An Observation on Our Passion by Ron Lies “Chips”

Ron Lies, our always thoughtful and interesting member from Denver, sent this observation along. It has components pertinent to recent discussions in the Sherlockian/Watsonian world and, therefore, deserves as wide an audience as possible. Feel free to comment, and thank you “Chips”.

An Observation

Recently, there have been exchanges online about who is a Sherlockian. We have always had a healthy exchange of different ideas. This discussion question has brought out responses that have caused hard feelings among some Sherlockians. This concerns me and I would like to share some thoughts I have about the Grand Game we play.

I was fortunate to meet and know John Bennett Shaw, who had the largest individual Sherlockian collection in the United States and was one of the kindest, most decent human beings I ever had the pleasure to know. In my too few visits by letter and in person, we discussed all things Sherlockian. The following points are concepts I took away from my conversations with John Bennett Shaw. I try to base my Sherlockian actions on these points:

1. If you have one of a Sherlockian collectible, you gloat. If you have two, you share.

2. A Sherlockian is anyone who has read a Sherlock Holmes story (preferably a story from the Canon) and tries to find more.

3. A Sherlockian is someone who has watched a Sherlock Holmes movie, television program or play and who tries to find more.

4. A Sherlockian is one who has listened to a Sherlockian radio show, tape or cassette and tries to find more.

5. We should treat a Sherlockian’s opinion with respect even if that opinion is wrong or disagrees with yours.

6. The most important rule is: if you are having fun, do it; if you are not having fun, don’t do it.

I wish you all could have met John Bennett Shaw. He was a Sherlockian and human being of the finest kind.

These then are my thoughts: I am afraid we are losing some of the fun in and respect for each other’s point of view that John mentioned we should have. We each have our own favourite Sherlock Holmes and his world. I am a traditionalist. My Sherlock Holmes is that of the Canon and of the world of 1887. The actor who portrayed my quintessential Holmes is Peter Cushing in his portrayal of Holmes in the 1968 BBC television series.

I am sure there are others who will disagree with me. I look forward to discussing my beliefs with you whether you are Brett supporters or the new wave of Cumberbatch supporters from the BBC Series “Sherlock” which updates Holmes to modern times. All I ask is that you treat my beliefs with the same respect and courtesy I will treat yours.

Greetings to all my Sherlockian friends and those friends I have not yet met.

Ron Lies “Chips” in Denver

6 Replies to “An Observation on Our Passion by Ron Lies “Chips””

  1. Ron Lies suggests that there have been online exchanges about who is a Sherlockian. My impression – and it is not much more than that – is that the debate is not about who is a Sherlockian, but whether there is a special category of Sherlockians that Prof. Philip Shreffler called “elite devotees” in essays in 1988 and 2013. I have yet to hear (or read) anyone suggest that the concept of a “Sherlockian” is in any way problematic. Rather, the issue, as I understand it, is that Prof. Shreffler argued that all Sherlockians are fans, buffs, and aficionados, but, further, that a small portion of those fans are ‘elite devotees.’

    I recommend Prof. Shreffler’s essays to Mr. Lies for further details, but I will suggest that one feature of the ‘elite devotee’ that Mr. Shreffler highlights is a focus on the canonical Sherlock Holmes. Fans – even elite devotees – come to the Canon in many different ways, including popular media representations. Vincent Starrett was a fan of William Gillette, for example. However, as I understand his point, Prof. Shreffler was concerned that many fans of Jeremy Brett ultimately turned out not to be fans of Sherlock Holmes, and he is concerned that many fans of more recent actors will also turn out not to be fans of Sherlock Holmes, though many obviously will. Brad Keefauver, who has been critical of the idea of the ‘elite devotee’ while being a good example of one, made a similar argument in his Sherlock Peoria column for April 4, 2010: – “Death and Rebirth of he Mono-fan” – in which he asks “Can a Sherlockian, recognizable as such to us old-school Sherlockians, evolve out of such a primordial ooze of entertainment as the one we now find ourselves in?”

    Again, I don’t think anyone has doubted that all Sherlock Holmes fans are Sherlockians, and any such suggestion is a misreading of the more interesting debate. However, I fully endorse Mr. Lies’s proposal that, however we enjoy Sherlock Holmes, we have fun with it or him or one another.

    1. Reply
      Ariana02/09/2014 10:27pm
      I was not aware of Prof. Philip Shreffler, so I looked up some of what he wrote about Sherlockians and the difference between fans and devotees. It left me feeling a little devastated.

      I love the Canon and re-read stories before attending monthly meetings with my local group at a lovely pub. I enjoy canonical quizzes and making new friends to talk about Sherlock Holmes. I love to theorize on different elements of the Canon. I spent a good part of the past month and a half writing an essay to submit to The Watsonian, just for the fun of doing so. The actors who portrayed my quintessential Holmes and Watson were Clive Merrison and Michael Williams from the BBC Radio Complete Sherlock Holmes series.

      From Prof. Philip Shreffler’s point of view, I will never fit the criteria of an “elite devotee.” I am a “fan” and that is heavy with negative connotation, according to him.

      Because the very first Sherlock Holmes I witnessed on screen was The Great Mouse Detective and then, years later, the Guy Richie films. Because I began reading the Canon only after I began watching the BBC Sherlock series and became, yes, a fan of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. Because I’ve only been a “fan” of Sherlock Holmes for little more than 2 years. Because I wear t-shirts and jeans and attend sci-fi conventions. (Though that particular argument baffled me – was Prof. Shreffler unaware that mere “fans” also possess nice clothes to wear on outings?) Because I signed up and joined my local Sherlockian society just this past November. Because I signed up while I was attending a Sherlock “fan” convention. Because I’ve only begun on my adventure into the Sherlockian world.

      Reading up on this has been an eye-opener for me. I was not aware that there has been an ongoing discussion on what does and does not make a Sherlockian. Whenever I meet Sherlockians, “devotees” of the Canon or “fans” of the BBC TV series or however they may be categorized, I tend to encounter wonderful people that suit all of the criteria that “Chips” listed in this 6 points above.

      Those who have been Sherlockians for a long time have been very warm and kind to me by welcoming into their group and showing me how much more there is in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Welcoming “fans” of every stripe they may come in is the best way to expand upon Sherlockian, Watsonian, and Holmesian studies. There will be more “devotees” in the future if there are many who are willing to welcome in a new generation of “newbie fans” and present them with a wealth of tradition and culture to pass on to future generations.

      I first discovered this site a few months ago, but I only joined just a few weeks ago. I was too nervous and intimidated to join the JHWS until I received helpful encouragement from a friend who also happens to be a Charter member. I’m so grateful for her.

      On a related note, I watched Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes for the first time tonight! I think this is a good example of how enjoyment of one series can cross over into other adaptions as well. I bought a Peter Cushing DVD collection because it contained an Sherlock Holmes A&E documentary featuring David Burke, who was in the Granada series and which I started watching while waiting for new episodes of BBC Sherlock. So thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch, I’m now watching Peter Cushing and he is amazing! I’ve watched The Sign of Four and The Blue Carbuncle, so far. Does anyone have a favorite Peter Cushing adaption?

      1. Ariana: forgive me for not replying to your comments sooner. I did want to suggest that there is no reason for you to feel devastated by Philip Shreffler’s essays. The Bake Street Irregulars have always been an exclusive club of ‘elite devotees,’ in his terms, and yet the rest of us manage to enjoy Sherlockiana and our fellow Sherlockians, and have done so for many decades now. I expect that we will continue to enjoy this world, each in our own way!

  2. Well said, Ariana! The vision for The John H Watson Society, from its inception, has been one of inclusion rather than exclusion; fun rather than elitism; an open mind rather than a closed mind; and the simple goal of learning and sharing and enjoying both Dr Watson and the Sherlockian Canon outside of “rules” and “labels.”

    Sometimes barriers are raised by people who resist change. And sometimes people encourage change and accept it with anticipation of a more meaningful understanding. Here at the Society, we attempt to accept all forms of interest in things Watsonian and Sherlockian. Yes, we have a “traditional” print journal (and a very good one, at that), but we also exist entirely in a digital, Internet world. We like to think we have one foot in tradition and one foot in the future. The only thing we know for sure is that it will be people like you who will go on to lead the Society (and the Sherlockian world) in the decades ahead. We need you more than you need us.

    Thank you for taking the time to write. This is a significant discussion going on in the Sherlockian world, and it is healthy. We welcome “fandom” and “Cable TV Sherlockians” because, one day, they inevitably will explore the literature, if only out of curiosity. And, when they do, they will enrich the knowledge with their contemporary perspectives and enthusiasm, just as so many have done over the past years of so many differing incarnations of Sherlocks and Watsons. After all, if you think about it and look at the photos of deerstalker-wearing, Inverness cape-wearing, pipe-smoking, and top hat-wearing Sherlockians from the 1930’s through today, they were actually the first “Cosplay” devotees in the Sherlockian world. Much of what is new has been done before, and it will always be that way. The result? Sherockian and Watsonian interest has NEVER been greater than it is today! And that’s a very positive result.

    Sherlock and Watson are in good hands going forward!

    1. I think the JHWS vision of inclusion can play a big part in welcoming Sherlockians and introducing great traditions to a new generation. This is a particularly good time to do so: BBC Sherlock has entered another “hiatus” for a year or two, Elementary is nearing its second season finale, and the 3rd Guy Richie film is only beginning to take shape. I think a great deal of new Sherlockians are turning to socializing, theorizing, writing, art, and of course, the Canon as a way to enjoy the period before more of the recent material is made available. I’ve noticed that many TV and Movie fans are now taking the time to discover how wonderful the Canon is and how many other fantastic adaptions exist. I believe there’s a whole new generation of Jeremy Brett fans now!

      You may wish to consider contacting some of new Sherlockian hubs to talk about the JHWS and let the newer generation know that they are welcome to take part and contribute. Have you heard of the Baker Street Babes? They are a group that have a website, a podcast, and a very active tumblr community. Some of their better episodes involve canonical conversations and guests such as authors, actors, and BSI members.

      It might be worthwhile for you to contact the Baker Street Babes to talk about the JHWS and the upcoming issue of The Watsonian in one of their podcast episodes.

      1. Thank you, Ariana and Barbara, for your thoughts and interesting comments.

        The Society consists of its members and their enthusiasm and support. You may have noted that Robert Katz “Willow” graciously took on a role as Unofficial Ambassador to the Baker Street Irregulars at the annual week-end recently in order to inform the BSI about the Society. His efforts were most helpful and have resulted in a number of new members and growing awareness of the Society’s objectives. Dr Katz’s involvement is an example of the long and honoured tradition of sharing among scion clubs.

        May I suggest that perhaps you would be the perfect Unofficial Ambassadors to the Sherlockian Hubs in order to raise awareness of the Society and our inclusiveness among the Modernist communities? Your suggestions are excellent ones, and it is likely that you already have knowledge of the hubs; therefore, the role of Watsonian Ambassadors may be a perfect way to further your well-presented thoughts about the blending of past and future.

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