Do You Play The Game?

 

On Episode 23 of the Baker Street Babes Podcast, which you will soon be able to hear, we discussed the topic of Old and New Sherlockians: generation gaps, the changing face of the Holmes fandom, and a whole host of related issues. One thing we touched on was the idea of playing The Game.

Playing The Game means treating the Sherlock Holmes stories as if Holmes and Watson were real and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was simply Watson’s literary agent. It includes things like finding explanations for Watson’s inaccuracies and placing events in the stories in historical and geographical context. In the past, or so I am told, a certain amount of acrimony existed between those who played The Game and those who took a Doylean approach, which considered the stories in light of the author’s life and times.

For many years, it seems, most Holmesians took one approach or the other. In more recent times, however, a whole new influx of fans has arrived, some who have seen only screen adaptations and others who have read the stories but are not aware of The Game or its detractors.

Perhaps because I am American and did not grow up knowing other Holmes fans, I was not even aware of the concept of playing The Game until I encountered the novels of Laurie R. King, who plays it in her stories by putting Holmes and Watson into historical context and allowing them to meet real-life historical figures. The idea that people played The Game on a more personal level escaped me until I wrote my own novel and began to interact with other authors and passionate fans of the stories.

Personally, I find The Game immensely entertaining and appealing. Fans of the BBC Sherlock series have continued the legacy through the #BelieveinSherlock campaign, and a huge group of Sherlockians worldwide continues to play it in the traditional way.

At the same time, I also find the Doylean approach helpful, as it allows the reader to understand the canon more fully by connecting with its author. In recent years, historians like Alistair Duncan have illuminated little-known facts about Conan Doyle that provide valuable insight into Sherlock Holmes. The idea that anyone would dismiss these facts because they are incompatible with The Game is unfortunate indeed.

When all is said and done, I play The Game when I write. Readers of my novel will encounter not only lightbulb inventor Thomas Edison, but many other historical persons with whom they may be less familiar, such as John T. Murphy and Tootie McGregor. When I read, however, I go back and forth. I enjoy Watson’s secretive references to things he cannot share with the public, and I have as much fun as anyone imagining Holmes meeting Queen Victoria. As a lover of literature, however, I cannot help also having the author in the back of my mind as I try to understand his purposes and why he chose to present the material the way he did. I cannot give my whole brain to The Game; Conan Doyle looms too large in my consciousness.

Here’s my question to you: Are you aware of The Game, and do you play it?

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5 thoughts on “Do You Play The Game?

  1. Great blog post! Also a subject that I find really interesting. I love playing the Game, especially when it comes to the detective work when writing theories and binding together different facts in the Canon. I’ve e.g. written an essay about Dr Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles and the fact that he was corresponding member of The Swedish Pathological Society. For my research I read 80 years old thick books about Swedish medical history – books that I never ever would have read, had it not been for this essay. And I actually found these books really exciting! And I learned so many new things! That’s one great thing about playing the Game – you never know what kind of new knowledge you just happen to get.
    I also like to not play the Game. I find Conan Doyle really interesting, and I’ve always done so. I’ve done a lot of research on his Scandinavian tour in 1929 and I try to dig deeper and deeper to find even more things. For me it’s not a problem whether to play the Game or not. I do both things. And it’s equally fun.
    I’ve been a Sherlockian/Holmesian/Doylean for 25 years. And whatever path I take I find new, fascinating things. Right now I’m working on a theory which will explain the hidden plot in The Sign of Four (Sherlock Holmes has one really, really strange line in that story – and I must try to explain why). And at the same time I have a Doylean approach when I write my nonfiction book on the 125 years of Sherlock Holmes success.
    Really looking forward to see the rest of the discussion!

    /Mattias
    (Stockholm, Sweden)
    Twitter: @mattias221b

  2. I think like you, I play the Game when I want.

    Of course I enjoy reading stories that put Holmes in a historical context, even though Doyle himself didn’t overindulge in this. You don’t find Holmes meeting with a named Prime Minister or swapping stories with Mark Twain. Most of the references are oblique or obfuscated (Holmes himself isn’t in Utah or Pennsylvania).

    And I really enjoy stories such as George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman series, which works very hard to put Flashman at Balaclava and Greasy Grass and Pickett’s Charge.

    In critically examining the stories, however, I find I am unable to play the game, maybe because of my own poor attempts at writing. I empathisize with Doyle’s dilemmas. Although I wish Holmes were real, I find myself more and more looking at the stories from Doyle’s point of view. I keep trying to figure out his inspirations and motivations.

    For instance, it’s hard not to look at The Final Problem without putting it in the context of Doyle wanting to kill off his creation. That’s why it’s always such a struggle to shoehorn Moriarty into the Canon.

  3. I think like you, I play the Game when I want.

    Of course I enjoy reading stories that put Holmes in a historical context, even though Doyle himself didn’t overindulge in this. You don’t find Holmes meeting with a named Prime Minister or swapping stories with Mark Twain. Most of the references are oblique or obfuscated (Holmes himself isn’t in Utah or Pennsylvania).

    On the other hand, I really enjoy stories such as George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman series, which works very hard to put Flashman at Balaclava and Greasy Grass and Pickett’s Charge.

    In critically examining the stories, however, I find I am unable to play the game, maybe because of my own poor attempts at writing. I empathisize with Doyle’s dilemmas. I like your line: “ Conan Doyle looms too large in my consciousness.” Although I wish Holmes were real, I find myself more and more looking at the stories from Doyle’s point of view. I keep trying to figure out his inspirations and motivations.

    For instance, it’s hard not to look at The Final Problem without putting it in the context of Doyle wanting to kill off his creation. That’s why it’s always such a struggle to shoehorn Moriarty into the Canon.

  4. An important question – well timed too. We can trace the unbroken line of interest in Sherlock Holmes back to the Strand, via Victorian theatre ,silent film, talkies and tv but we now “hear of Holmes everywhere” on the internet: Facebook, Twitter and Blog posts illustrate the volume and range of approaches as never before imagined. I don’t !Play the Gane” but am fascinated by the approach – as I am by a Doylean standpoint. Looking at my own Blog I reckon I fall most squarely into a third category – critical analysis of the Canon as literary works of Art.

  5. Pingback: July is Sherlock Holmes Month! | We Recycle Movies

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