On April 13 I attended the inaugural meeting of 221B Con, a gathering of Sherlock Holmes fans in Atlanta. Organized by the Baker Street Babes, a group of young women who have, in little more than a year, made a major impact in the Sherlockian world, the event drew 629 people. I attended as the guest of organizer Taylor Blumenberg, the Baker Street Babe who conducted a podcast interview with me last fall. I was on the program in three aspects: I talked about my teaching and writing in ‘An Hour With Tracy Revels,’ served as one of three judges in the costume contest, and along with fellow Sherlockian author Stephanie Osborn, I sat as a panelist on a session called ‘Sherlock Holmes in Science Fiction and Fantasy.’ The conference spanned Saturday and Sunday, but unfortunately (due to school obligations and a rather painful case of bronchitis) I could only attend Saturday’s sessions.
For the uninitiated, a ‘Con’ comprises many events, both planned and spontaneous. Every hour brought a choice of four different panels to attend. Sessions included historical discussions, speculation over the next season of SHERLOCK, consideration of theatrical interpretations, and workshops on writing pastiches or making Sherlockian costumes. A number of representatives of other creative organizations---such as steampunk societies and Dragoncon, a popular Atlanta gathering of science fiction fans---handed out information on their activities. A dealer’s room featured books, handicrafts (quite the selection of deerstalkers, including knitted ones!), jewelry, artwork, and even teas. Several authors, including yours truly, had books for sale. Perhaps most unexpected and exciting were the sudden re-enactments of scenes from various adventures. Two talented young ladies commandeered the lobby to portray a critical scene from the stage play Frankenstein, complete with costumes. They earned a well-deserved ovation. I also heard that there were a number of parties and even a speakeasy open in the evening, but being old and sick kept me away from the fun!
A highlight of the day was the costume contest. Despite being the daughter of a distinguished seamstress and a student of historical attire, I had never previously been called upon to judge such a competition. It was quite a challenge. The young people---and a few mature ones as well---showed amazing creativity and ingenuity. There were Sherlocks and Johns by the score, as well as a half dozen Irene Adlers (complete with whips!), and the entire supporting cast of both historical and recent interpretations of the canon. The young lady who won portrayed 221 B itself---her dress and accoutrements represented Holmes’s chamber, which we all agreed is as much a character as a setting in both the canon and SHERLOCK. Second place went to a woman dressed as the historical Irene, complete with a gown and ornate bustle appropriate for an opera diva. Third place was awarded to a female John Watson, who had handcrafted a sweater, pants, and jacket that were exact replicas to Martin Freeman’s familiar costume. Portraying Mrs. Hudson, my pal Marilynne McKay reminded the audience to pick up after itself! With nearly a hundred entries, your correspondent was grateful to be on a team with a costume designer and a fashion blogger---this was a quite a responsibility!
A more sedate Sherlockian might have felt a bit flummoxed by this event. More than a few waiters and hotel staff looked baffled by all the cosplay. And what was that life-sized TARDIS doing in the middle of the lobby? But it would take a cold and stodgy heart to not warn to the fun the folks were having. Everyone was making pictures and laughing manically as new friendships were being formed. I was impressed not only by the canonical knowledge that many attendees possessed, but by the curiosity that virtually all attendees expressed. Many talked of their excitement in discovering the fandom and reading the canon. I was also very favorably struck by how many of the attendees like to write and have ambitions for producing fanfiction, pastiches, and scholarship. Nobody was rude or unwelcoming. I made many new pals from around the country, not to mention meeting fellow MX authors Amy Thomas and Kieran McMullen---that's the three of us looking jolly in the picture!
Some Sherlockians make the error of dismissing younger fans, especially those who have developed their interest in Holmes through the current crop of TV shows and movies. It is unfortunate that any devotee of the master would condemn a younger fan, however that fan was first lured up those seventeen steps. Sherlock Holmes does not belong to a stuffy elite or to self-appointed guardians of canonical purity. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave his creation to the world and cared little what the world did with him; therefore it is not for any generation to set limits on how the next generation interprets, rewrites, or even worships Sherlock. There will always be re-inventions and devotions that irk, unsettle, or irritate the elders. But that is exactly how Sherlock survives and remains relevant to the current age. As Sherlockians we can always agree to disagree about what constitutes the ‘real Holmes’ and engage in lively debates with fellow zealots. But we should never patronize or ‘put down’ others, especially those who are just beginning the exciting process of discovering the vastness of the Sherlockian world.
I was very honored to have been part of the first 221B Con. I was able to spread my personal Sherlockian message, which was to encourage others to seek out scions for fellowship and to always go to the canon for inspiration. I would gladly return to 221B Con---and next time I’m going in full regalia. I’m blessed to work on a daily basis with the generation that has produced such interesting and lively interpretations of Holmes. I am frequently amused, sometimes shocked, and always delighted by these young people---especially these young women, who were the majority of the attendees---and I feel that the future of Sherlock Holmes is in good hands.