Tag Archives: Literature

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.

 

Miss Climpson on the Gender Wars

Miss Climpson on the Gender Wars

“I think men are apt to be jealous of women,” replied Miss Climpson, thoughtfully, “and jealous does make people rather peevish and ill-mannered. I suppose that when one would like to despise a set of people and yet has a horrid suspicion that one can’t genuinely despise them, it makes one exaggerate one’s contempt for them in conversation. That is why, my dear, I am always very careful not to speak sneeringly about men—even though they often deserve it, you know. But if I did, everybody would think I was an envious old maid, wouldn’t they?” 

— Miss Climpson to Miss Findlater in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Unnatural Death (1927)

Lord Peter’s Opinion on “Modern” Literature

Lord Peter’s Opinion on “Modern” Literature

“After all, it isn’t really difficult to write books. Especially if you either write a rotten story in good English or a good story in rotten English, which is as far as most people seem to get nowadays. Don’t you agree?”

 

— an observation of Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Unnatural Death (1927)

Final Thoughts on Moving and Migration

Final Thoughts on Moving and Migration

This series of favorite quotations were first posted to my old blog last March 21, 2011. 

 

Quoted by Edward Said in Orientalism:

“The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.” — Hugo of Saint Victor (12th century mystic)

The alternative version, as paraphrased by Carlos Fuentes in Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins:

Being satisfied with remaining in one’s homeland and feeling comfortable there is the first stage in a man’s development; feeling comfortable in many countries is the next stage; but perfection is attained only when a man feels exiled in any part of the world, no matter where he goes.

 

I will never claim to know perfection but I certainly feel like a stranger all the time. In the past six months I have been in three different countries. I felt like the tourist when I was in Auckland, New Zealand; I was bumbling and awkward in Oakland despite the presence of family. In its pursuit of the eternal facelift, Manila managed to change bits of its external landscape while my back was turned. Familiar landmarks were razed and some favorite stores disappeared. Even on a psychological level, the subtle differences were bewildering.

There will never be another home again. I haven’t left and I already know this to be true.

Thoughts on Moving and Migration II

Thoughts on Moving and Migration II

La baladeuse ~ The caboose

There used to be a white streetcar that ran between Bayonne and Biarritz; in the summer, an open car was attached to it: the caboose. Everyone wanted to ride in that car: through a rather empty countryside, one enjoyed the view, the movement, the fresh air, all at the same time. Today neither the streetcar nor the caboose exists, and the trip from Biarritz is anything but a pleasure. This is not to apply a mythic embellishment to the past, or to express regrets for a lost  youth by pretending to regret a streetcar. This is to say that the art of living has no history: it does not evolve: the pleasure which vanishes vanishes for good, there is no substitute for it. Other pleasures come, which replace nothing. No progress in pleasures, nothing but mutations.

— from Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1977) 

Thoughts on Moving and Migration

Thoughts on Moving and Migration

The Age of Property holds bitter moments even for a proprietor. When a move is imminent, furniture becomes ridiculous, and Margaret now lay awake at nights wondering where, where on earth they and all their belongings would be deposited in September next. Chairs, tables, pictures, books, that had rumbled down to them through the generations, must rumble forward again like a slide of rubbish to which she longed to give the final push and send toppling into the sea. But there were all their father’s books—they never read them, but they were their father’s, and must be kept. There was the marble-topped chiffonier—their mother had set store by it, they could not remember why. Round every knob and cushion in the house sentiment gathered, a sentiment that was at times personal, but more often a faint piety to the dead, a prolongation of rites that might have ended at the grave.

It was absurd, if you came to think of it; Helen and Tibby came to think of it: Margaret was too busy with the house agents. The feudal ownership of land did bring dignity, whereas the modern ownership of movables is reducing us again to a nomadic horde. We are reverting to the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future will note how the middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the earth, and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty. The Schlegels were certainly the poorer for the loss of Wickham Place. It had helped to balance their lives, and almost to counsel them. Nor is their ground-landlord spiritually the richer. He has built flats on its site, his motorcars grow shifter, his exposures of socialism more trenchant. But he has split the precious distillation of the years, and no chemistry of his can give it back to society again.

— from E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End (1910)

 

Galeano on Jorge Luis Borges

Galeano on Jorge Luis Borges

1935: Buenos Aires

Borges

Everything that brings people together, like football or politics, and everything that multiples them, like a mirror or the act of love, gives him the horrors. He recognizes no other reality than what exists in the past, in the past of his forefathers, and in the books written by those who knew how to expound that reality. The rest is smoke.

With great delicacy and sharp wit, Jorge Luis Borges tells the Universal History of Infamy. About the national infamy that surrounds him, he doesn’t even inquire.

— from Eduardo Galeano’s Century of the Wind (1998)

Galeano on Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Galeano on Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1928: Aracataca

Garcia Marquez

The roundup is on for the wounded and hiding strikers. They are hunted like rabbits, with broadsides from a moving train, and in the stations netted like fish.One hundred and twenty are captured in Aracataca in a single night. The soldiers awake the priest and grab the key to the cemetery. Trembling in his underwear, the priest listens at the shootings begin.

Not far away, a little boy bawls in his crib.

The years will pass and this child will real to the world the secrets of a region so attacked by the plague of forgetfulness that it lost the names of things. He will discover the documents that tell how the workers were shot in the plaza, and how Big Mamma is the owner of lives and haciendas and of the rain that has fallen and will fall, and how between the rain and rain Remedios the Beautiful goes to heaven, and in the air passes a little old plucked angel who is falling into a hen-house.

from Eduardo Galeano’s Century of the Wind (1998) 

Review: Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy

Review: Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy

A slightly different version of this post first appeared on my old blog on July 27, 2008.

 

I’ve picked up Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy again. I’m on the last installment, Century of the Wind.

It has always surprised me that not many readers are familiar with Eduardo Galeano. If there’s any writer I discovered after university who has a profound impact on my writing, it would be he. Galeano’s what my friend Marc might call “a ’90s sort of writing.” Others might dismiss as postcolonial twaddle. For me, that’s just fine. His preoccupation with history, the dark side of revolutions and colonization may be profoundly relevant and thought-provoking, even agitating, but it’s his words that are just so seductive. Besides, his style is well fitted to this blogging generation that demands stories to be pithy, well-written—and all under 200 words.

Memory of Fire is amazing. All three volumes consist of vignettes on the history of the Americas—not just South America, but also Central and North America. He starts with pre-colonial myths in the first volume (Genesis) and continues with the arrival of the Europeans. The second volume (Faces and Masks) is painful and heart-wrenching as it details the various anti-colonial uprisings and struggles throughout the centuries.

Each vignette is put into proper context: dates, cities, and footnotes are provided. Each volume has around 400 historical and literary sources—practically a crazy thing to do for fiction, but that goes to show how well-researched and ambitious this work is. In Galeano’s eyes, the Americas collapse and become one: the struggle of all natives—from disparate groups such as the Inuits and the Nahua—become a single struggle against a common enemy who wears different faces.

I don’t recognize all the historical figures that peppered the first and second volume, so the third volume is a downright pleasure as more names become familiar. Galeano talks of Mexican novelists Manuel Azuela (The Underdogs) and Juan Rulfo (Pedro Paramo), the childhood of Louie Armstrong, the Zapatistas and the Sandinistas.

I particularly liked what he said about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges; I’ll post them separately to highlight their differences.