On unreliable narrators and alternative worlds

We finally got round to watching Cruella last weekend. We had thought of seeing the film when it first came out and paying for priority access, but I had suggested that we wait, since I wasn’t sure whether we’d like it. As it turns out, we really enjoyed it.

When I looked on Wikipanion later, I saw that while the film had been generally well reviewed, some critics hadn’t enjoyed it. The comment that stuck out for me was that the film had effectively re-written one of the great villains.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, but I watched Cruella having not read The Hundred and One Dalmatians or seen any of the earlier films. And no, I don’t know how I’ve managed that either, given that I’ve read Dodie Smith’s biography and several of her other novels. Maybe I enjoyed the film more because I wasn’t encumbered with knowledge of the previous versions.

That took me to a related thought. Maybe Cruella is just Cruella’s story as she would have told it (perhaps aiming to gain sympathy), and the earlier versions were equally partisan in favour of other characters. What if all these narratives are the product of unreliable narrators?

Another point, I suppose, is how you feel about reboots and reworkings of classics. I’m always slightly bewildered when I hear a cover version of a song that’s barely indistinguishable from the original. Why bother? However, I really enjoyed both the modern BBC adaptation of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and Elementary, which is set in modern New York. When I was small, I also loved the properly Victorian Jeremy Brett version of Sherlock Holmes.  However, there are lots of people who maintain that Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone, or someone else is the definitive version of Holmes, and they can tolerate no other.

Perhaps my tolerance of Sherlock variants is because I’m not too firmly wedded to the original stories. Sure, there are stories that I love, but my knowledge is by no means encyclopaedic, and while I’ve read the whole Holmes canon, there are many stories that I couldn’t tell you a thing about.

That hasn’t stopped me from imagining my own Sherlock tales. However, being the person I am, I’ve managed to imagine three separate Sherlock universes which operate independently of each other. One is more or less traditional (my Halloween Sherlock stories), one involves a more vulnerable Sherlock and also Moriarty (Sherlock and Jack), while in one universe it turns out that Dr Watson is an unreliable narrator and the person you should trust is Mrs Hudson, who turns out not to be Sherlock Holmes’s housekeeper. I enjoy writing in all three worlds and filling gaps in the canon, as many others have done before me and no doubt will again. My next Mrs Hudson and Sherlock Holmes adventure (note the order of names) is A Spider’s Web, which links at the end to quite a significant story in the canon. If you read it, I’m sure you’ll easily work out which one.

As a break from book launch duties, I might acquaint myself with The Hundred and One Dalmatians, to see what all the fuss was about!

And if you’d like to find out more about any of my Sherlock series, here are the links:

Halloween Sherlock

Sherlock and Jack

Mrs Hudson & Sherlock Holmes

The featured image is Dalmatians by smerikal, which is shared under Creative Commons license BY-SA 2.0

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