Monday, May 21, 2018

Seven Sherlockurai

Every now and then, someone has to adapt a classic. And since 1954, one of those classics that's continually being adapted is that Japanese classic, Seven Samurai. The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond the Stars, A Bug's Life . . . you see it across all genres. And now, the classic base plot comes to Sherlockiana.

A village of farmers, just trying to stay alive, recruits the services of seven masterless samurai to combine their skills and make one last stand.

The village: A Sherlockian society called "The Parallel Case of St. Louis." (St. Louis itself is a little large to be called a "village," so we're going with the scion.) The last stand: Well, actually it's a first stand, Saturday, August 11, with activities the Friday before and the Sunday after. And the samurai . . . or should we call them masterless Sherlockurai? Who did the villagers find to play out their plan?

From the wilds of Minnesota, they found Tim Johnson, master curator from what is probably the world's greatest Sherlockian library collection at University of Minnesota.

From Nashville, Tennesse, the Midwest center of civilization and culture, they called out Bill Mason, Sherlockian author and political savant, known to both collaborate and debate with their next pull:

Brad Keefauver. Yeah, the blog guy. Wrote a few books on Sherlock once. Might be a tad 'tetched in the head by now, judging by his surreptitious attempts at podcasting. Also, me.

Their one local Canon-slinger, Mary Schroeder, has been seen much of St. Louis Sherlockiana, and built the St. Louis Sherlockian Research Collection to defend the town against Holmes ignorance.

Ask an old-timer about the man named Bill Cochran, and they'll probably have a story to tell. He's probably delivered as many papers on Sherlock Holmes to his regular gang of Sherlockian masters as anyone alive. Served a tour of duty as the editor of The Baker Street Journal. Travelled across the land bringing Sherlock to the hearts of "221B" listeners with a partner until a while back, but has been a loyal friend to St. Louis for a long, long time.

And, as with any Seven Samurai type of gathering, you have to get one guy from Texas and one young gun. The young gun is Tassy Hayden, doctor, writer, podcaster, and very clever Sherlockian from the up-and-coming. The man from Texas?

That would be Don Hobbs, who was surely only able to pass the world's greatest collection of different language translations of the Sherlock Holmes stories to a university, only because he has an equally great collection of Sherlockian friends and acquaintances around the world. He filmed what was probably the first Sherlockian reality show ever during a 1,895 tour that included Holmes Peak, Watson, Oklahoma, and a remote Sherlockian members-only bar in South Texas. You don't get more interesting, Sherlockianly, than Don.

So that's the seven Sherlockurai. Think the metaphor is a little too violent?

Well, the little village of St. Louis Sherlockians also called in a team called "Black Knights Fighting Group," to put on a display of Baritsu and other Victorian fighting skills.

All of this gathering will result in an event that shall be called "Holmes in the Heartland," St. Louis's latest weekend of Sherlockian wonder, which doesn't have the same name issues as its predecessors "Holmes Under The Arch" (It didn't really take place under the St. Louis Arch.) or "The Game's Afloat" (which was on a floating riverboat for two iterations, but in a non-floating hotel for the third in 1998). This time, Holmes is in the Heartland, and so will be the Seven Sherockurai.

More to come!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Spending the evening with distant friends

There is a distinct phenomenon in podcast world where listeners feel they've become friends with people they've never met, just by virtually sitting in on so many conversations between the podcast hosts. Last night, I had a bit of the opposite experience, catching up on a bit of I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere where Scott and Burt interviewed two different friends who don't live that far away.

Spending the evening listening to a couple of friends is a very comfortable thing. Vincent Wright was getting into chronologies and Rob Nunn was promoting Holmes in the Heartland, as well as talking about his book, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, and both were subjects I've happily discussed with those fellows before, and surely will again. The podcast episodes were a nice "in the meantime" pleasure of their company sort of experience.

After a hundred and forty-four episodes, I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere has accumulated enough interviews with Sherlockians that you can pretty much put together a virtual symposium on whatever topic you'd like, just by picking and choosing appropriate episodes. I'm not suggesting this as an alternative to actually going to Sherlockian weekend symposiums, as the discussions that pop up between the talks at those things are always as rewarding as the planned program. But still, if you can stand hearing about The Baker Street Journal as often as Blue Apron or Stamps-Dot-Com on some other podcasts, you can make a fine morning, afternoon, or evening out of mixing and matching the pods.

Listening to active Sherlockians who are toiling away at their craft, however, is apt to inspire you to spend more time in like activities, however, so be prepared with some available time once that listening is done. Because there's never enough time for Sherlock Holmes, and like any addictive drug, the more you take, the more you're going to want.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Angry fanning D.D.L.

Stare at something long enough, it's bound to piss you off.

I mean, think about how many Sherlockians come into the hobby because they love stories about Sherlock Holmes, read every Sherlock Holmes thing they can, and then eventually start hating on pastiches because they all do the same things over and over.

We just weren't meant to keep our eyes focussed in one direction all the time. Sure, we want to look at the view that gave us pleasure a second time, and a third. We're hard-wired to return to a source of satisfaction. We can't help it. But inevitably, you go to that well too many times out of habit, and then get angry because it isn't the same bountiful well it was thirty years before.

With that preface, let me say a few things about Daniel Day Lewis.

I hate Daniel Day Lewis.

I go to see movies every week. Daniel Day Lewis makes a movie every two to three years. Already, we have a slight issue. I seem to remember liking him in 1992's The Last of the Mohicans, but past that, he hasn't really done anything that made me want to buy a ticket just to see a movie for him alone. He's the British-born son of a poet laureate and the actress-daughter of a studio head, who has played so many Americans that I don't think of him as having an English accent.

And for twenty-five @#&%ing years now, people have been saying he should play Sherlock Holmes.

The dude does one movie every two or three years and is not going to take a role so commercial that Robert Downey Jr.  did a three-movie series from it. What's D.D.L. got left in him, now that he's sixty? About six or seven more movies, if he doesn't slow down even further? And Ian McKellen has grabbed the best old man Holmes story for this generation already.

Besides, old man Holmes? We finally . . . finally . . . get a Sherlock Holmes young enough to be A Study in Scarlet appropriate, he's wildly popular, and going back to middle-aged and older Sherlocks is something we think is a good idea? Really, I think Daniel Day Lewis would be happier playing Josiah Amberly, a miserable old man, that Lewis could just act the hell out of. Give us a younger actor we haven't noticed before as Sherlock and let D.D.L. win an Oscar for the story of a weepy widower who was betrayed by the two people closest to him.

That's what the Oscar crowd wants anyway -- adaptations of Victorian tales that focus on miserable folk like Lady Brackenstall or Hilton Cubitt. (If you can't win an Oscar with a character named "Hilton Cubitt," you just aren't trying. It's the "Reynolds Woodcock" of the Canon.)

Wait . . . excuse me for a moment, I just learned that Daniel Day Lewis was in The Unbearable Lightness of Being before I knew who he was. I still remember that day. That theater. My two companions, one of whom talked us into seeing that thing. It was the seasonal affective part of the winter of 1988, and . . . but I digress. The Unbearable Lightness of Being . . . grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

I would pay full IMAX ticket price, complete with a full tub of popcorn and bucket of soda, to see George Clooney in the Sherlockian equivalent of Batman and Robin before I would set foot in a living room with a Daniel Day Lewis Sherlock Holmes movie playing on Netflix. I would binge-watch all of CBS's Elementary with a full commentary track by Nigel Bruce's Watson, who would not even understand what he was seeing and probably go off on a reminiscence of getting his hand caught in a cookie jar, before I would let a YouTube video with a "You can skip this video in 5 . . . 4 . . . . 3 . . ." play a D.D.L. Sherlock movie preview for those five finger-on-the-skip-button seconds. I would even go so far as to start kung fu fighting in that levitating Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style with every single Sherlockian who says the words "All Sherlock is good Sherlock!" on principle alone after Daniel Day Lewis won the best actor Oscar for playing Sherlock Holmes, because, hey, we're in a fantasy world now and I have crazy ninja skills.

So, you see, basically, being a Sherlockian for a very long time has its side effects, not all of them pretty. It's like staring at the sun for too long, except with fits of rage instead of devastating blindness. Fortunately, today is Saturday, and I can wander off and do non-Sherlock things for a time and regain my composure, possibly even letting Daniel Day Lewis's prospective future roles give light to some other Sherlockians' hope for the future of film.

But about that royal wedding . . . .

Thursday, May 17, 2018

No man ever had more respect for a baby!

If you work in any kind of not-totally-male workspace, you've seen the shift in atmosphere when a friendly baby comes toted through the door. Babies are kind of a thing. And, I suppose, one might start to suggest that it speaks to the elder male domination of Sherlockiana that we don't fuss over Canonical babies more. Or does it?

Elinor Gray brought Sherlock Holmes and babies to the fore today with a tweet about a remarkable audiobook cover. It was a lovely painting of Sherlock Holmes fussing over a baby. And it's of a Canonical moment. A moment that's just as much Canon as the time Watson got pissy and called Holmes a machine.

"Finally he shook one of the dimpled fists which waved in front of him."

No cold machine Sherlock stopped to shake a baby's hand.

And how many times have to stopped to shake a baby's hand and went, "Hey, I'm like Sherlock Holmes! I may not be able to solve crimes, but I can introduce myself to this baby with a wee little firm handshake."

"Might we make the acquaintance of the baby?" Holmes asked just moments before, showing all propriety in the meeting of a baby.

Not many babies to meet in the Canon, but still . . . babies!

Alice Turner of Boscombe Valley once had a wee baby hand which seemed to always lead her father down the path of good. And little Miss Mary Fraser of Adelaide was a baby at the breast of a much younger Teresa Wright than Sherlock Holmes ever met. There might have even been a grab-able baby in Arnsworth Castle or in the Darlington family, if one of those didn't involve a jewelry box.

In the end, there was really only one baby for Sherlock Holmes. "The baby," if you want to get all Irene Adler about it. Little baby Ferguson, whom Holmes saw off with a "Good-bye, little man. You have made a strange start in life." Total respect for the baby there from Holmes.

And like so many other singular incidents in the Canon Holmes, we must, perhaps, take it as representative of a larger picture. (And something that bodes well for little Rosie.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Evidence for a Watmes Conspiracy?

Remember that Sherlock Holmes series that got all James-Bond-y at the end and had that final adventure that wasn't like the stories that had made Sherlock so popular?

Of course you do! And what the heck was Conan Doyle thinking with "His Last Bow," anyway?

Well, it was the war, of course. The Great War, the War That Changed Everything, the War You Couldn't Ignore. That was the reason for Sherlock Holmes's last case diverging from the rest of his career. But did you ever stop to think of what that last story might have been, had it not been for the intervention of World War One? Did you ever suspect that Conan Doyle might have had a totally different plan in mind for Holmes and Watson getting together one last time to stand on the terrace?

Well, thanks to a tin dispatch box found in my cousin's mother-in-law's attic at the new Victorian house they just moved into after inheriting it from great aunt Violet, who lived far too long but kept a lot of old stuff in good shape, we may now have the answer: An unpublished version of "His Last Bow" entitled "The Adventure of the German Sportsman" which leaves out all the looming war business, keeps Holmes in England with a proper British accent and clean-shaven face, and contains a proper case. The tale is too long to present here, of course, and intellectual property rights still need to be settled and all that, but perhaps the final passages are enough to give a flavor of the ending Doyle had originally aimed for, pre-war.

    "As to you, Watson," Holmes said, "you joining me with your old service. Stand with me here upon the terrace, for it may be the last quiet talk we shall have before Lestrade arrives."
    "I think not, Holmes. The city is some distance away. But you seem very warm."
    "Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There's an east wind coming all the same, such as wind as time blows on all men. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and we will one day wither before its blast."
     His lip quivered and his hand trembled. 
    "I have a ring here, worth over five hundred pounds, that should be on someone's finger before someone makes off with it."

Well, that is all I dare reprint here, for fear of some legal thing or the other. But you get the gist. Odd how easily those two just will get all Victorian-emotional so easily. But, oh, what might have been, if not for that cursed war . . . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Warlock Holmes to the rescue!

"Stand at the window here. Was there ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world?"
-- Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four

Today was one of those days.

You know how the world is these days. Incompetence in places where skill and savvy are needed. Simple tasks that require wading through systems designed to profit someone who isn't you. Coupled with the demands life makes anyway, it's a wonder that depression isn't as common as the cold. (And maybe it is.) Weariness sets in, and it seems like all the spark has gone out of everything.

Hyperbole? Not lately.

A few years ago, however, a little Las Vegas improv, parking, and weather podcast called Matt and Mattingly's Ice Cream Social had a mention of a new Holmes book coming out called Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone. I was intrigued, but there are so many Sherlock Holmes books out there of late, and so many disappointments. I put picking up Warlock Holmes on my literary to-do list, and there it stayed, not helped by a certain other supernatural Holmes novel that still remains barely-read on my nightstand or the YA series books that are doing so well in recent years.

But today, the word came across the wifi: The third book in G.S. Denning's Warlock Holmes series, Warlock Holmes: My Grave Ritual, was being released today, and would even be in my local Barnes & Noble. And like I said, today was one of those days. So I took a chance.

I went to Barnes & Noble, and I bought all three Warlock Holmes books. I came home and immediately dove into the first one, the aforementioned A Study in Brimstone. Not a bad start, as I passed the first page, a fresh re-telling of the opening of A Study in Scarlet. And pretty soon Watson wrote something that made me chuckle. And then a Stamford bit that made me laugh a little more. And by the time I hit the moment Dr. John Watson meets his Holmes . . . Warlock Holmes . . . the first words out of Holmes's mouth broke me up. I re-read them aloud to the good Carter and she broke out laughing.

After the first fifty pages, I had to stop for some exercise and a few chores, followed by this blog post, but I'm eagerly looking forward to diving back into this terrific comic take on Sherlock Holmes. Even though his name is "Warlock" and he's up to something not very scientific, Warlock Holmes is a better Sherlock than many who use that name these days, and better still, when I put it down after that first fifty, I remembered how "funny" worked . . . something that Sherlockiana sorely needs more of, as so many pastiches seem to forget that Sherlock Holmes was a funny guy, And funny doesn't come easy.

Especially these days. So finally getting around to Warlock Holmes after all this time? It's looking a little bit like perhaps I was subconsciously saving this one for a rainy day.

And, damn, it's good so far. I'll keep you posted.



Monday, May 14, 2018

Sherlock Holmes stories without Sherlock.

There have always been a case or two in the Sherlockian Canon where Sherlock Holmes's participation seemed minimal. But since the all-seeing Howard Ostrom recently turned up a Sherlock-less adaption of "Copper Beeches" on Vimeo, I'm starting to fear for our friend.

I mean, we all know that part of the success of Conan Doyle's work has always been that he used Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as a framing device to tell other people's stories. The characters they encounter aren't mere cardboard murder-of-the-week stereotypes. Henry Baker is fascinating in his own right as we hear of his lost Christmas goose.  Mary Sutherland is not just all about her missing boyfriend -- she's interesting in her own right, as a typist with an inheritance and a mother who remarried a younger man.

How many stories of the Canon are so well told that they could exist with Sherlock Holmes, as was done with that video of "Copper Beeches?" Quite a few, if you think about it.

Sherlock's failures, like "Five Orange Pips" and "The Yellow Face," come quickly to mind. Events easily proceed as they did without Holmes on the case. "Engineer's Thumb" could have had Victor Hatherly going to any doctor then trying to backtrack to the place he was injured -- that blazing house at the end is pretty obvious where the crime happened. Professor Presbury still gets chomped by his dog Roy in "The Creeping Man," and maybe the landlady in "The Veiled Lodger" just gets her friend Mrs. Hudson to talk her tenant out of suicide.

Yes, many a tale involves unravelling the clever crime and capturing a criminal who "would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that darned Sherlock Holmes!" Holmes is vital to all the facts coming out in plenty of cases.

But, as many a pasticheur has failed to recognize over the years, the stories were never really about Sherlock Holmes . . . with the possible exception of A Study in Scarlet or The Sign of the Four, where much had to be made of Holmes's business to fill a novel's length. It's the other character's stories that make Conan Doyle's originals so great. Sherlock Holmes is just the marvelous device that ties them all together and makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. (Because some of those parts? Not so good, as we all well know.)

I doubt that many creators are going to go to the trouble to make Sherlock Holmes stories without Sherlock Holmes, since he's the star people are coming to see. Writers who have tried to use Holmes to introduce their own spin-off character often find it hard to get publishers to let them usher Holmes out, once he's appeared. But it's always good to be reminded just how good those stories were by themselves, before Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson became the icing on the cake.