Christopher Redmond: The Man Behind The Site
(From the first Nashville Scholars website) Continuing our quest to present noted Sherlockian scholars to Holmes and Doyle fans around the world via our website and newsletter, Jim Hawkins interviewed Chris Redmond -- author, lecturer, and Director of Internal Communications, Office of Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo -- Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
(Information from Chris Redmond concerning his website.) The "Sherlockian Holmepage" was created November 22, 1994, on a Web server at the University of Waterloo, and grew steadily for five years. In January 2000, it was moved to its own space through a commercial provider, Golden Triangle On Line, and acquired the name Sherlockian.Net and its own Internet domain.
Hawkins: How did you ever devise such an incredibly detailed website as your Sherlockian Holmepage? What was the inspiration and when did you first go on-line? Some of the history, please.
Redmond: The Sherlockian Holmepage was considerably smaller when I first created it on November 22, 1994. It had just half a dozen links then, along with a few words about my own books, a description of the Hounds of the Internet, and information about how to find Sherlocktron**, which at that time was a dial-up BBS. I created it mostly as a place to experiment with Web design, to develop and practice my skills. I was getting involved with Web pages also as a part of my job for the University of Waterloo, and I told myself that a Sherlock Holmes site would give me somewhere to play and learn without risking the university's reputation.
Anybody who wants to see what my Waterloo Web pages look like can find them from the Holmepage by clicking on my name. Since 1994, the Sherlockian Holmepage has grown steadily, not mostly because of any creative work on my part, but mostly because as I hear about new Sherlockian resources on the Web, I add listings for them.
Early this year I reorganized the page, got rid of some of the junky graphics I had been accumulating, and added some information about copyright, the life of Arthur Conan Doyle, and so on. But the page is still primarily a hub, a place from which to find Sherlockian sites across the Web.
Hawkins: Your father is a well-known Sherlockian scholar and noted author. Does the fascination with Holmes go back further than that? What memories do you have of your introduction to the Canon through your father, or was he indeed the beginning place for you and Holmes?
Redmond: I'm delighted to be able to clear up this misconception. In fact my father became a Sherlockian through my influence, rather than the other way round. Of course he had read Sherlock Holmes himself as a boy, and owned copies (which had been his father's before him) of the classic, greenish-brown CONAN DOYLE'S BEST BOOKS in three volumes that were so many North American kids' introduction to Holmes. He had also picked up a copy of T. S. Blakeney's SHERLOCK HOLMES: FACT OR FICTION? somewhere along the way. But I was the one who, at the age of twelve or thirteen, fell passionately in love with all things Sherlockian, entering a subscription to the BAKER STREET JOURNAL and getting in touch with the Sherlockian society nearest to where we were living at the time, namely the Great Alkali Plainsmen of Greater Kansas City, which had just been founded. He was pulled along mostly in order to keep an eye on what on earth I was doing. Before long he was seriously involved himself, and while I was going through the turmoils of adolescence he pulled ahead of me in Sherlockian achievement.
Hawkins: If you have a "favorite" story in the Canon and/or a "favorite" character, please share with us your choices. Do you have a canonical name, and please tell how you arrived at the choice.
Redmond: I don't really have a favourite story -- I sometimes mention "The Red-Headed League", but only because I feel a sort of obligation to wave the banner of red hair. I have a special liking for the stories in THE CASE-BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, partly out of perversity (because most Sherlockians seem to think they're inferior) but also because I respect their complexity, their dark side, growing as they do out of the exotic soil of the 1920s -- a very different era from the 1890s.
As for a canonical name: In the Baker Street Irregulars my investiture is "Billy", because most of my Sherlockian achievements, at the time I was accepted into the BSI, were in connection with the Baker Street Pageboys, a now-defunct society of young Sherlockians. I kept that same name in connection with the Hounds of the Internet, although in a context like that I think cognomens are a trifle silly.
Hawkins: Please share some background of the Holmes scion or club you belong to. Do you see distinctive differences in the approach to Holmes and Doyle in Canada and the US?
Redmond: My home society is the Bootmakers of Toronto, which is both the local society for Toronto (I live about 70 miles outside the city) and the Canadian national society. It's one of the largest and most active Sherlockian groups in the world, and although I'm no longer as active in it as I was, I did edit its magazine, CANADIAN HOLMES, for twelve years. This summer an anthology of material from CH, which I edited, is being published by Calabash Press.
Whether there are differences between American and Canadian Sherlockians is a big question, which I used to write about regularly in CH. It seems to me that, on average, Canadian Sherlockians are a bit less bibulous than Americans, a bit less fanatic about collecting, a bit less political and querulous. That could be an illusion, caused by a comparison of the large number of Canadian Sherlockians I know with the smaller, self-selected group of American Sherlockians who take things seriously enough to travel to conventions and so on. It could also be a reflection of the larger differences between American and Canadian society in general!
Hawkins: You have three published books, all quite unique. Please share a bit of background about "In Bed with Sherlock Holmes: Sexual Elements in Arthur Conan Doyle's Stories of the Great Detective". What prompted this book, and what was the goal for the book?
Redmond: The "goal", mostly, was to write a book about Sherlock Holmes. It was my first full-length book and I didn't know as much about writing books then as I do now (which may still not be saying very much). Among its defects is a rather stilted and precious writing style, and a tendency to throw everything, absolutely everything, into the book. If I'd cut out the verbiage and some of the inessential ideas, it could have been 25 per cent shorter, printed in larger type, and a lot more readable.
Beyond that, however, the intention was to point out many examples of the presence of sex (and sexual love) in the Sherlock Holmes stories. There were plenty of prurient jokes in the Sherlockian scholarship of the earlier decades -- that'll happen in an almost entirely male environment -- but mostly people had not taken the subject seriously. I set out to demonstrate that Canonical characters had active sex lives, that Arthur Conan Doyle's own love life was bound to have had an influence on his writings, and that readers' responses to the stories depend partly on their sexual motifs, even when those motifs are sometimes hidden.
In a loose, undisciplined way, I'm a Freudian in my approach to reading literature, an attitude that some Sherlockians think (or claim to think) is all nonsense. I had written an article in 1981 calling for "more adult entertainment" in Sherlockian scholarship, before I knew that I was going to write IN BED. So part of the book's intention was to meet my own demand! In the years since it appeared, quite a number of Sherlockians have taken me up on that proposal, some with really good articles and others with tongue-in-cheek stuff that's even more amusing than the serious scholarship about Sherlock Holmes and sex. Incidentally, it also gave me an opportunity to make some points about the value of women taking an active part in the Sherlockian world, which was really only starting to happen in a major way around 1980.
Hawkins: Please give the origins of The Tin-Dispatch Box. That is a book you compiled rather than authored originally? Just a bit of background please.
Redmond: I suppose you could say it was "compiled" rather than "authored", although I'm not sure quite what the limits of the latter word are (if indeed it's a word at all). THE TIN DISPATCH-BOX is just a little reference work, a compilation of Sherlock Holmes's many "unpublished cases", with a few words of information about each of them. It was published in 1965 -- when I was only a teenager -- and somehow it was seen as a big contribution to the Sherlockian literature. Of course the Sherlockian literature was much smaller then than it is now. Tracy's ENCYCLOPAEDIA SHERLOCKIANA didn't yet exist, and even THE ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES was two years in the future. So reference works of any kind were welcomed. My little brochure sold for a dollar, and before long it turned up on John Bennett Shaw's list of the 100 essential Sherlockian books.
Hawkins: What are your plans for further writings?
Redmond: I have no plans, beyond the expectation that I'll continue to produce my occasional WATERLOO SHERLOCKIAN LETTER, but I have no doubt that I'll find things to write as time goes on. IN BED is out of print now, and it's been suggested that I should bring it up to date in some way for a new edition; that could happen in 1998. That's going to be a difficult job, though. It would be much easier to bring A SHERLOCK HOLMES HANDBOOK up to date, but that won't be necessary until more people buy the first edition!
Hawkins: How do you see the network of Sherlockian websites growing? Are you pleased with what you see coming into the field?
Redmond: Right now, people are duplicating each other's efforts with enthusiasm. There are about four sites that have turned up so far in 1997 with the complete text of the Canon, for instance. I don't know where people are getting the machine-readable text -- whether they're stealing it from one another, or independently copying it from a CD-ROM onto the Web. And so I don't know whether it's a good text, a sloppy crib from the Doubleday text (which is itself pretty sloppy), or what.
A site with a judiciously edited text, preferably with footnotes and variorum readings, would be very valuable. Similarly, it seems that every few days another Sherlockian with a new computer comes out with a flashy site that includes a few graphics and the same dozen or so links to major sites such as Sherlocktron and 221B Baker Street. Some of them are graphically very nice, and I'm envious of that, but there isn't much content there.
One thing the Web needs is a repository of Sherlockian writing of various kinds; but there's no economic incentive for anyone to do that, and in fact it would be a huge chore to create and an even bigger burden to maintain. I would love to persuade the people behind the Gaslight mailing list to find a way to put their corpus of material onto the Web. There's also a lack of good Arthur Conan Doyle material on the Web. That may be remedied when -- as is rumoured -- the ACD Society creates a web site within the next few months.
(Submitted by Jim Hawkins / 1997)
If you have been a curious devotee of Sherlock Holmes, you have probably already discovered that by clicking the picture of Mr. Redmond at the top of this interview, you will go directly to the Sherlockian.Net.
1. Books by Chris Redmond - Available Here
2. Canadian Sherlockians - from Sherlock Holmes Handbook, C. Redmond, Dundurn Press, 1993. Google Books
3. Sherlocktron - Willis Frick's Information Center for Sherlock Holmes, revised 2009