So I’ve recently been getting back into reading fan fiction, something I wrote a bit about over at The Pursuit of Harpyness a few weeks ago. This has been prompted in part by the pleasure Hanna and I and our friend Minerva have been having reading through the copious amount of fic associated with the new BBC Sherlock series. Mostly “slash” fic (sexually explicit fan-created fiction pairing characters from a show or novel and riffing on that relationship), and mostly John Watson / Sherlock Holmes slash (though Minerva has a particular weakness for Lestrade/Mycroft … a pairing she has convinced us to reconsider!)
And because fic is what I’ve been reading, when I’m not reading blog posts, general nonfiction, or thesis-related stuff … I thought, why not write “notes” about it like I do about the novels I read? So here’s my first one: thoughts on The Paradox Series by Wordstrings (h/t to Minerva tipping me off to this particular fic’s existence!).
First, the “publication” details:
Title: The Paradox Series (see chapters below)
Rating: NC-17 overall, though not all chapters are so sexually explicit.
Length: Work in Progress, currently comprised of the following stories:
- An Act of Charity (one chapter)
- The Paradox Suite (one chapter)
- The Death and Resurrection of the English Language (two chapters)
- Entirely Covered by Your Invisible Name (two chapters)
- Wider Than a Mile (one chapter)
- New Days to Throw Your Chains Away (two chapters)
- A Thousand Threads of What-Might-Have-Beens (three chapters)
Available At: Wordstring’s LiveJournal (links to all chapters to-date, with author’s notes)
Alternate Forms: Some chapters are available in MP3 form at Audiofic (amazing!)
So why did I choose to start out my (hopefully series of) ficnotes with this particular set of stories? In short: because I think they’re genius. I realize is an entirely subjective opinion, so I’ll try to articulate some of the reasons why and then (obviously) it’ll be up to you to judge for yourselves.
A brief description. This series arc is written in alternating John and Sherlock point-of-view narratives, beginning with Sherlock’s account of their first kiss (“An Act of Charity”) and exploring their growing relationship through to “A Thousand Threads of What-Might-Have Beens” which is a three-part installment — again from Sherlock’s point of view — about what happens when John walks out on Sherlock after one of Sherlock’s experiements nearly ends in Sherlock’s own death.
The Sherlock in this fic is dark, chaotic, and struggling with mental health issues. I don’t know enough about mental health to identify what sort of “faulty wiring” he’s dealing with, but whatever it is it manifests in bouts of mania and depression, feelings of numbness and terror at the sheer overwhelming nature of the world, fixations, obsessive and repetitive actions, and a fairly extreme distance from empathic emotions. To be clear, he’s not incapable of empathy — it reads more as if he’s so overwhelmed by the prospect of caring for others with the intensity that he approaches all of his activities that he has just precluded this aspect of life.
Until John Watson arrives, of course. And refuses to leave. Refuses to be scared of Sherlock’s darkness. Is, in fact, exhilerated by and lovingly understanding of Sherlock’s darkness. While also acting as a grounding presence to help Sherlock discern “good” from “bit not good,” and “fine” from “not fine.”
John in this fic also embodies a fair bit of darkness. A figure of stability he might be, when compared to Sherlock’s careering mania or gigantic — sometimes drug-aided — mood swings. Yet he also thrives in the adrenaline-pumped atmosphere that exists around Sherlock Holmes. And as much as he pushes back against the detective’s more extreme impulses towards self-harm and harm to others (including, occasionally, to harm to John), he also thrills to it. As Sherlock observes more than once: They both love crime scenes.
The author has taken to prefacing each chapter of the fic with the following caution: “WARNING: this fic paints a picture of a relationship many reasonable people would find crosses the line into disturbingly possessive and/or flirting with actual abuse. Also, if brief physical violence to a partner bothers you, skip this fic. I’d never fault you for it in the slightest.” So if that kind of thing is a trigger for you or just isn’t your cup of tea, you may want to skip this series. However, I’d argue that while John and Sherlock live on the edge and occasionally enjoy forcibily restraining one another or otherwise being fairly rough the actual quality of their relationship is deeply consensual and healing for them both. This could just be me. But. I want to throw that out there. Unless you know it’s not your thing, please don’t let the warning deter you.
Because Wordstrings has an achingly accomplished way with words, and if you let her she will weave her spell and draw you in and it will be brilliant.
Personally, I’m draw in by a few particular aspects of the way Wordstrings writes. The first is her ability with dialog and interior dialog. Her characters speak with very particular rhythms, and very human rhythms. Their sentences are fragments, faltering. Backing up and beginning again as the characters struggle to put language to their emotions and order to their thoughts. This is true for both John and Sherlock, though in utterly distinct voices.
The second thing I’m captivated by is the interiority of the narratives, the attention to detail. This makes me think that Wordstrings is (or has been) a poet, because her narrative prose has a lilt to it, a rhythm. And her language is very visual — it has texture and precision the way my poetry professor years ago in undergrad used to encourage us to write. This fic explores the world of the senses. Something that both makes sense in terms of the way Sherlock makes sense of the world (what else is he but a creature of his senses?) and is also incredibly sensual. Because it encourages us to move into a mode where we are conscious of sensory input.
Third, I am seduced by the depiction, in Paradox, of a relationship in which each partner puts an incredible amount of care and effort into understanding the person whom they love. Again: it’s the attention to detail. For Sherlock, this means cataloging John. He observes, notes, narrates, explicates John’s material and emotional landscape in a way that is often much more nuanced than John himself can manage (or cares to undertake). He documents. Which is — in my opinion — an act of love.
Not all that might be needed, but certainly one act of caring: Attention.
John, for his part, attends to Sherlock by bridging what Sherlock assumed to be an unbridgeable gap. He is able to draw out from Sherlock, and help Sherlock make sense of, the contents of his highly disordered and frightening interior life. Sherlock is scared of himself: John faces that self without faltering. Flinching, perhaps. Failing, at times. But with the certainty that together they will perservere and communicate and connect.
Isn’t this, in the end, what we all hope for in love? Someone who will see us in all our messy humanity and — instead of rejecting us — embrace us unconditionally? Help us make better sense of ourselves, help us translate ourselves into better human beings, than we would be able to manage on our own?
And finally, let me give a shout-out to FayJay @ Audiofic who has been reading Wordstring’s installments aloud and uploading them as MP3 files. Fanfic read aloud. It’s a rather lovely thing to be able to listen to such poetic language while on my morning commute or buying groceries at Trader Joe’s.