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?