Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sherlockian writings and a movie

I've been on a kick lately seeking out Holmes pastiches, Sherlockian books, and even movies. On impulse I picked up the British TV video, Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars starring Jonathan Pryce. I also found Nicholas Meyer's Seven-Per-Cent Solution and bought Christopher Redmond's In Bed With Sherlock Holmes after reading several passages on the Google preview. It's a shame that Redmond dismisses Holmes and Watson as gay in Chapter IX. He'd been doing so well pointing out subtexty moments in SPEC for example, and he called the Three Garridebs wound passage a "love scene," but then he just comes out saying "The bald fact is that the detective and his partner are not portrayed as homosexuals." Sigh. But I guess that's the way of most Sherlockians.

I may not be completely fair to Redmond as I have been skipping around in the book rather than reading it in one go, but I have read a lot of it on Google already. The odd thing is that Redmond mentions having read The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and he points out that the writer (Larry Townsend) has a surprisingly deep knowledge of the canon, even though he is filtering it through a skewed gay porn viewpoint. That was my opinion of reading Townsend's book, too. Though it was filled with sometimes distubing BDSM plots and even included a throwaway line about Mycroft and Sherlock having been incestuous in the past, it was clear that Townsend had done some genuine source reading. You would think that if Redmond was your regular staid Sherlockian that he would be deeply, deeply offended by the book, but no, he lists it quite casually, then moves onto quoting another Sherlockian about reading Holmes and Watson as symbolic projections of Conan Doyle's personality.

You know, if traditional Sherlockians believe that all slash is the same as Townsend's book or even crackfic about vampires, tentacles, robots, and such, then sure, I can see why they wouldn't be comfortable with that. Everyone's entitled to their own limits of squick. But plenty of Holmes/Watson slash is strictly vanilla sex, and set in the regular Victorian world of the canon. (I know my own fic is mostly that type, though I'm guilty of the occasional crackfic.) So what's wrong with them being gay (or even bi) in such a context, especially given all the Sherlockians who freely speculate on Holmes with Irene Adler, one of the Violets, or Maude Bellamy? If they can lead the cold-blooded reasoner into love, then why can't Watson? Why isn't it a valid reading of the canon for us to see a deeply tender love between Holmes and Watson, (or in sadder fic, a one-sided unrequited passion)?

Sure Doyle probably never consciously wanted to write them as gay, but Redmond's book was about reading both Doyle's conscious intent, and his unconscious intent brought about by sexual frustration in his complicated marital life. And Redmond himself argues in his chapter about homosexual overtones that Doyle doesn't have to be gay himself to write gay characters or gay imagery. He even partly defends Samuel Rosenberg's much derided readings of symbolism in the canon. Redmond acts like he's a newer nontraditional Sherlockian, but he's not really that modern. But the book is from 1984, so I can only hope that he, or other Sherlockians, are coming to a more open point of view. You can say they're not gay in your opinion, but to say that it's a fact, and not offer proof, is just damned offensive. Anyway, Doyle himself let the American actor William Gillette give Holmes a love interest in his play; he said, "You can marry him, or kill him, or anything you want." I think we can be entitled to call him gay as well.

I was much happier with my purchase of Meyer's book. I have previously watched the film adaptation years ago when it aired on PBS I think, and I wanted a refresher on the whole Holmes-Freud-cocaine connection. I remember being delighted by the film, especially because Watson wasn't a dunce, nor fat, nor old. I could look past the blond Holmes since his name Sherlock after all means "fair-haired," and he acted reasonably well in the part. Although I did not agree with the whole Moriarty-as-Holmes's-tutor thing and Holmes's traumatic memory of his father killing his adulterous mother, I was fascinated by the cocaine plot. The case was somewhat weird and over the top, with Lipizzaner horses, and people dismantling a train carriage when they ran out of coal, but the movie did have more grounded, realistic scenes, like Holmes's touching apology to Watson for insulting him during his withdrawal. So to me it was obvious that the story had been written by someone who actually loves the original canon.

If only I could find a copy to watch again, now that I am a slasher! But the only copies I can find on Alibris are woefully expensive. So I settled on picking up a copy of the book, and was pleased that it was as good as the movie, even though the plot was slightly different. The only thing that really annoyed me was how Watson kept interrupting the narrative to defend himself about using hansom cabs instead of the London underground, and using telegrams instead of telephones. When is Watson ever that defensive? Oh and I also didn't like how Meyer's plot with the Baron who was an arms maker had to foreshadow the coming World War I. What was wrong with an ordinary plot of murder for inheritance? Many of Holmes's cases in the canon are really tiny crimes and scandals; not everything has to have an international impact.

Jonathan Pryce 2007 TV movie

Finally, I watched the Baker Street Irregulars movie all the way through despite the fact that it was clearly anachronistic and featured an evil Irene Adler. I mean, Irene wasn't just a disreputable adventuress, doing some blackmail or art theft; she was a full-on criminal mastermind who had no problem personally getting involved in murder and kidnapping. They totally rewrote Irene's backstory so that she didn't meet Holmes in SCAN, but at an art museum, and they did indeed have some kind of affair in the past. That also allowed the Irregulars to pull a SCAN-like fire trick on her, but it was quite disconcerting nonetheless. Not that I have any problem picturing Holmes with a criminal mastermind. Some Holmes/Moriarty fics can be convincing, and I have sometimes held the view that Holmes's reference to "the most winning woman I ever knew" bore a trace of bitterness suggesting that he had been in love with the woman before discovering her plot of killing children for their insurance money. But I guess I'm not prepared to see Irene Adler in that light, and they'd changed her so much they might as well have just given her an original character name. At least William Gillette had the courage to create a totally new woman for Holmes to marry, instead of falling back on Irene.

But I continued to watch anyway because I was interested in the theme of the Irregulars. One of the girl Irregulars (yes there were girls) was resentful of Holmes and felt he didn't care about them, treating them only as servants. And the male leader of the Irregulars clearly wanted to be a detective like Holmes and was talking about how he would soon be too old to be an Irregular anymore.

I have often wondered if there were ever tensions like that among the Irregulars, and whatever happened to them once Holmes disappeared in FINA. We are told that Mycroft maintained the rooms for three years, but what about the Irregulars? The ages of the Irregulars is problematic too. They are described as young boys in STUD, which is probably set in 1881, and yet in SIGN, seven years later, they are all still described as young boys. So is Wiggins still the same boy, or is it a title that he has passed on to his successor? What happened to the original Wiggins, and his original peers? I worry about these things, and sometimes hope that people described as Holmes's younger rivals like Barker in Retired Colourman, are ex-Irregulars. Did Holmes ever provide for the boys' welfare or education? In the movie, one Irregular repeatedly claims that he (actually she) can't read, which I hope is a lie, because surely Holmes would need all his Irregulars to be capable of reading messages, not just delivering them. Even if he didn't, it would be a useful life skill that he could surely help them to acquire? In the movie, Holmes eventually does tell the Irregulars that he has made arrangements for their future, but doesn't say precisely what those arrangements are. He doesn't trust them with too much money, because he sees them spend it unwisely, so I'm sure it's some kind of trust fund or something they'll have access to later. In a way it might be better if we assume that the Irregulars do have families, however poor, and aren't just orphans on the street. Consider Holmes a supplement to their living, and not the sole supporter.

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