Thursday, February 28, 2013

A new Game.

Way back in the summer of 2001, noted Sherlockian Chris Redmond said something to me that I couldn't get out of my head.

"Sherlockians need a new Game," he told me (or something very much like that).  I had to agree. Sherlockiana, as a whole, was having a hard time building steam back then. The Jeremy Brett days were long behind us, Sherlockian scholarship just wasn't having the zing it used to (as many of the best questions had been argued to death), and there just wasn't anything new under the sun. The old Grand Game of researching Sherlock Holmes in a historical fashion just wasn't what it once was.

My answer to that, at the time, was an attempt to combine historical re-enactment and the Sherlockian Canon, forming a Canonical characters club called "The Dark Lantern League." It was a lovely idea, but a career turn started taking up my time and, as always, I became a little impatient waiting for it to take off. And, let's be honest, a lot of Sherlockians of 2001 weren't looking for anything new, being content to attend the same dinners and see the same friendly faces for the rest of their days.

But Chris was right, and I knew it. Sherlockians did still need a new Game.

And now, over a decade later, it appears Sherlockians do have a new Game, a realization which occurred to me tonight as I struggled to fold an origami lotus based on a YouTube instructional video.

The video was called "Sherlock - How to make the origami lotus from The Blind Banker." By following it, one could recreate one's own artifact from the BBC Sherlock.

The original Game of Sherlockian scholarship was all about loving Sherlock Holmes so much that we attempted to bring him into the real world through scholarly research, through recreating his sitting room in our homes, through the knowing delusion that we believed in Sherlock Holmes.

Sound familiar?

Sherlockians needed a new Game in 2001, but we also needed something else: new Sherlockians. As much as we all hate to admit it, there comes a time when we get old and jaded with even our favorite things. Many is the lover of Sherlockian pastiche in their younger days who grows to disdain all attempts at it in their gray days. We never love anything the hundredth time around as much as we did that first time -- there's no fighting it.

But along came the BBC Sherlock and Benedict Cumberbatch, and suddenly we hit the jackpot: new Sherlockians and a new Game. Somewhere out there, more than one somebody is, even now, trying to recreate the modern 221B with its cattle skull and headphones. Speculative research is being done like crazy, trying to figure out just how it was Sherlock survived this Reichenbach. And some lovely young lady on YouTube is trying to teach us how to make origami lotuses from "The Blind Banker."

It's a new Game, and they're playing it the same way we played the old one back in the day. Thoughtful analysis, recreations, creativity in both word and art, visiting the sacred sites . . . as much as some "elite devotee" or the other might like to pooh-pooh these new fans, they are us and we are them. Sherlockiana lives on, and I am perfectly delighted with it. Even if you decry, "Yeah, but they'll get bored with Cumberbatch!" (which I kind of wonder about -- he's pretty amazing), where do you think all that cosplay/recreation/analytic energy is going to go then? Probably toward all of the other parts of the Holmes legend, as there is so much to discover. (And I really want to see a black-and-white cosplay Rathbone one day!)

The wisest thing a man ever sang was Jagger's, "You can't always get what you want . . . but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."

Sherlockiana got what it needed. A new Game.


  1. Very true! And have you read some of the great new psychological analyses of Sherlock by the new professionals?

  2. Are you advocating a that we have a "six degrees of separation" from Doyle's Canon to keep out interest in the Game alive? Is it really Sherlockiana if we are presenting learned papers on the difference between 221B in Series 1 and Series 2 or the chronological problem of events in "The Great Game" and "A Scandal in Belgravia" or Mrs. Hudson's romantic life? After I finished reading the Canon in high school, I looked for more Holmes stories and discovered pastiche. That was during the Great Boom and there was plenty to read. I found Derleth's Solar Pons stories and even became a Praed Street Irregular short before Luther Norris died. We PSI knew Pons was not Holmes,and indeed Pons knew it as well. After Norris died so, eventually, did the PSI. So two questions arise: Do the fans of BBC's "Sherlock" know that it is not Sherlock Holmes and will the fan scholarship survive the end of the show.

    Now when I ask if BBC fans (what *do* we call them?) know the show is not Sherlock Holmes I not trying to be insulting or frivolous but pointing out that Holmes exists in the four novels and 56 short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle and nowhere else. (I'm not talking about the metaphysics of him living in our hearts or "a world where it is always 1895".) Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock is not Doyle's Holmes, no more than Brett or Rathbone were. And while Sherlockians can and should write about the intersection of the media with the Canon, you're not suggesting that the BSJ or the SHJ publish articles on DI Greg Lestrade or Sgt. Sally Donovan's rise in Scotland Yard or BBC "Sherlock's" chronology, Molly Hooper's unrequited love or John's psychosomatic wound, are you? A fun game, no doubt, but separate from the Grand Game, isn't that what you're saying?

    1. No, I'm saying it's the same Game. Same in spirit, same in energy, same in fun. If they're entertaining and well-written, the BSJ should publish articles on Molly Hooper, just as it has articles on Rathbone movies, and all other incarnations of Holmes.

      One of the great criticisms of the original Grand Game from Doyle fans was that there were going to be some mythical folks out there who wouldn't know Doyle wrote the stories if we pretended Watson did it -- like there are just a bunch of severely challenged Holmes fans out there somewhere. Never met such a person. Cumberbatch fans aren't stupid either.

      And what do I call BBC Sherlock fans? Well, one of them I call "me."

    2. The intersection of the Canon and media have a place in a journal devoted to the study of Doyle's Holmes and Watson. How "Sherlock" relates to Holmes is relevant. Is Molly Hooper? Does the BSJ or the SHJ become the home of scholarship devoted to Gladstone from the Downey movies or the Hoxton Creeper from the Rathbone pictures or Det. Bell from "Elementary"? Do "The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes" get discussed in the same way and in the same breath as the Canon? There is some wonderful scholarship out there surrounding "Sherlock", much of it self-contained and unrelated to Doyle expect for the fact that it deals with characters named Holmes and Watson. Dyed-in-the-wool Sherlockians have contributed to it. But is it part of the Grand Game that has been played for 111 years or is it tangential and thus worthy of its own separate field with its own nomenclature?

  3. There will always be the original Cannon, but there is always a need to tell the Story to a new audience, a new generation, and the Story shapeshifts with time. This has been true from ancient myth and faerie tale until the present.