I Believe in Undershaw: Why I Still Care

UndershawHouse

If you follow Sherlock Holmes-related news, then you’ve almost certainly heard about Undershaw many times. Designed and inhabited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s the home that saw the creation of The Hound of the Baskervilles and sheltered the Doyle family during difficult periods of Louise’s tuberculosis.

You may have also followed the furor of the legal fight several months ago and rejoiced when the chips fell, revealing a house that is still standing–for the time being. I know I did.

What now? The fight to save Undershaw is more than keeping a wrecking ball from destroying a structure or a developer from making it into something unrecognizable. It’s a long-running fight to give a piece of history the loving care it deserves, and I’m concerned that we in the Holmesian world might be encountering a little bit of mission fatigue.

I’m going to address a few issues that have crossed my mind, and hopefully, as I go, I will help to clarify why the Undershaw cause is still, and will continue to be, something worth fighting for.

1) What is going on with Undershaw now?

Complex legal issues aside, Undershaw is in a certain kind of limbo. It’s not exactly under immediate threat (as I understand it), but it’s vacant and in need of serious repairs. The more rundown it becomes, the more it stands to reason that the community around it will wish to see something radical change. Those of us who care about what happens want historical preservation, but there are others who see the building as just a structure and advocate development that would disregard the history.

2) Why does it cost so much?

This is a simple question, and I think it’s occurred to a lot of us, even though we may not have dared to voice it aloud. The thing is, it’s human nature to get behind something like a legal challenge. For a time, we were able to distill Undershaw’s issues down to a single court case. Legal fees and court appearances were something we could discuss, support, and promote. In the Undershaw narrative, we had a conflict that built to a climax in the action.

But now we’re post-case. Why are there still funding drives? Why are authors still surrenduring the royalties of their work to the Undershaw cause? Isn’t it all over?

Nope. Not by a long shot. As I said above, protecting Undershaw from destruction or development is only one part of a long fight to preserve and replenish the dignity of a historical site. To bring Undershaw into a future where it can be enjoyed by the public will be, without a doubt, an arduous process, and it’s one that will continue to need funding for years to come.

3) Why should you care?

I’ve just asserted that the Undershaw cause will take years and be extremely expensive. It’s a fight that won’t be fully won until the house is completely restored and is either privately cared for or becomes a public attraction. (Of course, I would personally love to see Undershaw become a Doyle museum, but a private owner who would care for the property would be far preferable to its destruction.)

Why don’t we just let it go? Why are we so fixated on this one house?

Here’s where I go a bit philsophical. If things are just things, then Undershaw is meaningless. If all that matters is the practical here and now, then there’s certainly no reason to spend time and money on a house that belonged to a long-dead author and his family.

But I’m going to make a bold claim: If you believe in Sherlock Holmes, as I do, then I don’t believe that’s your philosophy of life. If you still care to watch or read about a detective who was created in 1887, and if you like him enough to be reading this, then you have the capacity to understand why a world without Undershaw is a poorer world.

As a frequent user of social media, I see debates on an almost daily basis that concern the questions of liberal arts eduction versus trade training, I’ve endured uncomprehending stares from those who do not understand using tangible assets to pay for art, and I’ve certainly encountered those who can’t comprehend the need to create artistically.

These things sadden me. They make me think of the mercenary world of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, in which nothing is deemed valid but scientific fact, and the only important thing is money. If that’s the world you live in, then by all means, let Undershaw die.

I choose to live in a world where I value beauty, whether that beauty is in the form of a painting or words on a page. I choose to honor the contributions of those who died long before I could know them, and I seek to enrich the future world with my own contributions, while admiring the way that the spirit of those who went before has already shaped and changed society and culture.

Undershaw is a link, a historical portal into the mind and heart of the man who created Sherlock Holmes. I honor his gift to the world by honoring his home, and in turn, I gain a window into his art. By saving Undershaw, I give future generations this same opportunity.

4) What can we do?

It’s simple. Visit the Undershaw Preservation Trust and find out how you can contribute to a Kickstarter campaign, as well as other ways you can get involved. It’s all right there.

When it comes down to it, saving Undershaw is a labor of love. I choose to support the campaign because of a little girl who was scared to death by The Speckled Band, who grew up to write her own stories about the world’s greatest consulting detective. I continue to believe in Undershaw so that other little girls, who have yet to be born, will have a chance to embark on the same incredible journey.

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The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

Canon Thursday: Is Sherlock Holmes a Superhero?

Sherlock_Darling

 

The other day, I found myself answering the question, “Who is your favorite superhero?” I started with predictable Marvel Comics characters Spider-Man and Iron Man, but I really couldn’t resist putting in Sherlock Holmes. In defense of my choice, I mentioned that he’s not only the world’s greatest detective; he’s also an expert boxer and martial artist, a good enough actor to have been one professionally, and a phenomenal musician and composer. In one story, he even bends an iron fire poker with his bare hands to show his massive strength.

While each of these skills could certainly be possessed by other people, I find it a stretch to consider Holmes an entirely ordinary hero since he possesses them all at one time. The actor Benedict Cumberbatch has been known to refer to Holmes as having an attainable superpower, and I tend to agree.

On the other side, Holmes isn’t Batman. He only uses available technology (for whatever time period he’s adapted into) and good, old-fashioned brains to do most of his work. There’s not a natural sci-fi element to the stories. He’s just really, really clever and exceptionally mindful, and Doyle famously based him on a real person, Dr. Joseph Bell (though rather loosely, I’d imagine).

I’ll agree that Holmes isn’t a traditional superhero of the cape-wearing, mid-century comic book variety, but I also find it difficult to argue that he’s a completely ordinary man. Each talent he possesses may be explainable, but their existence together in one person, combined with how Holmes uses them, makes him just to the side of superhuman in my estimation.

What do you think? Can Sherlock Holmes be called a superhero, or is he just an extremely compelling character?

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The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

 

Canon Thursday: Marlene The Indomitable

Marlene Aig

Ever since I jumped into the Sherlock Holmes scene with both feet a few years ago, I’ve been conscious of the issues of gender and feminism that underlie the current surging interest in the detective. One of the first things I learned, one that amazed me, was that the Baker Street Irregulars, respected international Holmes organization, did not admit women until the year 1991. I also learned that in past years, women who wanted to be active in the world of Sherlock Holmes fandom (for it is a fandom, make no mistake), did not always have the easiest time of it. Even today, the issues of sex and gender are a complicated and sometimes unpleasant aspect of being in the Holmesian world.

And yet, this post is not meant to be in the least bleak, because, well, you can’t keep, as they say, good women down. In the late 1960s, a group of enterprising ladies formed an organization called the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, and it’s still going strong. I respect these women extremely highly, and one of the early trailblazers among feminine Sherlockians is the subject of this post: Marlene Aig.

The reason I gave such a lengthy introduction is that I want to provide context for Marlene’s life. A graduate of Columbia University, Marlene went on to become a respected reporter for the Associated Press and even traveled to the North Pole. She was also a member of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes in the years long before legions of Holmes-interested women could find like-minded people at the click of a button.

The great tragedy of Marlene’s life is how short it was; she passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 1996 from an aneurysm. As Sherlockians sometimes say, she “passed beyond the falls,” which is a bit of a silly statement, but I think she might have liked it. Supposedly, she was to have become a member of the Baker Street Irregulars very soon after her untimely death, an honor that was ultimately denied her.

As a Holmesian and as a woman, I’m delighted to say that a piece of Marlene’s legacy has been left behind for us to enjoy. Many years ago, she penned a Sherlockian pastiche–a novella starring Sherlock Holmes that is titled Sherlock Holmes and the Lufton Lady. 

Lufton Lady

Lufton Lady as at once fiercely Holmesian and fiercely feminine, just as I imagine Marlene herself to have been. It’s a traditional mystery in many respects, but it also includes a strongly female touch and a challenge to the idea that Sherlock Holmes was without a heart.

Lovingly edited by Marlene’s friend and notable Sherlockian Chris Redmond, Lufton Lady is a quick, enjoyable read with a charming Holmesian atmosphere and a special flare that surely belonged to Marlene and Marlene alone. It’s a good story, but it’s also a piece of history and a chance to connect with one of the great female pioneers of the world of Sherlock Holmes.

The new generation of Sherlock Holmes fans will never have a chance to meet Marlene Aig, but we can still pay tribute to the indomitable spirit that led her and women like her to pursue their passion for the world’s greatest detective in spite of obstacles. Today, we come along behind and walk in the path that has already been cleared for us. We take what is ours, because they refused to give it up.

Sherlock Holmes and The Lufton Lady is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Amazon KindleKobo, Nook and Apple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

Sherlock Holmes and the Lufton Lady was provided for consideration by MX Publishing. The opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.

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The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

Canon Thursday: Holmes-ish Television

HolmesandWatson1

We (still) have no airdate for Sherlock series three. Now that we’re all most likely tired of watching Series 1&2 (Who am I kidding? We could watch those forever), having Granada marathons where we marvel at Jeremy Brett, crying over Nigel Bruce, catching up on Elementary, and trying to imagine that Robert Downey Jr is tall, it’s time for something a little bit different to help us get through the hiatus (hey, at least we’re not calling it the he-ate-us like those Hannibal fans*…). This post will be about para-Holmesian shows, those shows that, more or less, owe character aspects and plot points to the Sherlock Holmes canon.

Jonathan Creek:

With twenty-eight episodes that span fifteen years, the show headlined by British funnyman Alan Davies isn’t exactly an international household name, but it’s a charming, perplexing, and somewhat under-appreciated mystery series. The title character, Jonathan, is a magician’s assistant–a reclusive, antisocial genius who creates world-famous illusions. Against his will, at first, he also becomes the crimefighting partner of various female journalists and turns out to have a unique knack for explaining seemingly inexplicable cases.

Holmes Tie-In: Jonathan’s antisocial, unemotional devotion to logic makes him Sherlock Holmes’s clear descendant.

Monk:

Famed winner of numerous awards, including several primetime Emmys, the show that starred Tony Shalhoub as intensely obsessive-compulsive police consultant Adrian Monk was a consistent and often brilliant watch for its eight seasons. Almost always procedural, it also managed to give the viewer enough of a window into the characters to create strong attachments.

Holmes Tie-In: Monk has Holmes’s ability to observe tiny details and build them into ironclad cases. The show’s devotion to the procedural format also echoes Conan Doyle’s love of the short story format.

CopperBeeches1

House M.D:

A modern American classic, the show that starred British comedian-turned-genius Hugh Laurie as an antisocial, drug-addicted doctor was sometimes uneven in quality, but had many masterpiece episodes during its eight seasons. The show made no bones about its Sherlockian connection, using Holmes’s character, methods, and personality, as well as Watson’s, to influence its procedure and ultimate character arcs.

Holmes Tie-in: Everything, but never too much.

Person of Interest:

Currently airing weekly on CBS, the slightly futuristic drama (but really not much, given recent NSA news) stars Michael Emerson as a brainy computer mastermind and Jim Caviezel as his brawny assistant. Together, the two use information from The Machine, a tech creation of Emerson’s character, to find and protect people in danger.

Holmes Tie-In: Emerson’s character Finch has elements of both Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, and Caviezel’s character Reese combines John Watson’s physical bravery with some of Sherlock’s brains.

*I might be one of those fans.

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The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.