There's a phrase in certain circles of comedy known as "cobitment." A mash-up of the words "bit," as in comedy bit, and "commitment," as in sticking to a thing. It is basically an expression of committing one's self to continuing a joke or gag long past when others might have given it up. The thought of cobitment came to me this morning in relation to this game Sherlockians have been playing for so very long.
Whether one considers it "the grand game" or "the great game," a game is what we call the exploration of the sixty stories found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes as history. Real, factual history that intertwines with those things we find in other historical records of the era, requiring research, documentation, and all those things normally reserved for serious minds doing serious things.
It's not really a gag or a joke. We're not looking to lead anyone down a Watsonian path and then suddenly go, "Ha-ha! Fooled you!" It's not a joke made funnier by repetition or extending it out, as one would think when using that "cobitment" idea I started this train with. So what is our game?
It's really a sort of "let's pretend," where we gather up the like-minded scamps and indulge ourselves with an imaginary landscape for a time, laid over the world we know. We can peruse the theatrical records and look for traces of Irene Adler. We can take old maps of London and hunt up Saxe-Coburg Square. We can take a safari thought J.G. Wood's works for a glimpse of cyanea capillata. And with each foray into such adventures, Mr. Sherlock Holmes becomes a little more solid, a little more real in our minds.
Now, occasionally the adults on the porch are going to shout, "ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE! ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE!" and call us in to quite playing for a while and deal with serious matters. I always have found that a little irritating, but then, I'm not so mature nor well-behaved as some of the other children. Sometimes, the other kids go in for a dose of proper medicine, whilst some of us stay out in the yard, chasing Garridebs. Is that sticking with a gag that has gone on too long? Our just wanting to stay up and play just a little while longer in that world that hides all around us.
Writing our own tales of detection and romance can be fun, letting Watson's spirit flow through our fingers into the keyboard, creating worlds where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson roam where we'd like them to. But that thrill will never match finding that one sentence in that one old book that tells you, "Yes, this thing I read in 'The Bruce-Partington Plans' is actually a real thing!" or finally putting your hands on a bullseye lantern and feeling that surface that Sherlock Holmes once felt.
If that was committing to an ongoing joke, that little thrill would not be there. That little moment of impossible possibility that the legends could be somehow true. It's ironic that I've actually heard Sherlockians express fears that our game might lead someone to believe that Sherlock Holmes was real, and that Conan Doyle was a mere literary agent, somehow losing all deserved credit for his work. For I think Conan Doyle saw the magic in crossing into "that fairy kingdom of romance" for a time, and had he not found himself dead center of the Holmes hurricane, would have enjoyed the game.
Perhaps, rather than a joke we're committed to, our game is a opiate that we're addicted to. Perhaps there should be warning labels for us, rather than those we're in danger of tricking with our games. But that's for the surgeon general to decide.
Me, I'm going back outside to play.