ELEMENTARY, DEAR READER...

May 13, 2016
ELEMENTARY, DEAR READER...

(NOTE: The following is a longer version of one of my recent newspaper columns.)


Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to become reacquainted with an old friend. A fellow I first met when I was a young boy and who became one of my most faithful companions as I was growing up. A gentleman who taught me about the importance of being observant, and of not allowing emotions to overpower logic - a skill I readily admit I have yet to master, though I continue to strive in that direction. A champion for justice who could always be counted on to provide adventure and a much-needed diversion from the tedium of day-to-day life.


I refer, of course, to the man they still call The Great Detective: Mister Sherlock Holmes.


Like many of my generation, I suppose, I first met Holmes on television. The classic movies with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as his companion, Dr. Watson, were a weekly weekend mainstay on WGN-TV in Chicago in those days and I rarely missed them. Because my parents had taught me to read at an earlier age than most of my classmates it didn't take long for me to gravitate to the original Holmes novels and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Dad had the entire Canon in a two-volume hardcover collection, and I spent many a night as a youngster falling asleep reading those stories in bed.


In terms of the original works by Doyle, it probably goes without saying that my favorite of the Holmes novels is The Hound Of The Baskervilles. It is arguably the single most famous and best loved of the tales among Holmes’ many fans, and so it was with me. 


Of the many short stories Doyle wrote about Holmes, I would have to say that my favorite is "The Adventure Of The Priory School." Some fans might find this odd, because on the face of it this was not exactly one of Holmes' more remarkable or memorable cases. The reason I hold it in such high regard is because, years later, science fiction author - and devout Sherlockian - Philip José Farmer used "The Priory School" as the foundation upon which he developed his remarkable Wold Newton Mythos, which connects Holmes with a wide array of other fictional characters ranging from Tarzan, Doc Savage and The Shadow to literary classics such as Pride And Prejudice and Raintree County. 


By the time I became aware of Farmer’s contributions to the Holmes legend I had already immersed myself in more than a few of the many Holmes pastiches - those tales about the Great Detective that writers others than Doyle have been spinning out for nearly a century. And in time I found that I was enjoying some of these stories even more than some of Doyle’s originals - something considered sacrilege by some Sherlockians I have known, I suppose, but it’s true all the same.


A few years back, while attending the annual PulpFest event in Ohio, I was taking part in an informal discussion with fellow fans about the Holmes stories, and the fellow who had started the conversation  asked the rest of us to list our five favorite Holmes pastiches. For some of the participants this proved a difficult task, some because they had read so many of them and others because they had read few or none at all. 


But for me it was a relatively simple task, because of the many Holmes pastiches I have read over the years there are five that truly do stand head and shoulders above the rest for me as an individual reader:


• Sherlock Holmes' War Of The Worlds, by Manly Wade Wellman and Wade Wellman - This one gets top billing simply because it was the very first non-Doyle Holmes tale I read as a boy, one my parents bought for me when I was about 11 or 12 years old. They knew it would appeal to me: the story places Holmes, Watson and another Doyle creation - Professor Challenger, of The Lost World - in the midst of the action of H.G. Wells’ classic Martian invasion novel. For me at the time this was the literary equivalent of the two-part episode of Batman in which The Green Hornet appeared.


• The Adventure Of The Peerless Peer, by Philip José Farmer - This slim volume is one of the most enjoyable entries in Farmer’s aforementioned Wold Newton Mythos. Holmes and Watson are sent to Africa during World War I on a special assignment for the British government - and find themselves working alongside none other than Tarzan of the Apes, who is searching for his wife Jane after she has been kidnapped by German soldiers. (The tale takes place in between two of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original novels about the jungle hero, Tarzan The Untamed and Tarzan The Terrible, a two-part storyline which centers around Tarzan’s search for Jane.)


• The West End Horror, by Nicholas Meyer - Many Holmes fans prefer Meyer’s first and better-known Holmes novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, in which Holmes works with Sigmund Freud. But I’ve long considered The West End Horror to be the better tale, in no small part because of a scene in the book in which Holmes and Watson encounter author Bram Stoker and has occasion to read part of an early draft of Stoker’s famed horror novel Dracula. Watson’s response to Stoker’s work is classic.


• Sherlock Holmes In New York,  by D.R. Benson - This book is actually a novelization of a TV movie that aired on NBC-TV in the mid 1970s, in which Holmes (portrayed by Roger Moore of 007 fame) and Watson (Patrick Macnee, John Steed of TV's The Avengers) travels to America to battle his old foe Professor Moriarity, played with great relish by John Huston). I remember watching the movie when it originally aired and finding it to be a great deal of fun; it took nearly 30 years of searching in used bookstores in several states before I finally got my hands on the book version, but it was well worth the search.


•  The Case Of The Murdered President, by Edmund Aubrey - Of all the Holmes pastiches I have read over the years, this is both one of the most fascinating and one of the most unusual. Pre-dating by several decades the conceit of the recent popular TV series Sherlock and Elementary (both of which I have enjoyed greatly), Aubrey places Holmes and Watson in contemporary times and has them travel to America in what ultimately proves to be an ill-fated attempt to solve the Crime of the Century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (The book was also published under the alternate title Sherlock Holmes In Dallas.)


A sixth book I would have included on my list if I'd had the opportunity to have read it at the time (I didn't pick it up until a short time after that year's PulpFest) would have been Sherlock Holmes: The Crossovers Casebook, an anthology of short stories published by Moonstone Books in which Holmes is teamed with a variety of other popular literary characters, such as Arsene Lupin, Sexton Blake, Dr. Thorndyke and (again) Professor Challenger; as well as historical figures such as Lawrence of Arabia, Harry Houdini and Calamity Jane.  Obviously the crossover aspect of the collection appealed to me from the get-go, given my love for the Wellman and Farmer titles listed above; another draw for me was the fact that three of the contributing writers - Win Scott Eckert, Ron Fortier and Matthew Baugh - are friends of mine; and a fourth, Joe Gentile, published two anthologies that I (along with Win, Ron and Matthew) have contributed to in recent years: The Green Hornet: Still At Large, and The Avenger: Dark Heart Of The Crucible. The book has gotten some VERY positive reviews on Amazon and is well worth seeking out.


Other Holmes pastiches I’ve enjoyed and re-read several times include Young Sherlock Holmes, Alan Arnold’s novelization of the popular film from the 1980s;  Ten Years Beyond Baker Street by Cay Van Ash, in which the Great Detective matches wits with the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu; and two novels that have come out in just the past couple of years: Guy Adams’  The Army Of Dr. Moreau, another Holmes-related spin-off from an H.G. Wells novel; and Cry For Thunder by the aforementioned Joe Gentile, in which a Victorian-era mystery originally investigated by Holmes is revisited a century later by investigative reporter Carl Kolchak of The Night Stalker fame.


Although a much different type of book than any of those discussed above, another title I would heartily recommended to fellow Holmes fans is James O’Brien’s  The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking The Case With Science And Forensics, published in 2013 by Oxford Press. Anyone who has ever been a fan of the various CSI television series or have had an interest in the use of forensics to combat crime will be intrigued by this examination of how much modern real-world police scientists owe to Doyle’s original tales of the Great Detective.


O’Brien explains Holmes’ pioneering use of so many of the techniques that are taken for granted today. Holmes, for example, was making use of fingerprinting and handwriting analysis long before those practices were actually being used by Scotland Yard and other law enforcement agencies. The author even includes details how techniques first appearing in the Holmes stories were later put to use in such real-life investigations as the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping and the hunt for the infamous Zodiac Killer.


Whether you’re a fan of Holmes or today’s popular TV police dramas, or simply interested in science or real-life police techniques, this is a book you will not only enjoy but also learn a great deal from. I’d even go so far to suggest that it should probably be required reading for those training for careers in the law enforcement community.



(Copyright 2016 by John Allen Small)
 

MEMOIRS OF A BAT-FAN

January 15, 2016

MEMOIRS OF A BAT-FAN



In case you happened to miss it (you’d be surprised, it seems like there is always a few who somehow manage to not receive the memo), this past Tuesday marked an important milestone in the history of American popular culture. 


Well, it was important to some of us, anyway...


January 12 marked the 50th anniversary of the night that the television series Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, premiered on the ABC television network (WLS-TV, Channel 7 in Chicago if y...


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HO, HO, HO...

December 23, 2015
(Above: Thomas Nast's depiction of Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in the late 1800s; and my son Joshua playing Santa Claus in the 2014 Johnston County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade, Tishomingo, Oklahoma.)



(Note: The following article was originally published in the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, Dec. 24, 1992. We re-published it in this week's issue as a Christmas gift to our readers, and I felt it was appropriate to share it here as well.)



He is one of the most recognized figures...


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IT COULD HAVE BEEN ME...

November 24, 2015
(Yours Truly in Greece, Spring 1985 - shortly before the events described below...)



It occurred to me, as I sat down at my keyboard just now to share the story I am about to tell, that I probably should have done so back in June. That month did, after all, mark the 30th anniversary of when it actually happened.


But for some reason I generally don’t think about it when the anniversary rolls around. The subject only seems to come to mind around this time of year. When I’m counting my blessi...


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WHEN DUTY AND BELIEFS CLASH...

September 10, 2015

I had not originally planned on commenting here about the controversy surrounding Kim Davis, the court clerk in Kentucky who was refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone because she disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year legalizing gay marriages. Not because I don’t have an opinion on the subject (come on, you know better than that) but, rather, because I'm actually kind of tired of listening to everyone else talk about it.


There had already been so much disc...


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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. BURROUGHS

August 31, 2015

Tomorrow, September 1, marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of my favorite author: Edgar Rice Burroughs, father of Tarzan, chronicler of Barsoom and Pellucidar, and the man whose stories helped teach me to read and made me want to become a writer myself. 


In celebration I thought it might be appropriate to share a poem in tribute to Burroughs that I wrote roughly 20 years ago now…



IN MEMORIAM: ERB


A Poem By John Allen Small



With simple words on paper

He drew a map that led me

On a ...


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SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT AWARDS...

August 26, 2015

One of the big news stories of the past week revolved around James Harrison, the pro football player who launched a national debate when he announced that he had made his young sons return sports participation trophies they had received because he felt they rewarded involvement, as opposed to actual accomplishment.


Harrison got a fair share of “atta boys” from certain corners, but he also caught no small amount of flack from others who apparently felt that his decision fell just short of...


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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (A REVIEW)

August 12, 2015

This past weekend my wife and son Joshua and I went to see the fifth entry in the popular Mission: Impossible film series, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation


And just as was the case with the previous four movies, I came away with mixed feelings. 


On the one hand, it was a fun, entertaining, well-made film... probably the best one in the series so far, in fact, strictly in terms of overall entertainment value. Witty and reasonably intelligent, with strong performances all around and a bet...


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THE SURPRISE IN THE MAILBOX...

August 5, 2015

Every now and then something happens that makes me just sit back, scratch my head and wonder at what point the cosmic axis shifted so violently that I ended up in a world so different from the one I grew up in.


Case in point: 


Just before noon Tuesday, while putting together this week’s issue of the newspaper where I work as News Editor, I took a break long enough to walk across the street to the post office and retrieve my daily mail. One of the items I pulled out of the mailbox happened...


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PEZ GOES TO HOLLYWOOD...?

August 5, 2015

I read an article the other day which reported that the Pez candy company is planning to produce a movie based on their candy dispensers, more or less along the same lines as The Lego Movie.


Hmmm....


Now I stand second to no one in my fondness for Pez. I remember my brothers and I using our Pez dispensers as pseudo-action figures when we were little kids, and often find myself wishing that I still had the Green Hornet Pez Dispenser my parents bought for me (for a mere 33 cents, if I remembe...


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About Me


John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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