Delusions of Grandeur • R.D. Rhyne

September 07, 2020

The Sunday Letter: I admire you

Since today is Labor Day in the US, I decided to take last Friday off from work. The four day weekend was much needed. It’s given me space to think, spend time with my family, and write. I worked on the polish edit of my third story in The Traveler series: The Banker, which should be out soon.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the transition between this story and the next one in the series. I’ve fleshed out the major plot events and Friday morning I began the first draft of a fourth story[1].

In both of these middle stories (née, second Act), I work to develop and shape the principal characters by introducing a pair of supporting characters. These two were on my mind as I watched[2] the British series Sherlock with my oldest son this weekend.

Friday evening we started A Scandal in Belgravia, which is the first episode of the second season. As the episode started, I remarked to my son “This is my favorite episode of the entire series.” It contains the best character introduction of all time for one of the great supporting characters from the original stories.

Sherlock Holmes was a genius, matched in intellect by only two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters: Professor Moriarty and Irene Adler. These are the two characters whose intelligence and cunning Holmes respected as equal[3] to his own.

Conan Doyle created Moriarty as a means to kill Sherlock Holmes, and later adaptations have fashioned him as an arch-nemesis. Adler is much more interesting, especially when you consider the position of the Conan Doyle Estate that claims Holmes is “only described as having emotions in stories published between 1923 to 1927”.

According to them, the wily detective couldn’t have a love interest. It would violate his character. Instead Conan Doyle wrote Adler as someone that Holmes would admire.

Subtleties, man.

Allow me a brief sidebar on pens, to illustrate the difference.

I’ve wasted a lot of time, and money, searching for the perfect pen. Expensive and cheap. Broad and fine widths. Fountain pens, loose ink, felt tips, and rollerballs. I can tell you about the different types of refills. Which flow better, which dry fast enough. I’m great at parties.

Let’s just say that I love pens. And saying that, you might be interested to know my favorite. My choice will disappoint you.

My favorite pen is the Pilot G2 Retractable, 0.7mm[4]. I buy them by the dozen and stuff them into every pen pocket of every bag I own[5].

This is the pen I use the most because it is the one that writes the best for me. I know what you’re thinking: they’re made of cheap plastic, and disposable. Gross. Yeah, no one stops to admire this pen when I pull it out of my pocket.

Every “nice” pen I’ve purchased has been a gorgeous piece of art. I enjoy opening the box, feeling the weight and balance in my hands, and toying with the satisfying mechanisms. Then I would inevitably try to write with it.

I have a pet theory that fancy pens only exist so you feel awesome when you’re signing your name.

During any amount of long-form writing I’ve found the weight cumbersome. I’m sure I would get used to it over time. Reach a point where I don’t notice it as much. But then I would forget the pen on a trip or leave it on my desk at work. I’d have to fall back to my stock of trusty G2s and the whole damn process would reset.

Nope, the G2 is my pen. I admire nice pens as beautiful works of art. But I love writing with the Pilot G2.

Might seem silly to exhaust so many words on the difference between love and admiration. But it matters when talking about Irene Adler and how her character develops Sherlock Holmes.

A love interest is an obvious character to write. Love is a base emotion, complex and rich with tiny details that can add authenticity to your narrative. It’s an emotion you can expect your readers to have experienced. And it would be too easy to write Irene Adler as a sexual exploit—which is why nearly every adaptation does it. After all, what better way for your viewer to associate with a complicated character like Sherlock Holmes?

The only problem is that it wouldn’t ring true to Holmes’ actual character, as written by Conan Doyle. He wanted you to struggle with understanding Holmes. If Sherlock feels aloof and hard to predict, he is more believable as a tortured genius. Central to his character is the lack of emotion[6].

Irene Adler in the Sherlock series (as in the novels) is an object of desire for any man. Better still, Sherlock finds a match for his wit and intelligence. Sauce for the goose, as Mr. Spock would say.

Adler is the ultimate temptation. Conan Doyle doesn’t cheat either. Holmes sees her. Appreciates her as a beautiful piece of art, and desires her, just as the reader does. Holmes even refers to her as “the woman”. Not any woman—the woman.

Again, it would be easier for Sherlock to ignore her. It’s more powerful that he sees her like others, but doesn’t fall for her.

This is how Sherlock excels, when other adaptations fall short. Holmes desires Adler, but is not tempted by her. She articulates to viewers that nothing dissuades the detective from his addiction.

While neither of my supporting characters are as dramatic as Moriarty or Adler, I take inspiration from them and their adaptations. I can’t wait to share my characters with you and the backstory behind their creation.

Look for The Banker later this week.

  1. Working title for the fourth story is The Addict. We’ll see if that sticks. ↩︎

  2. I’m re-watching them, probably for the fourth or fifth time. This is my son’s first time. ↩︎

  3. For the Sherlock nerds reading this, in the “The Five Orange Pips” Holmes says he has “been beaten four times—three times by men and once by a woman.” There is literary debate if Holmes meant Adler since A Scandal in Bohemia takes place after this story. ↩︎

  4. Yes, 0.7mm. I know a lot who prefer an extra fine tip and spend gobs of money to import them from Japan. No thank you. I lightly glide my pen across the paper and hate nothing more than a broken stroke because the angle was too steep. I consider 0.7mm to be the minimum tolerable for a rollerball. ↩︎

  5. Don’t ask how many bags that is, it’s embarrassing. ↩︎

  6. Still a silly thing to claim copyright over. ↩︎