Sunday, October 31, 2021

Interesting Interview: Peggy Perdue

When I think of this week's Interesting Interview subject, Peggy Perdue, the first word that comes to mind is "delightful."  Many people know her as the curator of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Reference Library, which is a position she held for thirteen years.  And if you're anything like me, you are very jealous of her for that time!  Peggy has recently been promoted and serves in an advisory role to the new curator.  

In Peggy's own words, she says she's mostly a hobbyist now.  And what a hobbyist this lady is!  A quick Google search for Peggy Perdue will show you the breadth of her Sherlockian knowledge.  Talks on pop culture, Victorian phobias, advertising, and more will keep you occupied for a while.  And I just learned that Peggy has her own Sherlockian blog, mentioned below.  Anyone who can combine baking and the Canon to create STUDmuffins, is more than any old "hobbyist"!  So enjoy another wonderful Canadian in this week's interview, Peggy Perdue!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
I'd say a Sherlockian is someone who has a strong need to share their appreciation for Sherlock Holmes with other people. It doesn't matter whether the person is by nature an introvert or an extrovert, clubbable or unclubbable, scholarly or inexperienced; such a person will not consider their time with Holmes complete until they have engaged with others about it in some form. Anyone can be a devoted fan all by themselves in an armchair, but I think it takes other people to make someone a Sherlockian.

How did you become a Sherlockian?
I have always enjoyed Victorian literature, and I distinctly remember my first encounter with Sherlock Holmes in the late 1980s. When I joined Toronto Public Library many years later, the idea of actually getting to work with the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection seemed an unattainable pipe dream--or a three-pipe dream, if you like. However, when the position as curator became available in 2005, I managed to get the job. When I started, I just thought I was going to be working with an interesting rare book collection--I'd never even heard of a "Sherlockian." It wasn't long before I found out all about it! Now many of my closest friends are Sherlockians and I wouldn't have it any other way.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian? 
I'm a rare book librarian and, as mentioned above, for 13 years I had the great privilege of being curator of Toronto Public Library's Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. I now have a more senior role in the department but there are still plenty of opportunities to do things with the collection in cooperation with our curator Jessie Amaolo. That being said, I actually love being a "civilian" now. Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle aren't a full-time job anymore, and I can truly say "I play the game for the game's own sake."

What is your favorite canonical story? 
Speaking as an incurable romantic and a Watsonian, it has to be "The Sign of Four." Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, bottom of the river meets treasure, detective solves case--what more can one ask for?

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
Where to start? You have covered so many truly interesting people in these interviews, and there are so many more left to be interviewed. I think I'll abandon any idea of mentioning one or two particular friends and omitting the rest. Instead, since I've mentioned the ACD Collection a couple of times already, I'm going to recommend the current curator Jessie Amaolo. She's doing a great job with the collection, and she isn't yet very well known in the larger Sherlockian world.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
Sherlockian travel is a thing I'd like to get back to soon. I also love the artsy-craftsy side of the hobby. Whatever one's creative outlet, one needs inspiration in order to face a blank page or a blank canvas, and like many, I find Sherlock Holmes to be the perfect muse. It's not an exaggeration to say that this has gotten me through the pandemic, whether it's creating recipes for my baking blog, sketching a portrait of Moriarty in tea leaves, or working on my current project, crocheting an Arthur Conan Doily.

So often newer Sherlockians will stick with the stories and forego delving into the life of Arthur Conan Doyle.  As someone who has written and given talks about different facets of the man's life, what argument would you make to get folks to investigate him more?
To paraphrase Sir Arthur himself, Conan Doyle's life was often stranger than anything he could invent, and just sharing some stories about him is the best way to get people interested. I think it's fair to say that there's been an increased interest in Conan Doyle in recent years among both new and longtime Sherlockians, with far fewer people now fully entrenched in the "literary agent" angle. The last time someone got really angry at me for mentioning his authorship was 2009. I almost miss that old fighting spirit. 

This year is the tenth anniversary of your Beacon Award!  Looking back on such a big project, what are some highlights from implementing it? 
The project was to do outreach presentations to children as a way to have the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection participate in the library's Summer Reading Club, which featured a detective fiction theme that year. I once spent a couple of happy years working as a children's librarian, so the biggest highlight for me was just the opportunity to work with small people again. Even very young children can understand the basic concept of what a detective is. We had great fun playing with disguises, solving riddles and codes and practicing careful observation.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians? 
Too many to choose from about A Taste For Honey by Gerald Heard? It's often been out of print since its first publication in 1941, but Otto Penzler published an edition in 2019, so it shouldn't be too difficult to get hold of now. The book is an interesting blip on the timeline of Sherlockian activity; it belongs neither to the early turn of the century parodies nor the late 20th/early 21st century pastiche boom. To read it is to step away from the familiar, modern world of Sherlockiana and occupy a space where only the author and the reader agree that it would be a good idea to pop Conan Doyle's famous detective into a new story. 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
Living in the mountains at high altitude. No, sorry I'm just kidding--that's a quote from Groundhog Day. I'm deflecting because honestly, I don't know. The only thing I'm sure of is that it will continue. Holmes and Watson have stood the test of time too long now to fade quietly away.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Interesting Interview: Steven Rothman

The number 60 is an important one for Sherlockians.  So, for my 60th Interesting Interview, I knew it had to be someone who was a real standout among such a wonderful group of people as Sherlockians.  Steve Rothman definitely fits that bill.  Many people will know Steven as the editor of the Baker Street Journal and that would be bona fides enough to want to know what this guy has to say.  I am an unabashed fan of the BSJ and am continually impressed and entertained with the product that Steve puts out.  

Over the past few years, I've also come to appreciate the writings of Christopher Morley and Mr. Rothman is an expert on this founding father of our hobby.  Through emailing about these two interests, I've come to know Steve a little bit, and he is unbelievably nice.  Anytime I've had a question about Morley, Steve is always quick with answers and a welcoming manner.  And as someone who has been on the receiving end of his gentle yet reassuring BSJ submission responses, I can personally tell you that Steve is thoughtful and inviting in all of our conversations.  I think that warm personality will shine through in this landmark interview.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I frequently say that, to a Sherlockian, all things are Sherlockian. Even more, I would insist that all who define themselves as Sherlockian are. So you could be a print Sherlockian and have no connection with the hobby other than reading and rereading the Canon (a term of which you may not be aware). Or you could be a Sherlockian who spends a great deal of time watching Holmes on a screen. You can be a scholarly Sherlockian, trying to explicate the text, to unfurl the hidden details of the vanished Edwardian world. You can be a cosplay Sherlockian whose greatest joy is dressing up in some related way. You can be Watsonic, Milvertonian, Morantic, Moriartian, or Adlerite. Really, there are probably as many ways to be a Sherlockian as there are Sherlockians. And I approve of all of them because, deep down, they all love the stories about the detective who lives in Baker Street.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Before I could really read, my father gave me an illustrated Sherlock Holmes, with pictures and text on every page. It had “The Red-Headed League,” “The Speckled Band,” and “The Final Problem.” Maybe there were one or two more. I found it terrifying: the lantern-lit man emerging in the dark cellar, the man with the snake wrapped ’round his head, the struggle at the Falls. All it did was give me the willies. A few years later, at eight or nine, I read The Adventures and found them okay. I read The Hound as well.

But I did not really become a Sherlockian until I was 12 and ordered a remaindered copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street for a dollar. Why? I have pondered that question for many years. But when the book arrived, I devoured it. I found it hilarious. Here was an author arguing that the clearly fictitious Sherlock Holmes was a real man, indeed was still alive at some quite advanced age. There were footnotes and bibliography. I drove my friends and family quite crazy for a long time, insisting that Holmes was real. I looked up every book Baring-Gould referenced, but my library only had Starrett’s Private Life

Fortunately for me, I lived quite close to Haverford College, and Chris Morley’s alma mater had a number of works of early scholarship. I gulped them down hungrily. (I had—quite separately—come upon Morley’s work at the same time, although it was probably another year before I put Chris and Sherlock together. That was a happy moment!) 

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I catalogue rare books for a bookshop. It allows me to handle a never-ending stream of amazing material and use effectively a head filled with quite miscellaneous knowledge. Now and then, we get in something Sherlockian or by a Sherlockian. For instance, two years ago we bought a very large library of Civil War books from North Carolina. It included a sizable collection of the work of Manly Wade Wellman, who received his shilling (“Wisteria Lodge”) in 1951. I was able to dive into this collection of paperbacks, pulp magazines, etc., with more passion than otherwise, as I knew it to be the work of one of us.

What is your favorite canonical story?

My favorite story has been, since the snowy winter day I first read it, The Valley of Fear. It was set in Pennsylvania, as am I. It has a locked room murder, the only compelling “middle section” of any of the novels, and Moriarty. And it has some wonderful lines. For instance, T. S. Eliot—who, by the way, shared an office with Frank Morley, creator of the BSI crossword puzzle, at Faber & Faber—was lunching with the Wednesday Club, a group of intellectuals, in the mid-1950s, when he was asked what his favorite line in literature was. He immediately responded:

        “Well,” cried Boss McGinty at last, “is he here? Is Birdy Edwards here?”

        “Yes,” McMurdo answered slowly, “Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards.”

Was Eliot kidding? Did he just love the drama of those lines? Scholars have debated it for years. But Eliot did love Holmes and incorporated line from “The Musgrave Ritual” into his 1935 verse play Murder in the Cathedral. Most likely Tom Eliot was just using the lines as a way of deflating his fellow diner’s ego.

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

Besides Christopher Morley? Everyone who cares about both Holmes and Conan Doyle would benefit from a deep dive into the work of Richard Lancelyn Green (“The Three Gables”), a scholar and collector of endless energy and curiosity who left us far too early. His contributions to our field may never be matched. Let’s leave it at that. It would be too difficult to choose among my many friends who are still among us.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Book collecting. I have been collecting books, letters, and manuscripts in a serious way since I was 12 and, though I know it is not for everyone, have found the bibliophilic world to be welcoming, intellectually challenging, and infinitely rewarding. I have also found endless amusement in reading the Spiritualist works of ACD, though I realize that is not for everyone.

What do you look for in pieces that you include in the Baker Street Journal?

New ideas, good ideas, and good writing. As does every editor. I am always looking for new voices as well. I regard Sherlockian scholarship to be a part of popular culture, a field that has always interested me. So I do enjoy it when offered a piece that connects Baker Street to something new. I am constantly pleased by the imagination and effort of the work that comes my way. 

Christopher Morley is obviously an important person to our hobby. What is a fact about him that many Sherlockians might not know?

Hmmm. Morley was the eldest of three brothers, all of whom were Rhodes Scholars and studied at Oxford. Their father, a Cambridge man, mused that his sons’ time in Oxford didn’t seem to have done them any lasting harm.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

For a real time-capsule collection of Sherlockian scholarship, try The Milvertonians of Hampstead, edited by Nick Utechin (Gasogene Books, 2020). The Milvertonians were a London group in the 1950s and 1960s devoted to the single story. Their publications are quite uncommon, and Nick did a great job discovering their story.

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

I think more of our life will migrate onto the internet. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we can share our joys around the world immediately. Perhaps more works will be published on line, with many links to easily allow us to follow a line of inquiry from one source to another. I hope that we all continue to search out those younger than us who have an interest and encourage them to have fun with Holmes. We need more Baker Street ravers. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Some Ghastly Presence Constantly Haunted Him [HOUN]

It's October, and even though the stores have their Christmas decorations out, there's no denying that it's spooky season in America.  Theme parks turn into scare factories, the Muppets have a Haunted Mansion special out, and all of this makes me look at the Sherlock Holmes stories just a bit differently.

Holmes said in SUSS: "This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain.  The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply."  And reason wins out over superstition in all of his cases.  

Spectral hellound?  Nope, murderous lost relative.

Vampire? Nah, just a mother's love.

A devil-ridden parish?  No, a jealous brother.

So other than the obvious fact that family is more dangerous than otherworldly creatures, is there any other takeaway from Sherlock Holmes and mysteries of the unknown?

Maybe they are all lies.

Think about it, Sherlock Holmes is the most rational man alive.  If he were to ever give any credence to mystical creatures, the whole world may run amok.

Now, I'm not talking about all of the pastiches out there that have pitted Holmes against Dracula, Martian invasions, or other fanciful tales.  I'm talking about the Canon.

What if those 60 stories are really covering up some horrifying cases that the world isn't ready for?

Many people are familiar with Ray Betzner's masterful talk that proposes young Edward Rucastle had something more sinister running through his blood than an aversion to cockroaches.  But is that the only hidden tale out there?  

Brad Keefauver may have uncovered the truth behind Sir George Burnwell in "The Beryl Coronet."

And Heather Hinson has found that Baskerville Hall was once home to worshipers of Gozer.

So what else is the Canon hiding?  Is Mr. Hyde or the Invisible Man roaming the streets of London in one of our favorite tales?  Is there proof that Mrs. Hudson was really a witch?  What the hell was really going on in "The Creeping Man"?

As kids transform themselves into ghouls and goblins over the coming weeks, look at the Canon through a new lens.  Maybe there are some ghouls and goblins hiding in your favorite tale.  What horrors lie in wait behind the veil of rationality?  

No ghosts need apply, because they are already here.