Canon Thursday: The Klinger Decision, Myths, and Comic Books

CushingHolmes

Several months ago, the much-publicized case of Les Klinger versus the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate finally went before a lower court judge. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Estate had, for years, been extorting and attempting to extort money from authors and other producers of Sherlockian media, based on a totally fictitious idea that Holmes was still in copyright, even though many of the stories were already firmly in the public domain and free for use.

(Lest this seem like a small problem, I have personal friends and acquaintances who were harassed, either personally or through their publishers, and there are myriads more, many of whom paid up just to avoid a legal fight.)

The Estate lost in court, but, as usual, did not know when to say uncle and appealed, all the way up to the US Supreme Court, who didn’t even deign to give a reason for refusing to hear such a ridiculous case that had already been firmly decided according to the rule of law. This past week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals put the icing on the cake by ordering the Estate to pay a large chunk of Klinger’s legal fees, while calling Klinger a public servant and the Estate frivolous.

What I want to discuss is the philosophical component of the Doyle Estate’s argument, the idea that all the stories should stay under copyright because Sherlock Holmes, as a character, is incomplete without every single one of them. Now, this argument predictably didn’t hold up in a court of law, and I suspect the Estate’s legal team didn’t think it would. I sense major straw-grasping when the house of cards started tumbling down. Everything worked fine when they were scaring people into paying money they didn’t owe. When Klinger, who knew the law well enough to know he could fight, stood up and challenged them, they were like a schoolyard bully left without his mojo.

Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let’s evaluate the actual defense as if there’s someone, somewhere, who truly believes in it, the idea that Sherlock Holmes is somehow incomplete as a character without every last story Doyle wrote about him. (Even if this were true, it’s hardly a copyright argument, since copyright law is not based on character completeness, but bear with me.)

I have a somewhat unusual origin story when it comes to my affinity for Sherlock Holmes. I read the stories as a child and enjoyed them, but it was the pastiches of Laurie R. King that really hooked me. She was the signpost that pointed me back to the originals, but what truly intrigued me was the idea that there could always be more. Holmes’s world, I learned, would never be static is long as lovers of the character chose to write about him in new and interesting ways. It was that huge, expansive world that drew me in.

Since the beginning of the current Sherlockian wave, my story has become less and less unusual. Lots of fans, these days, are coming at Holmes through doorways marked “Sherlock” or “Elementary” or “Watson & Holmes,” a racebent comic that puts the characters in an urban American setting. Some are even coming through a door marked “fanfiction,” their literal first experience being one gifted to them by another enthusiast choosing to share their passion with the world.

This week, after seeing the film Guardians of the Galaxy, I did a little bit of research on protagonist Peter Quill. What I discovered is that, like most comic book heroes, Quill has more than one origin story, and the filmmakers picked the one they liked best. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the main X-Men characters–they’re all this way. At different times and places and cultural moments, a writer chooses to reinvent them in a way that he or she feels is relevant.

The thing is, Peter Quill wasn’t any less complete as a character when his stepfather tried to kill him (original story), and he’s no more of a character now that he was raised by a single mother (current story). Loki is no less Loki when he’s a woman, a kid, or the iteration we now know from the Avengers films.

The point is, modern heroes are our own equivalent to oral tradition, like the stories sung by poets like Homer, that changed and expanded and contracted based on ancient contexts. In an ironic way, the ever-changing nature and impermanence of the Internet facilitates similar changes and expansions. The current craze has swept Sherlock Holmes into this kind of existence.

Fanfiction writers, show producers, and comic illustrators take Sherlock Holmes as the basis for their myths, and they expand him, change him, and sometimes even contract him. I do this in my books, less aggressively than some, but my stories would have nowhere to go if I refused to expand the character or his world. Laurie R. King showed me that this was possible. Her Holmes is (intentionally and self-awarely) just off the original, like a dialect derived from a language. But he’s a complete character in his own right. As is my interpretation. And as is the Holmes in the fan fiction some high school student somewhere is writing in her bedroom as I type this. When you love a character, change and expansion are not disrespect. They’re homage. But they also don’t add or take away from the character as he originally appeared, either.

Some might throw up their hands and wail at the idea that Holmes is in any sense like a comic book hero, but it’s an honor for him to be lifted into the pantheon of characters so passionately loved that fans cannot resist continuing to write new things about them, new stories that reflect new places and times. But no new iteration takes anything away from the old ones.

Perhaps the biggest reason the Estate’s philosophy fails to resonate with me is a personal one. You see, I may not be a guardian of any galaxies or the wielder of the Tesseract, but I’m a character in the story called life, and my time hasn’t ended yet. I’m not the same person I was yesterday, and I’m not the same person I’ll be tomorrow. And yet, I’m a 100% complete person today, just like Sherlock Holmes is in A Study in Scarlet, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, and every story in between.

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How to get my newest book:

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

How to get the previous two books in the series:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

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Canon Thursday: Sherlock Series 3

(Spoilers, mostly for things that have been officially revealed by the production team.)

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With recent news of the imminent (finally) release of Sherlock series 3, I’ve been thinking about the potential of a post-hiatus installment of the show. Prior to this, we’ve had a traditional dynamic–two flatmates, living in Baker Street, solving crimes together.

What now? What circumstances will Sherlock Holmes return to find in his world?

In the canon, Watson marries before Reichenbach, and when Holmes comes back, he finds his friend a widower. In Sherlock, we have yet to see Watson marry, but information about the identity of Amanda Abbington’s character is certainly suggestive. (Spoilerites may have seen more definitive information about certain things, but I’m trying to be vague.)

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Another puzzle piece was provided by the production team when they released information about Lars Mikkelsen’s character, Charles A. Magnussen, whom Holmesians immediately linked to Charles Augustus Milverton, Doyle’s master blackmailer. How his role may affect the main characters has yet to be revealed.

Mustache_Watson

 

Finally, and most importantly, we have the glorious majesty of the Watson ‘stache. Doyle’s stories famously contain very little physical description of his main characters, and only in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” are we treated, indirectly, to a description of Watson as, “a middle-sized, strongly built man — square jaw, thick neck, moustache, a mask over his eyes.”

The BBC team has apparently taken this description very much to heart, presenting us with a be-stached Martin Freeman–but not just any mustache–this is something to be truly looked forward to by fans everywhere.

What are you anticipating about series 3?

p.s. The wait may very well have broken my brain.

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The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

Canon Thursday: More Room for Holmes?

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Sherlockian author Charlotte Anne Walters asked an interesting question on her blog this week: Is the media market saturated with Holmes, or is there room for more? Everyone should hop over to her blog and take her poll on the subject.

Since I’m shameless that way, I’m going to borrow her topic. Charlotte brought up the still-untapped market of mainstream viewers who haven’t yet discovered Holmes, which is a very valid point. I’m going to go at it from a different angle.

For better or worse, the most recent Holmesian wave primarily owes its existence to the Big Three: The Guy Ritchie films, Sherlock, and Elementary. As a result of these three things individually and in different combinations, literal millions have suddenly joined a fandom that was alive and well before, but admittedly very much a niche interest.

Do I think the market is saturated? No, I don’t. I think it’s just about ready for a new, faithful, serious, Victorian adaptation to hit the English-speaking world. Now, before I lose my hearing from all the voices yelling at me that the Granada Holmes adaptations are what I’m talking about, I’m not disagreeing. However, as great as those were and are, there’s a large segment of the Holmesian fandom who simply isn’t going to go back to something that ended before they were born. And if they do, they will still have room for something new.

That’s the nature of visual media. I watch the Christopher Reeve Superman films or the original Stark Trek movies, but that doesn’t meant I have no room for new adaptations. Even brilliant franchises can handle a quality reboot every two decades, which is what we’re coming up on.

Much has been made of the fact that TV has led a new generation of fans toward the Holmes canon. I believe it’s coming up on time for those fans to see that canon find new life on screen, a life that is not only faithful to the stories in spirit (as Sherlock so brilliantly is), but also faithful to the time and place of Doyle’s world.

What do you think?

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The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

Canon Thursday: First Holmesian Act of 2013

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It’s a new year, and Mrs. Hudson is looking over your shoulder to make sure you don’t neglect your Sherlock Holmes obsession. The question is, what was your first Holmesian act of 2013? If you haven’t done anything Holmesian yet, get with it! (And tell us your plans.)

My first real Holmesian act of the year was working on the editing process for The Detective, The Woman, and The Winking Tree, my second Sherlock Holmes novel, which is coming out February 13th.

How about you?

 

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo. Grab it before the sequel launches February 13, 2013!

Canon Thursday: Outrageous Holmes

During the course of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 stories starring Sherlock Holmes, the world’s only consulting detective does some fairly outrageous things. Among them are faking serious illness, faking death, becoming engaged to a maid, fooling his best friend into thinking he’s someone else, and taking part in Irene Adler’s wedding.

Reichenbach notwithstanding, I tend to think that Holmes’s fake engagement is probably his most outrageous moment in terms of doing something out of character for the sake of a case.

What’s your pick for Holmes’s most outrageous canon moment? Let me know in the comments.

 

Canon Thursday: Meeting Holmes

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t know who Sherlock Holmes was. If memory serves, my first experience of the Conan Doyle stories was through an audiobook from the downtown public library when I was about eight years old. The narrator was excellent, and I was properly creeped out by “The Speckled Band.” After that, I read some of the stories for myself, and I remember being dreadfully sad at Holmes’s death, until my older sister, who was past me in the stories, took pity on me and told me that he came back. Some imprint of the joy I felt remains, and The Empty House is still one of my favorite Holmes stories.

A few years later, during my teens, a friend bought me a copy of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. I was dimly aware that the concept of Holmes pastiche existed, but that was my first personal encounter with it. I’ve been a Holmes/Russell devotee ever since, to the point that I usually purchase Ms. King’s books the day they are released because I can’t bear to wait any longer.

The BBC Sherlock series in 2010 rekindled my desire to read the ACD Holmes canon, so I embarked on a re-read that revolutionized my love of the detective. I realized that as a child, while I had been able to enjoy the suspense and cleverness, I had been too young to appreciate the dry humor and subtle wit that color nearly every story. Reading with grown-up eyes made me fall in love with Holmes and Watson all over again.

Now you know how I met Sherlock Holmes. What’s your story?