Sunday, November 15, 2020

Interesting Interview: Mark Jones

Mark Jones is a name that has become well-known in the American Sherlockian world over the past few years.  He's been a regular in the British Holmesian world, but we colonists are just getting to know him, mostly from his great podcast, Doings of Doyle, that he co-hosts with Paul M. Chapman.  You may have also seen his name pop up in the Baker Street Journal, Serpentine Muse, and Canadian Holmes.  

I got to meet Mark in New York at the beginning of this year, and he is one of the most delightful and intelligent Sherlockians I know (and that's saying A LOT).  His knowledge and passion for Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlockian Canon are impressive, and his easy to talk to demeanor will win over anyone who wonders if they should check out some of Doyle's non-Sherlockian works.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

For me, a Sherlockian is someone who enjoys – and obsesses about – Sherlock Holmes in whatever form they have encountered. Given the nature of obsession, I would have thought most Sherlockians will have read some of the stories at some point: when I become interested in a new topic, I tend to hoover up anything and everything to do with it and suspect that is true of others. That said, I don’t see the need for ‘entry requirements’ before someone can be regarded, or regard themselves, as a Sherlockian. It’s a broad church and we all have our preferences. The more the merrier, I say.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

When I was ten years old, I used to watch repeats of the Basil Rathbone movies with my grandmother who loved them and black and white movies in general. My favourite was The Scarlet Claw (1944) which probably tells you a lot about my psychology. 

Then, about a year later, I read the entire canon during a rainy three-week caravan holiday in Scotland and was hooked. I dipped in and out of the stories until the mid-nineties when my then girlfriend bought me the Baring-Gould Annotated (Reader, I married her). But I didn’t really become “active” in Sherlockian circles until 2014 when I met Paul M. Chapman and Teresa Dudley at a book fair in York, UK. They introduced me to their society, The Scandalous Bohemians, and it really took off from there.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I’ve always loved The Red-Headed League (1891). For me, it captures the breadth and depth of the Sherlockian universe: the peculiar characters, London setting, deductions and revelations, camaraderie between our heroes, and humour. There’s a warmth between Holmes and Watson that feels absolutely genuine. It helps that the Granada adaptation, which was on TV shortly after I read it, is so good. Often when I think of the story (or indeed any story), Brett and Burke come immediately to mind.

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

I’m fortunate to be a member of a great Sherlockian society called The Scandalous Bohemians, based in Yorkshire, UK. We’ve struggled to meet during lockdown and I miss my companions and our conversations very much. We have some brilliant, clever, witty Sherlockians of note in our midst and plenty more who have never been seen in print. It’s hard to pick anyone from their company, or indeed wider, but the person I’d suggest is Kathryn White BSI. Kathryn has been active in Sherlockian circles far longer than I have and always has an interesting and scholarly perspective on things. Plus Kathryn and David Stuart Davies are a pair so you get two for the price of one!    

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

It’s odd to think of Conan Doyle as a subset of Sherlockiana and not vice versa, but Conan Doyle it is. 

One of the things that really fascinates me is the relationship between Conan Doyle’s life and wider work and the Sherlock Holmes stories. Taking this line often reveals new perspectives on the canon. For example, The Sign of Four (1890) is Conan Doyle’s third attempt at telling a story he toyed with in Uncle Jeremy’s Household (1887) and The Mystery of Cloomber (1888). The Sign of Four is the last and best of the trilogy but it didn’t arrive fully-formed – it has literary ancestors that cast it in a different light. 

Other examples are Conan Doyle’s attitudes to alcoholism, which explains why he was so cautious about collecting The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (1893), and his views on divorce law reform, which feature in works like The Adventure of the Abbey Grange (1904). There is usually something from Conan Doyle’s wider work that makes you pause and think twice about what was actually going on in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

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

I’m really drawn to two things: puzzles within the canon and the influences on Conan Doyle. The first is played very much in the spirit of The Game while the latter is more akin to historical research.

For the former, I’ve always loved the writings of Professor John Sutherland, particularly his essays on puzzles in classic fiction of which "Is Heathcliff a Murderer?" (1996) and "Will Jane Eyre Ever Be Happy?" (1997) are probably the most famous. Most of the puzzles are not puzzles per se but questions unposed. I’ve set myself the task of writing one such puzzle for each of the sixty stories. So far, I’ve written about ten including pieces on Victor Hatherley’s thumb, spies in The Adventure of the Second Stain and coincidences in The Adventure of Black Peter.  

As for the latter, I like to explore the things that influenced Conan Doyle to try to get closer to understanding the person behind the pen. I find him endlessly fascinating – a mass of contradictions. I can’t help but feel that we haven’t really uncovered the true Conan Doyle yet. There’s a darker side to Conan Doyle that is obscured by the stories he tells about his own life, and his wider fiction gives us glimpses into what that darkness might be.  

How did you and Paul decide to start Doings of Doyle?

When we met, Paul and I discovered that we were just as interested in Conan Doyle’s wider work as we are in the Sherlock Holmes stories. That’s not common in Sherlockian circles and so we were keen to connect with like-minded folk. We’re both keen radio listeners and thought that podcasting was a very immediate way to bring the works of Conan Doyle to a new audience. We were also inspired by the various Sherlockian podcasts, particularly Scott and Burt’s I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere and Trifles. We had a great start and then were locked out of our studio due to COVID but we’re now set up to record remotely and have three episodes about to go into production.

Many Sherlockians (myself included) don't pay much attention to Doyle's other writings.  What are we missing and where would you recommend we start?

If you are a Sherlockian who reads the canon then you will find that a lot of things that you enjoy about the Sherlock Holmes stories are also present in Conan Doyle’s other works. He has a tremendous ability to conjure up characters, settings and tone in a few words which makes him hugely accessible. This apparent simplicity is one of the reasons why academics have tended to undervalue his work, though that is now changing.

Conan Doyle really was the master of the short story so I’d recommend dipping your toe in the water with some of his shorter non-Sherlockian work. Probably the closest in feel to the Sherlock Holmes stories are his gothic tales which were recently collected in an excellent Oxford University Press volume, Gothic Tales, edited by the wonderful Darryl Jones. Within that large volume, there are the Round the Fire stories, written around the time Conan Doyle consigned Holmes to the Reichenbach. Many of them could easily have been Sherlock Holmes tales, with suitable adjustments. I’ve often thought about rewriting them with Holmes and Watson but I lack the fiction-writing gene (I’d happily edit a collection if someone is interested in the idea – hint). 

Credit: Roger Johnson

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

As much as I love his longer fictions, particularly The Lost World (1912) and The White Company (1891), I’d stick to the short stories. Go for one of the Brigadier Gerard collections or better still the complete edition. They contain some of Conan Doyle’s finest writing and provide the perfect balance of excitement, adventure and humour. We’re going to cover two linked tales in the podcast – How the Brigadier Held the King and How the King Held the Brigadier – which between them sum up everything there is to love in the Gerard stories. 

We all know that Conan Doyle came to dislike writing the Sherlock Holmes stories and I think that fundamentally colours how we, as Sherlockians, see Conan Doyle. There is none of that with Gerard – Conan Doyle is having a whale of a time so they are joyful from cover to cover. I envy all who have yet to experience them for the first time – you’re in for a treat!

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

Unlike our two heroes, the Sherlockian movement is not “one fixed point in a changing age” – it has always adapted and will continue to do so. I’m a historian by training so apologies if I overthink this but I see three “great ages” of the movement so far. The first saw the foundations of the BSI and the London Society, established The Game and set the camaraderie and scholarly tone. The second really took off in the seventies off the back of TV and Meyer’s The Seven Per-Cent Solution (1974) and led to the outpouring of pastiche as people felt empowered to create their own stories. The third has been the massive proliferation of adaptations and variants over the last twenty years which has brought entirely new audiences to Sherlock Holmes. 

What’s interesting to me is their respective attitudes towards Conan Doyle. When reading the early BSJ’s, I’m always struck by how knowledgeably the founders write about Conan Doyle’s wider work – Christopher Morley wrote that Raffles Haw (the alchemist in The Doings of Raffles Haw, 1891) was a third Holmes brother for heaven’s sake! They seem rather less dogmatic and more playful with the concept of “the Literary Agent” than I think was the case during the second phase when The Game could get a bit po-faced. Now in the third phase, authorship is everyone’s and Conan Doyle is just one of many creators. 

I suspect (and hope) Conan Doyle will be more of a presence in the Sherlockian movement in the coming years. Academics are now taking him more seriously, there is more interest generally in his wider work and there’s an enthusiasm to blend the boundaries around the things we include in our hobby which is all for the good. There are good things coming for Conan Doyle too: Ashley Polasek’s The Conan Doyle Review, the new Edinburgh Works of Conan Doyle and a new annual Conan Doyle meeting on the fringes of the BSI weekend. Paul and I will be doing our bit with the podcast. Whatever happens next, I’m sure it will be just as enjoyable as all that has gone before.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Listen As One May [STUD]

It seems like I'll never run out of podcasts to talk about on this blog!  I did a roundup of them back in 2017 and had a big ol' list of them this summer.  And here I am again talking about them!  I know podcasts aren't for everyone, but here we are, seven months into Covid and still separated from most of our Sherlockian friends.  It won't completely fill the hole left by cancelled conferences and no more in-person meetings, but a good podcast can go a long way to scratch that itch we have to talk about the Canon.

The first one didn't know better and had me on as a guest in their latest episode.  From Adler to Amberley is a recap/discussion style show that's working their way through the short stories of the Canon in publication order (hence Adler to Amberley).  It's hosted by Karl Coppack with rotating guests and Jon Rees filling in any needed factual information.  

From Adler to Amberley is part of the Rippercast podcast, which is a blessing and a curse for it.  The production of the show is phenomenal, and Karl and Jon are old hands at running a show so this definitely doesn't suffer from new podcast syndrome, where the hosts are finding their way.  These guys have done thousands of different shows, obviously on Jack the Ripper, but they also do another show on European football.  The curse of it is that From Adler to Amberley is under the Rippercast banner, so it's not easy to find on Itunes or whatever podcatcher you use.  

But it's definitely worth hunting down.  First of all, these guys are British!  And we all know that the British accent makes everything 82% more enjoyable.  Karl has a relaxed and enjoyable approach to the show where it's a conversation, but he definitely wants to get the guest's opinion on the story of the week.  Past guests have included Les Klinger and Bonnie MacBird from this side of the pond, and a slew of fun and interesting Brits that I was unfamiliar with, but immediately enjoyed.  

One of the strong points here is Karl's interaction with the guests.  It's not a direct dive into the story, there's plenty of getting-to-know-you chit chat that is actually pretty fascinating.  Listening to Karl and and Trevor Downey talk about literature and short stories before getting down to discussing The Noble Bachelor was a specific highlight.

Plus, they always end the show with what story the guest does NOT like, and I think I was the first one to actually not say The Mazarin Stone.  I will fight anyone who says there's a story worse than The Veiled Lodger!

Another new podcast is However Improbable, which is brand new.  You can listen now and get in on the ground floor, so when everyone else is coming around to this delightful show in a year or two, you can be a Sherlockian hipster and say, "I was listening before everyone else knew about it."

A couple things about However Improbable make it an interesting addition to the Sherlockian podcast world.  First of all, they are doing the stories in chronological order instead of publication order, and each story has multiple episodes.  The first episode is a different reader reading the story to you, and we all know how great these stories are, and However Improbable is purposely trying to find diverse voices to read the stories, a nice change of pace for sure.  

But the real strength comes in the second episode for each story.  Hosts Marissa and Sarah have a two-person book club.  Recaps are nice, but most of us know these stories, and the reader episodes make sure everyone knows the ins and outs of the story.  So no recap here, just two friends talking about what they liked, didn't like, the friendship between Holmes and Watson, and how these stories hold up over a hundred years later.

So far, However Improbable has only done one story, A Study in Scarlet, so I'm admittedly using a small sample size here, but Marissa and Sarah's conversation was absolutely delightful, and I found myself wanting to spend more time with them.  Don't think I won't try and recruit them to log in to an upcoming Parallel Case of St. Louis zoom session!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Interesting Interview: Julie McKuras

There are some people in the world who just bring a smile to your face when you hear their names.  I would bet that Julie McKuras is one of those names for almost anyone in the Sherlockian world.  To know Julie is to know a wonderful person.  She is knowledgeable, active, determined, and welcoming.  I don't remember the first time I met Julie, because she's the type of person who automatically makes you feel like you've known her forever.  

When lockdown started earlier this year, Julie was probably the Sherlockian that I emailed back-and-forth with the most.  I was working on different projects, and she is always welcoming with her knowledge.  But simple queries turned into 2020's equivalent of long, rambling conversations: long, rambling emails between us.  We talked of books, scions, and Sherlockiana, but also of our kids, her grandkids, work, retirement, our spouses, and all sorts of other things.  What I'm trying to say here is Julie McKuras is delightful in any medium!

I recently read a piece on Julie from 2005 that compared her to John Bennett Shaw: "People like Julie and John fool you, even when you know better.  They seem to just be kicking back and having fun, even when they're working, organizing, and generally getting a lot more done than most people around them."  Fifteen years later, that still holds true.  Julie has been president of the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, cornerstone of the University of Minnesota Sherlock Holmes Collections, coordinator of their conferences, editor of the collections newsletter, and speaker at a million different conferences.  Get ready for the interview equivalent of a big ol' hug.  Here's Julie!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I think of a Sherlockian as someone who’s become so involved with Sherlock Holmes and his world that it’s become integrated into their own lives. When people become acquainted with scion societies, online groups, or conferences they meet others who share that interest and suddenly one has an exponential reason to study Holmes.

It always strikes me that Christopher Morley’s book Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is subtitled A Textbook of Friendship. With everything Morley knew about the Canon and the Irregulars he chose friendship as a vital part of his title. Every year my husband Mike comments that we got more and more cards from people we’d met through Sherlockian events and now consider close friends. I think that’s an important aspect of this. People accept you.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was 11 or 12 when I watched the Basil Rathbone movies on late night television. I hadn’t read the stories at that point and was either too young or too taken by the character of Holmes to realize how often those films weren’t set in the proper locale or time period. What mattered was that Holmes was smart and used his intelligence to set the world to rights whether it was solving the mystery of the Hound of the Baskervilles or defeating Nazis. It was a great lesson that one person could make a difference. I was already a rather voracious reader of mysteries like the series with Nancy Drew and Donna Parker to name a few and the Rathbone movies were my gateway to the original Holmes stories.

My entry to organized Sherlockiana came during parent teacher conferences when one of my daughter’s teachers had a display of mystery stories to be read in the class. I mentioned to him that I’d always loved Holmes and he asked if I was a member of the Norwegian Explorers. I had no idea what he was talking about so he explained that was the local Holmes society. One week later I was in a bookstore and saw the brochure for the group. I joined immediately and will always be glad that I did. I’ve been a member of the Explorers since 1993 and belong to several other scions as well.

What is your favorite canonical story?

“The Blue Carbuncle.” It’s the only story in the Canon with a reference to Christmas, “the season of forgiveness.” It conveys the simple and heartfelt wish that Watson had to extend the compliments of the season to his friend and goes on to give us a look at Holmes and his sense of justice.

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

Edith Meiser. Her collection of correspondence, radio scripts, articles, and recordings are held in the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota. I’ve done a lot of research about her for our newsletter and for several presentations. Her interest in Holmes began when she was a seasick child on an Atlantic crossing and read the stories as a distraction. She became an actress but when she saw the end for vaudeville she focused on a new medium, radio. She pitched the idea for a Holmes radio program, wrote the scripts, and found sponsors. In addition to Holmes she worked on a number of other radio programs, continued to act on stage and in film, wrote a mystery novel, and was a union official. Meiser was multi-talented, confident and brilliant and deserves our appreciation for helping to break the glass ceiling for women in the Sherlockian universe.

I can’t pick out one particular living Sherlockian who’s more interesting than another. The people I admire each have something specific that makes them interesting, be it their knowledge, their expertise, their accomplishments, or their personalities. If I name one, I leave out others who mean so much to me. You all know who you are.


What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

The people.

I’ve been editing the newsletter forthe University of Minnesota’s Sherlock Holmes Collections for 21 years. When I became editor I focused on the fact that the Holmes Collections was comprised of varied donations but often we didn’t know the background of those items. What I hoped to accomplish was to compile a history of sorts. It’s been a continual process of learning how much I don’t know about the people who have contributed to our shared interest. I start to write about a book or essay but end up engrossed in learning about the author.

As part of that research I went to the online BSI dinner photos to see if some of the authors were at the dinners because I wanted to know what they looked like. But I ended up even further down the rabbit hole by wondering “who are the other people in the photos?” The BSI Trust website indicated that no formal identification of the attendees was done for many of the dinners so I volunteered and started on that project. Edgar W. Smith had typed lists of the men who attended but not where they were seated. Julian Wolff had handwritten seating charts but only with last names and people often switched seats or I had a bit of trouble reading his handwriting. Add to that the fact that some men who were there had apparently left before the photo was taken. Quite a few of the men were easily identifiable while others were guests for only one or two dinners.  

Correctly identifying those dinner attendees involved research using various newspapers, genealogy sites, writing to people who were at the dinners, and even contacting a few descendants of the attendees for verification. Randall Stock and I came up with a format that indicated what resources were used. I’ve now completed the dinner keys for 1950 – 1971. I’ve never heard from anyone who said they looked at or utilized these new dinner keys - they’re posted on the Baker Street Irregulars Trust website - but I’m still glad I did it. I’d like to think these names aren’t lost to our history.

I’ve also worked on compiling biographies of the members of the Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) utilizing the same tools as I did for the dinner photos.

I find the backgrounds of the people involved in the Sherlockian movement really remarkable. In looking at those from the earlier days, so often what we knew about them was only related to Sherlock Holmes but they had lives outside of that shared interest. It’s been instructive to discover more about them and how long they were involved. I love knowing how different they were in other aspects of their lives but were equal in the fellowship relating to Holmes. They played a part in the Sherlockian world and I certainly don’t mean that’s restricted only to Irregulars. Multiply that by every person in every scion society or group of friends who find a certain London detective a life-long journey.

They paved the way for the people who came after them and continue to do so. I hope each generation does the same.


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

You mean there’s something that isn’t worthy of research?

I’ve become increasingly interested in the women who appear in the Canon and how they’re portrayed, and the women who contributed to our literature at a time when many were denied membership in the BSI and scions.

As a frequent traveler, how has that influenced your interest in Sherlock Holmes?

I love the title of Dr. Seuss’s book Oh the Places You’ll Go!  It’s so full of promise and resonates with me because Sherlock Holmes certainly opened the door to visiting some fabulous places and meeting people I otherwise wouldn’t have met.

I feel really fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to travel to different conferences from Los Angeles to New York and points in between, Toronto, Prague, Florence, several Swiss locales, London, Denmark, and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London Baltic Cruise.  I think at each and everyone one of these I’ve met people who interested and inspired me.

So often we hear about the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota.  How would you describe these collections to a Sherlockian that's never been to the university before?

It all started with University of Minnesota Librarian E. W. “Mac” McDiarmid, one of the five co-founders of the Norwegian Explorers, who wanted Holmes represented at the library. It began with the 1974 purchase of the James Iraldi collection. It grew from there with the additions, in no particular order, of the collections from John Bennett Shaw, Philip Hench, Edith Meiser, William Baring-Gould, Frederic Dorr Steele, Howard Haycraft, David Hammer, Vincent Starrett, Jennie Paton and so many more. 

There are books, periodicals, foreign language publications, scion society newsletters and files, notebooks, recordings, correspondence, advertisements, posters, photos, games, pins, bookmarks, paper weights, pens, wallpaper, wine bottles; the list goes on and on. The University website indicates the Collections hold over 60,000 items but I think that’s too conservative. 

The Holmes Collections are massive and stored about 90 feet underground in the temperature and humidity controlled secured vaults of the Elmer L. Andersen Library. It’s not accessible to the public but researchers can request items for review. You can check out the Holmes Collections at

The website gives information about other Collections as well.

Curator Tim Johnson has worked on making parts of the Collections visually available on UMedia at . Just type Sherlock Holmes to search what’s been posted. You’ll have an opportunity to see artwork and other ephemera.

One thing I appreciate about it is there’s everything there from the last Czarina of Russia’s personal Sherlock Holmes books and four copies of the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annuals to playing cards and little scraps of paper with cartoons. The Collections represent what a big role Holmes has played in both the literary world and popular culture.

Another noteworthy aspect is the part the University and the Holmes Collections plays in co-sponsoring of thetriennial conferences with the Norwegian Explorers and the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections. I’ve worked on all of the conferences since 1998 and it’s been a wonderful working relationship. We generally gather 100-150 people from throughout the U.S. as well as foreign countries.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William Baring-Gould. I’d always found it a valuable resource but when I began working with Dick Sveum, Tim Johnson and Gary Thaden on the 2019 Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual about Baring-Gould I learned so much about him and what it took to produce this massive work. To have made it through the mine field of publishers, research, writing, and Adrian Conan Doyle while maintaining an incredibly busy professional and personal life is something that’s difficult to imagine. It’s continued to inspire researchers. 

The second part of why I’d recommend this book is that I’ve had the opportunity to read his correspondence that’s held at the University of Minnesota and at the New York Historical Society. In all the speeches he wrote and his letters I read, no matter what the subject was, he was unfailingly polite and often self-deprecating. He was quick to admit any mistakes he made and treated his correspondents with respect.  I learned more about him through the lens of his daughter when I met with her. 

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

We’ve certainly seen the interest in Holmes wax and wane over the years. There’s always been that “scarlet thread…running through the colourless skein of life.” Perhaps that thread has taken different forms, inspired by a variety of books, films, plays, or people, but it’s never disappeared. I’d like to think that in the next 5 or 10 years we’ll see more to inspire people to read the Canon, more to write about it, and more to include in teaching and outreach. The manner in which any of this happens might change but I think it will continue.

I don’t think that everyone has to take the same approach to how they view Holmes; there’s something for everyone and that’s what makes the whole study of Holmes so interesting. Mine is a more traditional view but that’s what works for me. I always think back to a membership brochure that the Norwegian Explorers designed some years ago. It had 10 questions to determine your knowledge of Holmes. If you got all 10 right, great! You’re an expert and belong in the group. If you got zero correct, great! We can tell you’re really interested, join us!

I like that big tent approach. Come on in because you never know what can happen. There should be room for everyone and it shouldn’t be necessary to insist we all have to look at things the same way. Be kind. This doesn’t have to be a competition.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

There is Moriarty Himself [FINA]

This month's Crew of the Barque Lone Star zoom meeting had Steve Doyle talking about Professor Moriarty.  At one point, he brought up all of the revisionist theories around the professor that seemed to start around the 1970's and haven't seemed to go away yet.

I'm all for having fun theories (I am the guy who wrote a whole book about Sherlock Holmes being a criminal mastermind, after all...), but when those theories start carrying weight, we should probably pump the brakes or else we will get "Martha" Hudson or Adlock as something that people just presume is canon.  

One of the Moriarty theories that have always irked me is the whole "Moriarty was made up" idea.  I know very well that FINA has a lot of plot holes in it, but the idea that Moriarty was a complete fabrication holds up even less than the source material.  This theory makes all of EMPT false.  And what about the train that raced after Holmes and Watson across the continent or the news story about fire being set to Baker Street in FINA?  MacDonald's conversation about the professor in VALL?  This theory creates too many questions throughout a lot of the Canon.

One thing that people like to point out is that Watson never sees Moriarty.  He only hears about him through Holmes.  Whether it's the meeting in Baker Street, the confrontation at Reichenbach, or description of the criminal empire, all of Watson's information is second hand.  Even the physical description came from Holmes:

"He is extremely tall and thin, his forehead domes out in a white curve, and his two eyes are deeply sunken in his head. He is clean-shaven, pale, and ascetic looking, retaining something of the professor in his features. His shoulders are rounded from much study, and his face protrudes forward, and is forever slowly oscillating from side to side in a curiously reptilian fashion. He peered at me with great curiosity in his puckered eyes."

But actually, Watson DOES see Moriarty twice.  Once as their train is leaving London and again as he walks back to the Englicsher Hof.  Of course, Watson doesn't say, "I saw Moriarty at the train station," or, "Moriarty stalked up the path to the falls," but we do get these descriptions:

"Glancing back, I saw a tall man pushing his way furiously through the crowd, and waving his hand as if he desired to have the train stopped."


"Along this [trail] a man was, I remember, walking very rapidly.  I could see his black figure clearly outlined against the green behind him. I noted him, and the energy with which he walked but he passed from my mind again as I hurried on upon my errand."

These men are later identified as Moriarty by Holmes.  

If we give the "Moriarty was fake" theory any credence, we are supposed to accept a coincidence that a man that met Holmes's description of the professor was angrily trying to stop a train right as Watson looked out the window and ANOTHER similar man just so happened to be heading to the same spot that Watson had vacated in Switzerland?  

That's the thing with retroactive conspiracy theories, we are supposed to be suspect of the source material but believe the new theory and all of its inconsistencies.

No thanks.  Watson may be feeding us a line here and there, but I enjoy it.  I'll take the doctor at his word.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Interesting Interview: Mike Ranieri

This month marks the four year anniversary of the podcast I Grok Sherlock.  This month's interviewee, Mike Ranieri, and his co-host Geordie have talked us through STUD, SIGN, The Adventures, and the Memoirs, just wrapping up season 2 with an EPIC three part episode on The Final Problem, with special guest Peggy Perdue.  Mike is also Meyers for the Bootmakers of Toronto, graphic designer, and a 20-year veteran of the theater.  

All of these bring an interesting viewpoint to the show.  Mike and Geordie take their listeners through the story, but a major part of each episode focuses on the media representations related to the story being discussed.  And it's not just well-know versions, these guys go back into any and all radio versions, and some stuff only die-hards will remember.  So  let's get to know Mike Ranieri, one of Canada's prolific Sherlockians.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian"?

Primarily, someone who enjoys the character of Sherlock Holmes from the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although, perhaps this could be referred to as “just” a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian (or Holmesian) should be considered as something deeper?

Most Sherlockians love to read and reread, and even study, the canon. They are interested in the minutiae of each story and want to learning about Holmes’ creator. And many enjoy the wider Sherlock Holmes materials such as the plethora of pastiches and parodies, radio, TV, films, comic books, video games, etc.

Many are collectors of books and memorabilia. Some write scholarly papers and they are also often fans of mystery and detective fiction in general, including an interest in the Victorian era. And many will connect with other Sherlockians and join one of the numerous Sherlock Holmes societies (clubs) that exist in their area and around the world—and there they’ll play “The Great Game,” the defence of Sherlock Holmes as a real person!

Sherlockian is like “Trekkie” (the Star Trek equivalent), If you’re not too strict about the term, there’s a lot of room to move within the space, and I’m fine with that.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Well, that relates to your first question as to how you define Sherlockian. I’ve been a fan of the character since I can remember. My first exposure was from cartoons—Daffy Duck, Mr. Magoo, Popeye, The Muppets. Then, of course, I watched the Basil Rathbone films on TV. In junior high school I read the stories for the first time when I purchased a series of novels from Ballantine books with beautiful cover illustrations by Dick Anderson. And in school I directed, wrote, starred in, and videotaped a parody, "The Son of Sherlock Holmes."

I became a formal Sherlockian many years later when I joined the Bootmakers of Toronto.

I was scheduled to direct a Sherlock Holmes play in October of 2013 for an amateur theatre company. I wanted to ensure the show’s success with good attendance. So, I thought I would contact any and all Sherlock Holmes related groups in the Toronto area. I discovered that the Bootmakers were the premier group. I knew if I just showed up at a meeting close to the performance date and announced my show, I might not be very successful as I was a stranger. So, I came to all the meetings starting at the beginning of the year. When the date of the shows arrived many of the Bootmakers attended and we even had a Talk-Back evening after one of the shows where I introduced the Bootmakers in the audience and they help answer questions about Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle. After that, I just continued to come to the meetings and the next year I became a member.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I can’t narrow it down to just one. Even though it is the least “investigative” of most of the stories I like “The Final Problem” (and its sequel “The Empty House”) for the pure adventure and drama and the introduction of Holmes’ ultimate nemesis, Professor Moriarty. I also really like “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge,” in which we are introduced to a police detective, Inspector Baynes, who rivals Holmes deductive skills.

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

Mark Jones. I met Mark on my first BSI Weekend—great guy and very knowledgeable. He lives in the City of York, U.K., one of my favourite places when I traveled to England on vacation a number of years ago.

Mark is an educator. He studied and taught the history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He has written several books on television, film and literature and has contributed articles to The Baker Street Journal, Canadian Holmes, The Serpentine Muse and numerous blogs.

Mark is the co-host of the excellent Doings of Doyle podcast which delves into the different works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, exploring their themes and meanings and connections to Doyle's life and writing.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

As a graphic designer I’m very interested in Sherlockian art and illustration. As a thespian (or theatre lover) I enjoy reading and directing (when possible) Sherlockian plays.

I’m also a fan and reader of the Ellery Queen series, Lew Archer series, Sam Spade, Philip Marlow and James Bond novels.

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

I’m pretty new to this whole business and feel very unworthy of this interview as I have done relatively little in the area—my journey has only begun.

The amount of literature on Sherlock Holmes is quite overwhelming. It is surprising to me that people continue to try and write on this subject. Truly everything seems to have been done. If you think you may have an original idea don’t search too deeply because you will be disappointed. Perhaps that is too negative. I guess the idea is that even if it has been done before no one can do it the way “you” will do it—your voice is unique and only you can put your personal “spin” on the subject.

My thing is humour. I’m sorry to say that though there is much parody in the literature—and in fact the first non-canonical works were parody—the actual humour leaves something to be desired. And I do understand that humour has changed and is a product of the times—I mean just look at the what passes for humor in today’s film and TV—some of it is excellent and unique but most of it is just bad (as an aficionado of TV comedy I could talk at length on this).

My first published humour piece is in Chris Redmond’s Sherlock Holmes is Like: “World’s Greatest.” I’ve written a few parody songs and sketches which I’ve performed for the Bootmakers, one which is a short unpublish parody call Sherlock Noir.

How has your time as Meyers for the Bootmakers influenced how you view Sherlockiana?

I’ve become more aware of the larger world-wide community and how it presents itself. Having to schedule and orchestrate story meetings and book speakers I’m very interested in “what make a successful meeting.” There are numerous components to consider: diversity of content and speakers, effective presentations and the use of PowerPoint and video, timing, venue, format, etc. And now, with COVID, the whole online component is extremely important.

What goes into the making of an average episode of "I Grok Sherlock"?

About a week or two in advance we reread the story and then do as much research as possible, including listening and watching all the radio, TV and film adaptations.

This entitles searching though the commentary and annotated tomes, the main ones being: The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William Baring Gould, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Leslie S. Klinger, Sherlock Holmes For Dummies by Steven Doyle and David A. Crowder (an excellent resource that is sometime overlooked because of the title), The Encyclopedia Sherlokiana by Jack Tracy, The Elementary Sherlock Holmes published by Portico, The Sherlock Holmes Book published by DK, Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Christopher Redmond, About Sixty edited by Christopher Redmond, Holmes of the Movies by David Stuart Davies, Sherlock Holmes on Screen by Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes on Screens Volumes 1 and 2 by Howard Ostrom.

Of course, there are the journal archives from the BSI, London Society and Canadian Holmes Toronto, but those aren’t very accessible. (These archives need to be digitized and put up online. Yes, I am aware that some of this has been done and some is in the works but there are many issues that are still being, let’s say, “debated.”) And then, of course, I have access to one of the greatest Arthur Conan Doyle Collections at the Toronto Reference Library.

Most of the radio and TV adaptations can be found online from various places, i.e. and All the Rathbone films on YouTube, as is the Granada Jeremy Brett series, and what I don’t have in my own DVD collection I can get from different streaming services.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Included with the many that I have mentioned above, hands down, it has to be From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Bostrom. This is a very informative and fun read of the entire Sherlockian milieu from its beginnings to present day. Other books that I would recommend after reading the canon would be the Sherlock Holmes The Published Apocrypha edited by Jack Tracy and/or The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes complied by Richard Lancelyn Green and, one of the best pastiches, The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle’s son, Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr.

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

I think Sherlock Holmes as a character will continue to capture the imagination and grow and adapt with society. 

There are the constant ebbs and flows of interest and disinterest. Fortunately (or unfortunate depending on how you look at it) new generations have short memories and primarily prefer modern or the most recent stories eschewing the old—remakes and remakes of remakes will continue ad infinitum. It will be interesting to see if creators can come up with something new amongst the plethora of female Holmes’s and Watsons, their many brothers and sisters, wives, sons and daughters, relatives and supporting characters, modern-day, sci-fi and animal Holmes’s, etc. Perhaps we could use a few more ethnically diverse Holmes’s. But Sherlock Holmes remains because he is the template for the ultimate detective, and the mystery detective story will always be with us.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Interesting Interview: Maria Fleischhack

Dr. Maria Fleischhack burst on to the Sherlockian scene a few years ago, changing our hobby for the better.  Most people know her as one of the Baker Street Babes, but Maria is also a Sherlockian educator, member of a German Sherlock Holmes Society, and author of the The World of Sherlock Holmes (it's in her native German, so don't feel bad for not having read it).  

Away from her Sherlockian bona fides, Maria is a world traveler, Egyptologist, president of Germany's Inklings society, and an all-around fascinating person.  (Our pre-interview emails back and forth made me want to just grab a cup of coffee and listen to her whole life story!)  Someday, we may be blessed with her autobiography, but for now let's just focus on one of her many multitudes: Sherlock Holmes.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A Sherlockian to me is someone who loves Sherlock Holmes and (creatively) engages with the character and the stories in the broadest sense. I am not of the opinion that someone must have read every single story, though of course it is always encouraged to read and re-read them, because this way lies joy.

The creative engagement, for me, ranges from reading and then talking to others about the stories or adaptations, writing about them, academically or in terms of the Great Game or less seriously, but also creating art or music or any other form of transmedial storytelling. One aspect that is important to me in that sense is also love and a welcoming attitude towards others, who may or may not be like minded, but who also share the love for Sherlock Holmes. Therefore, not everyone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes is a Sherlockian, but if there is love and engagement beyond merely “consuming” the stories, I think the term Sherlockian as an identifier is fair use. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Connecting my own experience to what I said above: I immensely enjoyed the first Ritchie Holmes film and while I had read most of the stories while at uni, I kept my love for them and Doyle limited to a few analytical student papers I wrote and I enjoyed talking about the film with my flatmate. I became a Sherlockian when I joined the Baker Street Babes, because at that point, I had watched and re-watched season 1 of BBC Sherlock and started re-reading the stories again. I remember vividly sitting in a café and reading A Study in Scarlet and just giggling to myself at all the brilliant whimsical references to the story that I now recalled in their slightly adapted way in Sherlock.

I think that was the point when I knew I wanted to engage further. I was using several online platforms to connect with other fans and through the Babes I got to know a whole lot more people, like Roger Johnson and Jean Upton, whom I met during the Great Sherlock Holmes Debate in London, organised by Steve Emecz. It was amazing to see how many lovely people welcomed us “youngsters” with open arms, though I must admit there was quite a bit of gatekeeping going on as well. Lots of shaming of especially young women who entered the Sherlockian world via the BBC series and who were definitely looked down on by many – an experience that wasn’t limited to any one country. Some of that has gotten better, but there’s still a certain elitism attached in some circles which worries me.

In the end, we’re all here because we love a Victorian detective – in whichever shape or form. Nobody should be shamed or excluded for their particular way of loving and engaging with Sherlock Holmes. And to claim that there is only one true Sherlock Holmes – the canonical one – sort of ignores the fact that we all read that particular Holmes tinged with our own experience anyway, so my Holmes isn’t your Holmes anyway, even if we speak about the exact same description in the same line of a story. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

Always a hard question to answer. I adore A Study in Scarlet simply for the introduction, the first bumps on the road of that wonderful friendship that we already know will grow from this story. I also really enjoy “The Devil’s Foot”, because Holmes is insufferable and fallible and yet brilliant and Watson proves, once again, how incredibly patient he is with Holmes, even if he’s a bit snarky about it, too. 

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

Ha, I know you have already interviewed quite a lot of people, but I think Ashley Polasek has one of the most interesting approaches to researching Sherlock Holmes, on top of being an incredible academic, teacher, swords-woman, editor, costume maker and one of the smartest and funniest Sherlockians I know. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I love seeing creative interpretations of Sherlock Holmes and his world. Whether it be drawings or paintings, cross stitched portraits, miniature houses, wax figurines, wooden sculpture or food art, jewelry or carved out walnut shell Baker Street living rooms. I adore seeing how creative and talented Sherlockians are!

And, something that’s a little different: The social aspect of it. I have found such extraordinarily wonderful friends in the Sherlockian community. The way I was welcomed with open arms during my first BSI weekend – the way so many wonderful people who became my close friends offered me a seat at their table, introduced me to others, listened to what I had to say. I count myself very lucky to have found truly wonderful friends whom I met through a mutual interest in Sherlock Holmes, but who are also thoroughly decent and wonderful people way beyond that. 

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

I’m very interested in historiography. I love researching the stories in their historical context. I love seeing how Doyle and his writer friends inspired each other, how they shares common notions and ideas, and how they sometimes clashed. To me, the Sherlock Holmes stories are first and foremost windows into the cultural sphere of middle-class late-Victorian life. We can learn so much – not necessarily in the way things are realistically depicted, but also in the way that some things are not mentioned at all, or how a certain way of looking at them influenced their descriptions. Social norms, intertextual references, behaviourisms. It’s absolutely fascinating to me. 

What does Sherlockiana look like in Germany?

I own a magazine from 1984 that is, let’s say, a GDR version of Playboy, and it includes the German translation of “The Yellow Face”. I’m always amazed to see how early the canon was translated into German and that stories were published in the strangest outlets, but of course we also have the proper book series. I have some major issues with the translation of the stories into German, but we are currently getting a new translation via the publishing house Fischer. While Sherlock Holmes isn’t as popular in Germany as in the English speaking world, his name is fairly well known here as well. It’s John Watson who doesn’t ring a bell. I own a messenger bag that I had custom made as a reference to something Martin Freeman once wrote on Facebook. It reads: “Every day is John Watson day.” It’s a great conversation starter, because the name rings a bell, and people ask about who that is. It’s only in London where people compliment me on the bag because they immediately know who is meant.

In terms of organised Sherlockiana, there’s the German Sherlock Holmes Society that merged from two different societies a while ago, and they encourage regional meetups as well. I have a lovely small group of wonderful people who gets together on a regular basis (though not this year due to Corona) and we always spend lovely afternoons together, sharing food, drinking good rum and talking Sherlock Holmes. Though, I must admit that I spend more time with US Sherlockians than German ones, for the simple reason that most of my Sherlockian friends are in the UK, the US and Canada. 

I have had the opportunity to give three different children’s university lectures to primary school age kids in different parts of Germany and I always had a blast. The kids are usually very smart and ask great questions. Many of them are certain that they want to become detectives when they grow up. 

How has being a part of The Baker Street Babes influenced your life as a Sherlockian?

Oh, absolutely. On the one hand side, it has been an absolutely wonderful opportunity to delve more deeply into the subject matter. We’ve interviewed incredible people – from actors to producers to writers to musicians to fans. We’ve hosted events and have managed to carve a space for ourselves into a predominantly white male space and, looking back, we see that we managed to contribute in a change in the landscape, and that change is largely positive.

On the other hand side, I (and the other Babes, to varying degrees) have had to push against walls and borders and gates a lot. We put a lot of hard work into not only our podcast, but also our web-presences, our events, our outreach, but in the end we were often treated as young women who are only into Benedict Cumberbatch’s curls or whatever (that is not to say that we don’t appreciate his curls). It’s been a sobering experience in many ways, and almost ten years after becoming a Sherlockian, I know the road is still long and winding, but I wouldn’t want to miss the experiences we’ve had. I mean, we had our own Cake Boss episode! And the New York Times reported on our Daintiest Thing Charity Ball, too!

Those last ten years have definitely changed my life and I gained many skills, met so many incredible people, had the chance to write for wonderful editors, share my love for Sherlock Holmes with people from different continents and, on top of it all, incorporate aspects of it into my work. And the Babes are my sisters, who make my life better every day. So, it’s not just my experience of being a Sherlockian that has been heavily influenced by being a member of this group, but also the rest of my life. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye. I read the pastiche before I knew her and before she became a Babe and one of my best friends. It’s an incredible book and I am absolutely in awe of how close she got to catching Watson’s voice and spirit.

I also really enjoyed Mattias Boström’s From Holmes to Sherlock. Mattias has a wonderful way of writing about his own experience and the subject matter and linking the two together. It feels like you are just listening to him tell you his story, even if it’s really the history of Sherlock Holmes and the people who wrote about him. Looking at my answer now, I guess there are very few Sherlockians who haven’t read either of those. 

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

Well, one – maybe obvious – answer comes with the Sherlock Holmes stories falling into the public domain in their entirety. So, I see more pastiches and more adaptations and more creative freedom that will hopefully spark even more versions of Sherlock Holmes once the Casebook is in the public domain in the US.

I also hope that maybe, due to Covid and the related restrictions, more Sherlockian meetings will be held online and become more inclusive and international. I really, really want more diverse voices to have the opportunity to chime in. I want more books like Mycroft Holmes and it’s sequels by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse. I know that the anchor point will always be two white upper middle class men in late Victorian London, but I am excited to see what will happen to them in the hands of people who want themselves to be represented, too.

Right now, there’s a bit of fatigue in my generation of Sherlockians. But even so, there will be further adaptations and pastiches/fanfiction and there will always be people out there who want to engage with other Sherlockians in creative and compassionate ways. That’s not going to stop. And, considering that new editions of the canon are published on a regular basis, I firmly believe that the stories will be read by the next generation as well. I’m doing my bit by teaching Sherlock Holmes this winter term and encouraging my nephews to read the stories. I know other educators are starting with even younger kids – like Shannon Carlisle. In any case, I am excited to see what the future brings.