Forgive me if this one is a little less coherent than most . . . it's very early in the morning after a night of restless sleep due to holiday overindulgence. I did have a dream about playing board games with Benedict Cumberbatch in a local Main Street bar, however, so it wasn't all bad.
But I was thinking the other day about the vast numbers of folk writing pastiches, fan fiction, or whatever one wants to call a given new Sherlock Holmes story, and here is what impressed me about that legion: Never before have so many people been trying to figure out just how Sherlock Holmes's mind works.
Because as characters go, Sherlock Holmes is not an easy fellow to deal with. He has a pretty complex internal life. And especially in fan fiction, that black market of forbidden plotlines, a writer has to spend some mental energies figuring out how he will react in whatever brand new situation he is to be put into. And especially in the AU genre, where Sherlock could be anything from a Wal-mart greeter to a new species of lizard. How does the character of Sherlock Holmes translate to the life of a lizard? That takes a little thought.
While story-telling does not have the pure scientific-ish discipline of a more scholarly study, it does open up all the theoretical channels. And there is where one realizes that by creating such works about Sherlock Holmes, one is even being like Sherlock Holmes.
"Logical synthesis," Holmes called his particular speciality in "Copper Beeches," and it was all about seeing the possibilities in a given situation with a particular set of characters. When Holmes was on a case, he was basically handed a number of personalities and then asked to come up with the story about those characters that fit all of the facts. So many statements he makes could be applied to the writing of fiction involving known characters, as fan fictions do.
"It is remarkable, only for the fact that amid a perfect jungle of possibilities we, with our worthy collaborator the inspector, have kept our close hold on the essentials and so been guided along the crooked and winding path," he remarks in "Wisteria Lodge." What are the essentials that make a character a true Sherlock Holmes in a situation he never was in before? That's the puzzle a writer faces every time they sit down to deal with Sherlock Holmes.
There are good writers, who work that puzzle as best they can. There are bad writers, who force their own mindset upon Holmes and just decorate it with a dressing gown and a Watson. For that's the choice a writer has to make when putting Sherlock Holmes through his motions, be they detective or romantic. The ones that gain the most from writing about Holmes have to be the former, though there probably is a certain psychological value to working through one's own issues on a Sherlock doll made of words. It's just that less people are probably apt to enjoy the latter. But still, how often do we write for ourselves as much as others, then find that enough commonality exists that they can enjoy the results as well?
One day, humans with better brains than ours, or possibly the artificial intelligences or aliens from space, who find all of this may be able to unravel just what all we actually were putting into all of this writing about a man named Sherlock Holmes. The social patterns it gives evidence of. The mental evolution of our species. Who knows?
With Sherlock Holmes there will always be one more mystery to solve. Of that you can be sure.