Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"But it isn't real . . ."

We'd like to think of ourselves as objective, fair-minded, and unaffected by time and the world, and yet . . . .

There just comes a time when you look at something like a proper Sherlock Holmes pastiche and go, "I just can't even read these any more." TV, movies, other mediums . . . they're different, they have different tools in their bag of tricks to capture that genie called Sherlock Holmes. But books, stories, the written word?

After forty years and countless re-readings and re-readings and analyses of those sixty stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the words of Dr. Watson's voice are just too imbedded in my brain. The same brain that read countless pastiches, many of which are known to be quite bad, and enjoyed every one back in the 1970s and 1980s now just cannot stay focussed on anything purporting to be from the pen of Watson that's not the original. In trying to puzzle out just what I didn't like about the latest pastiche I attempted to read, the words I kept hearing in my head were these:

"But it isn't real . . ."

The "real" Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson of the Victorian era were the ones laid out in that rich prose with Conan Doyle's name on the cover, and having mainlined Sherlockian enjoyment from the pure source for so very long, the brain now rejects substitutes.

Not anything different enough to be a parallel dimension Holmes and Watson, ancestors of Holmes and Watson, or an almost-Holmes-and-Watson inspired by Holmes and Watson. No, those can be accepted for who and what they are and still enjoyed in stride. It's a little like the difference between a band that plays fabulous covers of familiar tunes and a tribute band that tries to play those same songs the same way the original band did. One is just easier to enjoy at face value.

Another comparison -- the "uncanny valley" of animation. Characters created in a computer-generated way are easier to take when they're more cartoony. Attempts to make an exact replica of a real person generates a creepy character that just feels so wrong somehow. (Perhaps one day we'll get past this, but the current state of things gave us a fake Peter Cushing in a recent Star Wars that I never want to see play Sherlock Holmes. And Cushing was a great Sherlock.)

But it's just my own jaded intake abilities. Pastiches haven't gotten worse since the 1980s. There are horrible ones now just as there were horrible ones then, and there are surely excellent ones now like there were excellent ones then. I just seem to have become Holmes-blind to them. (TV and movies, however, are another matter. The best of those are better than anything from years past.)

Luckily, for the moment, it's back to discussing original Canon at the local library. Fourth Thursday is here again in Peoria, and "The Red-Headed League" is up. The real stuff survives.


  1. From shelves full of pastiches in the nineties, to only a few unopened works given to me for free now in my bookcase, I seem to have followed a similar path as you with Sherlock Holmes pastiches. I've become strictly a media Sherlockian. A sign of the times perhaps? It sure seems like everyone and there brother has a pastiche out these days. I rarely even stop to look at their previews or ads anymore.

  2. I agree. And it seems that the farther Holmes and Watson are taken from London, the worse the story is.

  3. May I humbly suggest you try my offering?. It is certainly not pastiche as I understand the word, yet more of a work written in the spirit of Arthur Doyle. D.J. Pass need fear not; it remains firmly in and around London, save a brief visit to the Kentish countryside. For those interested, it is on Amazon. The title is 'Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Murders, an account of the matter by John Watson M.D.'. Forgive the trumpet-blowing, but I really couldn't have agreed with the originator more; some of the books I have been subjected to seemed to have the protagonist's name affixed to the story merely as a marketing device...

    1. I have been subjected to seemed to have the protagonist's name affixed to the story merely as a marketing device... hmmm what show does this remind us of... the name seems to have sipped my mind. ;-)