for Eldritchhorrors

Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

A time there was – as one may guess
And as, indeed, earth’s testimonies tell –
Before the birth of consciousness,
When all went well.Benjamin Britten, 'Before life and after,' Winter Words, Op.52

An Intertextual Prelude: The Holmesian Game

“Sarasate plays at St. James’s Hall this afternoon,” he remarked. “What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for a few hours?”

“I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very absorbing.”

“Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City first, and we can have some lunch on the way. I observe that there is a good deal of German music on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than Italian or French. It is introspective, and I want to introspect. Come along!” Sherlock Holmes to John Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle, 'The Red Headed League'

What German music could Holmes and Watson have hoped to hear from Sarasate’s Stradivarius that afternoon? In “Lessons from the Life of Sarasate,” an article in the June 1922 issue of Etude Magazine (p. 424) Robert Braine profiles the great 19th century Basque violinist. He reminds readers that Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908) had once been known as a kind of salon violinist, a “ladies’ virtuoso” who played primarily his own variations on opera motives. Casting away his “showy trifles” later in his career Sarasate developed both the virtuosity and seriousness to take on the masters. His concert repertoire included the violin concertos of Beethoven, Bruch, Mendelssohn, the Swiss-German Raff, and some minor works of Bach. To which of these pieces Sherlock Holmes actually introspected is open for speculation and debate. Because Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD) never told us, we are free to adopt our own theories. That is how we play The Game!

Holmesian Speculation (also known as The Sherlockian game, the Holmesian game, the Great Game or simply the Game) is the practice of expanding upon the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by imagining a backstory, history, family or other information for Holmes and Watson, often attempting to resolve anomalies and clarify implied details about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.Wikipedia

While Holmes would certainly have been able to search his mind attic at a more leisurely pace to Mendelssohn’s Op 64 in E Minor (we know from A Study in Scarlet that Mendelssohn was a favorite of Watson’s), I’d like to think it was Sarasate’s performance of one famed minor Bach piece that scored the sleuth’s “Red Headed League” a-ha moment. Perhaps it was this little prelude…

Your guess is as good as mine. Though Doyle never once mentions Bach, all my evidence fits within the possibility of his Holmes canon.

Sherlock Holmes fandom was the first to use the word ‘canon’ in its fannish sense, as they were familiar with the religious term. After a 1911 essay jokingly compared the Sherlock Holmes stories to the Bible, fans quickly took to referring to the Sherlock Holmes stories as the Canon and the Sacred Writings.Fanlore

There’s nothing contrary to Doyle’s time, nor to the life and work of Sarasate, nor, indeed, to the worlds of the German composers. Nothing in canon or the world at large contradicts me. This makes my Sarasate-Bach prelude satisfying to me. I now can share my limitless affection for Bach with Doyle’s beguiling detective.

Intertextuality is basically the shaping of the meaning of a text by another text. (I won’t quarrel with Wikipedia’s definition.) It’s a beautiful, infinitely expansive meditative pleasure. I intermingle the very idea of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, the text of “The Red Headed League,” and Doyle’s use of Sarasate with my own understanding of the violinist as an historical figure. I could have glossed over the proper name, but I choose to understand that Doyle invoked Sarasate specifically to bring more sense to his story than “let’s go see a famous violinist.” Sarasate and German music are our only insight into what might constitute the nature of Holmesian introspection. In asking what specific German music might Sarasate have played that afternoon I actively seek to understand the difference between the meaning of the particular in Doyle (his choice of Sarasate) from that of the infinite (any old violinist). By answering the question of what German music the historical Sarasate would have played I pull into focus details that might tell us more about what makes Holmes tick. Without any evidence in the text to contradict my fancy, I decide that a “minor” Bach piece played by Sarasate would have been just the catalyst Holmes needed.

How might my understanding of Holmes’s interior life change if I were to learn that it was the music of Doyle’s contemporary, Bruch, not Bach that captured Holmes’s interest?  It makes a universe of difference! It’s a rather more likely choice, in fact. There are more moments any general reader might recognize as introspective in a lengthy Romantic violin concerto than in a short Bach prelude. Introspection, after all, is a quintessentially Romantic trait. It’s reasonable of us to assume that in Doyle’s reality, Sarasate will be playing a contemporary concerto or two something German and that the detective would have had little interest in the performance if the repertoire were more characteristic of the Basque’s usual French fare the Saint-Saëns or the Édouard Lalo he reportedly preferred.

Doyle so clearly means Holmes to ruminate to a Romantic composition, and one with which he was barely familiar, that to insist upon Bach requires some intellectual contortion. I love a challenge, so Bach it is! I have become, then, a co-creator, a composer of my own less likely, but still plausible Doyle canon-compliant Holmes universe.

The Open Opus

I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his early life.Dr. John Watson on Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, 'The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter'

I have to ask myself what, as a reader, do I gain from going against the Romantic grain? If it were Bruch, Holmes probably heard the music first as an adult; if Bach, he would have learned it from his violin tutor as a boy. What interpretive possibilities open up for me if I suppose Holmes aims to think accompanied by violin piece which he knows well? (I’ve assumed here that Holmes knows his Bach, but am well aware that Doyle gives us no such indication.)  Bach, therefore, offers me a mainline into Holmes’s psyche. It pleases me to think of a Bach prelude as key in the detective’s conspicuously undocumented formative years.

I’m aware I’m on shaky ground. It’s one thing to take a conscious interpretive leap over a relatively trivial intertextual reference but quite another to use that reference as a kind of evidence for my protagonist’s early impressions and adult motivations. I’m on the very edge of the Doyle universe, here, reveling in my own headcanons.

Headcanon (or head canon, head-canon) is a fan’s personal, idiosyncratic interpretation of canon, such as the backstory of a character, or the nature of relationships between characters.Fanlore

I confess I’ve let another Holmesian’s famous headcanons provide fodder for my own:

Siger Holmes married Violet Sherrinford at St. Sidwell’s, Exeter, on May 7, 1884. Sherrinford Holmes, their first-born, named, of course, for his mother’s family, came into the world in 1845. Their second son, Mycroft, arrived in 1847, their third son, Sherlock, not until seven years later.William S. Baring-Gould, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, (1962)

To make Doyle’s notoriously inconsistent backstories coherient, to fix canon, Baring-Gould plausibly posits three Holmes siblings: Sherrinford, Mycroft, and Sherlock. (He takes the name “Sherrinford” from Doyle’s original name for Holmes: Sherrinford Hope.) Headcanon accepted. Welcome, Sherrinford!

Satisfied that Sarasate’s Bach prelude was Sherlock Holmes’s choice that fateful afternoon, I’m free to speculate about why a short contrapuntal piece might be conducive to deduction. I’ll posit that the Holmeses are a musical family. Perhaps the young Sherlock Holmes studied this prelude, learned to play it well. Perhaps his elder brother, Mycroft, tutored him. Or…perhaps…perhaps Sherlock wasn’t the best violinist of the three. Maybe when Doyle, in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes likens the character of Sherlock Holmes to “one of those popular tenors” who “outlived their time,” he’s slyly gifting the attentive reader with an extra-canonical clue. I’m sold! The young Sherlock Holmes dabbled with strings but was actually a gifted tenor, then. I choose to assume that Mycroft was a pianist and Sherrinford the actual violinist.

An alternate universe (also known as alternative universe or alternate reality), commonly abbreviated as AU, is the occurrence of canonical facts about the setting or characterization of a particular fictional universe being explored in a non-canonical way…

Stories that fall into this definition are usually “what-ifs”, where possibilities arising from circumstances which do not occur in the original fictional universe are explored. For example, the premise of an alternate universe story may go something like this: “What would happen if character X was killed before event Y could happen?” Unlike regular fan fiction, which generally remains within the boundaries of the canon set out by the author, alternate universe fiction writers like to explore the possibilities of pivotal changes made to characters’ history, motivations, or environment.Wikipedia

If I’m going to write a new Holmes sibling into my AU, I’ll right other wrongs. My Sherrinford is a girlWhy would that be so absurd? Girls and women (Shakespeare’s sister, for example) are so very often written out of and into history in the most curious ways. 

…what is true in it, so it seemed to me, reviewing the story of Shakespeare’s sister as I had made it, is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty. Virginia Woolf, 'A Room of One's Own'

What would life have been to a such a musical girl in the latter part of the 19th century? (We have, at best, in ACD canon the musically inclined Irene Adler as our guide.) What would become of my Sherrinford? [REDACTED]  Is it too fanciful of an idea that Sherlock would have had in Sherriford an unsung, equally gifted sister, a musical virtuoso?

I’ll claim that the venerable Baring-Gould’s biography got the Holmes children’s birth order wrong. What if Sherrinford wasn’t the eldest at all? What if she was, say, Sherlock’s twin, his equal in wit and skill, his muse?! The soundwaves of Sherrinford’s violin filled the air in the misty centuries before Holmes’s intellectual awakening. To my mind, the last note from her bow still decays, ever frozen in Sherlock’s deepest childhood memories well before he gained use of any vocabulary that might begin to describe its formative impact on him – Sherrinford’s, the subtlest of influences. Sherlock’s beloved twin sister excelled at Bach. Yes, I’m convinced.

An afternoon performance of Bach’s pieces would be good for introspection. Watson attentive to the music yet uncomprehending would be an unbeatable conductor of Holmes’s light. (Some people who aren’t geniuses have an amazing ability to stimulate it in others.) Sarasate’s prelude would undoubtedly sound vastly different from Sherrinford’s. The contrast would be food for thought.

I imagine Sherrinford once accomplished the pinnacle for her brother, her best performance of Bach’s great Chaconne. Would a modern-day Holmes weep to hear it? Not in front of others, no.

I’ll conclude my meditation on the Holmes siblings with this thought: almost anything you can conceive about the youth of Sherlock Holmes is plausible given the open-ended nature of Doyle’s opus and the restlessness of your imagination.

You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him.Arthur Conan Doyle to William Gillette who asked for permission to give Sherlock Holmes a wife in his 1899 theatrical adaptation

Doyle himself doesn’t begrudge you or me our fanatical fictions, our headcanons, our alternate universes – our Great Games.

An Unfinished Melody: Reichenbach‘s “Bach”

Enough with the improvisation. Let’s stick to the score.

What if I should require of my reveries that they remain resolutely Doyle canon-compliant and historically accurate? And what if Doyle himself had invoked Bach specifically? What if the music of Bach, what Holmes knew about it, knew of the actual composer were all alluded to in one of Watson’s accounts? What if aspects of Bach had even been integral to a canonical case? What would happen to Sherrinford, to my Bach headcanon in such a closed universe?

As long as nothing in this funhouse Doyle contradicted what of Bach I read into his stories, my headcanons could remain happily intact. In fact they might help me explicate the actual Bachian goings on in this brave, new ACD world. But as soon as such a putative Bach contradicts my understanding of Doyle’s canon, my bubble is burst. I’m left to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about Holmes’s universe.

I just had a horrifying thought! What if Doyle had done with Bach what I have done with Sherlock Holmes? What if he had ascribed to Bach’s life an apocryphal headcanon or two of his own?! What if what I know to be true of the historical Bach differed from what Doyle himself wrote? Well, as I said, Bach doesn’t appear in ACD canon, but a bogus Bach bedevils Sherlock canon – the befuddling “Bach” of The Reichenbach Fall.

The Reichenbach Fall, written by Steven Thompson, directed by Toby Haynes, shot by Fabian Wagner, is a Sherlock episode with many magnificent merits. It’s one that I, on the whole, love. But Thompson’s Reichen Bach (get it?) rewrites my Bach. Upon each viewing my beloved ACD headcanons misfire in curious ways, leaving me dyspeptic and slightly confused. (Rich Brook, the trickster, has that effect on people…) Here’s the exchange that most offends my sensibilities:

JIM: You know when he was on his death bed, Bach, he heard his son at the piano playing one of his pieces. The boy stopped before he got to the end …

SHERLOCK: … and the dying man jumped out of his bed, ran straight to the piano and finished it.

JIM: Couldn’t cope with an unfinished melody.Jim Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes spar in The Reichenbach Fall

Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) & Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) | “The Reichenbach Fall” | Sherlock | Hartswood Films

[Be warned. For what’s to follow I acknowledge that Sherlock showrunner, Mark Gatiss, as he is wont to do with finicky fact-checkers, would surely accuse me of pedantry. Feel free to take the piss out of me later in the comments. No apologies. I’ve decided to take my Bach way too seriously.]

This tea-time conversation between Jim and Sherlock at 221b Baker Street is the weirdest and weakest dialog in The Reichenbach Fall. Oh where to begin?!

For starters, let’s have some Baroque music 101. The historical Johann Sebastian Bach wouldn’t have had a piano at home but a clavichord or a harpsichord. The master of motivic exploration, the master of musical counterpoint, the master of the Art of the Fugue wouldn’t have been bothered with completing a single melody. The polyphony of a fugue is about melodic interaction. It’s a process about process.

It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole. The internal structures that create each of the voices separately must contribute to the emergent structure of the polyphony, which in turn must reinforce and comment on the structures of the individual voices. The way that is accomplished in detail is…’counterpoint’John Rahn, Music Inside Out: Going Too Far in Musical Essays

This is the best illustration I can offer that clearly demonstrates the contrapuntal inner workings of a fugue. It’s great. You really ought to watch it. Just try and pick out one melody you could finish and you’ll see my point.

As far as Bach being unable to abide the unfinished goes, that’s just hooey. Bach left us with one of the most famously unfinished masterpieces in the Western world, Contrapunctus XIV from The Art of the Fugue.

[Bach’s chromaticism] constantly reaches farther and farther and farther. It never modulates in the conventional sense. It never comes to rest in any one key. It leaves the extraordinary impression of an infinitely expanding universe.Glenn Gould, The Art of the Fugue

Here is the incomparable Glenn Gould elucidating XIV, that great fugue. Even if you’ve never heard Bach before you can hear what Gould means by “infinitely expanding universe!”

Take note of Gould’s flourish at the end, how he conducts, how he punctuates with a gesture indicating a full stop the abrupt end of Bach’s composition. The fugue ends mid-bar in an incompletion befitting not only Bach’s unworldly musical accomplishments, but also the timbre of the maestro’s religious devotion.

…the Baroque work of art never allows a privileged, definitive, frontal view; rather, it induces the spectator to shift his position continuously in order to see the work in constantly new aspects, as if it were in a state of perpetual transformation. Now if Baroque spirituality is to be seen as the first clear manifestation of modern culture and sensitivity, it is because here, for the first time, man opts out of the canon of authorized responses and finds that he is faced (both in art and in science) by a world in a fluid state which requires corresponding creativity on his part.Umberto Eco, The Open Work

Bach, the composer of such an infinitely expanding universe, would hardly be unable to cope with the unfinished! Surely Sherlock Holmes studied musical history with a degree of seriousness. He would know this. I can’t accept that the Sherlock of Steven Moffat’s and Mark Gatiss’s episodes of Sherlock would have deleted Bach as he did the solar system. We know from ACD canon that Holmes knew more about music than he did most anything other than detection and tobacco!

Need I continue peeling away the layers of Thompson’s wrongheadedness? No, but I will. Accounts vary but Bach either died of a stroke, or a botched eye surgery or both. On his deathbed he was blind and certainly unable to play any instrument. I’ll be charitable for a brief moment. Perhaps Thompson was alluding in some vague way to Bach’s “deathbed chorale,” Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (“Before Your Throne I Now Appear”) which, Bach family legend had it, the dying composer dictated to a scribe as it came to him? In reality that piece was an expansion of an existing work, Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sein (“When We Are In Greatest Need”) which Bach had initially composed some 30 years earlier. Naw. No matter how you cut it the Reichenbach Bach is just. Wrong.

But it’s not even the fact that Thompson made up a nonsensical Bach tale, his own kind of weirdly ahistorical “Bach” headcanon that bugs me to no end. It’s that he forces Sherlock and Moriarty, two wicked and highly educated intellects, to share the knowledge of this anachronistic “legend”. The Reichenbach Bach isn’t Bach. It’s “Bach,” a name we’ve all heard, a name that denotes “smart”, “posh”, “high art”, something that boffins know all about, a topic worthy of conversation between two proper geniuses who, evidently, don’t even know how to use Wikipedia. The Reichenbach Bach story is a great example of canon as maddening insularity, a hermetic universe.

To make matters worse the plot relies on Sherlock playing dumb, dumber than Moriarty could ever have mistake him for. We’re supposed to believe that Sherlock would know an arcane detail about the end of Bach’s life but wouldn’t recognize the beats and rests, the Morse code, of Bach’s Partita Number One, a violin partita. We’re to take this as reality in spite of the fact that Sherlock was playing the Adagio from Bach’s Violin Sonata No.1 when Moriarty broke into 221b just minutes before their chat about Bach’s hesitant son?!

Wait, don’t answer that!

It took Sherlock a whole episode in Thompson’s previous screenplay, The Blind Banker, to recognize Suzhou numerals from the bottom of common goods sold everyday in London’s Chinatown. Thompson’s version of Sherlock is frustratingly slow on the uptake.

So while I love Sherlock with a white hot fire, I cannot embrace all its canon as canon. I refuse to accept many of the rules, characterizations and happenings of its own universe. I’m not alone. This is, in part, why its fandom thrives (why any fandom thrives). This is why Sherlock fix-it fics are a huge thing.

Sometimes the fans think that The Powers That Be screwed it. Maybe they’ve wasted the storyline, or they went for the obvious when a better solution should have been favoured. Maybe they didn’t focus on a certain character enough. Maybe they’ve paired the wrong couple together, or they’ve derailed the character or they don’t even understand who the true hero of the story should be. Or, even worse, they’ve killed the most important character.

Whatever the reason, some fans are dissatisfied and they won’t be content to complain about it. They’re going to address it, in a fanfic. In short, an AU with an agenda rather than as an intellectual exercise.TV Tropes

What if there were a Sherlock universe in which Sherlock not only understood the basics of Western music, but also was a connoisseur of music in a vast variety of forms? (This would explain the 221b Baker Street set dressings that include a CD changer worth several thousand pounds hanging on the wall in Sherlock’s bedroom as well as all the speakers, the record player, crates of LPs and other CD players scattered around the set!)

Could my Sherrinford thrive in such a world? [REDACTED]

The Canon in Inversion: kid!lock Fanon

The truly useful fact in the exchange between Moriarty and Sherlock in Thompson’s Reichenbach isn’t the pointless bit about how “Bach” finished an unfinished melody, or that they have unfinished business between them (what a cliché!), but that it’s a young boy who paused at the keyboard. In Sherlock canon (as Mark Gatiss writes in The Great Game from Series One) Sherlock and Moriarty became acquainted with each other’s work well before they were even teens. Thompson doesn’t really take advantage of that juicy canon fact in Reichenbach (what a waste!) but the Sherlock fandom had already gone there, and how!

The smattering of details about Sherlock’s and Moriarty’s young lives offered in Series One seemingly inspired multitudinous fanon variations.

Fanon is any element that is widely accepted among fans, but has little or no basis in canon. Sometimes it’s a small event in canon that gets exaggerated; sometimes it’s something in a fanfic story that gets picked up on and repeated by other writers until it’s so common that newbies might think it’s a canonical fact.Fanlore

It had taken no time at all for kid!lock, the infinitely expanding exploration of Sherlock’s childhood, to trend in the most glorious ways –  in smarter ways, more interesting ways than it ever did in ACD Holmes canon, than it ever has in Sherlock canon. (Series Four is filming as I write.)

Sherlock Series One debuted in 2010, around the time that the personal computing technology and YouTube made it possible for average fans of the show with a bit of skill to edit and distribute their own canon-inspired creations. Vidders will use footage from Sherlock canon (including the unaired but commercially released pilot of A Study in Pink) inter-spliced with any other footage, for example scenes from other Benedict Cumberbatch films, that suits the needs of their trailer’s plot. For my purposes here I’m most interested in a few particular fanvids that mimic feature film trailers, all of them starring a young Asa Butterfield as the melancholic and lonely Sherlock Holmes (who is often saved from his despair by a young John Watson, in various junior hurt/comfort scenarios.)

With its pathos, flashbacks, sound bridges, voice-overs, sad music and footage of Butterfield from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as young Sherlock the vid below was posted by a user called I’m so Inspired I could die! on October 12, 2010, just a few months after Sherlock Series One aired.

The vid plays heavily on the canon appearance of Sebastian Wilkes in Steve Thompson’s The Blind Banker. Wilkes knew Sherlock at uni and describes to Watson how much he and their peers hated Sherlock’s deductions… and hated him. A Study in Pink provides Sally Donovan’s warnings that John Watson ought to steer clear of Sherlock as well as the bickering between Mycroft and Sherlock about how Sherlock upset their mother. In canon the exchange is at once comical and poignant.

Butterfield appeared in scores of vids and popular gif sets as fanon kid!Sherlock before his performance in Hugo sealed his position in fans’ headcanons and hearts. (Butterfield also stars in vids and gif sets as Sherlock and John’s fanon son, Hamish.) Hugo and Holmes share many traits. In cases like these the extra-canonical material does not function as traditional intertext such as Sarasate’s German music. The allusions, if consciously chosen, are usually included for their affective resonance. Imagine in this real film trailer that Hugo is Sherlock instead and you’ll generate a kid!lock AU in your head.

kid!lock fan works, which had always been popular in the Sherlock fandom after Series One, exploded into ubiquity after the airing of The Reichenbach Fall. In the vid below, we have an AU not of the fictive universe of Sherlock and John, but of the actual show – a Sherlock, Jr. with titles that feature the teary eyed kid!John and kid!Sherlock expressing emotions parallel to their adult counterparts in Reichenbach:

There’s a constant drive to articulate what motivates Sherlock, what makes him Sherlock. Why did he jump off the roof of Barts Hospital, leaving his best friend to believe he committed suicide? How does he feel about his decision? Almost universally (in Anglophone Sherlock fan works at least) the answer involves some kind of childhood trauma.

Sherlock fans turned to ACD canon for their post-Reichenbach baddie, a figure that hadn’t, to date, appeared in Sherlock canon, Sebastian Moran, the sharpshooter of The Empty House, Holmes’s first adventure upon his return from Reichenbach. Moran, also known in the fandom as Seb, became a kind of shadow John, Moriarty’s sinister sidekick, the assassin who forced Sherlock to jump. Because Mark Gatiss tells us in The Great Game that young Sherlock’s first case was a murder that an even younger Moriarty had committed it didn’t take much of a leap to transport Seb back in time as well.

Here’s a gif set a post-Reichenbach kid!lock AU that includes Seb:

As an adult usually Seb appears in slash fics with Moriarty as his lover (a pairing, or a relationship, known as MorMor, or Moriarty/Moran).

Slash is a type of fanwork in which two (or more) characters of the same sex or gender are placed in a sexual or romantic situation with each other. Slash can also be a verb; to slash is to create a slash fanwork or to interpret the chemistry between the characters in the source text as homoerotic. The adjective form is slashy.

Slash more commonly refers to male/male pairings, with femslash being used more often to refer to female/female scenarios.Fanlore

Sadly, Sebastian Moran did not materialize in The Empty Hearse, Reichenbach‘s sequel, as the great villain we’d hoped for, a henchman worthy of Moriarty – one lethally jealous of his lover’s obsession with Sherlock. Mark Gatiss (controversially) wrote a female slasher into the episode with her own headcanon about how Sherlock survived the fall, but she shipped Sheriarty- no MorMor in sight:

But I’ll revel in the nostalgia for the glorious Great Hiatus between Series Two and Series Three, which lasted over two years, when Sebastian Moran loomed large in the fandom.

What would have happened if he had met Sherrinford? [REDACTED]

This is another kid!lock vid posted by user BlondieProduction and starring Asa Butterfield as the young Sherlock Holmes. It’s neither an exploration of Sherlock canon details, nor an homage to Sherlock as a show itself in any way. It does introduce another extra-canonical character into Sherlock’s childhood. It’s a trailer for “I Hear Those Voices that Will Not Be Drowned,” the first chapter of a fan fiction series, The Cold Song, by Eldritchhorrors.

BlondieProduction has used mostly footage from the unaired pilot of A Study in Pink – probably because in the pilot (unlike the aired episode) Sherlock is drugged, and drugs feature heavily in Eldritchhorrors’s chapter. There are also some stills of Cumberbatch and a few brief clips from some of his other films.  Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” provides the score and extra dialog comes from the film Phoebe in Wonderland as does the footage of Sherrinford.


Here’s where I make my grand confession.

Sherrinford Holmes, the girl virtuoso, lover of Bach, Sherlock’s twin? She’s not my creation at all, but a headcanon I’ve embraced. She’s the child of Eldritchhorrors’s imagination.

Vids like BlondieProduction’s are made by fans of the fannish works, as gifts, homages, offerings, expansions, variations. BlondieProduction plays on headcanons about Cold Song which plays on headcanons about Sherlock which plays on headcanons about Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon. BlondieProduction’s is an alternate universe of other infinitely expanding alternate universes, evolving like Bach’s chromaticism which never comes to rest in any one key.

That Which Cannot be Put into Words

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.Victor Hugo

All my powers of expression
And thoughts so sublime
Could never do you justice
In reason or rhymeBob Dylan, 'Mississippi'
The Cold Song, a Fan Fiction Cover Designed by Eldtritchhorrors

The Cold Song, a Fan Fiction Cover Designed by Eldtritchhorrors

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon The Cold Song. I’ve tried and tried to remember. It’s like I’ve always known it. I do know I read the first few chapters  all that were published at the time  just after I watched The Reichenbach Fall. It completely blew me away, so I searched for the author on tumblr to tell them so. Over the next few months I came to know Eldritch pretty well as far as anonymous internet fandom acquaintances go. Eldritch is a marvel: one of the smartest people I’ve ever encountered, certainly one of the most gifted. I have as much affection for Eldritch as I do for Sherrinford.

The Cold Song is a beautifully executed Sherlock fan fiction novel. The canon of this alternate universe consists of eight chapters, two of which are incomplete. Eldritchhorrors published the sixth chapter in October 2012. In July of 2013, Eldritch confirmed that Chapter Seven, “I Must Hunt My Shadow”, named from a lyric of Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden’s operetta, Paul Bunyan, would be the novel’s brutal psychological climax, and that Chapter Eight was “where the fun lies.”  The last line of the novel is written but unshared.

I find it almost impossible to describe the emotional and intellectual impact this unfinished work has had on me, but I’ll try to at least introduce The Cold Song canon itself. I’ll start with Eldritch’s own tags, the warnings/teasers that every fan fiction writer uses to introduce their work to a potential fandom audience.

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The Cold Song is decidedly not safe for work (NSFW). Sherlock’s on the autism scale. It’s a casefic. It’s slash fic with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson paired sexually (and romantically), a pairing known as Johnlock. BDSM is integral to the plot and characterizations. There’s bloodplay and anal play and, most importantly, violin porn. It’s half porn of one variety or another (including some A+ psychological whump) and half music. While accurate, this is a little like describing Ulysses as a novel about a day in the life of Dublin. 

None of the facts of the story can capture the sublimity of Eldritch’s alternate universe, so much of which depends emotionally upon fannish empathy – that the reader-fan feels what Sherlock feels about his family, about his mind, about John.

Feels is an abbreviation for “feelings”, but it’s used in a distinct way in fandom. While “feelings” may refer to a broad range of emotions under many circumstances, “feels” is almost always fandom-specific, referring to feelings evoked specifically by fannish experiences.Fanlore

The Cold Song is, as Eldtritch tells us, how broken people (a very broken Sherlock Holmes and an equally broken John Watson) fall in love.

It’s equally vital that the reader-fan hears what Sherlock hears. In The Cold Song musical intertextuality is everything. Eldritch even made a playlist of some of the most important pieces for readers who wanted to immerse themselves in the Cold Song universe. The variety and intensity of the playlist speaks volumes. None of this music is an easy, passive listen:

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I scrupulously put together a list of music that I thought my Sherlock would use to describe John. I spent a lot of time and a lot of thought on that list, and it made its way into the fic. I like the peek into Sherlock’s brain:

John, John dear God, John what do you, how do you, please John, more I can’t take please please, this is, no idea no idea, John so good, good, good is an inadequate adjective, splendid magnificent, John, you are The Ring Cycle, Mathis Der Maler, the Rite of Spring, the Marriage of Figaro.

John, you are La Mer, you are Einstein on the Beach.

You are the Messiah and St. Matthew’s Passion.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Otello. The Goldberg Variations. Rhapsody in Blue. Bitches Brew.

Purcell’s King Arthur. You are Music to Play in the Dark.

A Limnal Hymn.Eldritchhorrors

Given how difficult the rest of the Cold Song soundtrack is, it might seem odd at first that the universe has its genesis in a childish sing-song. Sherrinford Holmes’s brief [REDACTED] life began with a prompt Eldritch took from Sherlock canon, a line from the petulant protagonist of The Great Game:

…the entire [Cold Song] series started because I asked a very innocent question: Why didn’t Sherlock delete the Teddy Bear Rhyme?Eldritchhorrors

I think that Sherlock once knew the names of all the planets and constellations. I think there is still a telescope in his childhood bedroom. I think that he delved into astrophysics and found out how insignificant we are, and how cruel the universe can be.

Then he deleted it.Eldritchhorrors

How cruel the universe can be…

In The Cold Song the adult Sebastian Moran, the ruthless psychopath of post-Reichenbach Sherlock fanon thrives. He encountered Sherrinford Holmes when she was a young girl…


There is a mystery about this which stimulates the imagination; where there is no imagination there is no horror. Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

At this point I should pause to point out that Eldtrich’s fandom name comes from H.P. Lovecraft:

[The meaning behind my URL is] a nod to Lovecraft. The racism of his work is problematic, especially considering that I am biracial, but I like classic horror, and Lovecraft was a master. His protagonists were often curious scientists that went mad with the knowledge of their insignificance. I have a lot of esoteric knowledge in many subjects, including taboo subjects, so I styled myself as the esoteric knowledge that curious people might be better off not knowing…a very Lovecraftian theme. Discovery of an eldritch horror is a Pyrrhic victory, like splitting the atom. Your knowledge is advanced but it can bring you no joy because…well…eldritch horror.Eldritchhorrors

The manner in which Sherrinford was lost to Sherlock and Mycroft forms the basis of the casefic. It’s the site of Sherlock’s trauma. That which sparked his drug use. What stands between him and John.

In fair days and in foul
Round the world and back,
I must hunt my shadow
And the self I lack.'Slim's Song' from Paul Bunyan, Benjamin Britten

I have no idea if Eldritchhorrors ever plans to post the last two chapters of The Cold Song, but I’m not holding out hope. For nearly three years I’ve grappled with The Cold Song as it is, an unfinished literary masterpiece, a fantastic limbo for the children of Eldritch’s infinitely expansive imagination.

The Cold Song Variations

"The Black Pearl," a Fan Fiction Cover Designed by Eldtritchhorrors

“The Black Pearl,” a Fan Fiction Cover Designed by Eldtritchhorrors

Eldritch’s world has absorbed me for years now. I can’t edit video. I can’t art. My fic skills are humble at best. Since I’ve very little to add to the Cold Song fandom I’ve done my best to show my appreciation in other fannish ways. When Eldritch offered to write a fic for a charity auction, I made sure to win the bid. I couldn’t ask for a new Cold Song chapter – that wouldn’t have been polite somehow. So I asked for, and got, a fic set in the Cold Song universe. My prompt was pretty simple. I’m a huge Glenn Gould fan and Eldritch had alluded to Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the text. I gave the prompt: Gould’s Goldbergs. We agreed the fic would be slashy. What Eldritch delivered was “The Black Pearl,” its name taken from the haunting Goldberg variation 25.

“Pearl” takes place after the events of the Cold Song novel. While The Cold Song remains incomplete, “The Black Pearl” is Sherlock and John’s happy ending. I absolutely love it and as a thank you, I recorded a podfic of myself reading the story aloud.

I was nervous and spoke too quickly. I enlisted a British friend, siouxsiesue, to record another version.

Every performance makes the work an actuality, but is itself only complementary to all possible other performances of the work. In short, we can say that every performance offers us a complete and satisfying version of the work, but at the same time makes it incomplete for us, because it cannot simultaneously give all the other artistic solutions which the work may admit.Umberto Eco, The Open Work

It’s been ages since Eldtrich and I had a substantial conversation. Life took dramatic turns for us both. I’ve remained active in the Sherlock fandom while Eldritch has, it seems, moved on. But I always had this secret wish that an artist whose work I enjoy, Kit Mills, would illustrate the fic. Kit has to my mind, a sensibility compatible with the Cold Song universe. The stars aligned and I was able to commission three provocative images to accompany scenes in the novel.

A work of art…is a complete and closed form in its uniqueness as a balanced organic whole, while at the same time constituting an open product on account of its susceptibility to countless different interpretations which do not impinge on its unadulterable specificity. Hence, every reception of a work of art is both an interpretation and a performance of it, because in every reception the work takes on a fresh perspective for itself.Umberto Eco, The Open Work

I think of myself less as a performer than a kind of fangirl conductor. These are my contributions to the Cold Song fandom, my gifts to Eldritch who has given me so much. Two things, especially, I will cherish always: Eldritch’s intertextuality, the brilliant allusions to works I’d not known before (those of Benjamin Britten among them), and Sherrinford.

My Sherrinford.

(Sherlock) had originally played to feel closer to his sister, and for that first year after her death he had done little else. The case, the violin, had still smelled of her. Lavender, baby powder, vanilla like sugary biscuits hot from the oven. He’d slept in her bed and played her violin, but the focus of his olfactory obsession had faded over that year, until it existed only in his imagination, and soon he could not recall the exact scent of her, and the case began to smell like they all smelled, the faint must of aging fabric, bitter rosin and polished wood.

He would not be playing Respighi today.

Sherlock picked up the violin and placed it under his chin, resting it against his collarbone. He picked up the bow, his thumb under the frog, adjusting his hold before he applied it to the strings, pulling a quick downbow near the bridge.

No, not Respighi. Something of this nature called for the monumental.

Sherlock inhaled, held it, then exhaled with precise focus before he began to play.

The first four measures, the somber thematic statement. Then variations on that theme. Bach’s Chaconne was a dance as the name suggested, but it was so much more than that. The beginning of the first minor, which so many people (idiots) equated with birth, announced that this piece would be epic in scope.- Eldritchhorrors from 'A Drawing Down of Blinds,' in The Cold Song

No one wanted to break the silence, break the cantrip the violin had spelled…Eldritchhorrors, 'A Drawing-down of Blinds' from The Cold Song

A Fantastic Limbo for the Children of Imagination

I’ve written the last line of the (Cold Song) series, so I know where I need to get to, and it strikes me as very profound. I want it to be profound for people. I want them to sit back with a pleased sigh and say, yes, that is exactly how it is supposed to be. I want them to be happy for Sherlock and for John. I want them to know that it is only going to get better for him. I want them to know that Sherlock has turned a corner and changed on a fundamental level. The Sherlock at the end of Cold Song can no longer be just about the work or even just about John.

So, you know, its not like I have high expectations or anything.Eldritchhorrors

I fear that Mr. Sherlock Holmes may become like one of those popular tenors who, having outlived their time, are still tempted to make repeated farewell bows to their indulgent audiences. This must cease and he must go the way of all flesh, material or imaginary. One likes to think that there is some fantastic limbo for the children of imagination, some strange, impossible place where the beaux of Fielding may still make love to the belles of Richardson, where Scott’s heroes still may strut, Dickens‘s delightful Cockneys still raise a laugh, and Thackeray’s worldlings continue to carry on their reprehensible careers. Perhaps in some humble corner of such a Valhalla, Sherlock and his Watson may for a time find a place…Arthur Conan Doyle in the preface to The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)