Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Whither goest the pastiche? And how far?

As we move further and further away from the era of Watson's literary agent, it becomes more and more of a certainty that most readers of fiction will not find his words as immediately accessible as they once were.

You can be loyal to the Doyle all you want, but sit a fifteen-year-old next to a copy of The Hunger Games and a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and see which book gets read first. As popular as Holmes may be, thanks to Downey, Cumberbatch, and Miller, the Sherlock Holmes fan who comes in directly through the door of the Canon will continue to be a rare and special thing . . . most of us need a gateway drug.

It may be as simple as "I watched BBC Sherlock, then I picked up the Conan Doyle-agented original Watson." It may be "BBC Sherlock, Sherlock fanfic, pro-written Holmes novel, then Conan Doyle-agented original Watson." But here's the thing: Sherlock Holmes pastiches have long been our training wheels for adjusting to the Victorian pitter-patter of Watson prime's verbiage.

But before Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss took the bold step of moving Holmes and Watson to the modern day and succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams, there was a reticence among writers of the Sherlockian pastiche to move past a certain point in telling Sherlock stories. There was parody, where Holmes could be something weird or non-human, but the idea of making taking him into a complete alternate dimension, where he could be a tennis player or a ballet dancer and somehow remain Sherlock Holmes was unheard of. These days, Watson's old tin dispatch box, that writers always found through a odd circumstance and carefully parceled out the contents of, has become Pandora's box with the lid flung wide open. Literally anything is possible with Sherlock Holmes, for better or worse, and there's no closing that box again.

As I started working on my entry for the Bootmaker's story contest last night, this fact became abundantly clear, as it had after reading those Sherlock products from other hands I've encountered of late. While there were never set boundaries on pastiche-writing twenty years ago, the wide acceptance of Sherlock and Elementary have given us the unwritten permission from the world at large to go further than ever before with our favorite detective.

How far is too far? Will we need new categories beyond "pastiche" and "parody" to know what we're reading  as time goes on? We shall see.


  1. Perhaps I get this wrong but shouldn't the heading be "Whither . . ."?

    1. Yep, "Whither . . . ?" Really shouldn't type these things before breakfast. (And for the record, not sure if pastiches could get much whiter.)