The View from Sherlock Peoria
The Joy of Ignorance
More than one scribe has written of the impossible joy of getting to experience first reading Sherlock Holmes for a second time. There is no pleasure quite so happy as that first encounter with anything of a rare and delicious quality. But everyone only gets one first time . . . they are the most stingily rationed moments of our lives.
No one longs for the joy of that initial meeting more than the enthusiast – that person who is furthest from innocence of a subject. A Sherlockian, for example, can fill his or her head up with so many details about The Hound of the Baskervilles that each successive reading is a mental version of the old Pop-up Video TV show, where random facts about each scene of the video and its making would just pop up on screen. True, there are certain savoring pleasures that come with wisdom and full knowledge of a subject. But that comfortable familiarity and the joy of new discovery are mutually exclusive. The latter means the former may never come again.
So it is with many aspects of an enthusiasm, like Sherlockiana.
Knowing that Robert Downey Jr. is going to star as Sherlock Holmes in a movie next November gives one ample time to plan for seeing it, making sure you don’t miss it. But at the same time, all the still photos on the internet and news bits about actors and characters take away the surprises that await . . . internet culture has even given us a new tool for preserving our innocence against such news, the spoiler alert.
Back in the days when I was a ravenous collector of all things Sherlock Holmes, knowing every possible thing to come down the line was a must. One couldn’t let any books on Holmes slip past, and getting the chance to show off a new item to one’s friends before they had it was an evil little pleasure of its own. Serious collecting needed serious resources for finding out what was out there, and, fortunately, such things exist.
A key tool in that collecting pursuit has always been Peter Blau’s monthly newsletter, Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press, where one can always depend upon Peter’s legion of informants to keep up with the advent of any possibility of Holmes merchandise to hit the market. Scuttlebutt was ahead of its time, really, an arcane printed website before there was even an internet. Had Peter Blau been decades later in his Sherlockian undertakings, there would not even been a thought of printing the thing – it would have been the home page of every Sherlockian collector’s browser.
But as the information age exploded, I myself started to implode when it came to Sherlockian knowledge (and I write this column every week to prove it). After giving up crazed collecting for many years, I eventually gave up Peter’s newsletter as well. I became woefully ignorant of the current Sherlockian marketplace, and didn’t even haunt Barnes & Noble with nearly the regularity as its predecessors. It may seem like exactly the wrong course for any self-professed Sherlockian to take, but I had decided to experiment upon myself like some Holmes fan version of Brad Pitt’s character in the new film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the man who ages backwards. While I could never get myself back to the point where I could read Sherlock Holmes again for the first time, I at least could regress back to that Sherlockian who found joy in less ambitious and aggressive Holmes works. And this Christmas it finally paid off.
My father-in-law gave me a book for Christmas, The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls by John R. King. It has a lovely cover, with Holmes and Moriarty falling into the watery abyss and the classic symbols of the pipe and the magnifying glass used in presenting the title and author. It was just the sort of present any Sherlockian would be happy to find under the tree, and the very best part was this: I had no idea it existed. It was a complete surprise.
Ignorance is bliss, as the saying goes, and this year I found myself as ignorant as can be.
And you know what? It’s not a bad thing. Not bad at all.
Your humble correspondent,
Past 2009 Columns