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 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.

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. 🙂

Fun with Holmesian Fan Characters – 1

I had no desire to attract the attention of the two men I had seen entering the club, so I took myself in the back way, as I had done so many times before. As ever, the staff did not greet me, or even acknowledge my presence, with the notable exception of Henri and his sly wink. He obligingly turned his back as I stole a slice of bread and a rasher of bacon from the larder to break my fast. I ate while I waited and washed down my improvised meal with a cup of someone else’s coffee.

At half-past ten, Henri tapped twice on the corner of the basin, and I ascended the stairs to drift silently down the hallway. Two backs retreated ahead of me, one black and one grey, and I paused my steps long enough to let them disappear down the other stairs. When they were gone, I found my door. One knock brought forth a soft call of invitation; I slipped through.

An enormous silhouette came into view, skulking in the window as he no doubt watched the same two backs disappear into a waiting cab. He gave no sign that he was aware of my presence, but of course I knew better. Instead of interrupting his study of the street, I left my hat and coat by the door and moved back further into the apartments to avail myself of his amenities. I returned after some minutes, and he still had not moved. Despite the early hour, I helped myself to a glass of his excellent port.

“Did you have something for me?” I asked.

For several seconds more, he sat perfectly still and silent, until a whisper of doubt began to nudge at me. But then he turned, stroking his bristling sideburns.

“Not today,” he said. “And you?”

I returned to the door and drew a small packet from the interior pocket of my coat, then laid it on his desk.

“That was all I could get,” I told him. “I estimate that it’s about half of what you wanted. I’ll see about retrieving the rest in a month or so, once the furore has died down.”

His mouth twisted in displeasure, but he nodded. “Were you sufficiently diverted?”

“It wasn’t as entertaining as I had hoped, no. Still, better than the alternative. Thank you.”

He nodded again and slapped a meaty palm down on his thigh, huffing as he rose to his feet.

“Her Majesty thanks you,” he said with a shade of irony. “The cheque will be made out as usual. Will you stay for luncheon?”

I did.

© 2012 MR Graham

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.

Doing my Holmeswork – Introduction

Today, I hit the books – that is to say, I hit WS Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. It did not take me long to realize that this journey would bring me into contact with mounds of fun facts and that I would be lost if I didn’t have the option of sharing them.

For example:

We all know that Holmes’ grandmother was the sister of Vernet, the French artist (GREE). The Canon does not say, however, which grandmother – maternal or paternal. However, we do know that Holmes’ ancestors are English country squires. It does not take a very large leap to assume that, in a patriarchal society, a man would trace his primary ancestry through his father. Therefore, the family is English through the paternal line and French through the maternal.

So this will be my place to share.

For an indefinite period of time, I will be tackling Sherlockiana and Victoriana, literary analysis and pastiche, chat rooms, book clubs, scholarly articles, historical fiction, historical fact, chronology, philology, and criminology – and I will be posting my findings here, along with my musings, questions, and brain-bunnies.

Why?

Why does anyone dive headlong into mountains of research? I’m writing a book.