From the dark green desk of Christopher Redmond
2018-07-03: Hardly anybody bought my book
I received a sales statement last week from Wessex Press, probably the most upscale of the little publishers who keep the Sherlockian world supplied with printed books. This report has to do with A Quick Succession of Subjects, a collection of my Sherlockian lectures and speeches, which Wessex published in January 2016. I was disappointed, though not exactly surprised, to learn that the book has sold a grand total of 80 copies in two years. I have no doubt that there are a lot more than 80 Sherlockians who would enjoy reading my collection, touching as it does on religion, blondes, war and law (not all at once). But the book never had a very high profile, and the publication of About Sixty, took some of the spotlight away, and Wessex doesn't make its books available through Amazon, and there are heavy charges for postage. So what with one thing and another, A Quick Succession was a whole lot of work and love for not much of an audience. I should add, though, that it's still available, still priced at $19.95 US, through the Wessex web site.
2018-06-30: The blonde bombshell with the vocabulary
I was at a family cottage this week, hampered by an unreliable Internet connection and thus able to catch up on a bit of reading, including the 2017 Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual, which is Sonia Fetherston and Julie McKuras's biography and investigation of Helene Yuhasova. Hers is a peculiar story, in which postwar political intrigue — was she actually a Russian spy? — mixes with Sherlockian controversy: did she or didn't she write the complicated and charming poems published under her name in A Lauriston Garden of Verses and elsewhere? (I'm going to say no to the first question and yes to the second, but not with deep conviction.) Of course I am particularly intrigued by the authors' discoveries about the beautiful Helene's later years, in which she moved to Los Angeles, turned her hair platinum blonde, and built a fortune through shrewd investment while keeping close company with a millionaire property developer. Sherlockians in any generation are fascinating people, but Helene Yuhasova (or Yuhas) is going to take some beating.
2018-06-27: Thoughts on the TBR pile
I can't believe how much Sherlockian reading is awaiting my attention, and how unlikely it is that I'll ever get to it all. PDFs on hand range from the apparently classic fanfic "A Finger Slip" to something called "Conan Doyle's War" and a play titled "Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Hearts". Books include eight volumes of The MX Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories (I've read the first two, but the authors are currently up to 10) and Arthur and George, not to mention a slim but heavy volume on Gender and the Modern Sherlock Holmes. And then there are Sherlockian periodicals, including newsletters, Baker Street Journals, and (close your ears, please, Plexippa) several volumes of the Watsonian. I know I'd enjoy all of this stuff, or most of it, if I could ever just get to it. But you know what: if I had any extra reading time, which I clearly don't, I bet I'd spend it on superficial detective stories, or some of the original works of Arthur Conan Doyle that I've never really plumbed. (What about you? Have you ever read Micah Clarke?) Or, you know, I could always reread one or two of the actual Sherlock Holmes stories. It's been ages since I even looked at "The Golden Pince-Nez"....
2018-06-26: Scintillation didn't make me sick
I meant to write a few words right after Scintillation of Scions XI about the fact that I went there, I came home, and I didn't get sick. That's somewhat unusual after a Sherlockian convention. Right after the BSI weekend in New York in January, I had sore throat and stuffy nose and general miseries — and, significantly, so did practically everybody else who was there, judging from social media reports. Admittedly, it was winter, cold and raw outdoors, dry and stuffy indoors, but hotel and airplane air, too little sleep and too much alcohol, and close physical proximity can do their evil work at any time of the year. In a general fandom context, this phenomenon is frequently called "con crud" (not to be confused with the emotional letdown that is "con drop"), but this year Sherlockians mostly were borrowing a phrase from "The Dying Detective": "the Black Formosa Corruption". A few of us are old enough to remember another name, used by Adventuresses thirty years ago or more: "wombat hangover".
2018-06-25: Johnlock and the end of the world
I wonder what percentage of Sherlockians know what The Johnlock Conspiracy (TJLC) even is. Depends on what one means by "Sherlockians", I suppose, and it would be better not to go there. But if you have any contact at all with the Sherlock BBC fandom, which has a not insignificant overlap with more traditional Sherlockiana, you might want to take a look at an article just published in the Journal of Transformative Works and Culture. It performs the rather remarkable feat of explaining TJLC, and the warfare and nastiness it spiralled into last year, with an apparently straight face. It also, with a lot of technical terms from theology, frames the TJLC movement as a form of eschatology, true believers looking forward to the inevitable end times. Oh, and it manages to trash Tumblr completely, dismissing it as a form of social media useful for fandom communities. (Many of us, having peeked at Tumblr, will not be surprised.) I found some paragraphs of this fairly brief article to be heavy going, but overall it's useful for pigeonholing the Johnlock folks as we move onward.
2018-06-17: Two sentences taken out of context
Sonia Fetherston is one of the most knowledgeable Sherlockians around, and one of the best writers among us, not to mention a thoroughly nice person. She also keeps the Sherlockian twitter-stream canonical by posting quotations daily from her identity as @221blonde, and of course she's gone way beyond the level of "The game is afoot" and "The dog did nothing in the night-time." Today she posted a passage from The Hound of the Baskervilles: "My eyes have been trained to examine faces and not their trimmings. It is the first quality of a criminal investigator that he should see through a disguise." Of course reading a passage like that in isolation means an opportunity to think about it more carefully than when it's an unexamined moment in a page or a whole novel. Thus I was brought up short today: "trained"? Trained by whom? Holmes doesn't, after all, say "I have trained my eyes." Was there a face-watching school somewhere, from which he was a successful graduate, and Watson emphatically was not?
2018-06-16: The Hunter without the detective
I had a chance yesterday to watch "Violet", a new half-hour video retelling of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". It's notable for leaving out Sherlock Holmes altogether, making Violet Hunter even more the heroine than she is in the original. The action is set in the contemporary United States — Jephro Rucastle's accent, at least to a Canadian ear, is comically broad — and Jordi Coats makes Violet an ordinary and vulnerable young woman, though at the same time strong, brave and too curious for her own good. Those of us who have read "Copper Beeches" many, many times (and seen the Granada version starring Natasha Richardson) are perhaps a little inured to just how creepy the story is; the first half of this little film brings that shuddery feeling back very effectively, all the more so because the whole thing was shot in black and white. The second half, with its violence and dramatic revelations, is perhaps a little less convincing, but the whole piece is emphatically worth watching, even without Holmes.
2018-06-15: The shibboleth of Sherlockian shenanigans
It seems to me it was only a few years ago that I first heard mention of Sherlockians enjoying "shenanigans" when they got together in New York in January, or at other locations for cons and celebrations during the year. If the Baker Street Irregulars promised one another shenanigans at their dinner meetings in the 1940s, no record of it survives, so far as I know. It's an odd word — "origin obscure", says the Oxford English Dictionary, though surely it must be Irish. The OED lists meanings for it ranging from "skulduggery" to "an exhibition of high spirits", and I'm pretty sure the latter is the meaning intended by Sherlockians. The OED cites "shenanigan" in the singular as early as 1855, but in the plural only from 1926. It's all a bit mysterious. But still more mysterious is how rarely I've spotted a Sherlockian shenanigan, singular or plural. Even the imbibing in the hotel bar at Scintillation XI earlier this month was very decorous, so far as I could tell. Maybe I just go to bed too early.
2018-06-14: Holmes and his problematic paternalism
Mary Sutherland of "A Case of Identity" is sometimes dismissed by Sherlockians as the dumbest character in the Canon, just a red hair ahead of Jabez Wilson. For generations she's been seen as unattractive, bovine and not much more. But of course feminist and socially aware commentators in recent years have found more to say, and entertained doubts about the way Sherlock Holmes handled her case, declining to tell her that her vanished swain, Hosmer Angel, was really her selfish stepfather, James Windibank. In a recent conversation on Twitter, it was suggested that Holmes simply had no right to make this life decision for poor Mary. "I really think there are two possibilities," was my own opinion. "Mary Sutherland was a particularly unfortunate victim of Holmes's typical thoughtlessness, or he assessed her as disabled enough to be protected from reality." And the brilliant and wise Ashley Polasek said she agreed with me: "I have always felt that it was the latter, but that his assessment of her 'disability' stemmed from a problematic paternalism rather than a genuine assessment of her mental capacity." Other views are welcome.
2018-06-13: 'If you came from Kansas I would not need to explain'
One of the people I was able to spend time chatting with during Scintillation of Scions over the weekend was Dan Payton of Kansas City, who has been interested for a while in reviving the Sherlockian society there, The Great Alkalai Plainsmen of Greater Kansas City, originally founded in 1963. As a youngster I was involved with the society for a couple of years — it provided my first face-to-face encounters with other Sherlockians — and it's had an on-and-off career since then, with at least one major refounding. Now, says Dan, it's time again, though "The details remain to be worked out and input is desperately needed." He and partner-in-crime Scott Turner are hoping for a first meeting of the revived GAP before the summer is over. Potential members, or those who know of potential members, can reach Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or Payton at email@example.com. Do I need to add that while some of Kansas City is in Kansas, the majority of it is in Missouri?
2018-06-12: Thoughts after the Baltimore trip
I'm back in Carleton Place after a few days' travel to attend the Scintillation of Scions Sherlockian get-together (conference? convention? con?) in suburban Baltimore. The event, in its first year being chaired by Karen Wilson, was terrific, of course. There were some highlights in the program, including Susan Bailey's dramatic revelation about the demonstrator who taught anatomy to both Doyle and Watson in the dissection room at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. But inevitably the best part of the weekend (if sometimes the most stressful, for those of us with some social anxiety, which seems to be about 90 per cent of Sherlockians) was simply spending time with people who share our quirky interests. I saw some old friends and met a few new ones; memorable among the latter is Nick Martorelli, who was on the program as well, with a thought-provoking talk about the length and structure of the canonical stories. I'll say more about the Scintillation experience, and a detour I made during the trip, in this space over the next couple of days.
2018-06-05: I probably won't scintillate at Scintillation
I'll be travelling for the next couple of days, and then making an appearance at Scintillation of Scions, one of the major annual Sherlockian events. As a result, there will be no postings on this blog site (if that's what it is) for about a week. I'm greatly looking forward to Scintillation, partly of course for the sparkling program Karen Wilson and her committee will have put together, but chiefly for the opportunity to see some friends, make some new ones, and possibly accumulate memories of talk and, as Sherlockians like to say, shenanigans. I always go to social events — and this one is no exception — with a considerable baggage of social anxiety, awkwardness and introversion, but it's become clear to me over the years that most Sherlockians share those traits to a marked degree, so perhaps it will work out well.
2018-06-04: The new Baker Street Journal is here
I was so pleased to find the spring issue of the Baker Street Journal in my mailbox today. Delivery of the BSJ to those of us north of the World's Longest Undefended Border (would that it still deserved that title) has been a painful process for the last while, but the BSJ management has been working heroically to improve things, and apparently the solution involves a north-of-the-border remailing process with the assistance of author, collector, editor and general factotum Charles Prepolec. So here's the new issue in very good time. It contains a tepid review of the anthology About Being a Sherlockian, which I edited, and also an article by my good friend Monica Schmidt, "The Curious Case of the Bipolar Detective", which I encouraged and helped to edit. This issue includes plenty of reports on the January BSI weekend in New York, but there's room for Sherlockian scholarship and speculation as well, and I look forward to reading it.
2018-06-03: The bachelor and his good-looking host
Nobody cites "Wisteria Lodge" as their favourite Sherlock Holmes story — well, nobody except Mark Hanson, who did a fine job of expounding its merits in About Sixty a couple of years ago. However, it's always had some fascination for me, certainly since Ed Clark's classic article about it in the Baker Street Journal in 1981. He called it "a splendid hash" (it's long, indeed so long that it was originally published in two parts, and the plot is complicated — "and because we don't read it often," Clark adds). I'm also fond of pointing out that it's the only canonical story in which, beyond a shadow of a doubt, significant characters are portrayed as homosexual (gay). The whole sequence of events depends on the bachelor John Scott Eccles forming a relationship with the oily Spaniard Aloysius Garcia, apparently on the basis that the latter is "pleasing in his manners, and as good-looking a man as ever I saw". Almost immediately, the two are making overnight visits, and Eccles hardly seems surprised when Garcia appears in his bedroom in the middle of the night. I used this analysis as background to my recent fanfic, and I don't think anybody has taken exception to it.
2018-06-02: It would oblige me, Watson, if...
Three or four of the Sherlockians I know on Twitter, who are a motley crew to say the least, ganged up on me this week and persuaded me that it would be fun (for somebody) if I wrote and posted a fanfic. The requirement: it had to be the story of Holmes and Watson's first kiss — in other words, it implied a relationship between the doctor and the detective that doesn't entirely match the traditional interpretation or the one I prefer. However, fun is fun, so I wrote it and posted it (and you can see it if you can find it). I was surprised to receive a good couple of dozen "kudos", or compliments, on what I would have thought was a niche story in the extreme, full of Baker Street banter and retrospective analysis of one of the more complicated canonical tales. Better yet, many of the compliments, other than those about my being a good sport, observed that my Watsonian or Doylean style was highly convincing. So what do I do next with the ability to sound like Watson, given that I can't plot anything and I don't really want to explore their love life any further?
2018-06-01: The worst story in London
There have been many surveys aimed at identifying "the best" Sherlock Holmes story, and a couple of years ago I edited an anthology making the case for every one of the 60 stories in turn as the best. Less frequently does anybody ask which are the worst stories, but I raised that question recently on the Sherlockian Facebook group "The Stranger's Room". In my unscientific survey, a total of 16 stories, more than a quarter of the total, were nominated. "The Mazarin Stone" led the polls, followed by "The Veiled Lodger", "The Creeping Man", "The Blanched Soldier", "The Sussex Vampire", and "The Lion's Mane". Among those nominees are all the stories that are not narrated by Watson, save for "His Last Bow", which received only a single vote. Is it possible, then, that the quality that makes a story bad is not its limping plot, its tone-deaf language or its anachronistic science, but the absence of the Holmes-Watson relationship? This question needs study.
2018-05-31: Meeting me in St. Louis
I was asked today whether I'm going to Holmes in the Heartland, a Sherlockian get-together scheduled for August 10-12 in St. Louis. I've never been to St. Louis, and that could be interesting; more important, I'd love to see the friends and not-yet-friends who will be there, including the organizer, Rob Nunn, with whom I've had many online conversations. But St. Louis is 1,002 miles from where I live, by the shortest route, and that means a three-day drive (I do my travelling by car). Hotels and gas and acceptable meals are pricy, even without the sad state of the Canadian dollar exchange rate this year. Then there are the natural fears about gun violence in the United States, and a certain reluctance to spend money in a country whose trade policy apparently is designed to punish its friends. So I'm really not sure whether I'm going to Holmes in the Heartland or not. But if I don't, I'll miss my friends, for sure.
2018-05-30: 'From what I have seen of the lady'
I spent some time on Twitter this morning — so what else is new? — and got drawn into a conversation about Irene Adler, specifically about why old-time Sherlockians were so keen to portray her as Sherlock Holmes's love interest. Christopher Morley, 1944: "If Baker Street required a mate
Or Reason crowned a queen,
The only one to segregate
Would be, of course, Irene." I ventured that the main reason was the lack of anybody else in the Canonical stories to imagine in that role, a role that traditional male understanding of women's purpose in life insists needs to be filled. Somebody else in the conversation argued that Irene (she gets called by her first name) needs to be seen as an "equal" to Holmes (surname), toward whom he feels intellectual respect and enjoyment, rather than romantic or sexual attraction. And there is a lot of truth in that analysis, though it wouldn't make Morley happy. What about the photograph of The Woman? At this point somebody tweeted an image of that photograph, the one of Irene in "A Scandal in Belgravia", with a little bit of green tulle and a whole lot of Lara Pulver. And suddenly I was feeling grateful that Holmes and Watson never felt the impulse to despatch a telegram to St. John's Wood: SEND NOODZ.
2018-05-29: 'We were to go to the theatre'
Ontario has two major repertory theatre festivals: the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, which was in the news last night for all the wrong reasons, and the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which presents the work of George Bernard Shaw and, very loosely, his contemporaries. This year's plays at the Shaw include an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright, which I thought was something entirely new but which apparently was first staged in Seattle some five years ago. The Shaw also offers a multi-day seminar in August for drama enthusiasts and patrons, and I've been asked to come and talk for an hour about Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and the Hound. I need to think seriously about how to catch a presumably erudite audience's attention. Not, I think, by telling the tent joke.
2018-05-28: We never sing of Aunt Clara
I used to enjoy singing "We Never Mention Aunt Clara". If you don't know the song, that means that first, you're not a member of the Sherlockian older generation, and second, you're missing some laughs. The Baker Street Irregulars started remembering Aunt Clara (otherwise known as Irene Adler) in the 1950s, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes seized onto the song with glee (since Clara/Irene was, whatever else, an adventuress), and even the Bootmakers of Toronto had it on the program at annual dinners for a while. I don't know about the ASH, but otherwise it seems to be vanishing. At the two BSI dinners I've attended, it was half-heartedly sung to an unfamiliar tune (2016) and not sung at all (2018), and to say the least I was disappointed. Perhaps it's just not classy enough for the black-tie Irregulars of this decade. Also, of course, it's based on gender stereotypes that would be appalling if we took them seriously instead of laughing at them. Personally, I think gender stereotyping can be fun, and I miss "Aunt Clara".
2018-05-27: Tim Johnson and the challenge of our time
A newsletter from the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota arrived the other day, and reminded me that I had a couple of back issues of the same publication sitting unread in a pending pile, a relic of my move from Waterloo to Carleton Place last year. So I pulled them out and enjoyed some good reading. What stands out: "A Note from the Podium" by Timothy Johnson, in the September 2017 issue. Tim Johnson is one of the leading Sherlockians of our generation, and both a perceptive thinker and a lyrical writer. He talks about making the SH Collections responsive to "a massively creative and diverse" community of Sherlockians, "amid the tension between older, self-styled 'devotees' and the newer fans.... From a curatorial perspective, what we are witnessing is a different ordering of the world, both real and creative." His article also mentions the chapter he wrote in the anthology About Being a Sherlockian which I edited and which was published last fall. Take it from me, it deserves immortality in the Sherlockian literature.