Slate's "Decoder Ring" featured Sherlockiana in its topic of the month this month, and it's well worth a listen. The producers of the podcast get into a subject that not just touches our little pond of Sherlock Holmes fandom, but one that has greater implications about the rest of the world in which we now live.
The Decoder Ring episode isn't exactly an easy listen. If you have any empathy in you for people who aren't you, the tale of the pain and conflict emanating from what should be a joyous hobby is going to sting a bit. It might even make you a little afraid of your fellow Sherlock Holmes fans. It might also make you go, "Well, that's those people over there. We don't have any of those people at our society meetings."
But don't be that person. Even if that is your first thought, think again. Hard.
We are enthusiasts. We are obsessive. We can be fanatical. When I said the Decoder Ring podcast might make you a little afraid of certain Sherlockians out there, I don't want to make it seem like that's something new or that I'm pointing a finger at the BBC Sherlock branch of our fandom. There have been classic Conan Doyle Sherlockians who have scared me just the same in my forty years as a Sherlockian, because some of us always seem to get a little too fanatical or a little too sure we know what the one true path is.
To me, the most disturbing thing I heard in the Decoder Ring podcast was a person who seemed to be the least excited about things, calmly and steadfastly maintaining that there was no issue with the matter at hand, but not allowing that there could have been another interpretation of events. I have heard that tone in different voices a few times over the last forty years, and it's never pleasant, nor coming from someone I try to spend any time with after that. How did the song go . . . "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow" . . . and John Lennon wasn't specifically singing about Mao there. He was talking about being overly adamant about something that you might want to take a little less seriously.
But you don't get to tell other people to take it less seriously, just yourself. So I won't. But I do still get to decide who I "make it with," as Lennon sang.
One of the great joys of Sherlockiana as long, as long as I have been in it, has been the new interpretation of the same old stories. Not only allowing for a wide variety of viewpoints, but delighting at them, is a prime part of our culture. Holding a death-grip on a single interpretation of Sherlock Holmes is not something that gets you invited to after-parties. The best of us (and there are a lot of the best of us -- which I don't always count myself as one of) seem to radiant a joyful acceptance, giving a nod of respect to all the alternate theories held by their fellow Sherlockians.
We have always had those who take it too far, who found a community that might accept their peccadillos in the name of Sherlock Holmes. Those folks didn't just join the hobby after BBC Sherlock aired. We just have the internet, etc. now. Had such things existed in the 1950s, we might now have YouTube videos that might make some old Irregulars seem a lot less cool than they come across on the printed page. And some of what was a minor kerfuffle back then, with snail mail giving matters time to cool, would definitely have flamed up as brightly as anything on whatever social media outlet you find most incendiary.
I really enjoyed the piece on Decoder Ring, as uncomfortable as it may have been at times. It looked at the fandom of Sherlock Holmes as a whole, ongoing thing. And as much as some may like to keep the topic at arms reach, toplock, bottomlock, and switchlock are now a part of our friend's lore that completist students of Holmes in the future will be looking at just the same as that much less-popular thing we call Sherlockian chronology (or maybe moreso -- like I said, not as popular).
'Tis a big, wide world of Sherlock Holmes out there, and one I want to keep listening to.