Monday, July 26, 2021

She is Always the Woman [SCAN]

Irene Adler, everybody knows the name.  Many people outside of this hobby of ours could be forgiven if they think of Miss Adler as a romantic interest for Sherlock Holmes or a shrewd con artist who is always one step ahead of the detective.

"A Scandal in Bohemia" kicks off The Adventures, and is many readers' first introduction to Sherlock Holmes.  So it's not surprising that Irene Adler makes such a strong impression on many people.  Her wit beat the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, so the contralto does deserve accolades.  But does she deserve the popularity and theories that have grown up around her over the years?


This character has been conflated into someone that who become almost synonymous with Sherlock Holmes.  Irene Adler appears in ONE story.  She has only one more canonical appearance than that heretical phrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson."

She speaks only three lines in the entire Canon:

    "Is the poor gentleman hurt much?"

    "Surely.  Bring him into the sitting-room.  There is a comfortable sofa.  This way, please!"


    "Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes."

That's it!  Three lines.  Of course she has that great letter explaining how she outwitted the world's first consulting detective, but is that why she has been lionized over the years?  There are plenty of other characters who are wonderfully cunning throughout the Canon, so I doubt it.

Is it because Holmes says that she is "the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet"?  Holmes is actually quoting all of the men who work on Miss Adler's street.  (A lot of people seem to forget that this phrase doesn't actually come from Holmes.)

Is it because she has seduced a prince or followed Holmes incognito?  I doubt it.

I think it's Watson's fault.

Doctor Watson, that helpless romantic, kicks off the first adventure of Sherlock Holmes this way:

"To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.  I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name.  In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex."

The reader is now primed to elevate this woman to mythical status.  Watson even immediately follows those three sentences with, "It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler."  But the die was cast.  With those introductory sentences, Irene Adler was catapulted to a height that no other canonical character would ever reach.  Countless adaptations and pastiches have turned them into romantic interests (even though Watson SPECIFICALLY say they were not), she's spun off into her own series of adventures, and William Baring-Gould even wrote that Sherlock whispered "Irene" with his dying breath.

All of it is nonsense and it's time for everyone to admit that Irene Adler was a great adversary, but that's it.  Let her live her life unencumbered by Sherlock Holmes because we have 59 other stories where Holmes is unencumbered by her.  Irene doesn't cross his path again, she's not Sherlocked, and they don't have a child named Nero Wolfe.  Their paths diverge after she fled the continent, never to return again.

Let it go.  And we should also start referring to her correctly.  Her name is Irene Norton.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Interesting Interview: Bill Mason

You know who everyone loves?  Bill Mason.  And with good reason.  Bill is one of the most welcoming folks I've ever met in our hobby.  And if that weren't enough, he's unbelievably smart, wickedly funny, a great writer, and a hell of a speaker.  Let's be honest, Bill Mason is the BeyoncĂ© of Sherlockiana.

Bill sang for everyone at the first Holmes in the Heartland in 2018, brought down the house in Minnesota in 2019, and probably would've had an amazing presentation somewhere in 2020 if it weren't for Covid.  He's been recognized all over the place, BSI, ASH, Bootmakers, etc., and as far as I know the scion he formed, The Fresh Rashers of Nashville, is the only scion named after bacon.  What's not to love?

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A Sherlockian is a devotee and student of Sherlock Holmes and his world, starting with the 60 stories of the Canon, but of course continually expanding from there. A Sherlockian has made a significant investment of time and psyche in the character and in The Game, as we call it.  

This is different, in my view, from a “fan” who might simply enjoy a Holmes story or some particular pastiche or cinematic adaptation. A Sherlockian will have that “inner self” attachment to Sherlock Holmes, and that attachment will manifest itself with a high degree of enthusiasm and commitment. A substantial slice of a Sherlockian’s life will be spent “pursuing Sherlock Holmes,” that is, the Holmes of the Canon.  That’s what inspired the title of my first book.  

How did you become a Sherlockian?

My mother was a high school teacher of English and French, and she always made sure I was a reader, not only of chapter books and comic books (which I devoured), but of quality literature as well.  On my thirteenth birthday, she gave me a copy of the Whitman Classics edition of Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, illustrated by Jo Polseno.  I just loved it, and soon read the rest of the tales. In my first year of college, I spent a couple of weeks’ worth of  lunch money on  Baring-Gould’s two-volume The Annotated Sherlock Holmes and discovered for the first time not only the writings about the writings, but also the existence of organized Sherlock Holmes societies. This captured my imagination.  I was excited and wanted so much to be a part of that.

What is your favorite canonical story?

“The Man with the Twisted Lip” is my favorite short story.  It has everything a Holmes tale should include: the right atmosphere, a good mystery, a glimpse at the lives of both Watson and Holmes, and a solution found in a manner that only Sherlock Holmes would employ.  

As for the novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles endears Holmes to me more than any other tale. The book’s popularity is understandable: it never fails to produce both thrills and pleasure with each reading. 

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

A much harder question would be asking me to name a Sherlockian who is not  interesting.  I am continually amazed, not only by the larger-than-life personalities of Sherlockians throughout the world, but by their depth of expertise and knowledge.  There is no subject you can name, in or out of the Canon, that doesn’t claim some Sherlockian as an expert who can captivate your attention.  The personal lives and accomplishments of our fellow devotees are often amazing, and the art of conversation is alive and well in the Sherlock Holmes universe.

Since you ask me to choose, I have to say that there is never a dull moment with my favorite Sherlockian, Julie McKuras.  She knows so much about Holmes and the Canon; about our hobby, its history, and its personalities; about current events both inside and outside our peculiar subculture. Julie and Mike have traveled the world for Sherlockian events.  And she deserves to be recognized for contributing immensely to the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes collections at the University of Minnesota Library, to the Norwegian Explorers and the BSI and ASH, and in countless ways to individuals interested in Sherlock Holmes. Julie is not just interesting: she is the most fun to be with, the most fun to talk to, and the most fun to just know.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Well, I am a collector, and a huge segment of our home has been surrendered to Sherlock Holmes-related books, periodicals, comics and collectibles. I have abandoned collecting just everything, as I did on my younger years. I continue to search out early 20th Century Sherlock-related fiction, and Sherlockian-themed comic books, but I rarely purchase a pastiche. Is there any Victorian or Edwardian real-life or literary personality who has not been paired with Sherlock Holmes at this point?

The “writings about the writings” interest me greatly. Reading the early essays and observations of Sherlockian scholars, and the new insights that are continually being advanced, helps me keep the Canon always fresh in my mind.  They make it clear that something new, something previously undiscovered, something profound and/or something outlandish can be culled from those stories.

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

I like to focus my attention on the Canon itself and examine previously unexplored themes, sources, or motifs in the Canonical stories. My favorites among my own writings have been those that advance a new idea: that “The Illustrious Client” is point-by-point a retelling of Dracula, that Conan Doyle had a recurring formula throughout the Canon (absence + 3 = death), that The Hound of the Baskervilles is replete with sexual themes and the moor is the personification of sexual perversion, that Latin American references in the Sherlock Holmes stories were derived from an obscure travel book by a French adventurer, that the colors of Holmes’ dressing gowns had a profound effect on his personality and performance. I never know what previously untraveled path a rereading of the Canon might suggest. Research follows the initial idea, and often takes an unexpected turn. 

What got you so interested in parodied versions of Sherlock Holmes?

I was asked to be the keynote speaker at “The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes” conference in Minneapolis in 2016. The talk was divided into three major sections: a history of Ellery Queen’s 1944 anthology of the same name, a discussion of parodies, and a review of “misadventures” in the Canon itself. 

As I prepared the talk, I was struck by the huge number of parody names from what I called the “true phonetic gold mine” of the name Sherlock Holmes. I put together a list of hundreds of those parody names, from Airlock Holmes to Zoolock Holmes, and I included an eight-minute almost-chanting recitation of that list during my speech. The reaction was gratifying (I will never do it again), and I decided that something more than just a list of those parody names would be a fun project.  The result was A Holmes By Any Other Name: The Twistings and Turnings of “Sherlock Holmes”, an annotated list of 561 parody names for Sherlock Holmes (and those for Watson and Moriarty as well).  

Getting the information for the annotations, of course, required lots of reading and research.  That book was published in 2018, and I have continued to polish and add to that text.  I now have 629 different parody names, many of which have multiple annotations.  I have to admit that I no longer scour the literature for new entries on a regular basis.  That could become an obsession, detracting from my regular obsessions. 

As someone who speaks at lots of conferences and attends even more, what aspect of them are you most looking forward to once Sherlockian conferences resume?

Seeing people in person. Getting one-on-one with fellow Sherlockians.  Seeing those faces, enjoying those smiles, hearing those voices for real and not coming out of a thumbnail window on a zoom screen. Meeting new Sherlockians, or finally putting a face with a familiar name. Heckling the speakers I know best from the back row, and getting a good-natured grilling in a side meeting by the old-school Sherlockians for whatever Canonical errors I made in my presentation. Dinner and discussion with my fellow devotees. Seeing those power-point pictures on a big screen, and laughing with the presenter when the pictures get out of order. Trying to outbid fellow dead-serious collectors in a Peter Blau-officiated auction. Perusing the dealers’ tables. Eating things at the box luncheon or the conference banquet that my wife won’t let me have at home. Seeing a Sherlockian skit or hearing a comedic song. Trying my best to understand what the hell those youngest Sherlockians are talking about. Catching up with all those I have missed seeing because of this damned pandemic.

The late Tom Stix, “Wiggins” of the Baker Street Irregulars, was fond of saying that “Sherlock Holmes is about people.”  He was so right. The people make this hobby wonderful.  

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

For research, there is no substitute for The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana by Jack Tracy.  He put that together in a time before word processing or internet searches, and it is still the go-to reference book for me whenever I am trying to put together an essay.  It is a remarkable work of scholarship. 

Otherwise, I continue to be a fan of Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg. He advanced ideas that were revolutionary at the time, and they are still controversial today.  Some people hated the book. Others (like me) appreciated the deep dive into the Sherlock Holmes tales. That book, more than any other outside the Canon itself, made me really think about different aspects to the Holmes saga. Now, 47 years since it appeared, I still marvel at its innovation.

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

I used to fret about the future of the Sherlock Holmes universe because I was afraid that younger people, with so many avenues of distraction and less literary interests, would not become involved.  I credit another “Wiggins,” Michael Whelan, with disabusing me of such worries.  He knew all along that there will always be those who appreciate Holmes and Watson for the quality of the stories and for what they represent. I foresee a continually growing and ever-more-diverse group of Sherlockians every year.  A decade from now, the traditional approaches to scholarship and community will have meshed much better with the more modern, more technology-driven approaches, and Sherlockiana will continue to thrive.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Open to Criticism [MISS]

As long as Sherlock Holmes has been depicted in media, there have been critics of the actor portraying him or the writing he's working with.  Plenty of folks have complained about three current ones: Henry Lloyd Hughes, Henry Cavill, and Will Ferrell.  

But some actors are above criticism, right?  Basil Rathbone is such an iconic image: the curved pipe, bumbling Watson, the deerstalker, etc.  First donning the Inverness cape in 1939, Rathbone is the indelible image of Holmes for many, many people out there.

(Quick caveat here: I'm not a big movie or TV watcher and have only seen one or two Rathbone films.  I'm not qualified to have an opinion on Rathbone's portrayal.  If you are interested in the history of Sherlock Holmes in cinema, check out Ashley Polasek's Being Sherlock or Howard Ostrom's Sherlock Holmes on Screens.)

I was reading a collection of essays by Chicago Sherlockians, Sir Hugo's Literary Companion, and came across a 1947 Chicago Review article.  In it, Jack Siegel referred to Rathbone's radio portrayals of Holmes as "rot".  He goes on to say about the movies:

"The movies too have stepped beyond the bounds set up by Dr. Watson, even to the point of bringing the date of Holmes' fancied exploits up to the present time and presenting him as nothing more than another "G-man" hero.  Despite the sympathetic performances of Mr. Rathbone and Mr. Bruce, such tampering with facts and characters leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those who revere the real Holmes."

I'm also working my way through all of the back issues of The Baker Street Journal.  The last few I've read are from the early 90's and it's interesting to see people be critical of the Jeremy Brett version as well.  So even though some things are remembered fondly, if you look close enough, there are critics in the weeds.

My take away from this is that no matter how good, important, brilliant, or whatever the interpretation is, there's going to be critics.  You may as well enjoy what you like in spite of them.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Interesting Interview: Regina Stinson

I know I preface a lot of these interview with talking about how nice the subject is, but it's really true!  Sherlockiana is filled with really nice folks.  And this week's interviewee is no different.  In fact, I've yet to meet a single Sherlockian who's met Regina Stinson and hasn't walked away with a smile on her face.  Her canonical jewelry is well known among the conference crowd, and they are truly works of art.

Regina is so low key and cool that you immediately feel at home when you're talking to her.  Whether it's a presentation she's giving, article written, or one-on-one conversation with her, you'll be quick to recognize Regina's vast intelligence when it comes to our hobby.  She founded and runs her local scion, of which her BSI investiture comes from.  But she's been doing that for over 30 years!  I know some Sherlockians that haven't even been alive that long! So here is the queen of Sherlockian jewelry herself, Regina Stinson!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I think anyone who reads the stories and/or watches the movies and is eager to learn more about Sherlock Holmes is a person I would define as a Sherlockian. Anything related to Sherlock Holmes would also be defined as “Sherlockian.”

How did you become a Sherlockian?

My first introduction to Holmes happened when I was about 12 or 13. I remember seeing the Basil Rathbone movies when they were played on TV. I was really taken with the character and watched every movie they showed. I enjoyed the way Holmes solved mysteries and always seemed to observe what others missed. 

Then my older brother gave me paperback book of the short stories, which I still have, to read and after that I was completely hooked. I went to bookstores looking for anything I could find about Sherlock Holmes and I bought as many books as I could afford. Some of my favorites were The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett and Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by Wm. S. Baring-Gould. The first because it taught me about playing the game, which gave me a whole new perspective on the hobby, and the second because it was fun to learn about Holmes’ alleged history. It could have been true.

What is your favorite canonical story?

This is a tough one. I like a lot of the stories almost equally. I guess if I had to choose, I’d say The Red-Headed League. I think it has a very clever plot and some funny moments like when Holmes and Watson burst out laughing at Wilson and when he finds a manufactory of artificial kneecaps at the address he was given. Doyle apparently liked it so well, he used a similar plot for two other stories, but not as successfully, in my humble opinion.

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

Roy Pilot is one of my favorite Sherlockians and a good friend. Roy knows all kinds of fascinating things about Doyle and Sherlockiana. He has been involved with Sherlock Holmes for many years and can tell you stories from the past. He’s been a collector of Holmesian and Doylean items for years and has a great collection of really rare items that he enjoys showing to others. Roy is a true gentleman who is always kind and fun to talk to. Everyone who knows him likes him.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I like the movies and TV shows, of course, since those were my introduction to Holmes. I have a pretty large collection of Sherlock Holmes movies on VHS and DVD that I enjoy watching from time to time. I also like Sherlockian board games. I have a fairly big collection of those, too.

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

I like to research anything that happens to spark my interest. I have researched a number of things such as the Holmes movies, Canonical disguises, and the original illustrations from when the stories were first published, to name a few. I also did a bit of research on the Second Boer War and ichthyosis for an article I wrote for the BSI book: Corporals, Colonels and Commissionaires.

What are the Ribston-Pippins?

The Ribston-Pippins is the scion society I began in 1988. Our name comes from the story Black Peter where Holmes is interviewing seamen. “The first to enter was a little Ribston-Pippin…” A Ribston-Pippin is an antique apple with russeting on it. So our logo, designed by my husband, Sam, is an apple with a silhouette of Holmes inside it. We just celebrated our 32nd year last November, but we had to postpone the celebration until May because of the pandemic. We celebrated with an in-person meeting! We are having another in-person meeting later this month.

What are some of your favorite pieces of Sherlockian jewelry that you've made?

I think the Canonical book necklace and bracelets I made are amongst my favorites. They took a long time to make, but I’m kind of proud of the way they came out.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Both of the books I mentioned earlier are great. And you can’t go wrong with one of the annotated collections, because the contain so much wonderful information. There are several such as the Baring-Gould and the New Annotated by Leslie Klinger, and the Sherlock Holmes Reference Library, by Gasogene/Wessex Press, which is divided into individual books making it easy to hold in your lap and read.

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

I’m not very good at making predictions, but I hope Sherlockiana will continue to be as fun and exciting as we find it now. I’m hoping there will be another really good book, movie or TV series that will lead young people to the stories and bring them into our wonderful hobby.