Oh how I wish we had more Sherlock Holmes cases from the pen and desk of Arthur Conan Doyle. 60 just doesn’t seem like enough. Like an incomplete story they leave more questions than answers. More problems than solutions. And more gaps in the whole picture.
The Canon has given us so much, though. Those cases that we do have seem to be timeless in their ability to attract new readers. But, we still want more. We need answers to questions about Holmes’s family and Watson’s military service. We want to read the unpublished cases that are mentioned, even the ones where Holmes didn’t achieve the great resolutions to which we have become accustomed. We could discover more about the childhoods of our heroes. There could be enlightenment on the subject of Watson’s marriage(s). More glimpses into the seedy underside of London would be at our fingertips. And perhaps we could finally figure out the precise location of 221b Baker Street.
Pastiche writers have been tackling these issues for more than half a century. They want answers, too, and since they can’t find them in The Canon they come up with their own. These authors take up their pen and foolscap and do their best to fill in the gaps that still exist. They are not satisfied with just hearing about the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, or the giant rat of Sumatra—they need more. They need to put a story with the description so that their insatiable Sherlockian thirst can be slaked. Content to merely hear of a delicious event like the disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore they are not. A man doesn’t simply walk back into his house to retrieve his umbrella and then disappear from the face of the earth. A hypothesis must be formed. A solution must be found. A new tale must be constructed to explain this away. It just has to be.
Doyle teases us with little omissions, making sure that even when we’re done reading a story, we aren’t done thinking about it. While we sit back in our favorite chair and savor finishing a tale like A Study in Scarlet, there’s a little something in our brains which makes us pick up our copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes and read more, since doing so might help alleviate the itch that was created by the author leaving out pertinent details. Maybe we would find out when Holmes first experimented with cocaine. Perhaps there would be some small trifle we missed before, such as more information about the one-time appearance of Holmes’s housekeeper Mrs. Turner in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and who she might be. Answers to these minor issues aren’t necessary, but our love of the people and places in those pages makes it seem so.
I know several folks who are just as interested in pastiches and parodies as they are the original cases. For them, they are just as enjoyable. I myself have contributed to the literature of the subject with the three short stories I have written, and I am proud to be a part of the ever-growing body of work. I’m not sure, however, that my works provided light upon any of the botherations I have discussed here, and I didn’t tackle any of the unpublished cases that are spoken about in The Canon. I did try and stay as true to Holmes and Watson and their environment as possible, and while I’m certain I did that, I don’t believe my pieces will ever be considered great (or even close to great). They were fun to write, but they took me months because I pored over every detail and word in the hopes of not making some egregious error. Even after sending them to the publisher I wasn’t sure they were done, and that’s where having a good editor pays off. I do hope to write more in the future, I just have to do so around regular daily life. In time I’m sure it will happen.
Doyle, on the other hand, was able to put out new work at a rate which seems unbelievable to me. When you consider that he was a husband, a father, a sportsman, a world traveler, a political campaigner, a spiritualist, a Freemason, and a physician (among many other things), his prodigious output is almost staggering. And the works we have are the product of edits, rewrites, and numerous drafts—and all of it in longhand! I was truly floored by his bibliography when I discovered the extent of it. Having spent so much time as a student of only one of his creations was my sin. I had never perused another piece by Doyle until the summer of my 46th year of life, and now I am so sorry for that. It’s all new to me, and everything I’ve read has given me that warm and comfortable feeling that only two other authors have. I am absolutely thrilled by the huge library of writings that is in my future.