Guest Post: Fiction and Freaks

Yay, we’re up to the 3rd guest post in the seriesToday’s post comes from my dear friend  Alenna. Alenna and I met about 5 years ago on our school’s Writers’ Camp (I complimented her Harry Potter notebook, she said she liked my zip pencilcase) and we’ve been close friends ever since. In our free time we tend to turn into Jonas fangirls (Camp Rock transfer tattoos may or may not be involved) and also occasionally foray into certain kinds of fanfiction; we’ve also found much love in our shared appreciation and study of literature and fandoms (she’s the one who introduced me to the wonder that is AVPM), hence why I am so incredibly keen to share this guest post with you. Right, onwards! Read and enjoy!

What Harry Potter Means To Me: it sounds like the title of a twelve-year-old’s English homework. The thing is, the Boy Who Lived and many other fictional characters mean a great deal to me. No, I don’t think fictional characters are real. Some of them, however, have helped me just as much as people in real life have, if not more. This is something which a majority of people find amusingly difficult to grasp. For the benefit of these poor beleaguered and confused souls, let me explain with what is for me the greatest example of a fictional character who has helped me.

Children are teased because they’re different, and I was no exception. I was constantly analysing my surroundings, I was too quick to answer questions in class, I got along better with adults than children my own age, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I was too clever, (though to be honest in my town it doesn’t take much to be “too clever”). As well as that other children often found me unsettling and peculiar. I was always inventing adventures inside my head, and as I got older I became fascinated with the macabre. I played crime scenes with my Barbie dolls, my brother’s Matchbox cars existed in a world of treachery, love affairs, and murder more suited to the setting of an Agatha Christie novel. The other children continually pushed me away and ridiculed me, and eventually I had learnt the only way to deal with that was to stick up for myself. I learnt how to snipe back at bullies and to be wary of the “popular kids”, and after finding real people so very disappointing I immersed myself in fictional worlds and befriended fictional characters to make up for my lack of real life companions. And the more I sought comfort from fiction, the more reason my classmates had to call me a freak, and when I stopped reacting to the things they said they began to call me cold and unfeeling too.

To put things in a nutshell, I was socially reclusive, intelligent, and my impatience, wariness, and dislike of other people often led to me being perceived as arrogant and cold. And when everyone around you is constantly saying, “there is something wrong with you”, you do begin to believe it. I grew up forming terrible misconceptions about myself. I have difficulty convincing myself that I’m not cold, and that I’m not a freak, and that there’s nothing wrong with being the way I am.

I needed to know that I wasn’t alone, and that was where Sherlock Holmes came in.

You have likely heard of him; Sherlock Holmes, best known fictional detective in history, often depicted in a deerstalker and an intense bromance with his flatmate. Most people have an archaic mental image of him as a middle-aged man smoking a pipe and looking into the middle distance with a piercing stare, and it may be very strange to think that a seventeen year old girl is claiming to connect deeply with such a character. But to focus especially on one particular Sherlock Holmes incarnation, I’ve found myself latching onto Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of a modern day, thirty-something consulting detective in the BBC miniseries “Sherlock”. I had previously adored the original Sherlock Holmes books almost as much as I loved Miss Marple, but this time Sherlock was, while ultimately faithful to the original books, different in some aspects which made the character resonate much deeply with me.

Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes has all the hallmarks of his predecessors – intensely analytical, prone to black moods and sulking, cold and yet surprisingly passionate about the “science of deduction” and the adrenalin rush that accompanies cases. As well as this there is a focus on Holmes as a character who isn’t adept at functioning well socially. He has an Asperger’s-esque difficulty with identifying inappropriate remarks as “not good”, and often unintentionally offends his friend Dr John Watson even when trying to encourage or praise him. The policemen he works with on cases show an intense dislike of him, referring to him as “Freak” and “a psychopath”. They genuinely believe that there is something seriously wrong with him, because he’s too clever, too peculiar, and too different.

It was almost startling to see someone so much like myself strutting about on the screen in a large and stylish coat. I certainly don’t claim to have his level of superhuman intelligence, but he was someone who was being ostracised for the thing which he knows he is good at and which he enjoys. He was someone who fell prey to bouts of restlessness, who said once that his brain felt like “a rocket tearing itself to pieces on the launch-pad”, who didn’t have many friends but cared very much about those few he did have, who had obviously spent his life being told that he was abnormal and yet in spite of all of it had found a way to use all of his strengths to full capacity. Sherlock is happy, in his own strange way. He only has one friend, (or maybe two or three or four, if he’d only admit it), but seems to be content and very loyal. As show co-creator and writer Steven Moffat puts it:

“He is alarming, strange, possibly psychopathic, but perfectly happy! He clearly adores John – he’s not got some deep emotional problem with connecting to people, he just can’t be arsed. He’d rather be out solving crimes.”

And as strange as it might to seem to some people, that has helped me. It’s helped me start to accept myself and to be comfortable with who I am. Sherlock is in many ways a terrible role model, but he certainly makes me feel much less alone, and much less like a freak. I know that my own black moods only need an outlet, and I know that with focused drive, hard work, and true passion about what I do, I can accomplish anything. I don’t feel ashamed that my one strength is thinking anymore, as I did when I was younger, and I don’t try to hide it. I’m not ashamed of myself, and I can accept my own flaws.

There have been many other fictional character who filled up holes in the real world for me. This is something that the extroverts of the world will never understand. And it’s easy to dismiss things you don’t understand as unnatural – just look at homophobia. Like Sherlock, I’ve had a handful of very treasured people in my life who have supported me above and beyond expectation; the owner of this blog is one of them. But like Sherlock, I’ve learnt that people can be disappointing and heartbreaking, and there are some of us who need a little constancy and reliability.

Because fictional characters don’t let you down. Tintin has his unfailing boy scout morals and is a shining beacon of virtue, the Weasley Twins are always ready with a quick joke, Harry is determinedly enduring in spite of everything, the Doctor will always save the world, and John Watson’s incredible loyalty could easily encompass three continents. I grew up with characters and I knew them like I knew my own skin, and to me they felt very real. They provided the support and the friendship and the hope that I needed desperately when real life consistently let me down. At the same time I understood that they were fictional. The thing is to me they had become something more, and I feel like I owe so much to their creators.

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