With a little extra holiday time on one's hands, I decided I would try reading a pastiche that found its way into my library a while ago. Once you've been a Sherlock Holmes fan long enough, books about Holmes have a way of just showing up whether you want them or not, and this was one of those.
You know the drill: Apparently, Dr. Watson wrote about a hundred thousand manuscripts back in the day, then mailed them to random individuals who hid them away in attics, bank vaults, and old home improvements for later generations to find and publish. (We can assume from this that Watson never had children, or that he really hated those kids and didn't want to leave them anything of value.) And then someone who knows you discovers that book and gives it to you, because you like Sherlock Holmes.
But usually not that Sherlock Holmes.
The bad pastiche has been with Sherlock Holmes fans for almost as long as Sherlock Holmes himself. Easy self-publishing routes might mean there's more of it these days, but Sherlock Holmes fans have long been a resourceful and driven lot. We were self-publishing, even in nice, hardcover editions, before any other fandom. That, of course, didn't mean the contents were ever that much better.
So, to get to the point, I once more tried reading a random work of pastiche yesterday. And I just couldn't do it. The Watson was so dramatic in his voice. His use of random large words was so faux Victorian. And his Holmes . . . well, we all know how that goes.
But here's the thing. Reading a bad Holmes book is hard to do. You have to actually hold up the book with your hand and turn pages, simple actions, yes, but they require at least a minor force of will. And if the Sherlock story you are reading is unconvincing, dull, or otherwise just not the Holmes you were looking for, you lose the willpower to hold the book and turn the pages at some point.
And then you quit reading. You set the book down and life goes on. Bad Sherlock Holmes books never attain much popularity, simply because most human beings are not capable of the effort it takes to read them.
In reacquainting myself with this fact, I got one more perspective on a certain subject that I've written about quite a bit lately: bad television pastiche.
Bad television pastiche doesn't require any effort once you've turned the show on. You can relax and let the story play out without moving a muscle or taxing your brain with the act of reading, which doesn't come easily to everyone. You can actually do other things while watching a bad television pastiche, so even the most active of minds can stimulate itself to make up for any deficiencies that the TV show might lack. And unlike bad pastiche in book form, with televised pastiche, it takes an act of will to stop the thing from playing out. A small one, just as with reading a physical book, but an act of will nonetheless.
Or to put it in modern marketing terms: Books are opt-in once you start them. Television is opt-out.
If we could easily keep reading bad published pastiche, if a whole novel were as easy to get through as a single TV episode, we might grow to enjoy it somehow. The brain adapts. Stockholm syndrome, in its mildest form, takes over. If bad published pastiche were as easy to ingest as bad televised pastiche, can you imagine the number of fans Sherlock Holmes would have, with so many books out there? But their favorite Holmeses would be as diverse as humanity itself. So many bad pastiche Holmeses to choose from!
Unfortunately, where easy-viewing weekly television is concerned, our bad pastiche choices are somewhat limited. There's the one. And as to the final effect it's weekly parade will have on American culture's view of Sherlock Holmes, well, we shall see. We've never had a bad pastiche as insidious or well-marketed as this one before.
And it's showing up in a lot more homes that the book I picked up yesterday and tried to read.