I just stumbled across this review (rather lukewarm) of a novel that purports to be authored by "Irene Adler," entitled Sherlock, Lupin & Me: The Dark Lady. At least, I think that's what the title is: Amazon.com has it listed as The Dark Lady (Sherlock, Lupin & Me). Apparently the book, written for young readers, teams up Sherlock Holmes, Irene Adler and Arsene Lupin as a teenage trio who work together to solve a mystery, a la the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, or perhaps Scooby-Doo. Sherlockians will likely take issue with the reviewer, who claims that the book's use of "William" as Sherlock's first name is "canonical." Maybe someone can correct me, but I was fairly certain that the idea of Sherlock's birth name being "William Sherlock Scott Holmes" was from W.S. Baring-Gould, and certainly not Doyle.
Anyway, the book sounds like it may be enjoyable enough for young readers, even though I would assume those same young readers would not appreciate the blending of LeBlanc and Doyle's characters. So I'm not really clear on whether the book is oriented towards readers who have previous familiarity with the characters, or merely young readers who may enjoy a period piece from the late 19th century. Furthermore, the way the reviewer describes the plot of the book, it seems like my reference to the Hardy Boys and Scooby-Doo may have been apt, as one of the critic's disappointments is that "the mystery is ultimately explained by the perpetrators." (That was often exactly what happened in Scooby-Doo episodes!)
Still, it does sound like something a Sherlockian like myself, who has a young daughter of reading age, might be interested in. And it is certainly encouraging that these classic characters by Doyle and LeBlanc are still providing material for the next generation of authors and readers.
First of all, I apologize for the brief "hiatus" in posts here on Baker Street Babble over the past few days. Things just got really busy for a short while. (They're still busy, but I'm carving out a little niche for blogging today.) Fortunately, my hiatus was not as long as the one Sherlock Holmes took after the Reichenbach Falls incident!
Moving right along, though, when I was at work the other day, my wife and kids apparently watched the Disney film The Great Mouse Detective, an animated film that I've never seen. Apparently my girls enjoyed it, so I will have to give it a watch sometime soon, and give a full report here on the blog. In Sherlock Holmes on Screen, Alan Barnes calls the film "an entirely joyful, well-observed piece that numbers among the best of Doyle-inspired parodies." The film follows the adventures of a mouse detective named Basil, who lives in the walls of 221B Baker Street. The flat's more famous resident appears in the film, voiced by Basil Rathbone! Basil (the mouse) is assisted in his investigations by a portly mouse named Dawson, and faces off against a nefarious rat named Ratigan (the Moriarty of the film), voiced by Vincent Price. All in all, it looks like a delightful adaptation, and Barnes mentions that Basil the mouse detective is "more acceptable and engaging lead than many human Sherlocks."
In other kid-related Sherlock news, my younger daughter was watching the PBS show Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (an animated spin-off of the famous Mister Rogers' Neighborhood), and I was amused to see Daniel Tiger using his imagination to pretend to be a detective. Guess how he was dressed? You got it: deerstalker cap, matching cloak, and holding a magnifying glass! Detective Daniel is keeping the game afoot.
I know The Great Mouse Detective is a pretty old film now (1986), and Daniel Tiger wasn't actually playing Holmes per se, but thanks to streaming video on Netflix and PBS, today's children are still being exposed to the characters and themes of the Holmes stories. It truly is a remarkable time to be a Sherlockian, and the next generation will likely have its share of them to carry the torch!
[The article below is my second full-length article to be published on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. Enjoy!]
"an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents..." [SIGN]
In all the recent debates among Sherlockians over the CBS program Elementary, one will often find vehement disagreement over the decision of the show's creator's decision to cast Lucy Liu as "Joan Watson." They will say that it destroys the all-male dynamic of Holmes and Watson's relationship, they will worry that it will develop into a romantic relationship, they will say "It's simply not Holmesian!" All the while, the assumption seems to be that the idea of casting Watson as a female role is a new (and perhaps dangerous or ill advised) idea. As we'll see, that simply is not the case.
Let us consider an article published in The Saturday Review of Literature, March 1, 1941, written by a certain Rex Stout, creator of another famous detective, Nero Wolfe. The article, based on a speech Stout had given to the Baker Street Irregulars earlier that year, was entitled "Watson Was a Woman." Stout, apparently with tongue implanted firmly in cheek, opens his article thusly:
You will forgive me for refusing to join in your commemorative toast, "The Second Mrs. Watson," when you learn it was a matter of conscience. I could not bring myself to connive at the perpetuation of a hoax. Not only was there never a second Mrs. Watson; there was not even a first Mrs. Watson. Furthermore, there was no Doctor Watson.
Please keep your chairs.
"Please keep your chairs," indeed. To address a gathering of Sherlockians, opening with the words "there was no Doctor Watson" seems to be a potentially disastrous idea. Remember, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had only died about a decade before Stout dared to give his speech and publish his article. I can only imagine the outrage that must have taken place among some of the Sherlockians who first read or heard these words!
It gets better, though. Mr. Stout goes on to quote from one of Watson's earliest impressions of Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet: ...he had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in the morning." Aha! A clue... Stout continues:
I was indescribably shocked. How had so patent a clue escaped so many millions of readers through the years? That was, that could only be, a woman speaking of a man. Read it over. The true authentic speech of a wife telling of her husband's-- but wait. I was not indulging in idle speculation, but seeking evidence to establish a fact. It was unquestionably a woman speaking of a man, yes, but whether a wife of a husband, or a mistress of a lover, . . . I admit I blushed.
So here we have it! Not nearly as coy as the creators of Elementary would be seventy years later, Rex Stout presents the theory that Watson was a woman, and not just any woman: either the wife or mistress of Sherlock Holmes! "My blushes, Watson!" (I can almost hear the great detective saying it...)
Mr. Stout finds more proof in Watson's statement about Holmes's prowess on the violin: ". . . his powers upon the violin . . . at my request he has played me some of Mendelssohn's Lieder. . ." He writes: "Imagine a man asking another man to play him some of Mendelssohn's Lieder on a violin!" Stout goes on to develop his theory of Watson as the wife of Sherlock Holmes. He finds particularly interesting Watson's role as a "reformist wife," in his attempts to break Holmes of his cocaine addiction.
Further on is possibly the most incredible (or the most ridiculous, depending on your point of view) bit of deduction in the entire article. In an almost acrobatic feat of acrostics, Rex (I don't think he'd mind me calling him "Rex") arranges eleven of the adventures in the canon in the following order:
Study in Scarlet
IRENE WATSON! All he has to do after this bit of legerdemain is to connect the name "Irene Watson" with the classic description of Irene Adler as "the woman," and his case is complete.
Towards the end of the article, Stout admits:
"All this is very sketchy... I am now collecting material for a fuller treatment of the subject, a complete demonstration of the evidence and the inevitable conclusion."
Presumably no further treatment of the theory was forthcoming, and one has to wonder if the whole thing, speech and subsequent article, was just a little fun at his fellow Sherlockians' expense.
It's plain to see, then, that the idea of Watson as a woman is hardly a novel one; inflammatory for some Sherlockians, certainly, but not new. It's no secret that Watson has appeared in many different guises over the years: old man, young man, doddering, comical, and intelligent. Indeed, in the world of film and TV adaptations, Watson has been presented as a woman in 1971's They Might Be Giants (Dr. Mildred Watson becomes the companion of Justin Playfair, a man who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes), and as a robot in the animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (a robot companion programmed to believe his is the original Dr. Watson). To borrow from Ecclesiastes,"there is nothing new under the sun."
[You can read the Rex Stout article in its entirety here, or if you'd prefer a PDF of the article as it appeared in The Saturday Review of Literature in March of 1941, here for the first two pages and here for the final page.]
When I think back to my preteen years, when I first discovered Sherlock Holmes, the story that immediately jumps out in my memory is "The Adventure of the Dancing Men." The idea of Holmes solving a secret picture code appealed to my young imagination. Right around the same age, I had read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, and had learned as much as I could about the runes on the map to the Misty Mountain. I used to try to write my name in runes, based on the little I could glean from Tolkien's novel and an encyclopedia article I found on runes. I don't know if I ever tried writing any messages in the Dancing Men code, but I bet there are all kinds of Sherlockians, young and old, who have done so.
I also remember poring over the Adventures, Memoirs, and Return of Sherlock Holmes, as well as The Hound of the Baskervilles, as they appeared in The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes (it had a different cover design from the one pictured here, but it was essentially the same one, with all of the Paget illustrations). My parents had bought me the collection when I began to show interest in the Holmes stories. As I recall, it took me a little while to realize that there were more Holmes adventures beyond the ones in that collection. In the days before Wikipedia, I compared the Illustrated Holmes with my grandpa's Complete Sherlock Holmes (the one by Doubleday, with the preface by Christopher Morley). In a sense, my search for the "complete" stories and novels was my own youthful "detective investigation."
And then I remember clearly the excitement of first reading A Study in Scarlet: here at last I was discovering the genesis of the characters I had come to know and love. I marked in pencil some of the passages that stood out to me: Holmes's theory of the mind as an "attic," Watson's list of Holmes's limitations, and Holmes's dismissal of the importance of astronomy. I'm sure lots of Sherlockians can recite it from memory:
“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”
I have to admit, these recent weeks of "rediscovering" my interest in Sherlock Holmes, and working on this very blog, have allowed me to recapture some of the wonder and excitement I had thirty-odd years ago, discovering it all for the very first time. I suppose that's part of why Sherlockians end up gathering in their various societies and groups: they love to share that excitement, and hopefully to pass it on to the next generation. It's part of why I've been so thrilled with the recent resurgence in Holmes adaptations. The idea of a new generation discovering Holmes through the movies and TV shows is something that I find very fulfilling to contemplate. As it has been for over a hundered years, the game is afoot! And always will be...
Anyone who's read the very first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, knows that the second half of the novel deals quite extensively with a sect that, at the time, was still somewhat in its infancy: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons. A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887; the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830. So the founding of Mormonism was far closer in time to Doyle than Doyle is to modern readers.
If you have ever met any modern day Mormons (I've met quite a few in my life), you might find the sect as described in A Study in Scarlet vastly different from the people you've experienced. Portrayed as more or less fanatical minions of Brigham Young, the Mormons in the Holmes adventure are pretty grim figures. Hard to reconcile them with today's freshly scrubbed, shirt and tie wearing missionaries!
It's unclear to me how much research, if any, Doyle did into the sect he chose as his villains. According to Wikipedia, Doyle's own daughter said, "... father would be the first to admit that his first Sherlock Holmes novel was full of errors about the Mormons." (One obvious example is the reference to the Angel "Merona," a misspelling of the Angel Moroni from The Book of Mormon.) However, I don't know if he was that far off base at the time, considering how different Mormons of that era were from modern Mormons. I've done a pretty considerable amount of study of Mormon history, and it's pretty clear that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, et al, were a great deal more fanatical than their modern descendants. Smith, after all, was killed by a lynch mob, after being imprisoned for his political activity. Brigham Young led a dedicated group of Saints out to the frontier country which later became Utah, a trip on which many died. And we've all heard about the polygamy that was common among Mormon leaders of the time. (To be fair, the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared that polygamy is completely incompatible with modern Church doctrine.) Doyle himself is reported to have said: "all I said about the Danite Band and the murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that, though it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history." Debate still continues over A Study in Scarlet, and its depiction of Mormons.
The article linked below is an interesting piece on the controversy, written from an ex-Mormon's point of view:
Mormons believe A Study in Scarlet is inaccurate.
According to some reports Doyle later was repentant about his treatment of the sect in his novel. This article from The Salt Lake Tribune talks about Doyle's later dealings with the Mormons. Overall, I suppose the depiction of Latter-day Saints in A Study in Scarlet should be taken with a grain of salt. His treatment of the KKK in "The Five Orange Pips" still stands, though...
A little while back, I attempted to read a book called Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye: The World's Greatest Detective Tackles the Bible's Ultimate Mysteries, by Len Bailey. I had received a free copy of the book from the blogger program that used to be called Booksneeze.com. (They are now called BookLook Bloggers.) The idea behind the program is, bloggers receive free books or ebooks, in exchange for writing a review on their blog and on a commercial site (such as Amazon.com). I'm afraid I never wrote that review, because I simply could not get through this awful book.
The basic premise, as described in the publisher's own blurb, is this: "The detective and the doctor travel back in time with the help of a Moriarty-designed time machine to investigate ten Bible destinations, unlocking clues to ten Bible mysteries." Some readers may say right off the bat, "Sounds awful...why would you read it?" Good question. I'm interested in the Bible, I'm interested in Sherlock Holmes (I write blogs on both subjects)...the book combines a couple of my main interests. I soon regretted my decision.
Even if we agree to suspend disbelief concerning the "time machine" portion of the plot AND expand that suspension of disbelief to accept the idea that Holmes and Watson would be able to understand what was going on in an ancient culture in an ancient language...even if we agree to those pretty big "ifs," the Holmes and Watson portrayed in the pages of Bailey's book are almost completely unlike the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes and Watson are quoting Scripture left and right, speaking in a slightly Anglicized version of typical modern evangelical "Christianese." Meanwhile, the book purports to be "solving" Biblical mysteries such as "Why did David choose five stones?" or "What did Jesus write on the ground in John 8?" I question the necessity of answering such questions, and I am highly skeptical of any Bible study which purports to have "deduced" the answers to said questions.
The amazing thing to me is that I have read several very positive reviews of the book on Goodreads and Amazon.com. Even more amazing is that at least one positive review came from a person who was avowedly not a Christian. I expect fans of Christian literature to be a bit undiscriminating when they read Christian literature: I've encountered such things too many times before to be surprised by that. But I did not expect a non-Christian Holmes fan to actually enjoy what I found painful to read, both from a Sherlockian viewpoint and from a Christian viewpoint.
I am interested in knowing if any of my readers have encountered Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye, and if so, what they thought of it. Meanwhile, it may interest readers to see this article on Huffington Post by the author Len Bailey, in which he explains why he decided to use Doyle's characters for his book. I'm still not convinced, but at least he seems to have thought it out.
Just a quick note to let readers know that I'm going to start taking Sundays off, as far as my blogging. I've been really good about blogging every single day since I started this blog, but it's starting to wear me out, blogging 7 days a week.
I'm sure my readers will understand...
I'll be back tomorrow for President's Day!
One of the interesting people I met at today's meeting of Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem (see my previous post) was local artist Chris Schweizer. Chris is a "newly minted" Nashville Scholar (this is a direct quote from the Nashville Scholars website). At the meeting he passed around some of his recent artwork, poster designs for series 1 and 2 of Sherlock. They are really beautifully done, and you can see them at Chris's website: croganadventures.blogspot.com (as well as more of his artwork). I've copied the Sherlock poster art below; the original link for his post of this artwork is here. (And let me tell you, they're even more spectacular in print.) I should also let you know that some of Chris's work is available for purchase at his website's store.
Today I was finally able to attend a meeting of the local Sherlockian group here in Nashville, TN, Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem. Let me tell you, as enjoyable as it is interacting with other Sherlockians online, it is even more fun meeting them in person! A warmer, more jovial group of people you would be hard pressed to find. (Was that last sentence too much like "Yoda speak"? Just wondering...)
I had a very interesting conversation over a Shoney's buffet lunch with a couple of the Scholars about Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the copyright battles over those two literary estates. There was also a very lively conversation about Elementary and Sherlock, as well as a host of other ancillary topics. There was Show and Tell time, when members were encouraged to share recent Holmes items or news stories with which they had recently come in contact. I was able to talk a bit about this blog, and my recently published article on ihearofsherlock.com (which it turned out at least one person present had just read). Then came the QUIZ...
Hoo boy, was I unprepared for the tough questions about "The Adventure of the Second Stain"! I felt better, though, when all of these long time Sherlockians seemed equally flummoxed. There was lively discussion over all of the answers (or the guesses). "What, you mean Eduardo Lucas's butler wasn't named Benedict Cumberbatch?!?"
Really, I had a lovely time...I will definitely try to make the meeting next month, and every month thereafter, if possible. Where else am I going to get the chance to wear my deerstalker cap?
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.