My Fandom is Older than Yours: Sherlock Holmes

My Fandom is Older than Yours: Sherlock Holmes

I.

I'm a non-smoker who owns a pipe. It's a long story.

I am absolutely delighted with the explosion of all things Sherlock Holmes. I’ve previously mentioned my love for Holmes before, but it’s only the rumblings of the intense BBC Sherlock fandom that has made it all chic again.

Inspired by some obscure side comments on Ghost Bees & Consulting Detectives—my favorite Sherlock Holmes tumblr—I picked up the incredibly influential William S. Baring-Gould biography from the Berkeley Public Library.

A little bit on the Baring-Gould and Holmes connection first, though. There existed a real person by the name of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. He was an amateur antiquarian, novelist, and folklorist. In Laurie R. King’s The Moor (1998), he is portrayed as a crusty old invalid who sends his godson, Sherlock Holmes, to investigate the death of a Dartmoor man.

Aside from this fictional appearance, Sabine Baring-Gould’s real and interesting childhood—as detailed in the first volume of his autobiography—is freely used by his grandson, the aforementioned William S. Baring-Gould, as the basis for Sherlock Holmes’s childhood.

So: fiction intruded upon a life, then life intruded upon fiction. Then the dance continued.

For a reader like myself, it’s almost impossible not to think of the Baring-Gould name without Holmes, and vise versa. While the old reverend was accomplished in his lifetime and still marginally remembered for his own contributions, I wonder if his ghost is bothered that younger generations think of him as “Sherlock’s godfather.”

But I digress.

What I think about his grandson’s biography is a different matter altogether!

 

II.

Fun with copyright-free clip art.

I can only describe William S. Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of The World’s First Consulting Detective (1960) as a seminal piece of fanfiction. It’s an unintentionally hilarious piece of work, with most of the giggles and teeth-gnashing coming from the serious tone coupled with the author’s unbelievable flights of fancy.

This is not the work of a fool uploading half-finished first drafts on fanfiction.net, folks. In 1967, William Baring-Gould published the two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which is still a definitive piece of Holmes scholarship. He is one of the first to fix the internal chronology of the stories (which is something Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seriously screwed up.) Baring-Gould’s many scholarly contributions are mentioned in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (2005), and he’s supposed to be someone to take seriously.

Knowing these things only made Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street an even more infuriating experience for me!

First off, Baring-Gould names Holmes’ parents and endows him without another older brother, Sherrinfold. With Sherrinfold as the heir of the family estate and with Mycroft as the spare, this makes third son Sherlock rather superfluous (in terms of succession or the entail.)

Holmes’s position as a third son enables him to rebel against his father’s choice of profession for him (engineering!) which in turn gets him disinherited. It makes sense in terms of characterization, given that Holmes only reluctantly mentions his family to Watson.

What doesn’t make sense, however, is all the other stuff Baring-Gould insisted on.

It amuses me that Baring-Gould went through extreme lengths to explain how Holmes attended both Oxford and Cambridge. (I understand that both universities claim him.) Among his other youthful exploits, Holmes meets Karl Marx and some anarchists, he hangs out with Lewis Carroll, and he embarks on an acting career (?!) in the United States. Seriously.

As a hilarious clincher to these goings-on, Baring-Gould has Holmes dressing up as a blonde streetwalker trying to entrap Jack the Ripper. Of course a struggle ensues when he is found out to be a man, and of course Watson comes along to save the day. Seriously.

It was at this point in the book where I felt the chapter could so easily devolve into a BBC Sherlock yaoi fanfic.

Dr. Watson would like to have a word with you now. Promotional still of Jude Law from Warner Bros.

Instead of that scenario (perhaps he found himself unable to write that scene?) Baring-Gould falls back on that old heterosexual standby, “The Woman.” Unable to collapse gently into Watson’s arms, during his great hiatus Holmes instead has a passionate affair with a recently divorced Irene Adler. Ms. Adler abandons Holmes once she realizes she’s pregnant. She flees Europe and later gives birth to Nero Wolfe.

Seriously.  

I won’t bother with commenting on the rest of it, aside from mentioning that the ending is pure schmaltz. I just refuse to believe that Holmes spends his last day alive surveying his life’s work while sitting by the sea, whispering “Irene, Irene” to himself like a lovesick fool.

If this was supposed to be the secret life of the great detective, I’d rather he had died at Reichenbach. At least Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted him to go out with a heroic bang. Too bad the reading public wouldn’t let him.

Holmes surely deserves more than this piteous whimper.

 

III.

I’m not sure why I’m getting all riled up over a fifty-two year old piece of fanfiction (back in the day, it would have been called a pastiche), but seriously! It gets my goat. I don’t mind bad fanfiction on the internet. That’s easy enough to dismiss out of hand. What I do mind, however, is bad fanfiction somehow made legitimate with its hardbound cover and staid dust jacket, sitting decorously on the shelves of the Berkeley Public Library, merely waiting to pounce on unsuspecting readers like myself. The nerve!

Tonight, I think I will retreat back into the welcoming arms of the canon, sniffling for this great blow to Holmes’s dignity.

 

5 Responses

    • Are you sure you can call that a fandom? Tee hee. :) I’m joking. I can imagine there being hardcore Beowulf fans. I’m just having a hard time imagining them doing fannish things like cosplay.

      The oldest and most rabid fandom, of course, is the Bible. Bible fans cosplay, write fanfiction, and troll each other.

      I thought about it, long and hard, and I have come to the conclusion that Laban is the first shipper to start a shipping war. He shipped Jacob/Leah over Jacob/Rachel. It’s mostly due to Laban’s actions that Jacob ends up with a harem.

      Doesn’t that sound like the plot of a really cheesy anime?

    • BRAVA for coming “out of the closet” and admittimg your unabashed love of THE Sherlock but, I DO wonder (and would love to sit down with you and play a Holmes trivia game…), if MY fandom could indeed be the older.
      I began my love affair with Holmes in my pre-teens (I was also a huge geek) and I do believe that he was he first man that I fell in love with – so much for Freud! I turned 51 on April 10th and am in the middle of Sherlock Season 3 BBC and my love for Sherlock has returned once more and I now find it fitting, no, necessary, to haul the dusty Doyle tomes out of the Hope Warchest and begin a thourough re-read. I might even take advantage of the new “hysteria” and begin some S.H. jewelry projects, just for the heck of it. I would LOVE to see a new generation of kids downloading (well, so much for the good old days of dusty tomes) the DOYLE books to enjoy and hand down to their kids (or whatever they do in 2029/2030…ouch).
      The reason that I “question” the veracity of your claim is you DO have the facts, and obviously the admiration for, on William S. Baring-Gould however, you seem to have left out one glaring, and important, detail – Dr. Joseph Bell, the man who Doyle built the character of Holmes around. I always thought that this was fairly common knowledge and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, as I am teasing you throughout this commentary, an essential part of any historical discussion of Doyle and the creation of Sherlock Holmes.
      I love the BBC series as it is able to capture the historic Sherlock, with all the mannerisms and behaviors,
      and inject the modern times into the storyline flawlessly (unlike the terrible Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr…Holmes as a super hero???) I also love the way they took the original story titles and changed them up, ever so slightly, which HAD to have been done with us in mind (i.e. only us “old folks” would catch it). Holmes opium habit is now a cigarette addiction but, they never mentioned the tobacco in the toe of the Persian slipper. But have you noticed that Mycroft, played FLAWLESSLY by MArk Gatiss, did not change a whit in this version (with the exception of the weight)? Bravo, brilliant. I wouldn’thave changes him either.
      I could go on all day but I’ll spare you and your readers!
      I’m glad to see these forums begin to open up to have some fun talking about this great fitional character that has stirred so many imaginations for SO LONG! I look forward to reading, and participating, in many more online, as I revive my 39 YEAR long love affair with a non-existent man!

    • Hey Darlene! :) How are you? So you’re a Nero Wolfe fan? I have one of his omnibuses but I haven’t gotten around to reading it.

      The “Holmes is Nero Wolfe’s dad” theory really made me laugh and cringe at the same time.