Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What would Sherlock do? The club edition.

Sherlock Holmes would not join your Sherlock Holmes club.

I was reminded of this today as I scanned the goodly array of opinions, personal histories, and “can’t we all just get along” messages generated by the topic of exclusionary clubs and fan generation gaps on the Sherlock Holmes Social Network. But I didn’t see my favorite question: What would Sherlock do?

Sherlock Holmes may not be Jesus, but really, he’s a hell of a role model for some of us. Seriously. And if you disagree with that statement, I will sadly have to admit, you are, self-selected, not “one of us.”

Which is what so much of the clubby issues of Sherlockiana come down to. Are you one of us? One of the special people that band together under the special name? Are you a star-bellied sneetch?

Well, Sherlock Holmes’s answer to that would be something like a simple. “No, I’m Sherlock Holmes.”

Scotland Yard was the center for criminal detection in the greatest empire in the world when Sherlock Holmes decided to go into detection. Did he feel he needed to belong, to be accepted and promoted within the ranks of the Scotland Yard detectives?


Sure, he attended their events (a.k.a. the scene of the crime). Sometimes at their request, sometimes at the request of others. He showed up for the meetups, but basically, he didn’t join the club.

Thinking back to all of the organized Sherlockian events I’ve ever been to, the highlights have always come from the symposiums, the “invite the world and see who shows up” events, rather than the exclusive “we know pretty much who is coming every time” club gatherings. Not that a local extended Sherlockian family doesn’t have it’s part in the grand scheme, but that’s what local clubs tend to be, more of an extended family with regular dinners. (Which makes the same-sex dinners the sort of family that we can’t seem to legally have in some states, oddly enough. I may have to change my stance on those.)

But Sherlock Holmes was too busy enjoying being Sherlock Holmes to worry about organizations, clubs, and societies, in any case, however high the honor (even knighthood level!). And that is not a bad model at all. Sherlock Holmes didn’t need Scotland Yard, but let them come to him with an entertaining puzzle when it suited him. The mysteries were there whether the Yard was or not, just as Sherlock Holmes is there for fans whether a particular club is or not. Other clients (or Sherlockian friends) tend to show up if you just keep at it.

Once I got in trouble for suggesting that clubby Sherlockians were Watsons, rather than Sherlocks, back in a day when that was more insulting than it is now. (Ah, that Nigel Bruce!) But Watson did have a club, as did Mycroft Holmes . . . even though Mycroft’s was that odd club for people who didn’t want to talk to people. The urge to herd is obviously there, even for a Mycroftian mind. But when it comes to Sherlock?

Sherlock Holmes would not join your Sherlock Holmes club.

And I just enjoy that thought far too much.


  1. Oh, but that I had read this a few days ago...

    But you are right, Mr. Keefauver. Just as those who whine and gnash their teeth for years because they haven't been invited to join a particular exclusive three-lettered group, some of us lose focus when lamenting that we don't have the "parts" to attend a gender-exclusive club. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are always there, and always engage us, and always bring something fun and interesting to our experience as we "play the game." We don't need no stinkin' club--we already have what really matters.

  2. If we asked ourselves "what would Sherlock Holmes do?" one of the first answers is: he wouldn't read Sherlock Holmes stories. He was more focused on his professional knowledge than anything else. And of course he wouldn't belong to any of our clubs, co-ed or single sex. In fact, if we recall his observation of the Diogenes Club, where no one was permitted to take notice of or speak to each other, he said, "I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."

    That being said, we're not Sherlock Holmes, nor do I believe we should aspire to be. Jeremy Brett once said that he wouldn't cross the street to meet Holmes, and then corrected himself, saying, "Or rather, he wouldn't cross the street to meet me." As you say, we are all Watsons. It's why the stories work - we're made to see Sherlock Holmes through Watson's eyes. We are he and he is us. It's why we can continue to admire Sherlock Holmes rather than spurn or ignore him.

  3. Ah, I have to disagree with you on at least one point, Scott. Sherlock Holmes would definitely read the Sherlock Holmes stories, if he wasn't Sherlock Holmes, for the same reason several criminal investigators and forensic specialists have read Holmes over the last century -- for the ideas to be had there. He did like gathering ideas from every possible source, however unlikely. And I suspect he would have admired himself, were he not himself, just as we do. I'm a little curious now just how many Sherlockians think of themselves as Watsons, and how many really consider themselves more of a Holmes.

    1. I've always considered Watson as us, using our eyes for seeing Holmes as the brilliant genius he is while being both in awe of and occasionally annoyed by it at the same time. Watson makes Holmes accessible to the reader.

      Having said that, as a member of Watson's Tin Box I can but consider myself a Watson(ian).

  4. Interesting perspective. I'll submit my defense of my original position with the notion that if we were to take Holmes at his own word, the stories really weren't his cup of tea - at least not the way Watson wrote them:

    "Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid." [SIGN]
    And again:
    "You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales."

    Now, all of that being said, he obviously did read the stories if he were able to mount an opinion of them. Of course, we know that professionally, he spent his time reading and writing monographs rather than the Clark Russell sea stories.