Sunday, July 24, 2022

Interesting Interview: Janice Weiner

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.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Rediscovery of the Treasure [SIGN]

The Sign of Four is such a pivotal story in the Sherlockian mythos and chronology that a lot of us can rattle off it's highs and lows pretty easily.  As I was reading it again this month, I realized that it had been a while since I'd actually READ this story, it's just one of those that's always part of conversations but I hadn't actually spent time with it from start to finish in years.

And like many novels of its day, there are some terrible aspects to it.  Listening to Watson and Small talk about Tonga and Jonathan Small's retelling of his time in India is rough.  But once I compartmentalize those aspects as historical relics, I find that I'm left with my favorite story of the Canon.  I can't tell you how many times I've read this, but each time I'm surprised that I appreciate new things and some of my favorite aspects of this book still make me smile.

Of course, there's the famous opening scene of Holmes's cocaine and Watson's watch.  For whatever reason, it hadn't dawned on me until this read-through that Holmes DID take the cocaine before he started analyzing the watch.  That's coursing through him as he tells Watson his brother's life story and while he hears Mary Morstan's problem.  It made me wonder what more he would have been able to decipher from the watch if he hadn't injected and if his mind was dulled during Mary's exposition, causing him to miss anything that could've helped out later on.

And yeah, Holmes is high when he's diagnosing Watson's brother's past, but man is he callous when he does so.  We often see Watson wear his heart on his sleeve in the Canon, but here it it ripped open with every word Holmes says.  Neither of them are happy with the other one after this.  Thankfully Mary cuts through the tension with her case, but that tension still lingers after she's gone.  Watson calls Holmes an automaton and inhuman and he criticizes Watson's emphasis of emotional qualities.  If a new case can't completely smooth over all of the hard feelings, chances are that they were pretty raw after the watch incident.  We can only thank Mary for intervening, because if the conversation had been left to its natural course, words may have been spoken that couldn't have been taken back.  Mary Morstan may have actually saved the partnership of Holmes and Watson.

Speaking of Mary, I never noticed how often Watson tips his hand about their future in this story.  "To this day she declares that I told her one moving anecdote as to how a musket looked into my tent at the dead of night, and how I fired a double-barreled tiger cub at it."  "I have marveled at it since, but at the time it seemed the most natural thing that I should go out to her so, and, as she has often told me, there was in her also the instinct to turn to me for comfort and protection."  "She has told me since that she thought me cold and distant upon that journey."  Watson is telling the reader in these lines that he and Mary are together years after this story takes place.  

Every time I read this book, I despise Thaddeus Sholto more and more.  This guy sucks.  I have a mystery to tell you, but please give me a medical exam first.  We will need to go talk to my brother but I'm going to make everyone listen to my story first.  It's time to leave, but let me "deliberately" wind up my hookah.  My brother died, but I'm only worried about being a suspect.  And this line is the worst one of all: "Had your father, Miss Morstan, refrained from throwing a strain upon his heart, he might have been alive now.”  When I retold The Sign of Four in The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, one of my favorite parts was having Watson punch this guy in the face.  He deserved it.

A very punchable face

“'God bless your sweet calm face!'” she cried, with an hysterical sob.  'It does me good to see you.  Oh, but I have been sorely tried this day!' Our companion patted her thin, work-worn hand, and murmured some few words of kindly womanly comfort which brought the color back into the others bloodless cheeks."  This is Bartholomew Sholto's housekeeper being soothed by Mary Morstan.  I love that this aspect of Mary's character carries on through the years.  In fact, Watson will tell us that "folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a light-house." (TWIS)

And soon enough we get to meet one of the best characters in all of Sherlockiana: Toby!  Holmes knows how great he is.  He calls Toby a good boy before their task has even started.  As soon as he starts, Toby is whining eagerly as he trails the creosote.  As he gets out into town, other dogs pay him attention, but Toby is fixated on his task.  He's not doing this just because Watson gave him a lump of sugar.  This dog knows his stuff.  And when he gets to his barrel of creosote, Toby is looking for appreciation from Holmes and Watson.  Does he know he got onto a different trail?  No, he just knows that he followed the scent like he should.  And Holmes and Watson burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter at the end.  Toby has finally brought these two back together after the previous day's strain!

Every time I think of Toby, this is what I imagine

We soon get to meet another great character: Jack.  “'Dear little chap!' said Holmes, strategically.  'What a rosy-cheeked young rascal!  Now, Jack, is there anything you would like?'  The youth pondered for a moment. 'I'd like a shillin',' said he.  'Nothing you would like better?'  'I'd like two shillin' better,' the prodigy answered, after some thought."  Jack contributes nothing to the mystery or it's conclusion, but what a delightful exchange we get to have before Holmes is back to collecting clues!

And finally, the boat chase.  Conveying action on the page isn't always an easy thing to do.  You can feel the wind as Holmes and co. chase after the Aurora on the Thames.  When Tonga's dart and Holmes and Watson's pistols fire, you are on the edge of your seat.  I'm always ready to groan when they lose ground because of the other boat pulling out in front of them!  This whole segment is masterful writing, and I always feel exhilarated when I read it.

SIGN has been built up over the years for many reasons: racism, drug use, Watson's marriages, three-continent Watson, etc. but appreciated for what it's supposed to be, this book is still a ripping-good yarn.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Interesting Interview: Gabriele Mazzoni

Oh boy, is this week's interview a good one! Gabriele Mazzoni has one of the largest Sherlock Holmes collections in THE WORLD. I got to work with Gabriele for The Finest Assorted Collection, and learned very quickly that even though he could very easily be cocky and elitist about his collection, Gabriele is one of the nicest people I've ever emailed with. You can almost hear the smile on his face as you read his words.

His love for this hobby is infectious, as you will soon see. I hope to one day be able to get to meet Gabriele in person, and would expect any conversation with him to be as generous and rambling as his love for this hobby. Settle in, get ready to have your socks knocked off, and enjoy this interview with one of the world's leading Sherlockian collectors: Gabriele Mazzoni!

(Editorial note: Gabriele is not a fluent English speaker, so please forgive any awkward wordings. He translated his answers before sending them to me, and I made a few slight edits for clarity.)

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

“The Sherlockian" or, as we call it in Italy “the Holmesian", is a person who does not simply love Sherlock Holmes books, films and adventures. He is a person whose life is completely pervaded by him or by aspects of his saga. A Sherlockian constantly refers to phrases, thoughts, attitudes, and is mostly one who carries out for work, or more frequently for passion, activities related to the world of Sherlock Holmes.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I became a Sherlockian very early: I was only 7 when I was watching TV shows with Sherlock Holmes played by Ronald Howard, the son of the more famous Leslie, actor of Gone with the Wind. RAI, the Italian television, had acquired the rights and broadcast the episodes in Italian. I was struck by that hero who, only with the use of reasoning, solved the most complex cases. My parents bought me some reductions for boys from the Canon, and the child's imagination quickly ran through the misty gas-lit streets of London, where horses' hooves thundered as Holmes demonstrated his skills to Watson in the warm lounge at 221 B. 

As a teenager I began to read the Canon in its entirety, but also many apocryphal ones, the first of which was The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by the Hardwicks. I also started reading non-Sherlockian works by ACD, first of all "Lost World", still my favorite today, and articles of Sherlockiana. 

Also in those '70s I also began to collect books, magazines, small objects and it was the beginning of the "Disease"!

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

I am a Doctor of Medicine, currently retired for nearly three years. More than my profession has influenced being Sherlockian, I think the opposite has happened, at least to a large extent. The mental form of Holmesian reasoning - thanks to Dr. Bell - as we know is that of the scientist, and I began to treasure it from childhood. It came naturally to me to carry out scientific studies and then graduate in medicine. But I would also say that my specializations, and consequently the work I have done, are of Sherlockian extraction. I am in fact specialized in Public Health and Occupational Hygiene, and I have directed a Service and also a Department of Public Health for many years. Matters that through Epidemiology and the search for the causes of diseases require an iron logical-deductive reasoning, and why not, abductive.

What is your favorite canonical story?

The first short story I read is also the one I was fond of, and therefore still prefer today: "The Speckled Band". I find the narrative inspiration brilliant and the unfolding of events is compelling. But, as I think many other Sherlockians, among the novels I love The Hound of the Baskervilles which is just as brilliant. It is no coincidence that the very first exhibition I set up, exactly twenty years ago, was about everything I had on HOUND at the time: 461 items including books, posters, objects, etc. .. Today I would have many, many more!

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

I know a lot of Sherlockians all over the world, and many of them are interesting people in many ways. I would say that being Sherlockian is interesting in itself! However, I believe that for an interview it would be interesting to turn to Thierry St. Joanis, the President of the "Societé Sherlock Holmes de France". He is very knowledgeable about Holmes, he has taken care of and carried out many activities related to him and is a multifaceted and brilliant person, original in his initiatives. He is very funny and witty, he jokes with intelligence, which from Toscano I really appreciate!

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

As a collector it is almost taken for granted that I am interested in Sherlockian books and magazines, mainly in the first and initial editions. As well as the movie posters. And this is demonstrated by the fact that I have about 25,000 of the former and more than 3,000 of the latter. And I also really collect everything about Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle. But there are two cool things that I really like and have a lot of fun with. These are vinyl records with movie soundtracks, audio books, songs dedicated to Holmes, singers or groups who call themselves or dress like Holmes, etc. I have over 500 Sherlock Holmes vinyl records. 

Another sector of collecting that particularly fascinates me is that of the glass slides. Glass slides are early photographs when they were produced on glass. About twenty years ago I came across and bought a 1901 glass slide with a stage photo from Gillette's theatrical Sherlock Holmes on Broadway; since then I have found twenty original glass slides relating to films. 

But going back to the glass slides, another strand of research fascinated me: to find images from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, taken in the precise places mentioned in the stories of Sherlock Holmes. I put all the Canon into a single PC file, and with the "find" function, I observe whether that given place of a specific slide that is for sale is mentioned or not: if yes, I will buy it, otherwise I leave it. I thus have about 200 glass slides mostly from London (only canonical streets and places), but also from Dartmoor, the Reichenbach Falls, and more. I bought an old working magic lantern, and I sometimes give presentations on modern and ancient locations. At first with a PC, I project a slideshow in PowerPoint, briefly talking about the history of the magic lantern. Then, I dim the lights, and talk about Sherlock Holmes, his films by him, and his adventures by him, projecting images of the most beautiful and representative glass slides. All of this with the background of vinyl records with some music mentioned in the Canon, such as Pablo de Sarasate played on an old original 78 rpm turntable from 1912, complete with an engraved brass horn!

How did your collection begin?

My collection, which is currently marching towards 60,000 pieces, started already in the teenage years. But it was especially when I started touring Europe and other countries that it started to become important. I used to come home from trips with suitcases full of books and other items. I remember a trip to the United States from which I returned with an extra suitcase, and the ones I had, completely emptied of clothing (which I threw away!) to fill them with Sherlockian material! 

Then the Internet made the difference: I dedicated myself from the beginning to research via the Web. In the early days I found people who sold everything without knowing what they really had. I bought very rare and expensive things cheaply. Today this hardly happens anymore.

What are some of your favorite pieces from your collection?

The part of my collection that I am most proud of is the complete series of all 222 Strand Magazine singles (yes, 221 + 1 (!)) with the canonical stories of Sherlock Holmes, but also with many other writings by ACD. Accompanied by over 100 original semiannual volumes from Newnes. It took me decades to put it together. I also own almost everything that has been published in Italy on SH and ACD: thousands of very interesting and unique publications. I also have many movie posters that are considered to be one of a kind remaining and represent a great conservation responsibility.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I believe that every Sherlockian should have a copy of Green and Gibson with the bibliography of nearly all first century editions and beyond on Sherlock Holmes. To realize the editorial scope of the phenomenon and explain how it could have become so great.

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

Thanks to cinema, television and the large amount of Sherlockian publications that are regularly produced I believe that we will continue to be interested in them for a long time to come. What I hope is that at least a few people will continue to deal with scholarship, with "intelligent collecting", which gives meaning and study to each piece. But also the pleasure of reading paper books. ebooks and audio books are an excellent aid, but the paper book is another satisfaction. At least for someone who is almost 70 years old ... :-)

Thanks for your time and interest!