Monday, February 25, 2008

More Real Than Not

"You remind me of Edgar Allen Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such
individuals exist outside of stories"

So says John Watson to Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle's first novel starring the "world's most famous detective". It's kind of a literary in-joke (In many ways Dupin was the prototype for Holmes himself), made funnier by Holmes' disgust at being compared to such a "very inferior fellow." It's also funny the distinction Holmes and Watson make between the "fictional" Dupin and the "real" Sherlock Holmes. When you take his vast fame and position in the public eye into account, Sherlock Holmes is in many ways more real then not.

Holmes has a strange cult following. Holmesians, if you will, study his life as if he were indeed an actual historical figure. These scholars dissect the four novels and fifty-six short stories Doyle penned about the detective in an attempt to create a full historical biography on him. They pick out the minutest of clues and fill in the gaps left by Doyle with speculation and educated guesses. There are even conspiracy theories surrounding Watson's narrator biases.There have been multiple biographies of Holmes published, and there have been scholarly debates over certain inconsistencies within the stories. Look into it sometime, it's some strange stuff.

On a less esoteric, Holmes has become so ingratiated in our culture that his influence goes beyond that of many real individuals. For instance, Sherlock Holmes is an inducted member of The Royal Society of Chemistry. Quite an achievement for a fictional character. No "real" Sherlock Holmes ever lived at221b Baker Street, but his house is a museum now nonetheless. They've recreated his sitting room (how does one 'recreate' something which has never existed?), and he apparently receives a great deal of mail there. UKTV did a survey recently and found that 58% of British teenagers thing Sherlock Holmes was a real person (whether this is a testament to Holmes popularity or a failing of the school system I will leave up to you).

Now I'm not judging- I actually think it's kind of awesome that a piece of fiction can be so influential that it actually leaps into real life. And I certainly understand the strange and special feeling of visiting a historic site of a fictional event (See the past three months of blogging for reference). I think maybe that is the mark of really great fiction. Literature so stirring that it blurs the line between reality and fantasy so that while you may cognitively know something isn't real, your heart and your imagination override that fact.

I haven't investigated 221b Baker Street, but I'm hoping to maybe get over there this weekend so I can report and tell you if I have a run in with the great detective himself. March is going to be a busy and exciting month so stay tuned because I should have lots to say!

PS. For a really cool, strange and funny twist on the fictional characters as real people/fiction as reality scenario, I highly recommend all of the books in the Tuesday Next series by Jasper Fforde, starting with The Eyre Affair. Actually I recommend it anyways, some of the funniest nerdy literary in-joke fiction ever. The man's a genius. A hilarious, hilarious genius


Your Mom said...

And who turned you on to Jasper Fforde?

Cari Pittleman said...

What an excellently written and thoughtful post!