The View from Sherlock Peoria (47)
April 27, 2003
A Sherlockian Pedigree
The faithful followers of Sherlock Holmes do some wacky things on occasion. Our creative attempts to demonstrate our passion for things Sherlockian take many forms, and one that has always fascinated me is the announcement of a Canonical pedigree.
Announcing a Canonical pedigree (or in the case of Steve Doyle, a Conanical pedigree), takes a strong dedication to whimsy, much more than most of us can pull off. While Sherlock Holmes and his fellow denizens of the sixty stories may have a certain illusion of reality, their papers at the big border crossing to our world just never seem to be in order when the reality Nazis come working their way up the aisle of the train. But does that stop a determined Sherlockian?
If Sherlockiana has a top 40, then a little tune called "We Never Mention Aunt Clara" is sure to be on it. And the fellow who brought that originally non-Sherlockian number into our culture, James Montgomery, claimed from the start that the tune was really about Irene Adler, Holmess adversary in "A Scandal in Bohemia." Montgomerys source for this little tidbit? Well, the song was about his Aunt Clara, he said, and among his family papers was a letter proving that she was also Irene Adler. The essay in which Montgomery proves this point, entitled "Art in the Blood," is a fun little bit, and one more proof against those who claim Sherlockian scholarship is a Very Serious Business.
Now, James Montgomery actually had it easy if he wanted to claim a Canonical pedigree a cop in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" goes by the name Montgomery. Easy enough to claim him as a cousin, right? But James Montgomery was more ambitious than that. He wanted to claim one of the Canons most remarkable folk as kin. And he even knew where to let his ambitions end.
Claiming kinship to Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson would seem to go far, far, too overboard . . . almost like bragging. One almost feels like Sherlockians with last names, Holmes, Watson, or Moriarty were practically forced into Sherlockiana by their circumstances. Having a more prominent, yet less starring-role name like Moran as a last name , however, now thats nice. (Joe Moran is one lucky fellow.) You dont even have to explain your connection to Sherlockian fellows with a name like that they just nod and smile when the subject comes up.
Those who write pastiches are always claiming some complicated link to a Canonical character, just to explain how the latest Watsonian manuscript fell into their lap. But theyre getting paid for their little fraud, so it somehow doesnt seem as gutsy as a Sherlockian like Montgomery who just comes out with a more direct claim.
In recent years, I had begun to dig into my own family history, and as a devoted Sherlockian, had to start hoping for ties to Great Britain, and, just maybe, a familiar name appearing in the family records. Nothing rose quickly to the surface, but in undertaking this weeks column I decided to look further.
I didnt have to even go as far as England to find my first link. A great-great-great-grandfather named Morris was living in Pennsylvania during the time of the Scowers, and guess what? "Brother Morris" is reported to be a member of the gang in the Watsonian chronicle, The Valley of Fear. Mere coincidence? Theres also a "Miller" in the tale after whom a hill was named. And my Pennsylvania forebears include a Miller, as well. A common name, yes, but the details start to add up.
But on to England, for now.
Claiming a kinship to Lord Roberts of "Blanched Soldier" might be a bit much, just because I had a great-great-great grandmother named Roberts born at a British inn (though I do like her fathers name: Watson Roberts). Id probably rather claim to be related to Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride anyway.
And when we start looking at my great-great-great-great-grandparents, a Moran even turns up. Thats the lovely thing about genealogy the futher back you go, the more last names you find, doubling with each iteration. Are you related to some Canonical character? Well, if you keep digging, probably so.
Your humble correspondent,