Friday, March 30, 2018

Ready Player Sherlockian

Occasionally something comes along that, on the surface, has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes whatsoever and still evokes a feeling that is oh, so familiar to the Sherlockian mind. It could be that some of us are just so deeply immersed in Holmes that we see everything through Sherlock-colored glasses that we can't see anything outside of our love of the great detective. Or it could be there are actually some insights there. So today, I'll let you judge.

Stephen Spielberg's new movie Ready Player One is a complete and utter love letter to the 1980s, from a young male perspective. The plot involves a time when all of society seems to be as devoted to online virtual reality as the biggest World of Warcraft addict, with one little twist -- the online virtual reality that everyone loves? It's totally built on 1980s nostalgia.

It's not hard to imagine a similar fantasy about a 1920s America where the great game of Sherlockiana became a national past-time, and 1880s nostalgia ran rampant. Sure, the 1920s didn't have all the electronics needed for virtual reality, but they still had the printed word, and the printed word is where our virtual worlds have always been built before the tech caught up. (Personal case in point: my long out of print book, The Armchair Baskerville tour, where I drag the reader around the Dartmoor of the novel like it's a tourist attraction.)

In fact, I'd argue that John Kendrick Bangs's A House-Boat on the Styx from 1895 was very much a Ready Player One in ways, as Bangs gathered historical avatars together for comic fanfic. In Bangs's time, of course, he didn't have ordinary folk putting on the skins of the popular characters filling his novel, but the gathering of icons still comes from a similar urge. Comics writer Alan Moore and novelist Kim Newman have played the same game. Yet none of these folks focused so much nostalgia on a single period as Ernest Cline did in writing the book Ready Player One, which inspired the new movie.

The 1880s-1890s heyday of Sherlock Holmes was full of iconic images that residents of the 1920s loved. Hansom cabs, gaslamps, and the like, that triggered happy memories as much as the sight of Mario or a DeLorean does for soon-to-be residents of the 2020s. (Ready Player One is set in the 2040s, true, which in reality will be a time for 2000s nostalgia, rather than the 1980s love for a modern audience.) Tying it all to specfic years can get messy, but the guts of the matter are definitely about one thing: Nostalgia and looking backward.

Imaging a future full of comfort items from the past was a big part of where Sherlockiana originated for the original players of the game, and that is also where Ready Player One finds its heart and soul as well . . . at least from the point-of-view of at least one over-Sherlockianly-minded blogger.

If you get to the theaters this weekend, you can see what you think for yourself.

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