Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Interesting Interview: Steven Rothman

The number 60 is an important one for Sherlockians.  So, for my 60th Interesting Interview, I knew it had to be someone who was a real standout among such a wonderful group of people as Sherlockians.  Steve Rothman definitely fits that bill.  Many people will know Steven as the editor of the Baker Street Journal and that would be bona fides enough to want to know what this guy has to say.  I am an unabashed fan of the BSJ and am continually impressed and entertained with the product that Steve puts out.  

Over the past few years, I've also come to appreciate the writings of Christopher Morley and Mr. Rothman is an expert on this founding father of our hobby.  Through emailing about these two interests, I've come to know Steve a little bit, and he is unbelievably nice.  Anytime I've had a question about Morley, Steve is always quick with answers and a welcoming manner.  And as someone who has been on the receiving end of his gentle yet reassuring BSJ submission responses, I can personally tell you that Steve is thoughtful and inviting in all of our conversations.  I think that warm personality will shine through in this landmark interview.


How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I frequently say that, to a Sherlockian, all things are Sherlockian. Even more, I would insist that all who define themselves as Sherlockian are. So you could be a print Sherlockian and have no connection with the hobby other than reading and rereading the Canon (a term of which you may not be aware). Or you could be a Sherlockian who spends a great deal of time watching Holmes on a screen. You can be a scholarly Sherlockian, trying to explicate the text, to unfurl the hidden details of the vanished Edwardian world. You can be a cosplay Sherlockian whose greatest joy is dressing up in some related way. You can be Watsonic, Milvertonian, Morantic, Moriartian, or Adlerite. Really, there are probably as many ways to be a Sherlockian as there are Sherlockians. And I approve of all of them because, deep down, they all love the stories about the detective who lives in Baker Street.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Before I could really read, my father gave me an illustrated Sherlock Holmes, with pictures and text on every page. It had “The Red-Headed League,” “The Speckled Band,” and “The Final Problem.” Maybe there were one or two more. I found it terrifying: the lantern-lit man emerging in the dark cellar, the man with the snake wrapped ’round his head, the struggle at the Falls. All it did was give me the willies. A few years later, at eight or nine, I read The Adventures and found them okay. I read The Hound as well.

But I did not really become a Sherlockian until I was 12 and ordered a remaindered copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street for a dollar. Why? I have pondered that question for many years. But when the book arrived, I devoured it. I found it hilarious. Here was an author arguing that the clearly fictitious Sherlock Holmes was a real man, indeed was still alive at some quite advanced age. There were footnotes and bibliography. I drove my friends and family quite crazy for a long time, insisting that Holmes was real. I looked up every book Baring-Gould referenced, but my library only had Starrett’s Private Life

Fortunately for me, I lived quite close to Haverford College, and Chris Morley’s alma mater had a number of works of early scholarship. I gulped them down hungrily. (I had—quite separately—come upon Morley’s work at the same time, although it was probably another year before I put Chris and Sherlock together. That was a happy moment!) 


What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I catalogue rare books for a bookshop. It allows me to handle a never-ending stream of amazing material and use effectively a head filled with quite miscellaneous knowledge. Now and then, we get in something Sherlockian or by a Sherlockian. For instance, two years ago we bought a very large library of Civil War books from North Carolina. It included a sizable collection of the work of Manly Wade Wellman, who received his shilling (“Wisteria Lodge”) in 1951. I was able to dive into this collection of paperbacks, pulp magazines, etc., with more passion than otherwise, as I knew it to be the work of one of us.

What is your favorite canonical story?

My favorite story has been, since the snowy winter day I first read it, The Valley of Fear. It was set in Pennsylvania, as am I. It has a locked room murder, the only compelling “middle section” of any of the novels, and Moriarty. And it has some wonderful lines. For instance, T. S. Eliot—who, by the way, shared an office with Frank Morley, creator of the BSI crossword puzzle, at Faber & Faber—was lunching with the Wednesday Club, a group of intellectuals, in the mid-1950s, when he was asked what his favorite line in literature was. He immediately responded:

        “Well,” cried Boss McGinty at last, “is he here? Is Birdy Edwards here?”

        “Yes,” McMurdo answered slowly, “Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards.”

Was Eliot kidding? Did he just love the drama of those lines? Scholars have debated it for years. But Eliot did love Holmes and incorporated line from “The Musgrave Ritual” into his 1935 verse play Murder in the Cathedral. Most likely Tom Eliot was just using the lines as a way of deflating his fellow diner’s ego.


Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Besides Christopher Morley? Everyone who cares about both Holmes and Conan Doyle would benefit from a deep dive into the work of Richard Lancelyn Green (“The Three Gables”), a scholar and collector of endless energy and curiosity who left us far too early. His contributions to our field may never be matched. Let’s leave it at that. It would be too difficult to choose among my many friends who are still among us.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Book collecting. I have been collecting books, letters, and manuscripts in a serious way since I was 12 and, though I know it is not for everyone, have found the bibliophilic world to be welcoming, intellectually challenging, and infinitely rewarding. I have also found endless amusement in reading the Spiritualist works of ACD, though I realize that is not for everyone.


What do you look for in pieces that you include in the Baker Street Journal?

New ideas, good ideas, and good writing. As does every editor. I am always looking for new voices as well. I regard Sherlockian scholarship to be a part of popular culture, a field that has always interested me. So I do enjoy it when offered a piece that connects Baker Street to something new. I am constantly pleased by the imagination and effort of the work that comes my way. 

Christopher Morley is obviously an important person to our hobby. What is a fact about him that many Sherlockians might not know?

Hmmm. Morley was the eldest of three brothers, all of whom were Rhodes Scholars and studied at Oxford. Their father, a Cambridge man, mused that his sons’ time in Oxford didn’t seem to have done them any lasting harm.


What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

For a real time-capsule collection of Sherlockian scholarship, try The Milvertonians of Hampstead, edited by Nick Utechin (Gasogene Books, 2020). The Milvertonians were a London group in the 1950s and 1960s devoted to the single story. Their publications are quite uncommon, and Nick did a great job discovering their story.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I think more of our life will migrate onto the internet. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we can share our joys around the world immediately. Perhaps more works will be published on line, with many links to easily allow us to follow a line of inquiry from one source to another. I hope that we all continue to search out those younger than us who have an interest and encourage them to have fun with Holmes. We need more Baker Street ravers. 


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Some Ghastly Presence Constantly Haunted Him [HOUN]

It's October, and even though the stores have their Christmas decorations out, there's no denying that it's spooky season in America.  Theme parks turn into scare factories, the Muppets have a Haunted Mansion special out, and all of this makes me look at the Sherlock Holmes stories just a bit differently.

Holmes said in SUSS: "This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain.  The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply."  And reason wins out over superstition in all of his cases.  


Spectral hellound?  Nope, murderous lost relative.

Vampire? Nah, just a mother's love.

A devil-ridden parish?  No, a jealous brother.

So other than the obvious fact that family is more dangerous than otherworldly creatures, is there any other takeaway from Sherlock Holmes and mysteries of the unknown?

Maybe they are all lies.


Think about it, Sherlock Holmes is the most rational man alive.  If he were to ever give any credence to mystical creatures, the whole world may run amok.

Now, I'm not talking about all of the pastiches out there that have pitted Holmes against Dracula, Martian invasions, or other fanciful tales.  I'm talking about the Canon.

What if those 60 stories are really covering up some horrifying cases that the world isn't ready for?

Many people are familiar with Ray Betzner's masterful talk that proposes young Edward Rucastle had something more sinister running through his blood than an aversion to cockroaches.  But is that the only hidden tale out there?  


Brad Keefauver may have uncovered the truth behind Sir George Burnwell in "The Beryl Coronet."

And Heather Hinson has found that Baskerville Hall was once home to worshipers of Gozer.

So what else is the Canon hiding?  Is Mr. Hyde or the Invisible Man roaming the streets of London in one of our favorite tales?  Is there proof that Mrs. Hudson was really a witch?  What the hell was really going on in "The Creeping Man"?


As kids transform themselves into ghouls and goblins over the coming weeks, look at the Canon through a new lens.  Maybe there are some ghouls and goblins hiding in your favorite tale.  What horrors lie in wait behind the veil of rationality?  

No ghosts need apply, because they are already here.



Sunday, September 26, 2021

Interesting Interview: Pj Doyle

This week's Interesting Interview is with Pj Doyle, longtime Minnesota Sherlockian.  Pj has been a cornerstone of the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota for years and years, working closely with the University of Minnesota's Sherlock Holmes Collections.  She fills her days with volunteering for the American Red Cross.

I got to meet Pj at the Birthday Weekend in 2020 and found myself gushing over how much I loved the book she co-edited, The Baker Street Dozen from years back.  It was one of the early scholarship books I read after I'd finished the Canon and it set the bar for every other piece of scholarship I would read after it.  If you don't have a copy, I would highly recommend adding it to your collection!


How do you define the word “Sherlockian”? 

As a word, Sherlockian serves as a whimsical descriptor of one who embraces the Holmes stories made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle.   Beyond reading the adventures, a true Sherlockian returns again and again to the pages of the Canon for sustenance and inspiration.  The addiction most often broadens into all forms of media and fosters the compulsion to collect something that personally reflects the individual’s addiction.  No apologies are needed, no judgements set down in Sherlockian circles.  Sherlockians embrace one another’s fixation and revel in their mutual dependency. 


How did you become a Sherlockian? 

I first met Mr. Holmes in 1955 in Sister Mary Grace’s 4th Grade class.  "The Red-Headed League" was the reading assignment included in a volume of Prose and Poetry for Appreciation.  I was intrigued and made it a point to investigate other Sherlock Holmes stories at the Highland Park Library.   

As I pored through pages over lunch hour the next day, Sister pounced and demanded to know what I was reading.  Trembling, I explained my fascination and was amazed to discover that she not only permitted but encouraged me to continue.   She lauded my initiative and her praise made me expand my library forays to the rest of the Canon.  I saved up allowance and within several months was able to purchase my own Doubleday. 


What were your previous professions and did they affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian? 

I am retired.  Over my working years, I served in government, marketing and prior to retirement, served as Managing Director of Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.  The eclectic resume is reflective of the broad spectrum of interests that find their way to Holmes.   In my case, the titles may have changed, but over the years, I am pleased to say that my values remained reflected in the mission and visions of each position.   

In retirement, I remain on the Theatre Board and am an active volunteer with the American Red Cross.  The values and principles serve me well as benchmarks and guideposts as I navigate life.  The loyalty and justice that are embodied in Holmes and Watson are completely consistent with values I hold dear. 

What is your favorite canonical story? 

My favorite is the adventure that I am currently reading.   I must admit that I do find myself re-reading BLUE a couple of times each winter, and I have a special place in my heart for REDH – which brings me back to my parochial school days every time.   Of the novels, I admit to a preference for VALL, which is home to my investiture – Ettie Shafter.   


Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting? 

The egalitarian nature of Sherlockian meetings is a great strength.   Who is interesting? Each one.  I encourage you to sit at the table with new faces.  Sit next to someone and listen to their story.  You may find yourself in conversation with an Uber driver, a Nobel scientist, a librarian and a high-school student.   Each will delight and inspire you.     

I have often traveled afar and alone.   There are two things that have served me well to pass time and blend in.   A knowledge of bridge – being the 4th in a pick-up game is a golden ticket.   The second is having a copy of the Canon.   Kevin Bacon aside, there are usually far less than six degrees of separation between a stranger and Holmes. 


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you? 

As the years have mounted, so have the stacks of books, ephemera, and Sherlockian gear.  I am not quite as unfettered as Shaw (who likened his collecting to that of a vacuum cleaner on high).  I do have a good-sized selection of toys and youth versions of the Canon.  As a past president of the Minnesota Writers Workshop and a card-carrying member of the Beacon Society, I appreciate the role that Holmes plays in encouraging young folks to read.  I vividly recall how it felt to be praised by Sister Mary Grace.   I believe that we and our future in general are best served by youth who are learning to read and deduce. 


A cornerstone book in so many Sherlockians' libraries is The Baker Street Dozen.  How did you choose the contributors for it? 

E W McDiarmid (Mac) and I were in conversation about the approaching centenary of the stories.   As we explored possibilities, we settled on the list that Conan Doyle compiled.   I worked with an agent to prepare proposals for a variety of approaches.  From a simple reprinting of the list with a forward to explain the competition that accompanied Doyle’s list, to a more robust selection with essays from noted Sherlockians.  

Fortunately, our agent was able to present the latter to Contemporary Books.  Though they eschewed illustrations (which we suggested from the U of MN Special Collections), they were excited about the prospect of essays and interim additions (best of lists, forward, afterward..)  We had already approached a couple of contributors when the proposal was being shopped.   When we were enthusiastically invited to proceed, Mac and I sent letters to folks that we each thought would be interested.   We were pleasantly surprised and not one person declined.  We never made it to our B list   In fact, that is how we ended up with the thirteenth (baker’s dozen…) essay. 


As someone who worked closely with E.W. McDiarmid, what should newer Sherlockians know about such a stalwart from this hobby? 

Mac was truly a gentleman and a scholar.   The epitome of that phrase.   As a librarian, he was well read.  As a Sherlockian, he was welcoming, encouraging, and supportive.  His respect for the game was infectious.  He was also a smart cookie.   His ability to build relationships was at the seat of Special Collections at the U.  The Sherlock Holmes Special Collections are world renowned and available to all.  Mac’s dedication to learning and the library were the foundation.   From the beginning of the Norwegian Explorers, Mac made sure that all were welcome – women as well.  Long before the BSI invested women, the Explorers were populated with X and Y chromosomes. 


 What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians? 

There are myriad Holmes-related books.   Read ‘em all.  Support authors!  But, first of all, pick up a used copy of the Canon.   I recommend a Doubleday edition.   Now re-read the stories with pencil in hand.  Jot notes ask yourself questions and deface it from cover to cover.   It is a living thing.  Have a conversation with the pages.   As a reference, you will find it invaluable.  Your thoughts are freshest as you are in the midst of re-reading a tale.    

One of my greatest treasures is the Doubleday volumes that Mac gave to me.   The two-books set that he had scribbled in over the years.   As I reread the tales and stop to make a note, or to read his, it is like having one of our one-on-one conversations again.   It is a treasured gift. 


Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now? 

Each generation finds Holmes in his or her own way.  Some met him in the Strand, some through Prose and Poetry for Appreciation in parochial school.  For others it was on the radio through Edith Meiser scripts.   Some chose film as their doorway – Eille Norwood, Basil Rathbone, Brett or Cumberbatch. The internet, anime and electronic games entice others.   

As human beings, I expect we will continue to reach forward in new ways to communicate.   With each step forward, hopefully there will still be a pull to the past.  It is in that desire to consider the grace and ease of another era that can bring a sense of calm to our chaotic lives.  What we consider novel today will likely seem old school before long.  If we build on those values of loyalty and justice and the Canon itself, we should be in good hands. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Somewhat Incoherent in Consequence [MISS]

The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter isn't on anyone's top ten favorites list.  Many will say it's a weak story (I won't argue), but I think what makes it feel so off is  how much Holmes is floundering throughout this case.

Watson tells the reader right up front that Holmes is off drugs at this point in his career.  That could be foreshadowing to make it more shocking when we see Holmes with a syringe in his hand later on, or it could be a backhanded explanation for why his friend is off his game.  

Whatever the reason that this information is shared, it's soon taken over by Cyril Overton's missing teammate.  And perhaps a better foreshadowing in this story would be Overton's quote to Holmes: "Why, Mr. Holmes, I thought you knew things."


Holmes, who so often says you should not make conclusions without enough evidence (or at least say them out loud) is throwing around false conclusions left and right in the early stages of his investigation:

Godfrey Staunton is a sick man. - He is not.

Godfrey Staunton has gone missing due to his importance in the follow day's rugby match. - Nope.

Godfrey Staunton is being held for ransom from his rich uncle. - Wrong again.


And Watson is quick to point out that neither of Holmes's two last theories have anything to do with the one piece of evidence they DO have, Staunton's telegram.  Holmes concedes to Watson's point (a first?) and admits that he was surprised that he was able to ascertain the telegram foil as easily as he did.  This is not the detective we've come to expect amazing things from.

But not only is Holmes throwing around incorrect theories, when he and Watson arrive in Cambridge, we see him brazenly wrong about Dr. Leslie Armstrong and then he gets outsmarted by the man!

After their initial meeting with Dr. Armstrong, Holmes tells Watson that the man is a sinister villain, one who could rival Moriarty himself.  - He is not.

Holmes tries to follow Armstrong's carriage on a bike, only to have the carriage stop, Armstrong get out and walk back to Holmes to tell him "in excellent sardonic fashion" to go ahead and pass on by. - A mortifying incident, indeed.


And what's even more interesting here is, Watson offers to do the EXACT SAME THING the following day!  Why?  Well, he clearly thinks that Holmes is off of his game here.  And when Watson is offering to do something better than Holmes can, you know the tables have turned.  Holmes turns down Watson's offer, saying, "I do not think that you are quite a match for the worthy doctor."  Well, Holmes hasn't really proven himself to be, either.

And what does Holmes do instead?  He casts around blindly in nearby towns for a day.  This is a man who is grasping at straws.

Another day later, the rugby match has been lost and Godfrey Staunton has still not been found.  But Holmes is ready to employ a trick that has worked previously.  And here we meet the real detective in this story: Pompey!


Pompey the draghound finally shows Holmes and Watson where Dr. Armstrong has been going each day and where Godfrey Staunton can be found.  But Holmes is holding doggedly onto the notion that Dr. Armstrong is a villain when he tells Watson, "I fear there is some dark ending to our quest."

We all know that this story ends in tragedy for a young married couple, and Sherlock Holmes is quick to leave the cottage once he's learned Dr. Armstrong's role in the case.  In fact, this may be the most abrupt ending in the Canon.  I turned the page, fully expecting to find another paragraph or two!  But no, "'Come, Watson,' said he, and we passed from that house of grief into the pale sunlight of the winter day," is how the story ends.  Maybe Holmes should have told Watson to whisper "Godfrey Staunton" in his ear the next time that the detective was getting a little over-confident in his powers.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Interesting Interview: Ira Matetsky

I am VERY excited about this week's Interesting Interview!  Ira Matetsky is a Sherlockian that I could go on and on about because he really encompasses what's great about this hobby.  So often we talk about folks that are smart, fun to be around, or that make everyone feel welcome, or elevate the discourse of any discussion they are a part of.  All of these phrases describe Ira perfectly. 

Ira has been working with Ross Davies on the Baker Street Almanac and has been a regular at the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes events for a while now.  But he's also the head of the Nero Wolfe society, the Wolfe Pack, serves on Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, has appeared on CNBC, in Vanity Fair and The Washington Post, and is an absolute delight to talk with.  So settle in, and spend some time with one of New York's most likeable people, Ira Matetsky!


How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I’ll echo the answer that many of the people you've interviewed have already given:  A Sherlockian is someone with a serious interest in Sherlock Holmes.  For me, the Holmes of the Canon is at the center, but that does not mean that adaptations are excluded.  We can also construe "Sherlockian," in the broad sense, to include the time we spend giving attention to Arthur Conan Doyle and his world and works, and also, on a meta level, to the study of Sherlockians ourselves, and our organizations and activities.

 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

 

Like many Sherlockians, I first discovered Holmes when we were assigned a story to read at school.  In my case, it was "The Red-Headed League" in sixth grade, and I enjoyed it enough to read through the rest of The Adventures.  By my late teens or early twenties, I had read through all of the Canon, and I knew from various sources that there was a big Sherlockian world out there, but I never quite found the right entry point to it at that time.  By the early 1990s, while still rereading the Canon and picking up an occasional collection of pastiches, I was focusing on a different detective:  I came across an advertisement for the activities of the Wolfe Pack, which is the literary society for the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout.  That group is based in New York City, which is where I live, and I started attending its meetings and activities.  In 2007, I became the Werowance (President) of that group, a title I still hold, and expect that I will for years to come.

 

I remained a casual Sherlockian until around 2014, when several things happened around the same time that focused me more closely on Holmes.  First, the late Peter Crupe, a dedicated Sherlockian and Baker Street Irregular who was also a long-time Wolfe Pack member, invited me to start attending meetings of the Montague Street Lodgers of Brooklyn, the BSI scion that he chaired.  I'll always be grateful to Peter for getting me started.  While I was there, another area Sherlockian, Chris Zordan, urged me to look up the Sherlockian Calendar and start attending other scion meetings as well.  I soon attended a meeting of the Priory Scholars of New York, a venerable scion that Judith Freeman had recently revived.  Nick Martorelli did an excellent job as discussion leader, and I was hooked.  It turned out that since I live in New York City, within 90 minutes of my apartment I could readily attend at least five different BSI scions, as well as Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes luncheons and get-togethers, and the BSI Weekend itself.  New friends such as Robert Katz, Susan Rice, Mickey Fromkin, and many others helped me find my bearings among the overwhelming array of choices and opportunities.

 


And as if I hadn’t been drawn enough already, in 2014 I received a call from Ross Davies.  I’d known Ross since 2002; I was a semi-regular contributor to his law review, The Green Bag; we’d been working together since 2005 on a long-term legal history project; and he and I had co-edited the Nero Wolfe-themed 2012 edition of The Green Bag Almanac and Reader.  Now Ross told me that the 2015 Green Bag Almanac and Reader would have a Sherlock Holmes theme, and asked if I’d like to help annotate “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.”  Of course I would. The whole world seemed to be saying to me, "Ira, you need to spend more time thinking and reading and writing about Sherlock Holmes."  And so I have.

 

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I'm a lawyer, primarily a litigator, at a law firm in Manhattan.  "Law and Sherlock Holmes" is one of my specialties, and I've done some work on legal aspects of the Canon, with more to come.  I referred to my profession when I chose my ASH investiture:  drawing from "The Solitary Cyclist," I am "The Lawyer Whose Name Was Given in the Paper."



What is your favorite canonical story?

If pressed for a favorite among the short stories, I would probably name the obvious choices, so let me take this in a different direction.  In general, I find the stories collected in His Last Bow to be undervalued.  The book begins weakly, as “Wisteria Lodge” is not Watson’s best writing and Conan Doyle made a mistake by making it the first story in the collection; but it was important to get “The Cardboard Box” between hard covers, and after that I’d rank the next five stories (in publication date order, BRUC, DEVI, REDC, LADY, and DYIN) as high as any other set of five successive stories in the Canon.  And then of course the collection finishes strong with “His Last Bow” itself.

 

As for the novels, all four are excellent and important, but I especially enjoy The Valley of Fear, including both its Sherlockian and its American sections – but very much excluding the anti-climactic and disappointing Epilogue.  If, as we do, we admire Sherlock Holmes, it’s a considerable let-down when Holmes knows that an innocent person is threatened and is unable to save him, leaving matters no better than if Holmes had never heard of the case.  If we think of Watson as having written the book, then we are left with the sad ending, unless we want to console ourselves with the thought that Watson might have been instructed to write a false epilogue to throw evil-doers off Birdy Edwards’ trail.  If we think of Conan Doyle as having written the book, then we are left to wish that H. Greenhough Smith at The Strand Magazine might have said, “Sir Arthur, this is another outstanding contribution, but would you mind putting in another day’s work on the last chapter?”  If anyone ever needs an idea for a Sherlockian writing contest, one could do worse than “give The Valley of Fear a better epilogue.”

 


Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

I agree with those who have answered this question in past interviews by saying that all Sherlockians are interesting.  We are, and for decades have been, a strong community of varied people with a fascinating range of backgrounds and interests.  At this point, it's self-perpetuating that all Sherlockians will remain interesting; in the unlikely event that a truly dull Sherlockian came along, that attribute would be so unusual among us that in itself, it would make the person interesting.


I could readily have named more than a dozen people in response to this question, including everyone I've already mentioned.  I narrowed down my choices by excluding people who have already either been interviewed on this blog, or been mentioned by others in response to this very question.  Two who have not been either (as far as I recall) are Chris Zordan and Mickey Fromkin.  Chris is a New Jersey Sherlockian who is a chemist by profession (hence his BSI investiture, "Bunsen Burner") and brings his scientific background to his Sherlockian work; he also serves as Bursar of the Priory Scholars, among other activities.  Mickey has been a mainstay of the New York Sherlockian world for decades, a long-time ASH and BSI member, an expert on Sherlockian songs and poetry among much else ... and the 40-year helpmeet of her late wife Susan Rice, whom all of us dearly miss.

 


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I could mention a few things.  I've already mentioned my interest in legal aspects of the stories.  A second area of interest is the bibliographical history of the Canon, which is a focus of my research and writing, especially now that the libraries are open again.  A third is the history of Sherlockians and Sherlockian organizations. 


A fourth is poetry -- good poetry about the Canon, such as Starrett's "221B" and Edgar Smith's (or partly Helen Yuhosova's?) Baker Street Quartette, but also Arthur Conan Doyle's own poetry.  Granted, not all of Doyle's rhymed writing stand up to rereading a hundred years later.  But he wrote three very distinctive, very different poems that stand out to me.  One is "To an Undiscerning Critic," which is well-known.  The second is "Bendy's Sermon," which could have been an amusing story in prose and is certainly one in poetry, despite the inclusion of one line on which we look askance today.  And the third and most important is "The Inner Room," the most reflective and introspective piece of writing that Doyle ever turned out; if you don't know that poem, you owe it to yourself to look it up (it can be found on Wikipedia), and to give it some thought.

 


Why do you think there is such a crossover between Sherlockians and Wolfeans?

That’s a good question, but coincidentally, Dan Andriacco, who is also a Sherlockian and a Wolfean, wrote about this very subject just this week on his “Baker Street Beat” blog and said much of what I might have.  There are enough similarities between the Holmes Canon and the Wolfe Corpus to make it natural that the same people who would be drawn to one would be drawn to the other. 

 

I’m often asked whether I subscribe to any of the theories of a family relationship between Mr. Holmes and Mr. Wolfe.  Not to criticize any of those who have developed or endorsed those theories, but I don’t care for them; with apologies to the memory of Stephen Jay Gould, Holmes’ world and Wolfe’s world will always be Non-Overlapping Magisteria to me.  There is, of course, a direct connection between them, but the connection is Rex Stout, BSI.  Stout was, of course, a devoted Sherlockian.  I enjoy researching and writing about Stout’s own Sherlockian work and his long-time role in the BSI (which went far, far beyond “Watson Was a Woman”).  And I also find that many times when I reread a Wolfe story, I find in it a little “Easter egg” reference to a Holmes story.  Some of these were clearly intended on Stout’s part, while for others we may never know whether a given reference is an intended homage or a subconscious call-back.

 


What can we look forward to in next year's Baker Street Almanac?

You’d need to ask Ross that, as he’s the editor-in-chief and will contrive whatever will make next year’s Almanac unique.  I can anticipate that it will have all of the usual features, including a contemporary history of the year’s Sherlockian activities around the world.  In addition to a possible special article, I’ll be contributing my annual column “Sherlock Holmes and the Law 2021,” and that as the “Editor of Canonical Annotations,” I’ll be compiling the annual set of annotations of a canonical story.  The story this year is “The Abbey Grange,” and anyone who would like to pick a passage from the story and write a paragraph or two of commentary on it is invited to e-mail me at irabrad221b@gmail.com within in the next few weeks and volunteer. 


What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

There are far too many to choose from -- even the lists of 100 most important Sherlockian books that a few people have prepared barely scratch the surface.  Of course there are the annotated versions of the Canon.  I find the BSI Press Manuscript Series books to be full of excellent writing and important insights about the stories.  As I mentioned, I enjoy reading about Sherlockians and Sherlockian organizations, so I enjoyed Jon Lellenberg's BSI history books, Sonia Featherston's biographical works, several BSJ Christmas Annuals (particularly Susan Rice's history of ASH, among many others), and so much more.


Mike Whelan was kind enough not only to invest me as an Irregular, but to name me "The Final Problem," so I have a shelf dedicated to the writings of the four previous holders of that investiture:  Jay Finley Christ, Orlando Park, H. C. Potter, and Samuel Gerber.  All four made major contributions.


Not for myself but in tribute to my co-editors Candace Lewis and Roger Donway, the publishers Bob Katz and John Berquist, and all the authors, I will plug the BSI Press book I co-edited, Upon the Turf: Horse Racing and the Sherlockian Canon.  I only regret that my co-editors turned down the title for this book that I proposed:  The Game Is Ahoof.

 


Where do you see Sherlockiana five or ten years from now?

My crystal ball is no better than anyone else's, and who knows what we'll be doing in the future that will be very different from what we do today?  But I think much of what we'll be doing in 2026 or 2031 will resemble what we're doing now:  attending meetings and conferences, doing research, giving talks, publishing papers, making bad puns, reciting doggerel, singing songs, welcoming newcomers, standing on the Terrace for absent friends ... and most importantly, enjoying each other's company and friendship.

 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Interesting Interview: Elizabeth Crowens

This week's Interesting Interview is author extraordinaire Elizabeth Crowens!  Elizabeth recently won the Leo B. Burnstein Scholarship from the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  Her Time Travel Professor Series features Arthur Conan Doyle as a prominent character.  And let me tell you, these books are fast paced adventures!  

Elizabeth has been a Sherlockian for years now and a writer even longer.  She's contributed to anthologies, magazines, websites, and a host of her own series which can all be found on her website.  I could go on and on about Elizabeth's writing career, but it's time to hear from the lady herself!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I like to take the broadminded approach and define it as anyone who is a fan of Sherlock Holmes in any medium--film, television, books, or theater, and is always hungry for more. They might not necessarily be scholars, but they are interested in scholarly accounts and references in regards to both Holmes and his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. You can't leave out Doyle!

Although many are centralized on Holmes, to me, a Sherlockian also extends to an interest in the history of the time period when these stories were written. This also includes other Victorian crime stories, forensics, science and medicine, manners and customs.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

By accident--LOL, or in Victorian terms-- I went in through the back door or the servant's entrance. I had already been writing the first novel in my alternate history series, Silent Meridian, involving my protagonist and Arthur Conan Doyle, with his interest in the Society of Psychical Research and Spiritualism. I needed to write a fight scene and wondered what kind of self-defense methods a Victorian person would use. Randomly, I Googled: Martial Arts and Sherlock Holmes, and I discovered a website for a local bartitsu dojo located where I live in New York City. (Doyle spelled it wrong as baritsu.) It happened that they had a class scheduled for the following day, and I showed up. That's where I met Rachel Klingberg who, in turn, introduced me to Susan Rice and Judith Freeman, who were former heads of ASH and the Priory Scholars, local scions in the New York City area. The New York dojo disbanded, but ASH and Priory Scholars have lived on.


What is your favorite canonical story?

"The Speckled Band," hands down. I thought the notion of the villain using a poisonous snake, slithering down a bell cord for a Victorian-era story, was wildly original.


Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Why are you asking me that question? Every Sherlockian is interesting-- from someone like Robert Katz who can explain Victorian autopsies and pathology to Jeffrey Hatcher who wrote the screenplay for Mr. Holmes.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I'm a movie nut. I don't read many pastiches, but I love watching non-Canonical stuff on film. I regularly attend the Theater-goers group that Monica Schmidt started. A Saturday afternoon matinee is just what I need sometimes, especially since we've been socially isolated for the past year and a half. I also have a secret, Holmes-inspired project that I finished and am trying to find a new literary agent to represent, but it's very hush-hush for now.


What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

The Victorian era was such an interesting time. Even more fun is making the excuse to travel across the pond to do my research in London, other areas of England, and Scotland, where Doyle was born and went to the university for medical school. I get a lot more out of traveling to a location, walking into buildings from that time period, and tasting the food than trying to look up stuff online. 

Arthur Conan Doyle, a historical figure that so many of us know so well, plays a big part in your Time Traveler Professor book series.  What research did you have to do to turn him into a character in these novels?

I spent nearly a week at the British Library going through handwritten letters. I read a lot of biographies and a fair amount of his other fiction and non-fiction, including his interaction with Houdini. Besides the two of them, I also read a lot of stuff on H.G. Wells and other authors from that time period.

How does being a novelist influence how you enjoy reading the Canon?

If I'm researching how to create realistic dialogue and descriptions, I'm better off reading material written during that time period. It's the real deal, although I have to tone it down for modern readers.


What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I'd recommend that Sherlockians become familiar with some of Conan Doyle's other stories outside of Sherlock Holmes, along with some of his non-fiction works. Personally, I'm a fan of Doyle's ghost stories, Lot No. 249 being one of my favorites. I think it's also important to read a few biographies on Doyle. Not just one, but several, especially when Doyle assumed the role of a detective in the George Edalji and Oscar Slater cases.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

We can all agree that the pandemic has been a terrible thing in so many ways, but the one positive way that it's affected Sherlockiana is the ability to "Zoom" into meetings all over the world, connecting all sorts of people who are passionate about the Sherlock Holmes literary, film, and theatrical legacies. 

Before the pandemic, it was impossible to attend everything. For me, even if money wasn't the factor, I wouldn't have time to write if I hopped on a plane to attend every scion function. Going forward, I'm hoping that people will consider hybrid options for those who can't always travel. The technology is there, and there are breakout rooms where people can chat with each other rather than passively watching a presenter on screen.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Interesting Interview: Don Hobbs

My God, it's Don Hobbs!*  If you've been around Sherlockiana long enough, you've heard that phrase.  That's because this week's Interesting Interview, the Maniac Collector himself, is known far and wide across our hobby.  And for good reason.  Don is one of the most energetic and welcoming folks you find in Sherlockian circles.  If you are around Don, you will immediately be pulled in to a fun and engaging conversation.

But not only is Don a great guy, he's also known for assembling the world's largest collection of foreign language versions of the Canon.  And in 2019, Don donated his entire foreign language collection to the DeGolyer Library Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  So what does Sherlockiana's Texas Tornado have to say about this hobby of ours?  Let's find out!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I believe a Sherlockian is anyone who enjoys any aspect of the Sherlock Holmes world. Books, films, plays, Sherlockian meetings all fall into the realm of being a Sherlockian.


How did you become a Sherlockian?

I had been collecting Sherlockian books for a few years when I received a call from John Bennett Shaw. Somehow he had heard of me and invited me to the 1992 Un-Happy Birthday Celebration in Moriarty, NM along with an invitation to visit him at his Library. That was the crowning weekend where I became a Sherlockian. At the Un-Happy Birthday Celebration, I met John Farrell, Dick Miller, Ron De Waal, Saul Cohen and I decided these were people I wanted to be like.

What is your favorite canonical story?

My favorite story is Silver Blaze. I believe that story shows Holmes' ratiocination the best. He inferred from the dog that did nothing in the night time, that the dog knew who stole Silver Blaze. Of course, the story itself is not plausible at all. The horse missing would be scratched from the race but hey, it's Sherlock Holmes.


Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

I defer to what Peter Blau said, and I agree 100%. He said "If you take 100 people and place them in a room, 2 or 3 might be interesting but if you place 100 Sherlockians in a room, 2 or 3 might not be interesting." I think most people will find all Sherlockian interesting their own individual ways.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I was fortunate enough to amass a collection of foreign translations of the Canon, unsurpassed in the world. When I first visited John Bennett Shaw in 1992, he had translations in 60 different languages. I had just bought a Polish and a Spanish edition of the Canon. My thought at the time was 'how hard can it be to find the other 58 languages?' In the 31 years since that day, there are still 2 of those language I have never found - Kazakh and Sindhi. However, I did manage to find 73 additional languages. Today, the Canon has been translated into 113 different languages.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

Several years ago, I created an electronic bibliography of foreign translations. The Galactic Sherlock Holmes is over 10,000 entries with cover illustration for over 95% of the entries. I still do a lot of research discovering old newspapers from around the world that serialized the stories. I keep finding these and then adding the cover illustrations along with the entries to the GSH database.

You've often been referred to as "the maniac collector."  What does that title mean to you?

When I began collecting foreign translation in earnest, I founded a scion society call the Maniac Collectors. I would find Sherlockians in other countries and send them a box of English editions. All I asked in return was for them to send me books in the language that they felt were of equal value. Of course the quote is from The Illustrious Client: 'He has the collection mania in its most acute form- and especially on this subject...'


What made you want to collect copies of the Canon written in different languages that you aren't fluent in?

A sad but true joke can answer that. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks many languages? Multilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American. 

I think the challenge was my primary driving force. I have been lucky enough to have had Internet access since 1989, when it was still called the World-Wide-Web. one of the first books I bought on the Internet was CĂș na mBaskerville, the 1934 Irish Gaelic edition. I found it in a bookshop in Wales in 1993. I have used this essential tool since day one. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Bostrom is my personal favorite. The BSI Manuscript series is another excellent choice.


Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

There have historically been up and down periods of Sherlockian enthusiasm however we have been on an extended up period. With the growth of social media, I don't see a lull for the near future. There are seems to be new blogs, new books, and new societies very month. I think in 15 years we will look back at the early 21st century as the Goldest of Golden eras.


*If you're curious in the origin of this, you can see at the 8:10 mark in the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PExb3cKwoXk&t=505s