Guest blog! David Thomas Moore on Baker Street

Posted: October 5, 2014 in Fantasy, Guest blog, Sci-Fi
Tags: , ,

The good folks over at Solaris Books offered me a guest blog and editor of the brilliant anthology Two Hundred and Twenty One Baker Streets stepped up to offer his thoughts on that most enigmatic of characters, Sherlock Holmes.

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Hey there, and thanks for having me on the Bookbeard’s Blog. I hope my own modest beard serves in this illustrious company…

So, with less than a week to go (at time of writing) before the release of my first anthology, Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, I’ve been asked to write about the reinvention and appropriation of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. It’s an interesting question, and “reinvention” is, truthfully, an engaging idea. To reinvent; to invent again; to create what has been created already, because in creating it again we are both creating something new and shedding new light on the old.

Baker Streets has been described in more than one review as “fan fiction,” generally in a positive way, and while that term invokes a fairly specific body of work – informal, unpublished, unpaid, often written without permission – the comparison’s not unreasonable. Apart from anything else, the fourteen women and men I brought together to tell the many stories of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are fans; nearly half of them have published Holmes pastiches elsewhere, and at least one of them was recruited when she overheard me talking about the project at a con and jumped on me: “I love Sherlock Holmes!” And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

And what fan-fiction – pastiche – reinvention – call it what you will – does is democratise art. If you’ve studied lit-crit to any level, you’ve almost certainly been sat down in front of a copy of Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” in which the French literary theorist tells us that the author, as owner and authority, “dies” as soon as her work is published. As soon as the work is read by others, it becomes theirs; their experience of it, their interpretation, becomes the truth, pre-eminent over the intent, reported or imagined, of the original.
Pastiche legitimises the reader’s new authority. “This is what I saw in the original,” says the author, “and so I rewrite it in that light and share it with you,” and – not accidentally – the new author dies with publication, and the reinvention is reinvented by a new round of readers. Sherlock Holmes, reimagined and rewritten scores of times, filmed, recorded and set in board, roleplaying and computer games, belongs to everyone.

The irony of course being that the very idea would be anathema to Sherlock Holmes himself. As an investigator, picking up the miniscule clues for which he’s famed, he depends on finding the objective truth, free of interpretation and bias. He knows that that scuffing on your shoe, and that smudge on your cuff, and that hair on your shirt, means you’re a philandering war correspondent for the Times, and in his eyes, that’s all those things can mean. If there’s one truth – one perfect, objective truth – always findable at the heart of any mystery, then how can there be many truths within the man himself? How can there be many Sherlocks?
Maybe there can’t. What Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets shows us is that, from seventeenth-century Worcestershire to 1960s New York and from the townships of Pretoria to the fantastic world of the Seven Lords Wizard, Holmes himself (or herself) is the same. The same acerbic, short-tempered, superior, wild, dangerous champion of truth, striding impatiently through the lies and misdirections wherever you find him.

What the reinventors do, with Holmes, is summon him to their worlds, like the wizard’s assistant Wu Tsen in Tchaikovsky’s “The Final Conjuration.” They summon the old bastard to witness injustice and fight exploitation – the oppressive government of Emma Newman’s “A Woman’s Place,” the sexual predator of Gini Koch’s “All the Single Ladies,” the strange, murderous cult of Kaaron Warren’s “The Lantern Men” – and, like any amateur demonologist, having summoned him, they often find him singularly hard to banish.
I suspect we’ll be seeing more of him.

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