Continuity Conundrums

Friday, November 12, 2010


I learned the most delightful bit of fanspeak the other day.

Watsonian Vs. Doylist.
(Time-Sink Warning, that is a TVTropes link.)

In short, this means the difference between rationalizing a story element within the context of its own continuity, or within the context of its author's purpose or circumstances.

For example, a Watsonian might say: "I guess the character is right that they never noticed the vampires before because they were hiding", when a Doylist might say "I bet the author is just jumping on the bandwagon, there weren't any vampires in this series before!" Another example: whether a character was 'meant' to die in a particular TV episode vs. whether the actor wanted to leave the show.

I am personally quite Doylist, more and more so as I get older. I am fascinated by authors, and the larger stories behind, for example, making movies. Audio Commentaries are often a Doylist's dream come true.

But few people are always one or the other. I know there are certain worlds that I prefer to think about in-universe, and Twitter interactions with "fictional characters" are sometimes quite fun.  Also I am certainly critical if a piece breaks its own internal rules, even for an external reason. It is a spectrum, not an either-or.

Appropriately, where I've been struck the most by this is in my attempt to read The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, by Baring-Gould. I love the Holmes stories, and have read sections of this annotated version. I haven't devoured it straight through, though, because it gives in-continuity explanations for everything!

Baring-Gould attempts to reconcile Conan Doyle's typos, inconsistencies and continuity errors into a fairly convoluted timeline, instead of just admitting that Doyle forgot, or decided to contradict, what he'd written in previous stories. I admit, while I find it adorable, I don't quite understand.

4 comments:

Red said...

The Annotated Holmes looks interesting (I have Annotated Nursery Rhymes from the same series) but I'm not sure why he would try to make everything fit together if clearly Doyle made mistakes. I'd rather know he messed up versus he made something ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated.

Also the bunny that's in the post picture and header? I totally had that same rabbit as well as the set it went with and possibly some others, when I was little.

Lindsay said...

It's amusing to me. I almost want to get on board with it; it does seem like fun to treat the stories as "real", but I just can't keep it up.

For example, a late story is stated in the text to take place in such-and-such a year, which in context is clearly in the middle of the Hiatus (between when Holmes "dies" at the Falls and when he reappears).

My assumption is: well, Doyle was writing these haphazardly over many years, and Holmes was never his favorite creation. Especially later in life he was writing Holmes stories to pay the bills so he could do more spiritualist work. He probably just forgot to check his timeline, or didn't care enough to check. (This doesn't make it a bad story, the date doesn't matter to the plot.)

Baring-Gould says (paraphrasing): "Well, why would Watson have said it took place then? Perhaps he was trying to further conceal the identity of the client. So maybe it really took place in this year, which means..."

It's cute, really, but I can't stay on board for long.

(And I've had that bunny since I was little, hence why half her fur is rubbed off. She makes a sweet little mascot, I think.)

Jesse said...

This is a very good point. I am rather a Doylist who wishes he was a Watsonian, in quite the same way that many people say they are atheists who wish they were religious. I envy the straightforward, encompassing ability of the Watsonian's to accept fictional worlds as they are, while simultaneously thinking myself superior to them for having a more intellectual and realistic worldview. It's funny, because Chris is totally a Watsonian at heart, even though her ability to feel that way has been challenged by intelligence and weathered by living with such a skeptic for so long. Either way, our intersections on this are fun.

Lindsay said...

@Jesse I bet they are. :)

Tell Chris there's someone on twitter as Mary Russell. I bet she'll be even more amused than I am.
http://twitter.com/mary_russell

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