Weekly Forum: 19 August 2014

Undeveloped Characters in the Canon

The Undeveloped Characters

Like Mrs Turner, there exist other undeveloped and often completely unexplained characters in the Canon. 

One of these is Mercer, a member of Holmes’s agency, described as his    “. . . general utility man who looks up routine business . . . .”  And, there is the other Mercer, the second mate of Gloria Scott, who is also named as Mereer in some editions. 

Mercer would seem to have had a significant function in the agency activities (and apparently in the creative mind of Doctor Watson), but we have little or nothing of him to give further clarification.  Perhaps you have thoughts on this character (or other characters) that exist only in the Canonical shadows.

3 Replies to “Weekly Forum: 19 August 2014”

  1. It is interesting how Mercer and Shinwell Johnson hint at an enlarged consulting detective business, one at odds with the idea of Holmes and Watson, together alone against the criminal underworld.

  2. There is an interesting literary convention known as metafiction which involves emphasizing the fictional nature of the writing in many ways. It has certain elements and the Canon contains many of the distinctive literary characteristics.

    I begin to think that Doctor Watson had a far larger Canon in mind, one that included all of the missing case notes turned into stories, but lost with the tin dispatch case. He planted characters and links that would appear in other parts of the total, inter-linked Canon. If this enlarged Canon were intact, it might be twice the size, or even three times the size, as the existing Canon. In that enlarged metafiction would be many stories in which these shadowy, undeveloped characters, such as Mercer, are given their full development; in effect, their stories have occurred but have yet to be written, and we have yet to read them.

    If one accepts the metafictive aspects of the Canon, and accepts that we only have a fragment of the entire history and career of Holmes and Watson, then we can also accept that we have only a portion of the entire Sherlockian map. If we had all 180 stories and 8 books, or whatever the number is, then we would likely have full descriptive biographies of numerous characters–perhaps even their own stories–who we only know presently as “one-time” shadows.

    Additionally, when we accept that the metafictive aspects of the entire Canon have multiple layers of new fiction, we begin to understand the depth of the Sherlockian/Watsonian fictional influence on the world. For example, the first layer is Doctor Watson’s writing in which he creates the essential reportage of the cases. The reader then interprets and synthesizes that reportage as the second layer of fiction. The reader/enthusiast then creates a third layer of explanation and expansion of the cases (the scholarship). Other enthusiasts, in turn, create other alternatives, rebuttals, expansions, or revisions to that original scholarship for a fourth layer of metafiction, and on and on ad infinitum.

    If we think of every fictive scholarly creation in the Canon being held up to view in a Hall of Mirrors, we find an infinite number of reflections–all valid and possible–from each person standing in the Hall and showing a fictive creation of their own. Multiply this by the number of enthusiasts, writers, scholars, cosplay participants, and all of the variants of “The Game” and we have an enormous metafiction universe reflecting from an enormous universal Hall of Mirrors, showing an unending complexity and variety of metafiction, and all of it potentially true.

    Within that nascent universe we know as the (original) Canon–and the potential universe of the (full) Canon–Doctor Watson may have mentioned certain characters only once. These may simply be out of the context of their missing metafictional stories. Once we have those missing links, characters like Mercer, and hundreds of others, may emerge into the light of their own fictive existence and the Canon will expand exponentially from all of the resultant analyses, scholarship, pastiche, and discussions of possibilities.

    To me, this portends the ultimate Canon as being something like the Dead Sea Scrolls. We have only the 5% of what has been reported by Doctor Watson of the 100% that occurred in the Sherlockian milieu. We will likely spend multiples of decades in search of the complete Canon assembled from the scraps of what has been left. Like the Scrolls, hidden in amphora, hidden in remote caves, somewhere–in a lost tin dispatch box, abandoned in a vault–is the remainder of the case notes and the source material for a Canon two, three, maybe, four times its present size. And so, in lieu of the complete, original scrolls, we piece together a logical (sometimes illogical) metafiction that attempts to explain why it was Always 1895. And, as metafictional Argonauts, we Sherlockians and Watsonians pursue what we know as “The Game.” In fact, we create the metafiction in thousands of Halls of Mirrors and we share the millions of reflections of what we always perceive as Truth.

    Like all good metafiction, it boggles the mind.

  3. Shinwell Johnson is a good call. I would also like to know more of the interaction with Langsdale Pile. They, in their respective stories, seem to be high on the lists Holmes’ informants into their respective strata of society. Ones that Holmes would not have hesitated to make use of in appropriate circumstances.

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