Sunday, February 26, 2023

Sherlock Holmes without the Canon

 There was a debate that sprang up Saturday at the latest meeting of the John H. Watson Society that has been rolling around in my head all weekend, so I figured last thing Sunday eve is a good time to dump the thoughts out and begin the week anew. The point in question was of the importance of the original sixty stories to the hobby of Sherlock Holmes, and their importance in connecting us. 

You know me, I like to try hamburgers made from sacred cows on occasion just to see how they taste, so let's just shoot that bovine in the head and get it over with. Let's do a Thanos snap and make the original Conan Doyle works disappear from the Earth. We can't read them any more, in any form. Any adaptation that stays over fifty percent true to the original text, gone too. Gone, gone, gone.

But everything else remains. Sherlock Holmes remains. All the actors, all the movies, Laurie King books, Lyndsay Faye books, Bonnie MacBird books, Nicholas Meyer books, Elementary, Sherlock . . . even everything else written by Conan Doyle except Sherlock Holmes.

You know what? I think we're actually okay. We may have lost our favorite antique, our beautiful piece of art, our finely crafted centerpiece, but you know what? We're still filthy stinkin' rich in Sherlock Holmes!

Having 221B Con in my very bloodstream ("The con is never over.") has taught me again and again that we don't need Original Canon to share joy in Sherlock Holmes. Our inner definitions of Sherlock Holmes at this point come from a thousand different interactions with the character, who had a dozens of different faces speaking in even more different voices. We learned who Sherlock Holmes was from Basil or Jeremy or Benedict. We tasted other Sherlocks and went "YUCK!" which also defined him for us. We read comics, played games, and found friends based on that singular connection.

And our first question was never, "You read the original sixty stories, right?" The may be our most base level currency, but we'll happily trade in new Sherlocks. Sidney Paget drawing are nice, but the joy in a new piece of Sherlock Holmes art that just captures the man is a priceless moment. The same with prose, the same with film. And a new friend that squees "I LOVE ELEMENTARY!" and goes into depth on Joan Watson's pajamas is someone I'm going to enjoy talking to -- we may not be identical in our loves, but close enough.

Once Sherlock Holmes existed over a hundred years, the diversity collected in his composite being could not help but be reflected in the diversity of his fans views. And with video becoming a much more prevalent medium than the written word, we are definitely meeting true fans who never read the foundation works, yet are still lively and engaging folk. 

There will always be those resistant few who want to deny that diversity, as when certain establishment sorts tried to bunker themselves behind the definition of Sherlockiana as a "literary fandom," when film hobbyists and actor fans have been a part of our culture since William Gillette took the stage or Eille Norwood took to the screen. But that's born out of a fear of loss more than anything. And as I said earlier, we're filthy stinkin' rich in Sherlock Holmes. He's not going anywhere, even if we completely lost the original Conan Doyle Canon entirely. A thousand pastiches haven't diluted Holmes into non-existence. Will Ferrell didn't ruin Holmes for Hollywood. The number of people out there who truly love Sherlock Holmes keep him coming back, however they first met him.

That collection of words making up The Complete Sherlock Holmes is a great Bible of Sherlock Holmes. It's great we still have it, and surely always will. But it's does not contain all the great words on the detective, and hasn't for some time. And we can love those words, and the folks who learned of Holmes from those other texts, for adding to our Sherlockian world, not taking away from it.

Fear not. Sherlock Holmes lives. And lives well.


  1. Must totally disagree. If the canon did not appear for me I would probably watch the Rathbone films once in a while. No pastiche would draw me to the Sherlockian flames. As to Jeremy Brett - that wouldn't change - I watched them when they first aired, but not since. I don't believe that anything else would have the power of Doyles' words. Just me, perhaps, but none of those other things have a magnetic pull. Back to crossword puzzles, I guess.

  2. The diversity you describe resonates with me, Brad, but I disagree with your premise. The foundation of everything Sherlock Holmes is the Canon. It's our commonality. It's what inspired, and continues to inspire, the diversity that followed.