Janice Weiner is a Sherlockian that not enough people know about. Invested into the Baker Street Irregulars this year, she is clearly someone who has been contributing to Sherlockiana for some time now. But she's not one to toot her own horn. So I'm going to toot it for her!
Janice has a history of giving great talks and toasts and has earned the Fortescue Scholarship. She's a member of a ton of Chicago area Sherlockian societies, and has run the Scotland Yarders for over ten years, after being a founding member and editor of the scion newsletter. She's a familiar face at many functions, including BSI Weekends, Minnesota conventions, and the recent Celebration of Sherlock Holmes. So let's get to know our fellow Sherlockian this week, Janice Weiner!
How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
A Sherlockian is a person who has read the Canon. The person has succumbed to Holmes’s allure however finding out about him. Whether or not that person came to reading the Canon as a child or after seeing one of the TV shows or movies showcasing Holmes, perhaps as an adult, I believe having read the Canon a person can intelligently talk about portrayals of Holmes (and the Canonical stories). If one does not know the original Holmes, how can one discuss the differences in all the versions of stories, etc. with any validity? But, a Sherlockian does not have to focus on the original Canon. Have fun with Holmes whether in cosplay, alternative versions of stories, etc. Just read the original Canon at some point.
How did you become a Sherlockian?
I read my first Holmes story as a ten-year-old. It was an abridged "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" in a Reader’s Digest book for kids. Later on, I believe while in college, I read the Doubleday collection of the Canon. I had been going to Scotland Yard Books for some time and was intrigued when the store started a scion, obviously The Scotland Yarders. I attended the organizing meeting and have been involved in the group ever since. Through the Scotland Yarders I became aware of other scions and the widespread interest in Holmes.
What was your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?
When I was teaching (I was a junior high school librarian) I worked with two 8th grade teachers to introduce Holmes to the students. One teacher had me talk about Holmes and the other had me create a weeklong unit about Holmes and the Victorian Era. Unfortunately, when those teachers retired Holmes was booted from the curriculum.
I taught some multimedia classes. When talking about genres I talked about Holmes and one group made a Holmes “film”. I very much enjoyed any time I could introduce students to the Canon. Being a teacher has made it easier for me when I have to talk to adults about Holmes, create quizzes, and other such activities. I had to plan my teaching lessons and it has helped me plan agendas for meetings and so on.
What is your favorite canonical story?
My favorite story might just be "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" as it was my first foray into the Sherlockian world, but I also enjoy "A Scandal in Bohemia." I love Irene Adler in men’s clothes as I dislike dresses, etc. Too uncomfortable!
Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
I can’t pick a specific Sherlockian I find interesting as I’ve had many conversations with interesting Sherlockians. I don’t know many so well that I can choose a winner in this category. I will mention that two people were mentors to me.
One, Fred Levin, is deceased, but Fred worked at Scotland Yard books. He always recommended books for my growing collection of Sherlockian books and he always talked about the BSI weekends. He introduced me to the world outside of the local Sherlockian scene even as he also introduced me to local scions.
Terry McCammon and I hit if off while being snarky at a Sherlockian meeting (I suppose I should not admit this). Terry would talk about the BSI weekend too. I had a number of years previously been to a couple of the events, but wasn’t planning on going to NY again. I am not a good traveler and Terry (and his wife) let me travel with them when they went to NY. Terry introduced me to a number of people I never would have met otherwise. I never really told Fred how much I appreciated his mentorship, but I have told Terry so.
What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
You, Rob, have forced me to think more about what I like about the Sherlockian world and my interest in Holmes. I do enjoy reading pastiches that I feel “get it right” about Holmes and Watson. If I can hear Jeremy Brett saying some of the dialog in a pastiche, I usually like it. But I like collecting any number of Sherlockian things. I am certainly not John Bennett Shaw, but I have a variety of things in my collection.
What does the Chicago Sherlockian scene look like?
The Chicago Sherlockian scene is not what it used to be. People have gotten older and passed away and there has not been an influx of new or younger folks to take their places. Many Chicago Sherlockians belong to more than one local scion and so we see the same folks, rather than a variety of members. We all have lost members who had media contacts and used to promote the scions. No one now has come up with a good way to attract more people.
I do not use social media. When I tried Facebook once I got replies assuming the Scotland Yarders were a Facebook group. The Scotland Yarders and most other local scions prefer in-person meetings. One new speaker for my group did not get anyone to attend the meeting after promoting it on his Facebook page. That is discouraging. Right now one scion is still only on Zoom. Another scion has barely met in the last few years and another hasn’t met since before the pandemic. My scion is very tiny, but I’m working to keep it going. So, the local Chicago scene is not in good shape.
You were an integral part of creating The Digital Muse, CDs that digitized every Serpentine Muse from 1975-2015. What was it like working on such a large project?
I proofread the index for the Serpentine Muse (though not for a number of years now). It almost drove me crazy. I had to go through quite a number of years checking all the names, article titles and such for spelling mistakes, for consistency in author names, and, often checking page numbers. I spent a lot of time on it and thought, at one point I was going to give the task up. I was looking at reproductions of articles on the computer and it was hard on my eyes. But, as a librarian, I was glad to sort things through and help create an accurate index. I thank Monica Schmidt for setting up the task for me as it led to me becoming an ASH.
What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
It’s hard to recommend a book to Sherlockians. Most Sherlockians I know have so many books already. If a person is new to the Sherlockian world, I would suggest Baring-Gould’s and Les Klinger’s annotated Canons.
Those books will help a new person understand the references to the time in which Holmes worked. If a person has not read a lot of history, the Victorian Era might be a mystery to the person and needs explanation. I had to explain quite a bit to students when I introduced them to Holmes’s world.
Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
Hmmm? Where do I see Sherlockiana in the future? Well, in a number of places in the U.S. and the world there are vibrant scions that will keep the interest in Holmes going and going. I am not so sanguine about the Chicago scene. If we can keep the few newer scion members we have attracted, we may just keep the number of scions we have going, but I fear we may lose a scion or two or merge a few. I do think that if the wider world comes up with more TV or movie versions of Holmes, it will again attract people to our hobby and things, especially in area, will look even brighter.