Wednesday, May 26, 2021

All Quotes Lead To Sherlock Holmes

Today I was reading something completely unrelated to Sherlock Holmes, and a line in it caught my eye. It said: 
"The trick to approaching any monumental and controversial aspect of history is to find an access point, a facet that provides an entrance that might not have been used before or affords a perspective that endows the subject matter with a fresh point of view."
It prompted me to put away the subject I was going to write about this month and look at this very thing in relation to Sherlock Holmes and Canonical chronology.

Now, I realize that the statement above may not be new to some. We all know when writing something that this is what we try and do, but when I read it I saw it from a fresh perspective. Then I started thinking about how it applies to our hobby. So let's talk about it.

When you start thinking about Holmes and Watson and The Canon, certain images or ideals enter your mind. I think most people immediately imagine the deerstalker hat, magnifying glass, and big hanging pipe. The fun thing about the pipe and hat is that they're not actually canonical. (The magnifying glass is.) The deerstalker is never actually mentioned by name (for some reason), and the pipe was the brainchild of early stage Holmes portrayers. Still, the icons are instantly recognized the world over, and likely will never change.

But, what about the subjects that people tackle when it comes to Holmes? Well, I haven't actually done ANY research on this, but I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say that the following are near the top of the list:
Holmes and Jack the Ripper (without a doubt)
Holmes and drug use
Watson's wives
Holmes and Moriarty (the whole good vs. evil thing)
Holmes and his religious (or spiritual) views
I've written about some of these, but the trick was to do the thing mentioned above - find a new angle.

What about in the subset of chronology, though? Well, one of the above applies, and is probably number one on the list - Watson's wives. This is the sticking point for many-a-paper and always will be. Figuring out the number of wives doesn't directly affect a whole chronology, but it does a fair chunk of it. What else? What other things can one almost certainly be assured of finding if they pick up a chronology or book, or open a chronology blog? Well, here's a list after the wives thing:
Watson's handwriting
Typesetter or editor errors
How to explain the dating of 'Wisteria Lodge' (WIST)
The maddening aspects of 'The Mazarin Stone' (MAZA)
The pearls in The Sign of [the] Four (SIGN)
Weather reports
The date problems in 'The Red-Headed League' (REDH)
(among many others)
Whether A Study in Scarlet (STUD) took place in 1881 or not
There are many more examples, but these are some of the biggies.

Recently a new chronological attempt came across our desks, and those of us who can't get enough of Sherlockian timelines ate it up. It was quickly realized, however, that once again nothing was truly new. Maybe a couple of cases had some original thinking, but for the most part it was another example of why chronology books don't sell in the millions. There just wasn't enough new reasoning or material to make it exciting. (I'm refraining from mentioning the name or author.)

By far the most unique perspectives I've come across are those of Brad Keefauver. I've said before that I don't agree with every date he chose, but his ways of getting to those dates is almost always different and unusual. I like that. You can read his stuff here.

I try my best to come up with new ways of examining the possible timeline of Holmes and Watson and their place in the world, but it isn't easy. My purpose here (in case you didn't know or forgot) is to connect The Terrific Two to their world and time by looking at what was happening around them in London and the world during the time they were chasing bad guys. If I find an article about new telegraph offices being opened somewhere in London in 1888 or whenever, I go to the database and look for cases that might have been affected by this. If I read about a new type of Hansom cab introduced to the public, I look for cases where this might apply. I am constantly looking into the day-to-day activities of the world they lived in and ramming them into it.

Now, the usual topics that I listed above are one of the main reasons I don't have my own chronology. Yes, I have a partial one, but stopped more than halfway through the stories when it occurred to me that making one would take a lifetime because we just don't know everything about everything, and can't possibly be 100% certain our work is definitive. (Maybe others can do this, but I can't.) It is possible to date some cases with comfort, but not many. The others are the reason we have so many different chronologies. The same problems in the same cases keep getting the same treatments, and we wind up with basically more of what we already have too much of.

In essence, if we're going to look at The Canon as a record of actual events (The Great Game), then we need to do just that. If Watson tells us he and Holmes saw a particular performer at a particular venue, then every effort must be made to nail down the history of that performer and that venue. This will help confirm or eliminate a clue to the true date of the case. If something turns out not to be a solid fact, even though Watson said it was, then we have to try and figure out why he told us that - but not in some flimsy excuse-making way. Do this with 60 cases and mix it with a regular life with a job and family and pets and responsibilities and stuff, and it takes a while. (I would rather not put out a product that I didn't give my all to, so I do what I can here to help out those who are putting proverbial pen to paper and offering their findings.)

So, those are my thoughts on the subject. Now, I realize that sometimes this blog gets away from good old fashioned chronological work and becomes more of a 'what's happening in the chronological world' kind of thing, but I promise it won't be every time. I really enjoy digging into my databases and pulling out facts and curiosities and details, so don't despair - we'll get back to the roots often enough.

The blog count, and number of Followers, continues to grow, so it means people are still interested. That's a good thing. Hopefully it will continue and we can spend more time together. In the meantime, should any of you have any questions or need to access some info in my files, let me know. It's all available, and I don't mind sharing. I'll see you next time, and as always...thanks for reading.