Please give a warm welcome to M. Pepper Langlinais. She recently released Sherlock Holmes & The Adventure of Ichabod Reed. A great mystery in the classic Doyle style. She's also the author of St. Peter in Chains, Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Last Line, and The World Ends at Five and Other Stories, as well as a produced playwright and active screenwriter. She is also the creator of the fictional world of AElit.
The Case for Holmes in Paranormal & Horror
I write Sherlock Holmes stories. Actually, I write a lot of things, but when people come looking for my work, it’s usually because they want something Sherlock.
You might wonder, then, why someone who writes for arguably the most rational fictional personage has been asked to guest post on a paranormal romance blog. To be honest, I think getting Sherlock Holmes involved in a paranormal romance would be quite fun. (Show of hands if you think it’s something I should consider for my next story?) But in truth, there are plenty of ties between Holmes and the paranormal. His creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had a deep interest in the occult and supernatural. He even wrote a book titled The Edge of the Unknown exploring these themes. Doyle believed in fairies, had an obsessive interest in séances, and was an eager follower of Harry Houdini’s exploits. In truth, Doyle was probably more a Watson than a Holmes.
Certainly, the most famous intersection of Doyle’s detective and his own personal interest in all things paranormal comes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. The story, for those who don’t know the canon, is of a gigantic, spectral hound that haunts the moors and is keen to kill any member of the Baskerville family unlucky enough to take residence in their ancestral home. What’s particularly interesting—if you read the story carefully enough—is that Holmes does not dismiss the possibility of there being something extraordinary at work. At points he almost relishes the idea of coming face-to-face with a demonic entity. (Maybe the usual criminals were starting to get boring.) Of course, Doyle eventually roots the tale in the mundane; it wouldn’t really be fair to his readers to pit their hero against something outside his ability to subdue.
Doyle infuses many of his tales with the sinister, even when he steers clear of the supernatural. It is not a very large leap to go from the shadowy streets of Victorian London to the depths of darkness suggested by the occult. Jack the Ripper is hellish enough for just about anyone. And even everyday vices lend a chill—in “The Copper Beeches,” Holmes tells Watson that the countryside gives him a feeling of horror due to the abuses that go on without anyone the wiser. (This has always stuck with me as a clue to Holmes’s own background, and I used it as a baseline for “The Mystery of the Last Line” and referred to it again in its prequel, “The Adventure of Ichabod Reed.”) Indeed, it’s almost Shakespearean, for even Hamlet marvels at how his uncle “may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” Holmes puts it this way: “[T]he lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
Fans of horror, then, can find it within Doyle’s pages, and certainly within the wider reaches of the not insignificant number of extra-canon texts. Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall, The Holmes-Dracula Files by Fred Saberhagen, The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin (more Ripper fare) are just a few I can name off the top of my head without even looking over at my shelf. One needn’t read the originals, though they are certainly a good starting point; I always go back to them as a touchstone when I’m getting ready to write. I think the general idea of Holmes is well known enough that readers can pick up any book featuring that great detective and understand it (and him). Though if the author is a good one, and if he or she references Doyle, you may miss some of the allusions if you aren’t familiar with the core works.
One of my first Sherlock Holmes stories was a fan fiction piece in which Holmes was an Immortal (from Highlander). Very popular as fanfic goes, and it just goes to show: even hard core Holmes fans are willing to accept a dollop of the unusual and unreal when it comes to their hero. I like to think, too, that fans of paranormal and horror might happily embrace Holmes in at least some, if not all, of his facets.