Monday, August 22, 2016

Yo, Holmes

My laptop is down for the moment, pending a new hard drive install.  In the meantime, I've got the yen to write and cannot work on my ongoing projects very easily.  So what I've decided to do is work on a quick fun Sherlock Holmes story.  Its been quite a while that I have wanted to try my hand at one, and I have an opportunity now.

The story I've chosen is one of the over one hundred "unwritten tales" that Doyle throws in only as brief mentions in his tales.  Theres a whole huge list of them, some sounding quite intriguing, such as The Giant Rat of Sumatra and Ricoletti of the Club Foot and his Abominable Wife.  I chose one of the more famous untold stories, mentioned in The Six Napoleons, mentioned as The Dreadful Business of the Abernetty Family by Watson.  The only clue we have is where Sherlock Holmes mentions he was introduced to the case by "the depth which the parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day."

This obscure clue is a bit difficult to work out; parsley won't sink into anything unless its a whole sprig, and why would you lie one on the butter?  That in its self suggests several possible directions, not to mention why it would interest Holmes.

Yet I am no Arthur Conan Doyle, nor do I claim to be able to accurately mimic his style.  I suppose with great study and time I could do a fair knockoff -- indeed I intend to do just that in some passages -- but I thought of a better device.  Instead, the story will be told by Dr Watson's daughter Beryl, during WW2, years after the death of both men, using a newly discovered set of notes about the case.

With this device, I can have portions of Watson's direct notes but mostly Beryl's era and phraseology, which I am much more comfortable with than Victorian England.  I won't say much here beyond that about the full case other than to say I'm plotting in reverse -- figured out the conclusion then working back from that to how Holmes got there -- and that its going to be two interwoven cases which seem utterly unrelated to all but Sherlock.

But there are some philosophical things I want to establish about the stories.  Too often, people have picked up Holmes and used him for their own purposes or misunderstood the entire point of the Sherlock stories.

As I see it reading Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle had three different kinds of mysteries he'd write. 

  • The first was about the science of deduction; he was not so much interested in the mystery its self so much as highlighting and explaining how deduction works and teaching the concepts of logical, systematic thinking. 
  • The second was about some social topic or theme he wanted to touch on, such as how awful blackmail was. 
  • The third was a story he wanted to write, and he used Holmes as the launching point, such as with Hound of the Baskervilles or Sign of the Four. This usually came from his historical researches. 

As I read other knockoff books about Sherlock, most of them do not seem to understand these purposes and will write about something else, usually tacking on deduction as an afterthought or to make it seem Sherlockian. That's something I hope to avoid -- I want my story to be about deductive and inductive reasoning and the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of each.

Further, people too often do not understand the characters of Watson or Holmes very well.  Holmes is portrayed as a lunatic, a jerk, a half-formed "fully functioning Sociopath" or a dirtbag addict.  The problem is viewing the character through modern eyes rather than as Doyle saw and intended him, in his time period.

Holmes was a Victorian era knight.  In the place of armor, he had official and police backing.  In the place of a sword, he had his incredible intellect.  In the place of jousting, he dueled wits with his opponents.  But the code of chivalry -- the romanticized version -- in which the great knight stoops to help even the lowliest person, following a personal code of honor, facing any difficulty with glee and always with courtesy and dignity... that's what Holmes was about.  That is what Doyle viewed a Victorian gentleman to be; a knight for a "modern" era.

Holmes was the intellectual side, Watson the physical side.  Holmes was a thinker, a scientist, even a philosopher.  Watson was more earthy, direct, and was a soldier.  Between the two of them, no quest, no challenge was too great to attack and defeat.  Their dragons were criminals, blackmailers, and thugs.  Their weapons were more sophisticated and subtle, but often just as deadly.

Further, Watson is not a bumbling retard.  While the show is poor Sherlock, the female Watson played by Lucy Liu is closer to the real character than most.  Jude Law's Watson seems to despise Sherlock and is his intellectual equal, but not as capable in combat (!).  Martin Freeman's Watson started out a strong and capable companion but quickly devolved into the hapless boob.

Watson is a very handsome, capable figure with military training, skill in weapons, and is bright enough to often keep up with Sherlock in the later tales -- even to the point of being praised by Sherlock.  I'll peel back why he so often portrays himself as a fool in the stories, and those who disagree can simply chalk it up to Beryl Watson overestimating daddy.

So, as time goes on, I'll write this story in segments, raw and unedited as I think of the tale on Wattpad.  I have two segments out so far you can read, and as they are added to, I'll alert people on Twitter and Facebook.