Wednesday, 12 January 2011
Lessons from the Sherlockians
In order to satisfy their unquenchable enthusiasm for Sherlockian adventures, fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories have taken to writing out in full imaginary versions of cases which Dr Watson only mentions in passing, usually at the beginning of a story. Thus it is that we have lively full-length versions of X, Y and Z, all of which only get the briefest of allusions in the Conan Doyle canon itself. What might William Morris fans learn from this practice, in order to feed their own unquenchable reading addictions?
Take the case of Morris’s late romances. I have already suggested that we try completing those fragmentary tales which Morris left unfinished at his death (see entry for 3.03.09); but even the completed ones offer much additional, undeveloped narrative potential. Many intriguing minor characters seem to have complex life stories of their own, which the romances do no more than hint at. Much room for further creative development here, one would think!
In The Wood beyond the World (1894) Walter and his crew, driven off course by tempests as they attempt to return to Langton, encounter an elderly man on an unknown shore who gives them food and shelter. ‘Father, meseemeth thou shouldest have some strange tale to tell’, remarks Walter, but we get no more than glimpses of what this colourful tale might be; it seems to have involved killing a predecessor who had tried to stop him going through the ‘shard’ in the cliff-wall that later takes Walter himself to the Mistress, Maid and Dwarf. So here is a story ripe for further narrative development, surely.
As with the minor figures, so, often and surprisingly, with the major ones too. As the Maid tells her story to Walter as they fly towards the Land of the Bears, she herself concedes that ‘there are, as it were, shards or gaps in my life’, particularly in the early years. We have no more than misty glimpses, including the figure of the old woman who taught magical ‘lore’ to her. So here, too, is a tale that would bear imaginative recreation in full. Some bold Morris scholars have already done some work along these lines, as Peter Faulkner notes in his obituary of Norman Talbot: ‘he was to go on to draft a version of The Sundering Flood from the point of view of its female protagonist’.
Much potential for further Morrisian text here then; it isn’t only the Sherlockians who can look forward to new additions to the canon well beyond Conan Doyle’s own demise.