Last month I was invited to attend a secret society of sorts. The other members present at the meeting were an eclectic group of teachers, professors, government employees, authors, book reviewers, and a retired monk. We all gathered in a private room in the mysterious “Golden Corral” to discuss one thing, and one thing only – Sherlock Holmes. And you know what? It was awesome.
The group that I met with is called the Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem, and was founded by John Shanks on February 19, 1979. Twenty-six Sherlockians gathered at the Cumberland Club, known for its Old London atmosphere, and chose their canonical names (a character’s name from the stories). The Nashville Scholars have been going ever since. Five of the original charter members still attend the meetings.
The group meets once a month to discuss a particular Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story. Doyle wrote 4 novels and 56 short stories centering on Sherlock, so there is an astounding amount of literature to choose from each month. Generally on October the group chooses one of Doyle’s supernatural tales.
The member I interviewed has been a member of the Scholars longer than I have been alive. Billy Fields has been an involved Sherlockian for a long time, participating in conferences around the world as well as serving as the auctioneer during the Baker Street Irregulars weekend in New York City (the Baker Street Irregulars is the biggest Sherlockian club in the United States and hold an annual celebration in New York City in January to celebrate Holmes’ birthday). He has also been voted Chief Investigator for Life, meaning that he heads the Scholars.
4LN – How long have you been a member of the Nashville Scholars? What prompted you to join the Nashville Scholars?
B.F. – In 1987, Sherlockians celebrated the 100 anniversary of the first Holmes’ story, “Study in Scarlet”…The “Nashville Banner”, the afternoon paper which closed in 1998, had a large story about Holmes and the local followers. I thought that I had to see people who celebrate the detective so I called and joined. I have been involved ever since. I even go to New York City in January to celebrate his birthday with friends from around the world.
4LN – What drew you to the character of Sherlock
B.F. – I think I like the way to thinks even though I do not have the habit of deductive reasoning. He is able to calmly take a situation a part then reassemble it in his mind. He looks past the trivia of the world to see the essence, which would be handy if I knew how to do it!
4LN – How do you feel about the rising popularity of shows like Sherlock and Elementary, and also the recent films? Has it been good or bad for the character?
B.F. – One of the thing we do as we “play the game” is promise to “keep green the Master’s memory”…so when these new shows and movies hit the screen it does just that…it continues to introduce Holmes and Watson to new generations. When you read just a few stories or watch some of the excellent programs such as “Elementary” or “Sherlock”… and of course the BBC Jeremy Brett stories, you become hooked. The writings draw you in and sit you at a fireplace in Victorian England. You can feel the dampness of the heavy fog and smell the coal which fills the air. You can soon hear the Hansom cabs clattering on the cobblestones. Sherlock Holmes will continue to be reborn and reimagined as long as we can keep sharing his story with young people.
4LN – What story would you recommend for a fledgling Sherlockian?
B.F. – I would read “the Speckled Band”…it has all of the elements of a great mystery and typically hits the top ten list of Sherlockian stories.
There you have it. If you have never read a Sherlock Holmes story I would definitely encourage you to do so. And if you enjoy it and would like to learn more, you should definitely check out the Nashville Scholars on the third Saturday of every month. Also look for them on Facebook or check out there website here. I will warn you that it can be difficult to get into the language at first, especially if you’ve never read it, but if you stick with it, it will get a lot easier to understand.