Monday, November 8, 2010

Me and the SOBs

Tonight was a particular milestone for me. I presented a paper to the local gathering of The Baker Street Irregulars, known in this region as The Sound of the Baskervilles.

The paper, which was a study of fictional pastiche using the oft-repeated literary meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper, was warmly received by the SOBs, several of who gave me invaluable corrections and suggestions. I only wish back when I was working on my MA that I had such a friendly and sympathetic audience.

Now, while I am tolerant and even admiring of much of what you might call geek or fan culture, I am not really a member of any of that tribe. Yes, I know how to role a 20 sided die and know what "armor class" is, I know both the first and last names of Bruce Wayne's butler, but particulars of the worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and even Lord of the Rings baffle me. The intricate creation of imaginary universes is occasionally fascinating to visit, but I rarely stay for extended periods of time in the worlds of Stan Lee, Gene Roddenberry, or even J.R.R. Tolkien (who I think we can agree was a better writer than even Stan or Gene).


It turns out I like being a Sherlockian.

Not enough to put on a deerstalker or pick up a pipe. I was invited tonight by the SOB's President David Haugen to consider taking a Canonical name, and I have no idea where to even begin. (Though I always liked the character of young Lord Baskerville, come to think of it.)

But when the trivia started flowing tonight around the book of the meeting, in this case "The Adventure of the Reigate Squires," while I was entirely unable to answer any of the questions, I was still fascinated.

Sherlockians (or in Britain, Holmesians) are the original fans. One of their most esteemed members, Vincent Starrett (author of the essential Holmesian critical work The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) practically invented the oddly enjoyable game of treating a literary character as if he had a real life outside of the pages of fiction. He wrote seminal essays on Conan Doyle's stories not as the fictions of a sly and eccentric Scottish writer, but as if Holmes was a living, breathing person whose adventures had been captured by his best friend, Dr. John Watson.

At this late date the rules of Starrett's game have become baroque and astonishing. Errors in the stories of dates, places and names that a literary critic would suggest came from a hurried Conan Doyle skipping his proofreading duties are attributed to Watson's faulty memory or other accidents that negate the need for a "real world" author entirely. There are books like Pierre Bayard's Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong that uses narrative implausibilities in Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles to argue that Holmes didn't actually solve his famous case.

It's all very silly.

And engrossing and charming and fun. I'm grateful for the SOBers for being such warm-hearted and enjoyable people. I'll be seeing a good gathering of them at the December 8th production of "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol." You should come too.

And if you find yourself interested in a meeting of the SOBs, here's a link to their website:

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