Canon Thursday: Why Pastiche?

Yesterday marked a milestone for me, the conclusion of the first draft of my second novel starring Sherlock Holmes and the indomitable Irene Adler. MX Publishing has given me the greenlight, and I’ll be getting it ready for publication.

Possibly as a result of this, I’ve been thinking for the past few days about why it is that we write Sherlock Holmes pastiche. (For the purposes of this post, a pastiche is any work that stars Sherlock Holmes that was not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

The canon itself is not exactly short. Conan Doyle was prolific, and fans have fifty-six short stories and four novels to sink their teeth into. And yet, people have been writing Holmes pastiche ever since the detective was created, and in today’s Internet-focused world, we see more and more fanfiction, or pastiche that is published for entertainment rather than profit. (Yes, I believe that in many cases, this is one of the only major differences between fanfiction and pastiche.)

Pastiche, of course, is not only a Holmesian phenomenon. Numerous sequels to Pride and Prejudice exist, and Scartlett, the fan-written sequel to Gone with the Wind is regarded by some as a modern classic, to name a couple of examples. In these cases and others, however, readers seem to be responding to the brevity of the source material. Margaret Mitchell only gave us one book about Scarlett O’Hara, and Jane Austen only wrote about Mr. Darcy one time. Holmes, on the other hand, stars in story after story.

In my view, it’s not so different. Sir Arthur gave us many stories about Holmes, but told us very little about the private man. What we learn, we glean between and around and under the lines, trying to grasp whatever morsels we can find. The short story format, in particular, facilitated this, each tale providing just enough room for a case, with personal details wedged in here and there.

Though ACD wrote much more extensively about Holmes than Jane Austen did about Elizabeth Bennett, there’s still such a lot we don’t know about him. It seems, as we read, that our minds are always wanting to move outward, to know more about the personal side of the detective and his world and more about the tantalizing details the author only wafted in front of us, such as the immense intrigue of Mycroft Holmes, a character so fascinating in his brief canonical appearances that entire books have been written about him.

The reason I write about Sherlock Holmes, which I believe I share with others, is the need to know more about him, whether about his work or his character or his world. ACD revealed just enough to keep us hooked, but never quite enough to make some us feel satisfied with the amount of Holmes we have. That’s why I pastiche.

How about you?

The Detective and The Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available through Amazon, Amazon UK, and The Book Depository (free shipping worldwide).

5 thoughts on “Canon Thursday: Why Pastiche?

  1. Congratulations, Amy, on your upcoming book. You’ve asked a question that’s been asked often, but your answer was a new one for me. We write and read more and more Holmes in order to feed our hungry minds. Great post!

  2. What I think is a key appeal for pastiches is the satisfaction of seeing a familiar character, presented with a new or unexpected context, behave in ways that match your expectations and confirm your concept of the character. I think that’s one of the reason the world’s second funniest joke reported by LaughLab in 2002 is a Holmes pastiche. I think the experience is comparable to the rule of threes in comedy: audiences enjoy perceiving a pattern and seeing that pattern fulfilled in an unexpected (pastiche) or subverted (parody or spoof) way.

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