Happy Birthday, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

It’s become something of a tradition in this household to celebrate the sixth of January. Perhaps it’s strange to celebrate the birthday of a stranger, but we do owe so much to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. I, for one, owe him a large swath of my upbringing and a good many of my own interests – as children do tend to absorb some of the peculiarities of their idols. I owe him also innumerable  hours of enjoyable reading.

So today I honor Mr. Holmes and give myself over to more such reading. Today is a day of books and tea, the evening capped, perhaps, with an excellent claret, as I celebrate the foremost contributor to the modern forensic sciences. (And Mr. Holmes will understand, I hope, if an hour or two are dedicated also to the memory of the wise and beautiful Mr. Jeremy Brett, who has been for so many the face of the Great Detective. I cannot imagine he might object; after all, our Mr. Holmes is a bit of a thespian, himself.)

How are you celebrating, dear reader?

Sherlock is free!

Thanks to the efforts of the brilliant Holmesian and author Mr. Leslie S. Klinger, the characters of Holmes and Watson are now incontrovertibly in the public domain, free from the licensing restrictions of the Conan Doyle Estate.

Full details and transcript of the court’s ruling can be found on the Free Sherlock site: December 2013: Ruling.

The Milk Wagon Mystery – a short story for children

Cross-posted to qui est in literis

Greetings, readers. That little short story I mentioned on the Other Site is now out in digital format. It’s a light little puzzle written by myself and my grandmother, based on the games we used to play when I was a very small child. (Most of our games involved a mystery of some sort.) Hopefully, it will be the first volume of a Pleasantville Detectives series.

The Milk Wagon Mystery

The Milkwagon Mystery Cover small

Digitally available for $0.99 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Click the cover to be taken to the Goodreads page.

There is a mystery in Pleasantville! Jason Morgan, the milkman, has disappeared and left all the milk on the side of the road. Why would Jason leave in such a hurry? Ten-year-olds Matthew Baker and Crystal Hill are on the case, but more people are going missing, and Matthew and Crystal both have their own strange secrets. Can they work together to find Jason and the others in time, or are their friends gone for good?

Recommended for independent readers between the ages of seven and ten or read-aloud at any age.

The Eye of the Crow – Temporary things

That book mentioned periodically is going through intense reworking, but reworking can become brain-numbing after a while, so I played with my image editing software and came up with a temporary cover and a likely even more temporary title for the book. (The file was previously labelled with the working title “HOLMES THING,” which, while accurate, made me frown a little every time I opened it. The Eye of the Crow may or may not stick around, but I like it quite a lot, for the moment.)

The cover also reveals a bit more than I had previously. Feel free to speculate!

Review – Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night (James Runcie)

Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night

James Runcie

ISBN: 1608199517

Not yet available for purchase, but available to be admired on Goodreads.

 

I won an advance reading copy of PotN from Goodreads some time in April and have been cautioned by the back cover not to judge an uncorrected proof too harshly. Fortunately, harsh judgement is not an issue. I liked it.

 

Note: this is a review of a sweet collection of mysteries set in and around Cambridge of the late 1950s and early 1960s. This is, ostensibly, a Sherlock Holmes blog, but my brain’s filing system catalogues all mystery under the Archetype Holmes header, and so this review fits. 

 

Much mystery, caught up in its attempt at edginess, loses itself in gratuitous sex and gore. Edginess has its place, of course, but I’ve grown tired of it. I wanted to take a few steps back from the edge.

 

Sidney Chambers has provided for me a much needed break. I found the reading at once light and weighty, a balance between vibrant, whimsical characters and their brushes with the darker side of human nature. The language is elegant and cerebral without being overbearing, and it fits the period without feeling stilted.

 

The episodic structure of the book – a series of short storied, tied together by a few threads into a loosely-bound whole – threw me off a little at first, but I quickly decided to allow myself one story a day, and the subdivision into manageable chunks became a convenience.

 

What I loved most, though, was the title character, the clerical detective, Canon Sidney Chambers. Much in the tradition of Father Brown, Sidney shows a deep and sensitive understanding of humanity, flaws included, and yet retains a wonderful optimism and innocence, reaching out to touch the sinner without letting himself be touched by the sin. In some ways, he perhaps surpasses Father Brown in realism: in the difficulties of his relationships, his flashes of human jealousy, his worries that his academia or detective work sometimes interferes with his priestly duties. Where moral ambiguity has become the norm for protagonists, Sidney is proof that it is by no means a necessary attribute of a complex, interesting character; I found his uprightness refreshing.

 

My only complaint would be the overabundance of cricket jargon in The Hat Trick, the fourth story in the collection.

Review – Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Ichabod Reed (M. Pepper Langlinais)

Lacking for any other cover image…

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Ichabod Reed

M. Pepper Langlinais

ASIN: B0095OB3NK

Available for purchase

From Amazon: “The man is the mystery.” So says young Malcolm Durstwell when he comes to Baker Street in hopes of discovering the truth about the man who has inherited his uncle’s estate–a man no one has ever heard of or seen. Sherlock Holmes is inclined to dismiss the case . . . until Malcolm Durstwell himself is found dead shortly after his visit.

Is it a coincidence? Or has the nameless, faceless Ichabod Reed gone so far as to commit murder? And if so, how can Holmes identify him and bring him to justice?

Inspired by the classic mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle, the “New Sherlock Holmes Adventures” from award-winning author M Pepper Langlinais follow the further exploits of Holmes and Watson in the style of the original stories. “The Adventure of Ichabod Reed” is the first volume in the series and is followed by “The Mystery of the Last Line.” Further adventures are forthcoming in 2013.
The Premise: 
A young man – Malcolm Durstwell – arrives in Baker Street, concerned and outraged that, due to a strange and unexpected provision of his late uncle’s will, he and his family will be evicted from their home. The benefactor, Ichabod Reed, is unknown to the family and has never been seen, instead choosing to conduct his legal affairs by proxy. Holmes sees nothing criminal in the case and refuses to take it on, until Malcolm Durstwell is found dead on the train the following morning.
The Good:
Ichabod Reed was an enjoyable little story that got me through an hour at the shoe store, which will ensure my favourable opinion of pretty much anything.
The mystery engaged me directly from the beginning; it isn’t terribly often that the client is also the victim, which created interest for me straight from the start.
The language was, for the most part, closely complementary to the Canon, though somewhat more succinct so as not to alienate a modern reader.

The Watson was admirably sharp and considerate – not the bumbling idiot he is sometimes made out to be – and I really do appreciate that. Watson is a physician, after all. The body of medical knowledge may have been much narrower in the nineteenth century, but there has never been a point in time at which idiots could make it through medical school and establish themselves in respectable practice.

The Bad – SPOILERS:
Some of the clues did not seem to match up. For instance, though heredity was still a fledgling science, I can’t see both Holmes and Watson assuming that two brown-eyed parents could not produce blue-eyed offspring. And while I can’t claim any first hand knowledge, my understanding is that nightshade berries are too sweet to be concealed in so bland a food as an egg sandwich, and the alkaloid extracts would be too bitter. Additionally, death by nightshade typically involves horrific hallucinations, agitation, convulsions, and painful vomiting. It’s very unlikely that poor Malcolm could have died quietly of belladonna poisoning without attracting any notice.
It is a personal preference, but I don’t find the killing of canon characters to be good form in pastiche. Unless Langlinais has some clever trick up her sleeve, reserved for later Adventures, I can’t approve of the death of Mycroft. (However, if she absolutely had to kill off Mycroft, she did it well; another writer might have penned some maudlin dialogue for the bereaved Sherlock, but her Sherlock handled the loss as dispassionately and reservedly as the real one would.)
In Conclusion: 
I enjoyed it. It was well-considered, well-written, and well-edited, if not as well-researched. When one has run out of Adventures and hasn’t the time for a novel, Langlinais’s New Adventures are an agreeable substitute.

The BBC Sherlock fandom and a fascinating quotation

I have recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by Alyssa Nabors of The Anglerfish magazine, a chronicle of modern nerdiness and geekery. The poor dear took me seriously when I called myself  a Holmesian loremaster – which, as we all know, is code for “obsessive and slightly unbalanced fanatic.” Fortunately, she was willing to treat my opinions as reasonable and semi-valid, and she quoted some of my speculations concerning Sherlock and social media.

The article can be found here.

The issue continues with a short overview of Holmes in film and some observations on ‘Elementary,’ a discussion of classic mystery, and an analysis of the Holmes/Moriarty dynamic. It’s a good, nerdy little collection of musings on one of my favourite topics. I recommend a read-through.

After a short sabbatical…

It wasn’t intentional, I assure you. I’ve been writing in that other place, consumed for the moment by the paranormal and all of the wonderful social and eschatological artefacts surrounding it – that is to say, finishing a rough draft while slogging through term paper season in my corner of academia.

I am still around, though, and still reading, and – shortly, at any rate – still reviewing. I’ve got a small pile of pastiche to get through during my few upcoming days of leisure, one down, and a few comments nearly ready for posting. I haven’t abandoned the blog, nor Sherlockiana. I just happen to have a few issues with time management.

I’ve also redecorated a bit. I happen to like herringbone.

Sherlock Holmes Resource Unit

So, here’s that resource unit I promised. I’ve got quizzes and vocab sheets to go with it, but I don’t know how to attach them for download. Are there any file-hosting sites that don’t take things down after thirty days or so? If not, I’ve added a Contact page, so you can reach me via email if you wanft me to send you those other files.

Grade Level/Course: Sixth Grade/Literature

Topic: Mystery Literature with Focus on Sherlock Holmes and Adaptations

A. Introduction

Mystery literature is one of the oldest of the modern genres, pervading pop culture, theater, cinema, literature, art, and common reference. Mystery is also one of the few genres that by necessity encourages active, thoughtful readership and problem solving over the course of the plot. Sherlock Holmes has, over the past century, become the archetype of the fictional detective, even influencing modern police procedure. The purpose of this resource unit is to provide students with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the mystery genre and to enable them to pick up on some of the common references to Sherlock Holmes.

B. Instructional Goals

   1. Cognitive

            The student will become familiar with

            a. the structure of a mystery story

            b. the character and personality of Sherlock Holmes

            c. the literary trope of the Watson

            d. the written source materials of the Adventures

            e. the definition and attributes of pastiche (as opposed to source material or adaptation)

            f. the variety of pop cultural references to Sherlock Holmes

   2. Affective

            The student will appreciate

            a. the impact of Sherlock Holmes on modern culture

            b. the alterations necessary for film adaptation

            c. the alterations necessary to cater to a younger audience

            d. the application of complex problem solving in real life as in fiction

C. Instructional Objectives

   1. Cognitive

The student will be able to

a. list the five sequential components of a mystery story

b. connect the five sequential components of a mystery story to plot points in a particular Adventure

c. compare the main character in the source material to the main character in an adaptation and identify the major difference

d. account for 3 considerations filmmakers must take when adapting literature to the screen, based on comparison of an Adventure with the corresponding film

e. describe the character of Sherlock Holmes using at least five adjectives drawn from the source material

f. describe the character of John Watson using at least three adjectives drawn from the source material

g. define the function of the Watson as a literary trope

h. identify the audience for the Adventures and various pastiche

   2. Affective

The student will

a. write a summary of a specified Adventure, identifying each of the component parts

b. state xir opinion of the merits and drawbacks of the mystery genre

c. state connections between the source material and modern pop cultural references

d. describe the detective archetype

   3. Psychomotor

a. imitate standard mystery structure in an outline for a pastiche

b. distinguish between adaptation and pastiche

c. create an original mystery story using the components of a mystery story and the Watson archetype

D. Learning Activities

1. Read from Sherlock Holmes source material, especially A Scandal in BohemiaThe Redheaded LeagueA Study in ScarletThe Final ProblemThe Hound of the Baskervilles

2. Google ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and make note of the contents of the first two pages of results

3. Read from pastiche geared toward children – Basil of Baker Street – and discuss alterations

4. Read from pastiche geared toward adults/women – The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – and discuss alterations

5. Watch film adaptations of specific adventures and compare to the text

6. Watch The Great Mouse Detective and compare to Basil of Baker Street

7. Find lists of pastiche and make note of settings – e.g. Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, Sherlock Holmes in America, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century

8. Trunk activity (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) – teacher will prepare a representation of the materials listed in the trunk scene prologue and discuss the importance of objects as clues and plot devices. Students will create a list of objects that would represent the stories of their own lives, with a brief explanation for each.

9. Create a chart comparing observed personality traits of Sherlock Holmes or analogous characters in Adventures, Basil of Baker Street, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Granada television series, The Great Mouse Detective

10. Brainstorm a list of practical considerations that could affect the creation of film adaptations

11. Identify the accoutrements of the detective archetype (deerstalker hat, pipe, magnifying glass, etc.) and find examples

12. Act out key scenes from Adventures

13. Word search using vocabulary terms from reading material

14. Illustrate a scene from an Adventure, making sure to include an important clue

15. Discuss red herrings and ask students to identify potential red herrings in the reading material

E. Evaluation Techniques

1. Pretest – ask students to describe the mystery genre and Sherlock Holmes based on their current understanding. Ask them to list any recent references to Sherlock Holmes they can remember encountering in television, literature, cinema, comics, etc.

2.  Group project – chart comparing personality traits between source material, pastiche, & adaptation. Each student must contribute at least three items.

3. Vocabulary sheet for each reading assignment

4. Quiz – students will match events of each Adventure read to the component parts of a mystery story.

5. Class discussion – students will be encouraged to raise questions concerning setting, motives, plot points, and characterization.

F. Resources

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (AC Doyle) [ISBN: 978-0553212419]

      *Suggested – A Scandal in Bohemia

The Redheaded League

The Final Problem

Basil of Baker Street (Eve Titus) [ISBN: 978-0671702878]

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Laurie R. King) [ISBN: 978-0312427368]

Talking About Detective Fiction (PD James) [ISBN:  978-0307743138]

Sherlock Holmes: the Man and His World (Keating) [ISBN: 978-0785821120]

 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Granada) [DVD]

*Suggested – A Scandal in Bohemia

The Redheaded League

The Final Problem

The Great Mouse Detective (Disney) [DVD]

*In conjunction with Basil of Baker Street

Young Sherlock Holmes (Paramount/Amblin) [DVD]

*In conjunction with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

 

Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org

Sixth Graders and Sherlock Holmes

So, I taught a unit on mystery literature and Sherlock Holmes last spring. We talked about fanfiction and pastiche, adaptations, reimaginings, film, and the impact SH has had on pop culture. We read The Redheaded League and The Final Problem and moved on from there to Basil of Baker Street, the Granada series with Jeremy Brett, The Great Mouse Detective, and The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. We talked about the structure of a mystery story, the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Victorian society, vocabulary, and the ways in which Holmes has forever imprinted himself on the archetype of the detective. I wore a deerstalker to class.

Now, partly because I hope to be able to teach the same unit again and partly because assignments need doing, I am compiling a resource unit along those same lines. I’ve got vocabulary sheets, quizzes, exams, activities, and a long list of links and resources. If I pile it up right, it should be appropriate for more than just sixth graders.

Now, I know that resource units are of interest pretty much only to teachers, but I would like to make this thing available for download when it’s complete. It might be a good resource for Holmesians whose children’s school experience is woefully lacking.

At any rate, it ought to be up here in a few weeks at the most. I have to find fun graphics and such. 🙂