Monday, March 26, 2012

Street of Bakers

Sometimes I get ideas from the weirdest places imaginable.

While preparing last week’s commentary track, I had a chance to re-watch one of my favorite fan videos for the BBC series Sherlock (it’s at the end of the commentary, if you’re interested). YouTube, being YouTube, suggested several videos to watch after that, and as I had a little time to kill, I found myself surfing YouTube in the middle of the night, watching every Sherlock music video I could find. The Disney ones, the techno ones, the pop ones … people get up to some strange things in the middle of the night. I was amused enough to finish off the evening by reading “Mr. Sigerson,” Peter S. Beagle’s excellent short story about what Holmes got up to in those missing three years between his apparent death at the Reichenbach Fall and his triumphant return to Baker Street. And that night I had a dream about Sherlock Holmes.

I know, it doesn’t sound all that odd—but I almost never dream, at least not anything I can remember, and it almost never relates directly to what I’m doing during the day. On top of that, I can count the number of coherent story dreams I’ve had on the fingers of one hand, and give the peace sign at the same time. But there were a few little pieces of this dream that stuck with me as I went about my business the next day, going to work and revising The Novel.

Sherlock Holmes was one of my first real literary loves. I was ten or eleven when one of my brothers first handed me the Adventures, and I was immediately sucked into “A Scandal in Bohemia” and the dazzling Irene Adler. “The Red-Headed League” sealed the deal; I was a Holmes fan for life. I remember punching the air the first time I figured out a solution before Holmes did—something that happened only twice in my youthful reading career (“The Five Orange Pips,” where I had a bit of an advantage, and “The Solitary Cyclist,” which was a straight win). Years later, I recognized the brain-attic passage from A Study in Scarlet on an SAT form, and nearly jumped up and started cheering in the testing room because I had quoted that bit to so many of my friends.

Sherlock Holmes, I think, was the first literary character I truly identified with—which is pretty funny, since the audience is clearly meant to identify with Watson, the narrator, and to regard Holmes as a mysterious, alien force. But Holmes made more sense to me than Watson did, and I felt strongly for him. Like me at that age, he was trapped in a world full of people who saw but did not observe, who just didn’t think about anything. And like me, he couldn’t abide boredom—he chased criminal masterminds and shot up with cocaine for the same reason I chased birds and built imaginary worlds.

The years went by, and I discovered more sympathetic characters, and I made some friends and lived a little. And then Steven Moffat’s Sherlock came along, and I fell in love all over again—but this time with Watson. In Moffat’s 21st-century adaptation, the engine of the story is the relationship between Holmes, who is brilliant but apparently cut off from human emotions, and Watson, who is in many ways too human. The quirky, understated bromance makes the story run, thanks in no small part to the chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Watson. 

Much to my surprise, in this version of the Holmes story, I found myself unapologetically rooting for Team Watson—the intelligent, funny, understated man who keeps Sherlock Holmes tethered to the humanity he rejects—even as most of my friends became rabid members of Team Sherlock thanks to his eccentric behavior and zingy bon mots. And that got me thinking. What’s different in me as an adult that Watson now seems the more complex and interesting character? As a child, I cheered for the character who was designed to be incomprehensible; as an adult, I cheer for the one who’s overlooked as too ordinary. Either way, I seem to be in the minority. And while Steven Moffat surely has something to do with the change, I don’t think it’s all his work.

And that got me thinking even more—about my chilly, isolated younger self; about the Watsons in my life who showed me how to change; about the way these things seem to work differently among girls, and yet not as differently as we might think …

And a new character walked into my head. Two, actually. Two girls, from very different worlds, one with a frighteningly perfect memory and a mission to complete, the other with a strong-but-broken heart and an empty future to fill. They’re a bit Holmes and Watson, and a bit me, and a bit something else entirely, and I think I might like to follow them for a book or three …

This story graduated to its own notebook in 24 hours flat. I think that’s a record. I have high hopes for these girls, and for their adventures. I could see a rocket-powered adventure/mystery trilogy, at least, with perhaps some steampunk thrown in. The game’s afoot once more.

I’m really glad I keep spare notebooks lying around …

1 comment:

  1. Would it surprise you to know that your father's first literary passion lived at 221B?