Saturday, February 16, 2013

It's a Holmesian Thing: Fanfiction, Sherlock Holmes and Non-Canonical Works

Something about the writing world I find really weird is that fanfiction is a fringe, rather subversive act which inhabits this legally grey space. Except of course for the fact that when a work gets to a be a certain age (matures like fine wine or cheese) it's suddenly completely okay to be paid to write fanfiction about it.

I became obsessed with Sherlock Holmes when I was seven. My father and to a lesser extent my mother had always been fans Sherlock Holmes. So when they found a tape recording of some of the Sherlock Holmes stories abridged to make them appropriate for young children they bought it for me and my sister. My sister thought they were cool but I was totally hooked. I listened to them over and over again, soon it had become my most requested story tape to listen to before I went to bed at night. I became such a fan my parents finally let me watch a select few episodes of the Granada Television adaptations starring Jeremy Brett that they had recorded on VHS.

With that they created a monster, I was obsessed. From that moment on I knew exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes. None of this cartoonish running around with a magnifying class and deerstalker either, I wanted to be Jeremy Brett's elegant, Victorian detective. At eight or nine, I was finally allowed to watch all the Granada episodes along with all of the original stories. I cried when Holmes went over the edge at the Reichenbach falls, devastated that Doyle would be so cruel as to make my idol die. When my mother told me he didn't really die I was so sure she was just lying to me to make me feel better that I swore off all the rest of the stories. She had to sit me down and physically forced me to watch the tv adaptation of The Adventure of the Empty House (since I was too distraught to read the story)before I believed her.

Over the years my dedication to the Sherlock Holmes universe has not wavered. I own multiple copies of the stories, some with the original, annotated in various ways. I own numerous Holmesian volumes and am always looking to buy more. I have written articles on Sherlock Holmes, especially around images of male intimacy in the stories and contributed to the annotated homoerotic Sherlock Holmes project. Liking the original Sherlock Holmes stories is one of the very few musts in anyone I date. Each new Sherlock Holmes adaptation to tv or film I meet with a certain level of trepidation, will I like it? Will it offend my Sherlock Holmes purist sensibilities?

Yet one part of the Holmesian subculture I still find rather odd. I find it extremely strange that many authors write Sherlock Holmes stories, not just the way your average fan writes fanfiction but actually for pay. People take Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson and their world and turn them into their own as part of their jobs. There are whole anthologies of new Sherlock Holmes stories. Multiple series of books with Sherlock Holmes as a main character, sometimes interacting with original characters sometimes not.

I just can't get over the non-canonical works. It both confuses and intrigues me. Part of me marvels at our professional writing and publishing culture where fanfiction is demonized but this is completely accepted. While another part of me wonders how do you write Sherlock Holmes well enough to make him your own like that? How do you put yourself out there the new Arthur Conan Doyle? An increasingly larger part of my mind, the part that's wanted to be the Great Detective since I was seven wonders if I was given the opportunity to write the new adventures of Sherlock Holmes would I? Or maybe why would I not?


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