Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Blog of Dr. John H. Watson: BBC Sherlock and Fandom

There is a 221B Baker Street somewhere in New Jersey. I saw it once: it was a narrow road with a signpost of some kind. Maybe there were Christmas lights: it might have been Christmas. My mother drove me past in an outing that may also have included her childhood home. (She introduced me to Sherlock as well as to hobbits, although she never became as concerned with their lore as I do.) I’m probably fifteen minutes from this 221B now and have no idea where it is. It is perhaps that house and that lane that ensured Sherlock Holmes and John Watson stayed in my memory, lurking, as I grew up, like the scene with the torture droids in Return of the Jedi: Holmes and Watson occupied a semi-real space in my mental topography, rarely mentioned and rarely noticed. I knew New Jersey was not London but I also knew that for someone to occupy that address they must have wished to inhabit a fictional space. So, like the Platform 9 /34  set up for Harry Potter fans in Kings Cross Station, the local 221B seems to exist in a place half-real and half-imagined.

    Therefore, watching the recent BBC Sherlock television series was a bit like returning home. Of course, I realized, a part of me had always wanted to live in the living room of 221B. (Why the living room? Why the couch? Perhaps because I have lived on a lot of couches this year. Perhaps, though, it was because that I imagined myself a perpetual apprentice to Sherlock Holmes in the same way that I would later imagine myself apprenticed to Luke Skywalker.)

    I watched the series with my good friend who happens to be an ardent shipper, and while she was picking up on every line that indicated the characters’ sexuality I tried to figure out why I was so opposed to the idea. I do not write slash fiction myself but spend a good deal of time with those that do. But I opposed it for Holmes and Watson, particularly the former, on a different sort of level. I think the reason why comes back to that childhood perception of the two. While my friend wanted to learn what they thought of each other, what I wanted to learn was how the characters saw the world. I was returned to the mindset that I could become a student of the deductive reasoning that made Holmes so genius and so lofty. I could change the way I saw. Both characters seemed asexual to me because I was attracted to at least one of their minds.

    My friend and I drove away into the post-snow January night and I thought about the “new” features of Holmes: his interest in technology, his fascination with skulls, his mental maps of London. I thought about what I could write about the 221B living room. Names repeated in my head as I thought about how the television series House is loosely based on Sherlock Holmes and its dynamic between two strong but damaged men. The names have rhythm: Holmes and Watson, House and Wilson, HolmesandWatson.

    Life and writing and fan fiction are all about people expressing to other people how they see the world. Whether they see their favorite characters interacting in new ways or whether they see a hospital instead of London, it’s all about alternate worlds and which writer is best suited to convey each one. In this way, all literature is the same. Fan fiction becomes legitimized when thought about this way because it serves the same purpose that any story does. It reveals the personal vision, the inner world, of the writer. In the loose sense of the word, the BBC’s Sherlock is alternate universe fan fiction. Fan writers can learn about staying reverent and true to the original canon while taking it in new and exciting directions from the way Sherlock introduces and uses classic characters. Exactly what lessons about writing can be gleaned from the first episode may be a post for another time. This post is primarily to say that, although I’m not sure I’ve found a new fandom myself (Sherlock has both too few fantasy elements and too few women), I understand why it’s gained such a large following. It is a well-crafted and enthusiastic show that should serve to prove that derivative works can have a strong and lucrative presence in mainstream media. The fact that it has a fandom of its own is icing on the cake.

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