Friday, April 6, 2018

How many stories *do* you have to read?

Someone tested Sherlockian social media a couple of days ago with a statement that was practically designed in an internet troll laboratory for maximum reverb. In case you missed it, it went something like this: "While I am a Sherlock Holmes fan, I have never read the Doyle Canon . . ."

As expected, it raised a bit of hue and cry, but as questioning of bona fides came in, I found myself wondering about it from a more practical standpoint.

Suppose you hadn't read any of the original sixty Sherlock Holmes stories. You saw a couple of movies, felt you could really get into this guy, even went to a local meet-up of whatever sort, just to see what these Sherlockians were like. When do you get to call yourself a Sherlockian?

I mean, you read A Study in Scarlet. You think, hey, I love this Sherlock Holmes even more than I did in the movies. I want to read more!

Can you call yourself a Sherlockian yet?

You read The Sign of Four. Still loving Sherlock, definitely going to read as much as you can of this guy!

Now can you call yourself a Sherlockian?

Here is where it gets hard. You go out and buy The Complete Sherlock Holmes. The whole kit and kaboodle in one fat volume. You look and the index and go, "Oh! Only fifty-eight more to go!" And being a moderating sort, you ration yourself to a reasonable rate of one story a month. You get to enjoy prime original Sherlock Holmes for almost five more years. Slow savoring.

At what point in that year do you earn the title of "Sherlockian?" Have the Baker Street Irregulars published a guide to how many you have to read to earn the title? Is there a certification test from a local scion you can take? If you just make it through the really good stories, in Adventures and Memoirs, and get The Hound of the Baskervilles and "Empty House" in for important references, can you fake it enough to satisfy other Sherlockians if you don't mention that you're not complete?

Personally, I'm pretty much okay with that last person. We can chat for quite a while and Professor Presbury doesn't really need to come up. I'll pull out my rubber stamp and *whomp* stamp "SHERLOCKIAN" in red on their forehead. (Of course, if I don't think you'll chase me down for a whuppin', I might just do that for fun anyway.) (Hmm . . . still time to get a rubber stamp that says "SHERLOCKIAN" for 221B Con?) But your mileage may vary. We do like completeness. On the other hand, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four do lay Holmes out pretty clearly by themselves.

Maybe it's just my lazy-enabling brain that wonders what the lower bar is for making "Sherlockian," but a sixty character Canon lends itself to numerical scale. Not that I haven't read all the stories at this point, but . . . one wonders.


  1. Imma say zero. Firstly, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson transcend the Canon, and many of the best Sherlock Holmes stories don’t come from ACD’s pen. Secondly, 1000 plus pages of Victorian prose is a higher threshold than many of us realize. Lastly, any form of True Fanism is needlessly toxic and quickly goes in a No True Scotsman direction. See the moving goalpost of reading the Canon, joining a Scion, quizzing, scholarship, BSI investiture and so on. There are people who tell you that you aren’t a Sherlockian until that last step, and anywhere in between. Ugh.

  2. 'Many of the best Sherlock Holmes stories don't come from ACD's pen'
    I am really surprised you didn't go anywhere with that one Brad.

    1. When it comes to modern readers, I don't see that as necessarily blasphemous. Doyle's prose took intermediary fiction for many of us to get to, and pastiches do serve a preparatory function. So I can see having a love of tales that Doyle didn't write.