Wednesday, August 21, 2019

You May Have Read of the Remarkable Explorations of a Norwegian Part 2

As promised, here is the rest of my recap of the Norwegian Explorers' weekend!

Saturday kicked off with what seemed a bit of a canonical stretch.... Sherlock Holmes and how he was connected to the game show scandals of the 50's.  Alan Rettig showed a clip of two contestants utterly NAILING Sherlockian trivia.  Even moreso that some noted Sherlockian scholars.  And how did they do it?  Well, the game was rigged, obviously.  We were all glad to hear that, because I think everyone in the room was feeling pretty inferior as we watched the contestants nail question after question!

Barbara Rusch was up next with her talk, "The Creeping Man and Other Dark Tales of the Canon" where she shared her thoughts on many themes found in the sixty stories including pantheism, Darwinism, eugenics, stereotypes, and genetic determination.  She asked the audience if these views should be attributed to Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle.

David Polvere followed that with an in-depth look at what "baritsu" could have been.  His argument was that it was "batitsu," a form of self defense popularized by E.W. Barton-Wright (and his amazing mustache).  Batitsu was publicized in magazines in the 1890's, and Holmes could have learned this before it became widely known to the Victorian public.  If so, it was batitsu that not only helped Holmes defeat Moriarty at Reichenbach, but it came in handy with another caped crusader many years later.

Everyone's favorite anthropologist, Carlina de la Cova, was up next with "A Most Worthy Colleague in Anthropology."  After bumming everyone out by telling us that Indiana Jones isn't a real anthropologist, she delved into the meat of her talk, the anthropological aspects of two stories in particular, The Sussex Vampire and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Carlina admitted that she was probably the only person in the room who finds Dr. Mortimer cool and announced that she didn't covet Holmes's skull, she covets Benedict Cumberbatch's.

Cheryll Fong made her third Norwegian Explorers's presentation with "Minneapolis and the Farewell Tour," a look at the Minneapolis Opera House where William Gillette performed during his farewell tour with Sherlock Holmes.  A lot of historical fact about a local institution that the locals really enjoyed, but the rest of us learned something new for sure: many theaters of the time reserved the uppermost seats for the city's prostitutes.  The more you know...

Dan Payton wrapped up the day's lectures with his talk, "Victorian Attitudes Toward America," where he showed the results of a poll of 60 Sherlockians to see if they could name all of the stories in the Canon where America is mentioned.  And in sticking with the theme of the conference, announced that the average Victorian would have considered America a dark, wicked, and strange place.

There was some downtime between the presentations and dinner.  Some folks retired to their rooms for a respite, while I searched out as much Sherlockian contact as I could.  I love these weekends for this reason: hanging out with other people who share an interest so strongly that we will travel and spend an entire weekend talking about our shared passion.  Whether it was the hotel lobby or the bar, there was always someone to pal around with.  (You may notice my anxiety had completely disappeared by this point.  Sherlockians have a special way to make people feel welcome.)

Dinner soon followed, and I was lucky enough to sit with friends both old and new.  Joe Eckrich and Ed Weiss from The Parallel Case of St. Louis as well as old friend Cindy Brown from Texas were at the table, and we were joined by Jerry and Judy Margolin and Charles and Kristin Prepolec.  The night's conversation was an absolute delight, and I was remiss to give it up for the guest speaker, but it was the always magnificent Bill Mason, so it was definitely worth paying attention to!

Bill started off his talk by wondering what would Sherlock Holmes think if he were to walk into the room we were all in that night?  Obviously, some people would accost him for a selfie, but after the hubbub died down, would he be happy with what we Sherlockians have done to him?  Bill Mason is an absolute delight, so let me just quote some of his choicest lines from the night.

On Irene Adler: "That whole Irene Adler love interest nonsense has been impossible to kill."

On pastiche team ups: "Forrest Gump has nothing on pastiche Sherlock Holmes."

On a recent adaptation: "The worst thing that's ever been done to Sherlock Holmes can be summed up in two words: Will Ferrell."  and  "I will actually admit to laughing at Will Ferrell's Sherlock Holmes.  And I didn't bother anybody because I was the only person in the theater!"

But even though Bill proposed that Holmes himself could take issue with some of the things we've done to him, he ended his talk on a positive note.  Bill listed scores of reasons why Sherlock Holmes has endured all of these years.  At the heart, he is a character that we love, and can you ask for more than that?

Peter Blau took the podium then to oversee the night's auction.  The items included two Collier's magazines, issues containing The Adventure of Black Peter and The Adventure of the Dying Detective.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman autographs were also auctioned off.  And the final item was an original conference poster signed by the Explorers' own artist, Amanda Downs Champlin.  Thanks to the generous bidders, the UM library collections will continue to keep going strong for years to come.

Surprise, surprise, a large group of us found our way to a bar and spent a good amount of time getting to know each other better before we wrapped up our last night in the friendly north.  Then it was back to the rooms and our portraits of Loni Anderson (never forget about Loni Anderson).

Sunday found us at our last day of the conference, and it kicked off with fellow educator, Shannon Carlisle.  Her talk, "Whimsical Little Incidents and Three Pipe Problems in a Sherlockian Themed Classroom" introduced many people in the room to her classroom where she annually creates new Sherlockians at her elementary school.  The intersection of Sherlockiana and education is a sweet spot for me, and Shannon deserves her own blog post for sure.  In the meantime, check out to see how kids in your life can join in this hobby with age appropriate activities.

It was then time for the "Long Suffering Companions" panel.  Judy Margolin shared the story of what it's like to live in a museum.  She shared some of her husband, Jerry's, more interesting materials, the rules they have in their house for display, and some of the people who started out as visitors and turned into good friends.

Mike McKuras, husband to Norwegian Explorer Julie McKuras, shared stories of Sherlockian travels as an NSS (Non-Sherlockian Spouse).  Mike was down in St. Louis at one point and managed to only take one picture, that of a Clydestale's rump.  Hopefully, Mike and Julie can make it down to next year's Holmes in the Heartland conference and find more things to photograph!

John Bennett Shaw's step-daughter Barbara wrapped up the talks with tales of living with Johnny Appleseed.  John was THE Sherlockian collector.  But not only did he collect items, but he was also known for collecting Sherlockian visitors.  John's collection went on to become a major component of the University of Minnesota's Sherlockian collection, so her talk was very pertinent to the room.

I was looking at a ten hour drive back home and school started the following day, so it was time for me to slip out and hit the road.  I was sorry to miss the radio play, which I heard was wonderful.  I was even more sorry to go without saying goodbye to all of the people I got to spend such a great four days with.  Sherlockian friends old and new and from this country and Canada were the absolute highlight of this trip. 

I fully admit that as the beginning of school loomed closer and closer in the days leading up to the Norwegian Explorers's conference, I wondered if it was a bad idea to go north for four days.  On my way back, I had no such reservations.  It was the best Sherlockian event I've ever been to, and it's a good thing they only happen every three years, otherwise my heart might burst with appreciation for all of the amazing people in our hobby!

So, here's to everyone who put on an absolutely wonderful event: from the bottom of my heart, thank you for giving us a place to get together, thanks for all of the time it took to coordinate, and thanks for the welcoming atmosphere you've created.  Your conference may have been about dark, wicked, and strange things, but you folks are the furthest thing from it.