I was asked to speak on the future of Sherlockiana. Below is the text of my speech with plenty of slides. Enjoy!
Good morning, everyone! I’m very excited to be here and talking about Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century.
But before we get into that, I’m sure everyone is expecting some allusion to a cartoon that the rest of the world has forgotten about. So here you go:
Now that that’s out of the way, you’re welcome for getting that song stuck in your head this morning.
While we aren’t going quite THAT far into the future, I am going to ask us to move forward from the “Always 1895” mentality today. Notice, I said “move forward” and not “leave behind.”
Since 2018, I’ve run a series of interviews on my blog, Interesting Though Elementary, titled Interesting Interviews. So far, I have interviewed 90 fellow Sherlockians.
Each interview is ten questions long, with a few tailored to the specific interviewee. But every interview includes questions about how they define the word Sherlockian, how they became Sherlockians, their favorite Sherlock Holmes story, another person in our hobby that they find interesting, and a book they would recommend.
But the purpose of this talk is the future of Sherlockiana, and that is addressed by the last question that has ended each of the 90 interviews: Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
As interesting as I have found each and every interview, I won’t read every response to this question to you today. But I would like to highlight a few here.
Michael Kean, Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars, responded, “I believe that the world-wide interest in Sherlock Holmes will continue. It may be cyclical, but it will continue to expand, especially internationally. Critical to its longevity, however, is our ability to interest the younger generation in Holmes and Watson.”
Barbara Rusch said, “The popularity of Sherlock Holmes will never wane, and each succeeding generation has a new take on the quintessential detective.”
Tim Johnson answered, “I would desire a younger and more diverse Sherlockiana. The promise is there. But it will take hard work; meaningful and deep relationships; and open arms to make it a reality.”
Texas’s own Cindy Brown said, “I think we will be finding new ways to share our hobby with others, whether it’s virtual or some other social media, but I think we will continue to meet and share, and collect, and exchange our ideas.”
And some guy named Don Hobbs answered with, “There have historically been up and down periods of Sherlockian enthusiasm however we have been on an extended up period. With the growth of social media, I don't see a lull for the near future. There seems to be new blogs, new books, and new societies every month. I think in 15 years we will look back at the early 21st century as the Goldest of Golden eras.”
To be honest, I really tried to practice saying this in a Don Hobbs voice at home, but my wife said I was scaring the dogs so I had to give it up.
But as you can see, Sherlockians have high hopes for the future. But how do we help that happen?
I think there are a few guideposts for us to follow as we look to the future of this hobby, Planting Seeds, Recruitment, Community, and Mentoring.
I find myself constantly thinking about the interactions that Sherlockians have with one another. And the biggest influence on that train of thought is my profession as a school teacher. For the past nine years, I’ve taught a two-week language arts unit on Sherlock Holmes to my fifth graders.
Over these ten days we read abridged versions of "The Blue Carbuncle," "The Red-Headed League," "The Speckled Band," "The Copper Beeches," and "A Scandal in Bohemia." And from these stories, students learn about story elements such as setting, plot, the role of a narrator, and rising action. They also create their own mystery stories and put on Sherlock Holmes plays for other classes.
But these 10 and 11 year olds don’t start out knowing a ton about Sherlock Holmes. Just like many newer Sherlockians don’t know as much about the Canon as the more seasoned folks in this hobby. Heck, I’ve met some people at meetings who’ve only read their first story!
Don’t you just get so excited for people at that stage, whether they are a kid or an adult? They have so much in store!They’ve yet to hear
“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
or see Holmes’s tour de force of deducing Henry Baker’s character from his hat
Sometimes I’m even a little jealous of people who are coming to this hobby for the first time. There are so many great stories and experiences ahead of them!
Now, of course, not everyone we talk to about Sherlock Holmes will become Sherlockians. I’m sure many of our spouses can prove that point.
And while there are plenty of my students who do the required reading and get through the lessons because they have to, there are always others who show an interest in the Junior Sherlockian Society, or write pieces for the Beacon Society’s Joel Senter essay contest, or pick up pastiches for younger readers in their free time.
But whether they are penning award winning essays or arguing with other kids about who really won between Holmes and Irene Adler, every kid that gets engaged with Sherlock Holmes is a win for me. Because every new exposure to Sherlock Holmes is a possible future Sherlockian. And as much as we would love for everyone exposed to Sherlock Holmes to become a lifelong fan immediately, some may take longer than others.
That’s why I’m calling this section “planting seeds." Because you never know when future Sherlockians will sprout from what we do. Many of my 5th graders are just starting to branch out and cultivate their reading preferences. And throughout the school year, I have to ease many readers into the amazing titles out there without scaring off the emergent readers.
We’ve got to ease a lot of possible Sherlockians into our hobby as well. And as hard as it is, we can’t judge people’s interests.
Any interest that a student or adult that has in Sherlock Holmes is a valid interest. I don’t know of a single Sherlockian that I agree with 100%. One of my closest Sherlockian friends thinks this is a great movie!
And even if I can’t see eye-to-eye with him or the 9 other people who actually watched that thing, I know they are still great Sherlockians. So if I don’t agree with everyone on their Sherlockian interests, how can I expect a new Sherlockian to conform to all of my beliefs and interests?
And if I dismiss the things they like, they’re probably going to dismiss the things that I like just as quickly. I know that helping my students to grow works best when I am there to guide, and not lecture them on what they should enjoy. And any interaction with a future Sherlockian could benefit from the same approach.
New Sherlockians may not be ready to join a scion society or read the whole Canon for many different reasons. They may be unsure about their interests, have kids and not a lot of free time to themselves, maybe they just enjoy watching the movies here and there, or a million other reasons why now is not the right time for them to jump into this hobby.
But if somewhere down the road they remember Sherlockians as people who embraced their interest and appreciated the commonalities, we may just have someone that will join us when they are ready.
And it’s what we do with those future Sherlockians when they are ready that is really important.
Another important topic to keeping Sherlockiana going is recruitment. We can all think back to certain Sherlockians who welcomed us to the fold and helped us along our way. But one Sherlockian in particular went out of their way to help this hobby grow immensely, and purposefully created an atmosphere that was so welcoming you couldn’t help but want to stick around.
I think we can all agree that the Sherlockian world would look very different today without the influence of John Bennet Shaw. By a show of hands, how many of you in the audience knew John Bennet Shaw? Imagine what this conference would look like without Shaw’s influence on those people here today.
The John Bennett Shaw conferences were a traveling roadshow meant to bring Sherlockians both new and old together. While these events were before my time, Ray Betzner has always talked about the importance of a Shaw workshop in his Sherlockian life:
“The best place to meet the broadest range of Sherlockians was at a JBS conference. So many newbies had their first experience of the Sherlockian community at these events, which welcomed teen-agers and old-agers alike. And here is what was most remarkable: John would deliberately greet everyone during the course of a few days. And if he found you sitting by yourself in the back row of a room, he would do something enormously kind, like invite you up to his room after hours. John’s room was as private as Grand Central, and almost as busy. EVERYONE filtered through there sooner or later, which meant that you would interact with folks from all over the country. By the end of the conference, newbies started to feel like they belonged.”
“John would deliberately greet everyone during the course of a few days.”
“Newbies started to feel like they belonged.”
I think there is a direct correlation between those two sentences.
John Bennett Shaw was out there not only being the Johnny Appleseed of Sherlockiana by educating people about Sherlock Holmes, but he was deliberately making everyone feel welcomed.
Take a second and look around the audience here today. I hope there are faces you don’t recognize. And I hope you take Shaw’s example and go meet some new folks today and make them feel like they belong.
Ray told me that “John respected the history and traditions of the BSI. But he also knew the group needed to start evolving if it was to thrive.” Ray also said that “John knew the BSI needed to diversify.”
While “evolving” and “diversifying” in Shaw’s time meant nudging the BSI to go co-ed, we Sherlockians can still look to evolve today. Do we expect Sherlockians to act and behave the same way they did in the 90s? Or the 60s? Or the 1930s?
Sherlockiana isn’t some stubborn institution of rigidity. Personally, I don’t want to be someone who won’t be open to a new experience because it is different from the ways things have always been done before. Sherlockians of all shapes and sizes should not only be welcomed, but recruited to join activities like what we are doing this weekend.
It’s one thing for us to say that everyone is welcome and leave it to folks to walk in the door on their own. But it’s a lot less daunting to come into something where you have been specifically invited and you know a friendly face or two.
Look, I’m a straight, white, middle-aged, Christian male, so I don’t have much experience with feeling like a minority in a group. But there have been a few times when I wasn’t sure if I fit into a group of people.
It can be very intimidating to think that everyone else in a group is smarter than you or knows much more of the history of a hobby you’re interested in. But I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way when it comes to enjoying Sherlock Holmes.
So we shouldn’t just SAY we are welcoming. We need to get out there and ask people to join us. Maybe it’s a scion meeting, maybe it’s something as simple as inviting them to sit by us at a dinner, or reaching out to someone on social media. Things that seem simple and almost inconsequential to us could make the difference in making a new person feel like part of the group.
Another proponent for welcoming recruitment is Steven Rothman, editor emeritus of the Baker Street Journal.
From Spring 2015 in reference to Sherlock Holmes being a cultural icon:
“All of this is to the good. We have had fun with Sherlock Holmes since childhood and are quite pleased to share our delight with others. It is not necessary to know Christ’s four-letter codes or to memorize the order of the stories. Sherlockian literacy should be the only shibboleth to joining our never-ending conversations. And even that should be broadly drawn. If you know well your cinematic or televisual Holmes, or if you cosplay Holmes or create new adventures, you can find your place among Sherlockians.”
In Spring 2016 Rothman described Sherlockiana as
“A family reunion with a family that one has sought to join and that has welcomed you into its midst.”
And the Autumn 2021 edition of the Baker Street Journal espoused:
“When a friend asks what it is all about [Sherlockiana], steer them to one of your favorites, invite them to a meeting of your local society, lend them books and copies of the Journal… When you take someone - young or old - by the hand and lead them down Baker Street, you never know when that experience will click, when you will have made not only a deeper friendship, but a brand new Sherlockian.”
Just like The Baker Street Journal has told us time and time again, we have to remember that people come to Sherlockiana for fun and amusement. We all know that Sherlockians make for great company, but WE have to be the ones who make sure that Sherlockians are also welcoming.
And once new Sherlockians are welcomed, it’s important for us to build community with them. I started this talk out by citing my blog posts called Interesting Interviews. I titled it that because I really do think everyone I’ve met in this hobby is interesting. We’ve all built friendships and communities up from our time here.
But man, have the times changed since you’d sit down to spend an evening writing letters to like-minded folks across the country. Did the internet change Sherlockiana? No.
It was the year 2010 and some guy named Benedict Cumberbatch had just burst onto the Sherlockian scene with “A Study in Pink,” the first episode of BBC’s new show called Sherlock. That one show, with only 13 episodes, gave a jolt of energy to Sherlockiana not seen since Jeremy Brett, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, or William Gillette.
And some of us were scared.
What was this new type of Sherlockian, one who didn’t refer to The Grand Game, but instead called it Fandom? Traditional avenues of publishing were being ignored for posting fan fiction on the internet.
And they were all so…. Young…
Did these new Sherlockians all flock to scion meetings or the BSI Weekend? Not necessarily. Many new folks found a place where they were welcomed with open arms.
221B Con just celebrated their tenth anniversary this year. While some Sherlockians are quick to dismiss the convention as one that isn’t up to their standards, that’s a tired argument that should be put to rest right now. So let me share the titles and descriptions of some of the panels from just this year:
Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street Irregulars, and other Sherlockian Societies
- A look at the world's most famous Sherlock Holmes organizations.
Free At Last: Sherlock Holmes and the Public Domain
- As of January 1, 2023, all the SH stories are in the public domain. But do you know the story of how they got there?
Paget, Steele, and Gibson: Illustrators of an Era
- When the Strand Magazine was founded in 1890, Arthur Conan Doyle immediately saw the promise for a series about Sherlock Holmes, the detective who'd made his first appearance in 1887. The next two decades were the height of the ""Golden Age of Illustration.""
Sherlock Holmes’s Past
- Arthur Conan Doyle provided minimal information about Sherlock Holmes's past. What can be gleaned from those few tidbits that can tell us about his upbringing and education? What has been embellished by other writers? What would others like to know?
These panels sound like they would be right at home at this conference, as well as other Sherlockian gatherings around the country.
Some other topics from 2023 included
Animals in the Canon, Drug Use in the Victorian Era, Enola Holmes, Research for historical fiction writers, Laurie R. King and Mary Russell, Popularity of the Pastiche, and Sherlock Holmes in Comics
So now we can all agree that 221B Con is a hotbed of Sherlockian activity, both traditional and new wave. But the community aspect is what is applicable to us here today.
When Crystal Noll and Heather Holloway signed a contract with the Atlanta Marriott for their first convention, they hoped to have 75-100 attendees that first year. Over 700 people signed up. Let that sink in for a minute.
There is a huge community of new Sherlockians out there. We’ve talked about the importance of recruiting new Sherlockians to join our activities, but it’s also important to build that community with like-minded folks. And that community we build should be a motivational and welcoming one.
If my own students don’t feel welcomed in the environment I’ve created in my classroom, my lessons are doomed. And if Sherlockians don’t feel welcomed in environments that we want them to join, our future with them is doomed as well. 221B Con is a great example of a welcoming community based in its love of Sherlock Holmes.
Here’s a story that Heather shared with me that happened in 2016:
“The hotel that we were at that year was also hosting a group of volleyball players from different high schools for a tournament of some kind. I was walking through the lobby when a 14 to 15 year old girl stopped me because she saw my director’s badge.
“She was with her father and she was breathless with excitement. She said that she LOVED Sherlock Holmes. She watched all the BBC shows and then she read all the stories. She even showed me her phone case which had a 221B door on it.
“Her father said that she was so excited when she saw that there was a Sherlock Holmes con in the hotel. She begged him to let her walk around. He said that all she ever talked about anymore was Sherlock Holmes, and that she had never been to a con.
“I took her to our operations room and gave her a few Sherlock Holmes related items like a mug and a couple of extra books we had. I just love the thought that there are so many young people coming to Sherlock Holmes and that, if they find us, we can be a nice supportive community for them.”
This is a great example of the welcoming spirit of Sherlockians!
We want to welcome fellow readers no matter where they are on their Sherlockian journey. And hopefully, we all have local Sherlockian communities that are just as welcoming.
I’m the Gasogene of my local scion, The Parallel Case of St. Louis, and I love the setup our founder, Joe Eckrich, came up with. It’s more of a book club format where everyone is encouraged to participate in discussions. Sure, papers are welcome, but what we really want is conversation.
We have had so many different areas of expertise shared in these discussions that would have been missed if we hadn’t welcomed and encouraged people to share their thoughts. This format allows everyone to be engaged and take on roles and responsibilities that they are comfortable with.
And from that small way of including people, members have helped coordinate conferences, given talks, written blog posts, swapped books, hosted movie nights, and have found all kinds of other ways to strengthen the community feel of our group!
Because Sherlockiana is all about the friendships. Sure we love a good talk or a quiz, but we keep coming back to events and gatherings for the camaraderie.
And here we stop for a quick commercial.
If you’d like to see this camaraderie in action, please join us this July in St. Louis for the second Holmes in the Heartland weekend!
Join us for a tour of the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection and architectural tour of the historic St. Louis Central Library!
Enjoy a day of Sherlockian speakers expounding on the topic of Arch Enemies!
Spend way too much money at our packed venue of vendors!
Relish in a dinner surrounded by fellow Sherlockians and be entertained by The Alpha Inn Goose Club Trivia performance!
Take a trip to the top of the St. Louis Gateway Arch and enjoy lunch at a riverfront restaurant!
Information can be found in the flyers you received this morning and on the Holmes in the Heartland website!
Now, where was I?
When the world went all awry in 2020, Sherlockians still found a way to meet. Because it didn’t take long for us to realize that we love the stories, but we NEEDED other Sherlockians.
I’ve heard it said that this hobby is more about hanging out now than debating important ideas and that we write more about relationships between the characters instead of writing about hard data like it used to be in the good old days.
While I haven’t done a statistical analysis of Baker Street Journal articles comparing those categories, I will say that in 1944 Christopher Morley edited a book titled “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, A Textbook of Friendship.” And if friendship and community are good enough for Christopher Morley, it’s good enough for me.
Just like friendship is a theme throughout the Canon, it’s a theme throughout the century of this hobby.
I know that students learn better when they feel safe and appreciated, and the most active Sherlockians are probably the ones with the strongest social bonds. It’s important to remember that Sherlockian friendship isn’t something that always happens naturally. Sometimes it’s something that we need to foster. The stronger we build our relationship and community, the stronger the future of this hobby will be.
Over the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve found myself in the middle of some great communities by putting out a few books. Like many Sherlockians, I tried my hand at a pastiche first. And later, a friend of mine, Peter Eckrich, pitched the idea of an anthology of Sherlockian collecting.
We rounded up 27 folks to contribute essays on their interests inside of Sherlockiana. Whether it was autographs, art, experiences, or greeting cards, I was blown away by the passion that each contributor shared.
Editing that book, The Finest Assorted Collection, was when I knew I’d found my sweet spot. Writing on my own was fine. I still write papers here and there, but collaborating with other Sherlockians is what I really love. Being able to bring people together around a central theme is a real delight!
Since that first anthology, I’ve been able to work with Brad Keefauver on an off-the-wall collection called The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes and Peter Eckrich and I have another collection coming out next January on Sherlockian books.
As someone who loves reading and connecting people with books they’d enjoy, getting my own books out in the world is so great, but the real fun in this whole process is the community I’ve been able to be a part of as I’ve collaborated with writers. Whether it’s bouncing ideas back and forth, or just nit picking the placement of a comma, I can honestly say that every person I have worked with in these books has proven time and time again that Sherlockians are great people.
And no matter what Sherlockian communities we find ourselves in, they will be enhanced by us taking steps to bring people together. But like I said, these communities won’t always look like what we are used to. I think some folks may look at newer Sherlockians and worry that everything is going to change. And that is where the fourth guidepost comes in.
This is the fun one.
Mentoring is where we get to show new folks all of the great aspects of Sherlockiana. But there’s a reason I’ve put this one last. Because without planting seeds, recruitment, and community, mentoring just comes across as lecturing. I’m sure we’ve all had someone show us the slightest interest in Sherlock Holmes before.
And if you’re anything like me, you immediately want to load them up with ten books, six movies, three television series, and an entire database of the history of this hobby.
If we give into that instinct to bombard the newbie immediately, they’re so overwhelmed that they never want to mention the name Sherlock Holmes around us again!
New Sherlockians aren’t just new recruits for us to preach at. It’s up to us to get new Sherlockians to be active. Fostering a good back-and-forth between different knowledge levels can lead to some wonderful discussions.
And, like many things with Sherlockiana, the Baker Street Irregulars have shown leadership in this aspect. They recognize the importance of mentoring.
In 2022 the BSI unveiled a new award, The Susan Rice Mentorship Award. The purpose of this is “to recognize the activities of a member of the Sherlock Holmes community who has been a mentor to others, in the spirit of Susan Rice.” And who better to lead the way into the future of Sherlockiana than Susan herself?
In the words of her friend and protégé, Curtis Armstrong, Susan was
“A teacher to many, she was also a friend and presiding genius to hundreds of Sherlockians, young and not so young, going back to the late sixties. Susan was the very best sort of gatekeeper: one who was generous with her time and free with the keys. She not only knew how to unlock doors, she could break them down, if need be, and leave them open for everyone who came after her. She had been doing both forever.”
Susan Rice was a welcomer. And that’s important to remember. It’s easy for us to say “That's not how I do it” and dismiss folks. That’s not what mentors do, though.
Mentors create an atmosphere where people grow into members who want to be active. Mentors don’t insist that people do things. Mentors recognize the importance of the ground that has been laid before and help new people and their energy learn from that. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us and a good mentor gives you a boost up there.
Curtis also pointed out that Susan Rice was full of intellectual curiosity and progressive thought. My favorite line from later in this announcement was about “the lifting up of the uncertain and awkward and the inclusion of all in everything we do.”
Everyone has been uncertain and awkward in their lives. It may be hard to believe, but even Peter Blau was the new kid on the block at one point.
Susan Rice is a great guidepost for us as we move forward in this hobby. So be a Susan.
Be generous with your time and lift people up, no matter how uncertain or different. There’s a good chance we’ll learn something from them. But instead of just talking about how people have been great mentors, let’s take a minute to think about how WE can be mentors.
Even though he is not a known Sherlockian, someone I greatly admire is Fred Rogers.
When giving speeches, Mister Rogers would have his audience take a silent minute to think of people who had helped them become who they are. I’d like to flip that around and ask you to think of a newer Sherlockian that does things a little differently than you. Give that person just 30 seconds of your time and thought right now and ask yourself, how can I be a mentor? I’ll keep the time.
Thank you for that.
As we think of the future it’s important to remember that it all starts from today. And our actions and beliefs now will influence the future of Sherlockiana. We can look to the future by learning from the past and the present.
Plant the seeds of Sherlockiana like a teacher does.
Recruit new folks like John Bennett Shaw did.
Build a community like 221B Con and your local scions do.
And welcome new energy while sharing yours like Susan Rice did.
Like the interview answers I shared at the beginning of this talk said, Sherlockiana is always moving forward. We are a living, breathing, organism that continues to welcome new members year after year. And if we keep our ears attuned to catch not only the distant, but also the new version of that view halloo, the game will always be afoot.