I bought The Sherlockian for the cover (which you talked about here), but I stuck around because, well…it’s about freaking SHERLOCK HOLMES. Oh ho, I had a great time with this book.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a recent initiate to the world of Sherlock Holmes, and, frankly, I don’t think I can legitimately call myself a “ Sherlock Holmes fan” yet. An admirer, yes. A crazy-enthusiastic fan of the TV show Sherlock, most definitely yes. But I’m still working on becoming a true Sherlockian.
I have to give credit for the majority of my recent interest in reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to Benedict Cumberbatch’s beautiful coat (and face *cough*). And though I have enjoyed the mysteries so far, what I find most fascinating is not so much the stories themselves, but the fandom and mythos surrounding The Great Detective. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a massive fan following in the late 19th century and it hasn’t died down since. I realize there have been other contemporary fanbases that lasted until modern day (Mr. Shakespeare, perhaps?) but the Sherlock Holmes fandom appears fairly unique in its longevity and rabidness.
The Sherlockian is a piece of that fandom, a member of the genre (category? breed?) called “Doyle Pastiche.” It is one of those books that has two storylines running in alternating chapters. We follow Arthur Conan Doyle himself, as he wrestles with his overly enthusiastic fans and his deep-seated jealousy for his own creation, and Harold, our modern day protagonist and youngest initiate to The Baker Street Irregulars, the real-life invitation-only Sherlock Holmes society. The story blends historical fact and fiction, and discovering which is which in the Author’s Note is fascinating.
Of course there are murder mysteries in both timelines, but the stories also dive into the nature of fandom. Harold uses his encyclopedic knowledge of Holmes canon to follow the clues surrounding the murder of a fellow Irregular. An Irregular who recently recovered the lost diary of Doyle. Where does Harold’s passion for Holmes stem from? What drives him to follow the clues? What happens to his faith in Holmes when he reaches the end of the mystery?
Doyle’s story is just as fascinating as it delves into the author-reader relationship. It makes me want to read a biography of the man—an author incredibly jealous of his own fame-generating creation, who hated being asked to sign books as “Sherlock Holmes” instead of “ Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle,” who always bemoaned the lack of recognition for his other work, and who became so fed up with the whole Holmes hullabaloo that he flung his famous protagonist off a cliff. This riled fans to such an extent they wore black armbands in mourning, sent Doyle piles of angry letters, and accosted him in the street. In The Sherlockian, Doyle, and his buddy Bram Stoker (who knew? I LOVE the random historical tidbits in this book), start doing some sleuthing of their own because a crazy fan sends a letter bomb to Doyle with a note stating simply “Elementary.” Forget George Lucas, Doyle had fans at a whole other level of angry.
I find fandoms completely fascinating, probably because I’m a part of so many. What is the strange concoction of variables that somehow produces a work of fiction that becomes the center of fan devotion and obsession? Where does this dedicated, passionate mob of people come from? How and why do they spawn organizations like The Baker Street Irregulars? What is an author’s relationship to his fans and how does he react to such extreme enthusiasm?
Shoot, I wish I had been a Media Studies major. I could have written the thesis: The Game is Afoot: The fandom of Sherlock Holmes, 1880 to present day. Damn, that would have been good…or at least highly amusing for me.
The multiple shelves of “Doyle Pastiche” at Powell’s Books
How bad is it that I’m almost enjoying the Doyle Pastiche genre more than the Doyle stories themselves? My inner book geek is feeling a wee bit guilty.
PS Couldn’t resist putting this picture up as well:
I believe in Sherlock Holmes! You are awesome, mystery Powell’s-shelf-talker-writer!