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The Baker Street Babes are an all-female group of Sherlock Holmes fans dedicated to approaching the fandom from a female point of view, as well as engaging in fun, lively conversations about the canon, film and television adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, and associated topics.

Nov 7, 2012

Welcome to the second part of Lyndsay Faye's Sherlock Holmes class at the Center for Fiction in Manhattan! This time: Death! Below is Lyndsay's course description for you to follow along.

 

SESSION 2:  The Fall.

--The Final Problem
--The Adventure of the Empty House
--"Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes" by Michael Chabon from Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands
--
The Bruce-Partington Plans
--The Creeping Man
--"A Case of Death and Honey" by Neil Gaiman

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed himself to be shackled to Holmes to the point of inhibiting projects he deemed more important and artistic; as a result, he summarily killed his most famous character at the Reichenbach Falls.  For ten years, the public believed Sherlock Holmes to be deceased.

This circumstance has led to an array of fascinating phenomena within the cult of Sherlockian study.  Not only did Doyle inadvertently turn Holmes into a Christ figure who, like all great heroes as explicated in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with A Thousand Faces, confronts death only to rise again, but gaping holes in the plot of both "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House" have led to endless fan speculation.  

How does "The Final Problem" break numerous rules of good storytelling, and how did these authorial failures transform Holmes from a consulting detective to a mythical hero?  In what ways does Michael Chabon's essay illuminate what we love about great literature, and how does Neil Gaiman's award-winning pastiche reflect these concepts?

 

Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends is available as a book and e-book from Amazon.

Neil Gaiman's short story is collected in the short story anthology A Study in Sherlock, also available from Amazon as hardcover or paperback.


Neil
five and a half years ago

(to be read in a portentous, slightly congested voice, with many self-important upward inflections)

I'm not so sure I agree with your posit -- that Watson not having heard of Moriarty makes very little story sense.

You suggest that it would have made more sense if Watson knew about Moriarty?

The problem with this idea is that *to the reader* this would seem unlikely. *We*, after all, have never heard of him.

Watson not having heard of him also gives Moriarty waaay more mystery, and adds the necessary inertia to the forced situation.

There are many great chase stories that have followed this formula, the first popping into mind being Geoffrey household's 'Rogue Male'. In fact in that story we are not even told who the assassin/antagonist actually is. The fact that his name is kept a secret forces us to come to the worst possible conclusion.

Also, your argument about Doyle inventing plot features retroactively as being uncharacteristic, cruel, and unusual makes negative sense; this is a key/central literary trick, after all, used in the deductions themselves. Doyle is the one making up these things Homes is pointing out. The clues pop into reality as soon as Sherlock opens his mouth to observe them. The same is true for most things he inserts into Holmes' history (various skills, Moriarty, etc).

Also -- the case of the politician, the trained cormorant and the lighthouse is a hint to the reader about how these stories are constructed in the first place. Relates to the above paragraph/the arbitrarily creative nature of a puzzle-box plot, and also, in microcosm, the deductions themselves. Jonathan Creek stories are constructed in exactly the same way. A bunch of disparate (yet delightful) elements (a politician, a trained cormorant, and a lighthouse for eg.) woven together to make a solution/connection, then worked backwards to create an overarching story. The deductions are then painted in at will. When you have established characters this kind of howdoneit/whatevenhappened story can be pretty dynamic and churnable -- within reason and enthusiasm -- where some great theme or character study is not required (as is the case for most novels). It also makes for great serial interjections eg: auxiliary stories in an overarching story (eg:Harry Potter).