Sunday, July 23, 2017

That time Sherlock Holmes was an American.

An article in The Independent online has headlined Sherlock's "Britishness" as his key to international appeal this week. And it's a hard point to argue, as some very bad Sherlock Holmes incarnations have coasted by on merely a British accent and the name over the years. Quite a few, actually. The idea of a Sherlock Holmes without that accent is nearly unthinkable. In fact, whenever it's been tried, they had to give the guy a different name.

During one of our Sherlockian dark and desperate periods, when major media was ignoring our main man (Yes, there was such a time, as hard as that might seem to fathom now.), Sherlockians had to content themselves with TV shows like Monk and House. And for movies, we went to things like that American Sherlock Holmes, Daryl Zero.

The year was 1998. The movie was Zero Effect, with Bill Pullman in the Sherlock role and Ben Stiller as his Watson. It was very nineties, very much it's own thing, but there was no question as to what writer/director Jake Kasdan was going for: American Sherlock Holmes.

The nearest thing we had to a Sherlock Holmes adaptation in 1998 was the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, but despite good reviews from major critics like Roger Ebert (back in the days when we had major critics and not just Rotten Tomatoes), the movie never really found its footing. Was it that we weren't ready for a modern-day Sherlock Holmes back then, or was it that Sherlock as an American is just too . . . American?

When you think of how Sherlock works in Sherlock, he seems to stand out most when he's breaking rules, flustering Watson, showing up naked at Buckingham Palace, using his intellect as an excuse to subvert social niceties. That works wonderfully in Britain, but give all those qualities to an American and what do you get? Pretty much just another inappropriate American, who, without the British accent to imply class and brains to an American audience, probably not as smart.

Imagine Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary without the accent. Would anyone even go near the result as a proper Sherlock Holmes? Or would we write him off as just another inapproriate American and switch over to the more familiar John Munch on Law and Order? When the makers of Elementary set their show in New York, all of the main characters became American except Sherlock. No matter how many other changes they were making, that one thing was still a line that couldn't be crossed.

Zero Effect is an interesting piece of Sherlockian film history for what makes it  not Sherlock Holmes, even though it totally is Sherlock Holmes. And looking back on it now, I really have to agree with the slant Independent took with Steven Moffat's quote on Holmes as a totally British export.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Can't stop the John Watson's Island!

Turning every episode of Gilligan's Island into a parallel universe sitcom called John Watson's Island doesn't happen overnight. Can it happen over the course of one summer? We shall see.

31. The Diogenes Club. Since most of the castaways are not as used to John Watson writing his memoirs as Sherlock is, they start becoming suspicious about how they are being portrayed when he won't let them read his first drafts. Each of the castaways then decides to write their own version of episode fifteen's events ("The Newgate Squire") and we see those played out as if they were from the real episode, with Irene, Moriarty, Mycroft, Mary, and Lestrade each being the hero who saved them all from the Australian penal colony guard instead of John. Sherlock destroys each version by citing details disproving each story after they're told.

32. The Sighin' of the Two. When Mycroft Holmes splits the seat of his pants, he realizes that the island has taken his normal daily routines from him and that he's putting on weight. In order to keep on the strict regimen he prescribes for himself, Mycroft has himself handcuffed to Lestrade and orders the inspector to keep him on track. Much hilarity and awkward romantic moments follow that are network-television enough that the viewers are left to their own interpretations of what exactly went on in this episode. Fans have many arguments.

33. The Missing Tree-Forter. When a trunk containing a magician's act washes up on the shore, Mycroft suggests they use the props to frighten off any primitive Scotsmen who might wander on to the island. Irene Adler says she was a magician's assistant early in her career and can teach everyone some tricks. Moriarty wants to learn how to saw Sherlock in half, but Irene convinces him to learn the disappearance box trick instead, and Moriarty makes Sherlock disappear. Only when it comes time to make Sherlock reappear, the second half of the trick won't work. John realizes that Sherlock is taking another one of his "hiatuses" and comes up with a plan. The castaways make a wax dummy of Sherlock and start pretending it's just the same as having him there, which makes Sherlock, who has been watching from behind a large rock crypt, irritated enough to return.

34. The Resident Painter. After Professor Moriarty finds a freshly painted portrait of a child hanging in his bar one morning, the smell of cooking breakfast lures painter Jean Baptiste Greuze out of the treeline. Greuze claims to have faked his death and came to live on a nearby island where the magic waters have kept him alive to an age of over one hundred and seventy years. Seeing Irene, Greuze decides she is a muse sent by the gods and starts painting her portrait. Sherlock and John talk to Greuze while he paints and find he has a way off the island. Moriarty hears this, then tells Greuze he knows where some fabulous scenery is, takes him to the top of an island waterfall, and pushes him off, killing the painter. He tells the others it was an accident, but that Greuze's death means his collection of paintings will retain their current value, and that Irene's half-finished portrait will be a nice bonus for her.

35. John Hamish Moriarty. After John Watson pushes Professor Moriarty out of the way of a falling tree, Moriarty decides that he owes his life to John, and makes him heir to his fortune and criminal empire. Taking Watson as an apprentice, Moriarty starts teaching John in Crimelord 101. John goes along out of niceness, but soon notices Sherlock drifting away, Lestrade refusing to go fishing with him, and Mary telling him it is a poor life choice.  John tells Irene of his situation, who tells him what she thinks he should do. Moriarty starts noticing that Watson was much more stupid than he previously realized (and he acts a lot like Nigel Bruce), and eventually tells John he has changed his mind and that the criminal empire should die with Moriarty.

36. Ye Olden Punched Nose. John Watson comes up behind Sherlock while Holmes is experimenting beating the corpse of an island bore and gets hit square in the nose. John's nose swells up comically large, and the castaways realize that they have no medical knowledge to help the doctor if something happens to him. Watson decides to teach the castaways first aid, but Moriarty keeps using the lesson practices to try to kill Sherlock in various manners. Sherlock finally anesthetizes Moriarty with island-berry-ether he's concocted in case surgery is needed. Mary convinces John to let her put a mud pack on his swollen nose, but when it dries he has a rock-hard face mask that won't come off. John winds up sitting in front of 221B Island Street looking like a beggar and the other castaways bring him food out of pity. Finally, Sherlock gets tired of John's absence, gets a bucket of water and a sponge, and peels the hard clay mask off, telling them all that his time at medical school will suffice if John needs help in the future.

And so ends the first season of John Watson's Island.  Thirty-six episodes. Current seasons of CBS Sherlock Holmes comedies would only do twenty-four, but since even in its alternate universe, John Watson's Island could only hold out three years, making its total run still less than five and a half seasons of a modern show.

Conan Doyle, however, did pretty well without a writer's room for this two twelve-episode seasons of Adventures and Memoirs  in The Strand Magazine.

The "smoking pistol" controversy.

My newsfeed on Sherlock appears to have a bit of a battle going on this morning between The Smithsonian and The Washington Post.


The Smithsonian has been pushing an article all week that the Holmes Canon is responsible for the phrase "smoking gun," which seemed trivial enough that I never bothered to read it until this morning, when The Washington Post online decided to start arguing the point. And now that I've read both? They're pretty much pointless hoo-hah.

"Smoking gun" as we use it metaphorically means indisputable proof of someone's guilt. It's a metaphor. It doesn't mean the guilty party was actually caught with a smoking gun in their hand. Yet apparently, in 2003, word-guy William Safire wrote that the passage in "The Gloria Scott" where "the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand at his elbow" is where that cliche comes from.

Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes get credit for a lot of original things, but trying to give them their due for "smoking gun" in this instance seems flat-out silliness. IT'S A METAPHOR! The guy that first used it as a metaphor is the one who gets credit, not Doyle, and not, as the Post carries on this ridiculous argument, any prior person who wrote about gunpowder smoke coming from any projectile firing weaponry.

We really just have too much time on our hands these days. And I'm saying that as a blogger who just wrote a post arguing about an argument that started for no good reason, got carried on for no good reason, and continued here for no good reason.

But, hey, Sherlock Holmes!

Friday, July 21, 2017

"We are faddy people."

There are, perhaps, those who would suggest that Sherlockiana was a classier joint in decades past, before the Cumberbatch came to call. Take the 1980s, for example. Jeremy Brett was appearing on PBS doing Canon-faithful adaptations of "The Red-headed League," "The Copper Beeches," and "The Final Problem." All class, right?

What a grand year it was when those came out, 1985 -- so similar to 1895 -- and Sherlockians were serious, noble, and had . . .


. . . this.

The "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" sign. All caps with an exclamation point in that diamond of cautionary yellow.

There were a lot of those signs back then, based on the "BABY ON BOARD!" sign that someone saw in Germany and brought to the U.S., preying on that always-caring maternal market. You didn't want someone to choose to crash into your car if your baby was in it, after all. It was a couple of years before we had the term "road rage" yet, so the thought was that apparently, rational drivers would make the proper choice and avoid crashes with vehicles carrying babies. (Yet it came just about the time all fifty states had car seat laws put into place, so babies in cars were just on people's minds.)

Parodies followed, which was an odd thing considering child safety was the issue being parodied, and at some point late in the game, someone decided people might not want to crash into cars that held Sherlockians in them either. After all, we were all watching Jeremy Brett and, hence, worth of such no-crash considerations. Or, since 1985 was also the year Young Sherlock Holmes came out, maybe we were hoping the association of his baby-face would cause people not to crash into us.

As you can tell by the non-sun-bleached aspect of the one in the photo, my "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" sign never saw use in a car's back window. It was just another Sherlockian collectible picked up in an era of extreme collecting. And I think it puzzled me then as much as it puzzles me now, being based on the sort of humor used in the weak-tea likes of Epic Movie, Date Movie, and Disaster Movie where "Look, this thing is like another thing!" seems to be all that the makers think will bring hilarity. But perhaps its just an artifact from an alternate universe we've never seen.

Is there a parallel universe where "SHERLOCKIAN ON BOARD!" signs denote useful information for the regular folk to call upon said occupant of a vehicle to solve mysteries if they happen to be on the scene? Or dispense wisdom from the Sherlockian Canon as needed, or just desired?

"Look, Mom! There's a Sherlockian on board! We are saved!"

But who was ever really "on board" a car anyway?

Pardon me, I have to go listen to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, raise my pinky, and be all classy for a while. Being an elder Sherlockian takes gravitas, after all. Because we have to seriously work on forgetting parts of the 1980s.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Submission.

Here's the thing about blogging . . . it is way too easy once you get in the habit.

You write, you hit "publish," you see if any comments come in. It's a routine, like any other. And enough people read it that you don't worry overmuch about trying to hit a single target. If one person out of a hundred gets some joy out of it, you can feel like you did something. But tonight, I broke out of my routine for a change.

The John H. Watson Society put out a call for submissions for its October journal, and having recently joined said society, submitting seemed like something I should do. So I concocted something a little different from what you usually read here, ran it through a few reviews, a few changes, and then sent it off. And this weird thing happened  . . .

I actually felt nervous.

More nervous than any public speaking engagement I've done in the past five years . . . those have actually gotten pretty comfortable. And definitely more nervous than tossing something out to those stalwarts who read this blog on anything close to a regular basis. Anyone who returns to this stream of words is probably familiar enough at what's coming to not get to outraged.

I suspect it was the fact that, unlike what I wrote earlier about blogging, I was sending a bit of writing off to a single target, an editor-in-chief with a respectable writing ability of her own, in an area where my own skills aren't really proven. (Leaving out details in case I do make The Watsonian, to keep it a surprise.)

Submitting a creative work to a journal, publisher, or any place where a thumbs-up, thumbs-down is expected is another muscle that exercise builds up, and I fear all this blogging has let that particular muscle atrophy in me, leaving it in need of physical therapy . . . like a few that show up needing that as one nears sixty. (It won't be my first.) I do need to exercise it more.

This blogging thing is just so darned easy.

Does a creator's intent matter?

Let's talk about writer Arthur Conan Doyle and film-maker Ed Wood for a moment.

I use Ed Wood in this instance, because while there are writers of his ability out there, they don't tend to attain the fame that he did. But Ed Wood and Arthur Conan Doyle were both creators who attained prominence for their creations, so I think he will suffice for the point I'm going to explore.

Ed Wood made a little sci-fi/horror movie called Plan Nine from Outer Space. I say "sci-fi/horror" because that was Wood's intention. What he actually created was a comedy that audiences have enjoyed for decades now as just that . . . a comedy. Which it wasn't made as.

So if a goodly number of people start enjoying Holmes and Watson as a gay couple, is it any more problematic than the legion of fans who enjoy Plan Nine from Outer Space as a comedy?

As long as I've been a Sherlockian, I've seen folks trying to claim authoritatively what Conan Doyle thought about this or that. Sometimes it seems on target, sometimes it seems like they're stretching some quote out-of-context to suit their purposes. In the end, though, all everyone is working from is the same set of words as everyone else and interpreting those words as their individual mind will. Piling on the words to have Doyle corroborate himself always gives us the best picture, but even at that . . . who really knows what's going on in anyone's head?

What we do have, however, is the product Doyle produced and handed over to the public for their entertainment, to enjoy as they chose. Just like Mr. Ed Wood.

Because of the quality of that product, as well as the fact Doyle is more "historical," having died longer ago, we tend to take Doyle a little more seriously. People raise the question of his intent and seem to think that should govern how we view his characters . . . out of respect for the dead or somesuch silly notion that gatekeepers enjoy trotting out in their seriousness.

But let's be honest. The only thing they're defending is their own worldview, and trotting out one more "how you should behave" to try to justify it. You know those people. (Heck, I'm doing it here.)

Conan Doyle was no Ed Wood, of course. Wood was a shlock film-maker who didn't make his horror movie horrific enough. Doyle was a great writer!

But step back and look at on part of Doyle's work: John Watson's marriage.

It's on again, off again. Mary Morstan never really returns as a character. A wife seems to die, then Watson seems to leave Holmes for a wife eight years later. Conan Doyle is horrible at writing an ongoing male-female relationship in the Canon of Holmes. One might argue that they are mystery stories, not "Watson's romance" stories, but at that point you're actually just flinging the barn doors wide open. If Doyle's point wasn't Watson's romance and he didn't care about it, an interpretation of a monogamous, Mary-faithful Watson suddenly has equal footing with an interpretation of closeted Victorian John who was in love with Sherlock. If the writer's intent isn't clear in the text itself . . . the interpretation of which can change over time . . . the reader can enjoy it however they choose.

Which is what audiences do.

Nobody is going to propose that you should properly enjoy Ed Wood's Plan Nine from Outer Space as a frightening horror movie because that has to be what Wood intended. And a big part of the Sherlockian game from its earliest days was the fact that Sherlockians were not enjoying the Canon as Doyle or his offspring intended.

Because in both cases, that's where fans found the fun was. And if a new generation of Sherlockians finds the fun somewhere new in those same stories, that'll be where the fun is then. It'll be their world eventually, they get to do that.

All we can do is enjoy what we enjoy and let others do the same.*

______________________________

* This view may have evolved since earlier postings in this same blog about a certain American television show, which, quite honestly, the writer did not think anyone enjoyed. Still learning such things.






Monday, July 17, 2017

The logical synthesis of fanfic.

So little time, so much to read.

And every month's listen to Three Patch Podcast brings just a little more added to the "I want to get to that someday" list. They have some pretty solid recommendations if you listen for what seem to be classics of the form. But sometimes, their discussions themselves become just as much fun as a good read. Case in point, the "We Ship It" segment for July, featuring the Jolto pairing (John Watson/James Sholto).

While Jolto is definitely going to be a hard genre for me to get to (as much as I love movies, war movies tend to be on my no-fly list, and this is all about soldiers), the fans on this audio panel (Cookie, Vanetti, Monika Krasnorada, and Bree) find it very hard to confine themselves to existing storylines involving Watson and Sholto, and just start coming up with completely new possibilities for the characters interacting. While amazed that a character with so little air time and a seemingly dead-end relationship with John Watson could be so fascinating, they just keep making James Sholto moreso as they ramble on . . . which is some perfect podcasting.

John Watson's war years and military service is one of those areas, both in BBC Sherlock and Doyle Canon, where a few skeletal details set up legions of potential tales. And just as Victor Trevor comes from Sherlock Holmes's college days to inspire wonder at that duo's time together, James Sholto comes in for Martin Freeman's Watson. (In the Doyle Canon, we'd have to place Murray in that "old army buddy" role.) Attempting to flesh out what happened in that time, around the few details that are presented, is not only classic Sherlockian brainwork, but classic Holmes detection as well.

"I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them," Sherlock states during "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches." And what is an explanation but a story of how someone got from point A to point B, which Sherlock Holmes was constantly trying to work out. His results, when edited down to the one provable theory, were solutions and not prose narratives (at least until Watson got his pen going), but Sherlock was spinning fics about the characters of every drama he came across. Just like the "We Ship It" crew from this month's Three Patch.

There is a definite "new scholarship" angle to the work of fan fiction. Instead of going for dates and measurements to calculate the like of the Musgrave Ritual, there are explorations of personalities and relationships in ways that can only be done in fiction. And we have more of it going on now than any time before us in Sherlockian history.

It's fun to be able to hear some of that work coming together while doing a little cooking and washing up, especially for a Sherlockian who has been around long enough to have heard so many retreads of well-worn pathways over the years. And that was tonight.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Lady Sherlock Holmes.

Another fun day on the ol' Twitter, where the fuss and the counter-fuss spool up for a given newsbit. My favorite among today's early contenders:


Doctor Who is going to be female in the next go-round. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor is still a single-thread-continuity character, so the impact of his transition might be felt a little harder by his fans, but we all knew it was a possibility. So let's get back to Sherlock Holmes.

Just how would Sherlockians react to a full-fledged, major media female Sherlock Holmes? We've had some pretty great versions done on YouTube and elsewhere, but they weren't at the Downy/Cumberbatch/Miller level. And don't give me the "Well, Watson has been a woman!" excuse for Sherlockians being accepting. Watson has been Nigel Bruce. Sherlockians of the past have shown that they pretty much would accept a pig as a Watson if you keep your Sherlock close enough to their image of the Master Detective.

But Sherlock Holmes . . . ah, Mr. Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street . . . could Sherlockian culture as a whole accept him as a woman? And which would be harder of these two choices: Accepting Sherlock Holmes as a woman or accepting Sherlock Holmes as an American. Especially here in America where we tend to think a solid British accent brings intellect and class along with it. American James Bond knock-offs have never held a candle to that chap. And an American female Sherlock Holmes? Well, you might as well just make him a Martian with tentacles to many a Sherlockian.

But here's the thing about re-works, reboots, and re-imaginings . . . you can do ANYTHING and get away with it if the writing is good enough. ANYTHING. The problem we see consistently, especially in sequels and reboots of known properties is that the writers think they can slap a deerstalker, a pipe, and a few weak observations on a detective and he's Sherlock Holmes. Writers use successful known characters as a crutch, don't work at real characterization, motivation, or plot quite so hard, and the result is pretty awful.

But take something like Battle for the Planet of the Apes or Westworld (both done in 1973), give them to some thoughtful writers and talented directors, and you get something so much better than the original that an audience doesn't just accept, but welcome it. I'd propose that BBC Sherlock was much the same . . . taking the thought of Sherlock Holmes in the modern day, which had been tried many times before, and doing it so well that it never seemed like there was a question.

It's this part before we see the story that's so rough for some people. They just can't imagine anything besides what already is. And from my own experience, I definitely know that there are some things you don't want to explain to people before you can show them enough of the finished work, so that their mind can actually see the thing and go, "Yes, that's a great idea!" Letting a limited imagination try to fill in the blanks on anything is risky business, and on a creation that they're only given a single fact on, like a female Doctor Who, it's nigh impossible to get their buy-in. They only know what they know.

Changing Doyle's Sherlock Holmes into something other than a Victorian white man isn't a taboo, it's just a creative challenge, a test of the imagination, both for those who currently dream of it and those who will inevitably accomplish it in the mainstream. (And great kudos to those who have already achieved that goal out of the mainstream.) One day it will come, just as surely as Johnlock and every other potential Sherlock of worth.

I have more faith than ever in the creative arts these days. I just wish we could get our crap together on more practical matters.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

What is it that we love in John H. Watson?

One of those big-con moments I've always found unpleasant is the fan who steps up to the celebrity Q & A and decides to speak for all fans. It might be a simple expression of gratitude or love, most likely something positive, but it is that completely narcissistic preface that gets me every time: "I just want to speak for all of us and say . . ." Nice of you to appoint yourself our representative. I might have chosen differently.

In Sherlockiana, we tend to get equally positive, equally sweet attempts to capture some part of all of us and put it on display for others to nod at and, hopefully, agree. In 1946, a fellow named Edgar Smith did it in the classic intro to that spring's issue of The Baker Street Journal, in an essay he entitled "The Implicit Holmes."

"What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?" Smith asked in his opening sentence.

He then proceeded to wax nostalgically about the Victorian age at the start, with all the longing of someone who believes "Make America Great Again" is a knob we can turn to travel to a mythical past. Three paragraphs in, however, he gets to the meat of it: "there is more than time and space and yearning for things gone by to account for what we feel toward Sherlock Holmes." And then he goes for it.

Sherlock is "a symbol, if you please, off all that we are not, but ever would be." Or "more simply, that he is the personification of something in us that we have lost, or never had. For it is not Sherlock Holmes who sits in Baker Street . . . it is we ourselves." And that does account for a lot of us. Sherlockiana has its share of bright narcissists. But just as BBC Sherlock ripped the Victorian period away and proved, once an for all, that Sherlock Holmes can exist out of time, something else has been coming our way for a very long time now. Something, or someone, that Smith left noticeably absent from his 1946 essay -- a year marked by the premieres of the movies Dressed to Kill and Terror by Night, featuring a certain version of that very someone.

John H. Watson. Built in the 1880s publishing world, destroyed by a movie industry that didn't know what to do with him, and rebuilt in TV shows featuring actors like David Burke, Edward Hardwicke, and Martin Freeman. Being written about during all that time, but over the distance between 1887 and 2017, becoming more interesting, more developed than the mysterious everyman narrator we were first handed so long ago.

What is it that we love in John H. Watson? There is a question I would hate to try to answer for fear of being like one of those presumptious Q&A fans at a con. There are a lot of things to love about John Watson, probably more than there are about Sherlock Holmes, depending upon who you are and what you see him as. There are a lot of answers to that question. Too many for easy theorizing about our peers.

As John develops further over time, perhaps there will come a single definite answer: friend, lover, man of action? Sliding scales of each of those and more? Edgar Smith concluded that the Sherlock Holmes we loved was "the Holmes implicit and eternal in ourselves." Is Watson much the same, when we are not Sherlock inside? Or do they make a matched set?

"What is it that we love in John H. Watson?" is a harder question to ask than its 1946 predecessor, I think, but well worth the pondering.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The fascinating failures of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

We have The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We have The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. We have many a pastiche collection with a similar name, like The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes. The one collected casebook that we have yet to see, however, is The Failures of Sherlock Holmes, because we enjoy seeing Sherlock Holmes succeed . . . for the most part.

Having three half-written, failed blog posts sitting in my Blogger drafts bin this week (and, apparently thirty-nine undeleted since I started with this system), it seemed like a good moment to consider those times when things just didn't work out for our friend Sherlock.

We can talk about his "Norbury" moment, be it "The Yellow Face" or "The Six Thatchers." One, still enjoyable for the stories of the people he interacts with, the other existing to provide character development. We can also talk about Sherlock's "creator-failure" adventures, like Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stockings or "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs." So many of those still manage to entertain us, like a marksman clown, through just how badly they miss the target.

The failures of Sherlock Holmes all still manage to entertain us for one simple reason: He is so good when he succeeds. He may not succeed all the time, even when he is successful. Prime Sherlock is a very high bar, for both creators and Sherlock himself. The fact that he has reached a pinnacle where a screw-up on his part makes that mistake interesting to us is a great accomplishment indeed. Quite a different thing than me blogging about how I failed to get into a tweetalong . . . which has brought me to another revelation about the failures of Sherlock Holmes.

When it comes to failure, John H. Watson once again proves his vital worth in the phenomenon that is Sherlock Holmes. If Sherlock Holmes was just writing about his own failures, he would run a very great risk as just coming off as a whiner. "Oh, woe is me, I got another client killed when I should have protected them!" Or worse. "Another day of dark despair at Baker Street. Cocaine or morphine this morning after the daily pipeful of tobacco dregs . . ."

Having a friend or co-worker handy who has seen your successes and can, therefore, help you take your failures in stride is a very good thing. Failures suddenly become something to amuse and not another step into the deep valleys of depression. Watson plays such an important part for Sherlock Holmes within the Canon, and outside of the Canon, we ourselves take up that role when it comes to failed Holmes movies, novels, or television. The successes happened before, and they will again.

I really hope we never see a collection entitled The Failures of Sherlock Holmes (though I'm sure I've tempted fate by suggesting such a title here), as Sherlock isn't Sherlock if he doesn't succeed now and then, and succeed grandly at that. But a failure or two does not make him stop being a fascinating character.

And that is something we all need to remember for ourselves now and then.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Holmesworld.

We multitask far too much these days. And tonight I made the mistake of overlaying a viewing of the HBO series Westworld with a bit of Canonical research. Or the reverse of that. As my mind was immersed in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, with all it's familiar lines and character actions, the framework of Westworld set in.

You know Westworld, whether you once saw the 1973 movie a long time ago, or the current premium cable series, the amusement park full of robots who play out wild West storylines for the amusement of the guests. Just like when an imaginative Sherlockian wanders the world encapsulated in the sixty stories of Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson, M.D.

I've long had a view of Holmesworld as a virtual amusement park. If you're one of the few that encountered my book, The Armchair Baskerville Tour, published back in 1995. It was my tour guide narration of a walk through The Hound of the Baskervilles itself. It was called utter rubbish by an expert on the real world Dartmoor, but it wasn't about his Dartmoor. It was about that virtual world a reader walks into when opening that novel and reading the first page.

Now, the thing about Westworld is that it's about a virtual world that goes off-script. The Holmes Canon doesn't go off-script for those Sherlockians who enjoy the safe, familiar ritual. It's a beautiful place, even with its literarily polluted air, muddy streets, and bloody murder. Letting it be is a fine thing . . . for many.

Then there's the rest of us. Those who see beneath the surface to see that Holmes and Watson might be lovers. Or that "John Watson" might be Doc Holliday in disguise. Or that Martha in "The Last Bow" is landlady Hudson. The Holmesworlds of our headcanons range from the simple changes like Watson staying faithful to a single wife to the sheer madness of a second Holmes coming back from the hiatus after the first died killing Moriarty. We wander Holmesworld, moving the furniture around when it's unspecifically placed, listening to the words spoken "off-camera." Letting the stories beyond the stories play out.

There have been a few discussions lately about what the "real" Holmes and Watson were like. The thing is, Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, Adler, Hudson, and the rest are only as real as we let them be, in that imaginary Holmesworld for which Arthur Conan Doyle laid the framework. The framework. We build the pieces between the words, the timelines, the resurrections, the loves, and even the lives of those creatures within. We love them, we have a certain respect for them, but in the end, you have to see them for who they are . . . larger than life toys for our mental playtime.

They probably aren't going to go off-program and start killing us, as Yul Brynner's robot cowboy did in the original Westworld. And they probably aren't going to attain sentience or something like that, as I'm suspecting might happen in the HBO version (I'm not that far in!). The only real danger is Holmesworld is from the other guests who don't seem to want to share the toys . . . or want to share their exact version of these toys a little too much. Usually those are the folks who think it's something more than a big toybox . . . or Holmesworld.

Have fun kids. Just remember where you are.

The perfect mix.

Watching the newly released Spiderman: Homecoming this past Friday, I couldn't help but think of BBC Sherlock. My familiarity with the Canon of Peter Parker goes back even a wee bit further than my familiarity with the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, and even though Peter hasn't had as many adaptations as Sherlock certain similarities exist.

One of those is a pattern we're seeing as creators start to tell their own stories of an old, familiar character. There are two axes one could build a chart on with adaptations: Unique vision and adherence to the source material. 

A new look at an old character is necessary to keep things fresh and interesting. Keeping the details familiar and recognizable is needed to make the final product a true representation of what the audience came for. But both can go too far without a healthy dose of the other. If Sherlock Holmes is going to be a teenage boy in L.A. who makes amateur films with his friends Pete and Isaac, that will certainly be a unique vision, but why would someone who remembers Sherlock Holmes be interested in the young director? And while a beat-for-beat movie adaptation of the original Victorian "Engineer's Thumb" might delight a small group of hardcore fans for a minute or two, there is no way such a film would make its money back at the box office.

With both Spiderman: Homecoming and BBC's Sherlock, one saw a near-perfect combination of the two: original vision and a goodly use of the source material. Both were wonderful products in their own right, but both also had a beautiful second layer for the person in the know, utilizing the original material in a delightful fashion. This Spiderman, of course, is on its first installment, while that Sherlock is on his . . . thirteenth. And as Sherlock has moved on, its place on a chart of unique vision versus source material has definitely shifted. But, oh, the Sherlock-ness of its journey.

I've heard using details from the original source material referred to as "fan service," a term akin to wrestling's "cheap pop," when a wrestler specifically mentions the town he's performing in to get a good reaction from the crowd. But when someone is doing an adaptation of a work that fans have loved for ages, they aren't just a random talent visiting the town of Sherlock. They're a craftsman working in the field of Sherlock. And there's the big difference.

If I enter home-made ice cream in a chili cook-off, somebody may decide to give me points for creativity, and a person or two who loves ice cream and hates chili might be delighted, but most people came to the chili cook-off for one thing: chili. No matter how proud I am at the wonderfully delightful ice cream I've made, I'm showing a certain disrespect for chili and those who cook it. Putting chili spices and meat together isn't fan service. It's the basic requirement.

Balancing faithfulness to the original material and fresh creativity will always be a challenge, but that perfect mix of the two will always result in the best final product, whether it's Spiderman, Sherlock Holmes, or . . . well, chili. And it's a special delight to see that come together, for when it's done best it creates a treat that reaches far beyond the loyal fans and starts creating new ones. For a few moments, complete neophytes can share a love of something you've harbored for ages, people connect, peace and harmony spread across the world, and . . . .

Well, maybe I'm reaching, but that perfect mix is definitely a very good thing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

An authentic Sherlock Holmes autograph.

One of the benefits of a wild and carefree collecting youth is that eventually, enough time passes that it all becomes new again. Not "new" as in "not old," no, "new" as in, "I don't remember seeing this before or knowing it was here until just now."  And then, if you're lucky, you remember somebody like Ralph Hall selling it to you at a conference, from which you came home with so many other things that you shelved and forgot a thing or two.

Ralph Hall, if you never met him, is one of those fabulous collectors whose skills in that area are such that his cast-offs are things to behold. Which is how I came to own a book with an authentic Sherlock Holmes autograph inside the cover. Here's the proof:




Sherlock Holmes may have said, "There is nothing new under the sun." in A Study in Scarlet,  but Sherlock Holmes Evans's promotional brochure touts, "HERE IS SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN!" So I suppose this Sherlock Holmes may have disagreed with the original on a point or two.

I'll let you read the brochure at the University of Iowa yourself from the link above, it's quite the glorifier of Mr. Evans as an after dinner speaker. Lines like "Keenly balancing delicacy and provocative frankness, the crisp narrative paints flesh and blood people in the intimacy of their dressing room." make it seem like he's trying to sexy it up, but the titles of his speeches, like "Male Superemecy (sic) and the Little Woman" ("Good for ladies night.") and "Angels Never Marry" add an extra "hmmm . . ." to just what direction he was headed in his comedy.

A lawyer, author, and actor for both radio and stage, Sherlock Holmes Evans got his name in the most fannish way possible. After naming their first son "Alger," John and Martha Evans (Could you have a more perfect couple to birth a "Sherlock?") had some bad luck that left John burned and jobless after a livery stable fire. While recovering, he and his wife saw William Gillette playing Sherlock Holmes at the Massillon Opera House in Massillon, Ohio. When their next son was born, on March 4, 1906, he got the name of the play and the main character, Sherlock Holmes Evans . . . "an awful thing to do to a defenseless baby," according to the baby himself.

One can find that Sherlock Holmes Evans passed away on January 1, 1987, but Google-searching that name makes him a veritable needle in a haystack of Sherlock Holmes. We can guess he self-published Father Owned A Circus in 1951, as his name is on the copyright page and Dorrance & Company was known for such work, but his speaking flyer says it was also published in several languages. But that's about it . . . no Father Was Named Sherlock Holmes was ever published to record his deeds as he did his father.

Worth putting Massillon, Ohio on a great cross-country Sherlock Holmes road trip? Well, there are explorations here yet to be had.

More Adventures on John Watson's Island.

The experiment of playing out Gilligan's Island if it were made in a universe where Sherwood Schwartz was a big fan of Sherlock Holmes continues, and we're starting to see results, which I'll get into later. For now, back to John Watson's Island:

25. The Nobel Bachelor. Bored with the lack of human toys on the island, Irene tells Professor Moriarty that she's going to convince John to propose to Mary. Moriarty explains that there is no one on the island to perform a legal marriage, but Irene replies that is what will make it fun, confusing the professor. Mary finds flowers on her hammock that Irene tells her are from John. Then invites them both to dinner at Moriarty's pub, where all of the chairs have mysteriously disappeared except for two. Irene goes to look for chairs, leaving them alone, only to have Sherlock come in disguised as a waiter. John and Mary are stunned to find a stranger on the island, but Sherlock states his name is Basil Nobel and he just washed up on the shore that morning, where Moriarty offered him a job. Mary is intrigued by this stranger and starts ignoring John. When Sherlock finally removes his disguise and announces his true identity, John flies into a rage at the charade and chases Sherlock all around the island.

26. The Sound of the Banshee Wails. When Irene finds Sherlock testing an improvised violin, she decides the island needs an orchestra that she can sing in front of. Lestrade tries to improvise a wind instrument, but when he's testing it out, the wind carries his squawky tunes to a nearby island where a clan of Scotsmen hear it and think it's the ghost bagpipes of their ancestors. The Scotsmen load up a crude longboat and paddle for their neighboring island where the island band is now in full effect, its cacophony convincing the Scots that the ghost piper has led them to a demon-infested portal of Hell. When they encounter Moriarty's pub and are told there is no whiskey at this supposed pub, they conclude that this place is Hell and run off to their boat and leave the island forever.

27. The Red-ish Circle. Mycroft and Lestrade discover an island cave, and hear a gang of cut-throats inside plotting to kill everyone. They go back to tell the others, and Moriarty recognizes the names of members of the Red Circle, who he says there is no bargaining with, and that they must prepare for gang war. They barricade the windows of 221B Island Street and prepare makeshift crossbows and fake busts of themselves to put in the windows as distraction targets. At dawn, they hear the gang talking outside, and when Sherlock takes a look with his pocket telescope, finds it's just a parrot who must have been with the Red Circle at some point and picked up their voices.

28. The Shoscombe-Slow Race. When Professor Moriarty claims to have trained a racing turtle he calls "Shoscombe Prince," Sherlock bets the professor that his turtle Clyde can beat Shoscombe Prince in a race. As they have nothing much of real value to bet on the island, Moriarty's wagers his pub against Watson's services as biographer. Clyde, however, sees Mycroft's tortoise-shell snuffbox as an attractive female turtle and heads for it instead of the finish line, giving the race to Shoscombe Prince. Watson writes his first case in The Memoirs of James Moriarty, only to have the professor decide it is not a fit treatise for peer review, so he arranges a second race with Mycroft's snuff box at the finish line, which Clyde wins handily, letting Watson resume his former duty.

29. The Devil's Pearl. Lestrade finds a great black pearl near the spot where Watson was shucking oysters for lunch. Moriarty attempts to get him to give it over by claiming it's cursed, but when a crate of tinned pears shows up on the beach, Lestrade decides it's actually a lucky charm. Irene tries to charm the pearl away from Lestrade, hinting that a beautiful singer might find him a man worth mating, but when Lestrade replies, "I met Jenny Lind once, and she was a sweet old lady," Irene then cold-cocks Lestrade and hides the pearl in her bust. Lestrade wakes up, decides it was cursed, and goes on with his day. Later, Irene is flirting with Sherlock when the "pearl" hatches into hundreds of baby spiders and hilarity ensues.

30. Young Sherlock Holmes. While John and Sherlock attempt to build a platform to signal some Royal Navy vessels in the distance, John drops his hammer and hits Sherlock in the head, giving him amnesia. Mycroft hypnotizes Sherlock to restore his memories, starting with childhood, only to have Sherlock start seeing the castaways as figures from his past. Mycroft and Moriarty as his mother and father, Irene as his sister Eurus, John as Victor Trevor, and Lestrade as young Mycroft. When the latter three won't play pirates with him, Sherlock runs off and sees an actual river pirate who has come ashore with a small boat. Later, when he tries to tell the others about the new arrival, they think he's just playing and play act along with him. The river pirate sees all of this, decides the island is full of lunatics, and leaves, just as Sherlock finally gets the others to come to the beach to see the boat. The river pirate's flight and loss of another chance at rescue is felt by all, and the emotions restore Sherlock's memory.

Putting Sherlock Holmes and company in a desert island sitcom does limit the stories they can experience, and Gilligan's Island starts to make a little more sense. Limiting anything to a specific TV format and letting it run on in American TV fashion would tend to make the original source start mutating to the ongoing format. How far will John Watson's Island mutate? Well, like it's base series, it's not going to last the five or six of some others, but we shall see! Summer isn't halfway over yet!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A very, very, very late comment on season four.

Considering a recent bout of writer's block that I wound up diagnosing as "Centipede's Dilemma," my thoughts wandered on to the subject of mind palaces . . . and mind prisons. It's funny what the brain can do, the tricks it can play . . . and yet . . . and yet . . . .

Season four of Sherlock. 

I don't like to mention how satisfied with it I was, in deference to those who found the Bond/comic book/abusive Watson/insert complaint here too wrong for their taste. It was a season running full tilt at everything it was running at, and such intensity was bound to be problematic for some. There's a reason that I will always prefer the wild shots of Sherlock to the consistent procedurals of Elementary, so ya pays yer money, ya takes yer chances.

Mary Morstan Watson as fleeing superspy, not a problem. Mrs. Hudson's Aston Martin . . . well, that does make sense in light of her husband's drug cartel, etc. John Watson cheating on his wife and savagely beating his frustrating friend? Ouch. But there's always been a lot of violence under the surface there, and his fidelity to anyone other than Sherlock has never had a proper measure taken.

But Eurus. Not Eurus herself. I love her, the concept of her, the portrayal of her.

But the fact that Sherlock Holmes, after developing mind palace techniques, pharmacological mind exploration techniques, and every other brain-work enhancer he could, somehow was still blocking a sister who burned the house down and killed his best friend, driving him to become who he would one day become.

Something that influential in the life of a man who was constantly driven to seek out every answer, find out every truth, completely ignored.

While it works in the story of that one episode, it does ring of the biggest curse of episodic television . . . the reset. The Sherlock Holmes who was tripping in the Victorian period with Moriarty as a bride and Molly Hooper pretending to be a man didn't once come up with a clear image of a little girl whom he had spent years with?  The Sherlock Holmes whose near-death experience took him to the place inside where he holds a crazy Moriarty in a cage . . . that's his secret place?

Four seasons and a Christmas special built with Eurus hiding in the shadows would have been an amazing thing, to have that final reveal click all those pieces into place. And yet such bits as Redbeard and "the other one," while used to build Eurus, were plainly not put there to foreshadow her. Too bad.

Ah, well. Probably picking nits that others have spotted long ago, but in considering that marvelous brain locking off a whole wing of the mind palace is about as silly as . . . well, I'll be nice to Nicol Williamson Holmes as there are those who are fond of that tale. So I'll just end here with this:

May you remember all your siblings and your Moriartys be few, a blessing that I hold for Sherlock Holmes as well.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Can Holmes and Watson consummate and not ruin the show?

This blog post is Sherlockian, I promise. But give me a moment.

The theme from the TV show Moonlighting came up in my shuffle, driving home from work today. For a few minutes, I waxed nostalgically on Maddie Hayes and David Addison, and what a wonderful couple they were . . . until they slept together.

Now most attributed this to the end of their "sexual tension." But I realized, as I listened to that song, that it wasn't about the sex at all. Before they consummated their relationship, they were two single people who just couldn't quite get together even though we all knew they loved each other. They misunderstood, they quibbled, they fought . . . and that was okay, because they were two single people who couldn't quite get together.

Then, BOOM! Consummation! They are now officially a couple. A couple that misunderstood, quibbled, and fought. Suddenly they go from star-crossed lovers to unhealthy relationship. One of those is hopeful. The other is not. Which is why most "opposites attract" romantic comedies end with a "happily ever after" assumption at the credits.

So then I thought of another TV show with a detective duo in love, Hart to Hart. They didn't need sexual tension, they were just in love and having sex (not specifically shown, but c'mon!). The show was about them working together as a functional couple from the start.

Which brings us to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Are they Maddie Hayes and David Addison, or Jonathan and Jennifer Hart?

They're very opposites-attract-y, and even though season four didn't give them a big "I love you!" moment at the end, it could be argued that montage was very much a "happily ever after." The whole series could be looked at as one long romantic comedy arc, where the secret that breaks the two apart is Eurus Holmes, even though Sherlock doesn't know she is his secret. (A bit of a stretch, I realize, but one could build a case for it.)

As Dave and Maddie style partners, Holmes and Watson work. As a couple, though? I don't think either Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, Moffat and Gatiss's Sherlock or Dougherty's Elementary has given us the Hart to Hart version of Holmes and Watson yet. That would seem like an adaptation still waiting to happen. And as so much fan fiction involves the pair getting together, rather than just happily being together against the world, one has to wonder if that version will ever come along in a mainstream media adaptation.

You just never know. Our three most recent Sherlocks are perfect examples of something none of us probably thought we'd ever see, once upon a time, so we might just see Holmes to Holmes yet. (Sorry, John, you have to take his name for the show to work.)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Put Holmes and Watson in your pocket if it helps.

There's a topic that I used to write about on this blog. I don't write about that topic any more.

My feelings on the matter haven't changed. Oh, no. I still feel very strongly upon that particular thing, and the reason why I feel so strongly about that issue is why I decided to quit talking about it.

It's Sherlock Holmes, you see. And what he means to us.

Without getting into what makes a "true fan," there's a threshold you cross with any person, character, or love you get completely into for the long haul. They become a part of your identity and your perspective on them becomes your view of their identity. If it's a real person, you have to allow that they are who they really are. But if it's a fictional person?

Well, who's to say who they really are?

Not me. Not you. And the creator? Well, even Dr. Frankenstein had to let go at some point.

As long as you don't harm anyone else in the process, you get to have your own Sherlock Holmes.

He's yours. Watson too. And you can be as enthusiastic as you want about them.

Until your Holmes and Watson try to knock down somebody else's Holmes and Watson in a public place. Then they're just being bullies, and none of us like bullies. You might need to take your Holmes and Watson back home and have a talk with them, getting them to behave a little bit better when you take them outside again.

I know, I know, they had their reasons. They might have felt threatened by some other Holmes and Watson. They might have felt that some other Holmes and Watson were ruining the reputation of all Holmeses and Watsons. But as long as that other Holmes and Watson was somebody's true Holmes and Watson, no different from your true Holmes and Watson, it's a little hard to justify letting yours become the bullies.

If we all had to carry our personal Holmes and Watson around in our pockets instead of our heads, like the Crobabies or Action Sherlock and Big John Watson, it would be very plain that none of us held the magical One True Sherlock and Actual John H. Watson. But trying to hold our pet characters in our heads lets our imaginations think they're maybe just a little more relevant than someone else's mind palace residents. Which they are . . . to us.

You hear people talk a lot about how mean the world is getting of late. Of how intolerant and rude, of how blind and foolish, of how angry and aggressive it is out there. We haven't had a disaster, a war, or a plague lately to hit us hard enough to remember that being kind to each other is how we get through the hard stuff together. But you'd think we'd be smart enough at this point to know how to do that without the big hit. Especially among the followers of the best and wisest man that John Watson ever met.

And sometimes, it's kinder to keep quiet on a topic when we're just talking about our personal Holmes and Watson versus someone else's. Which is why I don't write about . . . you know.

(Much. Only human.)

Monday, July 3, 2017

To quiz or not to quiz! That is the question.

Ah, quizzes.

The testing of our Sherlockian knowledges have been with us as long as Sherlock Holmes fans have gathered. In 1934, when Edgar Smith wrote up his slightly silly constitution for the Baker Street Irregulars, the most serious segment was all about quizzing the membership. And while the newest wave of Sherlockian energies seems more dedicated to the writing of fiction than testing one's fellow Sherlockians (A more creative female energy versus more competitive male energies of old?), there is something more about the quiz that keeps it alive.

August brings The John H. Watson Society's 5th Annual John H. Watson Canonical Treasure Hunt, a hundred questions made hard enough to defy search engines and often, as a result, simple interpretation. Where once a Sherlock Holmes trivia question was simply "Name the dog who bit Jephro Rucastle" or "What profession did Horace Harker practice?" our constant access to the internet has forced such simplicity out of our challenges.

That great Sherlockian evangelist John Bennett Shaw was ahead of his time in this practice, having established a level of cryptic questioning decades ago where many a question required a second bit of knowledge just to get to the primary inquiry. Puns were involved as well, and trying to get from the phrase "If Schoendienst rather than Cronin had led the junior circuit." to the title of a Sherlock Holmes story required more data and ingenuity than most Sherlockians could muster. (And it's not even easy with Google!)

But why test ourselves? Why submit to the sovereignty of queries designed by others? It is often said that the true winner of any award is the presenter, who is empowered only by the more-talented award nominees. Are quizzes just a ritual power dynamic in this day and age, or something more?

The John H. Watson Society's quiz has shown me that there is more potential to the hobby quiz than merely winning or losing. You can have all the knowledge in the world (as the internet would seem to provide us), but if you don't understand the wording of the questions, your answers are not going to line up with those of the questioner.

Suddenly quizzes become more a test of communication than knowledge. How good are we at seeing what our fellow Sherlockians see? How good are we at persuading them to our point of view (or accepting theirs) when we see a situation from two very different angles? How good are we at not getting so madly frustrated and righteously pissed-off at the questions and still maintaining civil discourse? There are a lot more tests in a properly difficult quiz than just tests of knowledge.

And while not quite the Kobayashi Maru of Sherlock Holmes tests (that's putting you in a no-win scenario to see how you hold up, for you non-Trekkers out there), the Annual John H. Watson Canonical Treasure Hunt is one of the better challenges a Sherlockian might face (other than social media) these days.

So, come July 31st, myself and the team whose name I can't recall begin again . . . get ready for much blog-drama, imaginary pain, and verbose suffering. But fun! Yes, fun! That too!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

John Clayton's cousin Clara.

This being Peoria, home of the Sherlockian society called "The Hansoms of John Clayton," some attention must occasionally be paid to Mr. John Clayton, who drove a hansom cab in The Hound of the Baskervilles. He's a minor character to most readers, but to an old Sherlockian hand in Peoria, he's something much, much more.

John Clayton figures prominently in Peoria author Philip Jose Farmer's Tarzan Alive, an important biography of that ape-man of an earlier era, but as with so many histories written by men, it tends to focus on the men involved and leave out many a sister or girl cousin. So it's not surprising that John's cousin Clara is never mentioned in all the hooplah of tying that cabdriver who visited 221B Baker Street to Tarzan of the Apes.

In fact, when you get into the weeds of it, Clara Clayton's father may have been the actual reason that John Clayton wound up driving a fake Sherlock around London and was later interviewed by the real Sherlock. Clara's father, Daniel Clayton, was the Clayton family lepidopterist, a naturalist specializing in the study of moths and butterflies. As in any field of focus like lepidoptery, societies form, correspondence between experts in the field occurs, and connections are made.

So when Jack Stapleton, another naturalist from that period specializing in lepidoptery, just happens to hire John Clayton for an important day's work, we have to wonder if it is just coincidence at work here, or if Stapleton hadn't heard of the cabman's skills from Clayton's uncle.

The connection of Jack Stapleton to Daniel Clayton to John Clayton may cause you to wonder why I'm focusing on Clara here, if that name didn't ring a bell with you at first glance. Even though The Hound of the Baskervilles has been adapted for the big and small screens many a time, the character of John Clayton depicted therein has never had quite the fame and popularity of his cousin Clara in her cinematic portrayal. But then "Clayton" is probably not the name most remember her by.

For Clara Clayton is probably better known by her married name after she made a very unusual marital connection with the ancestor of another character from the cases of Sherlock Holmes. Remember Silas Brown, the race-horse trainer from "Silver Blaze?" Even though he was actually a contemporary to Clara, his grandson Emmett managed to find his way back to the California of 1885 to fall in love with John Clayton's girl cousin.

Of course, the romance between Emmett "Doc" Brown and Clara Clayton is pretty well known at this point, so I won't dwell further on it here. You can Google it, if you're still lost.

I doubt that John Clayton and Silas Brown were able to cross paths at the wedding of their respective cousin and grandson, but I'm sure they would have made excellent table-mates at the reception, both having a great familiarity with horses to connect on. What was it Sherlock Holmes once said?

"If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable."

And Clara Clayton, were Holmes and Watson took take that magical flight, would be a revelation they would find most fascinating.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

When the Game was a worry.

Two or three decades ago, some Sherlockians were very concerned about the damage those of us who played "the Game" could do to the culture of humanity.

"If you go around pretending Dr. Watson wrote the stories and not Conan Doyle," they would say, "people are going to believe you. People are going to start thinking Holmes and Watson were real and that Conan Doyle was just a literary agent."

Whether or not they actually believed that, or were just making whatever argument they could to promote the cause of Doylean scholarship over Watsonian, I was never sure. But fast forward ahead to the year 2017.

We now have people who believe that man never walked on the moon. That death camps didn't exist. That the world is only five thousand years old. That . . . well, at some point you have to start treading lightly because right now, in 2017, all sorts of people are believing all sorts of nonsense.

And yet, we don't seem to find a lot of people . . . or any, that I've seen . . . who truly believe that John H. Watson wrote the Sherlockian Canon. Nobody is changing the name on the spines of the Sherlock Holmes books at Barnes & Noble to read "by John H. Watson, M.D." No fringe cults of diehard "Watson wrote it!" extremists have even popped up.

Which is simply amazing when you look at all the aforementioned nonsense people do claim to believe. Obvious fictions cited as fact. NASA needing to put out a statement that there are, indeed, no child slave labor camps on Mars. A CEO of a car company opining that reality as we know it is a virtual reality simulation designed by an advanced race. Perhaps humanity was always cherishing such little myths on a person-by-person basis, only now exposed by our new interconnectedness, but believed fictions seem to be much more in-your-face every with each passing day.

And yet, John Watson just hasn't become history yet.

Perhaps it's television, where John is John in England and Joan in America. Perhaps it's the sheer mass of books with Doyle's name on the cover. Or perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . Sherlockians, in all their nerdish glory, were never as silly or as foolish as the more judgmental among us might have thought. Oh, we have our crazies, yes, we do. And they might commit to a joke far past the point where it ceases to be funny on occasion. But even they aren't THAT crazy.

Our time spent with one foot in each world, that of fiction and that of fact, has taught us quite well where that line is. Sherlockians might actually be better equipped to deal with our current state that your average citizen.

Now if the rest of the world would just get on the Sherlockian bandwagon and become a little more fact-versus-fiction aware. 

Book-collecting advice from 1928.

Way back in 1928, only one year after The Complete Sherlock Holmes was first published, a fellow named A. Edward Newton had some advice for aspiring book collectors, in a tome called The Book-Collecting Game.

"Anticipating the further question, 'What novels shall I collect?' I have with the advice of several eminent writers of fiction, and with the suggestions of many friends and the aid of a bookseller or two, prepared my list of . . . ONE HUNDRED GOOD NOVELS."

Novel number one on the list: Adam Bede by George Eliot.

And then it gets weird. Novel number two is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Newton, a book collector with at least two books under his belt on the collecting of books, spends a page and a paragraph talking about novels, and then tosses a short story collection in, right off the bat.  Since most definitions of "novel" I can find just define it as a long narrative published as a book, I suppose one could consider a dozen separate stories connected with a couple of ongoing characters as a novel, and 1928 . . . who knows what they were thinking back then?

"The novels I have selected have at one time or another enjoyed great popularity or had some special significance. I include Uncle Tom's Cabin and omit Old Town Folks, which is a better novel. The thoughtful reader will soon discover why I have included Conan Doyle and Joel Chandler Harris, and omitted Poe and O. Henry."

Interesting that Newton puts Doyle and Harris in the same category, as Joel Chandler Harris is also best know for a collection of stories as well: Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings. And if that rings a bell at all, it is probably for that one Disney movie that went into the vault never to return, The Song of the South. Harris is probably not going to see a surge in popularity due to a BBC modernization anytime soon like Doyle did. Time and writers is a mix that has always fascinated me.

Most devout Sherlockians know Winwood Reade better than Charles Reade, I'd wager, even though Charles was Winwood's more popular uncle and the writer of The Cloister and the Hearth, which is also on Newton's list. Sherlock Holmes never recommended The Cloister and the Hearth to Watson as "one of the most remarkable ever penned," as he did The Martyrdom of Man, so celebrity endorsement has helped Winwood, along with the fact that atheists look to his book as a classic work in their field.

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley is also on Newton's list, a book which many an older Sherlockian owns due to the connection to Morley as the founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, but once discovered, has a bibliophiliac core that deepens any booklovers mythos for their addiction. Like Charles Reade, however, Morley is a writer that was of his time, and society as a whole seems to have moved past. His part in Sherlock Holmes fandom would seem to be the thing for which he will be remembered the longest.

But as A. Edward Newton's advice for collectors from 1928 shows, books can be as much of a dice roll as the stock market. Book collecting for pleasure is a deeply personal thing, building a library that is often a weird solid extension of one's brain, and quite satisfying. Book collecting as an investment strategy? Well, I don't think anyone's retiring off Reades and Morleys, and even Doyle's Adventures are worth more in their original magazine form. (And yet we're not in love with magazines like we are books due to their lack of shelve-ability.)

The best collection is just the residue of a love of reading, and there is where Sherlockians tend to show their true colors. Whatever path one takes to get to a book, unless it is read at some point, there is no real value in it, and the game we play isn't just a book-collecting one. Yet occasionally . . . and maybe more than occasionally . . . our love of books themselves takes us down an odd old road as mine did today with A. Edward Newton.

(And luckily, didn't put me on a Harold Bell Wright digression. H.B.W. is the Ozymandias of my book-collecting journey. But that's for another day.)


Friday, June 30, 2017

Watson's un-wedding date.

"The July which immediately succeeded my marriage was made memorable by three cases of interest . . ."
-- John H. Watson, M.D., "The Naval Treaty"

"A few weeks before my own marriage . . ."
-- John H. Watson, M.D., "The Noble Bachelor"

The marriage of Dr. Watson has driven many a would-be biographer to distraction, especially those who maintain he a proper Victorian heterosexual and only married once, to the one woman we know he proposed to. That belief seemed to have run as strongly through the early generations of Sherlockians as Johnlock does through today's fandom, and with such a bias, facts may have been skewed just a little bit in favor of Miss Mary Morstan.

Take the two quotes above.

The latter, we all presume to mean that "Noble Bachelor" took place a few weeks before Watson's wedding. Since that case has other evidence dating it in October of 1887 or 1888, it is usually presumed he and his bride had November nuptials.

The phrase in the first quote, however, "The July which immediately succeeded my marriage . . ." is also taken by one-wife-Watson fans to refer to that same wedding date. But roll that around in your head a bit. Why would Watson use that event to place a month full of cases with Sherlock Holmes a full eight months later?

"Succeeded my marriage" can have another meaning, one which doesn't much get considered -- that the July in question happened after Watson's marriage ended. Why else would he suddenly be out on three cases with Holmes that month? Why else would "The Second Stain," one of the three cases he references have him referring to "our rooms in Baker Street" and seeming to live with Sherlock again?

The month after a marriage's end would be a definite mile-marker to use for dating one's life events, and read with a non-monogamous mind, that seems to be what Watson's "Naval Treaty" words are saying. Instead the metaphorical "May-December marriage," Watson actually had a November-to-June marriage. At least for one of his supposed romantic entanglements.

These days, I'm still not sure if all those random marriage details weren't cover for a certain aforementioned theory that's very popular of late, but we won't get into that here. As we end our June today, however, maybe it's time to consider what might have also come to an end in a June a hundred and thirty years ago.

Watson's maybe not-so-merry Mary marriage.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The beauty of hard things.

Last night I was writing about how collectors may not be the dominant force in our Sherlockian future due to the internet, but how I was also sure that they would still be among us. The rare treasures of our shared past make collecting a fascinating occupation for those with the means, and just because we have the "easy button" of the web doesn't mean that there won't be those who, even now, chose to do things the hard way . . . which is where some of the best collectables come from.

I thought of this tonight as I pulled a random book down from myself, landing upon Client's Case-Notes edited by Brian R. MacDonald.


Published in 1983, the first thing you'll notice about it is the dust-jacket is actually glued together from two sheets of paper. And opening it up, you'll notice something else.


Somebody typeset this book on a typewriter and justified the margins! (I used a picture of Dana Richards's article, as he was one of those lovely regulars who graced The Holmes & Watson Report with regular content back in my print era.) And the mere fact that it's a hardbound book means someone spend some money on the binding of its 125 copy run.

Every detail of this book cries out "Somebody really wanted to publish a book!" to the knowing eye. Such things did not come easy back in 1983, before such modern miracles as household typesetting a child can do and  48 Hour Books. And despite the crass commercialization of the collectable market with chase items and "limited" runs designed to hit just the right price-point that we see these days, I think the best collectables will still come from a place of the heart.

Hand-binding, papercraft, and calligraphy still exist, and Sherlockians who will produce a run of  17 copies, 221 copies, or something in between just for their friends will probably still take place. Sherlockiana is not a field one spends much time in for profit . . . unless one counts "squee" as currency (or one of the less high-pitched expressions of delight, of course, for the easily-embarrassed). Because the best collections we have are the ones with memories attached, as memories are proven to be fueled by emotion.

Such items will actually carry a sense of that forward to an appreciative future owner in many cases, as with that Clients Case-Notes. I know I didn't lay hands on it in 1983 . . . or did I? . . . but just paging through it now and reading a few of its articles yields an echo of the pride those original Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis much have felt when this first hit their hands, after what was surely a long, hard journey into print.

And there is a certain beauty in that, one that keeps it on a collector's shelves, even now.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another collection leaves its collector.

When word came over the wires today that Don Hobbs's library would be making its way to the library at Southern Methodist University, it was one of those "end of an era" moments that become more frequent once you've lived long enough.

If you're unfamiliar with Don's library, it contained what is generally acknowledged to be the largest collection of different foreign language editions of Sherlock Holmes stories. No Sherlockian ever amassed such a globe-spanning collection of Sherlockiana as Don, and he made many a friend in many a foreign clime along the way. It was almost like the collection was just a side effect of Don Hobbs being Don Hobbs, and not really a project.

But nothing lasts forever, and it's good to see Don's massive amount of books moving to the next phase of it's book-life at Don's direction, freeing him from the responsibilities of caretaker for such a valuable resource as well, to move on to his own next phase.

I'm a big fan of healthy change, and even though I'm a bit sad to see this period end, it does seem like a healthy shift. I suspect the era of the big collector is leaving us. Oh, there will always be collectors, yes. Humans have certain native tendencies that aren't going away. But the time when collectors dominated the Sherlockian world is fading fast.

So much content is online, with more coming out every single day. Every one of us has a massive Sherlockian collection at our fingertips now. More to read of Sherlock Holmes than we could ever hope to read. More resources for research that we'll ever use. More video, more audio, more Sherlockians to connect with, in dribs and drabs or in fully-formed friendships.

But thinking of Don Hobbs and his marvelous collection takes me back to the days when John Bennett Shaw roamed the Earth, holding workshops, pointing out the one hundred key books we could all go searching for to sow the seeds of our own collections. Collections that most of us were growing similar versions of . . . except for that rare fellow like Don, who found a niche and went at it with the whole of his being.

Collections have always impressed us, and Don's work getting a new home will only let it continue impressing Sherlockians as time goes one. But it makes me smile to think that, while the books were nice, Don Hobbs was mostly memorable for just being out there and being Don Hobbs . . . and that era continues.

And yet, here we are at a turn in the road, with a big sign telling us, "You are now leaving This-moment-ville!" But more of the great Sherlockian road still lays before us.

Wave to Don when you get the chance. He'll be the one with the slightly lighter step now, I'm sure.

Monday, June 26, 2017

John Watson's Island gets vistors!

Well, the AU-TV network is still on the air here in Sherlock Peoria, and six more episodes of that Sherlock Holmes based version of Gilligan's Island came streaming in over the weekend. Here's the latest updates on our episode guide to John Watson's Island!

19. The Retired Street Urchin. While retrieving an apple from a tree, John Watson sees a boy running through the trees. He gives chase only to be eluded as the wily youth runs under branches too low and through passages too narrow for John to navigate without wacky mishaps. The other castaways claim John is just hallucinating from some island berry or other poor food choice, but when John finally gives up and sits dejectedly flipping a shilling, the boy jumps out and tries to grab it. John snatches it back, and the boy introduces himself as Wiggins, a street lad who rafted downriver to get away from city life. John tells Wiggins he'll give him the shilling if he meets the rest, and when he does, the Professor announces that the boy's weight is perfect for the hot air balloon he's been building, but didn't have enough material to make it large enough to carry himself. They send Wiggins off in the balloon, but having forgotten to teach him anything about wind currents, watch as he heads in the direction of France.

20. The Hound of this Islandville. When Irene and Mary demand the men help them build their own establishment apart from 221B Island Street after their tolerance for Sherlock's experiments runs out, the men hold a planning session at Professor Moriarty's pub. Deciding it would be easier to convince the ladies they should stay at 221B than to build a new building, the professor suggest the others put together some mythical night-time threat to terrorize the women into staying in the group structure. Sherlock and John concoct a costume of a giant hound that breathes fire and put the plan into effect. But when Lestrade runs up to Irene and Mary, fleeing the supposed demon hound, whips and truncheons appear in their hands and they start pummeling John and Sherlock until their hoax is exposed. As John sleeps off his injuries, he has some very sexy S&M dreams about the ladies, and in the morning decides it is only proper for the fair sex to be housed in separate accommodations, and talks the rest of the men into building Camden House.

21. The Novice Bachelor. "Duke" Balmoral, handsome captain of the Camford sculling team, rows up on the beach in an experimental single-scull craft during a marathon training exercise. He is greeted as a liberating hero by the islanders, who serve up a feast and make his rest for the return trip as pleasant as possible, having determined he can take one person back with him. Duke loves the attention, especially that of Irene and Mary, and soon, we find, that of Sherlock, too, as he comes out of the closet as bi. Announcing he has decided to stay on the island, Duke finds the castaways a little less enamored of him, and when Sherlock rejects his affections, he slips away in his sculling boat early the next morning, leaving a note to say he enjoyed the freedom to be himself on the island, but is not willing to come out of the closet back at Camford, with a cheesey "What happens on the island stays on the island" sign-off.

22. The Performing Ape. When Sherlock devises a fruit-juice cocktail that will help Irene's sore vocal cords after a night of operatic singing, a wild island langur starts stealing the containers of it Sherlock leaves by her hut. When the castaways start hearing a beautiful singing voice in the night, they are certain someone new is on the island and spend a lot of time searching -- but seeing the same langur hanging out near Camden House. Eventually, as Sherlock brings Irene a new container of juice just as she starts up a gramophone recording that the langue starts singing along with, they realize the truth . . . that Sherlock's elixir has improved the langur's normal barks and whoops to the point they sound almost human. Sherlock vows, "I won't make that any more -- oh, we certainly don't want an island of talking apes!"

23. The Glaringly-Obvious Scot. When Sherlock saves Mary from drowning during an afternoon swim, John decides he must do something heroic to impress Mary to turn her grateful attentions away from Sherlock. Lestrade and Irene offer to pretend they're in jeopardy to help John, but John turns the offer down. Later that evening a crazed Scottsman wearing a kilt and blue facepaint shows up on the island and kidnaps Irene in front of John, who thinks it's Lestrade going on with the original play and waves Irene's pleas for help off. On his way back to 221B, however he runs into Lestrade and compliments him upon changing clothes so fast, but when Lestrade is baffled, John realizes the truth. He and Lestrade chase after the Scotsman, whom John battles as Lestrade frees Irene. The Scotsman, seeing things not going his way, dashes back to his Scots-canoe and paddles away. Irene, however, praises John as her hero, balancing things out for Sherlock's earlier heroics.

24. The Return of Black Peter. Black Peter Carey's dinghy washes back up on the island, and the castaways learn he wasn't killed by that harpoon nineteen episodes ago. They all try to talk Black Peter into taking whoever will fit in his boat back upriver, but Peter's will has been broken after being left for dead on the banks of the Plumstead Marshes where tidewaiters nursed him back to health. He is afraid of returning to civilization for fear of Patrick Cairns harpooning him again. Irene, Mary, and John try to build up his ego, to no avail. Mycroft and Lestrade try to convince him that the full forces of the Government and Scotland Yard back in London can surely protect him. The Professor offers to have Cairns murdered.  But when Sherlock shows up with a harpoon-like spear after killing an island boar for the night's dinner, Black Peter freaks out and takes off in his boat to head further downriver.

Well, six more episodes down the tubes (internet or boob, your choice). Really didn't expect to see Black Peter returning like that, but Wrongway Feldman set the pattern, and the pattern must be obeyed. (For those who aren't big Gilligan's Island fans, every episode of John Watson's Island is inspired by its numeric counterpart in the Gilligan version.) Just seventy-four more to go, but we've got all summer for this. Who knows, we might even get to the Harlem Globetrotters! (The third of the TV movie sequels.)

And what the heck, it's time to sing the sign-off again!

So this is a case that has gone astray,
they're here for a long, long time.
They may not solve a case each week,
please send them a lime.

John Watson and his Sherlock too

will do their very best,
to foil Jim Moriarty troubles
in their weird Thames island nest.

No wires, no gas, no hansom cabs

not a single luxury
just like the Grice Patersons,
it's primitive as can be.

So join us now, Sherlockians,

E'en if you're full of bile,
for seven stranded characters
here on John Watson's Isle!