Thursday, April 20, 2017

When Sebastian Moran was born, American-style.

When if comes to the doings of Sherlock Holmes and his folk, we like to focus on London, that great city with such a rich history. In 1840, for example, Professor Moriarty's lieutenant Sebastian Moran was born there, London was the largest city in the world then, having not-all-that-recently taken the title away from Beijing, which held it for about a century after taking it away from Istanbul. Moran was born a big city boy.

This evening, however, for completely non-Sherlockian reasons, I was exploring a less urbanized area of the world and what things were like there about the time Sebastian Moran was getting slapped on the bottom for the first time. (Of course, Watson left out the part of "The Adventure of the Empty House" when Holmes slapped Moran on the butt as Lestrade and company dragged him off to jail. How do I know this? Well, you have your tin dispatch box, and I have mine . . .)

So while the son of Sir Augustus Moran was being welcomed into the world, here's what was going on over here in Peoria-land. Peoria was here, with just under 1500 people, about a third the size of Chicago, which was only number 92 in America's largest cities. (New York City, first. Baltimore, second. New Orleans, third.) And why not? The Mississipi river above St. Louis marked the edge of the frontier. Only ten years before, Black Hawk and his Sauk warriors were trying to reclaim parts of Northern Illinois, coming back from the Iowa Territory.

With twenty-six states in the U.S., Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana were are far as U.S. civilization went. The American map on Sebastian Moran's date of birth is something to see.

Joseph Smith was still alive and in Nauvoo, Illinois when Moran was born (though they only named it "Nauvoo" in April of that year, having just bought the town the year before when it was still "Commerce, Illinois," and the Jefferson Hopes of St. Louis were all still in St. Louis, probably still gabbing about the Missouri Mormon War not long before, and Joseph Smith going to talk to U.S. President Martin Van Buren after getting kicked out of Missouri, in hopes the president would intercede and force Missouri to take Smith's 20,00 settlers back.

Pa Doran, father to Hatty Doran, was surely a child somewhere east of the Mississippi River, but where or how old, it's hard to say. Doran families were scattered all over the U.S. in 1840, with plenty even in Indiana, where the Clients were not nearly as Illustrious in those days.

It's hard to say, too, whether or not Elias Openshaw had come to the Florida Territory to seek his fortunes by 1840. The guerilla war that the Seminoles had undertaken against settlers was pretty well over by then, so if Openshaw hadn't arrived, he had probably heard that the territory was a little less dangerous. (Which is truly ironic, given how later dangers of the area would follow him back to England.)

For all the fancy credits on Colonel Sebastian Moran's resume, it should surprise no one that a man born in 1840 still had so much of a wilderness hunter in him. There were still frontiers to be explored, especially for those born in the big city of London.

And to a modern American, some of those were right in our own backyard.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A visit from one of that wandering Sherlockian tribe.

I was reminded today of what Sherlockian life was like when I got out a little more, when travel was a bit more easily done, and work responsibilities didn't get quite in the way as much. Monica Schmidt and her husband Bill stopped by a local pub on their way to the city where I first found other Sherlockians and we had a nice leisurely lunch that could have well gone on to Morley's "Three Hours For Lunch Club" length with just a little more disrespect for the workday and places to be.

One of the multitude of Sherlockian topics that came up was a great Sherlockian named Joe Moran and how one tended to see him at so many events . . . a true Baker Street Irregular by Sherlock Holmes's own definition that "They can go everywhere . . ."  There have always been certain Sherlockians that you tended to see at all sorts of events, in all sorts of places. They were like an unofficial club all their own, a sort of gypsy Sherlockian society that could never be delimited or defined lest it loose its special magic.

I'm sure that nameless society wanders from Sherlockian gathering to Sherlockian gathering still, and Monica is surely becoming a part of it. I mean, I saw her in Atlanta just a week and a half ago, and she showed up in Peoria today . . . and we average about one out-of-town Sherlockian a year of late, so it's a rare imaginary stamp to have on your virtual passport. But things are looking up.

A chance to hear another Sherlockian's stories is always a wonderful way to spend a meal, and I especially enjoyed discovering another soul whose initial youthful contact with Holmes was a movie they didn't get to see when they wanted to . . . the sort of dangled Holmes bait that makes you prize something all the more as you wait to get at it. And then there are the compared notes on all those rare and fascinating folk one meets along the Sherlockian road, which brings me back to that unofficial wandering gypsy society of Sherlockians that's out there, even now.

It doesn't require an invitation. Just keeping your eyes open, keeping a few weekends free, and finding a little extra traveling cash for the occasional hotel room . . . depending upon your area of the country, of course. It may be a little easier when you call a major city home, yes, but if one listens carefully enough to the Sherlockian grapevines, opportunities arise all the time.

What will 2017 bring, now that spring has sprung and people are moving about . . . maybe even myself? Well, we see what that distant gypsy call beckons us to. It was great to have a visiting reminder of all that today, for as much as I enjoy this blogging bit in the late quiet of the evening, Sherlockians in person are always better. (Thanks, Monica!)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Three numbers and a letter.


Three numbers, one letter. Four characters that signify . . . what?

An address . . . no, more than that. Poems aren't written and conventions aren't concocted based on a location. When we well remember a site, it's usually because something significant happened there. Troy. Waterloo. Gettysburg. Or it's a place of power. 10 Downing Street. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 30 Rockefeller Plaza. But most lists of famous addresses contain 221B Baker Street as well.

Site of a significant event? Place of power?

You could make a case for either, but those things are not what "221B" evokes.

The most important events in the detective career of Sherlock Holmes, with few exceptions, just didn't happen there. Clients telling their stories were key, of course, but not the sort of climactic moment that sticks with you.

"221B" is almost binary in its makeup, and that's where you start getting to the heart of things. Since "B" is the second letter of the alphabet, it's really all twos and a one instead of ones and zeroes. The one is the odd character in there, almost standing alone to make itself more significant. Because you need that, now and then, to really show how important two of something can be. "222B" just never would have done it, really.

It's pretty obvious that 221B has come to signify a partnership that brought us some of the greatest detective stories of all time. Maybe the one stands for the first and foremost consulting detective the world has ever known. Maybe the "B" stands for his . . . best friend? Analyzing the make-up of "221B" as a symbol for partnership is just two weirdly simple. Yet there it is.

221B Baker Street is less of an address and more of a period of time. Whoever lived there before Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is irrelevant. Whoever came after, equally so. The seventeen years that Sherlock Holmes operated out of Baker Street with John H. Watson at his side align perfectly with the seventeen steps that led up to that flat, and that period is the location in space and time that 221B will always represent, even without the "Baker Street."

There's something very special about that. Cold numbers and a single letter of the alphabet evoking a bond between two men living lives of discovery, adventure, and justice-dealing. And so much more, so much that we have spent over a century in study of it, and will surely spent a great many years more. Of all the words written by the creator who gave us those amazing records, none will probably ever have the full power of "221B," unless it's that very unique first name of the very unique figure who first thought to rent the place.

A better sigil no tribe could hope to have, and we are that lucky tribe.

Three numbers, one letter. 221B.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bro Grimesby.

Though he died way back in 1883, I was thinking today how happy Dr. Grimesby Roylott would be on the internet. And I mean troll happy.

Here's an older white guy who feels righteously robbed of his dominant place in society by his gambling forebears. He lives in relative isolation, treats women as resources just there to feed his needs (talking financial here, but you go where you need to), loves dangerous pets that make him look more manly, and when he feels threatened?

First, the ad hominem attack to discredit any input Sherlock Holmes might have:

"I know you, scoundrel! I have heard of your before. You are Holmes the meddler."

And he goes on.

"Holmes the busybody!"

And then . . .

"Holmes, the Scotland Yard jack-in-office."

If you look of the definition of that last one, it would appear that Roylott things Sherlock is somehow a part of the official police force, which is the line that . . . unbeknownst to ol' Grimesby . . . is the bit that really tweaks Holmes, if he wasn't already laughing at this cartoon character of testosterone.

Grimesby Roylott's second act, of course, is physical threat via showing his arm strength, bending the fireplace poker in lieu of punching someone. We tend to focus on Sherlock Holmes's unstraightening of the poker in the aftermath of the scene and not the fact that Watson surely would have put a bullet in the man had he moved on Sherlock Holmes in any manner that actually seemed to endanger the detective. People tend to forget about John Watson when louder personalities are engaging around him.

Watson is the man more interesting to compare to Roylott than his oft-showboating room-mate. Quiet, effective, and always ready to do the right thing, even at risk of his own health.

But the good Watson distracts me from the actual subject at hand here, Dr. Grimesby Roylott, the perfect Canonical candidate for modern internet troll. The name-calling, the stalking of a poor woman just looking out for her own safety, the threats toward any who might suggest he's doing something foul . . . which he most certainly is.

Grimesby, of course, was a long ways pre-internet. Had he had access to such a thing, he might not have only been doing some heavy duty trolling -- if his eventual end was any indicator, he would probably have also been the start of a YouTube video that qualified him for a Darwin Award: "No, I'm putting the swamp adder in the air vent . . . watch this now . . .  there he goes . . . what? No, not this wa . . . OUCH! SON OF A . . . wha . . . whoa . . . sitting down now . . . gblhh . . ."

Humankind hasn't evolved past producing Grimesby Roylotts, sadly. How are we doing on our Sherlock Holmes quotient? Hard to say, as you know how he was about letting Scotland Yard take the credit before Watson started working his magic. We can hope, though.

But I'm really glad Grimesby himself didn't have the internet. THAT guy. Sheesh.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sherlock, Sherlocker, Sherlockest . . .

When it comes to words, there are two definite ends to the spectrum.

On one side, language is a thing of rules and proper construction. On the other, a palette of verbal paints to be blended and applied in whatever way conveys the proper message to the reader.

Words can be taken as a science, or an art, or a bit of both. And as a result of the latest Hansom Cab Clock Club newsletter, e-mailed out by Don Hobbs, a bit of discussion ensued following Don's use of "Sherlock" as a verb. He was subsequently accused of verbal misdemeanor by Mark McGovern, and I found myself forced to plead Don's case in the court of "Reply All."

Citing evidence that Don had been using "Sherlocking" since at least 2003 in blog posts, and that he had been "beshillinged" into the Baker Street Irregulars after at least nine years of publicly doing so, I suggested that using "Sherlock" as a verb seemed to be approved by that highest Sherlockian authority in the U.S., if we are to imagine such a thing exists. And therein always comes the bone of contention between word scientists and word artists. Do we accept a voice of authority or let the chaos of the verbal marketplace run rampant?

"Holmes" and "Watson" are what our heroes are called in Doyle Canon, but "Sherlock" and "John" have become a popular usage since the Sherlock Canon, even for the originals. "Johnlock" is a shipping term for Holmes/Watson romance, while "Tunalock" is the identifier for an alternate universe where Sherlock Holmes is a fish and not just human Holmes in love with a tuna. One can plant one's feet in the dirt on a particular usage, but variations on "Sherlock" seem to be coming from every direction of late.

If I say you have a Sherlock brain, and someone else has a Sherlocker brain than you, it's definitely less confusing that saying you have a Sherlockian brain and they a more Sherlockian brain, if you mean said brain is like Sherlock's. Would "Sherlockish" be less confusing and more the proper adjective?  Can the mad zealots among us undertake to start using "Sherlock" as every part of the English language, not just noun and verb, but adjective, adverb, preposition, etc.? Will happy anarchy prevail as "Sherlock Sherlock Sherlocked Sherlockly Sherlocker Sherlock Sherlock Sherlock!" becomes our cultural dialect?

Pishlock poshlock! We can't have too much Sherlock Holmes!

Okay, I know, five seasons of a certain "Sherlock Holmes" makes me a liar with that last statement. But I'm just having fun here. Sherlock Holmes has been around long enough that there are serious scholars doing serious work on our friend with serious words. They need to be a little less silly with the verbiage.

Some of us, however, are probably always just going to be screwlocking around.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Sherlockian of note.

It was kind of a big deal when Kareem Abdul Jabbar co-wrote a book featuring Mycroft Holmes, revealed a love of Sherlock Holmes, and appeared at the annual Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend in New York. Bigger to some than others, of course, as some of us could give a flying fig about basketball. What was a much bigger deal to me, personally, was when I first saw Curtis Armstrong in the lobby of the host hotel for a Sherlock Holmes conference in Minneapolis, and Don Hobbs said, "Let's go say 'hi' to Curtis."

Over the course of that weekend, I quickly came to realize that an actor I'd been mentally tracking in movies and TV shows since he first went from Revenge of the Nerds to Moonlighting was an honest-to-God lifelong Sherlockian as much as you or I.  The kind of person who thought of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as a favorite Holmes movie. The kind of person to whom acquiring a copy of the Baring-Gould Annotated Sherlock Holmes was a life-changing event.

Those touch-stones may not be the Sherlockian keys to everyone, as every generation has their own. But when you hear certain experiences being shared, you always know one of your own.

Soon after I had the chance to talk with Curtis this past weekend at 221B Con, I had to admit to him that I was mentally separating the actor from the Sherlockian just to keep my cool. I'm from Peoria -- we don't get many folks from the big or small screen walking into our world, so it's a little too exciting sometimes. Sherlockians, however, are people I get somewhat excited about every single day, rare and special folk that they are, and am quite accustomed to dealing with through that little thrill. So Curtis Armstrong, the Sherlockian who'd been in Susan Rice's Michigan scion society in his youth, was not just in my wheelhouse, he's a guy you'd hang out with at a con even if he was an accountant. (Even one named Herbert Viola.)

If you'd like to get a feel for the guy you'd meet at a Sherlockian weekend like 221B Con, take a listen to Geek Versus Week 's episode #127  -- an interview with Curtis at 221B Con. Late in the interview he addresses the difference between Sherlockians of our generation and older who enjoy the new fan-ways, and those who find the newer, more nerd-culture ways of doing Sherlockiana too much change to tolerate. Curtis expresses it much better than I can, being, quite naturally, a talented speaker and not having picked up that bit of bitterness that assails me on occasion.

So, in celebration of that particular Sherlockian of note -- one of many I got to see this weekend -- I decided to watch his favorite episode of Supernatural tonight, as I'd only made it through the earlier part of that season. The parts Curtis is in could stand alone, most of the episode, really, as a great little two-man show about God writing his memoirs as Metatron critiques. (Season 11, episode 20, "Don't Call Me Shurley" -- on Netflix as we speak). Very good stuff.

Plainly, I'm still winding down from this weekend, even on Thursday night after a day back at the salt mines of system configuration. And not minding those after-effects at all.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Explorer versus missionary.

Arriving at the first 221B Con happened four years ago, I remember feeling like Professor Challenger discovering the Lost Continent, full of something you didn't think existed. (Here's my original post.) Sherlockiana, like many a small church or social organization, had seemed to be literally dying of old age, as the amount of younger fans who had been coming to the hobby was nowhere close to replacing those who moved on, either from death or disinterest.  Pre-Cumberbatch (and Downey) even "new" fans had a strong tendency to be retirees. But what I, and a handful of other Sherlockians discovered at that first con, wasn't dinosaurs. It was exactly the opposite.

It was youth, energy, and a fresh start. Here was something Sherlockian that had come about separately from all of the scion societies and way-we'd-always-done-it. Here was a different model of fan event happening for a new breed of Sherlockian, and a fresh canvas for creative energies to pour into. It wasn't something any old school Sherlockian came up with to accompany or compete existing Holmes events. 221B Con was, and is, its own thing.

As old school Sherlockians encounter the con, however, certain things tend to happen. First, there will be those so rigidly locked into their view of what Sherlockiana is that they'll reject it whole-heartedly. Happily, those folks don't tend to make the trip to begin with. Or make the trip once, go "Not for me!" and back away. Again, free choice, and a good thing. The greatest challenge for an old school Sherlockian, however, can come from to of us that get excited about it, those of us that do go back . . . and want to help.

Because once you've led a lifetime of doing Sherlockian events a certain way, your first thoughts of helping out are helping people do things the old way. "Hey, these people don't even stop to eat! We should organize a good old-fashioned Sherlockian banquet!" While banquets are nice for those who have built up some disposable income, paying a hundred dollars for a dinner with a few toasts and a speaker isn't something a twenty-something with plenty of enthusiasm and limited income is going to get their money's worth out of. In the three hours it takes to get even a decent plated meal, they could have been to three different hours of content from a dozen panelists, each with as many ideas as that single banquet speaker.

Trust me on this, I've been a banquet speaker quite a few times. And eaten a lot of mediocre banquet meals. This year, I missed a lot of meals. And I . . . DO NOT . . . miss meals. All just because I was enjoying 221B Con being 221B Con that much. But I've sort of gone native at the con at this point, which is why this is the point I'm making here:

Coming from the Sherlockian old school to 221B Con, one has to come more as explorer than missionary. Nobody needs to show the new kids "how it's done." Four years in, "how it's done" is how they do it, and do it quite successfully at that. There are still venues for doing things the old way -- plenty of them. And the con has its own ways to add your ideas to the mix.

Suggesting a session topic when the call comes out around October. Applying to be on a panel on that topic, or others, in January. And then sitting on that panel come the time of the con and letting people benefit from what's in your head as it mixes with what's in the heads of some other panelists. And, man, are there getting to be some smart panelists at 221B Con. Do not come in expecting to be the smartest person in the room, no matter the topic.

What I had the most fun with this year, however, was going to the panels I knew the least about. When the schedule comes out a few weeks ahead of time, you can do a little research online and find out what this or that alien phrase means, see if you're intrigued by the topic, and then go listen to why a particular branch of our Sherlockian tree enjoys that thing so much. You might find that you enjoy it a bit, too.

Sherlockiana doesn't seem to be dying anymore, but it is evolving. And those new parts of Sherlock Holmes fandom you'll find at an event like 221B Con are probably going to be an entrenched part of the culture as a whole in twenty years, just as other generations of fans have left their marks on Sherlock's legend over the decades. So much new stuff to explore. Be an explorer.

And that missionary position? Well, if you favor it, you might want to spice things up a bit.

Just sayin'.