Saturday, May 7, 2016

Who are the true addicts here?

There's an interesting headline that's been buzzing about my Google new feed all week: "Would Sherlock Holmes be a coke addict today? It's an interesting question."

That question, of course, is predicated upon the notion that Sherlock Holmes was a cocaine addict in Victorian times, which I have never been fully convinced of. Cocaine is referred to six times in sixty stories and never in a way that seems to impair Holmes's career or steer his choices. Morphine and other opiates, which the Irish Times article mentioned about focuses on, get referenced, but referenced as something Watson worries about Holmes going to more than actually evidenced in the cases.

The question raised, though . . . "Would Sherlock Holmes be a coke addict today?" . . . is actually quite interesting. Cocaine addiction is quite a different thing now -- crack cocaine is highly addictive, but its users don't tend to go on to successful careers in anything once that habit starts, and Sherlock Holmes was so laser-focused on his profession that it's hard to see him even experimenting down that road. Elementary, and some lesser-known adaptations, gave him a heroin addiction, as it's a well known and easy to reference addiction, but as mentioned earlier, opiates like heroin weren't really Holmes's thing in Victorian times where they were widely available, so they definitely wouldn't have been his thing now.

BBC Sherlock's new construct -- that their Sherlock takes an entire list of drugs to attempt to reach certain mental states -- seems as fantastical as Dr. Who's Tardis time machine, and just as the Victorian fantasy it was used to excuse, could definitely be seen as an over-reach on that show's part. Drugs have forever been a crutch for Sherlockian writers to bring in when coming up with a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes proves to hard, and there's where we probably see the true addiction.

It's not Sherlock Holmes who went back to the cocaine too much in the sixty stories that contain everything we shall ever truly know about the man. It's the writers that came after him. Like Mycroft, like Moriarty, and like Irene Adler, cocaine addiction is a habit that pastiche-creators lean on to stimulate their tales, much like stand-up comics who depend upon profanity to get laughs their cleverness is not great enough to evoke.

There are stories to be told about all those topics, yes. Mycroft, Moriarty, Irene, and cocaine are all tid-bits from Holmes's career we're curious about, but none of them were the focus of that career. And, lord, have we seen more shoddy writing around those topics than any other part of Holmes's life. They are indulgences that distract far too easily.

And best used in moderation, lest one develop a destructive habit that one's own Watson will start to complain about.


  1. I cannot agree with the last half of the post enough. The over emphasis on drugs and these characters make every new interpretation eventually seem more like retreads of every other interpretation that's come before it and less like an original take on the canon.

  2. An 'Elementary' thought - the actor Michael Weston plays a character on 'E' that tries to bring Holmes down with drugs... Now he plays Houdini in that 'Houdini and Doyle' series where he is there to put Doyle down.
    I wonder what his next move is?