Friday, March 27, 2009

The West End Horror, a Posthumous Memoir of John Watson - by Nicholas Meyer?!?!

Recently I had the good luck to discover the book The West End Horror, the plot of which centers around Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend, Dr. John H. Watson. By Nicholas Meyer...not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
At first I was a skeptic. Seeing the novel sitting so tantalizingly on a friend's bookshelf, I chose to ignore it. How dare somebody presume to even consider trying to fill in Doyle's literarily stunning footsteps? What impertinence.
The next visit to the friend's house found me cautiously handling the book with the mistrust one usually manifests towards the Ark of the Covenant - and finally, cracking it open and reading the description.
What? This book throws Holmes and Watson alongside legends such as Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry, and Gilbert and Sullivan? How extraordinary. I read a bit of it.
The next time, I recklessly immersed myself in the book, and gratefully accepted when I was given the opportunity to borrow it.

I just finished reading the book. It is fascinating, I must admit, although I was mostly plunging on so obsessively so that I could find more devious ways to criticize the person who dared attempt to measure up to Doyle. (Alright, I admit it...I'm a possessive, crazed fan).
The book was published in 1976, Meyer's second venture at writing a Holmes novel, apparently: the first was The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.

The plot covers the strange and bizarre events that occur in London circa 1895. It is a miserable, dreary March...and what better to add interest to the fitful, wintry weather than the mysterious murder of a scathing, indiscriminate critic by the name of Jonathan McCarthy, followed by the equally puzzling demise of a young actress? The evidence mounds up as usual, but with the equally usual confusion and general disconnect. In that, Mr. Meyer did his work well.

And the ending is satisfying surprising, yet also a credit to the usual jolting flavor of a Doyle ending. I'll admit, it was an enjoyable read. I wish someone could come along to keep us amused with Holmes stories, or - better yet - that Doyle had written more! When you're an obsessive fanatic such as I, you'll take anything as compensation after you've read all the real stories a dozen times over.

Now, after saying nice things, I'm going to be critical and satirical to my heart's content.
First off, the thing that struck me as the most obviously nonsensical thing: Holmes getting teary-eyed? (The subject of his emotion is an unjustly accused man, who is in prison with scant hope of reprieve).

This is completely out of character and borderline ridiculous. The rare occasions in which Sherlock Holmes does express emotion is done in an effectively English and dissatisfying manner. Tears? Please. You'd sooner find a posse weeping over the plight of their quarry than the character of Sherlock Holmes getting teary over the prospect of a man being convicted unfairly. Holmes is a doer; if he were so upset by this matter, instead of slogging around a bleary-eyed mess he'd immediately move on and find a way to fix the situation - id est, find the real murderer.

In the defense of Mr. Meyer, I will state that this was an observation of Watson's, which Holmes was taking pains to conceal, and which passed fairly quickly - although Holmes was apparently emotionally shaken by practically everything that happened along the way, also frightfully uncharacteristic. Usually Holmes displays about the same amount of emotion as a cat - which is almost none at all. Not to say he is a heartless creature, but rather than moping around weeping over the horrors of the world and at his wit's end, Holmes promptly sets about righting things to the best of his abilities. And he does want to right things, proof enough of his goodness and compassion for his fellow man. I suppose my point is, Holmes may state his distress, regret, or any other emotion, but it doesn't physically manifest itself.

Also, Nicholas Meyer's Sherlock Holmes showed an uncanny openness, and Watson displayed an extraordinary propensity for constantly barraging his friend with questions. In my experience I find that Watson has learned to leave Holmes to his thoughts until he is ready to disclose them on his own time.

And, of course, Doyle's sublime Holmes would have figured things out quite a bit sooner. Also the fact that - especially towards the end - Watson displays a completely unforgivable lack of medical knowledge, not to mention a very loose grasp on the happenings in the outside world. Really, an unemployed bachelor would certainly have expansive knowledge of what was going on in China or India in his day.

I also thought Meyer went a step too far when he used these telegraphs from Shaw (in reference to his play Pygmalion, a great favorite of mine, and coincidentally the only Bernard Shaw play I have ever read) to Winston Churchill:
"Have reserved two tickets for first night. Come and bring a friend if you have one."

Churchill responded:

"Impossible to come to first night. Will come to second night if you have one."

And then claimed the wires were between Shaw and Holmes. Now I know he didn't mean it seriously, but I find too many liberties with historical fact misleading and annoying. Especially since I would have liked the correspondence to be between Shaw and Holmes...

Overall, I suppose I enjoyed the book thoroughly - for the opportunity it furnished for me to be nit-picky, as well as its entertainment. I found Meyer's Holmes and Watson to be a thinner version of the original blueprint - something I can't quite explain, like jelly when it's spread too far, or the difference between honeysuckle perfume and smelling the real thing. It was unexplainable and strangely disappointing.
However, reading Meyer's acknowledgements was satisfying. He took a very humble approach to everything, stating that any inaccuracies were all his own - and therefore very meekly assuming that there are mistakes.

Otherwise, Mr. Meyer did his Holmesian research with devotion and care, and did a better job than I could ever hope to do. The ending was rather in Doyle's style.

And the bottom line is? I may criticize, belittle, berate, and harp all I want to; but no matter how many mistakes he made, Nicholas Meyer is a published author, and I am not. So he must have done something right!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Current Project

So. . .I was inspired by Grosgrain to try to make my own clothing. I thought to myself, what an easy, sensible, relaxing way to add to one's wardrobe! Without the stress of shopping! (I love shopping, until I realize I've been at the mall two hours, tried on five dozen things and bought nothing, either because it doesn't fit right or because I'm a hopeless miser, and the lights and the noise make my ears buzz until I can't think--and I flee to the car (skipping the bookstore in exasperation and exhaustion) with nothing to show for a whole day spent in the city).

I chose a pattern rated easy--a little sundressy, 1947 number (same year as my car. . .so I had to get it). I thought I'd fly through the thing in a day or two, after cutting-out, of course.

Ha. Ha ha. Clearly I need a lot of practice. Here's my chosen pattern and fabric:
I'll skip the trauma and heartbreak of the cutting-out. Well, actually it wasn't that bad, I managed quite fine by myself, except for a few small glitches I won't bother to elaborate on--but I suppose that was only because you don't have to read the directions to cut out a pattern. The direction page is a real tear-jerker, albeit in an unconventional way.

Well, in defense of Butterick and Co:

I am an incompetent beginner. At least, I've never sewn clothing on my own before. I don't understand their sewing-circle lingo, which is so familiar to Butterick's steady, regular customers. However . . .

Things would have been a whole lot easier if the instructions had been put clearly and understandably. However, with the evidence given I could only assume that their main interests lie in preserving ink and paper, because directions were sparse and not that helpful to people who actually need guidance. It makes me wonder what a "hard" pattern is. Don't save trees! Make things easy on us!
The top is self-lined. So you cut out two of everything (four fabric pieces in all). I assumed this meant "just sew everything together like normal, only with twice the thickness you would usually deal with." My mother expressed some doubts, but after reading the incomprehensible directions left looking dazed and confused, now unsure what I was supposed to be doing, and what a "self-lined" garment was at all.
Well, it soon became apparent that I was doing everything quite wrong. . .apparently I needed to act as if I was making two bodices. Then later I would sew them together, so there would be no raw edges. Hence the word 'lining.'
Well, this called for me taking everything apart after I'd sewn the whole bodice together. I probably just should have plugged along and done things my way, but I'm trying to actually learn how to sew.
Somewhere in this time I went outside and threw sticks at the basketball hoop. Hard. (It was the easy alternative to bursting into tears and throwing a Scarlett O'Hara fit on the floor). However, I have notoriously bad aim when angry, so one stick sort of missed and dented my dad's truck/experiment. I think it was the one he wants only for spare parts. . .but afterwards I was almost reconciled to the fact of ripping apart everything I'd spent the best part of a lovely day doing.
I suppose it's enough to say that after three and a half hours I'd almost gotten past step one.
And then of course, today brought more drama. We forgot to get a zipper, so that will halt progress for a little while, but reading the instructions as to how to put the zipper in left me wondering if I shouldn't arrange some sort of protest outside the Butterick building. Not only are their directions unfathomable, but their "helpful" illustrations only serve to confuse things more.
Now I wish I'd never read it--I think I knew how to put a zipper in, before, and now I'm only filled with doubts. It's the One Ring of instructions--you want to use it so bad--it seems as if it could be nothing but good to use it--and when you do you're left exhausted and deceived. I now have total sympathy for Boromir. The effects it has on your personality are just unaccountable. (For those of you who are uninitiated, I'm referring to The Lord of the Rings).
So today, after resewing the front of the bodice for the sixth or seventh time--I do not exaggerate, that's probably an understatement--I finally got it right! With some ugly puckers right in front. Then I realized I'd sewn the sides wrong . . .
All in all I haven't learned much more about sewing, but I'm an expert at ripping out seams!
I've been working on this for about a week now. Also, I had (of course) chosen and orchestrated the pieces I wanted in front. Well, a few days ago I'm taking out some seams, ho-humming my way along, when suddenly the (brand-new) sewing scissors (that belong to my sister) jam, for no apparent reason whatsoever. As usual, I used brute force to fix them, without thinking about possible consequences, and--SNIP--it cut out a nice little triangular flap in the very front of the bodice as I made it close properly. I ended up gluing it. I can't sew it, that's for sure. Then I'd have a thread-wrapped cocoon-shaped pucker in the front of my dress, and that would be worse.
So, my "easy" dress is nearly done. However, I'm beginning to think buying clothing is much cheaper and simpler. The money I'll have to pay for counseling in regards to all the anger and depression this dress-making has caused would have justified a Marc Jacobs evening gown.
But never mind that. I'm planning a nice trip to the mall to relax after the whole traumatic experience is over. Wearing my perfectly-fitting, imperfectly-made new dress. Hopefully.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Favorite Song

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies.
For the love from which our birth
Over and around us lies:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of joyful praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of joyful praise.

For the beauty of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends of earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of joyful praise.

For each perfect gift of thine
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of joyful praise.

By John Rutter, 1864

Saturday, March 14, 2009


So, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse didn't go exactly as we had was freezing cold and miserable. We were only there about a half hour, and I think most of that time was spent swaddling numerous children of assorted sizes and ages into wool blankets and cloaks. But the short time I was outside was hellish, I wasn't sorry to leave at all--and usually I consider myself something of a trooper.

We were planning on going back tomorrow, when it will be cold but at least not wet; but while in the process of writing the above paragraph the phone rang, saying the event is called off completely! I don't imagine there will be any rescheduling...this is a real bummer because I know it takes a lot of hard work and collaboration between the military park and all the reenactment groups to get these events planned. Also, I was looking forward to seeing my "reenactment family" since there haven't been any events since before the holidays. They're the best of people--all very diverse and unique, and there is always something to be learned from somebody. It's nice being around them.

I had hoped to get some reenacting pictures, but I only got this one of myself. You can't really see the clothes, unfortunately. I hope to write more on that subject later.

I tried to get one of my brother and sister, but they were apart for all of six hours and were being too goofy for me to get a picture on my phone--at least, one that wasn't just an indescribable blur. Right now they're into insisting that they're twins--I don't know if they mean literally or what, but some days they say they were conjoined, so it's hard to tell. (In reality, they're two years apart).
Ahh, here they are...I finally got them to hold still, but Curtiss isn't in costume.

So, we spent the rest of the night doing various things: watching The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (Don Knotts and Tim Conaway--priceless duo!)

And also decking Josiah out as the karate kid. I'm not exactly sure how this happened, but it was very funny.

Also, my Nana and great-grandmother from Florida are in town, so that's nice. My mom and sisters and I ran over to see them. Of course we'll be spending more time with them this week.
So, now I'm off to hopefully do what my siblings have been nagging me to do for forever twice over: write down a series of stories I've been telling them about some post World War I pilots who fly the mail. Until later...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rainy Day

In light of the fact that it is a rainy, cold, miserable day--and will probably be rainy, cold and miserable at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a reenactment we'll be doing tomorrow--I'm posting a nice cheery picture of Lake Lure from the summer. I miss it!
Lake Lure is another favorite place...this is where they filmed The Last of the Mohicans, Dirty Dancing, and Nell.
As you can see, I'm desperately reaching out for any reminders that "summer" actually exists.
I do have a little consolation: it's still constantly -0 in Minnesota right now, the home state of some friends of ours. So I suppose I should be thankful for a drizzlyt 49 degrees...or whatever it is. It feels like 30.

Of course, you can't let the cold weather color your memory too much. There were always the spoil sports...


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Okay, so this is my first *real* post...I've never had a blog before, and after the fun and thrill of picking out my layout and personalizing my fonts and colors--yes, these things give me unspeakable joy--I am not exactly sure what I'm doing. So please, bear with me!
Hopefully this blog will enable me to connect more with friends, and other like-minded people.
To elaborate a bit more about myself: I am a Revolutionary War reenactor, along with my wonderful family, so we get the opportunity to travel a lot of the historic South--places like Williamsburg and Brattonsville.
My favorite place in the world is probably Charleston, South Carolina--but I haven't seen too much of the earth yet, so I'm sure I'll eventually find one I like better. But right now it's Charleston, not without reason: it is a beautiful city, dripping with Colonial history, and it has the peculiar gift of transitioning rather gracefully through the centuries, and keeping a little of each.
My current hometown is small--one of the many old mill towns here in the South that is sort of dead after the mill closed. It used to be inhabited mainly by mill workers, so I guess the population must be more diverse now, at least. Overall there's not much stirring here though.
We have recently been visited by some lovely was getting into the '70s these past three days, but tomorrow will be cold and rainy! :(
I spent last night watching Fireproof with the was probably the best independant film I've ever seen, and while I haven't seen too many, that is still high praise.
Well, it is one o'clock...and I do have school tomorrow...