Friday, July 31, 2015

Lowering the bar for Sherlock, lowering it for ourselves.

Among our recent Sherlock Holmes representatives, we now have one suffering severe mental infirmities from old age, one rewritten as a complete heroin addict, and a very popular one that a lot of folks like to place somewhere on the Asperger's/autism spectrum.

Of the latest, one headline even went so far as to say, "'Mr. Holmes' makes Sherlock seem real."

And to a lot of people, giving Sherlock Holmes a diagnosis or disability is the equivalent of "making him more real."

Because, certainly, accomplishment, pioneering a field of endeavor, intelligence, and skills born of study and practice aren't just things normal people have, right?

One of the great things about Sherlock Holmes from day one has been how real he seems to such a large number of his fans. The great Sherlockian Vincent Starrett even immortalized that thought in poetry form with the line "How very near they seem, yet how remote . . ." Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson have long seemed close enough that we half-expect to see them, should we find ourselves wandering down Baker Street.

But as Holmes's has a resurgence beyond his loving fans and into the current public consciousness, it seems like his reality must constantly tie to issues, prices that have to be paid.

He can't be that observant without having to do drugs to dull his super-senses. He can't solve cases that take too much brainpower, or else writers might have to use their own brains too much to come up with stories. Whatever the excuse, lowering the bar for Sherlock Holmes lowers the bar for the rest of us.

Sherlock Holmes is a legendary character, of the sort we are meant to look up to. An embodiment of our dreams and aspirations, a vision of humanity at its very best. Has it become so hard to relate to the idea of humanity at its best? Are we so beaten down in our modern world that we have to have a Holmes who can barely get it together?

Or is it just that so many of us aren't thirteen years old anymore, without a wide open future and the hopes and dreams that make a pinnacle Sherlock Holmes someone we can look to as what we can become? All these failing Holmeses just represent our own failings, so we can just nod and go, "Well, that's the way life is . . ."

Yet those thirteen-year-olds are still out there, hoping and dreaming of being better humans than those that came before. I hope that the future makes sure they have a Sherlock Holmes that they can look to for inspiration, just as so many of us once did.

Because they are the new us, and who can't help but wish for good things for them?


  1. I find it a little hard to believe you have problems with an older Holmes slowly losing is mental gifts with age, and still defend 'fanfic'. Kinda confusing where you set your bar.
    Surely most of the things written about Sherlock Holmes over the years was to make him more real, more in our world, or at least the world of the late 19th early 20th century.
    Most things written try to make him more approachable, more of our world. Not to elevate him above us or make him a super hero.

    1. That's easy to answer: I don't care what Holmes does in his private life, as long as he's the greatest detective the world has ever known and acts like such. Heroin addiction or senility make him "approachable?" Not for me.

    2. Reading fanfic is reading his private life, or at least a lot of the ones you talk about are. You don't come back and tell us how good the mysteries are in the fanfic you mention.

    3. Pretty good, in the ones I've liked. Fanfic, like pro fic, has a wide range of quality, as well as brands of less-than-healthy Sherlocks I'm not fond of either.

    4. I totally agree with you. I don't get why they have give him a handicap. Why do we have to see him on drugs or old and senile. Why can't we see him, young, full of energy, and being the greatest detective ever! I don't like all these "humanizing" they are doing to him at all. I think they are changing a fundamental aspect of his character. What is a Sherlock Holmes who can not deduce? Not a Holmes at all!

  2. It doesn't just happen to Holmes; I've noticed all those blockbuster comic book movies are giving their superheroes feet of clay, even families.

    Maybe they're trying to make the heroes more approachable, someone the audience can identify with. We're none of us perfect, and it might be harder to sympathize with someone without flaws; heck, look what they did to Superman! A Sherlock Holmes with flaws seems more human, more real, to us mere mortals, and that sells tickets.

    Of course, the fact that he already has scads of flaws doesn't seem to have made an impression on the studio execs or writers; he has an appalling nicotine addiction, a strong distrust of women (at least as a young man), prissy in his personal grooming but an utter slob around the house, and given to performing dangerous and stinky chemical experiments in an entirely inappropriate and unsafe place; ventilation is your friend. He's also a holy terror when he's bored. I would love to meet that Holmes.

    You're right; it is odd that modern sub-creators feel the need to give him an overwhelmingly huge flaw, either an exaggeration of an existing one, or one pulled out of their butts. Autism, really?? Did Moftiss not notice that canon Holmes's nanny had beaten good manners into him when he was young?

    This Saturday morning rambling mess was brought to you by,

    Korina :-p

  3. I don't mind Holmes losing his mental faculties as he ages. It's a story, and I'm open to nearly all stories regarding Holmes. There is nothing "un-Holmesian" about aging. I do, however, like characterizations of Holmes that cleave closest to the Holmes of ACD canon. Ian McKellan did do so, for the most part, in terms of capturing the persona, but he could do nothing about the shoddy writing. Holmes could spare a person's feelings by not grinding their face in the facts, but my imagination of the character would not have him fabricate a patently ridiculous story for the benefit of an adult man who was treated poorly by his father. And so on.

    Interestingly, my view of BBC's Sherlock is that he departs immensely from Holmes of canon, yet I love him as well. (Perhaps not quite as dearly as I love Holmes, but one retains a soft spot for the first love, which was BBC.) I view BBC Sherlock as a different creature from Holmes. He has all the brilliance and nearly god-like perspicacity of the original, but he's not matured as a human being. He's a child all through series 1 and 2, beginning to grow up only in series 3. I don't view this departure so much as a "feet of clay" issue as a narrative arc issue. BBC is a slow burn romance wherein we see the hero developing from a naive child, who loves as a child, to a mature adult. In its full fruition, the depth and loyalty of John and Sherlock's love will be truly awe-inspiring -- heroes for us all to aspire to, yet very very human. What they will have achieved will be so much more satisfying to us because we have seen what they suffered to get there, and the character development required, the emotional weaknesses they have had to overcome. This is the narrative arc of all great love stories, of which, I predict, BBC's Sherlock will be one.

    Conan Doyle wasn't writing a love story, or at least not consciously (I don't think . . .). ACD's Holmes was essentially a fully realized character from beginning to end, with very little character development, and of course no romantic arc (except for, I would argue, very, very hidden and subtextual -- much more subtextual than BBC, which is practically porn by comparison).