Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Sherlock Holmes test.

When does a character with the name “Sherlock Holmes” cross the line into “not Sherlock Holmes”? At what point does the expert on Holmes call a particular depiction a forgery? Is it a democratic thing, just based upon popular opinion? Or can we measure a Sherlock Holmes by a set standard?

It could be as simple as a quiz:

1. Is his name “Sherlock Holmes?”
2. Is his best friend and working companion named “Dr. Watson?”
3. Does he live at 221B Baker Street, in London?
4. Is he at the very top of the detective ladder – the very top?
5. Is he independent, unofficial, and a free agent?
6. Is he tall, slender, and unique-looking?
7.  Does he possess knowledges from a diverse variety of fields, all turned toward the purposes of detection?
8. Is he a practiced man-handler, using different martial arts like boxing, stick-fighting, and baritsu?
9. Are his logical skills, objectivity, and pursuit of the truth without equal?
10. Are his adventures and cases unique, unusual, and beyond (or beneath) the scope of the police?

If a Sherlock gets a “yes” in all ten of those questions, as a certain fellow I know does, he scores a hundred percent. He is Sherlock Holmes. If a character scores four out of those ten, however . . . well, under half is definitely not Sherlock Holmes.

Where is the cutoff point? Yesterday I planted my flag at eighty percent, so if the above quiz was the standard, that would mean a Sherlock had to have a “yes” in eight of ten slots. But that is a very rough measurement. Better tests could, and should, be developed, if we’re going to see more and more varied versions of Sherlock Holmes popping up in movies, TV, and video games.

Will such standards for Sherlocks convince anyone that a particular goof with a “Sherlock Holmes” monicker is not a viable adaptation? Probably not. People will see what they want to see, and even the very stupid like to have a Holmes of their own. But creating such little tests can remind us of what we ourselves value and appreciate in Sherlock Holmes, whatever the source. And when we want to enjoy a good Sherlock adventure, we can apply our tests and accept no substitute unworthy of the name.

And it’s a fun little exercise, which is a part of what Sherlockian culture has always been about: using our own brains on occasion as well as enjoying Sherlock’s.

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