Monday, September 26, 2022

The landscape we call "Sherlockiana"

Early in 2018, Rob Nunn started a regular feature in his Interesting Though Elementary blog called "Interesting Interviews." It has evolved a little bit over the years, but the question that has led off every one is this: "How do you define the word 'Sherlockian?'"

It seems like such a simple question, but in an age of both gate-keepers and boundary-challengers, it's can become complex and argued very quickly. Being a matter of identity for the Sherlock Holmes fan, it also becomes personal very quickly as well, from an early place in one's fandom. You enjoy Sherlock Holmes, in one incarnation or another. You find there are other people who do as well, who have studied and created to express their enjoyment, and those people call themselves "Sherlockians." (Or "Holmesians," if you're British.) And then there's a moment . . . perhaps one you don't even notice in passing . . . when you realize you are one of those people.

The thing is, Sherlockiana is a many-headed beast.

For every part of this hobby you look at and see folks like you enjoying Holmes as you do, you'll see a dozen more doing things you cannot do. Whether due to talent, funding, or even just plain comfort level, none of us can do it all. Oh, we may flirt with doing it all in our early years. We may become ambitious in our later years. But, trust me on this: Sherlockiana has become far too big for any single person to be a part of it all.

Of course, one can be a bit of an ego-maniac and try to redefine Sherlockiana so it's small enough for one to be the wonder-Sherlockian of one's dreams, but that never ends well.

Do we all become niche Sherlockians in the end? 

Art. Scholarship. Pastiche. Fic. Media. Even the greatest gadabout among us, who seems to be everywhere, can create a gadabout or socialite niche. But none of us are even limited by those. Identity is a very complex thing. And perhaps "niche" isn't even the right word.

One could come up with a crude scoring system and say "Rank yourself one thru five on each of these categories of Sherlockiana," but even that can't capture the totality of any one of us. This morning I watched an Italian politician passionately trying to score points by claiming that people who thought identity was more complex than three or four binaries were attempting to steal everyone's identity. It was a passionate, engaging speech but also a perfect example of someone actually preaching the very opposite of the words coming out of their mouth, a thing we see a lot these days.

Because none of us are simple. We may follow well-marked roads to ease the decision making process day-to-day. But none of us is a train, bound to a set of tracks built by the Sherlock Holmes Railway Company. We can jump a fence and run rampant through forests or fields of Holmes at any given moment.

For being a Sherlockian isn't a job, like plumber, accountant, or nurse, requiring a specific duty to be performed. Being a Sherlockian is more like being a Midwesterner, a European, or an islander of any sort -- it's a place, a whole land that we have to explore, a big country with all sorts of people in it.

And there's always some fool who wants to say what "a real Sherlockian" is, just as with "a real American." A statement that's more about their own insecurities than actually knowing the landscape, and a sign that person needs to get out a little more and see what a diverse and expansive place their own homeland really is. I suspect that Rob added the question "How do you define the word 'Sherlockian?'" way back when because some fool or the other had been acting up with their personal definition and he wanted to bring other views to the table, to show we, as a culture, are not limited by the boundaries of one insecure individual or another. Rob's a good guy that way.

I originally started this post with the title "Boutique Sherlockiana" because I was trying to ponder my own current place in this world of ours, thinking it a "niche." But at this point, it seems a lot like "the place I'm standing right now, before I mentally wander somewhere else."

 Sherlockiana is truly a country of the mind, and one we all have a lot left to explore.

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