Because Friday is Big Important Final Draft of my Thesis is Due Day, I have for you another excerpt.
As this is the final draft, I actually have an introduction now.
The fame of Sherlock Holmes goes without saying. Over a hundred years after his creation, even those who have never read one of his stories are conversive in his life and methods. What does seem to require explanation is the source of this unparalleled popularity. Each new edition, short story collection and pastiche opens with a new list of plausible explanations for the phenomenon. A 2003 collection of short stories, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan and combining the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft with the world of Sherlock Holmes, calls him “the most recognizable figure in English-language fiction” and cites his sheer intellectual prowess by way of explanation (xi). Unlike real life, in the world of Sherlock Holmes, the editors claim, there are no unsolved mysteries. Peter Ackroyd’s introduction to the 2001 Penguin Classics edition of The Sign of Four takes up a similar note, discussing both the readers’ inclination to view Sherlock Holmes as a real person and his amazing powers of insight. By the end of his essay, Ackroyd concludes that “such a detective…should exist, if only to bring order to apparent chaos” (vii). Indeed, for many there seems to be something comforting about Holmes’ authoritative, humanistic approach to life. Another perspective appears in Laurie R. King’s afterword to her first Beekeeper’s Apprentice novel, a pastiche series featuring the continuing adventures of Holmes and his wife and partner, Mary Russell; a good deal of Holmes’ popularity, she claims, comes from the stories’ distinct sense of time and place. For King, Holmes represents a world that did not survive World War One. This association makes him a powerfully nostalgic figure. Then there is John Joseph Adams, who dedicates his introduction to The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (another short story pastiche collection, this time transporting Holmes into the world of science fiction and fantasy) to presenting Holmes’ revolutionary use of rudimentary forensic science as the key of the sleuth’s lasting success (1). In contrast, Bruce F. Murphy, while introducing the Barnes & Noble Essential Reader’s edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, hones in on Holmes’ surprising humanity (xi). Maybe the most intensive exploration of what makes Sherlock Holmes resonate with the reading (and non-reading) public comes from Kyle Freeman in his introduction to the second volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Freeman takes twenty-three pages to explore an exhaustive list of possible explanations including: Holmes’ intelligence, self-assurance, unerring judgment, sense of humor and eccentricities as well as his dedication to crime fighting and his gentlemanly sensibilities.
While many of these explanations touch on effective, innovative or appealing qualities of the stories, none of them offer a single convincing explanation for the remarkable strength and longevity of the Holmes phenomenon. I propose that it is not any part of their content that accounts for Holmes’ popularity, but the unique narratological structure of the stories which separates Watson from Doyle and creates a completely self-contained text. It is this isolation that enables Watson, and of course Holmes, to emerge from the world of the stories as fully-realized, plausible individuals.
Someone let me spend a year of my life arguing that Watson and Holmes are almost real people. Sometimes, I love college.