After finishing a holiday binge-watch of another larger-than-life character like our pal Sherlock today, I couldn't help but notice a very big similarity to the original stories of Sherlock Holmes. And that is this . . .
They aren't really about Sherlock Holmes.
I suspect that's why Sherlock Holmes fans often seem to have a harder time writing about Sherlock Holmes than those who can see him from a professional distance. A good Sherlock Holmes story, traditionally, hasn't been about Sherlock Holmes.
It's a good story about something that happened to his client, and he just comes in to help them get resolution. It's a good story about something that happened long before, whose after-effects are now showing up in someone's life. It's a good story about a retired army surgeon who meets a colorful character . . . but you only get to tell that one once . . . and maybe allude to it a bunch of times.
A good story tells us something either about ourselves or about other people in a way that helps us see through their eyes.
"Speckled Band" is interesting when you consider it that way, because it's Helen Stoner's tale of gothic horror, but then Sherlock Holmes actually inserts himself into Helen's place by removing her from her own bedroom and staying there himself. Sure, he doesn't put a wig and a dress on, but it's a little like he walked into a horror story and announced he was going to stunt double for the heroine. And then it becomes his story.
I suspect one of the reasons that fans like writing about Moriary so much is that Moriarty makes the story about Sherlock Holmes from the start. Moriarty is Sherlock Holmes's own mystery tale, in which Sherlock is pretty much his own client. None of those pesky additional characters to have to figure out and give life or story to . . . you say "Sherlock" and "Moriarty" and people just know they have to fight. It's actually a pretty lazy route to go, except for the fact that you have to be pretty genius to effectively write a true battle between two super-geniuses. (Which we get damned few of, sad to say.)
I think that's why I enjoyed Theodora Goss's The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter more than many other new Sherlock Holmes stories I've read recently, because it had Sherlock all the way through, but wasn't about him. He didn't have to have character development, or come to some great life-changing revelation. Other characters carried the weight of the story.
It should come as no surprise to people that the great Sherlock Holmes story of this century is always Sherlock coming to terms with his true feelings for John Watson. It's as good a story as any other we have to tell about Sherlock Holmes himself. One could tell a story about him overcoming drug addiction, or dealing with Moriarty, but it's as hard to tell an addiction story as it is to write super-genius battles. Telling a story of two people discovering their love for each other is the most relatable tale for most writers or readers to connect with other people on.
But in the end, we need more good stories about other people that we can relate to before Sherlock Holmes walks in the door to their lives. It's what he does for them that makes him a miracle of a character. And what he does for us, as he does for them.
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