What is it About Holmes?


And I don’t mean Benedict Cumberbatch, though he’s a fine actor. I mean the whole thing. The address on Baker Street, the brother at the Diogenes Club, the archvillain, the lesser villains, the pipe, the violin, the needle. I’m asking myself because I’ve been working at a Holmes story, myself, and almost in spite of myself.

I have taken my work to my gang of wonderful critical readers at U Penn’s Kelly Writers House. The first thing I heard was, “I don’t read this kind of stuff.” Then, as they began to read some of it, several said, “I actually downloaded one of the real stories.” Now they wonder aloud if  Watson would really do what I’m proposing, and why isn’t Holmes in more of the scenes–and “Isn’t he supposed to be doing morphine, too?”

My reasons for writing about Holmes:

1) A chance to participate in a legend, contribute my own runt-of-the-litter imaginings. In some quarters this is called fan fiction and seen as a low order of creative expression. On the other hand, I’m in good company. Though other-than-Conan Doyle-Holmes stories run the gamut, I think some are better than Doyle’s: Julian Symons’ A Three Pipe Problem or Nicholas Meyer’s Seven Percent Solution, for instance. The best don’t’ simply give the reader another mystery, but contribute something that engages us even more fuller in the world of 221B.

2) The challenge of historical fiction. I like the research and meeting new people as I ask questions pertaining to my storyline. I am  currently reading, How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide  to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman. I now know how they dressed from the skin out, how they went to the privy, how they exercised, ate or didn’t eat, had sex or didn’t. It’s a wonderful, readable book with ephemera a writer might miss–and stumble over, otherwise.

3)  The dynamic relationship between Holmes and Watson. I find them equally attractive as characters. Exploring the energy in their friendship leads to all kinds of questions. I ask myself if I’ve ever witnessed such friendship between men. The answer is no. Even what we call “buddy” films or stories don’t quite capture it. Perhaps it’s a thing of the past. Or unAmerican. An informal poll amongst guys has shown that such friendships do exist in the military.

4) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s allegiance to the Queen. It’s just sweet. I’m sure if I were living under that long and mighty reign (63 years, 7 months, 2 days) I’d be squirming, but the fiction that there could be such an all good and powerful government is comforting. If they’d just had penicillin . . .

5) I’m wondering if  Holmes and Watson together are a duel protagonist. Together they serve as a target for a more completely human, and yet preeminent, detective. He’d be both mysterious and accessible. Holmes has a special relationship to evil that allows him to understand and overcome it. Though he has a good excuse, he is sly in his many disguises. He can’t be trusted when he lets Watson believe he is dead. He is mean when he encourages the housemaid to develop a crush on him in order to get into the villain’s home. Watson fits into all the places that Holmes doesn’t take up. He is open, good natured, long-suffering, honest, and kind. Watson defaults to the stolidly traditional, but he can be convinced to “stretch.” Together they make a sphere. Other characters “bounce off” by the end of each story. Lestrade. Morstan. Mycroft. The Woman.

I see more as I go. My new motto is, Scriptora facit Scriptor. (The writing makes the writer.)

photo credit: N00/4645260687″>DSC_0638 via photopin (license)

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