Call for Papers: Joss Whedon’s Comics

With dozens of nonfiction books on Joss Whedon’s works from Buffy to Avengers, one critical area has been ignored: Whedon’s comics. In fact, he’s written several series for Marvel and DC, along with independents and the many issues of Angel, Buffy, and Serenity comics for IDW and Dark Horse. While a few isolated essays have tackled Buffy season eight or Whedon’s X-Men run, there is no anthology devoted to only Whedon comics. Now that’s about to change.

Essays on any aspect of Whedon’s comics (as described below) are welcome. The completed essays should be 4000-5000 words. Essays must adhere to MLA format and be friendly and approachable, yet academic in scope and content. New papers or presented conference papers rather than reprints are appreciated. This collection is not yet under contract, but I have several interested publishers who are awaiting a list of essays to be included. McFarland, who publishes most of the Buffy criticism collections, will likely be on board.

Proposal Guidelines: Please send a 350-500 word summary of your proposed essay pasted into your email, along with a short professional bio or cover letter.

Direct inquiries and proposals can be sent to Valerie Estelle Frankel, pop culture author and professor, at valerie at calithwain.com with a subject of WHEDON SUBMISSION.

Abstracts are due Aug 31, Complete papers Nov 30, 2014.

Essays on both canon and “less official” Whedon comics are welcome, as are comparisons between Whedon comics and other comics or other Whedon works. Discussion of comic conventions from canon to art to gender issues are also appreciated.  Other areas, like comparing Whedon’s Avengers movie, Agents of SHIELD, Doctor Horrible, or other shows to comics are also possible. On the shows, Buffy is compared to Spider-Man, Superman and Power Girl, Angel is compared to Batman so much Boreanaz was offered the role, Dark Willow parallels Dark Phoenix, Cordy and Fred are called Wonder Woman, and Xander and Giles are compared to Jimmy Olsen and Alfred…there’s paper material there, too. This anthology welcomes established Whedon scholars as well as enthusiastic new writers.

Which comics are Whedon’s? Canon comics include the following Whedon products (as Whedon wrote or supervised them).

 

BUFFYVERSE

Fray

Tales of the Slayers

Tales of the Vampires

Buffy: The Origin (reprinted in Buffy Omnibus 1)

Angel: Long Night’s Journey (#1-4) (reprinted in Angel: Omnibus 1)

“Always Darkest” (reprinted in Myspace Dark Horse Presents #4 or available online)

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight (Whedon wrote #1-5, 10, 11, 16-19)

Angel: After the Fall, Angel: The End, and spin-offs

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Nine (Whedon wrote #1-2)

Angel & Faith

Buffy Season Ten and Angel & Faith Vol. 2  2014-

See http://valeriefrankel.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/a-guide-to-the-buffy-and-angel-comics/ for a more elaborate Buffyverse comics guide and reading order.

X-MEN

Astonishing X-Men vol. 3: (#1-24) & Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1 (reprinted as the collections Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, Dangerous, Torn, Unstoppable)

“Teamwork” (in Giant Size X-Men #3, available online)

SERENITY

Serenity: Those Left Behind

Serenity: Better Days

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale

“Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 – It’s Never Easy” (available online) by Zack Whedon

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon

DOCTOR HORRIBLE

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories by Zack Whedon

DOLLHOUSE

Epitaphs by Andrew Chambliss, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen

OTHER

“Some Steves” (in Stan Lee Meets The Amazing Spider-Man #1)

Runaways vol. 2 (#25-30) (reprinted as Dead End Kids)

Superman/Batman #26 (p. 20-21)

Sugarshock 1-3 (reprinted in Myspace Dark Horse Presents #1)

 

Please contact Valerie Estelle Frankel at valerie @ calithwain.com with any questions.

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A Guide to the Buffy and Angel Comics

A guide to the Buffy and Angel comics follows:

Buffy: Omnibus 1-7

Angel: Omnibus 1&2

Spike: Omnibus

(These are basically noncanon, though Buffy 1 and Spike have parts that are considered canon, and Whedon wrote part of Angel 1. They take place mostly within the television shows.)

 

Angel: After the Fall Series from IDW (continues after the television show):

          Spike: After the Fall by Brian Lynch

  1. Angel: After the Fall by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
  2. Angel: First Night by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
  3. Angel: After the Fall by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
  4. Angel: After the Fall by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch
  5. Angel: Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong
  6. Angel: Last Angel in Hell by Brian Lynch

 

  1. Angel: Immortality for Dummies by Bill Willingham
  2. Angel: Crown Prince Syndrome by Bill Willingham
  3. Angel: The Wolf, The Ram, and The Heart by David Tischman

(These three volumes are also available as Angel: The End).

 

Spike: The Complete Series by Brian Lynch

Angel: Only Human by Scott Lobdell

Angel: The John Byrne Collection

Illyria: Haunted by Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner

(The canon on these is a bit more muddled.)

 

Buffy Comics

Fray (a slayer of the far future, should be read anytime before Buffy Season Eight)

Tales of the Slayers

Tales of the Vampires

 

Buffy Season Eight

This follows Angel: After the Fall (despite publication dates), but this could be explained by the slayers taking time to set up their base before the action begins.

 

8.1 The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon

8.2 No Future for You by Vaughan & Whedon

8.3 Wolves at the Gate by Drew Goddard

8.4 Time of Your Life by Loeb, Whedon & Moline

8.5 Predators and Prey by Jane Espenson

8.6 Retreat by Loeb, Whedon & Moline

8.7 Twilight by Meltzer, Whedon, & Moline

8.8 Last Gleaming by Whedon, Espenson, and Allie

 

Buffy Season Nine and Angel & Faith

These are all roughly concurrent with crossovers, published 2012-2013

 

9.1 Freefall by Joss Whedon

9.2 On Your Own by Andrew Chambliss

9.3 Guarded by Andrew Chambliss

9.4 Welcome to the Team by Andrew Chambliss

9.5 The Core by Karl Moline

Angel & Faith 1: Live Through This by Christos Gage

Angel & Faith 2: Daddy Issues by Christos Gage

Angel & Faith 3: Family Reunion by Christos Gage

Angel & Faith 4: Death and Consequences by Christos Gage

Angel & Faith 5: What You Want, Not What You Need by Christos Gage

Willow: Wonderland by Jeff Parker

Spike: A Dark Place by Victor Gischler

 

Buffy Season Ten and Angel & Faith Vol. 2 2014-

All of these listed are the “canon comics” (as in, Joss Whedon endorsed them as being a “real” part of the Buffyverse story, according to him). Semi-canon comics include those not endorsed but with characters that appear in the canon stories, like Brian Lynch’s Spike comics in the first Spike omnibus.

Obviously, there are additional licensed Buffy comics, collected in Buffy: Omnibus 1-7, Angel: Omnibus 1&2, and Spike: Omnibus. While Whedon has announced he didn’t have much chance to supervise them, his office would approve the concepts. Some comics were written by Whedon’s core scriptwriters, as Doug Petrie wrote Ring of Fire, Double Cross, and Bad Dog, while Jane Espenson wrote comics Haunted, Jonathan, and Reunion. James Marsters wrote the Buffy comic “Paint the Town Red.” Amber Benson co-authored Willow & Tara. Many other top authors have participated in the Buffyverse.

 

JUST TO HAVE THEM ALL IN ONE PLACE, THE OTHER WHEDON COMICS:

X-MEN

Astonishing X-Men vol. 3: (#1-24) & Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1 (reprinted as the collections Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, Dangerous, Torn, Unstoppable)

“Teamwork” (in Giant Size X-Men #3, available online)

SERENITY

Serenity: Those Left Behind

Serenity: Better Days

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale

“Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 – It’s Never Easy” (available online) by Zack Whedon

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon

DOCTOR HORRIBLE

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories by Zack Whedon

DOLLHOUSE

Epitaphs by Andrew Chambliss, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen

OTHER

“Some Steves” (in Stan Lee Meets The Amazing Spider-Man #1) by Joss Whedon

Runaways vol. 2 (#25-30) (reprinted as Dead End Kids) by Joss Whedon

Superman/Batman #26 (p. 20-21) by Joss Whedon

Sugarshock 1-3 (reprinted in Myspace Dark Horse Presents #1) by Joss Whedon

 

Happy Reading!

 

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Thoughts on Game of Thrones 4.9 “The Watchers on the Wall”

The hour battle was to my mind, quite unsatisfying. It was attempting the epic splendor of Blackwater, but that episode in itself resolved many plots as Joffrey, Sansa, Cersei, Tyrion, Pod, Stannis, Davos, and more all were tested in battle, with an uncertain outcome. In this episode, did anyone really think the Wildlings would destroy the Wall and everyone on it? Even the Watch seem rather confident. Also, there were very few main characters – no one liked Janos Slynt, so having him revealed as a coward does little. Ygritte and Gilly each get plot resolution, and Jon and Sam are tested in battle, as are many unimportant minor characters. But really, that’s it. There’s an hour of violence, and at the end, Jon says nothing was accomplished and another similar battle will happen the next night. So really, what was the point?

If the season is retelling all of book three there’s a LOT left for the final episode (no spoilers ahead): Jon Snow must deal with Mance and the Watch must defend the Wall again (as set up at episode’s end).

Other plots that need wrapping up include Arya and the Hound, Bran and his quest north (the episode is called The Children [of the Wood] after all), Tyrion and his family who must sentence him to death now.

Other characters like Margaery/Tommen, Bronn, Missandei/Grey Worm or Cersei/Jaime could conceivably have quick character scenes. Fans of the books will expect to see Stannis and company resolve his plot and Castle Black choose another commander (though perhaps this last will wait for season four). Lady Stoneheart is meant to arrive. And with all this going on, Daenerys surely needs to do something (though she sure hasn’t since taking Meereen). Quaithe was advertised as appearing in season four, so it’s likely she’ll come to Daenerys and point her in a direction for the next season.

Brienne and Pod are actually only supposed to start on their quest in book four, but thus far nothing at all has happened – a lackluster season arc for them. Theon and the Boltons feel like they had a decent season arc…they’re already in book five’s plot, but they actually disappear for books three and four, so this is understandable. Many fans were expecting a lot more from Asha/Yara Greyjoy and her dad –she ended the last season powerfully vowing to bring her brother home and a single scene with a single failed attempt is all she’s given us. (Of course, she has a book four arc, which may not start off till next season.) In fact Sansa Robin and Littlefinger, Lady Olenna, Ser Jorah’s banishment, and Oberyn’s quest for revenge feel like the only plots that have done their full arc and are finished for the season. They (and Oberyn’s family back in Dorne) are all perfectly placed for the next book.

HBO’s schedule says the finale is 66 minutes and maybe all this material is why. “It’s the best finale we’ve ever done, bar none,” Thronesshowrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss said in a statement. “The performances from our cast, the direction from Alex Graves, the VFX work, the new [music] cues from Ramin Djawadi—all of it came together in perhaps the finest hour we’ve produced. We’re immensely proud of ‘The Children.’ And a little intimidated by the episode, because now we have to get back to the business of season five and figure out a way to top it.”

Lots of us expect a wham in King’s Landing, but for veteran book fans who weren’t at all shocked by the Mountain and Viper’s book-accurate battle, it might be nice to offer a brief surprise. Meereen has stopped dead, Arya and the Hound is heavily set up and won’t surprise people much, and Bran and his friends aren’t being that interesting, but maybe there’s a twist coming. We can hope.

 

Free Giveaway now-Jun 30: The nonfiction fan guides to the bestselling series Women in Game of Thrones & Symbols in Game of Thrones https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/95141-women-in-game-of-thrones-power-conformity-and-resistance and

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/90930-symbols-in-game-of-thrones-the-deeper-meanings-of-animals-colors-seaso

 

Also out now: How Game of Thrones Will End. This series of silly answers is on sale at http://www.amazon.com/How-Game-Thrones-Will-End-ebook/dp/B00KNKD3SI by award-winning parody author Valerie Estelle Frankel. Perfect for book or show fans. It offers many different possible endings to the show, based in War of the Roses, Lord of the Rings, and Martin’s many other influences.

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City of Heavenly Fire Low-Spoiler Review

City of Heavenly Fire, the conclusion to the New York Times best-selling The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare has hit stores this week. At last Izzy-Simon, Magnus-Alec, Jocelyn-Luke, Maia-Jordan, and above all Jace-Clary resolve their relationships once and for all. With, yes, the steamy moments fans have long awaited.

The story is predictable in itself — book three saw tiny helpless Clary defeating her powerful father, steeped in dark magic, with a little misdirection and her magic power of drawing. Now as her evil brother raises his own army, could it be doubted she’d do the same thing once again? She and her friends, betrayed by bureaucratic adults and treacherous allies, descend into darkness once again, determined to save the world. They succeed, though as always, there are shocking costs. We have more classic heroine’s journey, more identity conflicts for Magnus and Jace, more Bible quotes and demon lore as the characters learn for the thousandth time that adults are untrustworthy and Sebastian is a slimeball.

The story has taken strange turns because of its sister-series: this book ties in a great deal of its prequel, Clockwork Princess, as after 150 years, Tessa and Jem find a way to be together and allude to their future watching over their descendants and kinfolk. Magnus alludes repeatedly to his short story collection, encouraging readers to go buy all the individual ebooks. With all this, it’s only surprising there’s no movie poster included. City of Heavenly Fire also introduces the main characters of the next series — Dark Artifices — and their conflict; we have a girl whose parents die mysteriously and her soulmate she’s forbidden to love in a tragic romance already begun. Emma Carstairs is foster sibling to the many Blackthorn children – they include a reclusive genius, an adoptive father to an unmanageable brood, children trained at arms who saw their parents die, a young woman outcast for being part-fairy and her lesbian lover, a rider of the Wild Hunt, and now, their distant uncle as guardian. The conflicts are all laid out. While readers can respect the larger world of history and space Clare’s universe now covers (with Institutes under attack across the world and new dimensions to explore), the book comes perilously close to establishing all its spinoffs more than telling its own tale. The Blackthorns are central, and other series that have written long generational sagas have risked losing interest as the characters get more peripheral (though admittedly, the Blackthorns are charming and offer plenty of material — their story offers a great deal). Clary and Jace will undoubtedly pop in on them, as their friends will.  Tessa and Jem are all prepared.

Not to spoil too much, but the ending was a bit too pat — the characters managed to have their cake and eat it too. This is a defensible choice for a YA series, and certainly, we didn’t want to lose our beloved characters, but it’s surprising how many happy couples — not just characters — managed to weather everything and stay together. Yes it’s a fantasy, but it’s a pretty dreamy one.

 

Also, those who haven’t seen the epilogue cartoon, available in Australia, visit this site:  http://tmiaustralia.blogspot.com/2014/06/comic-strip-at-end-of-australian.html

My book Myths and Motifs of The Mortal Instruments by Valerie Estelle Frankel (Aug 6, 2013) is in stores now!

With vampires, fairies, angels, teen romance, steampunk, and modern New York all in one series, Cassandra Clare is exploding onto the scene. This book explores the deeper world of the Shadowhunters:
· Parabatai, Nephilim, blessings, and runes
· Lucifer, Ithuriel, Lilith, Agramon, and other angels and demons
· Ancient legends of werewolves, vampires, and fairyfolk
· Clare’s clever Easter eggs from pop culture and literature
· The classic heroine’s journey
· Muslim angels, Hindu prayers, the Jewish Book of Raziel, and the Christian Grail
There’s something for every teen, as this book reveals unseen lore within the bestselling series.

 

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The Women of “The Princess and the Queen”

 

This week my new book Women in Game of Thrones hits stores. In celebration, I wanted to do a post on Martin’s women who didn’t make the book: the women of his novella “The Princess and the Queen,” which takes place centuries before our heroes in A Song of Ice and Fire.

            The plot is simple: King Viserys I dies, having made all his lords swear fealty to his daughter Rhaenyra. As the book puts it, “The late king had chosen her as his successor … hundreds of lords and knights had done obeisance to the princess in 105 AC, and sworn solemn oaths to defend her rights” (706). However, his widow, Queen Alicent, favors her own son Aegon, wedded to her own daughter Helena, over her stepdaughter, and convinces many on the Small Council that a son should supersede a daughter. Thus a civil war begins…with dragons. All this is told through a stuffy chronicler, history-book style rather than as a novel.

This is indeed a war of princess and queen as the title suggests, and the depiction of each is notable. Queen Alicent is as scheming as Circe. When her son refuses to take the throne, she points out that his half-sister will slaughter his siblings and children to eliminate those with a stronger claim. Thus the dowager’s manipulations bring about the slaughter. Through the story she appears conniving and power-hungry, even as she operates behind the scenes.

Her rival, Rhaenyra, with the prior claim to the throne, is framed as monstrous. She’s repeatedly called a bitch and most often a “whore.” The first arguments against her claiming the throne is that with her “wanton ways” she will turn King’s Landing into an immoral place (706). Her bastard children will try to inherit, and her husband will be the true power. In this, numerous double standards apply – her rival, Aegon II is “with a paramour” when his father’s death is announced. Yet he is framed as a benevolent figure, who refuses to steal his sister’s birthright until his own brothers and children are threatened. No one in the entire story (except, subtly, his wife) complains about his wanton behavior. He has presumably abandoned or concealed any bastards, in contrast to his sister who unabashedly raises them openly as her heirs. For this responsible act, she is condemned. (Similarly, in A Game of Thrones, Ned raises his bastard, while negligent Robert abandons all of his.)

Another double standard emerges when she’s frankly judged on her appearance: Once Rhaenyra was beloved, “though how many would still fight for her, now that she was a woman wed, her body aged and thickened by six childbirths, was a question none could answer” (712-713). It could be argued that the chronicler or the minds of the time are sexist, more than the novella’s author. However, the word choice used is strongly slanted and emphasizes the gender war occurring: “Every symbol of legitimacy belonged to Aegon…and he was male, which in the eyes of many made him the rightful king, his half sister the usurper” (712, italics added).

Other characters in the novella suffer the same: House Arryn “could not be relied upon [a phrase used for flighty people] for the Eyrie was presently ruled by a woman, Lady Jeyne, the Maiden of the Vale [her martial status is central to her identity], whose own rights might be called into question should Princess Rhaenyra be put aside” [her gender is her defining characteristic and motivator]. Only at the sentence’s end is it made clear she’s unreliable because of her politics, not the nature of her gender. By contrast, the male-led House Baratheon is described in the next paragraph as “staunch in support of the claims” of the family, a far more masculine label. A prophet later insists, “Your wives will dance in gowns of fire, shrieking as they burn, lewd and naked underneath the flames” (761). The husbands of course are described in a nonsexual manner.

Feminist TV makes a fair point in its defense of Cersei, a point that applies to Princess Rhaenyra as well:

 I would never proclaim that Cersei Lannister is a “good person”; she is cruel, conniving, and callous. She often acts impulsively based on her passions, and is occasionally blinded by the love she bears for her children and her twin brother Jaime… . However, I would very much say that Cersei is operating in the same value system as the vast majority of characters in this world… . But here’s the thing; most of these “corrupt value system” characters are men, and are therefore seen as “bad-asses,” “heroes,” or “rebels.” Meanwhile, Cersei gets labeled “bitch,” “terrible and whiny,” and “stupid whore” (all quotes taken from various Tumblr conversations). Want to know why? Hint: misogyny! Female characters are traditionally singled out and held to vastly different standards than male characters are, mostly because society at large teaches us that double standards are a- ok (spoiler alert—not true). So while Tywin, Tyrion, and Jaime Lannister get to be cool rebel dudes, Cersei is viewed with an amount of contempt and hatred that’s actually rather shocking (“In Defense of Cersei Lannister”).

Internet fans name Cersei “mean,” “whiny,” and a “bitch.” However, she is no harsher than Tywin, who is often admired for his viciousness. As she voices complaints about powerlessness that echo the misery of Tyrion, Robb, and Jon, she should not be condemned gender- specifically. The author concludes, “Using gendered slurs, even when talking about fictional women, matters. It matters because it propagates a way of thinking and describing women that is deeply and historically sexist. So love Cersei or hate her. Just don’t call her a bitch [“In Defense of Cersei Lannister”]. As all her stepbrothers, the commonfolk, and the story’s description depict Rhaenyra in the same terms, with constant jabs at her aggression, lewdness, and physical body, the same situation emerged, showing much about her people. Basically, every single character appears misogynist, including chronicler and author.

While Rhaenyra insists on her rights, she is unable to claim the throne because she’s on Dragonstone giving birth. The actual birth scene is grotesque: Her “black fury” at the usurpation “seemed to bring on the birth, as if the babe inside her were angry too, and fighting to get out” She curses all her family and the child, which she calls a “monster.”

 

“The princess shrieked curses all through her labor, calling down the wroth of the gods upon her half brothers and their mother the queen, and detailing the torments she would inflict upon them before she would let them die. She cursed the child inside her too. “Get out,” she screamed, clawing at her swollen belly as her maester and her midwife tried to restrain her. ”Monster, monster, get out, get out, GET OUT!”  “When the babe at last came forth, she proved indeed a monster: a stillborn girl, twisted and malformed with a hole in her chest where her heart should have been and a stubby, scaled tail” (711). 

 

The monstrous baby seems a reflection of Rhaenyra’s inner rage and monstrousness, while this evil birth is nearly as foul as Melisandre’s shadow babe. “The patriarchy feared the feminine in connection with her role in birthing and dying even more than in her association with sex” (George 222). Birth, a mystery beyond man’s sphere, thus became demonized, a hideous unholy rite like Melisandre’s, used to kill the good and innocent.

 Giving birth to a shadow creature appears to be a female-only power, requiring a womb. However, the feminine birth power is subverted: she creates a force of evil that enables Stannis to kill his closest relative and frames the good women Brienne and Catelyn for the death (in the books, she then births a second shadow creature to kill a loyal retainer of House Baratheon who’s protecting Robert’s innocent bastard son). As such, the most primal female power is depicted as twisted, vile, and obscene. Aside from Daenerys’s monstrous miscarriage, this is the only birth scene shown until Gilly’s child arrives in season three. (Frankel 134)

 Daenerys actually has a similar birth scene, with her ambition to save Drogo nearly killing her, as her child too is monstrous:

“He turned his face away. His eyes were haunted. “They say the child was …” She waited, but Ser Jorah could not say it. His face grew dark with shame. He looked half a corpse himself. 

“Monstrous,” Mirri Maz Duur finished for him. The knight was a powerful man, yet Dany understood in that moment that the maegi was stronger, and crueler, and infinitely more dangerous. ”Twisted. I drew him forth myself. He was scaled like a lizard, blind, with the stub of a tail and small leather wings like the wings of a bat. When I touched him, the flesh sloughed off the bone, and inside he was full of graveworms and the stink of corruption. He had been dead for years.” (I.756)

 

Martin appears to dislike birth, one of the world’s few gender-specific actions. Melisandre’s shadow-birth is a vile perversion. Cersei treasonously kills her child with Robert before it’s born. Lyanna (most likely) and Dalla die in childbirth, like Tyrion’s mother. Lysa Arryn loses so many babies that she grows irrational and breastfeeds her seven-year-old child. Gilly and her babe survive, but they are the children of incest and the baby is destined for the White Walkers.

            The birth scene and depiction of Rhaenyra are not the only problems. Throughout the novella, many wimpy women appear – victims of the story’s men or even of the romanticism than objectifies them. Queen Helaena, sister-wife of King Aegon, is a pitiful figure. She’s not seen making decisions about the succession or the realm – in fact, the only time she makes a decision, her choice destroys her forever. On a mission of assassination and revenge, a pair of cruel thugs from Flea Bottom bid her choose one of her sons to die (ignoring the less valuable daughter except to threaten rape). She chooses the younger, and the men spitefully strike off the elder’s head. After this, Helaena withdraws from life and sinks “deeper and deeper into madness” (722). When her husband and children flee the palace, they leave her behind for the enemy. While her children’s deaths spur Rhaenyra to fight harder, Helaena and her powerful dragon become worthless noncombatants. She commits suicide at age twenty-one, despairing.

            As with the wolves and the Starks, her dragon seems to have inherited the rage she has sublimated. Dreamfyre kills more men in the dragonpits than the other three dragons combined, “ripping men apart and tearing off their limbs even as she loosed her terrible fires” (765). Nonetheless, the dragon dies, her rage leaving the world just as her mistress does.

            The women’s roles are romanticized, as Helaena is set up as the tragic Ophelia, abused until she goes mad. Her pain is shown at a distance, with none of the dialogue that Rhaenyra offers. Likewise, “In Flea Bottom, men still speak of a candlemaker’s daughter named Robin who cradled the broken prince [Joffrey] in her arms and gave him comfort as he died, but there is more of legend than history in that tale” (763). She does not even rate a word of her own.

            Nettles, a street child near Dragonstone, actually tames the wild dragon Sheepstealer by bringing it a freshly slaughtered sheep each morning. Though she’s skinny, foul-mouthed, filthy and fearless, her abilities win her a place among the lords and ladies…she seems much like Arya, clever and bold. At the same time, however, her mysterious origin (she may or may not have Targaryen blood) and the terribly distant depiction of her make her more puzzle than character – a mystery woman archetype rather than a person.

            She fights valiantly, but when she has an affair with Rhaenyra’s husband, the irrational, raging queen orders her death. The queen condemns her for high treason as she’s “said to have become Prince Daemon’s lover.” Once more the doublestandard appears, as she adds, “No harm is to be done to my lord husband” (752). Nettles flies far away and is never seen again. Nettles ends their romance on a tragedy, but exists the mystery woman from first to last. She does not challenge the queen or her royal spouse, but silently accepts exile, covered in blood with cheeks “stained with tears” (753). Her lover sacrifices himself in battle rather than return to his wife and they are thus sentimentalized. In fact, ballads sing that Nettles and her prince were reunited in an unrealistic happy ending. Brash, brilliant Nettles’ greatest achievement and most significant story arc is in the bedroom, not the battlefield.

            Alys Rivers, paramour of Prince Aemond (himself the brother of Aegon II), is another clichéd female, this time the perfect lover and seer. She persuades the prince to offer mercy upon receiving bad news from a messenger, then sees in a mountain pool, a storm cloud and a fire, that his enemy awaits him. She rides with her lover on his dragon, “her long hair streaming black behind her, her belly swollen with child” in another glamorized image (754). She is the perfect helpmeet and caregiver even while warning her lover of the future and carrying his child. She is all things to him: support system, lover, mother, and seer.  

            Finally, Baela Targaryen, daughter of Prince Daemon and Lady Laena, defends her island of Dragonstone from King Aegon II. Her mount is the young Moondancer, “pale green, with horns and crest and wingbones of pearl” (781). Swift and agile as her rider, she and Baela have no chance against the larger, older Sunfyre, but battle him to a draw—Moondancer dead, Sunfyre dying. The men of the castle immediately take her to the healer, awed by her courage. She is brave, beautiful, silent, and idealized once more.

            Other characters are strong and powerful, set apart from the unrealistic, muzzled ideals of womanhood. Princess Rhaenys is “five-and-fifty, her face lean and lined, her silver hair streaked with white, yet fierce and fearless as she had been at two-and-twenty” (712). She herself contended for the throne with her brother Viserys, but the (male) lords of the Small Council favored the male claimant, by twenty to one, the exact situation that befalls her niece Rhaenyra. She is “The Queen Who Never Was” and one of the first to die heroically in battle. Her dragon is the ferocious “Red Queen.” Queen Alicant is likewise a force of strength in the series, raising her daughter’s little boy when she goes mad, and defending the city after her son is injured. Both women offer dialogue in council and elsewhere, sharing their thoughts with the readers and growing beyond glamorized images.

            When her stepdaughter conquers King’s Landing, Alicent is bound in golden fetters, like female archetypes and goddesses as far back as Hera (who like Alicent committed treason because she didn’t know “her place”). Rhaenyra spares her life “for the sake of our father, who loved you once,” while beheading the Small Council. While a kind gesture, it also emphasizes a woman’s proper place as the king’s beloved.

            Rhaenyra, despite her strength, ends the story by going as power-hungry and paranoid as Cersei. Her enemy, Prince Aemond, says, “Rhaenyra may call herself a queen, but she has a woman’s parts, a woman’s faint heart, and a mother’s fears” (740).  Her Cersei-like irrationality leads her to condemn her allies to death on suspicion of treachery, until she loses control of the city and her hero-son Joffrey. “The girl that they once cheered as the Realm’s Delight had grown into a grasping and vindictive woman, men said, as cruel as any queen before her” (741). They name her “King Maegor with Teats.” When the mob storms the Dragonpits, she insists, “They are vermin. Drunks and fools and gutter rats. One taste of dragonflame and they will run” (762). She is terribly, destructively wrong.  

            Although Rhaenyra is in armor, when she sits on the Iron Throne at last, those present witness the throne leaving several cuts on her legs and left hand. The dripping blood is taken as a sign that the throne had rejected her; her days as ruler would be few. This woman, is not suited to sit the throne and the realm must await her heroic brother, the true king. In a less-than-subtle metaphor, as her people rebel, the queen was “clutching so desperately at the Iron Throne that both her hands were bloody” (760).

            Even her dragon grows irrational, descending to attack the mob at the Dragonpit instead of attacking them from the air or flying away. After her dragon’s death, the queen dies horribly, cursing her brother Aegon II as his dragon devours her in six bites. Only her terrified, babied son, a Robin Arryn type “like a small pale shadow” called Aegon the Younger (776), rather than a hero, survives.

            The queen and the princess thus fought a mighty war, destroying most of the Targaryen dynasty and soon killing off the dragons forever. Both lost nearly all their children, emphasizing the tragic waste caused by female pride and ambition. Their sons are left to claim the throne (Aegon II, then Aegon the Younger) and a law is passed that never again can a queen rule Westeros. Females are thus put in their place.  

 

Works Cited

Frankel, Valerie Estelle. Women in Game of Thrones: Power, Conformity and Resistance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2014. 

George, Demetra. Mysteries of the Dark Moon: The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

 “In Defense of Cersei Lannister” Feminist TV. http://feministtv.tumblr.com/post/51697770740/in-defense-of-cersei-lannister

Martin, George R.R. “The Princess and the Queen,” Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. New York: Tor, 2013. 703-784.

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Hugo Nominations

Not sure who to nominate? There are many lists up:

http://hugo-recommend.livejournal.com/

http://www.writertopia.com/awards/campbell

http://ladybusiness.dreamwidth.org/66250.html

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/02/05/the-2014-sff-fans-award-recommendation-thread

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/01/03/sff-authorseditorsartistsfans-2014-award-awareness-post/

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AstILUdrNYINdGdGYU5nOWZKd1M1M3Y2OC1ZSm5XakE&usp=sharing#gid=17

 

In the world of self-promotion, I must add that many of my nonfiction works are eligible for the Hugo for best related work. I’ve made two of them free for the next short while for anyone who would like to try them:

Winning the Game of Thrones: The Host of Characters and their Agendas

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/315593

Free with coupon code HM23E or available in paperback with many reviews athttp://www.amazon.com/Winning-Game-Thrones-Characters-Agendas/dp/0615817440

Doctor Who – The What, Where, and How: A Fannish Guide to the TARDIS-Sized Pop Culture Jam

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/405591

Free with coupon code PU82T  or available in paperback with many reviews at

http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-Fannish-TARDIS-Sized-Culture/dp/0615922430

Many thanks for reading!

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Hugo and Nasfic award for 2013 YA and Middle Grade Recommendations

This year Detcon1 (this year’s NASFiC) is offering an award for Young Adult/Middle Grade SF/F books.

There are many worthy series and novels out right now—YA is getting bigger and bigger with lots of Steampunk, fairytales, and dystopias right now. In the last eleven years, two children’s books have won the Hugo Award for Best Novel against all sf and f novels, kids and adult: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2001) and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2009). (Gaiman’s Coraline won as Best Novella in 2003.) So show your support for YA/Middle Grade, and start nominating! These books are also all eligible for the Hugo Award for best novel, and some really deserve it!

Your own comments/recommendations are welcome here of course.

Books I enthusiastically recommend:

These are fun for adults as well as teens and really something special in the spec fic world. As for my taste, I like epic fantasy, retold fairytales, and some steampunk but mostly I don’t like the teen books that feel like literature lite, with shallow, vapid prose and a love triangle as the main plot. Nonwestern fantasy and action heroines are a plus, but basically, I like the story to be as dense and interesting as adult novels. Humor’s good too. Here are some I found really exceptional:

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

With Valente’s typical poetic beauty, a rough-and-tumble Snow White sets off adventuring through the old west. Unlike anything ever, and that takes talent.

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger

A delightful steampunk comedy of manners with vampires, werewolves, and a finishing school for accomplished spies. Fun and funny, for a younger crowd than Carriger’s previous romantic adventures.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

As a teen goes off to college, she must reconcile her geeky obsession with a beloved character, Simon Snow, with her desire to fit in and grow up. It’s a book for the fan in all of us and a sensation sweeping through the teen community.

Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices book 3) by Cassandra Clare

The author of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (this past summer’s hot teen movie) wraps up her steampunk trilogy delightfully—it’s sweet and romantic, epic, and roll-on-the-floor funny. The snarky, loving, tragic and conflicted teens drive the story as they’re caught in an atypical love triangle and battling the confines of their society.

(For normal Hugos, apparently there’s a part of the rules that allows an entire series to be nominated if the final book in said series was published and is eligible in its own year. I’d recommend this for The Infernal Devices, absolutely.)

Books I also recommend

Across A Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

The Scarlet Pimpernel retold in a pacific island dystopia, with a female hero battling the legacy of genetic engineering. Yes, she’s a bit teenagerish, but also a delightful mistress of disguise and subterfuge, like the original.

Pivot Point by Kasie West

A girl who can see into her future must look to see how her life will unfold—living with her mom among those with mental gifts or with her dad in the normal world. This “sliding doors” style double story has intriguing parallels and twists between the two adventures.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

This debut fantasy novel hails from south Sudan, for those seeking something a bit different. Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, sets out for Olondria, a land filled with books, unlike his own. Accompanied by a young girl’s ghost, he faces a civil war between rival cults as he struggles to understand the true magic of reading.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

After a nuclear winter, survivors in Brazil sacrifice their summer king eachc year. This dystopian debut explores society’s corruption as a soulful young artist is chosen.

The Girl with the Iron Touch (The Steampunk Chronicles book 3) by Kady Cross

This book wraps up a delightful, fast and funny steampunk romp in the style of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In this final adventure, the clever Irish mechanic who intuitively links with machines attempts to win her lover—the cyborg she created—as her misfit team of heroes battles to save the queen.

House of Hades

A new Percy Jackson, in the Roman series with more multiculturalism and more depth. This book featured a character coming out, and the typical web hullaballoo accompanying such things.

Inheritance by Malinda Lo

The author of the literature-sweeping “lesbian Cinderella” novel Ash brings out book two in her science fiction dystopia. Reese and David, adapted with alien DNA, are on the run for their lives as the heroine faces a love triangle with a girl as well as a boy. The author’s writing is warm, surprising, and delightful honest and personal.

Allegiant

Book three of the Divergent series wraps things up much as Mockingjay did—by turning everything on its head and revealing a far different revolution than the teen heroine was battling in the first two books. Epic and stunning. Book one will be this spring’s big teen movie.

(For normal Hugos, apparently there’s a part of the rules that allows an entire series to be nominated if the final book in said series was published and is eligible in its own year. I’d recommend this for The Divergent Series…I just liked the first two better.)

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

A startling and grisly adventure in a world of vampire segregation, in which a teen girl tries to overcome her guilt at the death of her mother.

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien became the prince’s champion in book one. Now in book two, her heart is torn between lovers, as plots spin from the court intrigue.

The Night Itself (The Name of the Blade #1)

by Zoë Marriott

A Japanese warrior-girl with her magic friends and magic katana. This fairytale adaptor brings adventure, magic and fun as the heroine quests on an epic adventure.

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson’s new series in the Mistborn world. It’s a superhero story of the Epics and the few ordinary people who battle them, packed with fast-paced adventure and excitement.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan 

Lady Isabella Trent, the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist, tells her diary-style account of a thrilling expedition amid romance and heart.

In the world of self-promotion, I must add that many of my nonfiction works are eligible for the Hugo for best related work. I’ve made two of them free for the next short while for anyone who would like to try them:

Winning the Game of Thrones: The Host of Characters and their Agendas

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/315593

Free with coupon code HM23E or available in paperback with many reviews at http://www.amazon.com/Winning-Game-Thrones-Characters-Agendas/dp/0615817440

Doctor Who – The What, Where, and How: A Fannish Guide to the TARDIS-Sized Pop Culture Jam

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/405591

Free with coupon code PU82T  or available in paperback with many reviews at

http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-Fannish-TARDIS-Sized-Culture/dp/0615922430

Many thanks for reading!

Leave a comment

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His Last Vow

The Title

The title plays with “His Last Bow,” Holmes’s final case in the short stories (though fans have been assured series four will happen). This also nods to his “last vow” in the previous episode – that he will protect John, Mary and their baby, no matter the cost.

Symbolism: Inner Life

Jungian psychology involves facing one’s dream imagery – the “little voices” of praise and criticism one finds deep within. Sherlock of course, encounters all these within his mind palace. There he is a small child again, and Mycroft is larger than life, censuring him about all the ways he’s wrong. Molly is Sherlock’s desperate, emotional need to live. Anderson pokes holes and criticizes. Encouraged to find a happy memory, he is young and carefree with his dog. He faces his fear – himself dead in a morgue – and the pain and shock of being shot.

At last Sherlock sinks into the basement of his palace, the place that reflects the subconscious. There, his greatest enemy Moriarty is chained. He represents the shadow – the raging, suppressed dark side of the personality. While many heroes avoid this facet of their deepest selves and refuse to face it, the shadow offers surprising strengths. Moriarty taunts Sherlock with his forthcoming death, and then finally reminds him that if he dies, John will be in terrible danger. At these words, Sherlock is galvanized. He drags himself up through his mind, stair by painful stair, back into the world of life.

This confrontation generally occurs in fiction in context of the hero’s journey – the hero dies or has a near-death experience and crosses over to a world of thought and imagination: Harry Potter at King’s Cross, Gandalf and the Balrog. Each time, the hero refuses to give up his destiny and returns to the world stronger, with new purpose. Thus Sherlock returns, and finally confronts the vile blackmailer.

Sherlock has more Jungian shadows than ever in this episode – people who observe in the same manner he does. Magnussen is the obvious one, with his mental dossiers much as Sherlock has. But Wiggins, Sherlock’s new assistant, is seen doing the same. Mary too has a similar skillset. Even Janine is using Sherlock the way he used her. With all these geniuses, each using Sherlock’s powers to commit immoral acts, Sherlock must become a hero – a knight who slays dragons, the champion of England … for a great threat is coming with the eastern wind.

The Story

In the original story, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,” Holmes negotiates with a seedy blackmailer to save a titled lady, Lady Eva Brackwell, in danger of having her marriage ruined by some imprudent letters. As Holmes describes him:

He is the king of all the blackmailers. Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation come into the power of Milverton. With a smiling face and a heart of marble he will squeeze and squeeze until he has drained them dry. The fellow is a genius in his way, and would have made his mark in some more savoury trade. His method is as follows: He allows it to be known that he is prepared to pay very high sums for letters which compromise people of wealth or position. He receives these wares not only from treacherous valets or maids, but frequently from genteel ruffians who have gained the confidence and affection of trusting women.

When Milverton won’t lower his price, Holmes resolves to break into his home and steal the letters, and Watson is determined to go along. They succeed in cracking the safe, but are interrupted when a different highborn lady slips in and murders Milverton for his crimes against her. Holmes and Watson burn all the letters, make a daring escape, and express to Lestrade over breakfast the next morning that Milverton’s murder won’t be solved by them.

In both stories, Watson is truly appalled when he discovers Sherlock has only been pretending to date a young woman and has even proposed, just to gain access to her boss. “Did you just get engaged just to get into an office,” John demands on the show. Sherlock blithely replies that he plans to confess and be dumped, thus everything will work out.

In the short story, the young woman is never seen, but on the show, Janine returns for a delightful revenge. Using the young lady, Sherlock breaks into Magnussen’s stronghold. As in the short story, he discovers he’s planned his burglary the same night the blackmailer’s victim has planned his murder. However, Mary doesn’t shoot Magnussen, but Sherlock. From there, Sherlock must work out a way to free his friends from the blackmailer’s slimy grip. He offers to betray his country to save them, selling state secrets as he does in “The Last Bow.” Both stories, of course, allow him to use this excuse to get close to the villain and end the threat to England in spectacular fashion.

Canon References

  • Sherlock says, “I’ve dealt with murderers, psychopaths. None of them can turn my stomach like Charles Augustus Magnussen.” In the original, Holmes calls Milverton “The worst man in London,” and adds that “he is as cunning as the Evil One.”
  • Milverton lives at Appledore Towers in the original, like the security vault’s name. His files and papers, neat little bundles of letters tied with ribbons, have been updated to a more elaborate system of storage.
  • The Jeremy Brett adaptation shows Milverton living in a “fortress” with an iron gate, much like Magnussen’s stronghold. The round glasses appear here, as well as in the original tale, but in Brett’s and the short story, he’s a pleasanter person.
  •  In the Brett version, Watson suggests getting involved in a scandal to drawn the blackmailer out. In the opium den, Sherlock seems to have a similar plan.
  • In the books, he signs his notes C.A.M., like the wedding telegram he sends in “The Sign of Three.”
  • Sherlock calls him the “Napoleon of blackmail,” just as Moriarty is the “Napoleon of crime.” This may also foreshadow the episode’s end.
  • Sherlock adds in the short story that “He will hold a card back for years in order to play it at the moment when the stake is best worth winning.” Certainly, C.A.M. is seen toying with Mary as he sends her a wedding telegram.
  • Magnussen sizes up people, not for their habits, but for their pressure points. Sherlock suggests at one point that the text the audience sees is actual text from the man’s spectacles, not the man’s thoughts as they are Sherlock’s. Both men have mind palaces, and seem to have similar skillsets, just ones they use quite differently.
  • The highborn lady in the original authorizes Holmes to act as her agent and buy back the imprudent letters she wrote to a man. This time, she wants the letters her husband wrote to a woman. These letters are described varyingly as “lively” and “sprightly” in the two versions.
  • John’s flashback war dreams parallel the very first moments of “A Study in Pink.” He also has a flashback to Sherlock’s lines from the first episode asking if he wants to see more action.
  • In the books, Mr. and Mrs. Watson sit happily at home, when there’s a ring at the door.

“Our own door flew open, and a lady, clad in some dark-coloured stuff, with a black veil, entered the room.
“You will excuse my calling so late,” she began, and then, suddenly losing her self-control, she ran forward, threw her arms about my wife’s neck, and sobbed upon her shoulder. “Oh, I’m in such trouble!” she cried; “I do so want a little help.”
“Why,” said my wife, pulling up her veil, “it is Kate Whitney. How you startled me, Kate! I had not an idea who you were when you came in.”
“I didn’t know what to do, so I came straight to you.” That was always the way. Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a light-house.

  • Her husband, Isa Whitney, is at an opium den. Watson goes to retrieve the man, and finds Sherlock prowling there, on a case (“The Man with the Twisted Lip”). This episode contains the same scene, followed by an extensive drug test for Sherlock. This time it’s “early” not late, and John guesses it’s her husband, but it’s her son “Isaac.”
  • Mycroft complains that their parents want to watch Oklahoma (or possibly visit there) and not join Sherlock for an intervention.
  • “It won’t be the first time your habit has interfered with their line dancing.” The parents and the drugs have both been introduced in previous episodes.
  • The Christmas celebration nods back to the one of “A Scandal in Belgravia.” Both times, Mycroft shows a loathing for the holiday.
  • “You were gone. I saw an opportunity,” Sherlock says of moving John’s chair. Both Sherlock and various criminals say this line or a similar one in the stories.
  • Later, Sherlock moves the chair back, possibly hinting that John is welcome to leave his wife and move back in. In the time between Sherlock’s collapse and the Christmas party (it’s unclear how much time has elapsed), Watson may do just that.
  • Sherlock met Janine at the wedding of the previous episode. She mentions she knows him better than anyone, and indeed, he was being very much his true self at the reception.
  • Sherlock notes that John’s gained seven pounds.

“It’s actually four pounds”
“No, I think seven.”

“Wedlock suits you,” he remarked. “I think, Watson, that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you.”
“Seven!” I answered.
“Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, I fancy, Watson. (“A Scandal in Bohemia”)

  • One of Watson’s pressure points is listed as the alcoholic sister (mentioned in several episodes), the other as his wife.
  • Sherlock’s porn preference is stated as “normal” (that seems uncharacteristic). His finances are “unknown” – this is constant with the stories. Though he appears to be an impoverished near-student in need of a roommate for a small three-room apartment in “A Study in Scarlet,” he uses bribery constantly as a tool and takes cabs throughout London. In fact, he shows very little instances of poverty outside of his introduction to Watson. After his fame increases, he mentions he’s become enormously well off and need never work again.
  • Sherlock’s pressure points appear a near-endless list – Irene Adler, Jim Moriarty, Redbeard, Hounds of the Baskerville, Opium, John Watson. Oddly, Mycroft is not listed – perhaps this villain only harms the most vulnerable.
  • Irene Adler does appear to be a pressure point for Sherlock, either because Magnussen knows she’s alive or because he knows Sherlock unwittingly helped her. Moriarty is less clear, unless he is in fact alive as well. Redbeard appears to be a dog and appears to be deceased, based on Mycroft’s previous remarks … could Redbeard be involved in some dark incident, like criminal charges or the mysterious story of the third Holmes sibling? Hounds of the Baskerville is also a puzzle – is this about Sherlock breaking in with government ID? Or keeping the project secret after the case? Or the far deeper secret that Sherlock fears losing his emotional distance more than anything? Sherlock has not been described as taking opium on the show, and in the books he assures Watson he’s not adding the drug to his other vices. This may be the drug he once used to take, and this episode also has a nod to the opium den case, “The Man with the Twisted Lip.” Watson as pressure point will become important by episode end.
  • Sherlock is visibly shaken at the reference to Redbeard. This story will probably emerge in series four.
  • Mycroft enlists Sherlock’s fan club to search for drugs, then threatens them with the British Secret Service … his political power is emphasized here. He appears to be in M.I.6. He does not have this role in the books, but has one like it in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Magnussen may reference the movie briefly when he refuses to offer Sherlock and John an expensive beverage. In the movie, Mycroft pours the two men a very expensive drink, as they so rarely visit. There’s also a very rare wine served in “His Last Bow” – Holmes and Watson share it after tying up their host.
  • Bill Wiggins goes from manager of a drug den to a homeless man who’s actually working for Holmes and calls himself Sherlock’s “protégé.” In the books, Wiggins is the head of the Baker Street Irregulars – a gang of street children, and Billy is Holmes’s pageboy. He may provide a new amusing character in the episodes to come.
  • In the story, Holmes says, “Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me. I’ve had to do with fifty murderers in my career, but the worst of them never gave me the repulsion which I have for this fellow.” Sherlock uses many of these words when comparing the updated villain to a shark in a tank.
  • Mrs. Hudson gets the door for their client, something she does constantly in the books and rarely so far on the show.
  • In the short story, Sherlock shops for burglary tools; on the show, he shops for a diamond ring.

JOHN:  We should call the police!
SHERLOCK:  During our own burglary? You’re really not a natural at this, are you?

  • In the short story, instead, Holmes says, “I can see that you have a strong natural turn for this sort of thing.”
  • Sherlock recognizes clare de lune perfume (and misses crucial foreshadowing when John mentions that Mary wears it). His perfume knowledge appears earlier and is referenced in the books: “There are seventy-five perfumes, which it is very necessary that a criminal expert should be able to distinguish from each other, and cases have more than once within my own experience depended upon their prompt recognition,” he says in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
  • The white supremacist guard may be a nod to “The Five Orange Pips.”
  • The evil white lights seen in “The Hounds of Baskerville” appear in Sherlock’s mind palace as he goes into shock. He also thinks briefly of Irene Adler and is taunted by Moriarty. There’s a childhood scene with his dog, who appears to be a pleasant memory. Mycroft as his judge returns from the previous episode.
  • Janine gets rid of the beehives in her new cottage, nodding to Sherlock’s retirement hobby.
  •  Mary keeps her background on a drive labeled A.G.R.A. – in the book she meets John because she’s seeking the great Agra treasure. The treasure is lost forever, and thus John feels able to court Mary, who’s no longer an heiress. By burning the A.G.R.A. disk, without reading it, this John feels he can have her back.
  • Sherlock tells John not to bring a gun on a dangerous adventure, then to bring a gun to his parents’ Christmas party. Bringing the gun is Watson’s job in the books.
  • John notes, “Try finding Sherlock in London.” In the books, he has boltholes and hiding places, with an amazing talent for disguises and friends in high and low places.
  • Their mother mentions if she finds the man who “put a bullet” in her boy, she’ll turn “absolutely monstrous.” She’s written the book The Dynamics of Combustion, which suggests explosives. Mr. Holmes mentions her genius directly after this, but Sherlock and Mycroft clearly get more than brains from the woman, who has a well-developed dark side. In the book series, Sherlock will eventually become an author as well.
  • Sherlock relies on Mary being clever. He’s done this with Irene and Moriarty on the show, and with several characters in the books.
  • There are flashbacks to Mary’s cleverness in the previous two episodes, as well as Magnussen’s bonfire trick.
  • “Sorry, I never could resist a touch of drama,” Sherlock tells Mary after posting her face on the side of a building. “My old friend here will tell you that I have an impish habit of practical joking. Also that I can never resist a dramatic situation,” he says in “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone.”
  • Sherlock stresses the abandoned buildings (seen in “The Empty House,” and appears to use the same strategy he uses in the short story, distracting his assailant with a bust of himself. In fact, the audience have been fooled, and John is the one hidden there.
  • In the books, Holmes burgles Milverton’s house and destroys his files. As he tells Watson, “Since it is morally justifiable I have only to consider the question of personal risk. Surely a gentleman should not lay much stress upon this when a lady is in most desperate need of his help?” This episode emphasizes Sherlock’s chivalry, as a “slayer of dragons” who loathes the bully who preys on the weak. In the original, he was prepared to brave jail for a titled lady who’s a near-stranger – How else then could he act this time with John, Mycroft, and a pregnant Mary is even worse danger?
  • Sherlock’s status as a high-functioning sociopath and the violence he’ll do when someone threatens his friends appear (remember the thugs who roughed up Mrs. Hudson).
  • In the previous episode, Sherlock made, as he calls it, “My first, and last, vow. Mary and John – whatever it takes, whatever happens, from now on, I swear I will always be there. Always.” In the episode, Sherlock is surprisingly kind to Mary, offering his help repeatedly. He makes sure John learns the truth, but counsels him to hear her out fairly, and points out John is less innocent than he had thought. Sherlock also appears to invite John over without telling him Mary’s coming to make them work out their problems. Sherlock appears to understand Mary – a brilliant, amoral person who nonetheless loves John and wants to protect him. As a final step in his vow, Sherlock actually chooses not to be there ever again…in return for saving Mary and John from the blackmailer.
  • “Give my love to Mary,” Sherlock says. “Tell her she’s safe now.” In his goodbye letter of “The Final Problem,” Sherlock writes, “My best to Mrs. Watson.”
  • In both stories, C.A.M. is convinced he’s foolproof and that no one will shoot him. He’s proven wrong.
  • JOHN: The Game is over. SHERLOCK: The game is never over, John. But there may be some new players now. This of course references their constant references to “the game is on.” Mary has the potential to be a fascinating player, as does this newer, harder John Watson.
  • Sherlock’s joke that he’s always wanted to tell John something echoes John’s words by Sherlock’s grave.
  • The spying in Eastern Europe Sherlock is to go on is straight from His Last Bow. Holmes notes in the story, “The Foreign Minister alone I could have withstood, but when the Premier also deigned to visit my humble roof – !” In the episode, the heads of the government send him off as well.
  • Mycroft actually references another brother, noting, “Look how the other one turned out.” The book Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by Baring-Gould creates a third brother, who became the family’s country squire. He’s named Sherrinford after one of Doyle’s rejected names for his hero. The film Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother (1975) is a farce about Siegerson, who blunders about and only thinks he’s a great detective. If there is a third brother, one presumes he will have a more serious story on Sherlock. It would be unsurprising to find he’s a criminal mastermind or died tragically.
  • Mycroft mentions a colleague who uses people as “blunt instruments” – this is M in Casino Royale.
  • Sherlock mentions he’s “William Sherlock Scott Holmes” if John needs a baby name. John says something similar in “A Scandal in Belgravia.” This may nod to Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch.
  • “William Sherlock Scott Holmes” is Sherlock’s name in the Wold Newton family, an experiment that connects fictional characters’ family trees. One of his descendants, for instance, is said to be Spock, on his human mother’s side. It’s also notable that the Holmes parents called their children “Mike” and “William” – only the boys create more complex identities.
  • Sherlock says he has a girl’s name. In fact, The Adventures of Shirley Holmes was a television show in Canada.
  • The line of the scary east wind, repeated several times, is from “His Last Bow,” a story that takes place on the eve of World War I: “There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.” This metaphor of trouble from the east means the war, but the promise of a better time to follow is reassuring for fans of Sherlock’s world.
  • Sherlock’s becoming a murderer was actually foreshadowed in the first episode.
  • Targeting lasers brush over Sherlock, as they did at the end of the first series. This time, however, they belong to his brother.
  • The question over last season’s break was “How did Sherlock survive St. Bart’s.” This time it’s “How did Moriarty survive St. Bart’s.”
  • Of course, there’s no evidence Moriarty is alive – this hoax could be put on by any number of villains (like the yet unseen Moran) or allies – Sherlock, Mycroft, Irene, Mary, or Sherlock’s fan club could have perpetuated a hoax to keep Sherlock in the country. The timing seems significant.

Actor Allusions

Young Sherlock in “His Last Vow” is Moffat’s younger son Louis.

British Culture

The Danish criminal seems to be attacking England itself – not just its ministers, but also its manners and rules of decent behavior. “You’re so domesticated. All standing around and apologizing. Keeping your little heads down,” he mocks. Holmes has an answer to this in “His Last Bow” when he tells a German agent, “The Englishman is a patient creature, but at present his temper is a little inflamed, and it would be as well not to try him too far.” In this episode he has an answer as well, as he confronts the bully at last.

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Canon References and Symbolism in The Sign of Three

Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC’s Series 1-3 by Valerie Estelle Frankel

has just gone on sale in paperback and ebook. To celebrate the U.S. premiere, I thought I’d post a sample of all the clever references in tonight’s episode….SPOILERS FOR TONIGHT AHEAD!

The Title

This riffs on the original story of a pact between four men who signed their documents with “The Sign of Four.” At episode’s end, Sherlock plays on this with his big reveal of the “sign of three.”

Symbolism: Sherlock’s Palace

GATISS: “[The Mind Palace] came about because I remember having in the midst – probably in Cornwall – in the midst of an absolute crisis of intractability, I said, ‘But he’s got to find out what it is, but he can’t just bloody look it up. What is it?’ and you said, ‘Why don’t we do a Mind Palace?’ ‘cause we’d both read Derren Brown’s book.”

RUSSELL TOVEY: “What, the Mind Palace isn’t a Conan Doyle thing?”
MOFFAT: “No, no. It’s a really interesting idea. It’s how you store information in your brain.”
GATISS: “Hannibal Lecter does it, and it’s a real idea.” (“The Hounds of Baskerville” DVD Commentary)

However, the creators couldn’t show more than superimposed text in “The Hounds of Baskerville” – doing otherwise would be too expensive.

The Mind Palace appears in “The Sign of Three” as a courtroom with Mycroft as the judge to Sherlock’s lawyer. The women Sherlock invites in play in a giant game of Guess Who? And stand like statues when he’s not using them – a perfect audience, barely alive to him. Mycroft is unimaginably tall and large, barking demands which only serve to confuse Sherlock and disorient him, as shown by his behavior during his wedding speech – the most disconcerted he’s ever appeared. Sherlock also mentions he’s plotted Mycroft’s death – their relationship is quite problematic. He finally dismisses Mycroft as the voice of his mind, insisting on Watson instead, with the words, “You keep me right.”

This seems to be a single room in his mind palace, yet it’s quite telling – He’s playing childish games and using people while Mycroft looms as the parent to Sherlock’s child. “Let’s play murder,” he says in the real world of the wedding. Sherlock rebelliously tells adult Mycroft, “I’m not a child anymore”: in fact a truly childish thing to say. Many references to Sherlock’s childishness appear in this episode:

 SHERLOCK (sitting down in his chair): You bring me tea in the morning?

MRS HUDSON (pouring the tea): Well, where d’you think it came from?!
SHERLOCK: I don’t know. I just thought it sort of happened.
MRS HUDSON: Your mother has a lot to answer for.
(She takes the cup and saucer over to him.)
SHERLOCK: Mm, I know. I have a list. Mycroft has a file.

MRS HUDSON (walking towards the door): I really am going to have a word with your mother.
SHERLOCK: You can if you like. She understands very little.

This may simply mean that Sherlock operates on a mental level far above her or it may relate to his relationship with her as a misunderstood child.

In this episode, John and Mary act somewhat like Sherlock’s parents – embarrassed by his impolite behavior yet also fighting for his needs when there’s a real crisis. In other episodes, John has also been overprotective of Sherlock, shooting the assailant in the first episode and hurling himself at Moriarty so Sherlock can escape in “The Great Game.” He tucks Sherlock into bed and is very protective of his feelings on discovering that Irene faked her death. Sherlock in turn acts completely panicked when John is threatened, showing that he might lose his only stability.

Before the wedding, Mary comforts Sherlock, pointing out that he shouldn’t be jealous of John’s having a friend before Major Sholto. All three work as a team to save the Major, entering a new level of partnership – a real “Sign of Three.”

Sherlock’s adult confusion at Irene Adler (possibly a frequent guest in his mind palace) and Janine the maid of honor appear here – in the final minutes he appears ready to ask the Janine for a dance before seeing she has someone already.

Another example of Sherlock’s childlike confusion appears during his first real conversation seen with a child:

SHERLOCK: Basically it’s a cute smile to the bride’s side, cute smile to the groom’s side and then the rings.
ARCHIE: No.
SHERLOCK: And you have to wear the outfit.
ARCHIE: No.
SHERLOCK: You really do have to wear the outfit.
ARCHIE: What for?
SHERLOCK: Grown-ups like that sort of thing.
ARCHIE: Why?
(Sherlock pauses for a moment.)
SHERLOCK:…I don’t know. I’ll ask one.
ARCHIE (thoughtfully): You’re a detective.
SHERLOCK: Yep.
ARCHIE: Have you solved any murders?
SHERLOCK: Sure. Loads.
ARCHIE: Can I see?
SHERLOCK (after only a momentary hesitation): Yeah, all right.

Sherlock implies that he understands being a boy but must consult a “real” adult on adult matters. He and Archie bond over gruesome case photos as Sherlock doesn’t sugar-coat or sensor the images as other adults would.

By the episode’s end he emphasizes his relationship with John and Mary, along with a hint of wistful jealousy:

SHERLOCK: Don’t panic. None of you panic. Absolutely no reason to panic.
JOHN: Oh, and you’d know, of course?
SHERLOCK: Yes I would. You’re already the best parents in the world, look at all the practice you’ve had.
JOHN: What practice?
SHERLOCK: Well, you’re hardly going to need me around now that you’ve got a real baby on the way. (“The Sign of Three”)

Canon References

  • Donovan warns Lestrade: “Jones’ll get all the credit if you leave now! You know he will!” Lestrade and Gregson spend the first episode battling to outdo each other on a case, and Jones is similar in “The Sign of Four.”
  • Holmes is shown getting on quite well with a little boy. On the show, he and the Baker Street Irregulars (a gang of street urchins) understand one another perfectly. This also works well as a nod to the film, Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, which details more about the relationship.
  • John references Harry and her drinking problem, mentioned in the first episode. He also mentions he’s seeing the psychiatrist less.
  • Wedding telegrams echo the original Holmes’s fondness for telegrams.
  • One telegram Sherlock reads says, “…Oodles of love and heaps of good wishes from C.A.M. Wish your family could have seen this.” Mary flinches. It appears she’s had dealings with Charles Augustus Magnussen (Milverton in the short story). This also hints at her family situation–Mary notes in flashback that she’s an orphan.
  • Sherlock reads a telegram from Mike Stamford, Watson’s former colleague at Barts, who introduced them.
  • When Sherlock is asked to be a best man, he’s confused and notes that a philanthropist (and occasional murderer) is the “best man” he knows:

JOHN: The best man.
SHERLOCK: The best man?
JOHN: What do you think?
SHERLOCK: Billy Kincaid.
JOHN: Sorry, what?
SHERLOCK: Billy Kincaid, the Camden Garroter. Best man I ever knew. Vast contributions to charity, never disclosed. Personally managed to save three hospitals from closure, and ran the best and safest children’s homes in North England. Yes, every now and again there’d be some garrotings, but, stacking up the lives saved against the garrotings, on balance I’d say…

This is a flip on the original line – “I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor.” (“The Sign of Four”)

  • Everyone warns Holmes that the relationship will change. This is the case in the books, as Watson loses track of many of Holmes’s cases and only drops in on his occasionally during his marriage. At the end of “The Sign of the Four,” Watson says, “I fear that it may be the last investigation in which I shall have the chance of studying your methods. Miss Morstan has done me the honor to accept me as a husband in prospective.”
  • Holmes replies with the line he repeats several times in the episode: “I really cannot congratulate you.” Of course, in the book he says it in private, and on the show, he amends his answer, and finally adds that he actually does congratulate them.
  • Holmes’s other line from original story is repeated: “Love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things” (“The Sign of the Four”). The wedding guests are not amused.
  • In the book Holmes is not seen attending the wedding – it’s uncertain that he even does so. It’s certainly believable that he would compose a violin piece, practice dancing until it’s exact, be immune to the bridesmaid’s charms (yet size up the men around them), catch a criminal during the reception, and then finally walk off alone into the darkness.
  • Speaking to young Archie, Sherlock says, ‘Get this right and there’s a headless nun in it for you.’ This nods to the series’ unaired pilot.
  • The cases mentioned in this one do not appear to be in the book: “The Hollow Client,” “The Matchbox Decathlete,” “The Mayfly Man,” “The Poison Giant,” “The Bloody Guardsman,” and “The Elephant in the Room.” The last of these appears to be just a play on words with the expression “elephant in the room,” except that “The Mystery of the Vanishing White Elephant” was a case in Basil Rathbone’s New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio show of the 1940s. “The Mayfly Man” and “The Bloody Guardsman” are solved in the course of this episode.
  • “The Mayfly Man” has elements of “A Case of Identity,” where a woman dates a mystery man who dumps her suddenly…it’s her own stepfather, scaring off suitors (This plot also appears in “The Empty Hearse”). Likewise in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,” Holmes starts “walking out” with a housemaid and even proposes marriage just to get information on the man she works for (foreshadowing the following episode). This is the actual solution.
  • Sherlock tells of “The Matchbox Decathlete” – a French decathlete found surrounded by 1,812 matchboxes, all empty except one. “The Inexplicable Matchbox” appears on John’s blog, There, he mentions Sherlock dressing as a clown and Mrs. Hudson being pushed from a helicopter. He’s unable to add details due to “Every Official Secrets Act.” This is adapted from the case “of Isadora Persano, the well-known journalist and duelist, who was found stark staring mad with a match box in front of him which contained a remarkable worm said to be unknown to science” (“The Problem of Thor Bridge”).
  • Lestrade hypothesizes a very small person with a blow-pipe snuck through the vents and murdered the soldier for “The Bloody Guardsman,” as Sherlock calls it. “The Poison Giant” has a similar plot. In “The Sign of Four,” Jonathan Small’s Pacific Islander accomplice fits this description, and this is actually how the murder was committed.
  • The locked room mystery death of “The Bloody Guardsman” also resembles “The Crooked Man” with a soldier out for revenge on another.
  • The Hollow Client is one of the cases on John’s blog, explained fully there.
  • There’s also the young woman who keeps hesitating on the pavement. Sherlock comments, “Oscillation on the pavement always means there’s a love affair.” “A Case of Identity” has the same line: “I have seen those symptoms before,” said Holmes, throwing his cigarette into the fire. “Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affaire de coeur. She would like advice, but is not sure that the matter is not too delicate for communication.”
  • The fan joke about Watson’s middle name appears again.

GATISS: “‘Hamish’ is from the Rathbone films, isn’t it?”
MOFFAT: “No. Doyle when he wrote these stories was appalling on continuity. Continuity was so bad, he once forgot Doctor Watson’s name and had his wife call him James. He’s called James for a whole story!”
CUMBERBATCH: “Maybe she just forgot the name!”
MOFFAT: “Someone came up with this brilliant theory that the middle name was Hamish – ‘cause it’s John H. Watson in the stories – and Hamish is the Scottish version of James, so she called him by his middle name.”

GATISS: “What’s great is, the lack of Doyle’s continuity is a great field for in-jokes.” (Commentary, “A Scandal in Belgravia”)

  • For the second episode running, Sherlock gets Lestrade’s first name wrong: Gavin this time, Graham in “The Empty Hearse.” Doyle only ever referred to ‘G. Lestrade,’ though he’s named Greg for Inspector Gregson.
  • “Vatican cameos” (Watson and Holmes’ code phrase for danger) appears again along with a quick glimpse of Irene Adler from the same episode.
  • Sherlock calls himself a high-functioning sociopath again, nodding to episode one.
  • Holmes asks Molly about her boyfriend while studying how to get only mildly drunk.
  • Molly calls Sherlock a graduate chemist. Watson remarks on his friend’s knowledge of chemistry and wonders if he’s a student in the first story.
  • Sherlock mentions his “international reputation.”
  • In his speech, Sherlock describes a case he failed to solve. These happen occasionally, but rarely. “I have been beaten four times – three times by men, and once by a woman,” Sherlock admits (“The Five Orange Pips”). In “The Yellow Face” he simply gets the case completely wrong.
  • Watson’s military career is mentioned, though it fails to get him any concessions.
  • Both Captain Sholtos (original and from this episode) are guilty of great betrayals.
  • Sherlock lets the phrase “previous commander” slip out, suggesting he’s Watson’s current commander. He does on occasion act like it, even in the books:

“Good morning, Holmes,” said the baronet. “You look like a general who is planning a battle with his chief of the staff.”

“That is the exact situation. Watson was asking for orders.”

“And so do I.” (“The Hound of the Baskervilles”)

  • In “The Illustrious Client,” Watson notes, “He gave no explanations and I asked for none. By long experience I had learned the wisdom of obedience.”
  • A client writes “my husband is three people,” and Holmes intuits triplets. Identical twin criminals appear in the film The Case of the Silk Stocking (2004).
  • Sherlock claims he learned napkin folding at an operahouse. An operahouse case appears in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991).
  • When Sherlock is drunk, the text surrounding his observations is ridiculously useless, emphasizing his current state.
  • Sherlock mentions he’s drugged Watson successfully before – this is seen in “The Hounds of Baskerville.”
  • Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes also has Watson and Holmes ending an era as Watson moves out and plans to marry. Mary in the movie says, “I know you care for him as much as I do … Solve this. Whatever it takes.” In this episode Mary shares both these last two sentiments.

 Doctor Who

  • Sherlock’s frenetic babble when he corrects himself after his Sign of Three slip-up or when the case intrudes on his speech resembles the Doctor’s. “Love a wedding!” he bursts out unconvincingly, mimicking many of the Doctor’s phrases (“Love an ood!”).
  • In this episode and in Moffat’s “The Doctor Dances” Sherlock and the Doctor both enjoy dancing and seem to resent being thought of asexual when interacting with Rose or Janine. Dancing and sex are a metaphor for each other in the Doctor Who episode.
  • When Sherlock gets drunk and scans the area, the usual deductions are replaced by words like “Chair? Sitty thing?” “Speaker high tech thing.” The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors sometimes talk like this, as the Tenth says, “This is my timey-wimey detector. It goes ding when there’s stuff” (“Blink”).

British Culture

  • Wedding Telegrams are sent by those who can’t make the ceremony and are often read aloud by the best man. Sherlock notes, “They’re not actually telegrams. We just call them telegrams. I don’t know why. Wedding tradition … because we don’t have enough of that already, apparently.”
  • Archie is the page boy. These are traditional at British weddings, roughly equivalent to the American job of ringbearer.
  • The classic line to finish the wedding toast is something like “Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding and charge your glasses. I give you: The bride and groom.” Sherlock of course attempts this but then has an epiphany.
  • Other traditions like the white gown (popularized by Queen Victoria herself) are shared between Britain and the U.S. Others are a bit different: British women often wear hats to weddings (seen in Mrs. Hudson and some of the episode’s other guests). The British say, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a silver sixpence in her shoe.” Waltzing and formality (such as Sherlock’s properly escorting the maid of honor) are more common in the U.K. The stag night is about the same as a bachelor party.
  • The Changing of the Guard features heavily in the episode. This ceremony is still held roughly every other day outside Buckingham Palace by The Queen’s Guard. They are a tourist attraction in themselves, considered British icons. Many tourists try to tease them or make them laugh, as they’re famously stoic, something Sherlock and John discuss.
  • “Am I the current king of England?” Holmes asks when playing the Post-it Note game. Obviously, there’s no such person, and hasn’t been in Holmes’s lifetime.

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Canon References and Symbolism in The Empty Hearse

Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC’s Series 1-3 by Valerie Estelle Frankel

has just gone on sale in paperback and ebook. To celebrate the U.S. premiere, I thought I’d post a sample of all the clever references in tongiht’s episode….SPOILERS FOR TONIGHT AHEAD!

The Title

Originally, this is “The Empty House,” site of a locked room murder XE
“murder” . There’s an additional empty house where Holmes lays a trap for Moriarty’s final lieutenant, Colonel Moran. “The Empty Hearse” references Anderson’s fan group, called this because they believe Sherlock never died and thus never traveled in a Hearse. They are correct of course.

Canon References

  • Having explained his Sherlock survival theory to Lestrade, Anderson talks about paving slabs outside Barts. This is an allusion to the solution to a Jonathan Creek mystery, “The Problem at Gallows Gate.”
  • In Serbia, Mycroft mentions Baron Maupertius from “The Reigate Puzzle.” Mycroft adds that Sherlock’s been “a busy little bee,” referencing his future hobby.
  • The Guy Fawkes plot is seen in several of Sherlock Holmes’s radio dramas: In “The Guy Fawkes Society,” Holmes goes undercover in a dangerous club to stop a plot again Parliament. In “The Gunpowder Plot” Guy Falconby plans to murder his cousin James Stuart by blowing him up on Guy Fawkes Day.
  • In The Case of the Silk Stocking (2004), Watson and Holmes work alongside Watson’s fiancé, an American psychoanalyst who’s aggressive and lectures Holmes on her chosen subject. She’s knowledgeable about her topic, but quite abrasive. Mary, by contrast, doesn’t get involved in their cases, just offers helpful hints. She appears to want to preserve the two men’s friendship. In the Robert Downey Jr. film, Mary looks like she’ll come between the two men, but by the end of the case, she tells Holmes that they love Watson equally and need to save him. She’s seen actively participating is the case of the sequel.
  • Watson’s mustache is iconic from the series and most adaptations, but here, everyone hates it.
  • A newspaper article foreshadows the third episode, reading, “Magnussen summoned before parliamentary…”
  • Sherlock admits: “Bit mean, springing it on you like that, I know. Could have given you a heart attack, probably still will. But in my defense, it was very funny.” In the book, Watson faints and Holmes apologizes for being so dramatic.
  • “You know my methods, Watson, I am well known to be indestructible” is a quote from the 1965 movie A Study in Terror.
  • One of Holmes’s planned escapes involves “a system of Japanese wrestling.” In the books, that’s the one he uses– the fictional martial art of baritsu.
  • In “The Empty House,” only Mycroft knew of Holmes’ plot, because Holmes needed his money. Here it is Mycroft, their parents, Molly and 25 members of his homeless network. No wonder John decks him.
  • Sherlock tells Watson: “I’ve nearly been in contact so many times, but I worried that, you know, you might say something indiscreet.” In the short story, he says, “Several times during the last three years I have taken up my pen to write to you, but always I feared lest your affectionate regard for me should tempt you to some indiscretion which would betray my secret.”
  • Mrs. Hudson seems quite emotional at getting both men back in her life…in the Jeremy Brett adaptation of “The Empty House,” she bursts into tears, and Holmes unbends enough to give her a hug.
  • Mary reads aloud from an old blog entry: “His movements were so silent. So furtive, he reminded me of a trained bloodhound picking out a scent…I couldn’t help thinking what an amazing criminal he’d make if he turned his talents against the law. This is a scene from  “The Sign of Four.” Holmes mentions in several cases that he would have been a highly effective criminal.
  • Sherlock says in voiceover: “London. It’s like a great cesspool into which all kinds of criminals, agents and drifters are irresistibly drained.” Watson describes London thus in “A Study in Scarlet.”
  • Sherlock notes: “I’ll find the answer. It’ll be in an odd phrase in an online blog, or an unexpected trip to the countryside, or a misplaced Lonely Hearts ad.” In the books, Holmes uses the Agony Column (basically the personals) to track London’s criminal pulse.
  • Sherlock tells Mycroft, “I’m just passing the time. Let’s do deductions” and picks up an abandoned bobble hat. Holmes does this with a client’s abandoned stick in “Hound of the Baskervilles” and an abandoned hat in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” just as an intellectual exercise. He plays against Mycroft in “The Greek Interpreter”:

 

“To anyone who wishes to study mankind this is the spot,” said Mycroft. “Look at the magnificent types! Look at these two men who are coming towards us, for example.”
“The billiard-marker and the other?”
“Precisely. What do you make of the other?”
The two men had stopped opposite the window. Some chalk marks over the waistcoat pocket were the only signs of billiards which I could see in one of them. The other was a very small, dark fellow, with his hat pushed back and several packages under his arm.
“An old soldier, I perceive,” said Sherlock.
“And very recently discharged,” remarked the brother.
“Served in India, I see.”
“And a non-commissioned officer.”
“Royal Artillery, I fancy,” said Sherlock.
“And a widower.”
“But with a child.”
“Children, my dear boy, children.” (“The Greek Interpreter”)

  • Sherlock reveals (possibly) how he faked his death. Sherlock was actually playing with a bouncy ball in a scene in “The Reichenbach Fall.”
  • The monographs written on strange subjects are a running joke through the books. Also, Mrs. Hudson offers the same line in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

 

SHERLOCK: I’ve written a blog on the varying tensile strengths of different natural fibres.
MRS HUDSON: I’m sure there’s a crying need for that.

  • The quote “Elementary, my dear Watson” was made popular by the film The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939). It was never featured in a canonical Arthur Conan Doyle story. Perhaps this is why the phrase hasn’t been featured in Sherlock.

SHERLOCK (sarcastically): Brilliant!
MYCROFT: Elementary.

  •  This exchange is adapted from “The Crooked Man”:

 

“Excellent!” I cried [Watson].
“Elementary,” said he [Holmes].

  •  MYCROFT: I’m not lonely, Sherlock. SHERLOCK: How would you know? This nods back to a conversation they have in “A Scandal in Belgravia.”
  • The monkey glands case is a nod to “The Adventure of the Creeping Man.”
  • Spouses keeping secrets from each other appear in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” “The Yellow Face” and “The Valley of Fear.” Each time, an affair is suspected, but the answer is something else. This episode reverses the trope:

SHERLOCK: Why didn’t you assume it was your wife?
MR. HARCOURT: Because I’ve always had total faith in her.
SHERLOCK: No – it’s because you emptied it. (He points at the three areas on the man at which he had just looked and speaks quick-fire.) Weight loss, hair dye, Botox, affair. (Whipping out a business card, he holds it out to Mrs Harcourt.) Lawyer. Next!

  • This case, in all its details but the online part, is a retelling of “A Case of Identity.”

SHERLOCK (softly): And you really thought he was the one, didn’t you? The love of your life?
(As the woman takes off her glasses and cries harder, Sherlock turns and looks at Molly for a moment, then stands and walks across to her. Keeping his back to the clients, he speaks quietly.)
SHERLOCK: Stepfather posing as online boyfriend.
MOLLY (shocked): What?!
SHERLOCK: Breaks it off, breaks her heart. She swears off relationships, stays at home – he still has her wage coming in.
(He turns to the man and addresses him sternly.)
SHERLOCK: Mr. Windibank, you have been a complete and utter…

  •  “Doctor Verner is your usual GP, yes?” John asks. Following “The Empty House,” a young doctor named Verner buys Watson’s practice and Watson moves back in with Holmes: “A young doctor, named Verner, had … given with astonishingly little demur the highest price that I ventured to ask – an incident which only explained itself some years later when I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes’s, and that it was my friend who had really found the money” (“The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”).
  • Mr. Szikora with a German accent, long white hair and a white beard, is wearing a black knitted hat and very dark glasses. He comes for a medical appointment and tries to sell John DVDs. John thinks it’s Sherlock in disguise. In “The Empty House,” this is the costume worn by Holmes when he surprises Watson with his reappearance. Holmes is also disguised as a German bookseller in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943). After this, Watson tries to pull off a man’s beard in The Spider Woman (1944), assuming it’s Holmes again.
  • Mr. Szikora offers John porn titled “British Birds” and “The Holy War.” Holmes as the bookseller tells Watson, “Maybe you collect yourself, sir; here’s British Birds, and Catullus, and The Holy War – a bargain every one of them. With five volumes you could just fill that gap on that second shelf. It looks untidy, does it not, sir?” thus getting him to turn his head.
  • Sherlock is called in by Lestrade to deal with a fake Jack the Ripper skeleton. Holmes doesn’t battle the Ripper in canon, but he’s involved with the Ripper in many stories and films by later authors including The Woman in Green (1945), A Study in Terror (1965), Murder by Decree (1979) and Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Lyndsay Faye.

SHERLOCK: I know a fantastic fish shop just off the Marylebone Road. The owner always gives me extra portions.
MOLLY (following him): Did you get him off a murder charge?
SHERLOCK: No – I helped him put up some shelves.

  • Mrs. Hudson and Angelo, by contrast, do owe Sherlock for his detective work.
  • Mary comes to Sherlock and tells him: “Someone sent me this. At first I thought it was just a Bible thing, you know, spam, but it’s not. It’s a skip-code.” A third-word skip code features in “The ‘Gloria Scott’.”
  • The code contains the phrase “John or James Watson.” This nods to the fact that in the canon, Mary Morstan once called her husband John Watson “James.”
  • A bomb and an international plot appear in various films. In Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991) in 1910, Mycroft asks Holmes and Watson to travel to Vienna and track down the stolen plans & prototype for an electro-magnetic bomb detonator.
  • The train station stop is given as “Sumatra Road.” Sherlock calls Moran “A Rat,” both leading to the untold story (and fan favorite) of the “Giant Rat of Sumatra”.

SHERLOCK: Lord Moran, peer of the realm, Minister for Overseas Development. Pillar of the establishment.
JOHN: Yes!
SHERLOCK: He’s been working for North Korea since 1996.
JOHN: What?
SHERLOCK: He’s the Big Rat. Rat Number One. And he’s just done something very suspicious indeed.

  • In the book, the villain Colonel Sebastian Moran is Moriarty’s number one lieutenant.
  • The plot alludes to “The Lost Special,” a Doyle story that appears to feature an unnamed Holmes as detective investigating a lost train car.

SHERLOCK: They’ll get in the way. They always do. This is cleaner, more efficient.
(Stopping at a locked maintenance entrance, he reaches into his coat, takes out a crowbar and starts to force the gate open.)
JOHN: And illegal.
SHERLOCK: A bit.

  • In the books, Holmes is always picking locks and breaking into places. Occasionally, the police point out that they can’t use these methods.
  • The Houses of Parliament are to be blown up – in Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, the men inside those Houses are to be poisoned.
  • John forgives Sherlock and tells him, “You were the best and the wisest man that I have ever known,” in a direct quote from Watson’s last homage to him in “The Final Problem.”
  • Sherlock notes, “The criminal network Moriarty headed was vast. Its roots were everywhere like a cancer, so we came up with a plan.” He says in the books: “The central power which uses the agent is never caught – never so much as suspected. This was the organization which I deduced, Watson, and which I devoted my whole energy to exposing and breaking up” (The Final Problem). In both scenes he mentions a spider in the web.

SYMBOLISM: TRAINS

Trains often represent a journey in fiction. Towards the episode’s beginning John rides the tube to Baker Street juxtaposed with Sherlock heading to Mycroft’s office in the Diogenes Club. John is going to tell Mrs Hudson he’s getting married while Sherlock has just returned to London and plans to take up his old life again.

While Molly and Sherlock are investigating together, dust falls from the ceiling and Molly asks “trains?” At the same time as Sherlock is trying a new partner, he keeps hearing Watson’s voice in his head, emphasizing how much trouble he’s having with changing.

Finally, Sherlock and Watson face a bomb in a train at the episode’s climax. Trapped together, Sherlock acknowledged how he hurt Watson and honestly begs his forgiveness. Several times, John suspects a trick, but Sherlock convinces him they are going to die. John forgives him, and Sherlock reveals he actually was up to his “old tricks” – with the balance between them restored, everything has actually gone back to normal. They reunite with their friends at Baker Street, emphasizing that all their journeys have taken them straight back to the beginning. At the same time, the Moriarty era has ended at last, and Sherlock has become kinder (as shown by his not commenting on Molly’s boyfriend). With Watson’s fiancée present as well, the story is ready to move to new adventures and a new dynamic.

Actor Allusions

  • Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan) is Martin Freeman’s real-life partner.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents (both actors themselves) appear as Sherlock’s parents.
  • “Sauron1976” comments on John’s blog around this time (Watson’s Blog, “A Few Pictures”). Benedict Cumberbatch plays the Necromancer (the future Sauron) in The Hobbit and was born in 1976.
  • Sherlock fakes his death with the plan “Lazarus,” with the aid of Mycroft, played by Mark Gatiss. Gatiss also starred in an episode of Doctor Who called “The Lazarus Experiment,” in which he played Professor Richard Lazarus.

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