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The View from the East End (21)

By Inspector Hopkins

September 11, 2005
 

"The Many Facets of Sherlockiana"

Part 10b: Sherlockian Scholarship

I continue to struggle mightily trying to be a Sherlockian Scholar!

My own traditional views about Scholarship in general, based upon my own field of study, would seem to boil down to a system of reference. Much like chemists use, and refer to, work published in "The Journal of the American Chemical Society" (JACS) for example, we Sherlockians use "The Baker Street Journal" (BSJ).

In my opinion, scholarship is an intensive, ongoing process. When a chemist discovers a new reaction mechanism, or a new compound or formula, he or she publishes it in an appropriate Journal, such as JACS. This Journal can be accessed, articles read, added to, or modified, by other chemists as the discovery process develops.

In much the same manner, students in such fields of study as Biology, Medicine, Law, and a myriad of others, each access and add to their own specific fields. These fields are "open", dynamic, and are constantly changing as they uncover new ideas, theories, and results. All these fields continue to grow because they are constantly being added to with new material, and new discoveries, as they occur. One of the first things that a researcher does when starting a new project or paper, is to check the literature to see what others have already done before them.

Unfortunately for us Sherlockians, our system tends to be a "closed" one. We have to deal with a very "fixed" system of 60 stories. The same 60 stories are used over and over again, and there are no more new stories being added. As time goes by, it thus gets more and more difficult to identify some obscure point or inconsistency within the Canon that someone else has not already addressed. This makes a superb challenge for the budding Sherlockian Scholar who aspires to contribute to the field: there are a fixed number of stories, a fixed number of chapters, and a fixed number of pages.

Have you ever gone camping?

Out here on the East End there are dozens and dozens of campgrounds, especially along the routes to the Jersey shore. You pull up to your assigned "campsite", pitch your tent, set up your chairs, and go looking for firewood. When I first got the idea of writing a paper and submitting it, I was as frustrated as a camper looking for fallen tree branches, or twigs, or kindling, or *anything* that would burn! It turns out that, despite all the litter one might see in other places out here, the woods are picked clean to the bone. There is hardly a twig or even a leaf to be found. If you want a campfire to toast your marshmallows, you eventually wind up purchasing firewood (and a newspaper for kindling at that) from the front office.

In much the same way, I have found the fields of Sherlockiana to have been picked as clean as the campgrounds in New Jersey. There is hardly a paragraph, sentence, or word in the Canon that has not been read through, thought over, and analyzed. Nay, not even a syllable, or the intonation of a word. (Witness the discussion on the Hounds List about what *accent* Bob Ferguson’s maid had when she said, "She verra ill"). There simply is not much of the Canon that has not been exhaustively explored, or analyzed to death.

What is a budding Sherlockian Scholar to do?

Well, fortunately, I got some very good advice from two great Sherlockian couples that I have met and gotten to know: Brent & Jacquelynn Morris, and Sam & Regina Stinson. After some spirited discussions over this topic, the four of them have convinced me that even though just about everything in the Canon has indeed been analyzed to death, the fresh perspective of the newcoming Sherlockian is as welcome as a cool breeze on a hot summer’s night. And even if the subject has been well covered before, the exploration of it, and the newcomer’s *delight* in discovering it (if skillfully passed on to the "senior" Sherlockians out there), counts just as much as any completely original discovery.

Why?

Because it reminds the "senior" Sherlockians of the first time that they themselves "discovered" something new in the Canon! And this reminds them of the fun that they themselves had at that time. This is good news for me, and for the other newer Sherlockians out there, because "fun" is what Sherlockiana is supposed to be all about! Sometimes that point is totally forgotten in the quest for something "scholarly and original", isn’t it?

Maybe I should quit struggling so much.Until another time, when we will take a brief look at someone who did not take himself seriously, I am indeed,

Yours faithfully,

STANLEY HOPKINS