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The View from Sherlock Peoria (307)

May 4, 2008

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Farmerphiles and Hansoms

Ah, the fanzine. That amateur publication produced by love-labor and read by the faithful few. One might argue that Sherlockians were the first ‘zine publishers, but I doubt you’d get many Sherlockians to make that argument. We call them “journals” and “newsletters” and let the Trekkies  and other sci-fi fans lay claim to the “fanzine.” This week, however,  our paths crossed once again with a special Holmes-related issue of Farmerphile, the fanzine devoted to science fiction writer Philip Jose Farmer.

The cover of the April 2008 (Number 12) issue of Farmerphile, features nice color  artwork of Phil Farmer in a deerstalker and  Invernesse cape, with the heading “Sherlock Holmes & Sufism” over the logo. Inside the issue are reminiscences about Phil’s involvement with Sherlockiana by his wife Bette and longtime friend George Scheetz, as well as a talk Phil gave to the Mexborough Lodgers  in March of 1975. There’s a lot more discussion of Phil Farmer’s Holmes-related work in the pages that follow, and rather than spill all the details here, I’ll just direct you to their website at: http://www.pjfarmer.com/farmerphile.htm    . (Scroll to the bottom of that page for the latest issue.)

Reading Bette and George’s remembrances of  the early years of our local Sherlock Holmes club, which Philip Jose Farmer founded and named,  gave spark to some of my own memories of Phil and the club. The first meeting I ever attended was a picnic in the backyard of Phil and Bette’s house, on July 7, 1979,  I tore the seat of my pants out during the egg toss and Bette lent me a needle and thread to sew them up (not the best start to a Sherlockian life, but typical for me). It was the eleventh meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton, in the middle of its second year.

Thanks to Bob Burr’s carefully kept records of Peoria’s Sherlock Holmes society,  I can tell you all the raw data about Philip Jose Farmer’s membership in the society he created. He won the meeting’s quiz three times, the first a quiz on “Silver Blaze” and “Shoscombe Old Place” that was given on May 4, 1978. The Farmers hosted club meetings at their home nine times (and as much as they liked to move, it was rarely the same house twice). In the late nineties, Phil and Bette’s attendance  at meetings was less frequent until July 1999 marked the last time they were able to come.  But that’s just the raw data.

From a personal  angle, I can tell you the sort of influence a best-selling science fiction writer like Philip Jose Farmer can have on a Sherlock Holmes scociety.  Phil was about as close as Peoria came to having a local celebrity, and one was always sure that a few people wandered into our club not so much for the love of Sherlock Holmes, but to hang out with  a famous author. We had other writers in the group that weren’t so well known, like Jack Mertes and Norm Kelly, and a lot of employees of the Peoria Public Library system.  Having Phil as our founder gave our club a local literary street cred.  We certainly didn’t hang on to that as the years passed, and we never saw Peoria’s next big writer, Dorothy Cannell, anywhere near a Hansom meeting, even though she was actually a mystery writer.  (The club’s fault, I’m sure, not Ms. Cannell’s.)

But it wasn’t just Phil Farmer’s mojo  that meant the most to the Hansoms. It was having a learned, well-read member who knew as much about local history (especially the  . . .  ahem . . . bawdier side) as any other native son of Peoria.  Even if he hadn’t been the famous author,  Phil would have still been a great member of the club. I suspect he would have even been a legendary Sherlockian, had he not taken what he saw in the world of Holmes and gone off to use it in the worlds of Tarzan and Doc Savage instead of Holmes. His Wold Newton geneology (which includes a number of familiar Sherlockian characters) is as grand  and wonderful  as anything in our own literature.   In fact,  we might have even adopted it into our own Sherlockian heritage . . . were it not for all those obviously fictional characters it contains.

Seeing Philip Jose Farmer ‘s Sherlockian side celebrated in this latest issue of Farmerphile is a treat even if you aren’t from Peoria,  or haven’t ever gotten the chance to meet him.  If there’s room in your Sherlockian collection, I’d reccomend picking up a copy.

Your humble correspondent,

Brad Keefauver