Saturday, October 21, 2017

Who gets to set the rules?

As much as social media gets blamed for drama and conflict, it also has its moments of wisdom.

This particular tweet from last night struck me as particularly wonderful. It's talking about fanfic, yes, but when you remember that the bulk of all fiction starring Sherlock Holmes started as fiction by fans, a lot of the way Sherlockiana's past is full of patriarchal privilege shines brightly.

Because these same words apply.

"Seriously, a lot of y'all's beef in fanfic boils down to preference/taste. Please stop wording your complaints like they're hard rules."

When I think of the number of articles I read in Sherlockian journals/newsletters in the past four decades that were exactly that -- rules for writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches -- it kind of makes me laugh. Both in that people are still trying to pull that silly exercise, and that once upon a time it was legitimate article fodder.

Because basically every one of those rules articles boiled down to this: Don't do anything that wasn't done by Conan Doyle, and even then, do the stuff he did most often. Which, when you think about it, is a recipe for boredom.

Lyndsay Faye just met with enough success with her book of Holmes stories The Whole Art of Detection that a few enthusiastic critics have compared it to Doyle, but where Lyndsay really succeeds is where she diverges from the original in her structure and style, yet still captures the flavor. It makes her stuff both timely and worth reading, instead of a pale imitation.

Almost all of those who like to write rules for writing about Sherlock Holmes are not people who write well about Sherlock Holmes. Instead, they express their opinion in that rules format, which basically seems like a weird attempt to assert some sort of control over a world they're not a part of. Too many times, they're fans of the originals who are never going to be satisfied with any attempt at new Sherlock, so even attempting to obey their rules would just be attempting to satisfy someone who will never be pleased with the work.

Now that fandoms are more common and longer-lived than ever, we've seen this with Doctor Who, Star Trek, and any other fiction that survived past its original creator. Any older fan expecting exactly the same rush they got with the original material is bound to be disappointed. That first time experience is hard to recreate. You get your own preference and tastes, and that should be enough.

So screw the "here are the rules" essays, for fanfic, pastiche, or whatever you want to call new work spawned off old ideas. That "you have to learn the rules before breaking them" is for teachers trying to control classrooms full of schoolkids, not anyone encouraging original work . . . even original work that's not completely original. No one knows what combination of angles and style are going to spawn the next great thing. If they did, they'd have done it themselves.

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