November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Casual Observer: Sherlock Holmes lives

Itsy Bitsy “Baker Street Journal”

by Mark Levy

I subscribe to an interesting publication that you may not have heard about. The number of readers of this publication is barely greater than the number of contributors. In fact, the motto of the Baker Street Journal — that’s the publication for Sherlock Holmes scholars — used to be:  “Never has so much been written by so many for so few.”

"The pipe was still between his lips."

Sidney Paget illustration, Strand Magazine, 1891.

You wouldn’t think there would be much to write about what some unenlightened people think is a fictional detective whose best cases were solved around 1895. But boy, would you be mistaken. There’s worldwide Sherlockian interest — an industry, really  —  that includes or produces novels,  articles, cartoons, poems, songs, plays, stories, annotations, satires, horse races, trips to moors and graveyards, coffee table books, movies on DVDs, musicals, web sites, and assorted esoteric memorabilia like coffee cups, lapel pins, magnifying glasses, tobacco pipes, capes, and life-sized sculptures.

Contributors to the Baker Street Journal — or BSJ, as we Sherlockians call it  — are often scholars who analyze Sherlock Holmes and Victorian society, customs, and motivations. Why did the dog do nothing in the night-time, for instance, when a stranger came into a stable and stole a horse? And how many times per day did London postmen deliver mail to businesses? (The answer is as many as 10 times per day.) And did it snow in London on February 23, 1886? And why were so many of Sherlock’s clients named Violet?

Over the years, writers have speculated that Dr. Watson, Sherlock’s faithful companion and roommate, was a woman, and that Sherlock himself was really a computer, and that occasionally Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft, was the British government. (Okay, that part’s not speculation.) And that the evil Professor Moriarty had one, or maybe two, brothers, all of them named James — sort of the George Foremans of the archenemy crowd.

Sherlock, some of us believe, actually met or crossed single sticks with Sigmund Freud, Jack the Ripper, Tarzan, Fu Manchu, Dracula, the Phantom, Dr. Who, James Bond, Arsène Lupin, Karl Marx, Gandhi, and the Phantom of the Opera.

Discussion groups, sometimes called scions, meet in members’ homes from Antarctica to Zambia. By the way, the Antarctica scion is appropriately called the Penguins of Antarctica. These groups remind me of Bible study groups, but in this case our Bible is what we call the Canon  — the 56 short stories and 4 short novels that bear the name, Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlockians are fond of saying things like, “I hear of you everywhere,” and “You see, but you do not observe,” and “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

But they never, ever say “Elementary, my dear Watson.” That’s because that phrase  — perhaps the most famous one attributed to Sherlock  — does not appear in the Canon. Sherlock never said it. You could look it up, which I suggest you do, since “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.”