And what are we up to today?
Alright, so you’re an author and you’ve just discovered: Horror of horrors! There are people out there WRITING FANFIC. They are borrowing YOUR world! Puppeting YOUR characters through plots you DO NOT condone! How very disrespectful, not to mention theftful. Is that a word? Theftful should be a word. We could totally convince the public that it’s a word.
Anyway, it probably feels like someone has rifled through your intimates drawer or sat in all your chairs or picked your kids up from school and taken them to the super cool theme park down the road for a day of awesome that you didn’t know existed.
Or maybe a week of awesome.
Wait, it’s been a year. ARE PEOPLE STILL DOING THIS TO MY BRAINCHILD???
Okay, let’s take some deep breaths here.
Whatever you’re thinking about these grabby-handed fanficcers, I guarantee you it’s been said before. There is so much negativity tied to fanfic already. So much. For the biggest naysayers, it’s all about destruction, violent deconstruction, and unlawful appropriation, not to mention lack of creativity. We’re just butting our heads over the same damn material again and again.
Therefore, authors, in the spirit of creation instead of demolition, I present you the following challenge (You like challenges, don’t you? You wouldn’t be writing if you didn’t…):
Instead of blaming the ficcers (who exist whether you bitch about them or not), let’s tackle the only thing you actually can control: Yourself. Your mindset. The way you look at what’s being done with your work. Because there is indeed a flipside to this grotty, devil-spawned sewer-dwelling coin you’ve been smacking repeatedly with a stick.
THE MISSING SCENE
(aka, that time when you wrote about two characters who drove from Place A to Place B, and then someone went and actually wrote the conversation they had in the car! The one that you skipped! Because of Reasons!)
Rude! I left that conversation out because it wasn’t necessary. Everything that could be gleaned from it is implied later, duh. Fanficcers must be unobservant sots.
But Wait... They are observant as hell. In fact, they are so observant that they needled through all your carefully placed clues and REVERSE MANUFACTURED how that conversation might have gone so that the characters ended up where they needed to. They cared enough about your writing to start analyzing it. They cared enough about your story to poke at why and how you could have pushed a character through it.
(For the record? That bolded bit in there is the lesson I want you to take away from this.)
'Legitimized' Missing Scene fic: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, aka, the missing (and slightly whacked) scenes of two side characters in Hamlet.
Huh. That’s... kind of flattering. But wait, what about:
THE SLASH FIC
(aka, that time when your characters were not banging each other and then someone went and wrote them banging each other! They are not gay! Straight! Pan! Whatever!)
Rude! Excuse me, my characters are NOT interested in each other like that. They are too busy having a plot. They are not focusing on sex. They don’t look each other that way!
But Wait... …Do they look at each other that way? Author, my most hearty congratulations: your story officially has subtext. Yes, I said subtext, that elusive underwater ripple that enriches every amazing plot ever. Your readers were so invested, so riveted in the interplay between your characters that they saw something there that deserved further exploration. They cared enough about your characters’ fates to wonder if they would ever walk down such a path.
'Legitimized' Slash Fic: A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes, an anthology of stories exploring the possibilities of queer relationships between a multitude of Holmesian characters.
Well, okay, that’s pretty nice, people caring about my characters. But hang on, sometimes they add a completely new character:
THE MARY SUE (or GARY STU)
(aka, that time when your characters met an awesome exchange student who is way too sweet and lovable and self-sacrificing and has all the answers and looks exactly like the fic writer and shows up just in time to kick ass, take names, and fall in love with the protagonist. What the hell, you have to fix my story by solving everything through a non-entity??)
Rude! Earth to Reader: if I wanted Poorly Concealed You in my story, I would have added Poorly Concealed You to the story, and cleared the copyright issues with Real You first. My characters can solve their own problems. They don’t need an interloper with perfect hair.
But Wait... Earth to Author: your reader loved your world so damn much that they wanted to live in it. Serious compliment.
'Legitimized' Mary Sue/Gary Stu: Lost in Austen, wherein Random Modern Girl switches places with Elizabeth Bennet, gets Darcy to jump in a lake, and finds out that Austen’s story is more complicated than she thought.
Alright. It still makes me roll my eyes, but I guess that makes sense. But wait a sec, what about:
THE MODERNIZED AU (that’s Alternate Universe, btw)
(aka, that time when your characters were snatched out of Regency England and plopped into 20th Century America with absolutely no explanation and given cell phones and driver’s permits and fashion computer programs and wait, that’s Clueless, right?)
Rude! The reason I wrote this story in said time period is because this story takes place in said time period. You can’t just move everybody to a new era and call it a brand new story! The same shit’s going on to the same people, you haven’t created anything.
But Wait... That’s because they adapted everything. Guess what? Your story has staying power. Your story is thematically sound in any time. Your story was so strong that even transposed into another era with other values and other daily occurrences, it still means something. The lessons it contains still hold water. Readers still identify with your characters. YOUR STORY IS STILL RELEVANT. Yowsers, that’s like, Shakespeare or Homer or Marquez or Conrad or Gibran or Hughes or Achebe or Austen or Tolstoy or Bronte.
'Legitimized' Modernized AU fic: Sherlock (TV series, Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle), Bride and Prejudice (Bollywood movie, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen), Gankutsuou (anime, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas), West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare)… Look, just Google “modern adaptations of classics.”
Wow. I really do want my work to have staying power. But come on, why do they have to write:
THE POV SWITCH
(aka, that time when you wrote a story from one character’s POV and then someone wrote the same story from the other character’s POV instead.)
Rude! Hello. I chose that specific perspective for a reason. If I wanted to write multiple POVs, I would have. You got everything you need for the plot from listening to the one character. You don’t need to rehash it through the other one’s eyes.
But Wait... But what if they were struck so hard by that scene that they had to re-imagine it? What if they get that all confrontations are multi-sided and they respected your characterizations so much that they wanted to give the other person a chance to speak? What if they were curious about your other character? What if they just wanted to explore what that person might have thought while speaking whatever was spoken? Your character motivations are dense, layered, mysterious, and engaging to your reader.
'Legitimized' POV Switch fic: The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (aka, what happened to Rochester’s first wife)
Yeah, okay, but that’s not what they do. Sometimes they change the entire conversation!
(aka, that time when you wrote your characters starting and finishing a conversation and then someone wrote them starting the same conversation and ending up in outer space)
Rude! This is the only way this conversation with these characters could have gone. They each have a fatal flaw that leads them here. You are changing who they are.
But Wait... Your characters are well-developed, ergo they are layered, ergo they make choices, ergo they have complex personalities. Ergo, what if they’d said this instead? How might the entire plot have re-spindled off of this one pivotal moment that YOU came up with? Trust me, if someone is remixing your work, they are complimenting its depth and potential.
'Legitimized' Remix fic: Pretty much all of Penny Dreadful. Also, every time any anti-hero or antagonist ever got to tell the other side of the story.
Well, I definitely like knowing that my characters have depth and potential worth exploring. But seriously, do they have to write:
THE BACKSTORY FIC
(aka, that time you wrote a character at age thirty and then someone else wrote that character at age thirteen.)
Rude! I already know their backstory! I cut it out because the real story doesn’t start until much later! When they’ve grown! When they already have all their fatal flaws! When they are actually interesting!
But Wait… What about your character’s formative years do you not think is interesting? Maybe not marketable. Maybe even not important. But interesting? Hell, ficcers wouldn’t be fanficcing the backstory if they weren’t interested! Your ficcers are treating your characters like real people, exploring their agency and motivations. Why? Because you have already written the important story and in so doing, you gave consumers someone they could relate to.
'Legitimized' Backstory fic: Wicked by Gregory Maguire (how the Wicked Witch of the West ended up taking the ultimate fall)
Fine! Whatever. I guess it doesn’t hurt, since they got some of it right anyway. But that’s no excuse for:
(aka, that time you ended a story and then someone picked it up again when everyone was thirty years older.)
Rude! DO I EVEN NEED TO ADDRESS THIS? I ENDED THE STORY BECAUSE IT WAS THE END.
But Wait… Even you know that life doesn’t just end at the culmination of a character arc. Unless that character arc ends with the falling of an axe or the explosion of the planet or some other nonexistence-inducing situation, people still go on to live the rest of their lives after they marry/defeat the baddie/meet their parents/come back from war/etc. Again with the character love: your readers want to watch these people grow old together!
'Legitimized' Futurefic: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James (Elizabeth Bennet actually has a life after she and Darcy get married! Who would have ever suspected!) or Hook (Peter Pan actually grew up!)
I could go on.
My point, author, is that fanfic exists and remains popular (and will remain popular no matter who jumps up and down on a grouch pogo and shouts down the mountains) because it allows its creators to further engage with, interpret, and celebrate the original works they love. Even more important, it allows these beloved works to be resurrected for modern readers, in whichever year “modern” happens to be.
There is no binary here. Fanfic exists alongside original canon. It does not change original canon. Your beloved baby still lives on in its pure form, to be discovered and rediscovered by still more consumers, who will want to engage with and celebrate it themselves and make it mean something to them, too.
Therefore, instead of expending so much energy on the negative, adopt the positive: try recognizing and accepting all the compliments fanfiction pays you and your canon every day.
Trust me, you’ll be happier and less stressed.
(For some help with 'legitimized' titles, much love and thanks go to bookshop for her wonderful post: I'm done explaining why fanfic is okay. I put legitimized in quotes to indicate that it has been made legitimate by publication or other 'socially acceptable' recognition. In my opinion, fanfic is legitimate, full stop.)
I am posting to apologize for a comment I made during Leviosa's Sunday panel on Adversarial Relationships. In response to the topic of canon HP characters currently being re-imagined as people of color and/or marginalized sexual and gender identities, I attempted, poorly, to discuss the ways this might make fandom experience difficult for individuals who use fandom as a way to set aside the weighty societal issues they face every day. I don't remember the exact wording of what I said and won't attempt to recreate it here, but after extensive soul searching and discussion with a close friend, I realize to my shame that my comments were entitled, naive, insensitive, and inappropriate.
The comment was supposed to be about the fans who don't want to view their fandom activities through the lens of social or political justice, who want to leave all of it outside when they go in, for whatever reason. But it definitely didn't come out that way. Instead it sounded as though I think issues of race, identity, and under-representation don't belong in fandom at all. Issues of discrimination in any form belong in the fandom, full stop. They are already there. People's discomfort with such topics is unimportant because discomfort doesn't dictate what must be acknowledged, and also very important because it is this inherent discomfort that must be addressed. It was not my intention to insult anyone, but that doesn't really matter either: as a white cis woman, I had no place making such a point in this way.
I wanted to discuss the importance of fandom as a safe and enjoyable space, which it is for me, but that really is the kicker, isn't it? As long as discrimination and under-representation are ignored in fandom, it isn't a safe and enjoyable space for everyone. The weighty social discussions keep getting shunted aside. We keep fostering ignorance of the problem.
I love fandom and I want it to be a place people want to be a part of. The re-imagining of canon characters is exciting, and the added bonus is that it brings societal discussion easily into the "safe space" fandom has created, rather than allowing it to continue to be viewed as a threat to the fandom experience. The more fans are exposed to something they fear or distrust, the faster they learn that they don't need to fear it, and the faster we bring it back home into everyone's safe space. Which is where it has always belonged anyway.
I made a mistake, and I'm very sorry for my comments. I'm trying not to shy away from these discussions because avoidance is currently the norm, and I don't think it's a good idea to avoid these topics. This dialogue needs to occur so that a lasting and constructive understanding can also occur.
But obviously I need more practice in how I approach the discussion. So I will continue to work at it. Thank you for your patience with me
Silliest stuff I've heard so far regarding #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend:
Concerned Citizen: Why do you have to change the comics?
Me: Uh, all those comics you used to read? Are staying the same. As in, not changing. As in, No Difference. As in, THERE WILL BE NO EDITS PERFORMED BY ANY EDITORS ANYWHERE.
Concerned Citizen: How could you do this? Think of the children!
Me: We are. You're the one who's making them think Captain America with a boyfriend is a bad thing.
Concerned Citizen: You can't just negate his relationship with Peggy Carter by making him gay!
Me: So your current relationship has officially wiped all your previous relationships from existence? That's impressive, I can think of a few friends who'd like to learn that trick...
Concerned Citizen: I said, YOU CAN'T JUST NEGATE HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH PEGGY CARTER BY MAKING HIM GAY.
Me: Who said he was gay? Going with girls AND guys, who may or may not be cisgendered themselves, that's not gay. Get a dictionary and stop thinking in binaries.
Concerned Citizen: I have logged onto social media and thus will now cease to think critically. Boop boop beep boop byooooop.
Me: Yeah, same ol', same ol'.
If you’re anything like me, your evening on April 3, 2016 was spent staring incredulously at the television with one thought running through your head (or maybe you even yelled it out loud):
What the eff did I just watch?
Usually this is a great response to a season finale. Television producers around the world hope and pray and make sacrifices on altars for this kind of reaction. Unfortunately for the television show The Walking Dead, the crickets chirping in everyone’s TV room at the end of the episode were not the backdrop to speechless amazement. They were covering a very loud, very dismayed “Oh, HELL no.”
Many fans are… well, let’s be diplomatic about it and call them ‘unhappy.’ Let’s say they felt much more manipulated than usual. Loyalty of the ilk TWD celebrates is hard enough to come by; the merest misstep can send half the group over the wall toward friendlier pastures. And when the collective screaming gets too loud, the other half might just follow them, in search of a little peace and quiet.
I tell you, there was definitely collective screaming.
That said, and despite the events of April 3, I feel like The Walking Dead is not quite dead yet. The Walking Dead does not deserve to be thrown to the Wolves. The Walking Dead—well, let’s let the show speak for itself. Take a quick trip back with me through the years so I can remind you why you should (still!) watch the show:
(MINOR AND VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD. Read at your own risk.)
Season 1: Yay! Great start. At a total of six episodes, it’s snappy, shocking, and full of disgusting zombies. (My favorite is that half-woman crawling through the park, because slow and steady wins the Rick.) Characters are skillfully introduced and developed... as far as they can be before the show sets its tone by unexpectedly offing a third of them. The season ends in a bad place for the characters but a good place for the rest of us by establishing that this narrative won’t be about curing the new world, it will be about surviving it.
Awesome episodes in Season 1: That would be... huh, all of them. At six episodes, there’s not much room for lazy material. But my favorite is Vatos, because of the sweet high, the painful low, and that bit where Jim Is Digging.
Season 2: Okay, nice. The pace does drop from 100 mph to a shuffling 30, but it’s not actually boring. The character development is off the charts, helped along by painstakingly built emotional tension and a breathtaking mid-season shocker. You don’t necessarily like where everyone is going, but damn it, you understand why they get there. This is the young adulthood of this show, where it’s trying to sort out the moral code it wants to live by. Also, we get the Family Greene: a definite plus.
Awesome episodes in Season 2: What Lies Ahead, which gets things going with a literal bang, Save the Last One, Chupacabra, and my personal favorite, that middle episode Pretty Much Dead Already. Yowzas.
Season 3: Meh. Enter the Governor. This is the season that really dragged for me (like a one-legged water-logged corpse), not because the episodes weren’t good, but because it took so long for everything to happen. Lots of exploration of humanity and ‘life’ after death, but wow, are there some sluggish spots. For the first time, I couldn’t ignore that the filler bits were filler. Thank god for David Morrissey, marvelous as the villain, and for the writers’ commitment to making difficult choices with challenging consequences. Upon further reflection, I feel like this is the season that was awesome to watch the first time as it built beautifully to climax, but it’s also the season I skip whenever reruns come on: Now that I know the destination, I don’t feel motivated to travel the road again.
Awesome episodes in Season 3: My first thought is that I don’t have any outstanding episodes to point out, just a nice handful of outstanding sequences (i.e., Andrea and the Governor’s cat’n’mouse in the warehouse, the Brothers Dixon in the woods, the interrogations at Woodbury, Rick’s war council with the Governor). But it turns out I do have favorites: Clear, where we find out what happened to Morgan, and Killer Within. If that ending doesn’t get you, then don’t bother with the rest—this show’s not for you.
Season 4: BAM, THERE IT IS. My favorite season. This is the one that embraces the show’s full potential for horror, grief, hope, love, and sacrifice. It steps back from the zombies and gives us a chance to observe humans actually trying to live in this landscape. We’ve got an unexpected adversary of the microscopic variety, another wham-bang of a mid-season finale, and tangible dread as our protagonists make their way to their final stop of the story arc: the aptly named Terminus. The plotting of Season 4 is subtle and effective, with hints of things to come flickering in and out of each episode. If you’re not watching carefully, you might miss something, but catching it heaps big rewards by the end. The mini-arcs are tightly woven. The sequence of events takes place organically: there’s no other way things could go. Finally, this is the point where you realize you are feeling so hard for these people that if ANYTHING happens to ANY of them, you’re seriously going to brain someone.
Awesome episodes in Season 4: Since basically all the episodes are gold, let’s talk arc instead. Whatever fever strikes the group, bringing it into the story is genius. It forces characters to play hands they might not have, and preps everyone beautifully for the return of Somebody, whose own character mini-arc is kind of horribly fascinating. Then everyone splinters, and we get to see the deterioration/formation of the family unit in multiple forms. Can I please just bring up how spectacular the Carol-Lizzie arc is? Or maybe just the Carol arc alone? Can I talk about the guys that Daryl unwillingly falls in with? Can I please mention the look on Michonne’s face when she peeks in a certain window, or the night when Rick’s feral side really comes out to play? NO, because that would SPOIL ALL THE THINGS. But please know that this season is the one where I felt everything they felt, where my heart tripped in time with theirs and my back bristled and I Got Mad at the end right along with Rick.
Season 5: Oh, Bejeebus, I can’t even, why. This season was a little different for me. I wasn’t in a good head space when the first episode aired, and that particular fuckery took me down for the count. I ended up mainlining the season later in preparation for the finale. Turns out that first episode is the most dangerous of the bunch, but I didn’t know that at the time. It’s also one of the best. This season is Rick at his most impressive, Carol at her most frightening, and Daryl at his most vulnerable. The intro to Alexandria really works because Rick & Co are just coming off of the worst assault on their humanity yet. The viewer is just as paranoid, just as distrustful as they are, and watching Rick flirt with becoming the monster this time around is awesome. In this season, I was most frightened of the group itself.
Awesome episodes in Season 5: Like I said, the opener No Sanctuary is riveting, with an incredibly moving ending. Other notable episodes are Them, Remember, and my favorite (possibly in the entire series) What Happened and What’s Going On.
Season 6: OMG THIS IS AMAZ—Blah. Dear show runners: Broke my heart, you did, because hot damn, that first episode was killing it. And then the second episode killed it again. And then the third episode racked the tension further. And then... I don’t even know. This season has been described by others as “uneven”, and I have to say, that’s the perfect word for it: From there, things went a little bonkers.
Awesome episodes in Season 6: Since I already talked about the three episodes that hit it out of the ballpark (First Time Again, JSS, Thank You, and hell, let’s add Start to Finish to the list because TWD is so good at the mid-season finales), let’s discuss where things went so seriously sideways. And I don’t mean plot-wise because by the end, life for the group has most definitely gone sideways. That’s not the issue.
I am a writer, and (you may have noticed) I tend to concentrate on this series from a plot development and characterization perspective. Both suffer noticeably during this season. I found myself questioning again and again the intelligence of various decisions by both writers and characters: WHY must they keep sending their entire warrior class out of the compound at the same time? WHY are they constantly stopping to have heart-to-hearts in the woods? WHY are they not doing more recon before attacking other groups of people? WHAT HAPPENED TO STRATEGY??? Then there are the writing misdials: WHY drag out To Glenn or Not To Glenn for weeks? WHY are you letting characters with rare skill sets out on walkabout where they can be stabbed, shot, bitten, run over, or just plain deserted in potential munitions factories? WHY are these zombies standing around allowing people to have heart-to-hearts? Are they a different subspecies? WHY did you inject a diabetic character with insulin when she’s most likely suffering from rock-bottom blood sugar? WHY did every single person manage to forget about the grenade launchers at the same time? WHAT HAPPENED TO MY BELOVED CHARACTERS???
By the end of the season, my beloved characters are absolutely up shit creek with their mouths wide open. And that would have had more of an impact if they hadn’t got there by making Poor Life Choices. Which they don’t usually make.
(Incidentally, is part of the Saviors’ attack strategy to spike the water supply with Idiot Pills? If so, it’s genius, because it worked.)
What I Think Happened: The show runners were excited to introduce Negan. And who wouldn’t be? Already I can tell he’s a force of nature. But Season 6’s biggest Achilles’ heel is actually a surplus of amazing characters. This season alone, we get the joyous Jesus, the delightful Denise, and the nasty as hell Negan. This only becomes a problem when there are so many people that there’s no longer time to develop Carol believably, or to make not one, not two, but three new romantic pairings work effectively. And speaking of, it becomes a problem when the necessary twists and turns in the plot are sidelined because there’s just too much side stuff going on. I fully believe that we could have reached Negan organically, but instead the issue was forced through a series of senseless choices that don’t reflect the characters I have come to know.
Ergo, the end arrives, Lucille starts winning friends and influencing people, and I am not invested. Just resigned.
As I said at the beginning, A LOT of fans are expressing their disappointment. Whether it’s over the cliffhanger of doom, the Monologue With No End In Sight, the Carol doppelganger, or just the season in general, people are upset. People are actually filing for divorce from Daryl. Daryl. People are wrapping their tweets in barbed wire and swinging away.
But let’s step back for a second. Is this really grounds for knocking the show over the head and feeding it to Gareth?
We’ve had five good seasons, and at least three of those were great seasons. There are numerous members of the Awesome Episodes Club, and Season 6 was not excluded from that number. The show runners tried something new. They took some risks and unfortunately those risks did not pay off. But they also took risks with characterization and plotting in Season 4, and again in Season 5, and those were slam dunks. They messed up this time around, don’t get me wrong. The manipulation became too obvious. They played with their audience too often, all in search of a few thrills.
I am not ready to sign off on this entire show because of it. If the entire season had been a bust, I would reconsider, but it wasn’t. It started off very well indeed. I have faith that these writers can step it up again, and I think that they will.
Don’t abandon the compound just yet. The walls haven’t fallen.
"Great Scott, Holmes!" I ejaculated. "This is when my Jezail bullet migrated from my shoulder into my leg!"
Title: The Sign of Four
Status: First time reading!
Spoilers in this post? Yes
Ah, The Sign of Four. One of the most popular of the mysteries, and not having read it grew in my mind like a giant "WTF, you call yourself a Holmes fan??" until I was convinced I was missing a zillion pop culture references because I HADN'T READ IT. Turns out, I was right and wrong: I had missed references. But thanks to pop culture, I knew all the Holmesy info in the story already, as evidenced by the...
"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" (For the record, he says it two times in this story alone.)
"My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere." (aka, should I ever become truly bored, THAT is when you should press the red button.)
"In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents..." (Watson, you dog.)
"It is cocaine, a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?" (Holmes, you dog.)
"No, no: I never guess." (Three points if you know who says that.)
While The Sign of Four has not displaced The Hound of the Baskervilles as my favorite of the Holmesian novels, it does, as its main character says, have its points of interest. For instance, in a beautiful case of evolving language, it is here in Ch. 6 that Sherlock Holmes gives a demonstration and John Watson first ejaculates.
Verbally. Shame on you, get your minds out of the gutter.
It is also here that Sherlock Holmes utters the following words: "Ah, of course. I had not thought of that."
Seriously, take a picture. It won't happen again until we get to Norbury. And finally...
IF YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT WATSON'S LIFE STORY, SPOILERS AHEAD.
This is the one where Watson gets married!!! Yay, what a momentous occasion! Finally Watson has found the one person that he-- what? Three marriages? And that's not including Sherlock, right?
John "Three Continents" Watson (and thank you, fanfic writers, for that beauty of a tag) had not one, not two, but three legally recognized spouses. One might wonder why Holmes didn't ever investigate the Case of Watson's Disappearing Wives. Perhaps it was too close to home. Perhaps he'd already solved it and rated it 'dull.' Perhaps that was an unpublished draft, crammed into an accordion folder next to The Case of the Doctor's Traveling War Wound.
First in the shoulder, now in the leg. I love this canon.
On a more sober note, The Sign of Four takes place when Great Britain still owned just about everything, and London had become a hub for people and practices from all over the world. Additionally, we're working within the Victorian Era, when exploration was cooler than sliced bread and there was a thirst for any kind of newness: in science, in literature, in industry, everywhere. Darwinian theory was huge. People didn't have to travel to see the exotic: it came to them in expos.
There are, therefore, some less than PC characters and references in this novel. The most notable is of course the inclusion of a pygmy man from a cannibalistic tribe off of Myanmar, who is described in appearance as almost inhuman. However, there are also several prominent colorblind relationships and loyalties portrayed, which was a pleasant surprise.
It is interesting to note that the criminals seem to be the ones of the enlightened mindset here. Nobility and loyalty are not strictly relegated to the white male characters trying to catch the murderers.
Quotes that should be memorable:
"You can... never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what any average number will be up to." (Holmes to Watson, spot-on description of mob mentality.)
"Like all humankind, they flitted from the gloom into the light and so back into the gloom once more." (Watson's PTSD isn't ever named as such, but it comes through pretty clearly in observations like this. He has seen a lot of evil and a lot of death, and still he strives to be a good person. His character is really very well and subtly developed in these stories, thanks to Doyle's lovely writing.)
"So we stood hand in hand like two children, and there was peace in our hearts for all the dark things that surrounded us." (Beautiful and poignant.)
"You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid." (Holmes, obviously, to Watson, obviously, on the merits of descriptive writing, obviously. I cackled out loud.)
"Holmes declares that he overheard me caution [Mr. Sholto] against the great danger of taking more than two drops of castor-oil, while I recommended strychnine in large doses as a sedative." (Again with the laughing out loud. Why Watsons should never be distracted by pretty Marys and, again, why Holmes should seriously have investigated those vanishing wives.)
Next up: On to the stories!
Remember that time when John met Sherlock???
Title: A Study in Scarlet
Status: Read it already
Spoilers in this post? Nope
Memorable quotes: We can thank A Study in Scarlet for the following popular Holmesian phrases...
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence." (Holmes, warning Watson not to make an ASS out of U and ME.)
"I have made a special study of cigar ashes--in fact, I have written a monograph upon the subject." (Holmes, challenging Watson to write a more gripping read than he does. Gauntlet=thrown.)
Now. Quotes that should be memorable. (This is the section where I expound upon what did not go viral but maybe should have. I'll be doing this for every story.)
"You sum up the difficulties of the situation succinctly and well." (Holmes to Watson)
I chose this quote because it is, in a single line, the crux of this partnership. Notice I do not say the crux of the friendship. We'll get to that. No, this is the foundation of Holmes' appreciation for Watson, not as a detective, but as a lens through which the raging torrent of Holmes' observations line themselves up like nice little school children. Watson may not have the chops to solve the case himself, but he can frame the miasma properly so that Holmes sees straight through. Love it. ILU<3.
"There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life."
Guh. WHY did you not go viral. Whyyyyyyyy.
"There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood."
Yes, that was Sherlock Holmes speaking. Another beauty of a line, and quite poetic for a character who doesn't go in for all that romantic drivel.
"What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done?"
This is Holmes, kvetching halfheartedly about certain police inspectors taking public credit for solving certain cases. Going a little deeper, it speaks to Holmes' unique form of sleight-of-hand: misdirection, exaggeration, and physical disguise are some of his greatest tools. But I chose this quote because there is a chilling quality to Holmes' observation. Ponder these words in a world where it's getting harder and harder to find unbiased, unslanted, uneditorialized coverage of anything that goes on. It is so easy to be convinced by what is on the surface, to just believe what we are told by whoever tells it. It reminds me to keep my Critical Thinking Goggles close at hand, and to take a second or even third look at whatever I see.
Next up: The Sign of Four. ^_^
The other day, Goodreads poked me in the email and said, "HEY. HEY, YOU. Wanna make a reading goal?"
I of course said yes, having a very specific goal in mind. But then I clicked the helpful link and saw that I couldn't do anything more detailed than pick a number of books! How devastating, as my Very Sekrit Goal involves a grand total of...
Two books. Ooh, Grete, there's a finish line to strive for.
But I'm going to do it, in light of last year's successful accomplishment of another specific goal - I walked the length of Hadrian's Wall in Northern England, a longtime bucket list item for me (and who even cares if I'm "too young to have a bucket list"? I say the earlier you start, the more you get done!). This goal was only half realized in one respect, however, as it initially included 12 hikes in 12 weeks, complete with bloggy coverage. On Hike #2, I very ignobly fell coming down the steps from my apartment, overextended some tendon somewhere, and promptly bid goodbye to the 12 weeks part of the goal. I kept to my 12 hikes, but then lost the blogging part as well due to laziness uploading my photos.
Clearly I need to work on some aspects of my goal-setting.
HOWEVER. I did in fact meet the Ultimate Goal by hiking the Wall, a scary, gorgeous, mind-blowing, enriching, and utterly satisfying experience, despite the lack of blogging about it afterward. Ergo, this year I have decided to tackle another very different bucket list item.
I'm a Sherlock Holmes nut. I like just about every version I've come across for one reason or another, but for the average Holmesian, this last decade has been an absolute smorgasbord. We've got the Guy Ritchie films (for the first time, I see an actual VictorianDruggieBumHolmes, and I can't get over the RIGHTNESS of it, plus a kick-ass Watson)... Elementary (if the cases aren't always super clever, the relationship building is top-notch, and of course the gender-play, OH, the gender-play, plus a kick-ass Watson)... and BBC's Sherlock (near-perfect transposition into a modern setting, with hilarious scripting from a few of the most unapologetic Holmes geeks in the world and wonderful acting, plus, you guessed it, a kick-ass Watson).
(Finally, Watson! You are no longer being crammed into the Bumbling Idiot Box! Where you never should have been in the first place! Don't get me started!)
That's not even mentioning the Russian television series, the genderswitch sHERlock series, or the myriad other versions that have been bubbling up. Succinctly put, it's a great time to be a Holmes fan.
Hence, the goal: I intend to read the entire Sherlock Holmes repertoire by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the year 2016. And I intend to blog about it. I have recently gotten my hands on these two beauties,
which include, among other things, a spreadsheet running the lives of Holmes, Watson, and Doyle side by side from year to year (!!!).
But mainly I will be indulging in this compilation:
the books of which house every novel, short story and essay in order of (generally) chronological occurrence, are very pretty, and are much easier to pack into my shoulder bag than those other two.
Being a Holmes fan, thanks to my even crazier Holmes-fan of a mother, I have read a lot of these stories already, but I have woefully under-represented the novels and I intend to remedy that.
So! Two books. Twelve months. 1392 pages. The game, as they say, is afoot.
A word to the wise: This book? USE WITH CAUTION.
We had a bit of an adventure finding the place. This is not the first time this particular guide book has led us majorly astray. There was this one “moderate” trail it suggested that ended up being endless switchbacks down into a river valley at a steeeeeeeeep grade. We spent an hour going down with absolutely no river in sight before we knew we had to turn around if we wanted to reach the car again before too late, and began a very difficult three hour trudge uphill. Not moderate by ANY means.
Considering that Fairy Falls is also labeled “moderate,” there was some consternation on my end.
This time, the book completely missed a road we were supposed to turn on, instead leading us onto an army base, which got us the Eye and a wary greeting from the soldier at the gate. Turn around we did, and on we went, this time under the guidance of my trusty GPS, until we finally found the trailhead and proceeded into the most beautiful cow country I have ever seen.
At one point, it passed a lone cattle-guard whose road had long since been devoured, leaving it to sit in brilliant rust-orange in the middle of nowhere. The cows themselves wandered freely through the trees and along the trail, mostly black, several of them notably young. We had our choice of paths to the end point; Dad and I took the less trodden one on the way in and the more established horse-riding trail on the way out.
The falls were well worth it.
It was lush, it was green, and it was hauntingly foggy, which brought out the colors with a vengeance. The trail itself went up and down at gradual slopes through groves and groves of gnarled oaks (my favorite kind of tree).
At one point, it passed a lone cattle-guard whose road had long since been devoured, leaving it to sit in brilliant rust-orange in the middle of nowhere. The cows themselves wandered freely through the trees and along the trail, mostly black, several of them notably young. We had our choice of paths to the end point; Dad and I took the less trodden one on the way in and the more established horse-riding trail on the way out.
The falls were well worth it.
Ask you can see, quite stunning, and a perfect place to stop for lunch. We were joined during our trek to and from the falls by horseback riders and hikers alike, though there were not very many of either. All in all, very peaceful. One of the most gorgeous places.
We spent the ride home counting mileage and making the appropriate alterations to our guidebook by writing notes in the margins, just as more fog was creeping in over the hills.
I would go back to this trail in a second.
Yes. Yes, you read that right. Remember how I said I like trails with interesting names?
Hiking on this trail actually felt a little... How shall I put this... Inappropriate? Because the name is not just being clever. The Assassin's Trail is named so because it is the site of two separate murders, one in 1973 and one in 2003. The more recent one has been solved, but the other is a cold case. The trail is located near Colfax, California, and I shall leave the detail discovery to those who are interested in their own research. Describing the deaths here feels wrong, like I imagine visiting Dorothea Puente's house as a tourist hotspot would feel, and that, like these deaths, didn't happen very long ago. My point is, people affected by these events are still living. I am little bit disgusted with myself for hiking a trail specifically because of the grotesque nature of what happened there.
Then again, I did do the Jack the Ripper tour of Whitechapel multiple times. I'm not entirely sure I have a leg to stand on.
As a writer, I absolutely understand the thrill of dramatizing the demise of fictional people. As a history buff, I have a profound interest in the events of our past and the ways they led to or sprang from each other. I had a distinctly morbid fascination with the Black Death for years; ask me about it, I can still go on for some time with a manic glint in my eye about what happened in the 1340s and 50s. Ten years ago, I would have been pretty comfortable with my interest in this trail, and not concerned with the justification of traveling it.
But people get older. They gain life experience. Viewpoints shift. In my case, the shift was a little shocking to me: I have developed a problem with the aggrandizement of actual traumatic events for the purpose of entertainment. This isn't to say I have no more fascination. I'm human; of course the terrifying fascinates and repulses me. But using it as entertainment also makes me distinctly uncomfortable in a way it never used to.
I'll admit it: this trail felt ominous. If I didn't know the history, I probably would not have thought so. Shows how much colors our interpretations. The trail-head is unmarked, one of five in a field that has seen a good deal of firebreaking and lumber work, and the least maintained of the group. We used a compass to verify our path, and were helped along by the sudden arrival of a doe. She trotted right up out of the mouth of the Assassin's Trail and veered off before I could get a picture, vanishing up the hill.
Other than that, the trail was deserted.
We didn't see anyone until we were on our way back, on a path that was, frankly, not fitting the written description we were working with as well as we liked. We passed a gate onto private property with several No Trespassing signs attached (and unattached, lying on the ground). I enjoy horror writing and reading, and I'm pretty sure it was because of the backstory, but the trail had a Mood. Tons of trees allowing for only one really good view of the valley below, a river valley that was the site of my New Year's Day hike. Apparently, this trail will take you down to Codfish Falls should you follow it long enough.
We didn't. It was a long way down.
I thought I'd start out with a photo because, hot damn, this trail has some of the most beautiful vistas I've ever seen. The trail we chose on Sunday was Buttermilk Bend, along the Yuba River. I'm thinking I haven't been on the Yuba River until now, because I would have remembered this place. Yowsa.
We managed to beat the crowds and had the trail pretty much to ourselves. It was as though the river were waiting for us, saving each new moment for the next bend. I must have stopped in my tracks twenty times; Dad nearly ran into me more than once. After a while, he just got used to it.
Plenty of swimming holes (you can bet I'll be coming back to this one during the summer), and once you pass the second wooden bridge, the trail becomes slender and curvy, bumping up and down until the very abrupt end, marked quite obviously by a sign.
"TRAIL ENDS." Yeah, no kidding.
On the way back, Dad regaled me with the story of his most recent project, setting up a skyline to transport wood downhill fast. He works regularly out in the field, and on this last venture, the State Parks employed an inmate team from one of the women's prisons to assist. To get the line taut enough to slide the hunks of wood down it, two or three people had to hang on the end, full body weight. A lot of fun to be had, apparently. I wish I had gone along.
The last time I went with my father out into the field, it was to watch a controlled burn up by Burney Falls. I will never forget the drip torches, the hefty yellow safety suits we all wore, and the incredible HEAT when the Manzanita all caught fire. My father does controlled burns to help keep the forests from clogging to the brim with highly flammable ground cover. The living trees themselves are much too wet inside to burn in a small natural forest fire, but should it get hot enough, nothing is spared. Ergo, burn off the extra accumulation regularly, and you get a much healthier cycle of fires that do not devastate miles and miles of forest.
And of course, I must leave you with this fabulous bridge. ^_^
Hello! My name is Grete and welcome to my writing blog! I am a writer or romance, horror, and general observation