Saturday, April 7, 2018

My ego worries about who's a Sherlockian!

Normally, I don't like writing on the same topic for two days in a row, but my brain suddenly decided it wanted to dig a little deeper on this "Who is a Sherlockian?" question that comes up from time to time. As in, why do we ask that question?

It's not like going to the baker, the mechanic, or some other provider of a service. It's not like your copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes breaks and you need a skilled Sherlockian to fix it. And what is a skilled Sherlockian anyway? My old friend Don Hobbs used to raise that question of himself every now and then in his blog: Am I a good Sherlockian? It's a question that has so many possible sorts of answers and no true governmental licensing requirement, and who really cares except for someone who calls themselves "Sherlockian."

Which makes you then start to wonder: Why is it so important to some people that we don't call other people Sherlockians who don't measure up to their internal standards, as basic-seeming as they might be? If my neighbor walks in and says, "Hey, I'm a Sherlockian! I just watched the first episode of Elementary!" what is that impulse that rises up and makes me want to go "No, you're not."

It's my ego, of course. The part of me that holds my Sherlockian life so dear to my personal identity that accepting my ultra-newbie neighbor as a Sherlockian feels like an insult to the over forty years and long hours I've spent pondering the finer points of Sherlock Holmes. But it just feels like an insult. It isn't harming anyone, isn't causing anyone harm. I'd have been much more upset if my neighbor walked in and hit me with a two-by-four, because that could cause some real and lasting damage to my quality of life.

At least four million people watch CBS's Elementary every week, a show many call Sherlock-in-name-only. Most of them probably have never read Conan Doyle, and that show has little to do with Doyle's original works, if one is being objective and honest about it. But I know at least one Sherlockian whose qualifications as a Sherlockian are unquestionable, and he loves that show. Considers the main character as real a Sherlock Holmes as Jeremy Brett in a straight adaptation with Sidney-Paget-reproducing camera shots. If I'm going to consider my neighbor a non-Sherlockian for getting into his first episode of Elementary to an "I'm a Sherlockian!" level, am I going to deduct Sherlockian points from a master Sherlockian with a fetish for Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes?

No. Because it doesn't matter. CBS isn't replacing ACD as the world's primary source of what Sherlock Holmes is. Like Fox News, playing up the fear factor in non-stories to frighten old people, I myself will admit to raising the threat-level on Elementary during that first season just for fun (and to annoy at least one person in particular), but Sherlock Holmes is a hard man to actually threaten.

BBC Sherlock fans are not going to destroy Sherlockian culture any more than Solar Pons fans, Jeremy Brett fans, or Mary Russell fans did in the past if we allow that they're Sherlockians, too. They add to the whole without taking anything away from the core.

Sherlockians write. Sherlockians draw. Sherlockians smoke cigars and think that's a Sherlockian thing to do. We don't have to do any particular thing to be a Sherlockian, or cause anyone harm by representing ourselves as a Sherlockian without a particular level of skills, so why is it so important who we call a Sherlockian and who we don't?

In the end, I think when the impulse comes to look at another person and judge whether or not they're a Sherlockian, the best response is to look inside ourselves and go "Why does that matter so much to me?" And if you can find a good answer, a specific issue that causes you concern, maybe deal with that issue.

If I think my just-started-Elementary neighbor lacks having read Doyle and hand him a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes with a cheery, "If you're a Sherlockian, you'll love this!" . . . well, maybe we get the next guy who does an annotated edition, or the next great Holmes artist.  If I go, "Fuck you, you're not a Sherlockian!" . . . we get nothing.

Being a Sherlockian is pretty easy, actually. Being a good Sherlockian is very hard, and after forty-plus years, I'm still trying to work that one out. Making your ego feel better always reaps higher rewards from improving yourself than attempting to lower the status of others, and if you're secure in your own accomplishments, it really doesn't matter where anyone else is in the Sherlockian spectrum.

Elementary is coming back soon. Best keep an eye on me and remember all of the above, as I may need a lesson or two from my April 7, 2018 self.


  1. I have a friend who correlates Elementary episodes to stories in the Canon. It’s great.

  2. I like your point of view. As a writer of serious Victorian ACD Holmes/Watson, I think elitism turns people off, being inclusive will keep Holmes and his Doctor alive for the generations yet to come (I look forward to a good quality reworking of Canon set in Federation Space) and gatekeeping, as in "you can't be a Sherlockian if you haven't read all of Canon" is going to be a lonely hill to die on. ACDs language is difficult. I teach students who have to study SIGN, and they find it as hard as Shakespeare. But they all love Sherlock. So what would people rather have: Holmes and Watson going on into the future, accreting myths and attributes like Gods, or them ending up as lonely, whispering ghosts in the back corners of dusty minds?