Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Sherlock Holmes test

"Now we have the Sherlock Holmes test,and there will no longer be any difficulty."
-- Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

When considering adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlockians will always have their personal preferences. Those little warm spots in our hearts for our first Sherlock do, if we're lucky, stay with us a lifetime, regardless of what the opinions of other Sherlockians may be. And yet . . . we do love to rank our Sherlocks. We hold our worst Sherlocks as dear as our best Sherlocks, and it is as hard to let go of a truly laughable attempt at Holmes as a perfect rendition.

Given all that, should we have an criteria for an adequate Sherlock? A Sherlock Holmes test, if you will? Many is the Sherlockian of old who tried to formulate a "don't do this" list for future authors (who never read or cared about such lists). Story elements that have high market value (Mycroft, Moriarty, non-Canonical celebs) were pooh-poohed as it was suggested that writers attempt the impossible feat of emulating Conan Doyle, which is both dated and impractical a century later.

On the other side of things, slapping the name of "Sherlock Holmes" on the main character in a remake of the movie Die Hard will give you a Sherlock Holmes movie, but should we consider the resulting character a valid Sherlock Holmes among ourselves in the Sherlockian community?

Herein lies the core of what I believe is the one true test of a Sherlock Holmes, for Sherlockians.

If a Sherlockian who read only Conan Doyle and a Sherlockian who watched only BBC Sherlock meet, they still have a common base of knowledge for discussion. Mycroft, Irene Adler, Moriarty . . . even "Charles Augustus Magnussen? Oh, like Milverton!" are all in their common language, meaning basically the same thing. 221B Baker Street is still a cherished address. Sherlock may or may not have a drug problem in either. The Conan Doyle Sherlockian and the Gatiss/Moffat Sherlockian can have a lovely dinner conversation, as, in the end, they are speaking the same language.

It's a bit like speaking across Britsh/American language lines. You don't stop the conversation and go "COOKIE!! It's a COOKIE!! I do not accept that your biscuits are cookies, and beyond that I insist that Nestle's Toll House cookies made according to the exact recipe on the back of the package of chocolate chips are the only real cookie worthy of the name!" No, you let them say biscuit while you say cookie and you go on to debate what the best beverage to accompany said food is.

And like language, new variations on Sherlock will come to be accepted by the Sherlockian community over time, and the generations pass. The bigger the change, the more time we have to get it, to work its way down from the cool hipster Sherlockians to the steadfast conservatives, who may only give ground through attrition. But the basic shared concepts and characters will remain, no matter what Lestrade's first name is or Irene Adler's current gender identification.

And that is where the true Sherlock Holmes test will always lie, I suppose . . . not only in being close enough to the Sherlock in another's mind to share thoughts and feelings on the detective, but also being a Sherlock impactful enough that we want to communicate about him/her, good, bad, or . . . YIKES!


  1. Aha, a well-cloaked attack on "Elementary" under the nom of "Die-Hard". The real Brad Keefauver has returned, no more of those PC Sherlock comments, and I say hallelujah! Just having binge-watched 20 episodes of "The Adventures of OG Sherlock Kush", just to get the plots right for the book, I'm a lot blurry eyed. Next on to Detective Chinatown... oh those subtitles when the Chinese actors speak so fast... and eventually if I can muster up the courage a binge watching of, dare I say, "Elementary". Have the men with the white jackets on alert.

    1. Ssshhhhhh, Howard! The whole point of a cloak is to stay under the cloak!