Saturday, October 21, 2017

Alfred gets it done.

Three years after Basil Rathbone finished his last film adventure as Sherlock Holmes, in the year 1949, television decided to have a go at Sherlock Holmes.

In an anthology series named Your Show Time on NBC, Alan Napier, eventually to be best known as Batman's faithful butler Alfred on the 1966 TV show, took the role of Sherlock Holmes. And, as things happen these days the result is now to be found on YouTube.

When Rob Nunn first pointed the link out to me, I clicked on it just to see what it was . . . and then wound up watching the whole show, an adaptation of "The Speckled Band."

Alan Napier turned out to be a very solid Sherlock Holmes, and, as far as I'm concerned, the short film compares with the later Rathbone stuff quite favorably. The mere fact it got me to stop everything else I was doing and watch it all the way through says something about it -- that just doesn't happen much at all.

There is plenty from 1949 that one could pick apart in 2017, but taken next to other productions of its time, this "Speckled Band" does a great job, and I always enjoy a few little non-Canonical additions to just add something new to a story that I'm way too familiar with. The host of Your Show Time inserting himself back into the show just before the climax is especially funny.

Definitely worth a watch!

Who gets to set the rules?

As much as social media gets blamed for drama and conflict, it also has its moments of wisdom.

This particular tweet from last night struck me as particularly wonderful. It's talking about fanfic, yes, but when you remember that the bulk of all fiction starring Sherlock Holmes started as fiction by fans, a lot of the way Sherlockiana's past is full of patriarchal privilege shines brightly.

Because these same words apply.

"Seriously, a lot of y'all's beef in fanfic boils down to preference/taste. Please stop wording your complaints like they're hard rules."

When I think of the number of articles I read in Sherlockian journals/newsletters in the past four decades that were exactly that -- rules for writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches -- it kind of makes me laugh. Both in that people are still trying to pull that silly exercise, and that once upon a time it was legitimate article fodder.

Because basically every one of those rules articles boiled down to this: Don't do anything that wasn't done by Conan Doyle, and even then, do the stuff he did most often. Which, when you think about it, is a recipe for boredom.

Lyndsay Faye just met with enough success with her book of Holmes stories The Whole Art of Detection that a few enthusiastic critics have compared it to Doyle, but where Lyndsay really succeeds is where she diverges from the original in her structure and style, yet still captures the flavor. It makes her stuff both timely and worth reading, instead of a pale imitation.

Almost all of those who like to write rules for writing about Sherlock Holmes are not people who write well about Sherlock Holmes. Instead, they express their opinion in that rules format, which basically seems like a weird attempt to assert some sort of control over a world they're not a part of. Too many times, they're fans of the originals who are never going to be satisfied with any attempt at new Sherlock, so even attempting to obey their rules would just be attempting to satisfy someone who will never be pleased with the work.

Now that fandoms are more common and longer-lived than ever, we've seen this with Doctor Who, Star Trek, and any other fiction that survived past its original creator. Any older fan expecting exactly the same rush they got with the original material is bound to be disappointed. That first time experience is hard to recreate. You get your own preference and tastes, and that should be enough.

So screw the "here are the rules" essays, for fanfic, pastiche, or whatever you want to call new work spawned off old ideas. That "you have to learn the rules before breaking them" is for teachers trying to control classrooms full of schoolkids, not anyone encouraging original work . . . even original work that's not completely original. No one knows what combination of angles and style are going to spawn the next great thing. If they did, they'd have done it themselves.

Friday, October 20, 2017

And then things got weird . . .

I haven't written about Sherlockian podcasts in a while, and I don't really want to write about this latest one, but it appears I'm going to need to out of self-defense.

"Sherlock Holmes Is Real" is a fairly recent podcast by a Sherlockian named Toni Sutherland, which . . . to my ears . . . sounds a lot like the recent waves of crazed conspiracy theories have finally washed into the world of Sherlock Holmes. Like the title says, Sutherland's podcast posits the thesis that Sherlock Holmes was actually a real historical personage.

Now, let me say that again.

That Sherlock Holmes was really historical. Not like those articles we like to write using historical details to flesh out the dates and references of the Canon. But that he really existed, and has been the victim of a conspiracy to fictionalize him from at least the 1920s.

Crazy, right?

I know. Really, really, nuts.

But as of the second episode, Toni Sutherland seems to have picked up the notion from a certain Rob Nunn that I know something about something, and as any regular reader of this blog is well aware, that just isn't the case. And anything that is in my head tends to come out here pretty quickly.

So that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Don't know nothing about Sherlock Holmes being real, and even if I did mention a guy I used to know in a previous blog post, I really don't want to talk about that guy on a podcast.

Sherlockiana has always been a place for all sorts of odd things . . . "queer things," "strange coincidences," and "cross-purposes," as Sherlock Holmes might say.

So I'm not exactly encouraging you to go listen to "Sherlock Holmes is Real," which appears to be available on iTunes, as well as via this link,  but, hey, they're your ears.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sherlock Frankenstein and Detective Chimp.

This week's trip to the comic shop turned up a book whose title meant it was a must-buy: Sherlock Frankenstein and his Legion of Evil.

Both the title, the art, and "From the World of Black Hammer" betrayed that it probably had little to do with Sherlock Holmes, but still . . . . "Sherlock Frankenstein?" If I've got $3.99 in my pocket, I'm buying anything with that name, at least the first time I see it.

The character has origins in Victorian times and his corporate empire's name will make anyone who understands basic shipping laugh. It's "Frankenlock Worldwide." And he's a super-villain. We know that from the start.

But here's the problem: Sherlock Frankenstein doesn't appear in the first issue of his own comic. Not really. The daughter of a superhero (the aforementioned Black Hammer) is looking for him to see if he can tell her what happened to her father. And she's talking to old friends and foes to see what she can find out.

It seems like a really good story . . . or that it will be a good story, over a six-issue arc. Which is the problem with a lot of comic books these days. Many writers seem to have lost the ability to tell a story in a single issue, preferring to lay out a tale for a trade paperback comic (a.k.a. the "graphic novel). Thus, Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil seems more like the prelude to a comic book story than the actual story itself. (Unlike this week's Batman #33, which is as complete a tale as you could want and still is chapter one of what looks like a great tale.)

Don't know if I'll be back for issue two of that, but this seems as good a place as any to mention that Bobo, the Detective Chimp, the ape who dresses like Sherlock Holmes, made a brief appearance in last week's Metal #3, as Superman passed through the Oblivion Bar, where Bobo is known to hang out. It was just enough to make me realize how much I missed him since his days in the Shadowpact comic.

So two weeks with two marginal comic book references to Sherlock Holmes. By next year, I think we'll all be more than ready for Will Farrell in the part, just for something Sherlockian in major media.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A day at the theater.

This afternoon, the good Carter and I drove down to St. Louis, now called "Saint Louise" by the latest reincarnation of Siri, to see a play. Ken Ludwig's stage adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, simply titled Baskerville, has been playing all over the country and this was our first experience with it.

And honestly? It was glorious.

Ken Ludwig's Baskerville, written for a Sherlock Holmes, a John Watson, and three other actors who must play the rest of the parts, is a remarkable play to start with. But when performed by a cast with the talent to pull it off right?

A thing to behold.

At this point in my forty-some years as a Sherlockian, I have to tell you: Adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles bore me to death. The story is so familiar that I can't help but get snoozy.

What made this one great was a Sherlock Holmes played by John O'Hagan who immediately clicked into place as Holmes. (Post-play, he mentioned he was going for a more Rathbone style of performance, but his look was definitely his own and fit Sherlock perfectly.) His Watson, played by Kent Coffel, was a solid Watson, as Watson should be. And around the core of those two characters, the other three actors, Elliot Auch, Ed Reggi, and Gwen Wotawa whirled and cavorted through a variety of personas that both brought the story to life and added comic bits that fit into the tale perfectly, keeping the story a true Holmes story and not heading full steam into farce.

(The good Carter noted that she didn't think an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles with comedy was possible before this . . . then remembered the Dudley Moore Hound. I reminded her that that didn't really count as a comedy, despite my late neighbor's consideration of it as such.)

Gwen Wotawa went from Mrs. Hudson to Cartwright (now an Irregular) to a gender-swapped version of cabbie John Clayton (a favorite of many a Peoria Sherlockian) to Beryl Stapleton, adding a lively spark to each character that was much enjoyed. Elliot Auch's prancing Jack Stapleton was the definite stand-out of his over a dozen characters, which also included such notable performances as his Dr. Mortimer, portrait of Hugo Baskerville, and Barrymore. Converting Henry Baskerville from Canadian to Texan made sense for the play, and Ed Reggi took that part, as well as Lestrade, Sir Hugo . . . and most notably, Daisy, the non-Canonical Baker Street housemaid . . . and made it great fun.

It had been quite a while since I'd been to a play done so well as this one, totally absorbing me with it's pace and performance, and we had a delightful afternoon with it. Director Maggie Ryan and the Insight Theater Company deserve much applause for putting Baskerville together, and I hope it does great box office during the rest of its run.

(Added note: New author Rob Nunn was in the lobby signing copies of his book The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, and I picked one up. I had hoped to hang out with Rob for a while, but he had to do some podcast interview that I'll have to track down eventually.)

The disappearance of the Baker Street Irregulars.

Things being a bit slow here at Sherlock Peoria, I've been doing a bit of walking through the fall weather and contemplating whatever impulses my brain thinks to muse upon. This morning's walk brought me back to a thought a Sherlockian named Alan King shared with me a long time ago, which has probably been written up somewhere by now, and that's the disappearance of the Baker Street Irregulars.

In Watson's first two novel-length works, the street urchins who scour the city for Holmes are featured quite prominently. They even get their own chapter title in The Sign of the Four. They "go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone." And get their pay in shillings.

But after that? One of them, named Simpson, shows up to watch an old man in "The Crooked Man," and we never hear of the rest of their lot again.

"The Crooked Man," according to my calculations, occurs in 1887. Something else that occurred in 1887? The publication of Watson's first write-up of a Holmes case, and one of the only three mentions of the Irregulars, A Study in Scarlet.

And after 1887, Sherlock Holmes's use of the Irregulars abruptly stops. At least as far as we know.

Watson's publications and the rise of Holmes in public popularity seems to go hand-in-hand with the disappearance of the Baker Street Irregulars from Holmes's work. And that coincidence makes perfect sense when you think about it.

The younger Holmes of the 1880s probably found it easier to work with kids as he wasn't so far from being one himself. And, as he said, nobody noticed street kids hanging about.

Until, of course, some accounts of Sherlock Holmes's doings started growing in popularity, at which point, anyone who suspected Holmes of being on their trail would go, "HEY! What's that kid doing here? Is that one of Holmes's?" And then things would turn very nasty for the lads.

One hopes that Sherlock Holmes saw this possibility coming once Watson's works hit the public press and disbanded the group before one of the kids got hurt. One hopes it wasn't the tragic fate of one of the kids that made them disappear from the writings. Or that Watson himself just saw the danger and quit writing about them.

But disappear they did, and Sherlock Holmes seems to have voluntarily lost on of his best tools for searching London, fairly early on in his career.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lestrade and Holmes, 1887.

Now that Rob Nunn seems to have given up his prosecution of Ms. Hatty Doran of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," and the Sherlock Holmes Story Society is about to have a meeting on that very tale next Thursday, perhaps it's a good time to look at a few other folk involved in that little matter.

This case has many a fun path to explore, with so many relationships intertwined throughout the tale -- perhaps that's even part of what makes it so enjoyable. One that definitely bears exploring is evoked in a single line from Lord St. Simon's letter to Sherlock Holmes before the case even begins.

"Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, is acting already in the matter, but he assures me that he sees no objection to your cooperation, and that he thinks that it might be of some assistance."

The year is probably 1887. Sherlock Holmes has already attained enough prominence in his profession that Lord St. Simon has not only heard of Holmes, he knows that the consulting detective's help is something to be sought after. St. Simon is plainly the one who brought Sherlock up in talking to Lestrade about the case. (And Lestrade was obliged to go along, social rank needing to be obeyed and all.)

Inspector Lestrade's comment that Holmes "might be of some assistance" is something I imagine was more than just being agreeable or pure narcissism on the Scotland Yard man's part. He knew Sherlock Holmes could be of assistance and was probably delighted at the chance to bring Holmes in without having to lost any face in the matter. ("I had no choice . . . Lord Robert said so!")

Lestrade walks into Baker Street in this case without being announced, and Holmes immediately invites him to have a glass of whisky and a cigar, then comments on the inspector's emotional state. Sherlock knows Lestrade is struggling with the very case he has announced he has solved to Lord St. Simon, and even if he's being a little cryptic, Sherlock Holmes is actually trying to help Lestrade . . . for a bit.

But the inspector has a problem, and it's one that any one of us might have had . . . a clue that is just too tempting to let go of. The missing bride's clothes contain a note with the initials of the groom's ex-girlfriend. How could anyone not go after Flora Millar with such a bizarrely coincidental clue? It's almost a little amazing that Holmes doesn't go talk to her about where Hatty Doran got off to.

But the hotel bill on the reverse side of the note gets Holmes's mental gears going, and happy cigars-and-whisky time is quickly done. Lestrade is stuck on that "F.H." and Holmes is anxious to start checking hotels . . . it's kind of sad, really.

I mean, I kinda wanted Sherlock to invite G. to the fancy dinner at Baker Street that night . . . or at least send a note out to him after Lord St. Simon stormed out and there was an extra place setting.

But after that little display of cross-purposes that didn't get to whisky or cigars, Lestrade is never seen again in "Noble Bachelor." And possibly not again until he calls Holmes in for "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" or Holmes calls him in for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The relations between Holmes and Lestrade were, in those early days, peculiar, to borrow a phrase from Watson's later words. But there was definitely an interesting relationship there, and that's just one of many on display in "Noble Bachelor."