by Ka Bradley
The best thing about BBC’s Sherlock and Robert Downey Jr.’s
Sherlock Holmes films are the mad spurt of fanfiction they have inspired.
Alright, that was probably an
exaggeration. Undoubtedly there are merits aplenty to go through before we hit
‘panting teenagers with access to a keyboard’. But the fanfiction is frequently
amusing (occasionally unintentionally), sometimes well-written and an
illuminating glimpse into the psyche of the authors, who are overwhelmingly
young and female.
‘Slash’ fanfiction, usually
referred to simply as slash, takes its name from the abbreviation used in the
short blurbs on the enormous pastiche-hosting website fanfiction.net. A story
in which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson do the dirty in occasionally
inaccurate but usually well-meant anatomical detail, or even just kiss
chastely, will be listed as SH / JW, or Sherlock / John. Although the slash
symbol can be used to describe fictional heterosexual relationships, it is
generally accepted that ‘slash’ means gay.
Holmes/Watson queer pastiches hold
a special fascination for a certain contingent of Holmseians. In 1971, the
celebrated erotic and avant garde publisher Olympia Press published The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,
anonymous but purportedly penned by J. Watson, as part of the Traveller’s
Companion series. Literary pornography as the Traveller’s Companions were, the
book contained some stunning passages:
questions were forced to wait, for Holmes was not to be denied any longer…
Finally, however, he did satisfy one point of confusion by straddling my chest
and forcing the full length of his powerful, eager penis down my throat.
Holding it in me at its maximum penetration, he stared down into my eyes until
I slowly began to panic… At length, when I was on the verge of unconsciousness,
he withdrew enough to let me pull in a lungful of air. “That was how
your murder was done,” he told me, “and a most ironic, fittingly proper death
it was, too.”
vivid and frequent sex scenes hide a sad love story. The narrator frequently
uses the word ‘love’, but the charming period misspelling of ‘bollicks’ and the
various ‘lances’ and ‘bolts’ being put into orifices tend to obscure its
use. Two further (family-friendly)
books, both published in 1988, pick up on this theme: Russell A. Brown’s ‘slash
if you squint’ novel Sherlock Holmes and
the Mysterious Friend of Oscar Wilde (which begins, tellingly, ‘Queer
people sought help from Sherlock Holmes, but the queerest of all arrived one
morning in the spring of 1895’) and Rohase Piercy’s extraordinarily sensitive
and well-written work about unrequited love, My Dearest Holmes.
The authors of
these books, however, are all men. Piercy’s work, published by the Gay Men’s
Press, and the Traveller’s Companion novel both had a clear, queer audience in
mind. Who are the fanfiction authors – straight young females – writing for?
A recurring theme
in the fanfictions is the struggle for love. In some works, the mores of
society forbid the tender caresses the detective and the doctor would so like
to bestow on one another. In others, particularly those referencing the BBC TV
series and not the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, a strong identification with
heternormative behaviour and social identity restrict the characters’ actions,
usually John Watson – Holmes’ professed asexuality comes in very useful here.
Regardless of the parental rating of the content, heavy emphasis is placed on the
depth of the relationship between the two. These aren’t all coy short stories
about waking up one morning and realising the great love of your life was just in the next room, herp derp. Some
of them are frankly pornographic, and the better-written ones touch on the
perversions wrought on desire when it is resisted or hidden. In one, Holmes is
forced to resort to
male prostitutes impersonating Watson to find relief; in another, Watson develops a sideline in
writing hyperbole-blown anonymous erotica to vent his feelings. They
usually get into trouble and they usually end up in bed.
written for amusement and titillation – they are aimed at an audience of the
likeminded. They bear a sliver of comparison to lesbian pornography made for
straight men, in their perceived lack of threat to the viewer and, in some
cases, their erroneous understanding of how gay sex works, but the comparison
dries up fairly quickly. It’s nothing to do with that tired old fallacy that
men are more ‘visually stimulated’ than women (the fan
art pretty much conclusively puts that one to rest). It has more to do with
the emotional investment pumped into each piece, which is entirely absent from
mainstream internet porn. Fanfiction
exists because the writer has engaged with the characters in a significant way.
Coming away from their telly pictures or their book words, they find points of
psychological identification and use the characters to explore sexual and
emotional identity in enjoyably implausible scenarios.
the large part, the mass-produced teen fanfictions don’t address the position
of women in these make-believe
worlds. The sexuality of young women, caught in a tug of war between
censorists, post-feminists, traditionalists and letches, is generally heavily simplified
and poured into these stories as simple lust, with a chaser of unconditional
companionship. No need to struggle with body issues, look at the size of that
cock! Even better, there’s two of them! Gender roles are void as well – John
and Sherlock can take it in turns to exhibit masculine or feminine attributes
without requiring complex engagement with predetermined societal values. In
fact, the celebrated exclusivity of that friendship often results in a hearthside
society of two, allowing for complete redefinition.
There’s an element
of heterosexual gluttony too, of course – some fictions deliberately
infantilise their protagonists, and have endlessly repeated jokes about jam and
jumpers and humorous misspellings, until the characters are more like kittens
with catchphrases than people. Entire blogs are devoted to screenshots of
facial expressions that look like Benedict Cumberbatch is yelling, “HAY GURL
HAAAAY.” Sometimes fanfiction is just a way of telling the internet that you
want to see two famous people kissing. The internet offers you that space of
expression, and the support of an online community.
Just stop coming up
with theories about how Gatiss and Moffat’s Sherlock resurrected himself. We all
know Dr Who rescued him.