Monday, October 29, 2018

A Curious Collection

Friday was the day.

I've been waiting and waiting for the new Chris Redmond anthology, Sherlock Holmes is Like, to arrive at my house.  And it finally showed up Friday afternoon!

I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute an essay to this collection, and my chapter compares Sherlock Holmes to Huckleberry Finn.  But it wasn't because my name was in print that I was excited to see this new book.  A few months ago, Chris sent the table of contents out to all 60 contributors.  It was like getting to see the shape and size of your Christmas presents, but having to wait to open them. 

59 other intriguing, interesting and unknown personages graced the list.  I'm not going to review each and every chapter, as Brad Keefauver is doing that in his own entertaining and off the wall way over on Sherlock Peoria.  Plus, his random approach to the book is better for a review than my linear, page by page consuming of it.

I've talked with other readers who have the discipline to only allow themselves one essay per day so the pleasure of this book lasts longer. 

I don't have the kind of will power.

I dove right in, like Cookie Monster at a bakery.

The first section is all about eminent Victorians, many of whom I was not familiar with.  It was so nice to be learning about new historical figures through the lens of Sherlock Holmes.  If tax law and doing laundry could be done through the lens of Sherlock Holmes, I bet I would find those topics much more interesting as well.  Maybe Redmond and his authors are on to a new line of educational theory here: learning about topics through the lens of Holmes. 

I'm half way through the next section, Legends and Immortals.  So far I've read about Odysseus, Loki, Shiva and King Arthur.  That sentence alone is enough to get your attention, but comparing the world's greatest detective to such luminaries is a recipe for success.

The chapters are collected into themes, Eminent Victorians, Legends and Immortals, Characters of Literature, Figures of Pop Culture, The Bloodhounds, and the catchall Something Recherche.  As I look forward (and I mean that in every sense of the phrase) to the coming chapters, there are ones I have a pretty good knowledge of and am looking forward to (Sam Beckett, The Beatles, Hermione Granger, Doctor Who), ones that seem intriguing (The Wizard of Oz, Batman, Zorro, Lucy Van Pelt), and ones that I have no idea what to expect but can't wait to learn (Gandalf the Grey, Hamlet, Jimmy Lavender, Elon Musk). 

So, why am I still sitting around typing this blog?  I've got reading to do!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Shall We Argue About It Here in Public?

I read Michael Dirda's fantastic book, "On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling" this week and enjoyed almost every single page.  I'm not a Doylean, per se.  In fact, I found "Memories and Adventures" pretty boring.  But Dirda's book is a slim volume that spends a lot of time on Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockiana; so I thought it was great!

Except for one part.

Doyle famously had mixed feelings about Sherlock Holmes.  To me, it's always been like listening to a musician talk about their new work or a passion project.  That's nice, but they know what people want to hear when it's concert time.  Play the hits.

Dirda quotes Doyle from a 1910 interview in Tit-Bits:

"Now nobody can possibly be the better - in the high sense in which I mean it - for reading Sherlock Holmes, although he may have passed a pleasant hour in doing so.  It was not to my mind high work, and no detective work can ever be, apart from the fact that all work dealing with criminal matters is a cheap way of rousing the interest of the reader."

Excuse me?

Look here, pal.  Before we start throwing shade on people's interests and how we better ourselves, let's set the playing field.  This is a dude who got owned by some school girls because he believed in fairies.  And I'm far from an authority on what people should or shouldn't do with their lives.  That being said, I think it's safe to say that neither of us can claim the moral high ground here.

Now, let's start at the end of this nonsensical statement.  "[A] cheap way of rousing the interest of the reader."  How much were you getting paid for those last Sherlock Holmes stories?  By my accounting, too much.  Nobody is putting "The Veiled Lodger" or "The Mazarin Stone" in their top three.  So although the amount of effort you put into these stories may be "cheap," they sure weren't cheap to your publishers.

"It was not to my mind high work."  Sir Arthur, I've read some of your "high work."  Let's just say the less said about "The History of Spiritualism," the better.

But here's what gets my goat:  "Now nobody can possibly be the better... for reading Sherlock Holmes."

Deep breath.

I am far from a long-time Sherlockian, but I have met some damn fine people who have spent years, decades even, loving these stories.  And they are better people than I.  So, don't you DARE pass judgement on the types of folks who enjoy a good detective yarn and mine those stories for inconsistencies, conspiracies, speculations, and whatever else interests them.  Sherlockians are some great folks, and to dismiss their interests just because it doesn't coincide with yours is nonsense.

I would invite Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to drift on back in his ghost form to any scion meeting and pay attention to the intelligence and friendship that would be on display.  They'd probably even listen to you go on about how Brigadier Gerard was a fascinating character and the physics of ectoplasm just to humor you.  Because Sherlockians are good people.  And I am a better person for knowing them.  And I know them because I read Sherlock Holmes.  Ergo, I am better for reading Sherlock Holmes.

So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

P.S.  This is all just a silly rambling.  Except for where I talked about how great Sherlockians are.  That's the truth.

Monday, October 15, 2018

It is More Useful to Reason Forwards

So, I found myself thinking about Hitler recently.

Whoa.  Let's back up, and see how this is a Sherlockian topic.

From Gillette to Brett V took place last weekend in Bloomington, Indiana, and from all accounts it was a great event!  I wasn't able to make it (Apparently, I'm expected to be at my daughter's birthday party.  My whining "But it's a Sherlockian conference!" had little to no effect.), but I followed along vicariously through Twitter, Facebook posts, and I Hear of Sherlock's live video Friday night.

One of the items on the weekend's roster was a showing of Der Hund Von Baskerville, the 1929 German film of Holmes' famous case, The Hound of the Baskervilles.  This was one of the films that were found in Adolf Hitler's bunker after WWII.

I also happened to be reading an old edition of The Baker Street Journal this week, when the same film was mentioned.  This issue was from 1948, and WWII was still fresh in everyone's mind.  It was mentioned that Hitler's copy of this film was part of an exhibition including other items from his bunker.

Okay, two Sherlockian connections to Hitler in one week.  Let's call that a coincidence.

But then the third happened.

I also read Vincent Starrett's Books Alive this week, written in 1940.  And he has a passing mention about Hitler, hoping to see him locked up in a prison soon.  Starrett never got his wish, but Hitler wasn't an issue for the world anymore after 1945.

I always close my Interesting Interview posts with the question "Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?" Do you think there is any way that if someone had asked Vincent Starrett in 1940 what he expected to see in the world surrounding the Sherlock Holmes stories in 5 to 10 years, he would have guessed that The Hound of the Baskervilles film would've been found in Hitler's bunker after he had committed suicide?  That's a pretty specific prediction.

So, where will WE see our hobby in 5 to 10 years?  I love the variety of answers I've gotten from the interviews so far this year.  Beth Gallego, Brad Keefauver, Carlina De La Cova, Vicki Delaney, Ray Betzner, Ashley Polasek and Vincent Wright have all given their takes on this question.  I love that their answers are so diverse yet positive about our hobby.  Sherlockiana isn't going anywhere anytime soon, even if it did have a slight brush with Hitler.

So where do YOU see Sherlockiana in 5 to 10 years?  Leave a comment below and let's get those creative juices flowing!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

We Have Made Some Progress

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of posts about people kicking it into high gear to complete their 2018 resolutions.  And that made me think that maybe I should take stock and see how I'm doing on my Sherlockian resolutions for the year.

1. Read one canonical short story every week.

2. Update the Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street Facebook page on a regular basis.

3. Make good progress on my next writing project geared towards young readers.

4. Help create a space online where educators can find Sherlockian resources for lesson plans.

5. Keep membership numbers up for The Parallel Case of St. Louis and foster a welcoming environment for anyone in the St. Louis area to join us in discussing the Canon.

6. Have Holmes in the Heartland be a fun and educational Sherlockian weekend.

7. Submit an article to the Baker Street Journal.

Wow.  Now that I look back, I had some lofty goals for this year, and quite a few of them! 

(Deep breath)  Okay, let's see how things look.

1.  Read one canonical short story every week.

I gave up on this a months ago. 

I realized fairly early on that this was becoming more of a reading requirement and I wasn't enjoying the stories as much as I have in the past.  I did read quite a few stories so far this year though:

  1. The Adventure of the Three Students 
  2. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches 
  3. The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual 
  4. The Adventure of the Reigate Squires 
  5. The Adventure of the Crooked Man 
  6. The Adventure of the Golden Pince Nez 
  7. Silver Blaze 
  8. The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter 
  9. The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter 
  10. The Adventure of the Naval Treaty
  11. The Final Problem 
  12. The Adventure of the Empty House 
  13. The Adventure of the Norwood Builder 
  14. The Adventure of the Abbey Grange 
  15. The Adventure of the Dancing Men 
  16. The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist 
  17. The Cardboard Box
  18. The Adventure of the Priory School 
  19. A Scandal in Bohemia 
  20. The Adventure of the Yellow Face 
  21. The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist 
  22. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches 
  23. The Stockbroker’s Clerk 
To be honest, when I thought back on this, I didn't expect to see so many on the list.  I'm pleasantly surprised by making it to 23 (22 if you want to count against me for reading SOLI twice this year).  52 stories was a lofty goal, and I probably won't even get to half of that, but I'm very happy with being able to say I've read more than 20 Holmes stories this year.  I'm calling it a win.

2. Update the Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street Facebook page on a regular basis.

Pfft.  That fizzled out pretty quickly.  No way I can count that as a win in any way, shape or form.

3. Make good progress on my next writing project geared towards young readers.

This one's trickier.  In December, I specifically said "My goal is to start working on it in the next month.  It's going to be geared towards younger readers, and my research will start in earnest this winter.  My hope is that I will be ready to start the writing process by the spring."

My plan for the book changed.  Although I did do some writing, drafting two chapters over the summer.  I moved the research part back to November, when I'll be teaching Sherlock Holmes to my students, and plan to spend quite a bit of time on it over the Thanksgiving break.  So let's call this one a draw.

4. Help create a space online where educators can find Sherlockian resources for lesson plans.

Things are definitely looking better with my resolutions now.  The Beacon Society website is an easier to navigate site for educators who might not be too familiar with Sherlock Holmes.  And we are continuing to work on more and more resources to be available.  Score.

5. Keep membership numbers up for The Parallel Case of St. Louis and foster a welcoming environment for anyone in the St. Louis area to join us in discussing the Canon.

I'm going to say right up front that there is no possible way I can take more than even the smallest bit of credit for this resolution and the next one coming true.  The Parallel Case of St. Louis is a great group of people and our discussions and welcoming atmosphere are a testament to the wonderful people that come out to our meetings.  That being said, I still get the point for the resolution.  My resolutions, my scoring system.

6. Have Holmes in the Heartland be a fun and educational Sherlockian weekend.

Hell yeah, this happened!  When I posted this resolution in December, we didn't even have a name for our conference.  Eight months later, we pulled off a great weekend full of speakers, dinners, tours, events, and a sizable attendance.  And you know what, we've got another one cooking for 2020.  Point scored.

7. Submit an article to the Baker Street Journal.

And then I'll end on a loss.  Admittedly, I called this my stretch goal for the year.  I obviously thought I would have a lot more time to write than I actually did.  But even when the thought of putting an idea down to submit to the BSJ boils up, I am absolutely paralyzed.  I'm not ready to submit to the BSH.  I'm not there yet.  But someday....

So, that's my status report.  4 wins, 2 losses, and 1 draw.  I'm proud to see what I've accomplished so far this year, and glad to see that I still have a lot to do.  But not tonight, I'm tired.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Interesting Interview: Vincent Wright

It's a new month, so it's time for the next Interesting Interview!  This month, I was lucky enough to Vincent Wright, one of the preeminent Sherlockian chronologists of our time.  Vincent not only spends his time unraveling Watson's dates and mysteries, but pops up at many a Sherlockian conference to give talks, blogs about his research, and has been interviewed on one or two podcasts. 

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
Anyone who enjoys any aspect of Sherlock Holmes. It all keeps the memory green.

How did you become a Sherlockian?
"Officially" once I moved to Indianapolis. I joined up with the local society, The Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, in 1997. I was a "social Sherlockian" for a long time after that, but then I really got into it and started going in deeper in all things Canonical. I had owned copies of William S. Baring-Gould's The Annotated Sherlock Holmes for many years, but wasn't really aware of how widespread the Sherlockian world was until I moved to Indy.

What is your favorite canonical story?
I would have to say 'The Red-Headed League.' A very close second has to be 'The Resident Patient.'

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
Oh, my. There are so many incredible people in this hobby. Everybody brings something to the proverbial table, but I would have to say that everyone should keep an eye on Susan Bailey. She is an amazing Sherlockian who is just getting started on the speaking circuit, and her research abilities are incredible. I see wondrous things coming from her in the near future.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
The chronological aspect. I was hooked into it early on in my Sherlockian "career" and it has never waned. An adjunct of that would be studying Victorian London. I love finding out anything I can about it.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
I have a Facebook page and blog called Historical Sherlock. On those sites I do my best to tie Holmes, Watson, and other Canonical characters into their surroundings. Into Victorian London/England. I am constantly looking for "evidence" that those people were real by finding a way to plant their feet in an actual place or situation. I say it's "playing The Game in a most unusual way." You name a subject and I've probably looked into it and/or have a file about it and have tried to figure out how it relates to The Canon and its characters.

How did you become so interested in chronology?
I was fascinated by Baring-Gould's chronology in The Annotated, but even more intrigued when I bought a second chronology book and some of the dates were different! I looked into it more and more and started to find that there was this never ending debate about dates for the cases. I loved reading the different chronologist's reasons and logic for their dates. It's a big puzzle that still rages among we current chronologists, and one that isn't likely to end soon. I'm working on something that may end the problems once and for all, but I can't reveal what that is yet.

Other than your own chronological studies, is there one chronology that really stands out to you for a particular reason?
I really like Brad Keefauver's 'A Basic Timeline of Terra 221b' on his Sherlock Peoria site. He has a way of looking at things waaaaay outside of the box, and I love what he comes up with. (Not that I agree with all of his dates, though.) I am still a fan of Baring-Gould's, and I also like Martin Dakin's and Jay Finley Christ's.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
I know I have (or will have) mentioned it several times, but I love giving people copies of Baring-Gould's The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. There just so much to find in those two volumes, and it's a perfect way to get a deep understanding of some of the less-well-known parts of The Canon. I would also say everyone needs a copy of The New Good Old Index by William D. Goodrich.

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

I don't anticipate a lot of changes coming. The hobby is very strong right now, and lots of good work is being done, along with some fresh blood coming in and shaking things up.  I think we'll still be chugging along the same way in the next decade without abatement. There is always something to explore (or re-explore), or discover, or create - and we will always do just those things. It's a comfortable constant.