Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The second labor of our modern Shercules.

The subject of bibliography came up last week, and that constant desire to somehow create a resource that points to any known work on Sherlock Holmes. And how it now seems almost incredible that once a single man made a pretty good run at such a thing. Which makes sense, because Ron DeWaal was, indeed, a runner.

When DeWaal's The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes came out, in that age before computers, when typewriters and index cards were our tools, he managed to list 6,221 entries of things having to do with Sherlock Holmes and his associated folk. That was 1974.

Six years later, in 1980, he came out with an additional volume, The International Sherlock Holmes, which brought his grand total up to 12,356.

In 1994, The Universal Sherlock Holmes built on that and doubled it again to 24,703.

In 1994. Twenty-three years ago. Now, a single fan fiction archive seems to have over 59,187 stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Search the major online retailer for "Sherlock Holmes" related merch and you get 45,269 results.

Sherlock Holmes is a monster.

We can't track him precisely any more. We can see patterns, collect the big events, follow certain trails that interest us . . . but the totality of Sherlock? He could probably take out Cthulhu, if all his words were given physical form.

He's kind of scary, if you start going down that road. And our Van Helsing, for those two decades from 1974 to 1994 is surely not up to tracking this immortal grown so powerful of late.

But, truth be told, none of us needs that monster. We can be happy with our own little manifestations, be it Basil of Baker Street, Johnlock of BBC seasons one and two, or just those sixty tales in the Doubleday Complete. So many of the best ideas, games, and tales come up time and again, whatever community of Sherlockians you find yourself in. One needn't read it all to be complete, or even an adequate Sherlockian.

The only scorecard any of us really needs to fill out is the measure of our own pleasure in what we do encounter about the great detective. The fact that there is so much of it out there just means we don't have to look very hard any more to find something else to delight us.

But, hey, if someone wants to battle that modern hydra that is the totality of Sherlock Holmes materials, well, we're all cheering for you. And I'll add a Sherlock-type "By Jove!" as well, because you might want to be a demigod son or daughter of Jupiter to pull it off.

And get a legendary crew besides.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Jupiter worship in Sherlockian England.

Sometimes all it takes is one quote, singled out for a hard look.

"By Jove!" John Watson cries in A Study in Scarlet, "if he really wants someone to share the rooms and the expense, I am the very man for him."

So it was that the entire Canon of Holmes began with in invocation of the god Jupiter, the sky-god, He of thunderbolts and eagles. And Jove blesses John H. Watson with Sherlock Holmes.

Inspector Gregson invokes Jupiter when Lestrade appears. Holmes calls upon Jupiter in the punishment of James Windibank, and again when Jupiter blesses Peterson with the blue carbuncle. Clerks, colonels, and clients call to the heavenly father of the ancient Greeks, but none more that Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself.

Jupiter not only blessed John Watson with a room-mate, He brought in one of his own followers to fill that job. Page through all the times Sherlock Holmes swears something by Jove, and you'll not only be surprised by the amount, but the sheer fact of how much Sherlock seems to be surprised or impressed by things enough to call in Jupiter.

Sometimes, it's as minor as a "Wow, it's nine o'clock aleady?" moment. Sometimes, it's as big as "Yikes! Here's comes the baddie!" But it's a definite part of Holmes's custom.

One of the best years of Holmes's career is the legendary 1895, which is also the year he comes home one day with a bloody harpoon, having supposedly gored a pig to help his case. But a proper sacrifice to Jupiter would have been an ox, so who's to say he wasn't fibbing a little bit on that account, just to seem a little less . . . well, sacrifice-y. Just a coincidence that 1895 was such a good year?

Jupiter's residence has always been said to be in the upper elevations, and where was it that Sherlock Holmes headed after his greatest battle? To the highest mountains, to pay his respects to Olympus?

Well, you never know.

Over the decades, Sherlock Holmes has been corralled into many a religion via a Sherlockian adherent of said faith. And sure, "By Jove!" could have just been a favorite exclamation of his, as well as the other folk in the Canon who uttered it. Not like they were all in some Jupiter cult or anything . . . .

There's just a lot of Jove-ing going on in the Canon of Holmes. By Jove.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Beyond the pale in "Beryl Coronet"

Tonight was another lively gathering of Peoria Public Library's Sherlock Holmes Story Society, and there was a particularly tenacious theory running through our discussion of "The Beryl Coronet."

It first came to me when I saw Mary Holder described by John Watson . . . a medical doctor . . . as follows:

"She was rather above the middle height, slim with dark hair and eyes, which seemed darker against the absolute paleness of her skin. I do not think I have ever seen such a deadly paleness in a woman's face. Her lips, too, were bloodless, but her eyes were flushed . . ."

She's been seeing a man of noble rank in the evenings, who has "been everywhere, seen everything," who has "a great personal beauty," and a "glamour of his presence." A "fascination of his manner" that is hard to resist. He draws her away from a household she was devoted to, and into the night.

Mary Holder's last words to her uncle, written in a note, run thus: "Do not worry about my future, for that is provided for; and, above all, do not search for me, for it will be fruitless labour, and an ill service to me. In life or in death, I am ever . . . Your loving Mary."

In life or in death?

Sherlock Holmes, known for bending fireplace pokers in "Speckled Band," confesses that he is "exceptionally strong in the fingers," and yet when he tries to bend the broken coronet, he admits "it would take me all my time to break it. An ordinary man could not do it."

And yet, Sir George Burnwell, Mary Holder's creature of the night, snapped the coronet in an instant.

Sherlock Holmes keeps John Watson at a particular distance during this case, telling his friend, "I only wish you could come with me, Watson, but I fear it won't do. . . . I may be following a will-o'-the-wisp."  A will-o'-the-wisp? A legendary creature of the night?

We wondered, as we discussed "The Beryl Coronet" tonight, why Arthur Conan Doyle would name the son in the story "Arthur." Writing a character with your own name is ridiculously awkward, and he must have had a reason for going that route. In love with his own cousin, like Arthur Holder? Or was Doyle naming the man for the actual person who figured in the story.

An Arthur who was loyal and loving to a woman who was spirited away by a creature of the night? A man written of five years later under the name "Arthur Holmwood" in the novel, Dracula?

Consider how insane Alexander Holder seems when he first shows up at 221B Baker Street: Renfield insane. And consider the end of the tale, and Sherlock Holmes's words there: "I think we may safely say that she is wherever Sir George Burnwell is. It is equally certain, too, that whatever her sins are, they will soon receive a more than sufficient punishment."

A wooden stake, perhaps?


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A personal 221B across time.


The most recent Baker Street Babes podcast is a thought-provoking thing. They're speaking to Chuck Kovacic, a California Sherlockian long known for his penchant for 221B Baker Street and the particulars of re-creating it.

I've known a few Sherlockians who went for that greatest of home improvements, including one that famously appeared in my own modest town of 15,000 about the time of first book's launch, which seemed outright sorcery. Attempting to create a 221B sitting room in your own home was probably more prevalent in the 1980s and early 1990s, when antique malls were booming, eBay wasn't cherry-picking the good stuff, and you could go Victorian on a budget.

You can surely do such a thing today, probably more easier with enough cash, the internet being so handy at finding things and all, but one can definitely look at 221B-creation as a hobby with different eras to it.  One day, doing that thing will probably depend more on new imitation Victoriana than original antiques, at which point we'll hit yet another era for the specialist in Sherlockian sitting rooms.

But listening to Chuck and the babes made me wonder about something I don't remember any of the 221B re-creators specializing in, and that was about eras as well.

Because when you think of 221B Baker Street, when do you think of it?

In the mid-1880s, before John married for the first time?

During the hiatus, when Mrs. Hudson and Mycroft were preserving it, waiting for Sherlock's return?

Or at the end of its time, just before Sherlock packed it all up and moved to Sussex?

In collecting antiquities for such a room, does a truly detail-oriented Sherlockian pick a date and then furnish their 221B with only materials available up to that year, month, and day?

The latest newspapers on Jack the Ripper could give the room a theme of Holmes during that period.

A few charred relics might show it was after Moriarty tried to burn it down in "The Final Problem."

A souvenir or two of Watson's wedding could place it exactly post-departure for John.

Scenes from exact moments in a given story could be re-created, like the famous hat scene from "Blue Carbuncle."

Having a 221B room suddenly seems like a never-ending project, as you're suddenly not just imitating a place in a single moment, but a place that evolved over the course of two decades.

Watson's title for his little list in A Study in Scarlet ("Sherlock Holmes -- his limits") becomes especially ironic when you add in the Sherlockian dimension, as it seems that Sherlock Holmes and the celebration of that great detective has very few limits indeed.

Which makes it a very grand hobby to be a part of.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Running on six to ten per year.

The fall 2017 letter to the membership of the Baker Street Irregulars came out this morning, which is always some interesting reading. The struggles of maintaining the status quo while attempting some often-ambitious goals in an 87-year-old organization come out in a detail you don't see in The Baker Street Journal, the club's public face. The topic that always fascinates me is the annual call for suggestions of names for invitations to the BSI's annual dinner and membership in the club.

"Fascinates me," because if you're at all familiar with this blog, you know I've disagreed with the club's membership rules since my run-in with their male-only policy of the 1980s. That part was fixed soon after, but the hazy gate-keeping that held it in place for so long remains to this day.

As is explained in depth in the current BSI letter, not everyone gets to be a member of the Irregulars, as much as it has been a "bucket list" item for many a Sherlockian since Baring-Gould wrote the club up in the first Annotated, if not before. The current pace for BSI membership is limited to under ten people per year, world-wide. We have more copies of Beeton's Christmas Annual in the world than that, making a newly-minted BSI the rarest of the rare.

This brings up a real quandry for the group: Membership has long been seen as an honor for Sherlockian service, which meant a bottleneck as the baby boom generation piled up the accomplishments. Membership, however, also has to bring in Irregulars who can keep the club going, as is brought out in this year's call for "doers who will make a difference in the BSI from the minute they receive their shilling." Dealing with both of those aspects at a rate of 6-10 humans per year makes for some hard casting choices, I'm sure.

Trying to predict who can play a part, who is a growing talent, who is a worthwhile established choice with some mileage left in them, who might flame out after their initial burst of Sherlockian energy . . . hard casting indeed. The "loose membership cap of three hundred," deemed necessary to hold the status quo, makes it all the harder in an increasingly global Sherlockian world. But it's a self-imposed hardship.

The idea of a "status quo" that must be maintained has created something of a Sherlockian eugenics program out of the Baker Street Irregular membership. Instead of adapting, expanding, and embracing the world as it is, policies like banning all electronic devices (which I suppose must include cameras, since it's hard to find a film one these days), come into place.

What's funny is that it's just a social gathering at the center of a weekend of social gatherings that is going to work out in any case. Sherlockians have less-restrictive events across the world all the time and have just as much fun, if not more, than at the banquet tables of the tuxedoed and ball-gowned on that one night of the year. Hardly worth a comment, right?

Yeah. But they keep sending me the letter and I've got blog-space to fill, so comment, I will, even if New York never makes my list of travel goals these days.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Sherlock Gnomes Test.

This week, among the smorgasbord of serious issues that 2017 has been dealing out on a daily basis, we got a nice, fluffy trivial issue for Sherlockians to disagree on: The first real look at a movie called Sherlock Gnomes.

The sequel to an animated garden gnome story based on Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Gnomes looked further up the English literature timeline for its inspiration. Not sure if it's because garden gnomes have to be British somehow or what. (I would think "German" for some reason.)

As it still contains "Gnomeo and Juliet" from the first movie, this adventure of Sherlock Gnomes definitely doesn't seem to be an adaptation of anything Canon, just more gnomish hijinx played for the kiddies. And that's where the questions arise.

Sherlock Gnomes is made for an audience who cannot yet recognize who Sherlock Holmes really is. It may be many a child's first exposure to the deerstalker and Invernesse cape as symbols of the unofficial detective expert . . . if they're even old enough to understand that concept.  It might seem a little more of an exploitative attempt at brand recognition with the parents and grandparents who'll be dragging the tykes to the theater. It also might just seem like one more happy celebration of Sherlock Holmes as a cultural icon.

Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Is it even a thing worth caring about?

Were this a political point worth fighting, or even DC/Marvel movie superhero feuding, the "Oh, look, more crap Sherlock!" party and "All Sherlock is good Sherlock!" party would have pundits out there battling it out right now. In a way, we're lucky that Sherlock Holmes stays out of the mainstream most of the time, so we don't have that sort of opinion war going on constantly over minutiae.  Oh, wait . . . I'm overlooking what HAS to be out there . . .

AND IT IS!

Sherlock Gnomes reaction videos on YouTube. Just search "sherlock gnomes preview reaction" and you can literally spend an hour watching people react to the movie trailer for Sherlock Gnomes. A whole new classification of Sherlockian video for us to add to our completist Sherlockian catalogs.

Hear people laugh at the "No ship, Sherlock!" joke. See the physical impact of a fart joke. See them immediately go to Amazon and order The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Well, maybe not that last part.

This has to be the most derivative of derivative of derivative Sherlockian content in the history of Sherlock Holmes. And I kind of love it.

I mean, you didn't think a guy who sets all these thoughts on the internet for random passersby is going to pooh-pooh reaction video hobbyists, did you?  And watching people being made happy by a silly Sherlock Gnomes preview makes me glad for that movie, which didn't seem to be making me too happy before watching other people made happy by it . . . curious world we live in now, isn't it?

Not sure what kind of test this "Sherlock Gnomes Test" we're getting actually is, but it's certainly a vehicle for going down some new Sherlockian roads. And I don't know about you, but I never mind that.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"Watsonian" a new level above "Sherlockian?"

Okay, full honesty here. Until this year, I was very reluctant to join the John H. Watson Society for one very awful reason: Sherlock Holmes is the reason I'm in this hobby, and as fond as I am of ol' John H., he's always been . . . well, the second banana who couldn't exist without the main man.

Being a "Watsonian" just seemed so . . . well . . . .

You know, as I grow older and wiser, sometimes I actually know when to stop digging myself into a deeper hole.

Anyway, bit by bit, I started to be impressed by the efforts of the John H. Watson Society, despite not being a participant. They soon proved to be more than just a well-funded rehash of a 1980s-style scion society as new members came in and brought some impressive skillsets with them.

The Watsonians have done some good stuff (though that torturous "Treasure Hunt," well, we can talk about that), but this week. Wow. This week.

Don't think I've been as impressed by a single Sherlockian publication in a very long time. Coming in at 148 pages, the latest issue of The Watsonian is a remarkable collection of work. Living in the attention-deficit-disorder mode that the world can inspire these days, I get surprised when I find myself suddenly past the halfway point of a book that's not been in the house very long, and the weighty Watsonian counts as a book. This issue is good. Very good.

And it makes me laugh, too. Remembering certain Sherlockians of a couple decades ago who were SO certain that all the great Sherlockian scholarship had been done, who also had no idea just how smart Sherlockians could get as the decades passed and new tools became available, international cooperation became more commonplace, and minds opened to a few more possibilities.  Yes, we still do some silly fandom stuff, as always. But man, the sharp Sherlockians . . . er, Watsonians . . . out there are razor keen. And hard working.

So, you want to add to your brain's contents on Sherlock's favorite violinist, Watson's war service, proper name pronunciation, a special Russian adaptation, as well as enjoy some nicely varied fiction, well, I heartily recommend the Fall 2017 issue of The Watsonian.

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And, full disclosure, a bit of the fiction in it is mine, but that's not why I'm promoting it. One tends to want to cover up one's mistakes, but this issue is good enough I'm promoting it anyway. Turns out I left a word out of what I wrote for the issue, and I'm rather embarrassed about that. Not sure how it got away from me. If you'd like to make the correction for me on your copy, see below. It's on page 44. Just use your imagination if you like keeping things pristine. Thanks!