Sunday, December 11, 2022

Interesting Interview: Nick Martorelli

Nick Martorelli is a great guy.  That could be introduction enough for this week's Interesting Interview.  But there are many Sherlockians outside of the east coast who don't know him, so I am happy to help spread his name around.  

Nick is the Headmaster of The Priory Scholars of NYC and a spark plug sure to ignite anyone's Sherlockian energy.  He's been featured in I am Lost Without My Boswell, Scintillation of Scions, The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes, and The Baker Street Journal - quite a diverse collection!  And you'll find in the answers below that Nick contains multitudes.  So whether you've known him for years or this is your first introduction, I think you'll really enjoy this week's Interesting Interview with Nick Martorelli!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Starting off with the hard question, I like it. One can be a fan of Sherlock Holmes in many ways, but I believe that to be a "Sherlockian" requires one's prime relationship to be with the original works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That relationship can be whatever one prefers or desires, but any appreciation, contemplation, or critique must always incorporate Conan Doyle. There are sub-classes of Sherlockians who are interested in specific aspects of that relationship - historians, researchers, chronologists, "This Fake Place was Actually This Real Place"-eans, biographers; and Sherlockians can have many favorite part of the Holmes legacy - pastiches, collectibles, film adaptations, comic books. But to be a Sherlockian is to root oneself within the original stories. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I first found the Sherlock Holmes stories in 7th grade, but I don't think of my Sherlockian career beginning until high school, when I started buying the pastiches that were being published (and re-printed). I was a big fan of the Star Trek novels, or the Star Wars EU, and when I saw collections of new Sherlock Holmes stories, I filled a bookshelf with them. Most of the collections were short stories, but a few of them included a scholarly essay that analyzed the stories, or made reference to the BSI. 

Eventually, I stumbled across Starrett's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in my local library, and it was full speed ahead from there. Even though my interests have shifted, I still have a lot of those pastiches from high school. I even kept a formatted bibliography of them, so that - in the days before smartphones - I knew which books I owned.

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

I work in book publishing and studied English Literature, and those elements both influence my favorite approach to understanding the Canon - as fictionalized literature meant for a paying audience. Whether John Watson or Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the stories, they were written as entertainment, so they must be analyzed and reviewed under that premise. I find most literature pointing out "errors" in the Canon to be uninteresting - Watson openly tells us that he is inventing names and mis-representing facts, so why do Sherlockians feel proud to catch him in lies he himself has admitted to? The stories never pretend to be historical accounts or journalism; Watson crafts narratives, Conan Doyle spins yarns, and that's the standard we should hold them to. For me, it is the most interesting way for me to read the stories.

What is your favorite canonical story?

"The Six Napoleons." The top five are usually variable, but this one stays at the top. It has everything I want in a Sherlock Holmes story - a unique mystery, clever deductions, suspense and drama - and it highlights Sherlock's relationship with Watson, as well as his friendship with Lestrade. Top to bottom, it's an absolute banger.

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

I come away from every conversation with Ray Betzner wishing we could have talked for longer, even when the talk is about non-Sherlockian things.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I mentioned the specific "Canon as Literature" readings above, as well as my own early fascination with pastiches. (I do consider them Sherlockian - the writers are engaging with the prose of Conan Doyle, whether they chose to honor his style or not.) 

These days, I find myself interested in Sherlockian games - how does a designer capture the spirit of the Canon in a board game or card game? I've also been having a lot of conversations about the future of scion societies, scholarly conferences, and (near-)scholarly conferences. How do we, as Sherlockians, interact? 

But if I'm honest, the part of Sherlockiana that is always at the top of my list is textual analysis of the stories themselves - so many other things exist, and I truly could do without all of them.

You've spoken on Irene Adler a few times, once at a BSI Dinner and another time comparing her to Boba Fett.  Why do you think she looms so large in Sherlockian minds?

Sherlock Holmes, let's be honest, has a terrible rogues gallery. Villains appear in single stories, there is no arc to any of the confrontations, and most are forgotten as soon as the story is over. Most adaptations of the Canon tease out the Holmes vs Moriarty dynamic into something far more dramatic that Conan Doyle intended - which is great and fun and can be very interesting, but there's no arguing that it's acanonical to have Holmes confronting Charles Augustus Milverton more than once. So in this franchise, a female antagonist like Irene Adler looms large, and that interest is emphasized by the fact that she is one of the only antagonists who outwits Sherlock Holmes. She has a lot of interesting qualities in "A Scandal in Bohemia," but it's the qualities she takes on in every subsequent adaptation that earned her the promotion into the main cast of the canon.

You may have the most energetic personality of any Sherlockian I know.  What gets you so excited about this hobby?

You flatter me! It might sound like a cliché, but my favorite thing about this hobby are the 60 stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. For tales that might seem so straightforward, the stories are top-notch. They are nuanced, brilliant, reflective of each other, and the time in which they were written. In them, you can chart the changes in society, in the Holmes/Watson relationship, in technology, even in what "good writing" is. Readers can watch the author develop a character, struggle with it, return to previous ideas and rework them - all within tightly written adventures you can read in a single sitting. 

It's hyperbole to say that anything you can say about Shakespeare you can say about Conan Doyle, but I think that every reading of Conan Doyle makes his writing richer, and it's the main thing that keeps me coming to this hobby time and again.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

When it comes to reference books, I am a purist in the sense that I firmly believe that a Sherlockian library need only contain a copy of Conan Doyle's 60 stories, and that is more than enough. The one title I always recommend, however, is Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Re-opening the Case of The Hound of the Baskervilles by Pierre Bayard. The book is a work of literary criticism, where Bayard makes a convincing case that the actual crime in HOUN is not what we think it is, and that Sherlock Holmes got it wrong - and so did Arthur Conan Doyle.... I freely admit the book is not for everyone, but as someone who is very interested in new ways to approach these stories, I find it fascinating.

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

Such an interesting question. The people and the book club discussions will always remain, though I see much more of its gatherings happening online - the pandemic spurred that move, and I don't think the trend will reverse. Some scion societies will return to in-person events, some will stay remote, and some will offer both types of events. This is a good thing - our virtual meetings of the Priory Scholars of New York City attracted people who were not local to the area, as well as many who might have been attending their first meeting, and it was a delight to have new people, new perspectives in our discussions. 

A challenge I see coming is the cost - attending major events or building a collection or library can make this an expensive hobby. If we want the hobby to expand, diversify, and continue, I think that concern should be taken seriously. Or the message should be made clear - the only thing needed to be a Sherlockian is a curious mind and the free edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.