Here is a thing that does not matter: A while ago there was a controversy because the Mormon church had taken to retrospectively baptising the dead ancestors of new converts. It hit the headlines because some of those ancestors were killed for being Jewish, in the holocaust. Obviously, the souls of the dead Jews weren’t affected, because they don’t exist. And their relatives, who kicked up the fuss, weren’t affected because they don’t believe in Mormonism or any of its silly rituals. Nothing whatsoever happened, and it made the national press simply because it has the shape and colour of news.
Then, there was the mild kerfuffle recently about the zodiac being out of step with the modern sky. That didn’t matter, either. A system of divination that doesn’t work and in which nobody seriously believes was criticised in the mildest possible way: for being dated. And yet people leapt to its defence by saying no, its arcane laws don’t work in precisely that way. Obviously the fact is they work any way you like, because they’re simply made up. If you want to chuck in Serpentarius, you go right ahead. Bung in Orion for all it will matter.
Today I learned that the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has authorised Anthony Horowitz to write a new Sherlock Holmes book. This also does not matter. The existing books are out of copyright: he could have done so anyway. And, Arthur Conan Doyle is dead. The people who granted Horowitz permission to continue his work don’t have his permission. Their connection to the work is an accident of birth.
So, what can they meaningfully grant him, other than the right to pay them royalties? Will it count as ‘canon’, perhaps? Does anything count as ‘canon’? Does the episode of The West Wing that John Wells wrote really resolve the Aaron Sorkin-written cliffhanger? Each collaborator on the first two Red Dwarf novels wrote a separate and contradictory third instalment. Not one person involved in the 1989 series of Doctor Who worked on the 2005 series. Is it ‘canon’? Are they both just fan-fiction with legal clout? Does the question even mean anything? I would say it doesn’t. Ricky Gervais recently reprised the role of David Brent for the US version of The Office, whose first series aped the British series in places word-for-word. If Brent and Scott get talking, they might figure it out. Then what? Of course it doesn’t matter, since, there are enough cross-over episodes and subtle references that a significant fraction of all US and some UK TV output of the last 30 years, including both versions of The Office, has all taken place in the same fictional universe — including one whose series finale revealed that the whole thing had been a dream. If you accept ‘canon’ as a meaningful concept in fiction then you must also accept that an autistic construction worker called Tommy Westphall has imagined almost every event you’ve ever seen on TV.
I believe this also includes Red Dwarf, whose latest series ill-judgedly gatecrashed on “our” reality, meaning that the actual physical universe is part of Westphall’s imaginary world. If Horowitz’ book is meaningfully different from Mitchell and Webb’s Sherlock Holmes sequel sketch then you do not exist.
None of this matters. In none of these stories has anything even happened, other than some people talking and writing things down, and the Earth precessing slowly around. But I love how much importance people can attach to actions that have absolutely no effect on the universe.