Term Paper: Transmedia Characters

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Transmedia

Sherlock Holmes: Traversing Time and Media

Solve for X

In the fan-fiction story "Solve for X," which examines Sherlock Holmes in a modern setting, the famous detective has his addiction modernized along with the other elements of his personality and his actions. He notes at one point in the story, in his role as the narrator, "Heroin addiction does horrible things to the body's ability to produce and respond to endorphins. Its sweet unnatural bliss comes at the cost of every natural source of pleasure" (p. 10). Heroin is, of course, a modern processed or manufactured opiate, as opposed to more raw or less processed opium available in the days of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his pipe-puffing hero, yet interestingly the original Holmes was not a fan of opium but rather cocaine -- the highly processed version of a plant-based drug that was available in his own time, and a stimulant rather than a depressant/hallucinogen as is opium/heroine. Examining the choice this author made in the context of the larger story and in the larger transmedia world of Sherlock Holmes, which extends from the original short stories and novels written at the dawn of the twentieth century to a variety of film and television adaptations to, as with the example of "Solve for X," fan fiction that has spread like wildfire on the Internet.

"Solve for X" presents many updates to the original and ongoing Holmesian canon, including the introduction of a female Watson, yet all of these maintain a certain concordance with their foundational analogs -- Watson is introduced in a very brief passage as the niece of Holmes' male companion with the same surname, for instance. The mention of heroin is of particular interest, however, as this addiction is the focus of this entire work of fan fiction. In this story, the female Watson is a "sober companion" to the heavily addicted Holmes; their relationship and Watson's discovery of her investigative aptitude would not have been possible without such a strong addiction. In the Sign of Four, one of Doyle's original novels defining the character of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson asks the moody looking detective upon entering, "Which is it today…morphine or cocaine?" (p. 89). This novel also ends with Homes reaching for his cocaine bottle, though there are no mentions of the drug during the middle action of the story -- it is something Holmes uses between cases, because his mind will not leave him at rest. This is very clearly referenced in "Solver for X," as Holmes worries that after his cases and after Watson leaves he will have nothing to occupy himself, and might readily turn back to drugs again.

This story and the specifics of how certain details of Holmes character have been updated are demonstrative of the important role fan fiction has for media in the current era, both for producers and consumers of content. Indeed, it is the blending of producer and consumer in fan fiction that gives it such power, as fans (consumers of media) are able to take the elements that speak most wholly to them and turn them into direct reflections of their own desires, griefs, etc., becoming producers of content in a way that allows them to most completely fulfill the roles that consumption has traditionally played. Shifting cocaine -- a drug to keep the mind active and sharp when events can't make it so, representing an intellectual intervention of pharmaceuticals -- makes Holmes' dependence more an emotional than an intellectual issue, which fits with the overall tone and subject matter of the story and itself represents a major break from the traditional Holmes canon and even much of the "non-traditional" material such as the Robert Downey, Jr. film and many of the television adaptations. The most recent BBC adaptation, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, presents a very intellectualized view of the character in keeping with his outward and usually inward stoicism. Holmes in "Solve for X" is emotional no matter how hard he tries not to show it or give in to these emotions, and indeed the central theme of the story is his emotional rather than intellectual attachment to Watson -- as much as he couches his thinking in intellectualized terms. Transmedia characters that have entered the public consciousness like Sherlock Holmes provide an outlet for readers to create fan fiction, and these "fanfic" writers or "fanboys" have in turn reached others with their new interpretations and transformative take on these older characters and features providing further opportunities for expanding readership and character knowledge.

Subliminal

A very different take on Sherlock Holmes is provided by "Subliminal," another fan-written short story that keeps the detective in something closer to his original setting and with a character much more similar to that of Doyle's imagining, yet with a very humorous tone and a sudden twist that would definitely not have appeared in the Victorian Era stories. The text is interrupted throughout by Holmes' inner commentary on the external action, and though this deals in part with his emotional life it remains highly intellectual in tone and nature. Holmes is shown to be calculating and intellectually arrogant, but in a very humorous and light-hearted manner, and then suddenly he makes an overtly sexual advance towards Watson and the story ends. Keeping the characters entirely consistent but playing with tone and then providing this major homosexual twist -- a twist that cannot be said to be inconsistent with Doyle's original story but that this tale takes as an unspoken (and oft-debated) part of Holmes and Watson's relationship. This story also demonstrates further ways in which transmedia characters and works of fan fiction can be used to appropriate and expand character popularity and awareness while remaining ultimately true to source texts.

The most stand-out moment in the story is, of course, the moment of sexual tension that seems to spring almost out of nowhere but that can, upon a second reading, be seen craftily embedded in many of the details of the story. After handily solving a crime from the comfort of his own sitting room, Watson and Holmes are left alone as usual:

Sherlock pushes John against the wall and thrusts a hand up his jumper. And then he waits for what will happen, his body tense as a bow.

But John only says, "Yes," and then, "All right," and when Sherlock finally meets his eyes, everything's there on the surface.

p. 4

The use of the first names and of course the sexual advance itself both represent a major change in the familiarity between these tow characters, yet in other details the characters remain quite true to Doyels' imagining. Watson's quiet acceptance of Holmes' silently communicated desire is indicative of the way he typically acts, as is the great Holmes' apparent emotional detachment that belies a certain tenderness towards Watson, which can also be detected.

The manner in which he praises Watson towards the beginning of the Hound of the Baskervilles is a prime example of how the canonical Watson and Holmes interact: "Really, Watson, you excel yourself,' said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette…He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure" (p. 123). Here as in "Subliminal," Watson accepts Holmes few and brief expressions of camaraderie in a quiet and almost disinterested manner, yet with great actual pleasure that is almost certainly evident on his face. Watson is as reserved as Holmes; though he does not have the same reluctance to admit to having emotional responses he rarely shows them to a greater degree than does Holmes, largely in deference to Holmes himself. Indeed, the above quote from Doyle's novel the Hound of the Baskervilles continues with the narrator Watson reflecting, " I was proud,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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