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. archive.org and YouTube.com. 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. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

This Is Too Serious [SPEC]

I'm a sucker for Sherlockian scholarship, but sometimes the academic take on popular fiction can become an exercise in navel gazing.  I'm not talking about the historical essays in the Baker Street Journal, or the scholarship that Dorothy Sayers described as being played with one's tongue firmly in one's cheek.  No, I'm talking academic writings.  You know, the folks whose academic distinctions could give Thorneycroft Huxtable a run for his money.

Last week I read a collection of academic papers on Sherlock Holmes, his world, stories, and fans.  I won't say the name of the collection because overall it was a very solid book with some very interesting papers and I don't want to let the few lines of nonsense I'll be talking about turn anyone off from the overall collection.  But some things tossed out casually in these papers got some serious side-eye from me.  

Here were a few theories given credence:

  • The sense of sight is most important to Sherlock Holmes because Arthur Conan Doyle was an ocular specialist and had a vested interest in that over the four other senses.
  • You can trace Doyle's changing views on evolution throughout the Canon by the types of cases Holmes investigates.
  • The jagged landscape of Dartmoor in HOUN is a comparison to Holmes's mental landscape.

But some of these other theories would make Sigmund Freud raise an eyebrow:

  • The use of disguise in the Canon is a metaphor for acting with less than middle-class masculine morals.
  • Mary Sutherland was in danger of being raped by her stepfather in IDEN.
  • Sydney Paget created a purposely phallic image of Holmes kneeling on Helen Stoner's bed as he lashed furiously at the snake in SPEC.

And this one was actually made me say out loud, "What the hell?":

In SCAN, Holmes "aggressively violates" Irene Adler's hidden safe and is "physically aggressive" when he returns the next day.  The author describes Holmes's actions as having "overtones of rape."

Since we are delving into Freudian topics of desire and masculinity with these, it's worth remembering that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

The Sherlock Holmes Canon is full of adventure stories that Doyle admittedly didn't put a ton of thought into compared to some of his other writings.  If he left out his views on spiritualism, I don't think he was trying to be sneaky with his thoughts on evolution or masculine morality.  

And that's the beauty of scholarship written by Sherlockians.  We know we aren't trying to unlock biblical mysteries when we describe our stories as canonical.  We may write seriously, but at the core is an element of fun.  Sometimes academic writing can lose track of the fun in these stories.

And the sexual undertones?  Let's leave those to the fanfic writers.  They're the pros.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Interesting Interview: Charles Prepolec

Billing this week's interview subject as "interesting" may be underselling it.  Sherlockian editor, Strand completest, former mystery bookstore owner, and wearer of one of the finest mustaches in our hobby, Charles Prepolec is a Sherlockian who knows his stuff.  Widely knowledgeable about many facets of Sherlockiana, Charles is also an all-around good guy, someone who is fun to spend time with because he's probably the straightest shooter you'll ever meet.  If Charles has an opinion on something, he will share it.  And if he doesn't have an opinion on it, you can bet he will go out and learn enough to form one.  

I've known Charles online for a while now, and got to finally meet he and his wife, Kris, last summer in Minnesota (which seems like years ago).  Getting to see them again in New York this January and sitting with them in a corner booth during the ASH brunch was like being at the cool kids' table in the high school cafeteria.  Charles and Kris were so welcoming to everyone I saw them interact with that weekend, whether you were a longtime friend or newbie like myself.  And he brings that same vibe to this week's interview, expounding on our favorite topic: Sherlock Holmes.

So settle in, prepare your TBR list to have some titles added to it, and get ready to spend some time with Charles Prepolec!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

For me, personally, becoming active in the 1980s, I tend to take a fairly traditional perspective on the term itself, if perhaps not the expression of it. That is to say I feel a Sherlockian should have a baseline familiarity with Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon of Sherlock Holmes stories, have an interest in discussing or researching elements of said canon, and want to engage and share with others of a similar bent; and, if possible, join or form a Sherlockian society.  These are the basics for me. If your interest is only in BBC Sherlock, or pastiches by a particular author, or whatever other single thing that is a derivative of the canon, but doesn’t necessarily include an appreciation of the canon, then I tend to think you’re a fan of that particular thing, and not necessarily a ‘Sherlockian’ by my definition. Your mileage will, of course, vary. In the end though, it’s just a word used as a label, so I’m not terribly precious about its usage one way or another these days.    

How did you become a Sherlockian?

As a kid, and an only child at that, I was a massive geek. Comic books were my all and everything, and also something of a ‘gateway’ to classic genre literature, particularly in the SF, fantasy, adventure and mystery genres. From comics I made the jump to Doc Savage and The Shadow pulp reprints, James Bond books and movies, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc… and along the way I’d bump into Sherlock Holmes on a regular basis, as one does with literary archetypes.

Phil Farmer’s Wold Newton concept, expressed in DOC SAVAGE: HIS APOCALYPTIC LIFE, put Holmes on the same family tree as Doc Savage. Otto Penzler’s THE PRIVATE LIVES OF SPIES, CRIMEFIGHTERS AND OTHER GOOD GUYS I bought for coverage on The Shadow and James Bond, but there was a chapter on Sherlock Holmes, so there he was again. So, at 10 years of age I read The Hound of the Baskervilles… and hated it. That Sherlock Holmes guy was barely even in it. Pfui!

Jump ahead to ten years later, and I was still a comic book nerd, but one who was now following artists I liked. One such artist was Gene Day, who had been handling inks and then full art on MASTER OF KUNG FU, which in turn introduced me to the work of his brothers Dan and David Day who would handle some of the inking. One day in the mid 80s I walked into a comic book shop and CASES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES number 1, with art by Dan and David Day and the original Arthur Conan Doyle story text from The Adventure of The Beryl Coronet, caught my eye.

I loved everything about it. That led me to buy a cheap edition of THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Timing being what it is, I had just broken up with a girlfriend, so when I read the words ‘To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman’ I was entirely hooked. At the same time, the Jeremy Brett Granada series was on PBS, the STUD centenary was coming up, and I stumbled across a meeting notice for a local Sherlock Holmes group in a bookstore, so I went to a meeting. In addition to our local group, I also ended up joining The Bootmakers of Toronto, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and The Sydney Passengers of Australia. Becoming a Sherlockian became sort of unavoidable.    

What is your favorite canonical story?

The Sign of Four. To me it’s a perfect representation of a readable late Victorian romance novel (romance then being largely applied to any sort of adventure fiction) with a recognizable Holmes, rather than the proto-Holmes of STUD, and a wonderfully gothic and exotic tone. The Watson watch deduction sequence is probably the best in the entire Canon, and hell, Watson even gets the girl, either of which alone makes it a standout story.

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

I find most Sherlockians interesting, but if you’re not familiar with Greg D. Ruby, of Baltimore, you should be. I first met Greg on a Christopher Morley Walk during the New York Birthday Weekend in 2015 (I think, it was) while he was recovering from a severe ankle injury. Anyone crazy enough to go on an extended walking tour while nursing that sort of injury is someone I wanted to know, and we’ve been friends ever since.

In addition to being a charming companion at gatherings, a fellow aficionado of German beer and cuisine, with an incredible knowledge of odd Sherlock Holmes appearances in television commercials and animated shorts, Greg founded and manages The Fourth Garrideb scion society, a group that focuses on coin collecting (numismatics) related to the Sherlock Holmes stories. His research is remarkable and the regular newsletter mailings and updates to the website are a veritable treasure trove of new, odd and interesting collectibles that go well beyond coins. Now celebrating it’s sixth anniversary, I strongly urge readers here to go along to https://fourthgarrideb.com/ and check out Greg’s handiwork. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I’m a collector by nature, so that is my main focus, but I’m also heavily interested in how the character of Sherlock Holmes has become part of the general pop culture psyche in a way that extends to only a handful of characters. When I first got into the hobby, my focus was pastiche, film and art, which were both signifiers and drivers of Sherlock Holmes growth and eventual iconography in pop culture. Film (incl. television and audio) is an extension of art (illustrative), comic books hit all kinds of buttons, and any spinoff writing, fiction or non-fiction, underground or mainstream, are indications of pop culture penetration and success. We’re sitting at over 130 years of interest in this character, and I daresay that the only earlier characters of English lit with as strong a reach into pop culture are King Arthur, Robin Hood and Frankenstein, although Sherlock Holmes’s near contemporaries like Dracula and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde are right there alongside him. Holmes, and those others, are avatars of our modern mythology, replacing the gods of Greece and Rome. As a student of history, I'm aware that context is everything, so it's amazing to see Sherlock Holmes share as much genetic material with, say, King Arthur or Robin Hood, as he does with Batman, in the pop culture landscape, and that fascinates me.

Of course, there is also Arthur Conan Doyle's writing, which is delightful and both of and ahead of his time. It's a somewhat tired and tiresome comparison, but he really was the Stephen King of his day, and in some ways the J.K. Rowling, too, being a major celebrity, one of the highest paid genre authors, and publicly vocal on every matter under the sun. As the years pass, I'm more interested in Sherlock Holmes as part of my interest in Arthur Conan Doyle. As such, I never have nor will play 'The Game' in the traditional BSI sense. Watson as a writer is far less interesting to me than Doyle as a writer, or human being. 

Umm, no idea where I was going with all this, but clearly, it’s not one particular subset that interests me, as much as I like to tell myself that I’m largely just a collector of books.

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

Like to research? Nothing. Research is a necessary evil to me when required. As a collector, however, I do spend a good deal of time looking over bibliographies and tracking down details around early magazine appearances of both Sherlock Holmes and other Arthur Conan Doyle story appearances. I’m more interested in ACD’s life and what he was doing when writing the Sherlock Holmes stories than I am in Watson’s wandering war wound, or other canonical minutiae. So, I suppose that boils down to a preference of researching ACD, rather than Holmes.

In your previous life, you were a mystery bookstore owner, and now you are an editor (Both dream jobs for many Sherlockians!).  Which career do you think was more influential on your life in Sherlockiana?

Huh, now there’s an interesting question; one I’d never given any thought too previously. Looking at it now, it’s clear I’d never have got into editing if I hadn’t had a bookstore first. Opening up Mad for a Mystery was a direct result of my interest in Sherlock Holmes. I’d grown frustrated with the education program at the University of Calgary - yes, I had planned to be a teacher - and decided I’d drop out and open a bookstore instead of finishing my degree. This was the late 80s and mystery-themed specialty bookshops, like Otto’s The Mysterious Bookshop in NYC, seemed to be everywhere and all the rage… except for here in Calgary, so I figured it was a sure thing in an ‘if you build it, they will come’ sort of pipe dream.

I built it, but they mostly didn’t come, however, I  did sell some books to John Bennett Shaw via mail order, met Peter Wood, BSI (who would be responsible for my first invitation to the BSI dinner in 2003), turned down a book launch for Bradley & Sarjeants’s MS. HOLMES OF BAKER STREET, but did hold a launch for Beth Greenwood’s 1989 pastiche SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE THISTLE OF SCOTLAND, and I got to meet Kathleen I. Morrison, a local Calgarian who achieved media recognition in the 1940s as ‘The World’s First Lady Sherlockian’, so I learned a great deal.

While customers were infrequent visitors, publisher’s reps were not, and among them was Jeff Campbell, the regional rep for Berkley-Jove and Pocket Books. We hit it off, became friends (Jeff would later be Best Man at my wedding in 2006), and a little more than a decade later, when we were both out of the book trade, it was Jeff who suggested we put together a journal of Sherlockian pastiche, since he was developing skills as a writer and I was looking for a way to give back to the community that brought me so much joy. That journal idea, after soliciting stories via the Hounds-L email list and word of mouth, morphed into a couple small micro-press anthologies called CURIOUS INCIDENTS, which did remarkably well, each selling out a print run of 250 copies, in a matter of months, largely through direct online sales, although we got copies into mystery bookshops in New York and Seattle. I was rather proud of that since both Chris Roden (Calabash Press) and George Vanderburgh (The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box) told me at the time that print runs over 100 copies would leave me with boxes of books mouldering in my garage for years. 

A few years later, when my taste for horror fiction had largely overshadowed my Sherlockian interests, Jeff and I decided to take another swing at the cat, but this time, rather than traditional Sherlock Holmes pastiche, we decided on a solid horror-Holmes hybrid anthology. Instead of self-publishing we also decided to pitch to a Calgary-based publisher. We arranged a meeting with Brian Hades of EDGE SF&F, explained our angle, dropped the two volumes of CURIOUS INCIDENTS on the table and said we’d like to do the same, with a horror twist, but have you publish them. In 2008 we launched GASLIGHT GRIMOIRE: FANTASTIC TALES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES at the World Fantasy Convention, with stories by Barbara Hambly and Kim Newman bookending the collection, and have published three more in the series since then, plus a book of new Professor Challenger stories, and I found myself co-editing a book of Dupin stories for Titan books.  

Given all that, while my professional editing gig has had a tremendous impact in raising my profile within the Sherlockian community, my bookselling days are also, in my mind, inextricably tied to any success I’ve had either as a Sherlockian or professional editor.       

Anyone who follows you on social media knows about your growing collection of original Strand magazines.  How did that collection start?

My interest in collecting The Strand Magazine just sort of hit me in, of all places, The Strand bookshop in New York during a BSI weekend. For decades I’d been buying pastiche and every other new Sherlock Holmes-related book that came along, and most were neither worth my time or money. So, on that particular NYC visit to The Strand I stepped off the elevator on the third floor, and found myself staring at a copy of the large print first edition of ACD’s THE LOST WORLD, and immediately fell in love with it.

Ridiculously expensive, but less so than any copies available online, but I knew my wife would give me grief about it, plus I’m cheap, so I started scanning the shelves for other choices, and landed on three bound volumes of The Strand Magazine at $40 a pop. As I was paying for those Kris sidled up to me and said ‘If you really want it, go for it, just don’t expect any birthday or Christmas presents.’ So, I bought THE LOST WORLD, which I carried home in my luggage and had the three Strands shipped.

That shopping experience changed my approach to collecting. While I had about four bound Strands on the shelf since the late 80s, when those new additions arrived I suddenly realized I could have first editions, that preceded the first book editions, of all Sherlock Holmes stories except STUD and SIGN for considerably less than the cost of the collected book editions, have all the illustrations rather than the small selection reprinted in book editions, and I’d have an insight into everything popular, or going on the world, at the time they were written.

You can pick up all the Strand volumes published in Doyle’s lifetime for less (especially if you’re not fussy about them being in original bindings) than a fine UK first of THE HOUND, and we’re talking about 80 volumes in that run! For the first time in my Sherlockian collecting ‘career’ I actually hit on a finite collection goal, rather than the open-ended ‘I want it all’, vacuum-cleaner, John Bennett Shaw approach that I’d been half-assing at for decades.

In the 3-4 years since that NYC trip I’ve cut back on buying pastiches and even ‘writings-on-the-writings’ (all in both tracks limited to the work of friends, those with a solid track record, or featuring a subject I can’t resist), and my collection of The Strand Magazine has grown to nearly 60 of the 80 volumes published by Doyle’s death in 1930.  As a collector, now with a finish line, I’ve never been happier. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

As a collector, I’m inclined to direct anyone towards A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF A. CONAN DOYLE by Green and Gibson. It’s invaluable for identifying first and early editions of ACD’s writings. As a pop culture enthusiast, FROM HOLMES TO SHERLOCK by Mattias Boström is a must read. As a student of the Victorian era, George MacDonald Fraser’s FLASHMAN, and the rest of the books in the series, receive my strongest recommendation, as you’ll never look at the Victorians, or the age, in quite the same way again, plus Holmes, Watson and Colonel Moran even turn up in one of the stories. Often, when asked about my favourite author, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll say Fraser rather than Doyle. How’s that for an endorsement? 

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

Pretty much the same place it is right now, give or take a level of popular enthusiasm driven by whatever is on film or television screens at the time. The level of general interest or enthusiasm is cyclical, but the level of iconography in pop culture remains constant, so it just depends on whether it’s the boom or bust stage that comes up when you spin the wheel in any given year. Since Sherlock Holmes, as a character, defines the term ‘detective’ in the public eye he’s a constant in our new pantheon of myths and so will always engender interest and devotees. I think the hobby will be doing just fine. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Interesting Interview: Jerry Margolin

Jerry Margolin is the proud owner of the world's largest Sherlockian art collection.  He owns THOUSANDS of pieces ranging from original Pagets and Steeles to some you've never heard of.  If that were all he were known for, I would slap some pictures up here of his collection and we could all oooh and aaah over them.  

But I got to meet Jerry and his lovely wife Judy in Minnesota last year, and was immediately treated like an old friend.  Sure, we talked Sherlockiana, but I found the Margolins to be so friendly and garrulous, that we were soon rambling on and on about baseball, school, our kids, tattoos, you name it.  

There are living legends that you hear spoken of reverentially when you get into Sherlockiana, and Jerry Margolin is definitely on that list.  So when I first met the Margolins, I was expecting someone who knew he was a big deal and would be nice but brief with someone he didn't know, but what I found was a Sherlockian who has been in this hobby for a long time and still has the energy and love that can so often fade over time.  Jerry is extremely friendly and welcoming, and if you haven't met him yet, you are in for a treat with this week's interview.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I would have said there is an easy answer to that question back when I started collecting Holmes books. I would have just said someone who reads all the stories over and over to digest every little detail. Over the years though, Sherlockians have diversified so much that there is no one way to describe that term. Describing myself, I am not a scholar, I know my general facts, but I do not get into the minutiae. I enjoy reading that information from others and I had all the books of chronology and detailed discussions, but I am a collector. There are so many other directions people can go such as film, books, and details within the stories. Basically, anyone with any type of deep interest in any part of Holmes and/or the stories can be called a Sherlockian.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Well, the easy answer is the cliched answer people have heard over and over. My brother is four years older than me and he was always a reader, in fact he is now a best selling author. When I was 10 years old he gave me the Complete Sherlock Holmes and told me to start reading. I was hooked pretty quickly after reading some of the stories, especially The Hound, which at 10 years old was pretty scary. My association with Holmes really picked up on my honeymoon, we went to London and after landing, going to the hotel, the first thing we did was to walk to Baker Street. I also bought the first books for what was to become a massive Holmes book collection. So this was where my interest in Holmes and collecting collided. After that, a few  years later, I met my mentor in all things book collecting related, Norman Nolan, BSI. He basically taught me what I know about book collecting and he invited me to my first BSI dinner as his guest in 1974. This was the moment my interest in being a Sherlockian was solidified.

What is your favorite canonical story?

My favorite story has almost always been “Thor Bridge”. Besides the story itself, it contains several classic things we all know such as the mention of the tin dispatch box labeled “John H. Watson, MD” which consisted of manuscripts of as yet unpublished stories. A couple mentions are those of Mr. James Philimore who stepped back inside his house was never seen again. Also, there is Isadora Person and the remarkable worm unknown to science. Another classic in this story is Holmes’ thoughts on his fee, “My fees are upon a fixed scale, save when I remit them altogether”. 

As to the story, I have always liked how Holmes figures out how Neil Gibson’s wife dies, clearing Grace Dunbar. His discovery of the gun on the string was uniquely a Holmes deduction. As an aside, my first original Frederic Dorr Steele added to my collection was of Holmes seated at a table speaking with Neil Gibson. 

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

Les Klinger is the person I would name as someone Sherlockians would find interesting. First, the volume of work he has put out, both Sherlockian and non-Sherlockian, is enormous. I have known Les for many years and I still can’t figure out how he has stretched the normal day to more than 24 hours. Of course, first and foremost would be his incredible new take on The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. If you have even a small amount of interest in Holmes, this is a must have on your shelf. He is also an interesting speaker on many topics. His other works on subjects such as Dracula, Frankenstein, Sandman, and so many others are worth researching. Les’s depth of knowledge on so many subjects would make him the perfect person for anyone to get to know better. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

In my earlier book collecting days when building my Holmes rare book collection, what really interested me were early works in dust jackets. In the early 1900’s dust jackets were considered a nuisance and thrown away which I think is a crime. Some were beautiful with incredible artwork. As any collector knows, a dust jacket on an early rare book can be 50% of the value of the book. One great example for Sherlockians is the first edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 1892. There is only one in existence in jacket and I have had the great pleasure of holding it in my hands. I find it terribly sad that these pieces of paper which sometimes added excitement to the moment just before you open the book to read the first page have been discarded.

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

Anyone who knows me or have heard about my art collection, would not be shocked to find out that my favorite subject to research is artwork in Sherlockiana. When I find a piece of art that interests me, not necessarily by a famous artist, it sets me on the trail to track down and get in touch with this person to try and arrange to buy the original artwork. Fortunately, I have been quite successful at this. It does not always work out, but as with my book collecting days, the hunt was everything, the excitement of finding the information needed to obtain the piece can be almost as exciting as finally hanging the piece on my wall.

How did you become a Sherlockian art collector?

This is a pretty easy question to answer. I was born a collector, my mother was an antiques collector and dealer. I collected everything as a kid, comics, baseball cards, etc. As I began to collect Holmes rare books, I would from time to time come across Sherlock Holmes art that, at that time, was pretty inexpensive so I would buy it. As my book collection grew, I began to seek out a few more pieces of art. In those early days of the 70’s and 80’s comic artists just gave their art away. After it was used to print the comic or book, they had no further use for it. I started calling and writing (yes real letters) to these people and asking for their art. All they said to me was, what is your address and it arrived days later in the mail. I was able to acquire quite a bit of amazing artwork by some incredibly well-known artists. 

After I sold my book collection, I found that after removing all the bookcases, I had a lot of wall space to fill and the art collection exploded all over my home to the tune of some 4,000 pieces both on the walls and in portfolio books. Sadly, later into the 90’s, artists discovered that their work was valuable and my gravy train of free art was over. Needless to say, having to pay for the art now has not stopped me, sometimes much to my wife’s dismay. 

What is the most interesting or obscure piece in your collection?

This particular question is not an easy one since I have so many unique items in the art collection. I would say there are four pieces in particular that I can mention. First and foremost would be my original Sidney Paget from “The Resident Patient”. I have owned since the 80’s when I acquired it. To this day, every time I see it, it still hits me that I actually own one of only about 30 originals in existence. 

The next would be a drawing from 1896 by artist Peter Newell which he drew for John Kendrick Bangs “Pursuit of the Houseboat”. It is one of only two drawings in the book that shows Holmes. It is signed and dated by Newell in 1896. The book was published in 1897.

The next would be, though not Sherlockian, a drawing by Sir Arthur’s father Charles Doyle which shows in it the fairies which was so appealing to Sir Arthur. 

Along with this, also not Sherlockian, is a doodle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which is signed with his initials on the back. Both of these last two hang side by side on the wall. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

The books I would recommend are a bit tough to find, but well worth the hunt. They are a set of history books about the Baker Street Irregulars , not the street urchins from the stories, but the organization. The author of these books is Jon Lellenberg and are some of the best Sherlockian reading I have done in my years as a person interested in Holmes. All the information found in these books are fascinating. Jon did a great job laying out the history of the BSI from the 30’s to the 60’s. If you know someone who has them that might be borrowed or if you can seek them out on book selling platforms, it is so worth the hunt. 

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

I am sincerely hoping that through the recent spate of films and tv shows using Holmes in different characterizations from the BBC series, Elementary, to Miss Sherlock,  will lead younger people back to reading the original stories. If that can happen then interest in Sherlock will continue.

As others have stated before me, the upside to this pandemic is the advent of the Zoom meetings where people from all walks can join in and speak to and hear from older long time Sherlockians and mix their ideas and thoughts across many countries. I have met many new people I would not have ever had the chance to meet without these online get togethers.

I believe there is great hope for interest in Holmes to continue far into the future.