Sherlock Holmes was rather a jerk. His people skills needed some serious work. It’s blatantly obvious in Benedict Cumberbatch’s over-the-top obnoxiousness in BBC’s Sherlock, but it’s all over the Canon as well. I wrote about his unwarranted negative attitude towards Dr. Watson’s detective work in a previous post. And the Canon is replete with snide comments and remarks at Watson’s expense: to say nothing of the official police force’s!
“Come at once if convenient – if inconvenient come all the same.”
Thus does Sherlock Holmes summon Watson in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man.” And Watson obeys. We get a sample of Holmes’ imperious attitude from this quote. But Watson’s response is also rather telling.
When Grimesby Roylott of Stoke Moran confronted Holmes, he referred to the detective as a “meddler, a busybody and a Scotland Yard jack-in-office.” One has to wonder if some villain or policeman in the Canon didn’t refer to Watson as Holmes’ lapdog, lackey or errand boy?
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…this literary failure is still a heroic one.
I read Louis L’Amour’s medieval adventure novel The Walking Drum so you don’t have to (link).
A thorough edit would fix the expository intrusions (L’Amour keeps taking out his research and waving it around). However, this would not have fixed the structural problem (there was no structure).
Even so, this literary failure is still a heroic one. The book not only displays the craft of a veteran adventure writer, it is also an object lesson in career strategy.
As an author I benefited from reading this book. Let me tell you why…
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There’s an underrated benefit to science fiction and fantasy, and it is not dissimilar from a benefit one gains by being a student of history. Since many folks consider speculative fiction and historical scholarship (or “flights of fancy” and “recorded fact”) to be the antithesis of each other, I think this benefit is worth some attention.
The benefit I here have in mind is the gaining of a healthy detached perspective. Detractors of fantasy and sci-fi will immediately object to my use of the word “healthy,” being that they regard such literature as mere escapism. And it often is that, yes. As is golf, and the Super Bowl, and birthday parties, and most fun things that we do when we aren’t engaged in utilitarian labor. But I’m thinking about a different sort of escape: escape from our own temporal status in this particular time and place and culture and society to which we were born. This is a benefit that is greatly under-appreciated, but I believe it holds real power.
The reader of science fiction, like the historian, steps out of his or her own time frame: if you’re a historian, you step back in time; if you’re a sci-fi fan, you become accustomed to stepping ahead into some speculative future. And if we cultivate that mental exercise, it gives us the unique opportunity to look at our own time from that same detached perspective.
When you do this, it can be liberating. We put so much stock in what people say. We are angered, hurt, offended, cut to the core by what we are bombarded with when we turn on the TV or log onto Twitter or get together with family over Thanksgiving dinner. But the power of these viewpoints — and the hostile ways in which they are sometimes expressed — to affect us is really only predicated on the fact that we are alive now and that these are opinions being expressed by our contemporaries.
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Black Gate‘s ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series had ranged far and wide across the writings of REH. But we had not yet tackled his poetry. Consider it tackled! Barbara Barrett, who put together the extensively detailed The Wordbook: An Index Guide to the Poetry of Robert E. Howard, is the planet’s resident expert on the poetry of REH. And the author of Conan was quite a poet. Read on!
By the time I discovered Howard’s poetry, Solomon Kane, King Kull, Conan and El Borak were familiar characters. I didn’t think Howard’s writing could get any better than the poetic prose in those stories. At least, until I picked up a copy of Shadow Kingdoms: The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard and read these lines from his poem “The Ride of Falume.”
A league behind the western wind, a mile beyond the moon,
Where the dim seas roar on an unknown shore and the drifting stars lie strewn
I was transported to a place straight out of a Hubble star-strewn space photo where I sat on some unknown seashore, gazing at a moon larger than I had ever seen, and listening to the roaring waves crash against sand and rock. I could see it all clearly.
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Harold Lamb. Still worth reading.
We love our vintage Historical Adventure, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery/Planet/ Sandal/Wombat etc. Call it Vintage Genre Fiction. This despite the fact that most old stuff is crap.
Listen: We’re on a road trip and my wife — Driver’s Privilege, and bear with me — puts on a retro chart show for 1968. We bop along to The Rolling Stones and some Soul, then on comes a song called MacArthur Park.
Go on, click the link I dare you. You’ll love the maudlin delivery, the lush strings and perky keyboard arrangement. Better yet are the lyrics. Here’s the refrain:
Someone left the cake out in the rain,
I don’t think that I can take it,
‘Cause it took so long to bake it,
And I’ll never have that recipe again, oh noooooo
At this point the kids and I are howling with pain.
Now if you like 60s music, know about, then right now you’re fighting the urge to dive down to the comments and start explaining why it’s good (please don’t). And it’s true, if you have a specialist interest then your cultural pleasures aren’t always mainstream.
Everybody else is still trying to unhear that song (Someone left the cake out in the rain/ I don’t think that I can take it/ Cause it took so long to bake it…).
And that, my friends, is how most people react to Vintage Genre Fiction.
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My frame of reference is at least partly informed by years of being entertained by horror stories and films. Frame of reference shapes expectation, and expectation influences perception. In other words, if you’re a horror fan, you may feel a little twinge of nervous anticipation every time you go alone into the basement. You’re primed for it.
Even if you don’t for one second think that anything is actually lurking down there more frightening than a basket of laundry or a bit of black mold (which actually can be pretty scary, health-wise: not good to breathe that stuff), it’s just that you’ve seen so many artful and artless portrayals of What. Might. Be. Down. There… You get that twinge, a frisson that can be quite delightful, given that you know there’s no real bogeyman waiting to pounce from behind the furnace, just the thrill of imagining there is one. Which is why you’re a horror fan.
I am a storyteller, yes. Sometimes I write horror stories, and I am an aficionado of the genre: guilty as charged. But everything I recount in the following pages really happened. I have restrained myself from the storyteller’s natural tendency to exaggerate for the sake of effect. In this case, the facts are arresting enough without embellishment. My aim is simply to reconstruct some of the thoughts and impressions that went through my head at the time, thoughts and impressions colored by a horror-movie imagination. This may thereby serve to illustrate how one’s perspective can shape perception.
Some of what follows may seem a bit strange. But if you doubt any of it, just ask my ex: it might have gotten weird at times, but to the best of my memory it all happened. (Except for the part where she claims I screamed like a little girl. Take that with a grain of salt. When I am startled, I tend to think of my vocalization as a deep, throaty, manly yell.)
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You’re from what newspaper? You want to write the story of my life? Oh.
No, no, it’s not a problem at all. Come in. Here let me take your coat. Go into the sitting room. There’s a fire going and it’s much warmer.
I have to admit that I’m a little surprised that you’re interested in me. I’m not as famous as some of the other characters my Creator brought to life. I admit that honestly. You wouldn’t know it to look at me today but there was a time I reached incredible heights. It seems like only yesterday I was almost a legend; so I’m only too happy to relive those days. Sadly, there are many today who don’t know my rich history or how distinguished I was.
Just sit down over there. Yes, yes, clear off that chair. You can move those books and all that memorabilia over a little. No, not too close to the fire. Better put them on the mantle. I’ll pour you a cup of tea. It’ll fortify you against the snow and the bitter cold outside.
Now, let me see, where shall I start? Of course! It’s always best to start in the beginning. I think I remember Bilbo Baggins saying that once? I could be mistaken though. The old memory isn’t what it used to be.
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NOTE: The following article was first published on April 12, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
Pulp fans are united by an uncommon passion for literary authors and their creations. We read and re-read these seminal works time and again savoring each thrill as if discovering it anew. We read one another’s thoughts on these works in the hope of gaining a greater appreciation of the material or, at the very least, finding some justification for why they affect us so deeply. We dread to consider awakening to a world where there are no new tales of these characters to discover.
A small number of us set out on the precipitous path of making that dream a reality by adding to the existing canon of our favorite characters. Many of those who do so choose to work in the relative safety of fan fiction, content in the knowledge that none will judge their efforts too harshly. Fan fiction, however, is a double-edged sword for while it allows us to work free from criticism, we do so in the knowledge that none will treat our work as a legitimate continuation and that, at the end of the day, is what we all strive to achieve.
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…you are automatically interesting. You have stories to tell that people will repeat for years to come…
So, by definition, adventurers travel. Where do you stay?
With the elves is good.
Seriously, Tolkien got it right. His two parties of adventurers travel across Middle Earth (which has an empty Early Dark Age/Early Middle Ages feel) and how many times do they stay in inns?
It’s pretty much camping and hospitality all the way. In Middle Earth, this means craving the hospitality of elves, shape-shifters, and humans of various social ranks.
In the real Middle Ages, you’re stuck with just humans.
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Part of the fun of being a Sherlockian (I use the term to mean someone who has read the stories and delves into them, studying and possibly writing about them: not having watched the BBC television show Sherlock and expounding the wonders of Benedict Cumberbatch) is speculating on the stories. In a post last November, I posed that perhaps Holmes was actually fooled by Lady Brackenstall in “The Adventure of The Abbey Grange.”
I don’t think that actually happened, but in Playing the Game, I laid out what I thought was at least a plausible scenario for it. Similarly, I pondered the possibility that Holmes set himself up in the blackmailing business after matters were concluded in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.” Now, I don’t believe what I wrote in that one at all, but it was fun and it’s not impossible (just preposterous).
So, I ask you, is it possible that Holmes had a blind spot regarding the fairer sex and that he once again was duped by a pretty woman?
SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS
Though frankly, if you’re reading this post and you haven’t read “The Problem of Thor Bridge,” I’m a little perplexed. But click on this link and read it. It won’t take long.
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