With all the talk of the Grand Game of late, I thought it might be a good time to try defining some guidelines for neophyte players (and we're all neophyte players, because this game starts differently every time you take up a pen or sit down to a keyboard to play).
-- The Birlstone Railway Smash
by The Birlstone Railway Smash
*** Sherlock Holmes was real. ***
Some people have never considered him anything but real, and, like all innocents, they see more truly than many a college professor. These fine folk know no more of Holmes than they know of Napoleon, Plato, or James Madison. They have heard as much or more of the detective as they have of the other three, and they know he existed somewhere in history. They're just not sure exactly where, just like Napoleon, Plato, or James Madison.
And then there are people who know a little bit more about Sherlock Holmes. They might have read a story or seen a movie. And having done so, they find the innocent assumption of their fellows backed up by something more: This fellow Sherlock Holmes just feels like a real person. He has strengths and weaknesses, beauties and blemishes, history and unexpected habits, just like your friends and neighbors.
Take the knowledge of Sherlock Holmes one step further, and you begin to find his true fans. The people who have read all sixty of the original chronicles of his adventures and seen the landmarks of history in them. Simpson's restaurant. Norman-Neruda. Hansom cabs. They have begun to see that the details of Sherlock Holmes's life exist in sources far removed from the sixty chronicles, and have a feeling for the place and time in which he lived.
To all these people, Sherlock Holmes is a real person.
They're not wrong.
*** It isn't about what you know. It's about what you can find out. ***
So, using those sixty texts as a base, you try to discover something about Sherlock Holmes, his world, or the people around him. If you like research, you can hunt down facts about Victorian England that might reveal more to you about just what was going on with Sherlock Holmes. If you like detective work, you can do as Holmes did, and analyze the events of his life looking for alternative explanations, secret agendas, and the REAL TRUTH that no one has ever noticed before. If you like using your imagination, you can flat out make something up. Seriously. As long as it sounds good, who's to say you're completely wrong? (Tying in at least a few Canonical facts is probably a good idea, though.)
*** It's not what you say. It's how you say it. ***
One of the biggest drawbacks to the Game in the modern day is the amount of work that has gone before. The bibliography of everything ever written on Holmes and company is huge, and we all live with the fear that anything we might write has been written before. Well, I'm here to tell you . . . there are still huge gaping holes in even that enormous body of literature. Holes that it's pretty easy to hit, even when you don't know where you're shooting. And even if you do hit a topic that's been done before, chances are the person that did it didn't have your 1998 brain. You've got a perspective different from anyone who came before, and that offers your work a slant unlike anything ever seen before.
There's also that fear that you might not live up to the giants of our Sherlockian past. But even those guys had to start somewhere. Although I've published three books on Holmes and written innumerable articles and columns, I started out writing stuff that was no better than anyone else's (some, of course, will say it still isn't). Sherlockians, by and large, are a friendly bunch, and you can find some very nice audiences here who don't mind if you practice on them. While you probably shouldn't be trying to practice in The Baker Street Journal, there are newsletters and journals all over the place that are delighted to get work by new writers.
*** Have fun. ***
In his introduction to The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, the man often referred to as The Literary Agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote, "I thank you for your past constancy, and can but hope that some return has been made in the shape of that distraction from the worries of life and stimulating change of thought which can only be found in the fairy kingdom of romance." And while Sherlock Holmes himself might have had a few things to say about that "fairy kingdom of romance" business, Doyle is very good about stating just why the accounts of Sherlock Holmes's cases were published.
They distract from the worries of life. They're entertaining. And when we're done reading those sixty stories, what then can the avid student of Sherlock Holmes do to distract himself from the worries of life?
Play the Grand Game.
Whether it's by reading the work of others, writing up your own works, or just wondering to yourself why Watson really was wounded in two different places, that act of extending the world of Sherlock Holmes can give you a nice little break from the unpleasantries of the daily grind. Whether he was Watson's literary agent, the guy who wrote "Mazarin Stone," or something a lot more (okay, Watson's ghost writer, perhaps, but that's as far as I'm going), Conan Doyle seemed to find satisfaction in the thought that he had provided that break for the rest of us. He did a very nice thing.
And extending that nice thing, whether it's for a few minutes or a few decades, is a noble task, despite what the critics say. We all work hard for a living, and to find a moment's relaxation from our chores is what the Game is about. It's not silly, it's not frivolous, and it may just extend your lifespan.
Who can ask for more than that?