In preparing for an non-Sherlockian discussion this week, I came up with a question to muse upon that led to a very Sherlockian train of thought. The question: "If the thing you're a fan of stayed in the public consciousness for a thousand years or more and evolved into a religion, what's one thing it would involve?"
If you go beyond the superficial ("The followers of Sherlock would all wear deerstalkers!"), the question gets to the very heart of our love of a thing and what makes that thing distinctive from all others. A thousand years of wear and tear could strip away all the superficial outside "paint" of a thing and get it down to its true make-up. So wear would that leave Sherlock Holmes?
Well, I unconsciously did a little of that elimination right there in framing that question. Poor Watson just got stripped away, with the lone name "Sherlock Holmes." Yes, the relationship between the doctor and the detective is important, but it is not unique. Other characters bond just as hard as our friends, and even Watson intended to shine the spotlight on Sherlock as the rare and special thing.
So what does Sherlock Holmes give us as a core belief for some hypothetical religious institution?
I'd have to say the thing he fights for, works for, and produces in every story, even when he's wrong.
It's not justice, though he does get it many a time.
It's not stopping crime, as crime does not appear in every story.
It has to be a little thing called objective reality, doesn't it?
In every case, Sherlock Holmes enters a world of subjective reality. Scotland Yard thinks a dancer murdered a noble's bride. The citizens of Dartmoor think a dog from Hell is killing members of a certain family. A husband thinks his wife might be a vampire. Sometimes the subjective reality is something as simple as "there's no possible reason for this thing to have happened." Having not seen what actually happened, somebody gets a headcanon going.
And while headcanon might be great fun for questions we'll never get answers to, like where John Watson got shot in Afghanistan, it's not always real useful in reality. And that's where Sherlock Holmes comes in.
Sherlock Holmes looks hard at reality. Bits of hair or fiber. Impressions in the soil. Types of paper. The measurements of a house. Looking at all of the little realities, Sherlock Holmes begins to assemble an objective reality that, in most cases, is finally proven out to be the one true reality.
If you ever looked into police work prior to forensic science, it was basically asking the neighbors what happened, depending upon finding a witness. And if no witness came forth, the investigator was just gathering opinions, like the classic "He was a nice, quiet man who couldn't hurt a fly." Subjective views that are, as in case of that particular trope, often as wrong as can be. Headcanon from the neighbors is not always the best source of truth.
Here in 2020 we've seen a massive rise of folks loving their subjective truths in spite of solid evidence, so a hero of objective truth like Sherlock Holmes still fulfills a need in our culture. Will that carry him forward a thousand years, whether spawning a cult or not (like he hasn't already)?
Let's hope he makes it in one form or another reminding us that objective reality is a valuable thing. And hopefully he teaches us that lesson a little better than Robin Hood, the legend that still reminds us that there can be the too rich at the expense of the poor when Jeff Bezos doesn't seem to be holding any archery tournaments.
Let's talk again in a thousand years.