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?

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!

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.

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. 🙂

Just a trifle early for our subject, but interesting all the same. One could almost imagine a certain Violet Holmes in such attire…

Viva Victorians!

Researchers at Amherst College believe a collector may have unearthed the second-known photo of Victorian poet Emily Dickinson.

The daguerreotype, which dates from around 1859, allegedly shows a 30-year-old Dickinson, at left, seated with her friend Kate Scott Turner.

There is only one authenticated photo of the infamously reclusive Dickinson, which was taken in 1846 or 1847.

Read more: 2nd photo of Emily Dickinson found?

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The Detective’s Perspective

Because – let’s face it – detectives tend to be rather peculiar people. Sherlock Holmes is an aspie cocaine addict who shoots holes in the walls. Hercule Poirot is obsessive-compulsive and fashion-forward, and he solves mysteries by tidying things. Jane Marple is a nosy old lady who sometimes displays an almost creepy glee at the prospect of a murder. Sam Spade… Well, he just isn’t a very nice person. Moving forward, you have people like Adrian Monk and Shawn Spencer – an omniphobic genius and an ADHD nerd who disguises astuteness with a veneer of incompetence. And claims to be psychic.

Detectives are weird. On the whole, they seem to be a lot weirder than other fictional characters, perhaps barring those of science fiction and fantasy (though there is an entire subcategory of ordinary-person-thrust-into-strange-circumstances characters. Harry Potter and all of the Companions of Doctor Who come to mind).

Part of this undoubtedly comes from the trend in fiction that all strengths must be balanced by weakness (something like constructing an RPG character, I suppose) and that the weakness should be in somewhat the same category as the strength. Intelligence being a mental trait, therefore, personality flaws seem to be the accepted form of corresponding weakness. And sometimes those flaws verge on the territory of straight-up crazy.

The fun thing is that a detective need not be a reliable narrator, and that is something I can play with.

I’m going to talk about Mary Russell, now. In fact, I’ll probably talk about Mary Russell quite often, seeing as her memoirs (published under the name of her literary agent, Laurie R. King, and beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) are my favourite post-Canon account of Sherlock Holmes. I grew up on those books, and they were one of the few works I read as a child that suggested that a girl could, with a little bit of work, be intelligent and powerful and attractive. (When I started on BEEK, Hermione was still frizzy and buck-toothed and never described in especially flattering terms; the various princesses I liked were either smart, shrewish, and pointy or vapid and in constant need of rescuing; and assorted other heroines had a bad habit of saving the day just by being pure of heart. I probably had appalling taste in literature at that point, but my taste might have improved sooner if there had been any really good literature available for little girls.)

The short version is that Mary Russell, age fifteen, foetal theologian and Virgil-addict, trips over Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs, bothers him into feeding her tea, and proceeds to become, as the title suggests, his apprentice. Adventures ensue.

At age ten, I was already a rabid Holmesian who knew the Detective well enough to be suspicious of any female claiming to be his apprentice. After all, to Sherlock Holmes, there was only one woman. However, at age ten, I was also a scholastic Catholic with an interest in folklore (which ties in closely to theology, in many ways), a rudimentary background in Latin, an unhealthy obsession with cryptography, two long blonde braids, and an overwhelming desire to trip over Sherlock Holmes in any locale, period. I gave it a shot.

Thus was I introduced to extra-Canonical Holmesian literature.

Pastiche, though, is a topic for a later post. Right now, I am dealing with perspective. Once I had gotten past my incredulity and really settled down to fall in love with Mary Russell, I began to realize that I was reading something vastly different from Watson’s writings. Part of that is due to the fact that Russell is a thinker on par with Holmes himself, which eliminates the element of awe involved with the solving of a case. Her style is frank and matter-of-fact, neither exaggerating the suspense of danger nor diminishing it. She understands what is happening and deals with it.

The other part, though, is that a person writing about herself is likely to miss a few things. For example, it took me a few read-throughs to realize that when certain other players are depicted as being dumb as broccoli, they are probably about as smart as I. Oh, the arrogance!

That’s alright, though; the whole point of Sherlock Holmes (and by extension, anyone as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes) is that he is infinitely beyond us mere mortals. We do get a glimpse of his perspective in LION and BLAN, but for the most part, we have to rely on Watson, whose adulatory accounts breathe hero-worship, at least until he gets fed up with Holmes’ quirks and foibles and switches to a blunter reporting style. Honestly, as much as I love Holmes, I think I might have eventually gotten fed up with him, too.

Russell is different. She gets fed up with Holmes with some regularity, but I don’t get fed up with her, because she’s just so relatable. Yes, she’s arrogant, often whiny and snappish, a definite know-it-all, obsessive, sometimes pedantic… But she doesn’t see herself that way. She’s smarter than everyone around her, and she knows it; and while living with her would probably become intolerable very quickly, living inside her head is sort of pleasant. It’s nice to be smarter than everyone else, just for a little while. It’s very, very nice to solve a case vicariously, following along with the detective’s thoughts instead of sitting back with a glass of sherry to listen to the Big Reveal on the last page. It’s not a story about a fairly average or slightly above-average person watching an extraordinary person be extraordinary; it’s a story about an extraordinary person and her extraordinary friend struggling to exist in a sea of mundane mediocrity – with a few criminal exceptions. It’s almost a relief when a really daunting nemesis surfaces, because it actually hurts to watch an amazing female protagonist stagnating.

(And to be honest, I’m sometimes an arrogant, whiny, snappish, know-it-all, obsessive pedant as well. In my case it is likely less deserved, but it has driven me to keep up with the series.)

Mind, I use Mary Russell as an example because I am familiar with her. Flotsam, of Martin Davies’ Mrs Hudson and the Spirits’ Curse, is quite something else as well, and breaks quite a few of the traditional conventions of the cosy mystery. Flottie could easily have ended up as an Irregular, had she been born male. She is bright, but not quite bright enough to require a counterbalancing personality flaw, and thus comes off as more adorable than compelling. Additionally, though her perception of Holmes as rather thick is understandable in light of her affection for Mrs. Hudson, the constant emphasis on that perception was at times enough to raise my Holmesian hackles. Of course, Flottie is a Watson (and so I feel justified in dismissing her, even though she is probably smarter than I… Wait, no, hang on…)

How does any of this relate to anything, beyond detailed rambling?

First of all, go pick up a copy of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, because I like it, and because you’ll miss a lot of my references if you don’t.

Secondly, my own project focuses on a brilliant, powerful, often snarky woman. Though mine has its origins in a game I played with my grandmother years before my first exposure to Russell, I freely admit that, having grown up on a steady diet of Russ and Holmes, my style and characterisation probably draw a lot from their combined influence. In fact, I suspect that, without Russ, this particular project would probably have proceeded along the lines of a comedy. Thankfully, I no longer see the idea of an intelligent woman as particularly humorous.

Written from the detective’s perspective, the weirdness is subsumed by the narrative. It’s not gone, of course, merely hidden just beneath the surface to be enjoyed by really serious readers and ignored by the rest. Subtle, like a dash of thyme instead of a cup of cayenne.

Besides, psychoses are fun.

Holmes Again, Holmes Again

The library has been hit! I tore through that place like the entire RAF — and came away with two volumes. Apparently, if I want to acquire the rest of the items on my list, I have to have them sent from various and sundry other locations across the county.

Anyway, I’ve got Talking about Detective Fiction (PD James) and Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (WS Baring-Gould).

Here is the Desk: Image

It is my terrifying workspace, and it actually looks a bit better than it usually does. The fact that the surface is visible is a bit shocking. In this shot:

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes (Doyle; WS Baring-Gould)

Sherlock Holmes: The Man and his World (Keating)

Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (WS Baring-Gould)

Talking about Detective Fiction (PD James)

The Bedside Companion to Sherlock Holmes (Ricky Macallister)
 
The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (Adrian Doyle)
 
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Laurie R. King)
 
The Illustrated Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Doyle – on the Kindle)
 
Pens are good. One of those (the one on the spiral notebook) is a rather awesome Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen. They write like a dream. If you love fountain pens but can’t keep track of nice ones, Varsities are the way to go. I just started using them a couple of days ago, and I love them. They come in three packs of black, blue, and violet. The rest of the pens in the shot are nicked from hotels across the country. 
 
Notebooks are good. I have a lot. I think there are at least eight of various sizes on my desk right now. I’m using all of them. Yikes. 
 
Research in progress!