Sunday, September 25, 2016

We're not Canon any more . . . well, that Canon.

There's a scene at the end of "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson encounter celebrities of their day.

"By Jove, Watson! I've got it!" Holmes cries excitedly and gets Watson to rush out of 221B with him. Watson records it like this:

"He hurried at his top speed down Baker Street and along Oxford Street, until we had almost reached Regent Circus. Here on the left hand there stands a shop window filled with photographs of celebrities and beauties of the day. Holmes eyes fixed themselves upon one of them . . . ."

This was apparently what one did if one wanted to see celebrities in the Victorian era, apart from buying a ticket to their show. Go to see a photograph in a shop window.

Sure, if a celebrity attained enough prominence, and one had the spare cash, a print could be obtained, as Watson did with his portraits of Henry Ward Beecher and General Gordon in "Cardboard Box." And there were always little renderings in magazines like The Strand which one could cherish.

But as I see this weekend's Twitter feed rolling out photos of celebrities posing with fans from London's "SHERLOCKED: The Official Convention" this morning, it seems like we've come such a long way from celebrity photos in a shop window as Holmes and Watson ran to see after the Milverton case.

And the fact that the greatest celebrity photo catch of all is the face of Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, or that the Cumberbatch parents have now added to their celebrity for parenting a Sherlock . . . and thus become photo-worthy . . . well, it's all quite a mind-boggler in context.

When the original Sherlock Holmes fans started organizing and celebrating the great detective back in the 1930s (the ones we have documented, not the anecdotal fans of the 1890s), part of their love of the Holmes stories was their own ties to those details from an era in which they once lived.

Now that Twitter is our shop window, and we can see dozens of individual fans posing right next to someone like our latest Lestrade, Rupert Graves (who seems to be a champion of celebrity photo interactions), those details of the original Canon seem so very far away. But seeing the face of Lestrade smushed up against the face of someone we might know or have seen at a con makes the new BBC Sherlock Canon seem so much closer to us.

And one final side note: Looking at those pictures and imagining it's Sherlock, Mycroft, Lestrade, etc., actually doing photo ops is kind of hysterical. It would be a great creative writing exercise to have people do fan fiction based on the thought that it's the character and not the actor in a single fan photo and explain the events therein.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Redeeming Sherlock Holmes.

Let's talk about true Sherlockian love for a moment.

We all know Watson put some really wonderful stories to paper when he wrote about his friend Sherlock Holmes. Classics. Stories that have lived through the centuries. (Yes, "centuries" . . . though it's not been 200 years yet, the 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s count!) Really, really good stories. For the most part . . . .

Mmm, yessss, there are those other stories.

I mean, we can all go on about "The Red-Headed League" or The Hound of the Baskervilles. A Study in Scarlet has that second part we don't care about, but, oh, that first part and our first chance to meet Sherlock Holmes. We have favorites. We have Irene Adler. And the words come so easy when we get to talk about those cases.

But anyone who's made it past Reichenbach knows also that there are some not-so-great stories. If you've made it through the entire Canon, you definitely have at least one stinker that comes to mind. And that's where Sherlockian love gets interesting.

Which is what's going to make Christopher Redmond's latest effort, About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is The Best, something that should be fun to read.

Chris gathered together sixty Sherlockian writers from all over the map to each write an essay about one of the sixty original Sherlock Holmes stories and explain exactly why it is the best of the bunch. Every single one of them. Even that one you really, really think is the worst.

It's one thing to do an appreciation of a story, even one of lower quality. But to try to make a case for it being the absolute best? That means every one of those sixty writers is going to be trying extra hard to find merit in stories normally dismissed with a casual wave. The good ones will be there, too, of course. And those really long sort-of boring ones that fall somewhere in between.

A lot of people have followed Conan Doyle's lead and made a list of their favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, but this book, About Sixty, is the first really great point in your Sherlockian life to reset that list. As you read the sixty essays, you can track your favorites and come up with a new list: the ten best cases made for a story being the best. And then, looking at that list next to your old top ten, you might even find one or two changes . . . don't be stubborn now . . . a couple of the essays Chris Redmond has gathered might just be that good.

Will the essay I did for the book be one of those? (Yes, I somehow managed to get some words published somewhere other than this blog.) Personally, I'm thinking my odds are pretty long. I got a story that definitely doesn't usually make anyone's top ten,  But I gave it my best, as I'm sure the other writers in the collection did as well. Which story? Well, I'll leave that as a mystery for the moment. I'm sure this won't be the last time that About Sixty gets a mention here.

Pre-order information from the publisher can be found here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fandom extends its shadowy reach.

You might have seen a headline or two like "Sherlock Wins TV Movie Award In Upset" this week. The basic story behind it is simple: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride was the unexpected Emmy award winner in its category. But there's a larger story behind it that's worth thinking about, as it reflects an ongoing shift in our society.

Just two years ago, the TV Emmy awards were selected by panels of judges. Last year, it changed to a more democratic ballot system, and this year that system was tweaked even further. As a result, the winners of this year's Emmy awards seemed to reflect a more fannish perspective. Not just shows that put out high-quality work, but also shows that got people excited. No longer did it seem like an exercise in serious old men consciously making serious choices about what we should all consider serious television.

No, Sherlock, Tatlana Maslany for Orphan Black, Kate McKinnon for Saturday Night Live, Patton Oswald, Louis Anderson in drag . . . and of course, Game of Thrones. Some of these may have won under the old system, but there was a fresher tone to the Emmy awards this year that seemed to reflect works that generate fans. Because even though the voters for the awards are members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a whole lot of them are still fans, too. More every year.

In a world where Star Trek fans have gotten to grow up and work on Star Trek movies, and where a couple of self-described Sherlock Holmes fan-boys got to create a modern-day Sherlock TV show, there are fans throughout the industry that created those fans. If it didn't make absolute sense, it would almost seem like a shadow conspiracy invasion.

It would be lovely to see the Emmys movie counterpart loosen up in the same manner. Or maybe another aged institution or two, but who knows? As the shadowy tentacles of fandom slowly wind their weaving way into our culture, the Emmys is definitely not the last place we'll see change taking place.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jemmy Night 2016.

With what looked like an empty Sunday evening ahead, I stumbled into the fact that the Emmy Awards were going to be on TV tonight, which meant the first name of Sherlock Holmes was sure to be mentioned a couple of times. As with its predecessors, this year's BBC Sherlock offering is again in the nominees list -- six total. And of those six, only a couple are going to come up on the big show, which makes for a lot of waiting for the Sherlockian who doesn't care that Benedict Cumberbatch isn't even going to be sitting in the audience.

Of course, this year . . . pause to see Stephen Moffat holding up the Emmy for "Abominable Bride" and let the happy wash over me . . . .

Okay, screw what I was originally going to write, that was worth an hour and forty minutes of sitting through the rest of the Emmys. (And I did enjoy seeing Kate MacKinnon be only the fourth SNL actor to get one for that show.)

BBC Sherlock always looks like such a labor of love, it's nice to see that love rewarded.

But here's what I started to wonder, back when I was waiting forever for that moment to happen: Why don't we have a "Jemmy Awards" for Sherlockian entertainments? I mean, a "Monsieur Oscar Meunier Awards" works Canonically, too, but is both too long and too similar in that key part to a certain other award.

I suppose it's because we don't have an Academy of Sherlockian Arts & Sciences. We have arts. We have sciences. But I guess we're missing the academy. Do those big award shows actually have academies where people study and train? I dunno. Maybe that isn't a requirement. But that would be so very cool . . . even if it only existed for one weekend a year, like a con. "Going to the Sherlockian academy this year to polish my Sherlockian skills!"

Of course, Sherlockiana would probably need to make the sort of money every year as the television or movie industries to be able to hire a lot of it done, and at the present moment we're all still writing our own material when it comes to toasts and talks. (At least I think most of us are . . . ) Living up to that "Academy" title can't be cheap.

But enough rambling for one awards night. Big congrats to all the folks that make Sherlock happen for us, and all those fans who make it so much bigger than the Emmy folks even know. That's probably the real award out there.

Sherlock Holmes and the East End Nightmare

I was a bit surprised to find an Amazon package sitting on my chair after returning from the odd Saturday of work yesterday. I didn't think Lyndsay Faye's upcoming collection was out yet, and that was the only pre-order I recalled currently having with the online behemoth. And yet, there it was.

Opening the package, I found a book the size of a comic book trade paperback entitled Pulp Adventures #22.

"Ah, a pulp magazine!" I thought, and started running down all of my previous connections with pulp fiction to see if any link made sense for this showing up at my desk, and found none. As I was overdue for dinner, a quick flip through it was all I had time for, and still found no reason that I would receive such a gift. Could the mighty Amazon have made an error?

It wasn't until late last night that I returned to this little mystery and gave the book a more careful perusal. The opening editorial gave no clues, and I began paging through the stories, one by one. Ane eventually I found my answer on page 88:

"Whitechapel shared a collective tremble when the first note arrived at H division: 'From Hell . . .'

"Jack the Ripper terrorized London in 1888, and his true identity eluded the authorities. Naturally they turned to Sherlock Holmes, soon-to-be legendary for his astounding reasoning and deductive powers. Aided by his inscrutable raconteur, Dr. John Watson, the detective follows a bloody trail through the alleyways of London's red-light district."

Those words introduced a story entitled "Sherlock Holmes and the East End Nightmare," and I realized that someone had made a horrible, horrible mistake. As any Elementary fan knows, there's a reason I don't do reviews very often here in Sherlock Peoria. I've seen too much at this point, and my eye no longer has the freshness required for a proper review of a Sherlock Holmes story that is in any way similar to the thousand other Holmes stories I've read. And Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper? While that case may have been missing from the original Canon, Holmes's fans have made up for that absence in spades. I would guess that Sherlock Holmes has fought the Ripper in print nearly as much as he's fought Moriarty . . . and the results are never completely satisfying.

My personal problem with Holmes and the Ripper stories is that, unless you're new to the game, you know the Ripper case far too well. The same cycle of victims. The fact he was never caught. The way real-life events do not follow the everything-toward-the-goal construction of good fiction. And that is the mindset of the person who started reading "Sherlock Holmes and the East End Nightmare" by Adam Beau McFarlane.

The tale fits a pulp adventure perfectly. Doing the Ripper murders as a short story helped move things along at a pace that didn't lose me, as some novel-length versions have. (Like I said, been there, done that with the victim list and their various atrocities.) The story's one "Why would Holmes . . . ?" actually contributes to its conclusion, so I was satisfied enough with that. And it does give Holmes and Watson a solid reason to solve the case and keep quiet about it, even keeping the illogic of a Ripper-type killer in place.

Those who collect Holmes/Ripper battles will want to add this one to their collections, I'm sure, as it possesses distinctive features that completists look for. As Holmes pastiches go, well, it's a Holmes pastiche, and I will leave other judgments to you, along with the choice of paying $12.95 for a single Holmes story in a collection. (Haven't read the others yet, so no comment there.)

Hmm, now I'm wondering if there is Holmes/Ripper porn out there in fanfic land . . . not that I want to read it, mind you, just wondering if we've actually gone that far into AUs now. ("Even though the Ripper had killed many a prostitute, John could not resist inviting Jack into the bed he and Sherlock shared . . .") Ah, well.

On pastiches go . . . .

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Conan Doyle's ending shortcuts.

It's a pretty well known thing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wasn't tremendously fond of the guy that made him famous. We also know what Doyle did to Sherlock Holmes after he'd plowed through a couple of dozen short stories at a rate of one a month: The death story.

Doyle didn't seem to want to spend any more time with Sherlock Holmes than he had to, and you can plainly see that in the hiatus between the early 1890s and the 1900s. But have you ever stopped to think about how Conan Doyle bailed out of stories before they finished on a regular basis?

Take "The Five Orange Pips," for example. A man comes to Sherlock Holmes fearing for his life.

Sherlock Holmes listens to John Openshaw's tale of a mysterious threat, does a little detectivework, and figures out where the threat is actually coming from and exactly who is behind it. John Openshaw is suddenly murdered in the course of things, and in a proper story, Sherlock Holmes would then proceed to catch the killer he has identified . . . if there was more story-time for him to do it in. But how does the tale end?

"Walp, I guess the killer got away. Oh, wait! A storm at sea sank his ship, so it's all okay and we didn't really need to do anything."

There's a whole chunk of "The Five Orange Pips" that should exist, but doesn't. Instead of Sherlock Holmes tracking down a killer and apprehending him, we get "oh, yeah, a storm finally got him." I suppose that's better than "We eventually learned that Captain Calhoun died of old age on his ranch in Texas. Go, Justice!" but not by much.

And "Five Orange Pips" isn't the rare exception. Doyle decides to shortcut endings right and left.

Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes together both fail to see the villains captured in "The Greek Interpreter." Holmes and Watson eventually get a newspaper story where two guys got stabbed in Budapest and we're left to assume that was the bad guys getting their just desserts. It's not like Sherlock Holmes didn't go to Europe on occasion for a case. It's not like he didn't have contacts in the police departments of European countries.

"The Engineer's Thumb" is even worse. "Well, those guys got away. No rumors of them dying mysteriously later or anything. Yep, just got away."

But maybe expecting a Sherlock Holmes investigation to continue until a criminal is actually caught may be to much to expect. I mean, he's there to solve the mystery, right? Mystery solved, his job is done. Sure, maybe a snake or dog or some quicksand might take out the criminal, but I can't help but feel like someone was taking the rest of the day off.

Was it Holmes's actual style of case-ending, Watson getting bored with the writing part, or the literary agent who was trimming down Watson's accounts?  I don't know, and I suppose I could look into this further, but I think I'm going to take the rest of the day off . . .

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Return of the Most Canonical Man in the Canon.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's blog is provided by Don Murillo, the Tiger of San Pedro, at his own request. Don Murillo has been hired by Sherlock Peoria to begin weekly appearances starting in October, but he just could not wait to get his bonafides before the readership. His views on "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge" are, at least, somewhat . . . interesting.

They call me "the most Canonical man in the Canon," which I am to understand inspired those who advertise the Three X brewery company many years later. But you knew this!

It is I, Don Murillo, the Tiger of San Pedro! Hallo! The hero of "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge!"

Many of you readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories have been confused by Don Murillo in the past. This is not surprising! For I am the man who met Sherlock Holmes in 1892 . . . and caused him so much consternation that he did not resume his career in detection until 1894! Most assume it was that poor drunken card playing Moran that Mr. Sherlock Holmes avoided London for . . . have you ever seen the man? Without his professor, he was no match for even the likes of Aloysius Garcia, much less Sherlock Holmes!

For how did Sherlock Holmes describe his encounter with me?

"The most singular of them all." 

Yes, roll that around in your little heads, my friends. "The most singular of them all." And he did not stop there!

"Strong, active . . . the step of a deer and the air of an emperor -- a fierce, masterful man, with a red-hot spirit!"

Oh, and pay heed to that particular statement from Mr. Sherlock Holmes: "I managed to see him on a plausible pretext, but I seemed to read in his dark, deep-set, brooding eyes that he was perfectly aware of my true business."

It was 1892! I had read "The Speckled Band" in The Strand Magazine, not a week before and the likenesses by the artist Paget were quite accurate.


Mr. Sherlock Holmes from the latest Strand

What a thrill it is to defeat assassins and then be visited by England's greatest defeater of assassins in the same week! Of course, we who defeat assassins are a private society, and must not acknowledge each other aloud, but I am sure Mr. Sherlock Holmes understood exactly what my knowing wink passed between us!

I spoke to my eldest daughter Isadora, then thirteen, that he might make a fine father for assassin-defeating children, but she was, at that time, so fond of golden syrup that she was determined to marry a sugar magnate before her fourteenth birthday. We Murillos have such power in our blood that we blossom early, and she was as strong-willed at thirteen as I at fifty.

But let us not talk of Isadora's misadventures, or those of her sister . . . oh, do not speak to me of that girl! . . . we are here to renew our acquaintance, as unnecessary as that surely seems. I am Don Murillo, after all, the most Canonical man in the Canon!

How many other men or women of my era were both a part of Sherlock Holmes's investigation in one year, and then had their papers . . . just their papers! . . . as the heart of a Sherlock Holmes investigation two years later?

Was it two? Was it three? No! just one, and his name is Don Murillo!