And I don’t mean Benedict what’s-his-name. 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: Nicholas Meyer’s Seven Percent Solution, for instance. The best don’t’ simply give the reader another mystery, but contribute something of depth to what we know about 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 all the tiny ephemera a writer needs to know.
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) The mysterious allure of a complete protagonist. I’m wondering if Holmes and Watson together are a duel protagonist. I fall back on Carl Jung’s psychology to say that, together, they make up a target for our self-projections that is complete. One mysterious and one accessible. Holmes has a special relationship to evil that allows him to understand and overcome it. Though he always has a good excuse, he is sly when he puts on his disguises. He can’t be trusted when he lets Watson believe he is dead. He is mean when he encourages the housemaid to fall in love with him in order to get into the house.Watson fits into all the places that Holmes doesn’t take up. He is open, good natured, long-suffering, honest and kind. They form a perfect sphere. Other characters bounce off by the end of each story. Lestrade. Morstan. Mycroft. The Woman.
I’m still working on my story. I see more as I go. My new motto is, Scriptora facit Scriptor. (The writing makes the writer.)