On the Fannish Phenomenon of Sherlock Holmes, or, My Fandom is Crazier Than Your Fandom

Sherlock Holmes: the myth, the legend, the actual 19th century archetype. There’s something about the Great Detective that drives a certain kind of person batty with desire. They want to write fan fiction pastiches. They write long treatises on theories about various oddities in the Canon that were the result of Doyle being a bit loose with his research and his memory.  They sometimes worship odd characters in the Canon, like Professor Moriarty, sort of in the way some Harry Potter fans are fond of Draco (and I’m sure that Doyle would go “WTF?” as much as Rowling did).

Really, it would seem as though the Sherlock Holmes fandom were filled with mostly 16-year-old girls and/or a lot of women, considering the amount of slashing that occurs.

But no. Many Sherlock Holmes pastiches are written by men.

Especially the slashing.

Now, you may argue that this isn’t a direct proof of craziness. After all, there are plenty of boys and men who write Harry Potter fan fiction, or Stargate fan fiction, or Star Trek and Star Wars for that matter with all their tie-in novels and stories. And with Sherlock Holmes in the public domain, well, it’s like a ton of tie-in novels from sources all over, some good, some mediocre, some that make you want to dump bleach into your brain. Not at all unlike tie-in novels in that regard.

And yet I challenge you with one thing to persuade you of the crazy inherent in the Holmes fandom.

There are many who like to pretend that Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson were real. Seriously. It’s called “The Game.” It’s fun, it’s a bit like a comics convention complete with costumes that lasts forever, except it’s in your head.  It’s also the brain space where many of the essays are written, in all seriousness, with a closeness and sort of belief that isn’t present in many other fandoms, who, even at their most pedantic and fervent, seem to always remember that they’re talking about fictional characters and hold them at a distance.

Yes, there are fringes in every fandom who believe, truly believe, that the characters are real (witness the women who consider themselves married to Snape on the astral plane), but as far as I know, Sherlock Holmes has the honor of presiding over one of the very, very few fandoms where this kind of game is encouraged in a mainstream, though not real-life delusional, fashion.  (And I say “few” because I don’t know all the fandoms out there, and conceivably there are at least a few others with the same sort of “Game” out there, just like the other side of the universe possibly has Earths where anything might have happened, like tornadoes that rain candy canes.)

This trait, though, seems to be slowly ebbing from the pool as new Sherlockians/Holmesians1 are introduced to the fandom, usually through the luscious neuroticism that was Jeremey Brett’s portrayal in the Granada television series and films. They treat the fandom as a more normal affair. Probably because there are so many other fandoms out there these days that the normality just seeps in.

And as for professional writers, the cause is totally lost. Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, was not immune. Isaac Asimov was not immune. Not even Neil Gaiman is immune. Not even Warren Ellis is immune. Mind you, though, no matter how much they mix Holmes and Watson in a stew of science fiction, fricassee them with (alternate) historical fiction, or mince them into Lovecraftian saucisse minuet, their stories tend to be sane, and some extremely good, even award-winning (such as Gaiman’s subtle and sublime “A Study in Emerald”).

So what goes into a good Sherlock Holmes pastiche? Well, hmmm, that sounds like a good topic for a future Sherlock Holmes post (which may not be my direct next post). At least, I’d do it after a post about what doesn’t go into a good Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Because that one is way more fun.

And by the by, before people go off the handle: yes, I like Sherlock Holmes, and yes, I like the fandom, and yes, I’m guilty as charged of Sherlock Holmes fanfic.2  In my fondness of my fellow fanmates I’m ribbing a little, plus there’s a point when you stare at The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes3 and conclude that, yes, your fandom has a tad of crazy in it.

1 Ah yes. That’s one of the religious wars. Akin to “Trekkie” and “Trekker,” but somewhat Victorianishly refined.
2 On Twitter. It’s a bit on the horrible side. I’ll let you find out where that one is, not that that task is very hard.
3 Purchasable from time to time through Amazon.com and other fine booksellers.


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