Thursday, October 16, 2014

Separate but equal mini religious factions.

When one story is told and retold over the years, it changes. Every single person that hears it takes something different from that story, and then retells it with subtle (or not-so-subtle) reshaping from their own experience. In the long-ago past, we saw this with major religious figures, which is why there are so many denominations of any major religion you'd care to name. And now that fandoms are growing large, with the legends at the center of them having their stories told and re-told, the same thing seems to be happening there.

In the past week, I was reading debates over the "true" Wonder Woman on Twitter this week. And the new CW television show "The Flash" stirred up a Barry Allen/Wally West source material issue as I watched it. (Barry's the Flash on the show, Wally was the one who had some of the characteristics they were using, in his original comic.) It's all very geeky stuff, yes, and if you don't give a care about those characters, nothing that matters to you, so let's bring it back to Sherlock Holmes.

At what point do we start seeing schisms in the "religion" of Sherlockiana?

Or have we seen it for a very long while . . . and mostly tried to ignore it. I'm not talking about the new wave of Sherlockian fandom that found its epicenter in Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes. Jeremy Brett's Holmes had a fandom, and I'm not talking about those within traditional Sherlockiana who loved the Granada TV adaptation. They were the people Philip Shreffler originally penned his notorious "Shrefflergate" editorial about. And while Laurie King was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010, her followers, the devout fans of Mary Russell, didn't exactly come up with their battle cry, "After 1914, Sherlock Holmes is ours!" because they felt embraced by the rest of the elder Holmes fandom.

Things like the mutual support of old and new institutions like The Baker Street Journal and the Baker Street Babes podcast may make it seem like there is only one Sherlock Holmes fandom during some happy moments, though many adherents of either faction remain steadfastly on their own side of the fence. There will always be those with a foot in both worlds, ambassadors who happily travel to any Sherlockian fan nation, true. But the separate Sherlockian fan nations remain.

As we approach another season of Elementary, and I contemplate those folks who are coming across the trail of the man called Sherlock Holmes via such a very different path, I can't help but wonder if we will one day have universally acknowledged "separate, but equal" denominations of Sherlockiana. Those who ally themselves with the old Conan Doyle print version will always get to claim an elder pedigree, even if they just discovered the Canon yesterday, while a Granada TV devotee may have been at it for decades. But in the end, they are each just as much a part of the current wave of the currently living generation as the other.

I've fiddled with this particular post for a very long time, as it is always dangerous territory to suggest we're not all one big happy family of Sherlockians, as John Foster found out the hard way last month in his blog. But we're definitely reaching a point where a studious sociologist could have some fun analyzing and classifying our various sub-cults and specialties.


  1. While there are now many versions of Sherlock Holmes, the Pleasant Places of Florida sticks to the original Canon for inspiration. At our next Gathering in Holmes Beach, Florida on Nov. 1, we will take apart "The Dying Detective." Anyone who is interested should contact Carl Heifetz at for details. Holmes Beach was the original meeting site for our West Central Florida Scion, and is near the fine city of Sarasota.

  2. Fandom Studies is an actual academic discipline, with its own journals and everything, so that sort of analysis is probably already well underway. As someone who came to the Canon via BBC Sherlock (at least partly influenced by Mark Gatiss' sheer fanboy enthusiasm for the stories in interviews), I find these discussions interesting even as they make me a bit leery.

  3. Thanks for the blog plug Brad!

  4. “And while Laurie King was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010, her followers, the devout fans of Mary Russell, didn't exactly come up with their battle cry, "After 1914, Sherlock Holmes is ours!" because they felt embraced by the rest of the elder Holmes fandom.”

    Yeah, but it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. King's name is “The Red Circle,” which is one of the worst stories. You know what else has a red circle? A target--and not just the retail chain. No doubt that’s just a coincidence.

    One of the things I’ve always loved most about Holmes is the way he stands up for the powerless, including women. The Canon repeatedly makes clear he abhors men who abuse or prey on women. At the end of the second Russell excrescence, A Monstrous Testament to Misogyny, SHINO beats Mary unconscious, calls it chivalry, then makes a joke about having hurt his hand when he assaulted her.

    I come from a virulently misogynistic family with generations of battered women in it. It is indescribably offensive to me to see a character I have loved and admired for decades as a champion of abused women portrayed as a man who does not just abuse a woman, but who also pretends his felonious assault is chivalry, and then makes a joke about how HE was injured in the commission of his criminal attack. It is beyond my comprehension how anyone can write that filth and call herself a feminist. It is equally incomprehensible to me how any self-respecting person--man or woman--can like these books and consider him/herself a feminist, let alone call Mary a feminist, badass, and role-model. By that reasoning, every woman who marries her abuser is also a feminist, badass, and role model.

    Even in a fictional setting, it is extremely dangerous to portray domestic violence, or as I prefer to call it, in-home terrorism, as a joke instead of the despicable crime it is. Even worse is to encourage women to marry their abusers, particularly one who neither shows remorse about his criminal acts, nor agrees not to do it again.

    For these reasons and many others, the Mary Russell books are some of the most sexist and misogynistic literature currently being written. They are not just bad for the reputations of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. They are bad for women, bad for men, and bad for society.

    Andarta Woodland