Monday, July 30, 2018

This is a Very Unexpected Turn of Affairs

My original plan for this week's blog was to write about some tiffs that popped up in the past week or so.  My post about the Gnostic books of Sherlockiana caused a kerfuffle on Facebook, and the fact that The Baker Street Irregulars are a trademarked organization caused some debate.

But instead I've decided to talk about sex and church.

The Old Testament reading at my church service yesterday was from Second Samuel, Chapter 11.  I immediately perked up when I saw it listed in the bulletin.  "I think I know this one..." I thought.  Sure enough, it's what I thought it was.  If it doesn't jump to mind, here's the text:

11 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,[a] and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.

18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth[b]? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’”

22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”

25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

...and there's the story referenced in The Adventure of the Crooked Man.  I'm very interested in the intersection of our Canon and biblical scholarship, so this was especially interesting to me.  Maybe it wasn't appropriate for me to be happy to see a text about adultery and murder in church, but we take our Sherlockian in the wild sightings where we can get them sometimes.

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Pupil for the Scientific Methods

This month's story for The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn was The Adventure of Black Peter, which offers many opportunities for scholarship.  Watson’s introduction is a gold mine for minutiae, including but not limited to Holmes’ employment by the Pope himself and passing reference to Holmes’ five refuges scattered throughout London where he was able to change his personality.  We also see Holmes contradict himself on theorizing before one has data and the inclusion of coincidences into his investigations.

While all of those are areas rife for future posts, I found the Scotland Yard investigator the most interesting trifle this week.  In BLAC we are first introduced to the young police inspector Stanley Hopkins.  Watson describes him as “an exceedingly alert man, thirty years of age, dressed in a quiet tweed suit, but retaining the erect bearing of one who was accustomed to official uniform.” 

Watson recognizes Hopkins when he enters into Baker Street in BLAC, because Stanley Hopkins is one of the recurring Scotland Yard officers not named Lestrade that pops up here and there.  (Side note, while Lestrade is the most often used officer; these less frequently used ones actually get their first names published in the stories, while Lestrade will forever only be known as “G. Lestrade.”)  Young Stanley Hopkins, Watson tells us in BLAC, is someone whose future Holmes has high hopes for.  Hopkins admires the consulting detective and openly treats Holmes as someone from whom he can learn a great deal.  We learn in a later tale that Hopkins has employed Holmes at least seven times in his career, but Watson has only chronicled three of these.  Hopkins’ tenure in the Canon is probably the most positive relationship Sherlock Holmes has with a Scotland Yard officer from beginning to end. 

Interestingly, Stanley Hopkins only appears on the pages of The Return of Sherlock Holmes.  BLAC is his first appearance, but since this story takes place in 1895, Holmes and Watson have worked with the young officer at least once before, in The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez in 1894.  Hopkins has shown some growth as an investigator by this time.  He tells Holmes “I know your methods, sir, and I applied them. Before I permitted anything to be moved I examined most carefully the ground outside, and also the floor of the room. There were no footmarks.”

Of course, Sherlock Holmes feels that his young student has missed some details, giving him an ironic comment that makes the man wince, but he keeps on.  Hopkins admits he should have involved Holmes earlier, but who hasn’t been a fresh faced youngster trying to make a name for themselves in a new career field?  We can hardly blame Stanley Hopkins for wanting to succeed at his job on his own merit.  We should be giving him credit for knowing when he is in over his head and looking for outside help.  As often as we see Holmes chide officers for taking so long to include him, I’m sure he would’ve been even more perturbed had he been summoned to every single crime scene in London for their first viewings.  Quite a tiring endeavor!

Hopkins produces more evidence for Holmes, who in turn, leads the investigation in the correct manner.  Would Stanley Hopkins have solved the murder of Captain Peter Caray on his own?  I doubt it.  He was unfamiliar with the initials on some of the Stock Exchange securities, and even if he had decided to wait for the suspect to return to the scene of the crime, his choice to wait INSIDE the cabin would have likely scared Neligan off as Holmes had predicted.  So, even though young officer Hopkins shows promise, he has a way to go.

We get a passing mention to Hopkins in The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter later on, as he has referred that story’s client, Cyril Overton, to Holmes but his last canonical and chronological appearance is in The Adventure of the Abbey Grange, which takes place in 1897.  Here he calls Holmes in immediately, and he has been promoted to Inspector, but Hopkins is still far from being on the same level as the great detective.  Perhaps Stanley Hopkins will never reach the heights of deductive reasoning as Sherlock Holmes, but I’m glad to see that Scotland Yard has officers who are willing to keep trying.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

We Are of Those Who Believe in Those Sacred Writings

I would assume that most of you are like me and have quite a TBR (To Be Read) list.  I actually have two: my regular one and a Sherlockian one.  The Sherlockian one is then broken down into subsets: The Shaw 100, Scholarship, Pastiche, Graphic Novels...  I know, I'm a nerd.

One of the books that has been on my list for quite a while has been Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship by Christopher Morley.  Normally, this pleasant volume would have been a nice Sherlockian treat along with my other summer reading.  But it so happened that I read this book right after I had just finished reading about the Q Source document.  I will leave it to Wikipedia to define:

The Q source (also Q documentQ Gospel, or Q from GermanQuelle, meaning "source") is a hypothetical written collection of primarily Jesus' sayings (logia). Q is part of the common material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark. According to this hypothesis, this material was drawn from the early Church's Oral Tradition.

That led me to re-reading some information on the Gnostic gospels, or biblical texts that are not part of the New Testament.  There is quite a bit of discussion on how true these texts are to the Christian beliefs, and their veracity is debated by biblical scholars.

Now, how did this affect my Sherlockian pleasure reading?  Well, as I was reading Morley's book, I was still thinking about some of the points in the biblical scholarship, and then Morley mentioned Holmes' cases beyond the recorded Canon written by Dr. Watson.

And then I realized: Sherlockiana has its own Q Source and Gnostic texts.

The biblical Q is a supposed document that has been lost to time, but its influence reverberates throughout history.  And the Sherlockian Q?  Well, let's look at the very first story.  We first meet Sherlock Holmes on page 3 of A Study in Scarlet.  Page 2 introduces us to Dr. Watson.  And what's on page 1?

Being a reprint from the reminiscences of
John H. Watson, M.D.,
late of the Army Medical Department

That's right, STUD, the starting point of the whole Sherlockian Canon is only a small part of a larger text.  I propose that The Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. is our Sherlockian Q text.  Who knows what tales are in that long lost tome?  I bet we'd find out a little more about his "experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents" along with some other points of interest.

And what of our own Gnostic texts, those stories that scholars argue over their inclusion into the Canon?  Some may say the Sherlockian Gnosticism should be Watson's mentioned but never chronicled cases or even clever pastiches by other authors. 

But, I offer that our Sherlockian totem knowledge should be treated as such. 

  • Watson's middle name as Hamish
  • Holmes' birthday
  • Sherlock's older brother Sherrinford
  • Etc.  

These are all stories and theories that are out there but outside of our written Canon.  Just like the Gospel of Mary of the Acts of John, these are informational points about our main man, but does everyone subscribe to them?  No.

As Christopher Morley famously said about our little hobby: "Never has so much been written by so many for so few."  Maybe we have a new branch of Sherlockian study right here.  Sherlockian Gnosticism.  If we can steal the term "Canon" why not other religious terms?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

It Had Become In Some Way Helpful That I Should Register

I have been spending quite a bit of time on my computer lately working on things for Holmes in the Heartland, happening on August 10-12.  Registration closes in two weeks, and LOTS of emails are being sent, the program is being laid out, registrations are being logged, etc.

And every time I think about Holmes in the Heartland, I either get really excited or have a mild panic attack.

When I see posts like this one about a groundbreaking talk that's being concocting, I'm beyond excited that we will have a great line up of speakers and demonstrations.

Looking at the list of people who have signed up to attend makes me realize that we're going to have a really great group of people at the dinners, social events, and milling about in between Saturday's speakers.

As I was telling my mom about the event this afternoon, it really dawned on me what a nice mix of Sherlockiana and St. Louis we've created.  If I weren't part of The Parallel Case of St. Louis and heard about this conference, I would be VERY interested in checking some of these things out.

And, I know I've said this before but it bears repeating, I really love working with everyone who's been associated with the planning process.  Throwing something of this scale together in just a few months' time has been a true testament to how great everyone on the planning committee is, and how much they want to put on a really great Sherlockian event.

In my mind, all of these things are great.  But I've never been in charge of a large event like this, and my anxiety kicks into overdrive every now and again with this.  Especially now that the end of registration is THIS MONTH.  And we are just over a month away from the actual event.  What have I forgotten to do?  What needs to be followed up on?  What have I not even thought about?  Will the older and younger Sherlockians mesh well?  Did I make a wrong decision along the way in the planning?  What if everyone at the weekend catches some strand of avian flu?

Okay, I admit I let my imagination run away there.

But, man oh man, does Holmes in the Heartland get me excited.  Usually in the good sense, but sometimes in a more neurotic way.

Do you want to help my nervousness?  Sign up to join us!  C'mon, you know you want to...


Blues music!

Sherlockian speakers!

A brand new research collection!

Fight sequences!

A surprise speaker!

Delicious Italian dinner!

Medical history!

Afternoon tea!

And best of all, other Sherlockians to spend the weekend with!

So, make like Holmes in The Engineer's Thumb:  Forego your Bohemian habits so far as to come and visit us!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Interesting Interviews: Ray Betzner

July's Interesting Interview is with Ray Betzner, BSI.  I got to meet Ray this year at the Holmes, Doyle and Friends conference and wrote about what a great guy he is in that post, so I won't overflow too much with compliments here.  I will say that he is a very knowledgeable, witty and friendly guy and definitely someone we should all be lucky enough to spend time with.  

(Side note, as I am typing this intro, Ray has been commenting on my vacation photos on Facebook.  So, he's not just a friendly guy when it comes to Sherlockiana!)

Ray runs the great blog, Studies in Starrett, which, for any Sherlockian interested in the founding fathers of our hobby, is a must read.  In perfect timing, I invited Ray to do this interview on the same week that his blog is going on a summer hiatus, so make sure to go back and read some of his earlier work while waiting for his return in the fall!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I once knew how to define a Sherlockian, but the field has become so diverse in recent years that it’s not easy. It’s certainly an expanded universe today, and that is for the best.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I first read parts of the Canon as a child. When I was 16 and could drive, one of the first places I went was the local library, which had two Holmes books: THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES with the Christopher Morley introduction, and THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Vincent Starrett. Reading the entire Canon was a revelation: so many mysteries to be solved.

Starrett’s book talked about Holmes as if he was a living human being. He also recorded the activities of a group of Holmes addicts known as the Baker Street Irregulars. For a kid from working class roots, the group seemed like fantastic characters who lived in a mythical world mere mortals could not enter.

I kept up my interest through college and found great mentors: Andrew Fusco, John Bennett Shaw, Ely Liebow, Chuck and Peggy Henry among many others. Meeting others who shared my passion was (and remains) a great pleasure.

Fifteen years after reading Starrett’s book for the first time, I was invested as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. Rather than be the end of a journey, it was really just the start of a new chapter and I’ve been engaged with what I think of as “the Sherlockian movement” ever since.

What is your favorite canonical story?

That’s a tough one, and the answer has changed over the decades.  “The Speckled Band” and “The Red-Headed League” were favorites for years.

But as time has gone on, I’ve found my tastes changing. For example, I was never a big fan of “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” but after spending months editing DANCING TO DEATH, one of the BSI manuscript books, I have become a convert. The story is far more complex than it appears at first and I’ve become intrigued with trying to explain why Holmes failed to prevent his client’s death.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I owe Vincent Starrett a huge debt for introducing me to the BSI through THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. So I took an interest in his other Sherlockian writings, and then his other work, which is considerable and highly varied. Four years ago I started a blog, STUDIES IN STARRETT (, and a companion Facebook page. Introducing new folks to the broad range of his work has been a delight. I’ve gotten tremendous positive feedback over the years.

When you think about it, we’ve paid back Morley and Starrett in the best possible way. Holmes was just a small bit of both men’s literary output, but for the most part, it is the Sherlockians who have kept their reputations alive.

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

I largely do research to support my writing and I’ve written everything but pastiches over the decades. I wrote mock radio play parodies about Holmes for several years as entertainment for The Cremona Fiddlers of Williamsburg, a scion I helped start back in the 1980s. Only one of the parodies holds up today, and I would love to see it revived.

I’ve done a handful of traditional trifling monographs, and one well-received talk about how Dr. Watson coped with the deaths of Holmes and Mary. I still think there is much more to be written about Mary and her impact on Holmes and Watson. She has been ignored too long.

It’s probably no surprise that Starrettian studies are my favorite. Editing a new edition of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES for Wessex Press was a true labor of love. And the blog is fun because I get to show off my book collection while bringing Starrett’s work to life.

What are some of the most interesting things you've come across in your time doing Studies in Starrett?

The most unexpected event came when I found a copy of Starrett’s first book of poetry in Vancouver, with an inscription from Starrett to his mother. I was thrilled to have the book, but the story of how it came to be in Canada was bittersweet. Turns out Starrett’s mother committed suicide by jumping from a ferry boat while in Vancouver with a Christian group preaching to the native peoples. She must have taken the book from Chicago to Vancouver on her last trip. The whole story is here:

I have also been lucky enough to purchase a manuscript that includes a copy of Starrett’s immortal poem “221B,” straight out of Starrett’s typewriter Holding that page still makes my hands shake.

Along the way, I’ve also become friends with Starrett’s distant relatives and some have been very kind to share their photos and other family treasures. So I’ve been able to trace his work as a war correspondent in Mexico, his adventures in London as a teen and the trip he and his second wife, Rachel (Ray) took around the world. Those photos are at the Facebook page and a few are here:

And here:

The amazing part to me is that there is so much about Starrett, his life, his family and his work that I have yet to dig into.

How different do you think the world of Sherlockiana would be if Vincent Starrett hadn't contributed to our hobby?  Would there even be a Sherlockian hobby today?

What a great question. That’s one I’ve discussed with others over the years, including Baker Street Journal editor Steven Rothman, the foremost authority on Christopher Morley.  Morley would have certainly started the Baker Street Irregulars without Starrett. That’s certain. But it took Edgar W. Smith to pick up the group and keep it going when Morley wanted to kill it.

Now here’s where Starrett comes in: Smith found Morley by writing to Starrett after reading THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. It’s possible Smith would have met Morley otherwise (they were both in New York), but the fact is that Starrett’s book and his bonhomie helped build the foundation of Sherlock Holmes idolatry that continues through today.

Starrett played a vital role in bringing people together to share their fascination for Holmes. That can’t be disputed.

What Sherlockian things do you like to read other than the Canon?

I read a lot of the Higher Criticism. In fact, I have been going back and re-reading a lot of the criticism that I first found as a teen and in my early 20s, now more than 40 years ago. Having the perspective of time and additional experience brings a new richness to older essays.

I’ve heard the view that more contemporary criticism can’t stack up against that of the Golden Age. What unmitigated bleat! There is a great deal of valuable commentary being written today, which pairs nicely with the best work of Golden Age commentators. I have been especially encouraged by the work from younger folks (which means anyone who has not reached my three score plus) who bring new perspectives to the Sherlock Holmes movement.

The Baker Street Journal continues to be a foundational work. I’ve been a subscriber since my undergraduate years and cannot imagine anyone who takes their Holmes-work seriously—or as seriously as this silliness deserves—without being a subscriber.

If I can continue to do a little log rolling, the books of the Baker Street Irregulars regularly meet the mark, as do those published by Wessex Press. (Full disclosure: I’ve edited a volume for both of those worthy organizations and have enjoyed friendships with the people who dedicate many hours to this labor of love.)

I read very few pastiches and almost no parodies. I’m quite content with 60 stories and besides, it leaves me more shelf space for Starrettian work!

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

When you spend a lot of time in the past as I do, you realize predicting the future is especially chancy. What I can say for sure is that the Sherlock Holmes movement is quite elastic and capable of taking in folks with divergent views. We’ve seen this recently with the fuss over those who came to Holmes through BBC Sherlock or other modern adaptations. Those who lacked the good manners to criticize new fans without taking the time to know them have missed out on a lot of good fun. Their loss.

And that is the bottom line for me: Sherlocking is supposed to be fun. It is not a religion with litmus tests or a totalitarian state where strict rules must at all times be obeyed.  It is also not a caste system with elites snooting at those with different views. Holmes himself succeeded by throwing out the rules followed by detectives of his time. He was a disruptor who delighted in tweaking those who thoughtlessly followed the old worn paths.

The Sherlockian world will change, as it must!  Forcing time to stand still produces hardening of the arteries and certain death. The 60 original stories will always be here, regardless of contemporary interpretations. So long as the playfulness remains and the joy in celebrating our joint passion is alive, I feel confident that Sherlockian affection will continue for another 80 years at least.

If I am wrong, dig me up in 80 years and let me know.