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Friday, May 4, 2012

Is Fiction Real?

At the recent "Gathering of Southern Sherlockians," the first door prize that I picked was a book called Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

The French author, Pierre Bayard, makes what I consider to be an ingenious and totally plausible case that Sir Charles Baskerville died by accident and the only real victim and the real killer in the Baskerville case were completely missed by Holmes. He reveals the surprising name of the killer only on page 166 out of 188 pages.

"A murder without a weapon, without a threat, without an insult, where the victim puts himself to death, while the other characters applaud -- it would be hard to find a finer triumph in the annals of crime," he writes.

This is interesting, but not as interesting as Bayard's theories about the life of fictional characters. He is profoundly convinced "that literary characters enjoy a certain autonomy, both within the world in which they live and in the travels they make between that world and our own. We do not completely control their actions and movements. Neither the author nor the reader can do so (p. 114)."

This should have a certain resonance with fiction writers because we have all felt that moment when our characters take over and say things we never expected of them. That's why I keep changing the outline of every book while I'm writing it. But Bayard goes even further:

"The notion that literary characters are contained inside the books they inhabit is a dangerous illusion" (p. 133).

What do you think? Is the wall between fiction and reality solid or permeable?

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