Monday, March 8, 2021

Disputatious about his "dispute"

 When reading the Sherlock Holmes stories over and over and over again, one of the most remarkable things is the way one can see new things with each reading. Even after decades of trying to squeeze all the juice from this sixty-story fruit, it seems like I'm perpetually seeing something new. But is that due to changes in the words themselves or changes in me? I have to think it's the latter.

The latest instance of this occurred when "Cardboard Box" was the topic at the meeting of the Crew of the Barque Lone Star. The opening, with Holmes's mind-reading trick, came into focus and I looked at the words: "You are right,  Watson. It does seem a most preposterous way of settling a dispute."

And what was Sherlock Holmes referring to? The American Civil War. 

Yes, war is horrible. Yes, there are better ways to solve issues. But the American Civil War was fought over one issue at its core: The legal right to enslave human beings.

Suddenly Holmes's "a most preposterous way of settling a dispute" seemed far too flip, far too removed from the reality of what the subject he was using just to play a trick on his room-mate. I didn't really like Sherlock Holmes in that moment.

Those of us who weren't schooled in the culture of the Southern states also felt a bit gross over fellow Sherlockians who chose that moment to knee-jerk toss out the "No, it was the war of Northern aggression!" like that was a real ha-ha funny. It's getting very hard to take a joke that basically tries to deny historical abuse of a people.

As a person over sixty, I'm very aware of how hard it is to see something we've thought or done our entire lives as something that's no longer appropriate. Lord, the amount of unrealized misogyny built into my aged head at this point is amazing, as came out this weekend during a watch of "Coming 2 America" with the good Carter, who had a very different opinion of the movie than I did. It's so easy to just go "this is how it's always been, so why is there a problem?" "Why should I feel bad about this now?"

Younger Sherlockians discussing the Sherlock Holmes stories are always bringing up issues in the stories that slid by us in the 1970s and 1980s. Folks like Italians and South Americans take some pretty stereotypical insults in the stories, but at least they get to come and play. Asians, South Pacific folks, and anyone with skin beyond a certain shade barely get to be people in the stories, despite the one time a white guy warmly picks up his wife's daughter from another marriage.

The words of the Canon don't change. We change. 

Getting the results of one of those DNA ancestry tests back this weekend showed me that I am pre-disposed to love the Sherlock Holmes stories on a genetic level. England, Scotland, the Netherlands . . . so much Northern European there that the people of the Canon might as well be my relatives. I might have certain biases for letting Watson's little slights of those born elsewhere off the hook. But it's 2021 now, and just like we now find it a little incomprehensible that America's primary Sherlock fan club didn't admit women to its meetings just a little over thirty years ago, our attitudes towards some other bits and pieces of the hobby change as well.

Growth is a good thing. And we are still a growing hobby, even now.

1 comment:

  1. "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." -- Nelson Mandela