Saturday, September 23, 2023

Interesting Interview: James O'Leary

I'm going to bet that the name James O'Leary is familiar to many Sherlockians.  But how many of us know the actual man?  He and I have crossed paths on the Internet and have had pleasant conversations at Sherlockian events, but I've never felt like I got to know James.  That was a big reason I wanted him to be a part of this Interesting Interview series.  

If you have met James or read any of his writings, you'll know that he is a very intelligent guy with heartfelt opinions.  He's written a great monograph that the John H. Watson Society put out a while back, has been an active writer on the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere website, and pops up in all kinds of Sherlockian conversations on the Internet.  His writings are always focused on a canonical subject, but this week the subject is James himself!  So let's get to know one of the newest members of The Baker Street Irregulars, James O'Leary!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I can only answer as to how I define myself as a Sherlockian. For me it's a literary pursuit, and playing the Games as honoring the genius of Arthur Conan Doyle; by reading Sherlock Holmes and John Watson as real people and the adventures as true events lightly fictionalized by Watson. That's not to say that I don't appreciate or enjoy pastiche or visual and audio representations of the pair, just that my desert island pick would be the Canon and Higher Criticism. I respect the differences of an individual's personal Sherlockian experience.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

While I had seen Daddy Duck and Mr. Magoo on TV and read Encyclopedia Brown, America's Sherlock Holmes in sneakers, I first met Holmes in the sixth grade (back when that was in elementary school) when the class read HOUN. In middle school I found The Adventures and The Memoirs then in high school the rest of the Canon and the Higher Criticism. That's when I considered myself a Sherlockian. I subscribed to the BSJ and the Baker Street Miscellanea. This was during the Great Boom of the '70s--a heady time to be a budding Sherlockian.

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

I've worked for the United States Postal Service for ten years and work and non-work do not intersect.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I‘ve decided that if I'm forced to pick one story then I have chosen CREE as my designated answer. You could look at it as the perfect pastiche--strange goings on in a suburban or exurban house, puzzling most members of the household, a damsel in distress and weird sexuality. It is not science fictional; ignore Holmes' musings about thick and horny knuckles and survival of the least fit prolonging their worthless lives with a fountain of youth--Watson has the last word when he says that this is a case best left to an alienist, though he buries it in the middle of the story with lumbago--rejuvenescence was a topic ripped from the headlines with rich and famous males using monkey glands to restore physical and sexual vitality. There's a lot going in the story people miss.

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

What a tough question! I don't think I could narrow it down to a couple dozen people. I'd suggest listening to I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere and Steve Doyle's Fortnightly Dispatch. Or attend a local scion society meeting. You're bound to meet someone interesting.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?


As an active chronologist, what can the average Sherlockian learn from paying attention to the discussion around the dating of the stories?

This is an example of why chronology is important and it has nothing to do with the date of any individual story. You will hear some Sherlockians say that Watson's writings are responsible for Holmes' fame—think of the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes taking place in 1887 and Watson’s Strand stories a public hit (The Strand started in January 1891)—but that is chronologically impossible. While Watson wanted to write up A Study in Scarlet to let the public know of Holmes’ role in solving the Stangerson/ Drebber murders, he could not sell his manuscript until 1886 and it wasn’t published until November 1887, six months after “Europe was ringing with his name and when his room was literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams” with the press disclosure of the “whole question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis.” Holmes was famous of his own accord before the less-than-best-sellers STUD and SIGN saw print and presumed dead when the public sensation Strand series started in July 1891.

After Holmes returned in 1894, he forbade Watson to publish until he was on the eve of retirement. These facts have baring when Mycroft says, “I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler,” in GREE; when Stapleton says, “It is useless for us to pretend that we do not know you, Dr. Watson. The records of your detective have reached us here, and you could not celebrate him without being known yourself,” in HOUN; or when John Douglas says, “I've heard of you. You are the historian of this bunch. Well, Dr. Watson, you've never had such a story as that pass through your hands before, and I'd lay my last dollar on that,” in VALL.

You were an avid promoter of Elementary during its run.  What argument would you make to a newer Sherlockian to sell them on this show? 

Forget about the arguments made in 2012 that the BBC is a quality outfit and Sherlock is made by fanboys for fans while American network TV is schlock made by hacks trying to turn out a knockoff to make bucks. Elementary wanted to tell its own Holmes story through the lens of the Canon and the lens of the mythos fans built around it. Through seven seasons the teams behind the show demonstrated deep knowledge of the Canon and the acting  was uniformly excellent if almost never recognized at award time. I would direct anyone interested to check out my blog posts at IHOSE “Addiction, Elementary and Doyle” from October 4, 2013, “Elementary and the Hound” from March 25, 2016, and “Elementary’s Mycroft and Morland Holmes — A Tale of Doyle's Two Mycrofts” from June 25, 2016.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I would recommend The Grand Game Volumes I and II from the BSI Press and The Best of the Sherlock Holmes Journal Volumes I and II from the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. You’ll be reading the best Higher Criticism of the last 120 plus years.

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

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. (I can write that better than I can pronounce it!) I think the essence of Sherlockiana has been remarkably consistent; the comradery, fellowship and genericity. The tent has gotten larger and that is a trend I hope continues.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Interesting Interview: Ann Kimbrough

This week's Interesting Interview is with a Sherlockian a lot of folks might not know yet, Ann Kimbrough.  Ann is relatively new to Sherlockiana, so now is everyone's chance to get to know her so that we can all say, "I knew her way back when..."

I first met Ann at Holmes, Doyle, and Friends in March.  She presented on her new Sherlockian middle grade series that allows tradition to interact with today.  I've read a lot of Sherlockian books, and I've never seen Ann's take on the canonical tales before.  An added bonus is that they are told through graphic novels, so I immediately knew I wanted them in my classroom library!  Ann's new take on the Canon would be enough to warrant an interview, but she was so energetic and friendly in Dayton and St. Louis, that she simply must be promoted.  If you ever see Ann Kimbrough at a future Sherlockian event, make sure to say hi.  Your day will be much better for doing so!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

A Sherlockian is a real human being who believes a fictional human being is real, and devours all things about this person and his sidekick, Dr. Watson.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I haven’t officially converted, but perhaps it’s a status that just creeps up on you, until you say to yourself: “Ah, yes, it has happened.” I guess I could say that now. Today. Oh, wow, what a moment! I am a Sherlockian. Okay, cool. Knew it would be official, eventually. Glad you were here to witness it. Witnesses are very important in Sherlock’s world. However, it all must have started for me during the Pandemic. I needed something to inspire me, you see, and I’d read an article on stories that had just entered the public domain—which meant anyone could use them for anything! That intrigued me, and led to reading my first Sherlock Holmes adventure.

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

I’m a writer, now, working for myself; but I used to work in Los Angeles making TV commercials and music videos. Remember Madonna’s "Vogue" video? I was there. Being a writer has a big impact on my Sherlockian-mindset, as I can never get too far away from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s incredible skill as a storyteller.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I like "Silver Blaze." The horse did it! Who’d have thought? But as I continue to go through the Canon, that might change.

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

I’m impressed by Monica Schmidt. I want to be her, when I grow up. She’s what they used to call—a dame—and a smart cookie; not to mention, she has the best Ginger. I’d have to say, Monica and her husband Bill (the Ginger) are two amazingly fun people, and that’s saying a lot since I have many favorites that have welcomed me into the fold, like Rich Krisciunas, the Pied-Piper of keeping newbies like me in the know about Sherlockian events; Steve Mason, who is a Sherlockian guru (see Sherlock's Spotlight); Tom Campbell of the Sherlock Holmes Society of Cape Fear, who welcomes everyone on Zoom; and the classy and lovely couple—Dan & Ann Andriacco… did you know we’re starting a very unofficial Ann Club. It’s called Sherlocki-Anns. And there’s always Rob Nunn to add a little style to the gang, along with his teaching skills that seem to be needed everywhere. I honestly haven’t met a Sherlockian that didn’t impress me! So much so, I can’t stop at one.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

The subset written for kids. My Sherlockian writing was sparked from the fact that no one really teaches us how to think. Maybe they should, and why not teach kids to think like Sherlock?

Where did the idea for your Text Me Mysteries come from?

Boredom. As I mentioned, I needed something new to write during the pandemic. Everything I’d been working on was based in normal daily life, and suddenly, the norm seemed to be gone. Sherlock is timeless, and I was just struck by the idea of what if Sherlock was text messaging with modern-day teenagers? Maybe they could help him with a case, and learn something about deductive reasoning along the way.

As someone who's attended some of her first Sherlockian events recently, what would you say to encourage others to join you at future events?

Attending a Sherlockian event changed everything, for me, and I recommend it. You get to meet the coolest people, and it’s so wonderful to be around other people that get this part of you. Zoom meetings, too, are a great way to join this group, but attending in person is so much fun. Everyone is welcoming, and you’ll make a lot of friends!

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Would it be wrong to recommend my own graphic novels? LOL At least, I recommend them to that middle-grader to young adult in your life. For the rest of us, I’ve just been reading Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley. It’s mostly the letters that Conan Doyle wrote to his mother, but some are to friends and other family. They encompass his adult life and are fascinating! A real look inside at the man and the writer.

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

I see it continuing—forever! So far, there have been so many versions of Sherlock, why would the future be any different? At their core, the original stories still hold up. More Watsons and more Sherlocks, I say! 

Sunday, September 3, 2023

This Great International Affair [REIG]

I needed a topic to talk about for a scion meeting this month, so I thought a quick rundown of the history of the title change in "The Reigate Squires" would be an easy one.  Maybe define the word for other boorish Americans and quote some folks.  Easy peasy.  But just to make sure I wasn't missing anything that was common knowledge with apocryphal story of the name change, I told my wife I needed just a few minutes with my books to check some things.

Over the years, there has been plenty of confusion with the title of the seventh case in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Is it "The Reigate Squires" or should "Squires" be singular? And haven't I seen it listed as "The Reigate Puzzle"? Turns out, it's an international dispute.

According to D. Martin Dakin's entry for this story in A Sherlock Holmes Commentary:

"This first appeared in The Strand as The Reigate Squire (singular); but evidently soon after, this name struck Watson as inappropriate for the two men concerned, and in The Memoirs it was changed to The Reigate Squires.  In the American editions it has usually been altered to The Reigate Puzzle: it is believed that the first American editors feared that the word 'Squires' would be offensive or even incomprehensible to the Sons of the Free."

Thinking on Dakin's quote, I have to admit that it felt off because in GREE, Holmes famously told Watson that “My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class."  Why can Americans be expected to understand it in this context but not in a story's title?

But Dakin's theory has been the explanation given for as long as I can remember. And like many other things in Sherlockiana, I've trusted those that have come before me as they are always smarter than me and usually correct.

And only one page of the manuscript exists, and that isn't the title page.  So we can't go to the source  material for this one.  So I delved a little deeper into this, and came across an article from Baker Street Miscellanea, Number 35, Autumn 1983. Ann Byerly reports that in Sidney Paget's account book from March 1893 says "7 drawings S.H. (Reigate Puzzle)".

It seemed odd that Paget would use "Puzzle," but that could be brushed away as Paget is connected with so many Sherlock Holmes stories. Surely his contact at the American magazine, Harper's Weekly, reported this title to him at some point.

But Paget didn't illustrate the American edition.

As with so many Sherlock Holmes stories published in The Strand magazine, Sydney Paget illustrated the tale.  But Harper's Weekly in America commissioned W. H. Hyde for two illustrations.  There is no connection between the British illustrator and the American title.

So why would Sydney Paget refer to this story as "The Reigate Puzzle"?

Byer posited in her article that Doyle originally titled the story "Puzzle" but after sending his submission to America, changed his mind and changed the manuscript title to "Squire."  Four years after this article was published, Richard Lancelyn Green stated the same theory in his essay on the story in The Baker Street Dozen.  Lancelyn Green hypothesized that Doyle wrote to The Strand editor and requested the title be changed. (Constantine Rossakis later told me in an email that Green changed his mind, but I've yet to see documentation on that point.)

(Lancelyn Green also pointed out that there can only be one squire, as The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word "squire" as meaning "one who is the chief land-owner, magistrate, or lawyer in a district."  So the plural edition that we've all been using is incorrect. Confused yet? Me too.)

At the time of this writing, I have spent two hours in this rabbit hole and have dug through: A Sherlock Holmes CommentaryBaker Street MiscellaneaThe Baker Street DozenFrom Holmes to SherlockThe Oxford Annotated edition of The MemoirsThe Sherlock Holmes Reference Library edition of The MemoirsThe Baker Street JournalThe Green Bag Almanac, a few emails, and numerous websites.  So much for "just a few minutes with my books."

After all of this, you know what I've come up with?  

The American title is the right one and the British version is incorrect.  USA! USA! USA!