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The View from the East End (33)

By Inspector Hopkins

February 26 , 2006

But seriously, folks . . .

One subject that the newcomer to Sherlockiana will eventually bump into is that of how much seriousness should be applied to the hobby itself as well as to the “Grand Game”.

Put another way, how serious are we when it comes to our treatment of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson?  Remembering that the whole idea of Sherlockiana is to have fun, there are still some points that we should consider. Going along with the Game, I suppose you could take the seriousness to various levels. Some folks take Sherlock Holmes very seriously, and won’t tolerate any deviations from some supposed standard. These same folks don’t like to see any fun poked at our heroes, and so might be considered Sherlockian “purists”. They don’t want to see different interpretations of Holmes in films such as “Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother”, for example.  They would be appalled at Brad’s “Brain Action Theatre”, and the “tent joke” would be out of the question.

The idea of seriousness comes more sharply into focus as we start to intermingle with others at scions meetings, chat rooms, and e-groups such as the Hounds. Once you begin to put Sherlockians together in the same room, whether it is a virtual one or the bricks-and-mortar variety, the differences between them become much more apparent. Take for example, the Hounds List. Once a fairly erudite thread is started on some particular aspect of the Canon, and you’re following it along, someone will chime in with a joke or a limerick, or some sarcastic comment. This can have the effect of side-tracking the topic and is a cause for annoyance for the members, some of whom can become quite miffed at this. I have seen this result in at least one member being banned. On the other hand, I have also seen some copious amounts of deadly serious discussion of Sherlockian minutiae that would have put Edgar W. Smith himself to sleep!

When I first began to perceive that there were two camps of Sherlockian attitude out there, I wanted to be on the purist side. I quite logically thought that being more serious would be more respectful to Holmes and Watson, and would make them seem more real. 

But, as a newcomer, I didn’t realize that there was so much sarcasm involved with the hobby!  I quickly began to pick that up as I went to more and more scion meetings and events.  My naivety began to wear away and become replaced by the harder line of reality.  I found that I had to make some more room for a less-than-somber interpretation of Sherlock Holmes and the hobby as a whole.  This became easier and easier with time, until I realized with a start what the simple root cause of my discomfort was all along:  a lack of knowledge!  Yes, folks, the more you know about Sherlockiana, the more comfortable you are with it. And the more comfortable you are with it, the easier it is to accept some levity. This is particularly true when you realize that no disrespect is intended towards our heroes, and the humour is derived from intimate knowledge of the Canon. That is, you may not get the joke unless you know the Canon inside out.

I also originally had the idea that “Sherlockian Scholarship” was very academic and followed the same rules and intent as any scientific research project. And it certainly can be. But after delving around more and educating myself more, I now realize that much of this seemingly serious scholarship is just thinly veiled sarcasm!  Further reading and research into Christopher Morley’s attitudes verifies this. In fact, it seems quite plausible to me that the genuinely serious Sherlock Scholarship may have evolved from the sarcastic stuff after all. But we’ll never really know for certain because the written word just doesn’t always lend itself to a completely accurate interpretation of intent.

Playing the Game can also take several forms. Some people enjoy finding all the inconsistencies left behind by Watson and take great delight in exposing them.  Others, like myself, go rather the opposite way and look for any opportunity to prove that Watson was correct after all.  Much indeed has been written on both sides of this fence as well.

The bottom line is that either of these paths could be taken seriously or not, but at least, within the Game, both paths still assume that Holmes and Watson were real.

And for any diehard Sherlockian, that’s all that really matters.

Until next time, when we shall take a look at a newer tool for our toolbox, I am indeed,

Yours faithfully,