This January I started a new feature on The Watsonian Weekly called "Where'd Watson Hide It?' and as the weeks have gone by, the topic seems worth a post.
Sherlockians write every sort of thing in celebration of Sherlock Holmes, and our scholarship often wanders into fictional realms, as fond as we are of the premise that Holmes and Watson were historical figures. But nothing struts proudly across that line as plainly as the forward, preface, or introduction to a classic pastiche, where the "editor" explains to us just how this particular novel was discovered.
It can be the original tin dispatch box pulled out of the vaults of Charing Cross (as depicted so perfectly in cinema by Billy Wilder or as a start to the horrors perpetrated by Michael Dibdin). It can be found in the attic of an old house in America. Someone can track down one of Watson's old addresses, find a descendent of a Canonical character, or hit up an estate sale. But no matter how they find it, the real life of the author is somehow supposed to have crossed the line into the world of fiction and brought back the treasure we all dream of.
And some authors somehow find multiple manuscripts in multiple places.
One of the most popular non-Sherlockian uses of this technique is the thirty-two page introduction to The Princess Bride by William Goldman. (If you've only seen the movie, stripped down and over-populated with celebs of the time, you're missing a real treat.) Goldman creates his own Canon, his own beloved book from childhood, and his own "Watson problems" to write about in a beautiful work that does not seem all that far from the best Sherlockiana. In fact, I think there are Sherlockian lessons to be learned from The Princess Bride for those who take joy in an active imagination.
There have been no collections of "How I Found Watson's Papers" stories, and it would be quite an undertaking to gather up all the rights involved, but it would actually be a beautiful thing to see. So many creators actually reaching out to touch the mythic Watson artifacts in so many ways, in that half-seen land between dreams and waking.
As our little Watson podcast trundles along, I'm looking forward to exploring more of the myriad places where Watson's manuscripts supposedly wound up, as that weird little hybrid of essay and short short story is quite a thing unto itself, a part of a book that isn't really the novel you came to see, but a fun transition to get you our of our world and into Holmeses. It's definitely a longtime part of "playing the game" that we don't focus on by itself, and I think that's worth a look.
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