The Case of the Hidden Author

Craig Chalquist

An Archetale in the Assembling Terrania Cycle

The unexpected has happened so continually in my life that it has ceased to deserve the name.
―Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

My brother Sherlock has enjoyed, albeit with the occasional conceited complaint, the revelation of his professional exploits as conveyed by his faithful Boswell, John Watson. As I have no such admirer, let alone one equipped with literary gifts, I shall have to set down my own uncanny tale.

My tale begins in the period during which my brother gained fame through Watson’s entertaining narratives. I sat one day in my customary chair in the Diogenes Club smoking, reading them, and occasionally chuckling—but quietly, because the Club, which I co-founded, does not permit verbalization except in the Stranger’s Room. Silence among gentlemen can be a virtue, particularly after a laborious day of government service in Whitehall.

Because I read attentively, with an eye for detail, I began noticing small errors. For example, my brother does not engage in the type of reasoning known as deduction, an operation which follows from general principles rather than from specific facts or events. He relies instead, as I do, upon abduction: drawing a conclusion from what is known.

At first, I attributed such errors to Dr. Watson’s casualness with details, a habit Sherlock often chided him for. Some errors, however, were startling. In “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” Watson’s wife Mary calls him “James” even though his name is “John.” In “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” we are told of an agile adder which somehow scurries up and down a rope and kills on command. My brother could not have “deduced” such a serpent because it does not exist. In “The Final Problem,” Watson purports never to have heard of Professor Moriarty even though Sherlock had previously mentioned his name more than once.

During the war, where Watson served as an army physician, had he been shot in the arm or in the leg? The wound shifts with the telling. How could a carbuncle, which is red, be blue in color? Why would Sherlock keep poor, grieving Watson in the dark for three years about surviving the Reichenbach Falls, where my brother supposedly fell to his death in doomed Moriarty’s clutches, when Moran spotted him there and, presumably, informed his fellows? What need then for secrecy?

I know Dr. Watson, and I know he wrote those tales. He is proud of them. I also know, however, that he could not have perpetrated these errors. An apparent paradox.

But as my brother likes to argue, when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

The tales, therefore, came from another source even though it was Watson who wrote them down. Who, then, was the true author?

Clues scattered throughout the narratives suggested a scientifically trained writer, one familiar with medicine and who physically resembled Watson. He was not religious and did not grow up in England, although he had spent considerable time in London; perhaps he worked there. In medical practice? He must have traveled and spent time at sea. He was likely athletic and had probably played cricket. Perhaps he had been at war. His inattentiveness to certain details suggested writing stories as a pastime rather than as a serious occupation.

Neither Sherlock nor I are metaphysicians, but the implications of an author behind an author called for serious rethinking of the story in which I lived and had always taken for real.

Seated in my club again, I smoked and thought it over.

If Watson and perhaps Sherlock and everyone else I knew were characters, who wrote them? Who wrote me? The same unknown author? Different authors? The latter, I surmised; based on what I had read, this sort of plot twist would not have occurred to the original author.

I heard a sourceless chuckle.

You are correct, Mr. Mycroft Holmes. Someone else wrote the story prior to your recent musings, which resulted when I picked it up.

“I see. Are you a human being?”

I am. Mortal, too, unlike you.

“I cannot die?”

Not as long as people remember your story.

“Fascinating. I have so many questions. For example, where are you?”

That is difficult to explain. From your standpoint, I live 121 years in the future.

“In that case, where am I?”

You exist in what I refer to as the Dreamvale, otherwise known as the realm of imagination. The Dreamvale is a kind of perpetual dream demesne populated by the characters, lands, and events of every imaginative tale ever told. Including yours.

“Am I not real, then? My life feels quite vividly real to me.”

You are real, sir, in the sense that everything in the Dreamvale possesses its own autonomy, integrity, and lawfulness of being. The people where I live often believe they create “fictional” characters such as yourself, but the reality is that we simply write you, or express you in other media, in accord with your internal influence on us. Often, Dreamvalers precede the attempts to set their stories down.

“You stated that you refer to my realm as the Dreamvale. Am I to infer that I inhabit a story you are telling?”

You are. The story as we know it began with a former army doctor—your surmises were correct—who wrote between appointments while waiting for his patients to arrive. Since then, other authors have moved the story forward. I was thinking about you today and decided to write and see what came of it.

“How will your version of my story end?”

I don’t know. I’m writing to find out. The ending has more to do with you perhaps than with me. Your imaginal reality outlives these tellings and always will.

“That is some consolation perhaps for discovering one’s world to be a narrative construct. –Do others I know occupy the Dreamvale, then? My brother, Watson, his wife?”

Indeed.

“The Diogenes Club? Whitehall? Entire nations? The great globe itself and all which it inherit?”

And the stars above. The Dreamvale is of infinite extent.

“Why did I come to mind before you began this latest addition to my story?”

I was wondering if you would be interested in membership in a kind of embassy called the Dreamvale Exchange. It serves as a meeting place for people in your realm and in mine. Through it, we in the Coaguum and you in the Dreamvale can advise each other such that our worlds achieve a better balance than previously. When we over here stop tending the imaginal, then personal and social conflict erupts. An unhealthy state of affairs desirable to prevent.

“Would this embassy require me to associate much with others?”

Not in any regular way. How you do it would be up to you.

“I will consider it. Although I carry a full schedule—work morning until evening during weekdays, then relaxing and reading in the Club, a meal, and a walk home to Pall Mall—I do have some leisure here and there.”

Thank you. I appreciate your willingness to give it some thought.

I looked across the room at the mantlepiece.

“I see by the clock over the fireplace that the time is twenty to eight.”

I look forward to conversing again.

“As do I, and to extending this tale together.”

I rose, put out my cigar, and gathered up my paperwork. I would don my cloak on the way out.

“I will leave you with one question for next time.”

Yes?

“Who is authoring you?”