I was reading an interesting analysis of what's been happening to Superman of late -- in case you hadn't noticed, he's not really the same guy he used to be, breaking the occasional neck and all. And it made me think, as so many things tend to, about our friend Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes can be a quite different fellow these days than he was in the 1890s, the 1920s, or the 1940s. As much as fans of drug-addict-Sherlock-Holmes or on-the-autism-spectrum Sherlock Holmes would like to say he was always thus, you'll have a hard time finding much evidence for either case in the public eye before the middle of the last century.
And it isn't just that we didn't know what drug addiction or Asperger's syndrome was way back then. We definitely knew what drug addiction was. We just didn't have a need for Sherlock Holmes's amazing powers of intellect and observation to come with a price.
Sherlock Holmes was a Superman, back in the day. He reigned supreme among detectives, just as Superman reigned supreme among superheroes. In fact, he kind of created the whole modern private detective thing in a way, being the inspiration for so many, just as Superman led the charge for the cape-and-cowl set.
But these days, neither Sherlock nor Superman gets to be the pure thing they were in the 1940s when we had external baddies like Hitler to focus on and fight. Sherlock and Superman were us, fighting the good fight, the best of us. Now, without the Nazis knocking on our door, Sherlock and Superman are both given the hard squinty eyeball of the alien we don't quite trust. They're on our side, they're helping us, but there's something there that just isn't normal. And we have to pick at that, since we don't have Hitler to distract us.
Perhaps it's just that they were simpler characters once, in simpler times. But that simplicity isn't that the folks of the past were dim-witted simpletons -- no, they just had less time to spend over-analyzing things. They had to work harder just to make meals, keep the car running, perform all those daily tasks we take so much for granted. They didn't have time to write stories.
That's what you realize when you try to take in all that is Sherlock Holmes these days. It isn't just that he's changing -- it's that he's becoming more multi-faceted, more complex. Where the world once only had four or five fictional incarnations of Sherlock Holmes in the public eye at any one time, there are now thousands. Literally thousands. Writers working on coming up with their own personal vision of Sherlock Holmes, with greater or lesser success.
At the top of the food chain, you see Moffat and Gatiss, or Dougherty, pulling millions of eyes to their twists on Holmes. At the other end of the spectrum, you'll find an internet writer with a couple of hundred hits on a web-story. But every one of those creators is trying to use Sherlock Holmes to tell a different story. And in order to tell a different story that many thousands of times, Sherlock must become a very different person sometimes.
The old pure Sherlock will always be there, like that good old recipe for plain yellow cake. Other "green velvet sparkle cake" recipes may rise and fall in popularity, but when you really want some good old yellow cake, it's still there, waiting for its simple pleasures to be enjoyed. At the same time we get to amuse ourselves analyzing the question, "Why the heck do we need green velvet sparkle cake?"
And on Sherlock Holmes goes.