Sunday, July 26, 2020

That is Martha [LAST]

Martha Hudson does not exist in the Canon.  Because of Vincent Starrett's essay "The Singular Adventure of Martha Hudson," Sherlockians have taken to heart that an imaginary character can be created from three very different ones: a reliable landlady, a gossipy housekeeper, and a quiet spy.

The name 'Martha' is only used in "His Last Bow."  She is the only servant left at Von Bork's mansion on the night that the story takes place.  While the German agent is showing off to his comrade, Baron Von Herling, the dear old ruddy-faced woman, accompanied by her cat, was bent over her knitting in a different room.  As far as Von Bork was concerned, the old lady's self absorption and sleepiness personified Britannia.  

We later learn that Martha has been placed in Von Bork's mansion by Holmes himself and that night signaled Holmes and Watson to arrive at the mansion only after the Baron has left when Holmes could capture the spy without incident.  This spy cannot be the Baker Street landlady.

Sure, Mrs. Hudson was helpful by turning the wax dummy of Holmes in "The Empty House," but the woman who had to be instructed to crawl so she wouldn't be seen is now the one privy to Holmes's plans and is making judgments on whether or not he should arrive with the Baron in the house?  Mrs. Hudson, a woman who was excited to find a revolver bullet in the carpet of Baker Street has grown into someone who monitors letters written by spies?  No, it will hardly do.

"But," some would say, "maybe the landlady grew tired of her digs in London and wanted a life of adventure?"

Sure, people long for adventure, but as D. Martin Dakin points out in A Sherlock Holmes Commentary, this theory will not hold water merely for the fact that Holmes addresses the woman in LAST by her first name.  "Victorian formality of speech ruled out the use of Christian names for anyone but members of the family (like Mycroft), children (like Jack Ferguson) or servants (like Billy the page or John in 'The Man With the Twisted Lip').  Watson was Holmes's most intimate friend, to whom he was deeply devoted, yet never in all their years together does he call him anything but 'Watson', except when he is 'Doctor' or some similar phrase.  It is incredible that he would have been so guilty of such familiarity with the landlady whom, we are told, he had always treated with such gentleness and courtesy."

But the Mandela effect can be strong, so let me offer one more piece of evidence to prove that 'Martha' is not 'Mrs. Hudson.'  At the end of EMPT, Holmes is checking in with Mrs. Hudson and shows concern for her well being (“I hope you preserved all precautions, Mrs. Hudson?”), praise for a small task (“Excellent. You carried the thing out very well."), and then a curt dismissal as she is no longer needed for the case at hand ("All right, Mrs. Hudson, I am much obliged for your assistance.").

Holmes's interactions with Martha are quite different.  He describes her to Watson as someone "who has played her part to admiration."  When she arrives, Holmes says, "Ah, Martha, you will be glad to hear that all is well.”  She shows knowledge of the mission as she tells Holmes that she could not have left the previous night when Von Bork wanted her to accompany his wife, because "that would hardly have suited your plans."  And, although Holmes dismisses her in his typically curt manner, he makes arrangements to meet with her the following day at Claridge's Hotel back in London.  No, Martha was not an old friend whom Holmes asked to help him out.  This was a trained agent that Sherlock Holmes trusted to carry out a role and to make decisions that would allow him to achieve his goal of capturing a German spy.

So let go of those fantasies of the nice landlady that doubles as an international spy.  Martha and Mrs. Hudson are two different people.  Plus, Sherlock Holmes's landlady never owned a cat.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Interesting Interview: Jacquelynn Morris

Jacquelynn Morris is one of those rare people who are welcoming and fiery at the same time.  She's one of those Sherlockians who isn't clamoring to do everything everywhere, but when she flexes her canonical muscles, you realize you're in the presence of a keystone in our hobby.  She started Scintillation of Scions, has contributed to plenty of Sherlockian anthologies, is on the Board of Advisors for, and probably a million other things I don't know about because Jacquelynn is not one to toot her own horn.  In fact when I invited her to be interviewed, she said she probably wouldn't have much to say... you be the judge of that.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
I’m not sure that I can. When I first became active in the Sherlockian community the word was understood to mean those whose pastime was reading, writing, and discussing the Canon as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since 2009/2010, when the first Robert Downey, Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” film was released and the first season of BBC Sherlock was introduced in the UK, there was a period of enlightenment where people who had never read one of the stories took a sudden interest in Holmes and Watson as presented onscreen. 

Luckily, many liked the characters so much that they became absorbed in the source material of the original stories. Many of those newly-besotted became aficionados in their own way, bringing fresh perspectives and sparking lively discussions while also appreciating—and eventually participating in—more scholarly and traditional pursuits in the community. The definition of “Sherlockian” became more fluid than it had previously, and though there was an adjustment period I feel we have all reaped the benefits of a resurgence of interest in our favorite consulting detective.

How did you become a Sherlockian?
I was a great fan of the stories back when I was around 11 or 12 years old, but had no understanding of the existence of the literary community until many, many years later. It wasn’t until around 1994 or so when my brother and sister-in-law recommended the Granada Jeremy Brett series that I rediscovered Holmes. From there it was a complete immersion back into the stories again, while at the same time I became involved in other mystery fiction. Then I joined AOL with the screen name “Sherlockia” (which I had intended to be “Sherlockian,” but AOL limited names to 10 characters), found what was then the Mystery Fiction Forum, and my life would never be the same.

One of my first searches in AOL’s Mystery Fiction Forum was for anything Sherlock Holmes related. There was a Sunday evening chat, “The Scandalous Bohemians,” where each week’s chat focused on one of the canonical stories. There were questions for discussion among the small group of participants and the chat hosts, which included my now long-time friend, Regina Stinson. It was through Regina, who had long been involved in all things Sherlockian, that I first found out about the international community of Holmes aficionados, including the existence of scion societies. Before long I was entrenched in the AOL Mystery Fiction Forum, became a volunteer there, and was assigned the “Hardboiled Mysteries” message board as monitor, moderator, and discussion-starter. On the message board I met a great number of mystery writers who posted regularly; among them future BSIs-to-be Jan Burke, Dana Cameron, and my BSI classmate of 2014, SJ Rozan.

To wrap up this exceedingly long answer to your simple question, I’ll just say that through mystery fiction on AOL I began attending fan-run mystery conventions, where I met Debbie Clark, member of Watson’s Tin Box, who invited me to a meeting. Within two years I was the group’s Gasogene (president) for a year. It was all downhill from there!

What is your favorite canonical story? 
Had you asked me this prior to 2014, I might have answered differently, but since my BSI Investiture is “The Lion’s Mane” I would have to choose that story. When Chris Redmond asked me to contribute to his About Sixty anthology I requested it, to which he graciously agreed. Should you pick up a copy of ABOUT SIXTY you’ll read my defense of that story as the best of them all (Hint: Some of my defense involves it being one of only two of the 56 short stories and 4 novels that is narrated by Holmes himself).  

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
Among my Sherlockian friends whom I am privileged to know, I would say that one of the most interesting is Bonnie MacBird, whom I first met in 2012 through our common interest in saving Undershaw, Arthur Conan Doyle’s former home in the UK. 

Bonnie is the author of three (so far) Sherlock Holmes pastiches: ART IN THE BLOOD, UNQUIET SPIRITS, and THE DEVIL’S DUE (in addition, she has contributed to a number of Sherlockian publications). She has a fascinating history—she wrote the original screenplay for the movie TRON, won three Emmy Awards for documentary writing/producing, she’s a playwright and director, and teaches acting. 

Time spent with Bonnie is always a delight; I’ve had the pleasure of her company at many Sherlockian events over the years, and even once had a lovely tea at her flat in London. She knows a great deal about many, many things, and is a charming and thoughtful conversationalist. Discussing Holmes with Bonnie is a special treat—I hope you have an opportunity to meet her sometime.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
Oh, there are so many subsets! There are the collectors of books, the collectors of ephemera, people with careers in science and medicine which add so much to our understanding of Canon, writers, artists, curators, sewists of historical garb, historians, archivists, tobacco experts, creators of authentic 221b sitting rooms, experts on the history of the BSI and individuals who added to the hobby throughout its history—it is an embarrassment of riches. Just about any direction one finds to go in our interest in and study of anything related to Canon, there will be fellow travelers. I love the variety, and so have not fixed on any one subset. 

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
I enjoy finding an angle in a story that may not have caught anyone else’s attention, then researching that angle to prove or disprove my own theory about it. As an example, when I was asked to contribute to the BSI Manuscript Series for The Wrong Passage (“The Golden Pince-Nez”) regarding the poison Anna Coram used, the angle I found was that though it is assumed by nearly everyone that Anna died from the poison the story never says that she did. Through researching poisons available at the time and consulting with experts of my acquaintance I was able to support my theory and propose what poison it had to have been. I love research, even when it doesn’t prove what I want it to!

You've been involved with Scintillation of Scions since the beginning.  How did it come about and what are some of your favorite memories from it?
Scintillation sprang nearly fully-formed from my head during a road trip in early 2008; with the support of Watson’s Tin Box and Peter Blau’s blessing we held the first Scintillation in August 2008. My favorite memory is of that very first event, when we had no money, no one knew who or what we were, I sucked at delegating and tried to do too much myself (bad plan), but, as the years following would continue to prove, Sherlockians are generous and hard-working and will step up to offer to help. That first time was when I saw my vision take on shape and form through the efforts of kindred spirits who shared that vision. It would all have been a terrible flop if not for Watson’s Tin Box, Andy Solberg, Peter Blau, Bill Hyder, Art Renkwitz, Denny Dobry, John Sherwood, Regina Stinson, Joel and Karen Ballard, and the late Paul Churchill, who believed in me.

The vision I had for Scintillation (the name, by the way, was created by Tin Boxer Debbie Clark, as a collective noun, “A Scintillation of Scions”) was to have a Sherlockian “family reunion” for the East Coast aside from BSI Weekend. I imagined a one-track symposium, an afternoon tea, and time for people to socialize and get to know people from other scions. Before we knew it, Scintillation had become known across the country with upwards of 100 attendees (deliberately capped at that number by me, as my vision was not for an all-out convention but for an intimate gathering of kindred spirits). The first couple of years we had to find speakers, but from then on well-known Sherlockians were asking us if they could speak! After ten years of organizing the event, with the help and hard work of an exceptional committee, I decided that it was time for another person’s vision, new ideas, different directions, so Scintillation X was my last, and Karen Wilson has quite successfully taken the reins. The committee stayed on with her and Greg Ruby, with his year's of event planning, came on board. I am exceedingly proud of every one of the Scintillation team!

And speaking of conferences, I first got to meet you at Holmes, Doyle, and Friends back in 2018 where you gave an enlightening talk on the importance of tea in the Canon.  What types of teas do you think Holmes and Watson would prefer?
Interesting question! We know they drink coffee as it’s mentioned in the Canon, but as for tea I would imagine they would enjoy a strong black tea in the afternoon. I see for Holmes and Watson a good Earl Grey, like Kusmi Tea’s Anastasia (my personal favorite), or Fortnum & Mason’s Smoky Earl Grey (named after Charles, the second Earl Grey, not to be confused with the British actor, Charles Gray, who was Granada’s Mycroft). 

Though these particular blends would have to be sent back to 1895 via a time machine, surely their equivalents were available through different tea vendors in their London. As Earl Grey tea is not traditionally served with milk, neither Holmes nor Watson would muddy the distinct flavor of the bergamot in the tea. Rather, I would expect Holmes to drink his tea straight and Watson to add a bit of sugar or honey and, if Mrs. Hudson was so inclined, a slice of lemon for his cup.  

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
I have not only recommended it, but I’ve bought copies (8 copies so far, according to Amazon) as gifts of Steve Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes for Dummies. It’s a perfect introduction for new Sherlockians and a valuable resource for the rest of us. I find myself going back to it regularly for information or to refresh my own memory. It really is a great book!

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now? 
In 5 years’ time I expect that we will all be settled into our particular avenues of interest while continuing to encourage others to discover Holmes and Watson. I’ve been told by those with a longer history in the hobby than myself that there is a resurgence of interest every 15 years or so; there was one during the Jeremy Brett years, then the Robert Downey, Jr. films and BBC Sherlock, which we are still experiencing. 

I hope that should I still be above ground 10 years from now perhaps we might be fortunate to have adaptations more aligned with Canon with regard to the stories, as Granada once attempted to do. More diversity in actors and even settings would be optimal; it is the stories with those characters and their unique friendship that caught us up in all of this to begin with. I would love to see Doyle’s stories on screen, loyal to the originals, the plots minimally altered and adapted as time and budget would permit. (I might discourage a showrunner/producer from putting The Mazarin Stone on screen--no one needs that!) 

Monday, July 6, 2020

Interesting Interview: Mike McSwiggin

Oh, are you in for a treat today!  If you've been to a Sherlockian event in the past few years, this guy probably looks familiar.  And if you've been lucky enough to meet him, you know a fun batch of answers is coming up.  Mike McSwiggin is a low-key guy, but once you meet him he is a Sherlockian that you always want to talk to.  Self-deprecating, funny, and wildly knowledgeable, Mike is one of the most easy-going Sherlockians around and so great to spend time with.  But don't take my word for it; see for yourself in Mike's Interesting Interview:

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Well, the easy answer is to say someone who dissects the Holmes stories and devours the writings about the writings.  But to be honest, the deeper I get into the Sherlockian world, the more I realize that isn’t always the most accurate picture.  For some people, sure: they can quote the Canon like some invoke scripture.  And some seem to have read every theory about every idiosyncrasy ever published in a Sherlockian journal. 

But others have little interest in the writings about the writings.  Some obsess over every film adaptation.  And others collect one type (or many types) of Sherlock Holmes bauble.  I think it really boils down to two traits: a Sherlockian loves Sherlock Holmes and enjoys being around other people who love Sherlock Holmes.  Where you fall in the spectrum doesn’t really matter.  And, frankly, if we all had the same background and the same interests, we would be a boring group of people who probably would just irritate each other.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I read the stories fairly early in school.  I came across Baring-Gould’s Annotated in the public library and I went from being a fan to becoming an addict.  As an adult, I went to some Sherlockian events, and enjoyed them all.  But it wasn’t until my friendship with the late Paul Herbert (founder of Cincinnati’s Tankerville Club and walking encyclopedia of Sherlockian knowledge) that I truly understood anything about the Sherlockian world or what I might add to it.    

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes Volume 1 and 2: Doyle, Sir Arthur ...

What is your favorite canonical story?

It changes frequently, depending on my mood.  For the moment, I’ll say HOUN.  There is so much right with this story, and the atmosphere cannot be topped.  Being a novella rather than a short story allows that atmosphere to build.  But unlike STUD or SIGN, the story remains linear. 

And while some knock the story for having less Holmes, I think the proportion of Watson to Holmes makes sense, given the relationships and perspectives that needed to be built.  I seem to find at least one new aspect to enjoy with each re-reading.  My latest little nugget: bitterns are secretive birds.  Who knew?  I have no idea what makes a bird secretive, but I like knowing that the bird mentioned in the story has its secrets.

The Hound of the Baskervilles - Wikipedia

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

Ross Davies.  Ross is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, Sherlockian or otherwise.  He gives some of the most compelling speeches and presentations I’ve ever seen.  Whether speaking about World War I, the history of portraiture, or bobbleheads (I’ve seen him espouse upon all three), he knows how to tell a compelling story. 

And that makes sense, as Ross is a law school professor.  He edits & publishes The Green Bag, a law journal that finds great excuses for working in Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe quite regularly.  He now also edits & publishes The Baker Street Almanac, a great resource for Sherlockians (despite having things I wrote in there). 

If you are on the fence about going to a conference, and you see Ross will be speaking, you should go.  And then do yourself the favor and get up the nerve to speak to him afterward.  I did, and I have been joyfully paying the price ever since.

Bobbleheads honor Supreme Court justices | National |

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Well, Rob, as you had me confess it in a book you co-edited, I am a chronologist.  I like reading about the lines of reasoning others have had in trying to date the stories.  And then I enjoy crafting my own answers. 

For those who haven’t been exposed to this deviancy, know that the stories as they are written pose some problems with the dates as given by Watson.  Chronologists seek to divine the actual dates for the cases.  Chronology is the red-headed stepchild of the Sherlockian world.  I actually told someone at an event that I was a chronologist, and he unconsciously took a step backward.  Next time I see him, I’m going to tell him I am also a pickpocket.  I wonder if he will back up more or become relaxed?  

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

Well, apart from the chronology stuff, I really enjoy crafting insane Sherlockian quiz questions.  Paul Herbert was infamous for his maniacally difficult quiz questions at the Tankerville Club.  While I don’t like an entire quiz to be made up with those kinds of questions, a few of them peppered among the normal stuff can be fun. 

The key is to not limit yourself to information only found in the story.  That provides two benefits: it gives you a wider field of play and ruffles the feathers of people who want things to be boring.  Here is an example from a quiz I did for BLUE: 

Apart from its meaning in the story (which is a type of cap), a Scotch bonnet may also refer to which of the following (circle all that apply):

A:)  a variety of chili pepper

B:)  a fairy ring mushroom

C:)  the official state shell of North Carolina

D:)  an island in Lake Ontario

And the answer is, in fact, all four choices.

As a student of chronology, do you think there will ever be a timeline of the Canon that everyone can agree on?

Absolutely not.  The average Sherlockian just won’t care.  And that diseased subset of Sherlockians called chronologists – we’ll just continue to fight.  Watson, through a combination of purposeful obfuscation and general poor note-taking, left us a real Gordian knot.  But that’s the fun of it.  If someone could devise a unified field theory for this stuff, it probably would have happened already. 

And we would instead be arguing about why so many birds are mentioned in the Canon.

What is a piece of Sherlockian scholarship that you think every Sherlockian should read?

I love D. Martin Dakin’s A Sherlock Holmes Commentary, from 1972.  It is the total package:  it is extremely well-written, the facts cited are correct (I won’t name names here, but there are some works of scholarship with some factual errors – likely due to small or non-existent editing budgets), each chapter represents a different story, there are so many great discussion topics for each case, and each chapter starts off with affixing a date to the given case! 

Dakin does a fantastic job of explaining how he decided on each date.  But don’t be frightened off, as the chronology discussion is just one facet of each chapter.  You do not need to care about chronology at all to get a lot out of this book.  Yes, it is out of print (like so many books of Sherlockian scholarship).  But you can pick up a decent reading copy for well under $20.  And short of an omnibus of the 60 stories itself, you will be hard-pressed to get a better value for your Sherlockian dollar.

A Sherlock Holmes Commentary: Dakin, D. Martin: Books

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

If they have never read any Nero Wolfe stories by Rex Stout, I like to recommend Too Many Cooks, which is one of my favorites.  I am as much a Wolfean as I am a Sherlockian, and so like to cheer for the other team whenever I can.  Stout’s Wolfe stories are so well-done and under-appreciated.  Chandler seems to get all of the accolades for mid-twentieth century mystery writers (and, hell, I love his books as well).  But Stout took all of that pithiness and added a great sense of humor.

If they HAVE read Stout, I like to recommend Steve Hockensmith.  His “Holmes on the Range” stories featuring brothers Big Red and Old Red are fantastic.  Great writing paired with great humor.  I tend to despise westerns, so for me to recommend anything that could be remotely construed as a western is saying something.

Holmes on the Range

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

I am making a conscious decision to answer this as optimistically as I can.  I hope we are able to build upon the influx of younger Sherlockians in the last few years.  Maybe they came for Cumberbatch, but stayed for the surprisingly fun literary discussion. 

And in addition to the younger people, I hope we are able to reach more people of diverse backgrounds.  Different countries, different socio-economic groups, different ethnic backgrounds.  One of the few positives of this pandemic is attending online Sherlockian meetings and events with people from all over the country (and world).  I have really enjoyed hearing discussions with voices unfamiliar to me. 

And I love hearing newly minted devotees of Holmes and Watson speak passionately about our shared hobby.  Their excitement is infectious.  If a Sherlockian event was full of people all with the same opinions, the same perspective, that would be brutally dull.

I just inadvertently came full circle to my answer to your first question, which means I probably should stop and pretend that I planned any of this out.