Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Complete Change Freshened Me Up Wonderfully [SIGN]

Yesterday I sat down to type up this week's blog post and it was just a bunch of whining that I can't go to November's BSI event in Indiana or Scintillation of Scions next summer.  I got about three paragraphs in and realized how miserable it all sounded.  And that's not what Sherlockiana is about.

Luckily, I had a much better Sherlockian day today!

I am working on a Sherlockian book project with my friend Peter Eckrich and 33 other wonderful folks.  Today, Peter and I spent three hours at a coffee house editing and talking about the submissions for this project and it just reinforced what a great group of folks Sherlockians are.  If this project pans out, I think y'all are in for a real treat!

So why sit around and mope about the things I can't do?  There's too much in the Sherlockian world to try and do it all.  BSI Weekend, The Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium, Nicholas Meyer at the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis...  Hell, I've even had to stop going to one of my local scions because I just couldn't get out to their meetings.

And that's okay.

Instead, I'm going to be happy that there are so many things going on across the country and that our hobby is booming.  This is an embarrassment of riches!  Think of all of the books that come out each year, how many journals you can subscribe to, the number of Facebook groups you can join, email groups to join, scion societies to attend, Tumblrs to follow, and the list goes on and on.

So this is a reminder to myself and whomever else needs to hear this:  There's a lot to be excited for in our hobby. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a project to edit, an event to plan, an article to write, books to read, emails to send.....

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Then I Will Go Back to Him With Some Faked Papers [VALL]

"The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" is a work of fiction.

Of course it was written by John H. Watson, M.D.  But there's some nonsense in this story.  Mostly the last two paragraphs.  But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

We all know the story:

Watson and Holmes are having tea. 

Holmes says, "BTW did you know I had a brother?" 

Watson probably does a spit-take and it's off to the Diogenes Club! 

Brother Mycroft is fat and better at detecting how many kids someone has than Sherlock is.

Mycroft's neighbor comes over with a problem: he saw a guy who's been kidnapped, translates some threats from a small giggling man, and gets dumped in the middle of nowhere. 

Mycroft places ads in a bunch of papers and Sherlock and Watson go home. 

Mycroft NEVER diverts from his habit, except for this one time (and the time submarine plans were stolen, and the time he had to drive a cab, etc. etc.) and he rolls into Baker Street with news. 

Time to go rescue a Greek man. 

Oh, and the neighbor has been kidnapped again. 

But first - warrants! 

Bureaucracy, yada yada... 

Finally, the scene of the crime. 

Oh no, the door is locked.

Holmes unlocks a window.

Gregson: “It is a mercy that you are on the side of the force, and not against it, Mr. Holmes."  (Man, that would be a fun idea for a book!)

The Greek man is dead, the neighbor is saved by good old brandy, and a woman ends up kidnapped.

Holmes says, "Case closed."

And then we get these two paragraphs:

"And this was the singular case of the Grecian Interpreter, the explanation of which is still involved in some mystery. We were able to find out, by communicating with the gentleman who had answered the advertisement, that the unfortunate young lady came of a wealthy Grecian family, and that she had been on a visit to some friends in England. While there she had met a young man named Harold Latimer, who had acquired an ascendancy over her and had eventually persuaded her to fly with him. Her friends, shocked at the event, had contented themselves with informing her brother at Athens, and had then washed their hands of the matter. The brother, on his arrival in England, had imprudently placed himself in the power of Latimer and of his associate, whose name was Wilson Kemp—a man of the foulest antecedents. These two, finding that through his ignorance of the language he was helpless in their hands, had kept him a prisoner, and had endeavored by cruelty and starvation to make him sign away his own and his sister's property. They had kept him in the house without the girl's knowledge, and the plaster over the face had been for the purpose of making recognition difficult in case she should ever catch a glimpse of him. Her feminine perception, however, had instantly seen through the disguise when, on the occasion of the interpreter's visit, she had seen him for the first time. The poor girl, however, was herself a prisoner, for there was no one about the house except the man who acted as coachman, and his wife, both of whom were tools of the conspirators. Finding that their secret was out, and that their prisoner was not to be coerced, the two villains with the girl had fled away at a few hours' notice from the furnished house which they had hired, having first, as they thought, taken vengeance both upon the man who had defied and the one who had betrayed them.

Months afterwards a curious newspaper cutting reached us from Buda-Pesth. It told how two Englishmen who had been traveling with a woman had met with a tragic end. They had each been stabbed, it seems, and the Hungarian police were of opinion that they had quarreled and had inflicted mortal injuries upon each other. Holmes, however, is, I fancy, of a different way of thinking, and holds to this day that, if one could find the Grecian girl, one might learn how the wrongs of herself and her brother came to be avenged."

Lies, all lies!

Let's say you are John Watson and you've been writing about your amazing roommate for about ten years now.  Things are going well.  Those Strand checks are coming in and you've got money for the track and billiards with Thurston.  But then you hear that said roommate has an even more amazing older brother.  (Never mind that this has been a secret for a decade for some reason)  This will be an amazing story to write up!  Bonus: there's a mystery attached to it.

And then Holmes doesn't care.

A man was murdered, his sister kidnapped, and another man almost killed.  And Sherlock Holmes is done looking into things. 

This does not make for a good story.  But Watson is not about to let a story slip away.  With a few fabrications, we have a classic Sherlockian tale.  I've read this store time and time again, and I've never been struck by the hollow ring of these final paragraphs before. 

Why would Sophy Kratides's landlord know all about her brother's plight?

Who would have known enough to send a newspaper clipping to Sherlock Holmes?

How did Sophy Kratides disappear without a trace after taking out her captors?

There are too many unanswered questions at the end of the story.  We love a happy ending, but this one wraps up a little too neatly.  I argue that Watson wanted to write up The Greek Interpreter but had to use artistic license to keep his audience happy.  And don't give me that whole "Mycroft was working for Moriarty" business.  My money is on an author who knew what the people wanted.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Interesting Interview: Peter Blau

Peter Blau is a name that Sherlockians hear almost from day one in this hobby.  He is an avid collector, clearing-house of information, and a genuinely nice guy.  I've subscribed to The Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press for years and have corresponded with Peter through a few emails here and always found him to be affable.

But last month I got to meet Peter.  And when I introduced myself to him in Minneapolis, I expected a cursory "Hello, how are you?" and then he would be off to talk to folks more important than myself.  What I got was a man who was happy to talk with anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes and found him coming up to my dealer's table more than a few times that weekend to talk to me about specific issues of The Baker Street Journal, the birthday weekend, John Bennett Shaw, and other tidbits.

But don't just take my word for it.  Peter has been an invested member of the Baker Street Irregulars for 60 years now.  Sure, plenty of folks can do that by living long enough, but how many of them have been so influential and left such a positive impact on those they've come in to contact with to warrant a book about their Sherlockian influence while they were still alive?

So, read on.  And enjoy this month's Interesting Interview with Peter Blau, Sherlockian Extraordinaire.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I think that a Sherlockian is someone who enjoys the Sherlock Holmes stories, and does something more.  That something can include reading (or writing) Sherlockian scholarship and pseudo-scholarship, reading (or writing) pastiches, joining a Sherlockian society, playing the Grand Game that some of us enjoy so much, collecting, teaching, and on and on.   

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I don't remember anything about reading my first Sherlock Holmes story, but I found the world of Sherlockians thanks to Ben Abramson, who in 1948 persuaded my father to subscribe to the Baker Street Journal for me . . . I started writing to people who contributed to the BSJ, and was delighted when they actually replied.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I always say it's the one I've read most recently . . . in this case "The Missing Three-Quarter" . . . all the stories have something that's both interesting and enjoyable.

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

It was the late John Bennett Shaw who taught me just about everything I know about enjoying the world of Sherlockians. . . and there's a Facebook page for The Friends of John Bennett Shaw that shows just how much he has meant to so many people.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I enjoy collecting, and of course collecting.

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

My special interest at the moment is in Sherlockian drama . . . stage, screen, radio, and television.

What is one of the biggest changes you have seen in Sherlockiana during your time in this hobby?

There so many more Sherlockians now, thanks to new media and new ways people find the world of Sherlockians.

How did Scuttlebutt come about?

It began as pieces of paper on which I paragraphed gossip to send to John Bennett Shaw, and he did the same.  Then it became "information sheets" with limited circulation, and then (and now) an actual newsletter.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Zach Dundas' The Great Detective and Mattias Bostrom's From Holmes to Sherlock

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

I've no idea . . . predictions seem always to be wrong when it comes to the future.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

I Confess That I am Surprised and Disappointed [SIGN]

After last week's exciting news of Holmes in the Heartland, I'm sorry to take a less enthusiastic tone this week.  But this topic is near and dear to my heart, and I feel that I've been misled by someone very important to me.

The topic: Book Recommendations

The perpetrator: Sherlock Holmes

As someone who does a book recommendation segment on The Watsonian Weekly podcast, I'm always looking for Sherlockian books to tell others about.  As a Sherlockian, I'm always looking for interesting books that I haven't read yet.  In fact, I have an ongoing TBR list that is three pages long, and two and a half shelves of books in my basement just waiting to be read.

So I view it as an important time investment when I read a Sherlockian book.  Life's too short to read bad books, right?

That's why I was so disappointed by Mr. Holmes.

"Let me recommend this book,—one of the most remarkable ever penned. It is Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man," Holmes says in The Sign of Four.

Sherlock Holmes can't be wrong.  So for years, I've expected this book to be a worthwhile addition to my shelves.  Well, I finally got around to reading it last week.  And let me NOT recommend this book.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't the literary version of Holmes and Watson, where I would be hard pressed to come up with any enjoyable parts.  Reade makes some very interesting points in his history of the world, but he never seems to decide if he wants to be writing a history text or an opinion piece on religion.  

And it's a long book.  It took forever to read and was confusing.  At first I thought it was just me.  School was back in session, I was exhausted every night, and had little time to read outside of the demands of work and family.  I was starting to wonder if I wasn't paying attention as I read.  Things started sounding familiar later in the book.  Was I rereading pages I'd already read?  No.  Winwood Reade repeats himself in this book a lot.

Some Sherlockians like to have a copy of every book mentioned in the Canon.  Clark Russell sea stories, Bradshaw, Catallus, etc.  I love books and I always thought I'd end up there someday.  But if I have a book on my shelf, I want to have read it.  And I don't know if I can trust Sherlock Holmes to recommend books to me anymore.  Holmes's book recommendations are never to be entirely trusted,—not the best of them.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Excited by the Amazing Announcement [VALL]

I have been sitting on this announcement for a while and I can finally talk about it publicly!

Holmes in the Heartland is back in 2020!

Our inaugural Sherlockian weekend last year was a great success, and we are excited to have another one next year.  We got some great feedback from last year's attendees and think everyone coming to St. Louis next summer is in for a real treat!

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  First things first. 

When and where is it?

July 24-26, 2020 at the Sheraton Westport Plaza hotel in St. Louis, Missouri.

Put that weekend in your calendar now.  Registration won't open until October, but you're not going to want to forget those dates.

What can you expect when you come to Holmes in the Heartland in St. Louis next summer?

Well, here's where that feedback comes in.  Last year's Holmes in the Heartland celebrated the new St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection housed at the St. Louis Public Library, showcasing some items from the collection and talking about how it came to be.  But the room wasn't open on the day of the symposium so none of the visitors actually got to see the collection.  Many people said they would be interested in seeing what St. Louis's collection had there, so we are kicking the weekend off with that!

Friday afternoon will be a guided architectural tour of the St. Louis Public Library central branch, a beautiful Carnegie library full of Beaux-Arts and Neo-Classical touches that even a novice like myself can appreciate.  Following that, we will have a private viewing of the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection in the Rare Books and Manuscript Room of the library.  When we wrap up there, the group will take a short walk to Baileys' Range, a cool burger and ice cream spot.

Saturday will be a day full of Sherlockiana!  Another request we had was to have vendors at our next event, so get to the ballroom to check out the vendor tables before settling in for a day full of speakers on this year's theme, "Arch Enemies."

Kicking off the panel will be our keynote speaker, Curtis Armstrong.  But not to be outdone will be a great lineup of other Sherlockian speakers with their own takes on "Arch Enemies": Ray Betzner, Steven Doyle, Beth Gallego, Elinor Gray, Kristen Mertz, Dr. Minsoo Kang, and The St. Louis Costumers Guild.

You won't have far to go as Saturday's dinner will be at the Sheraton and followed by a Sherlockian game night.

But the theme is "Arch Enemies."  Shouldn't there be something about the Gateway Arch?

Yes, there should.  That's why Sunday will find you on the St. Louis riverfront and touring St. Louis's most famous landmark, the Gateway Arch!  Ride to the top, watch a movie on the history of the Arch, and check out the newly remodeled interactive museum at the Arch before wrapping up the weekend with lunch on historic Laclede's Landing.

I can't tell you how excited I am for this weekend.  The planning committee made up of members of The Parallel Case of St. Louis have come up with some really great stuff for 2020.  Come at once if convenient!