting loss for Sherlock.

Since BBC's Sherlock first aired, the television Emmy awards have definitely had a Sherlockian point of interest in particular years, and this weekend's celebration was no different. The three academies of televised arts and science that administer the awards chose not to give Sherlock any trophies this year, but the loss was actually . . . well, one might say "telling."

The award for Outstanding Television Movie went to a Black Mirror episode named "San Junipero," and if you're at all familiar with that tale, you might see it as having exactly what many a fan thought its competitor, Sherlock's "The Lying Detective" lacked.

"San Junipero" is a love story between two real souls in a fictional world. One of the pair has a spouse and a traditional heterosexual marriage. The other is someone who has never had a real physical relationship. And they meet in what is basically a shared mind palace.

The similarities to anything Sherlock Holmes end there, really, but the contrast to what was presented in "The Lying Detective" are stark. "San Junipero" was a story of two people trying to overcome their own personal issues to be together. "The Lying Detective" was an all-out conflict of two master manipulators trying to outfox each other while uncaring about the collateral damage to anyone around them. One would definitely seem more traditionally feminine and one more painfully masculine, and the genders involved reflect that.

Had the second episode of the latest (too painful to say "last," as heavily as that possibility looms) series of Sherlock been more "San Junipero," it would have definitely had more of the show's fans rooting for it when Emmy time came. "The Lying Detective" was what it was, and we can't rewrite history . . . but there is something about that hazy vision of an episode called "The Tiger of San Junipero" in place of "The Lying Detective" that has a lure to it, as so many paths not taken do.

"The Tiger of San Pedro" was the title of the second half of "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," if you weren't familiar, but I'm thinking this fantasy version of Sherlock season four episode two would draw more from "Empty House" than that tale. "The Tiger of San Junipero" could have brought Sebastian Moran into Sherlock at long last as a Moriarty confederate who actually developed the tech to enter a person's virtual world. The plot would inevitably require John Watson to enter the world of Sherlock's mind palace as well, and . . . well, you can play it out from there.

A mash-up of Sherlock and the Black Mirror episode that beat it is practically a prize unto itself, not even needing an Emmy award. And if I wasn't sure that anyone came up with a fanfic version of the last blog-idea I had, this one I definitely think someone had to do. It's just too lovely a concept, and I know there are fans of both out there.

Hopefully, they got some kudos. Kudos aren't exactly Emmys, sure, but hey, most good work on this planet never sees a trophy. Sometimes, it's just there to make us happy for a bit.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Not much to be funny about."

It seems like clowns are just made to suffer.

Currently we have a box-office smash at the movies about a monster who used to pretend to be a clown to lure children into sewers, but now seems to take on clown guise because it incites fear. We have an actual horror-in-the-name TV show using clowns as a major theme for its season. And we have the poor-but-spirited Juggalos marching on Washinton to protest, among other things, their clown society of fans being considered a gang.

Clown sadness isn't new. In fact, it's a trope that goes back probably as far as clowns themselves. And the cases of Sherlock Holmes, containing all things as they do, have their own sad clown as well.

Little Jimmy Griggs of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger."

Little Jimmy Griggs worked for Ronder's Wild Beast Show, a very popular show at its peak. Its owner, Ronder, was said to rival his predecessor George Wombwell and his contemporary Lord George Sanger for wild animal showmanship. Ronder did well for "a human wild boar" as John Watson called him, but inevitably alcoholism got the better of him, and all the money from his successes could not keep good perfomers with him when the fines for animal cruelty and assaulting humans kept coming in. His employees left in droves.

Except for little Jimmy Griggs.

We're not sure just why Jimmy Griggs stayed on. Maybe he had a secret love of Ronder's ill-treated wife, or the handsome Leonardo, or just the animals themselves. Sometimes a funny fellow can get by in rough circumstances by using his sense of humor to calm an angry drunk or shine a light on the one bright spot in a dark time. But Ronder's Wild Beast Show was no place for a man to rise in his career.

Griggs was definitely cited as one of the few people holding the show together as the piggish sot Ronder went into decline. And on the night of the Abbas Parva tragedy, Jimmy Griggs was one of the first on the scene to stop the situation from getting worse.

The show's star attraction, the great lion Sahara King, had, to all appearances, escaped its cage killed Ronder and mauled Ronder's wife during their nightly feeding of the beast. Griggs led the men who drove the lion back into his cage and got Mrs. Ronder to safety . . . even though the handsome Leonardo got half-credit. (Obviously undeserved as his cowardice was later revealed.)

It was six months before Mrs. Ronder was well enough to tell her story of what happened that night, and during that time we can only assume it was the devoted Mr. Griggs who held her fortunes together, making sure she had the money to live out her life in peace once she recovered. Did the show go on? Was Sahara King put down, or did "man killer" just add to his show biz resume? Where did life take Jimmy Griggs after that night?

We will never know the fate of James Griggs, circus clown and the kind of guy who could help hold a show together. But after seeing the flaws of his co-worker Leonardo, we can only presume Griggs was a stouter fellow than he ever got full credit for, even under the pen of Dr. Watson.

I hope it went well for him. And on one good note, he's not still around to see the era of the scary clown taking over. If "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" were written today, Sahara King would probably be the star of cute kitty videos and Jimmy would probably have been the one framed for killing Ronder.

What a world, what a world.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A wave of theater Sherlocks?

It seems like my Google News feed has, of late, decided that Howard Ostrom is their best model for news of Sherlock Holmes.

Theatrical adaptation after theatrical adaptation are all the headlines. Moffat and Gatiss seem to have run out of rumors to spread about potential future seasons for Sherlock, probably getting their heads down to work out their Dracula series. Will Farrell's movie is more than a year off, Elementary is still many months away, and no other major Sherlock Holmes promotions seem to be on the national or international stage.

But the local stages?

It's almost like a requirement that every major city had to have at least one production of a Sherlock Holmes play in 2017, and all the major city wannabees as well. Which makes me wonder . . . just what is it that brings a local Sherlock Holmes to the stage?

Are they just obvious aftershocks of a few big years of mainstream Holmes?

Or is Sherlock Holmes just a character that egomaniacal actors with pull at their local playhouse want to play?

Is it that older folks tend to be theater audiences and Sherlock has long been a draw with older crowds? (A good test of that -- how many stage Sherlocks are under forty?)

Or are there just particularly well-written Sherlock Holmes plays in circulation around the local theater circuit these days?

All of the above?

It would make a fascinating chart if one could gather counts of the number of different productions of Sherlock Holmes plays that were performed every year since he first took the stage over a hundred years ago. It would probably be an easy thing to cross-reference its peaks with surges in Sherlock's popularity in books and film, but one has to wonder if any anomalies outside of those expected peaks would show up. Or worrisome . . . what if he was hugely popular just before World Wars?

Hopefully that's not the case now. It could simply be that there are more humans on Earth than ever before, and for every X number of humans there must always be one production of a Sherlock Holmes play . . . a simple product of our collective hivemind, which the great detective is definitely a part of. And they'll always be there, just more noticeable when one isn't being distracted by the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, etc.

But Holmes went from book to stage to film to television, and in the end, he'll probably wind down in the very reverse of that order, if his cycle does decide to wind down at some point, before revving up again.

And on the Baker Street parade will go.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sahara King is in the house!

Among the mysteries considered by Sherlock Holmes there is one about a cat owner that I particularly relate to.

I have to say "considered" in the case of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," because Sherlock Holmes doesn't really solve it. He just hears the confession of someone who was an accomplice to a murder years before, and suffering a horrible punishment from that act ever since. Or maybe not from the murder itself . . . but from the fact that she was a cat owner.

True, the cat belonging to Eugenia Ronder was of the "big" variety, technically being a lion and all, but her kitty, Sahara King, seemed to have a certain quality that is very noticeably present in the feline that dwells in my own house, a fully-clawed male specimen named "Tink." And that quality is an unpredictable wildness.

"And why should it attack them savagely when it was in the habit of playing with them?" Sherlock Holmes poses the question to Watson before they go to hear the full story of Sahara King's apparent turning on his owners. From that statement, I would definitely conclude that Sherlock Holmes has never owned a cat.

Because cats like to play. Oh, yes, they like to play. With their victims.

Our size is really our only defense against household felines, as much as we might think they love us. Having adopted a roaming outdoor cat who enjoys the comforts of central heating in the winter, we know what happens when the usual hunting habits get interrupted by snow and ice. Eventually our friend Tink gets bored. And at some point, nothing else will satisfy him but stalking prey . . . even if that prey is six-two and weighs two hundred pounds.

The inevitable end of his hunt, with all four claws holding a limb in place while his jaws chomp down on a leg or arm, is quickly over-powered, but come spring, our local version of Sahara King finds prey whose heads he can fit in his mouth, just like Sahara King did to Mrs. Ronder, and very bad things happen.

Now, you might want to step away from this blog post if you're a fan of cute kitties and/or don't like much gruesome in your Sherlockian reading. Because you probably aren't going to like the part that comes next . . . .

Okay. Just the stout-of-heart still here?

Come spring, we start finding critters without heads on our porch. Cute little furry critters, too, except for the "dead with no heads" part. I kept envisioning our cat having a secret lair somewhere with skulls lined up in his trophy room, because they certainly weren't showing up anywhere we could ever see. It was a real mystery for Sherlock Holmes . . . or Google, which we finally turned to after catching him in the act one morning.

Apparently -- and this is the part you're going to wish you left for, if you ignored my earlier warnings -- even well-fed house cats love the particularly special flavor of brains. Yes, just like zombies. And given all the other similarities between small cat and big cats, I can't help but think if Eugenia Ronder had not been rescued by her fellow circus-folk, she might have met the same fate as the critters on our porch. And Sahara King would have had a special treat that night.

Ew, gross, I know, right? The study of Sherlock Holmes is not all kings in silk masks and pretty opera singers, you know. And the climax of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" is right out of a horror movie in any case, as Mrs. Ronder steps into the light and pulls away her veil.

So far we're managing to deal with our household version of Sahara King without having to resort to veils, and his teeny-tiny mouth is probably going to keep us from that eventuality. But when all is said and done, cats are cats.

Be careful out there.