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Sherlock Holmes, Superstar

[1]6,010 words

Zach Dundas
The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

The real inference is that Sherlock Holmes really existed and that Conan Doyle never existed. If posterity only reads these latter [fan-produced] books, it will certainly suppose them to be serious. It will imagine that Sherlock Holmes was a man. But he was not; he was only a god.–G. K. Chesterton[1] [2]

“You will find that Holmes was never dead, and that he is now very much alive.”–A. Conan Doyle[2] [3]

“Dead? No, madam. Not dead the way you know it. He is with us always. Not dead the way you know it. He is with us always.”[3] [4]

“Arthur Conan Doyle . . . what has he to do with Sherlock Holmes?”[4] [5]

As you scribble away in your home office, a strange man appears at the door. Since a deadly plague of influenza is raging outside, 5] [6] it is no surprise that he wears a mask.

The scene could be taking place today,[6] [7] but it’s not. The man is wearing a mask because he is the King of Bohemia, which has a king because it’s not 2021 but 1888, and the mask is to hide his identity as he seeks assistance in a delicate matter. And in fact he’s not real at all, as we usually think of reality, but a character you’ve created, as you are Arthur Conan Doyle.

Zach Dundas has been a fan of Doyle’s creation, The Great Detective — that’s Sherlock Holmes, it goes without saying, although Doyle himself might disagree — since his childhood in Missoula, Montana, where a Holmes anthology (expurgated for children[7] [8]) “served . . . as an escape hatch into an intricately constructed alternate dimension” from which he organized his own Sherlockian mail-order club, “The Street Arabs.”[8] [9] Now, in this book, he presents the results of his search for the origins and curious immortality of Holmes and his dimension, finding that the two are closely interrelated. It’s well worth your consideration, despite some annoying idiosyncrasies.

Apart from Doyle’s home office — for indeed, back in the day, physicians received patients at home, especially newbies struggling to establish a practice, like Conan Doyle[9] [10]— the other room associated with the search is the more famous sitting room at 221b Baker Street, where our search begins, appropriately, with a puzzle: Are we in London or Portland? Is this place real, or if not, what is it?

A curious sensation, standing in a slightly ersatz reconstruction of a place that never existed. The real nonreal place where I stood was just the latest in an endless series of reconstructions of the 221B sitting room, the starting point for most of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective adventures. In his stories, Holmes and Watson sit by that fireplace, awaiting the clients who come to tell them their peculiar and often deadly problems. Now, well over a century after the world’s most famous tales of crime and deduction first appeared in print, a certain compulsion has developed around that room. Versions of 221B Baker Street crop up everywhere, all around the world. The creators often claim that their particular reconstruction is the most “authentic” or “accurate” — though compared to what, they never say.

The lair of Sherlock Holmes might be a unique phenomenon: the world’s only viral room. As I discreetly fondled the knife that impaled a stack of random papers on the Portland stage set, it seemed that I was not standing in a place so much as briefly inhabiting a revenant corner of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mind — a fragment of a long-dead man’s imagination that somehow detached itself from his physical brain.

What combination of forces impelled so many people in the twentieth and twenty- first centuries to rebuild, often to obsessive detail, the headquarters of a Victorian detective who never existed? How had Arthur Conan Doyle created an illusory world so potent that it replicated itself in minds, and even actual spaces, all over the planet? Why have Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and the mysteries Conan Doyle challenged them to solve not only endured, but thrived?

In a world of action heroes and cat-video memes, how does a 130-year-old detective in a velvet dressing gown hold his own?

[11]

You can buy James O’Meara’s End of an Era here [12].

Before plunging ahead, it should also be noted that although the Doyle stories (four novels and 56 short stories known as “The Canon [13]”) were written between 1887 and the First World War (with the last set of 12 appearing between 1921-27), Holmes’ world is surprisingly modern. “Globalism” already existed, before being smashed by The Great War; it was called “The British Empire”

The Victorians seemed, by many measures, more modern than I was. The barely functional computers that lurked in the back of my classrooms made a poor substitute for nineteenth-century London’s seven or more daily postal deliveries and instantaneous global telegraph connections.

Texting and email would not surprise a detective who relied on high-speed telegrams and multiple same-day postal deliveries.[10] [14] (Conan Doyle’s Holmes never wrote when he could wire; Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock never phones when he can text.)

The seemingly eternal Cold War face-off paled in interest compared to the imperial Great Game[11] [15] and the cosmopolitan horizons of a mercantile, scientifically progressive age.

They would certainly recognize our baroque geopolitics much more immediately than the austere, bipolar Cold War decades stalked by Ian Fleming’s James Bond or le Carré’s George Smiley.

Indeed, while Cumberbatch’s Sherlock may be texting rather than telegraphing, Martin Freeman’s Watson doesn’t have to be “retconned” as an Afghan War vet with PTSD: that’s how Doyle created him.

As for our oh-so-modern “sexual freedom,” Dundas points out that “the same culture that created my beloved, celibate Sherlock also produced a startling tract called Lady Pokingham; or, They All Do It — printed, according to the subtitle, for ‘The Society of Vice.’”

1. The Adventure of the Never Dying Detective

Dundas sets out to discover:

How did Sherlock Holmes become immortal? What makes him so adaptable? And why do we long to inhabit his imaginary world?

His search proper begins at the beginning: the non-fiction origins of the crime story, as broadsides, newspapers, and melodramas created “an early ecosystem of criminal-minded entertainment.” Dundas consults historian Paul Collins, who observes that “slowly, you start to see papers turn crimes into actual stories, with interviews of witnesses and the bereaved family of the victim, with scenes and action.” Police work itself became a subject of interest, as controlling the world’s largest city created the need for the Metropolitan Police.[12] [16]

Into this world stepped writer and newspaper editor E. A. Poe, with a trio of stories — fictional, this time — that Collins says[13] [17]“starts the tradition of the mystery that centers on a singular, charismatic detective, one who works outside the system and solves the mystery by observation and deduction rather than random chance.” Poe also contributed a narrative element that will be important to Holmes’ immortality: the same detective and his sidekick reappear from one story to the next.

Various authors, including Dickens, began to produce stories in the new genre, but it was Willkie Collins (as Prof. Collins is no doubt proud to point out) who

went back to what Poe had done and created a narrative that the reader follows in which the clues are discovered through the experiences and insights of the detective and other characters. He set the template for the mystery that’s less of a game, more of a story, all centered on the charismatic detective.[14] [18]

What Conan Doyle finally added was the latest craze, the “cutting edge” idea of using scientific methods as a breakthrough in detection:

His imagination summoned up a figure from his own past: an austere, high-cheekboned visage crowned with wiry white hair, an “eagle face.” He heard memory’s echo of a fierce, incisive, nasal voice, tool of an intelligence that could penetrate life’s mysteries with scalpel precision. Conan Doyle remembered Joseph Bell.

Bell, whom Conan Doyle had experienced as a medical student in Edinburgh, was most famous for his “Method” for making “lightning deductions” in the course of diagnosis.[15] [19]

The resulting novel, A Study in Scarlet, was barely successful, although somewhat more popular in pirated American editions. But like any canny professional author — as he intended to become — Doyle kept his newly-created duo in mind for further use; as he surveyed the changing publishing industry, he realized that they were the key to solving the problem of the modern, harried commuter losing track of a serial narrative à la Dickens or Thackeray:

Sooner or later you missed an issue of your magazine and lost the thread. But what about a series of interlinked but self-contained narratives, repeating the same core characters, structured so they could be read in any order? The concept led him to retrofit Sherlock Holmes as a short story character, with one publication in mind.

That was The Strand Magazine, a new, innovative venture that, like Holmes, is another oddly modern item: essentially the prototype of “every magazine you and I have ever thumbed through at the dentist’s office”:

“A Scandal in Bohemia” thus landed with exceptional combined force: the hottest magazine, a terrific story, superb illustrations.

Illustrations? Yes, for “Conan Doyle’s agile prose flows around ink-wash drawings by Sidney Paget [20] [which, unlike those in the earlier novels] imbued Conan Doyle’s investigator with saturnine elegance– sharply dressed, fresh and aquiline of face, lithe and muscular — the character would never lose.”

This is a key moment. We’ve seen how Conan Doyle was less a solitary creator than canny synthesizer of elements — fictional and non-fictional — “in the air,” as it were. If we think of these as lines on a flow chart that come together in a box labelled “Sherlock Holmes,” it’s at this point that the lines reemerge and become entangled anew. As Sherlockian and mystery novelist Lyndsay Faye says, “This character went viral right away, whatever that meant in 1891.”

There were parodies and imitations almost immediately, but more importantly, the character of Holmes proved to be Velcro for contributions from readers’ imaginations. In addition to that “saturnine elegance, Paget contributed the deerstalker [21] cap and Inverness cape [22] – details never mentioned in the stories and novels. Then, at the turn of the century, the American actor and impresario William Gillette [23] added the calabash pipe [24] in his play Sherlock Holmes [25], which would solidify the image of Holmes through about 1,300 performances over the decades (the third-largest number in modern stage history). And Basil Rathbone would create the radio and film Holmes [26], including the iconic “Elementary, my dear Watson,” while demonstrating that Holmes could essentially time-travel, smoothly fitting into any contemporary setting, such as the Second World War, while bringing his peculiar atmos’ along with him; [16] [27] he somehow seems at home [17] [28]in past, present, or future.[18] [29]

This “was Conan Doyle’s real (accidental) artistic achievement,” as well as the key to Holmes’ immortality; on the one hand, Conan Doyle

wanted to flesh out his detective yarns just enough to make them plausible, entertaining, and marketable. He accidentally made them virtually real. . . .

He invented a world in which people want to wander inside their own minds, and even physically re-create in our own pale universe.

The milieu transcends any detail of Conan Doyle’s plots, and creates a lingering, tantalizing sense that each of his stories is just a fragmentary glimpse of a full-fledged world.

Conan Doyle’s private reality would prove not only durable, but capable of seducing people in times and places far removed from its creation.

On the other hand, Doyle, from the start, was willing to surrender, if not royalties, at least control over the character; when Gillette asked Doyle if, in his proposed play, “May I marry him?”, Doyle responded, “You may marry him, or murder, or do what you like with him.”

And so, Doyle was not “the sole inventor” of “many essential aspects of Holmes:

From the vantage of the early twenty- first century, it might be more accurate to say, with no disrespect, that Arthur Conan Doyle originated Sherlock Holmes. The rest of us, obviously, aren’t yet finished creating him.

From here Dundas sets off to explore the world of Sherlockia. His own “Street Arabs” fan club was only one of innumerable such groups, from the original Baker Street Irregulars to more diverse groups today, such as the Baker Street Babes, which co-exist with online communities, role-playing games, pseudo-scholarship based on the idea that the tales are real history only disguised as fiction (“The Great Game”), attempts to locate actual locations Doyle may have used,[19] [30] pastiche-writing, and (gulp) erotic fan fic. “While it’s a long way from a cocktail hour in 1934 to a Frodo cosplayer at Comic-Con,” Dundas writes, “the Irregulars form a thread that ties together decades of pop-cultural celebration and obsession.”

Dundas explores modern media adaptations and the actors who have played Holmes, including Basil Rathbone, who felt the role consumed him; Jeremy Brett, who may have indeed been consumed; and today’s TV heartthrob Benedict Cumberbatch — for some reason the Guy Ritchie films with Robert Downey get barely a mention.

Among the Baker Street Babes, he meets a doctoral candidate in “Adaptation Studies” (who knew?) who intones: “Sherlock Holmes is like the North Star of the culture. Everything else swirls around and changes, but he is always there.”[20] [31]

This is Dundas, and thus the book, at their best. There are, however, some problems.u

2. “You know my methods. Apply them.”

[32]

You can buy James O’Meara’s book Green Nazis in Space! here. [33]

As we saw, Dundas tells us about Doyle being inspired by the “method(s)” of Dr. Joseph Bell, as displayed during his medical schooling at Edinburgh; he imagines him asking, “What if a detective did that?” But what is the method, or methods, or (sometimes) Method?

Dundas doesn’t seem to know; perhaps even Bell did not understand his own “self-taught system” which he had “developed from his youth and considered . . . a core medical skill”:

“All careful teachers have first to show the student how to recognize accurately the case,” [Bell] would declare. This was best done with the doctor’s own eyes, informed by experience . . . It was all about trifles: “the accurate and rapid appreciation of small points in which the disease differs from the healthy state.” . . . Bell saw and observed.

So, it’s a question of observation, of medical empiricism. But he then refers to “Bell and his lightning deductions,” and the chapter itself is titled “The Science of Deduction.” Then, in the next sentence, it’s that “Bell’s self-taught Method implied rigorous commitment to observed reality over abstract principle,” and later, once more, “Joe Bell’s deductive method.” So, is it empirical observation, or logical deduction, and if either or both, how are these any different from what people have been doing for millennia?

Holmes himself is no help, as he flatly states with infamous inaccuracy: “I see it. I deduce it.”

Eventually, as if sensing he’s bitten off a bit more than he can chew and needs an out, Dundas begins to refer to his employment of a “working simulacrum of the Sherlockian method” and even his “asystematic, pseudo-Sherlock research methods”:

I thought I could at least fake it. . . . In fact, for Watson, for me, for you, for Mr. Jabez Wilson, the Method might as well be sorcery.

Neither Bell, nor Doyle, nor Holmes seem to actually know what this method is; it would not be until the work of Charles Sanders Pierce, concurrent with Holmes but not fully published until 1966, that a “third form of logic,” differing from both induction and deduction, which Pierce called “abduction,” would be widely known and acknowledged.

Although scholars have readily seen that Holmes is making use of abductive logic — and amazing his listeners and readers with this unknown “sorcery” — all this seem unknown to Dundas, despite his immersion in the world of Sherlockiana.[21] [34]

3. A Study in Chutzpah

Heaven forfend that I should demand that an author like Dundas be required to produce a philosophical account of Holmes’ methodology,[22] [35] but I do think it explains the rather exhausting nature of his book.

His “working simulacrum” of Holmes’ method seems to involve a Doylesian immersion in detail:

I would find myself curled in an armchair, surrounded by notebooks, old paperbacks, photocopied texts dredged from the Library of Congress, grizzled hardcover printed in bygone eras, and obscure periodicals.

It certainly sounds cozy, and very much like the methods generations of Holmesians have used to create various “simulacra” of Holmes, most commonly lovingly detailed reproductions of 221b Baker Street, as Dundas discusses in his first chapter — for “the most elementary — yes — dictum of the Sherlockian method [is] when looking into any matter, one’s usual first move should be to go to where it all started and have a look around.”

I suppose the book itself is Dundas’ own reproduction, built on his massed data and on-site expeditions. And here’s where the problems lie.

Although barely 300 pages, it feels as overstuffed as a Victorian parlor, or Holmes’ sitting room, with material for at least two or maybe three books. As even the author admits, “It may be physically impossible to undertake a truly complete study of Sherlock Holmes. There’s just too much stuff.”

He tells us a lot about Holmes, a lot about Conan Doyle, and a lot about himself. Each part, I gather, is supposed to shed some light on one or two of the other parts, and they sometimes do, but sometimes don’t. The chapter on The Hound of the Baskervilles is mostly an account of dragging his wife and young son to England and setting out on the moors; admittedly somewhat terrifying as a study of spousal abuse and child endangerment, but hardly enlightening on the Holmes adventure.

The main problem may be that Dundas is a member of the Tribe (one of the few to grace Montana, I would think) and consequently thinks we have an equal or greater interest in him as in Holmes.[23] [36]

When the — mostly goyishe — first practitioners of “New Journalism” (Capote, Breslin, Thompson, Wolfe, etc.) abandoned the stance of supposed “objectivity” and instead inserted themselves into the action, that was the point: to become part of the action, part of the story, convey what it was like. For example, Thompson took his advance money for what would become Hell’s Angels and bought a righteous bike, which he rode with abandon until taking a near-fatal spill on a freeway curve.

By contrast, when Dundas drags his poor wife and five-year-old son on an excursion to the windswept, rain-soaked, and moor pony drowning Dartmoor, seeking the locales appearing in The Hound of the Baskervilles, he ultimately only finds “confirmation that in most cases, fictional danger is best appreciated from a snug armchair, with a mug of tea or something stronger at hand.”

Ironically, the reader only finds Dundas truly part of the action and conveying to the reader the inside story right at the beginning of his Holmes obsession, when the 12-year-old Dundas discovers the old anthology and eventually founds, as so many have, his own Holmes club, with the utterly pre-PC name “The Street Arabs,” conducting a world-wide correspondence in the pre-internet era. I call this “ironic” since not only does it occur long before he conceived his project, but it ended when, as an adolescent, “I wanted to end the painstaking production of Wiggins Report, the official Street Arabs’ journal . . . and refashion my writing career on the Hunter S. Thompson model.”[24] [37]

4. Scandals in Portlandia

Although Dundas announces, half-playfully, that he will attempt to emulate Sherlock’s methods in his investigation, external events have given the book another Holmesian dimension. Much of his investigation takes place in his “adopted hometown” of Portland, in the years up to the book’s publication in 2015 (emphasis mine):

In fact, Portland made a weirdly apt backdrop. It may be closer to Tokyo than Baker Street and about one-tenth the size of modern London, but it is, at its heart, a Victorian-Edwardian city. Unlike London with its two thousand years of history, Portland was built by Conan Doyle’s American contemporaries, and expresses both a progressive-minded, orderly zeitgeist and some of the era’s more rococo leanings. Every day, I’d pass through a neat, tight, rational grid of streets platted in the 1840s, where gorgeously ornamental buildings dating to the 1870s and ’80s still stand. I work in a downtown building constructed in 1914, just across the street (named for a Civil War general) from Portland’s Old Town and Chinatown districts. In those neighborhoods, you find old-fashioned doss houses, cheap cafés, down-and-dirty bars, and people still trading legends about shadowy nineteenth-century smuggling tunnels. Many of the city’s brightest fashionable shops and zippiest tech start-ups have taken root there, too, which can foster the illusion that the twenty-first century just burst into flower in the husk of the nineteenth, with no twentieth century in between. At around this same time, young men had even taken to growing handlebar mustaches. In fact, I developed a theory: the 2010s are a sort of neo-Victorian age, sharing more, in some ways, with the world of 1895 than with the middle-to-late twentieth century that birthed me.

[38]

You can buy James O’Meara’s book The Eldritch Evola here. [39]

Indeed, as late as 2012, “The Dream of the 1890s [was] alive in Portland [40].” Nostalgia or laziness aside, Dundas is justified in hanging around Portland, as it contains a remarkable number of Sherlockian sites: museums, collections, theatrical productions, tableaus vivants, and fellow enthusiasts.

This Portland, full of mist and people with eccentric literary interests, is more like the “cozy” London that many fans seek and find in the tales than the burned-out wreck of Portland today. On the other hand, the hyped-up criminal London of Doyle’s imagination, as well as its real-world-wide plague of anarchist violence,[25] [41] is a forerunner of today’s Portland, with George Soros taking over for Moriarty.

As Howard Beale would say [42], I don’t need to tell you things are bad in Portland, but here’s a sampling:

Downtown in distress: Portland’s core is unsafe and uninviting, residents say in new poll, threatening city’s recovery [43]

Residents across the metro area say downtown Portland has become dirty, unsafe and uninviting and many anticipate visiting the city’s core less often after the pandemic than they did before.

Those are the worrisome findings of a new poll of 600 people in the Portland metro area commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Asked for their perceptions of downtown, respondents frequently used words like “destroyed,” “trashed,” “riots” and “sad [44].” Many cited homelessness as a particular issue, and said there is an urgent need for the city to find housing and support people living on the street. . . .

The city has become too expensive to live in, she said, and doesn’t have enough basic amenities like toilets, handwashing stations and trashcans so homeless Portlanders can care for themselves. She said the city has moved far too slowly, for far too long, to address critical needs and she’s not optimistic the crisis will resolve itself anytime soon.

Yet the poll also suggests a fundamental deterioration in residents’ perceptions of downtown, and respondents indicated the city has suffered a black eye that may be difficult to erase: The top reasons people cited for visiting downtown less often in the past year were worries about their personal safety (67%), homelessness (60%) and protests (60%). COVID-19 was the other major factor (49%). 63% of all respondents perceive downtown as less safe than a year earlier.

A cleaner downtown (70%) was the most common thing people said would make the city center more appealing. Other top responses were less crime (67%), restaurants, bars and theaters reopening (61%) and fewer protests (55%).

Only 20% of all poll respondents — and 32% of those living in Portland — say they consider downtown to be safe at night. Perceptions of safety were strongly correlated with the frequency with which people said they expect to visit downtown after the pandemic. . . .

 

From ‘wonderful’ to ‘war zone’: Portland’s reputation transformation [40]

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Everywhere you look, the City of Roses has become the city of trash and filth.

Portland may be slowly emerging from the pandemic but the downtown district is fenced off, boarded up and dying. The city’s homeless problem has worsened. Violent protests [45] have damaged the heart of the city and continue to destroy its reputation. And the mayor and other leaders seem overwhelmed, ineffective and ill-equipped to stop it.

“I was raised in Portland, Oregon, so to me I think of the old Portland,” said Los Angeles resident Molly. “I know now it’s changed tremendously and there’s a lot of trouble up there but I remember when it was a wonderful place to live.” . . .

Since people of the Portlandia persuasion tend to be both elitist and unable to tolerate the slightest deviation from their version of Reality, it’s not surprising, though unfortunate, that Dundas occasionally gives in the temptation to retcon his hero Holmes as a tribune of Goodthink; this passage, towards the end, is particularly irksome:

But consider how desperately we need this discipline right now. For a supposed Information Age, we drown in fact-twisting theory, misbegotten conclusions, and self-serving “analysis.” Spend five minutes on any newspaper’s online comment section and you will find a sterling example of anti-Sherlockian thinking. Whenever an eminent figure denies that carbon dioxide emissions disrupt the atmosphere; whenever someone says biological evolution is “just a theory”; whenever an all-caps email foists elaborate conspiracies orchestrated by mundane federal government departments — such assertions constitute metaphorical slaps to the face of Sherlock Holmes.

Dundas’ book predates “fake news”; otherwise, I’m sure it would make the list. This, from someone who thinks Holmes’ Method is “scientific deduction.” Dundas seems to have forgotten that in the very first novel, Watson famously sums up his new roommate’s surprising limitations:

Holmes’s knowledge of philosophy and literature Watson summarizes as “nil.” Sherlock knows nothing of astronomy — not even that the earth goes around the sun, a fact haughtily dismissed as useless to the man’s work.

The idea that Holmes would know more about carbon footprints than pegleg impressions is preposterous.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on Zach (if I may call him that; one feels one knows him fairly well after reading his account of his adventures in Sherlockland). Around the time his quest for Sherlock was starting, he was standing up against some of the earliest rumblings of forced Political Correctness. Poking around on the intertubes, one finds this shock headline:

Lord of Chaos: ACTIVISTS ACCUSE PORTLAND WRITER AND MUSICIAN MICHAEL MOYNIHAN OF SPREADING EXTREMIST PROPAGANDA, BUT THEY’RE NOT TELLING THE WHOLE STORY [46]“.[26] [47]

Certainly, a serious consideration of Moynihan takes you into rocky terrain, where many of the assumptions of mainstream politics and culture are either irrelevant or under assault.

At the same time, who hasn’t looked at the plastic sprawl of current pop culture and wished for something a little more intense, intimate and immediate? Who hasn’t spent at least a few moments considering some of the darker corners of human experience? Who hasn’t said things or entertained notions that could offend? Aren’t artists, under a cultural mandate as old as the West, supposed to rub salt into society’s wounds?

There’s no doubt that some aspects of Moynihan’s work are hard to swallow. However, those who’ve attacked him in the name of democracy and tolerance have failed to present a clear picture of that work or its creator.

Holmes, who lived for facts from which to draw his own conclusions, would, I think, approve. And while Dundas may not have produced a “clear picture” of Holmes or his creator, the patient reader will find many a black opal [48] or blue carbuncle [49] to reward the effort.

*  *  *

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Notes

[1] [50] “Sherlock the God,” reprinted in Steven T. Doyle & Leslie S. Klinger, eds., G. K. Chesterton’s Sherlock Holmes (S. l.: Baker Street Productions, 2003).

[2] [51] Letter to his mother, on the wisdom of writing another series of Holmes stories; quoted in Dundas, p. 169.

[3] [52] Torgo, Manos: The Hands of Fate (Hal Warren, 1966). For more on Manos, see the essays reprinted in my collection Passing the Buck: Coleman Francis and Other Cinematic Metaphysicians [53] (Melbourne: Manticore Press, 2021), reviewed here [54].

[4] [55] T. S. Eliot, quoted by Dundas, p. 16, without citation.

[5] [56] “A fierce influenza is going around [London as Doyle begins writing the first Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia].”

[6] [57] The first of many instances of the strange always up-to-dateness of Holmes, and Dundas’ search. “A vile flu had the run of New York just then [the 2013 meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars], and a subpopulation spending days and nights eating, drinking, and talking in large groups proved quite vulnerable. Many Sherlockians looked a bit pale around the gills, and one Irregular elder made the rounds in a surgical mask.”

[7] [58] “The volume bore some pre-gender-equity title like The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes.” Sleuthing on my own part reveals this is likely The Boys’ Sherlock Holmes; A Selection from the Works of A. Conan Doyle [59] (1936; new and enlarged edition: New York: Harper & Row, 1961.)

[8] [60] His website tells us [61]: Zach Dundas grew up in Montana, published ‘zines, played in bands, and made his start in journalism at the Missoula Independent. After working as an editor and reporter for Portland’s Willamette Week from 1999 to 2005, he wrote for Monocle, Maxim, Good Magazine, and others. His first book, The Renegade Sportsman, was published by Riverhead Books in 2007. He is now editor-in-chief of Portland Monthly and a correspondent for Monocle. The Great Detective appeared in paperback in June 2016, was nominated for an Agatha Award, and received the Sherlock Holmes Society of London’s annual literary award.”

[9] [62] Doyle was so poor that he only furnished the public sitting and exam rooms, and “taught himself how to grill a single strip of bacon using a wall-mounted gas jet.”

[10] [63] I might add that New York City already had at that time a pneumatic tube system [64] that could shoot a document from Wall Street to the Bronx as fast as an e-mail today.

[11] [65] “They would certainly recognize our baroque geopolitics much more immediately than the austere, bipolar Cold War decades stalked by Ian Fleming’s James Bond or le Carré’s George Smiley.”

[12] [66] One of the latest hobbyhorses of the Woke is the notion that “the police were invented to oppress blacks.”

[13] [67] We’ll let that “deduction” stand for now, but we’ll soon see it’s a bit more nuanced than Collins, Dundas, or Conan Doyle let on.

[14] [68] Collins is another surprisingly modern figure: “a proto- swinger who maintained lifelong, parallel relationships with two women,” and who would establish a new model of pop authorship: Fans could buy merchandising tie-ins to his various books, like Woman in White perfume.”

[15] [69] Again, we’ll just let that “deduction” sit there for now.

[16] [70] Dundas notes that Holmes actually “went retro” early in the canon, with Conan Doyle either using contemporary settings, such as the trenches of the Great War, or purporting to retrieve stories of earlier adventures, thus already providing Victorian nostalgia in the Edwardian age. “In a Britain on the cusp of the automotive and aviation ages, Holmes and Watson still chase hansom cabs and rattle across the countryside in horse-drawn carts. Sherlock Holmes would become an incarnation of the good old days when Victoria was on her throne and the brass buttons on the commissionaire’s uniform sparkled as he delivered your urgent telegram.” As such, “Holmes was the original steampunk [71].”

[17] [72] Note his recent TV incarnation as Dr. House.

[18] [73] No other characters, however iconic, seem to have this ability; if a character in the Star Trek universe shows up in the past (including our present) or future, there’s always some level of humor, irony, or suchlike.

[19] [74] Dundas generally goes from a summary of a tale to attempts by himself and others to identify the locations of the action as they are today; while there’s a bit of hautological [75] interest here, readers familiar with the canon may find these sections a bit wearying.

[20] [76] Already in the second novel, The Sign of the Four (1890), Dundas notes that Holmes emerged as “a magnetic figure, coiled in his armchair, wreathed in smoke: a gray-eyed whipcord of skinny muscle wrapped in a dressing gown”; a few pages later he describes minor characters who “drift in and out of the Great Detective’s magnetic field.” All this talk of magnetism recalls my discussion of Holmes as the Chakravartin of Aryan mythology in “The Baker Street Männerbund: Some Thoughts on Holmes, Watson, Bond and Bonding [77]” (reprinted in Greg Johnson, ed., The Homo & the Negro: Masculinist Meditations on Politics & Popular Culture [78]; second, Embiggened Edition (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2017). Additionally, Watson’s regard for Holmes, Dundas writes, is “one of literature’s great studies in devotion.”

[21] [79] One of the slightly more popular treatments is Umberto Eco and Thomas A. Sebeok, The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983); Eco is not unknown to Dundas as a Holmes enthusiast, but he references only Eco’s The Name of the Rose, his highbrow contribution to Sherlock fanfic.

[22] [80] For that, you can see Ben Novak, Hitler and Abductive Logic: The Strategy of a Tyrant (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2014), and of course Greg Johnson’s review. [81] Johnson writes that “[a]bduction literally means to ‘lead away.’ Abductive logic begins with observed phenomena that need to be explained and then leads away from them to a theory about their causes, framing the simplest and most likely hypothesis to explain them. Abduction is the logic of creating scientific theories. It is also the logic of doctors diagnosing illnesses, trackers following animals, and detectives solving crimes.” Novak, and Johnson devote significant space to the Holmes connection. Dundas notes that one of two films allegedly found in the ruins of Hitler’s bunker was a German adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, produced in 1937; there was a silent version in 1914 — “not otherwise banner years for Anglo-Teutonic cultural exchange.”

[23] [82] Indeed, at one point Dundas awards Sherlock the ultimate accolade: “a non-Jewish Jew.” I suppose that’s the best kind. “You arrogant sonofabitch! You think you’re the only writer who can give me that Barton Fink feeling?! I got twenty writers under contract that I can ask for a Fink-type thing from. You swell-headed hypocrite! You just don’t get it, do you? You think the whole world revolves around whatever rattles inside that little kike head of yours. Get him outta my sight, Lou.” Hollywood studio boss Jack Lipnik to fellow Tribesman Barton Fink (Barton Fink, Coen Bros., 1991).

[24] [83] There is one Thompsonian note: Dundas’ obsession with weather and hotels. At an ersatz “Langham Hotel” (LARPing the one where Conan Doyle dined with Oscar Wilde and conceived The Sign of the Four), he sounds like Thompson surveying the working press at the Mint 500: “The scene made me glad to be a dilettante. Some poor souls had been interned at the Langham for days and days, but I just skipped out on January in Portland to wander around 80-degree LA in shades and shirtsleeves and feel, I must say, pretty damned pleased with myself.” Later, “the cocreator of Sherlock and I sat in the blazing Pasadena sun, a pair of genetic Celts ill suited to such climes.” This recalls Thompson’s acid-soaked attempt to check into the Mint Hotel: “By that time I was pouring sweat. My blood is too thick for California: I have never been able to properly explain myself in this climate. Not with the soaking sweats . . . wild red eyeballs and trembling hands.” Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (New York: Random House, 1971). Later, Dundas visits Jerry Margolis’ massive collection of Sherlock art, which includes a Ralph Steadman; it took Margolis 30 years to track down Steadman, finally connecting with him through “some guy in Kentucky,” recalling Steadman and Thompson’s first meeting to cover the Kentucky Derby.

[25] [84] “We should remember that when this was written [1908], bomb-throwing anarchists had already made a big impact on the times. Tsar Alexander II had survived several assassination attempts before succumbing to a bomb attack in 1880. The same was true of Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, although he wouldn’t meet his end until 1911. Prior to that, a bomb attack had crippled one of his daughters. And of course, US President William McKinley had been assassinated by an anarchist (although only a gun-wielding one) in 1901. See Joseph Conrad’s brilliant The Secret Agent for more about how the specter of anarchism had captured the Western mind back then, especially in England.” Spencer J. Quinn, reviewing G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, here [85].

[26] [86] Willamette Week culture feature, available online: archived copy [46]. Archived from the original on June 26, 2009. Retrieved July 5, 2018.