Monday, June 9, 2014

Sherlock Holmes...Who?

The fact that Sherlock Holmes is an immensely popular figure who has developed a life of his own is a fact which cannot be disputed. Believe me when I say that this does make me a content person. I couldn't imagine living in a world where all things Sherlock Holmes-related are hard to come by. But, when I start to think about the Sherlockian culture in which we now live, I begin to think that something is amiss. Sherlock Holmes is firmly immersed in our culture, but we so easily forget his roots. I am tempted to say that few people remember Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who changed the mystery genre and popular culture forever.

Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we have seen a number of manias. For example: Beatles Mania or Dalek Mania (two examples close to my heart I might add) and I argue that now, the fourteenth year of the twenty-first century, the world is undergoing Sherlock Mania. What has constituted this mania? There are currently two highly acclaimed television shows running simultaneously (well sort of simultaneously - we're playing that Sherlock waiting game again), a third show has aired in Russia and episodes complete with all-important English subtitles are available on YouTube, Sherlock Holmes pastiches are being written at a fantastic rate, and the people of the Internet (*cough tumblr cough*) are still discussing things that happened in His Last Vow. Perhaps this mania isn't as profound as Beatles Mania, but it certainly seems like a twenty-first century equivalent. But the real question is this: is this mania good or bad?

I hate to be indecisive, but I have to strike a balance between good and bad. For someone whose interest in the great detective runs pretty deep, I should be over the moon with all of this Sherlock Holmes stuff. So, why do I feel a little upset by it all? When I really get around to thinking, I feel that this mania has built itself up around the modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and not the Sherlock Holmes of old. What could that possibly mean? It is my opinion that Holmes has changed with the times and echoes whatever era into which a certain version was born? Two cases in point: 1965's A Study in Terror, filmed at the height of Hammer horror's reign in the genre and the influence of Batman is about as campy as you can get. 1979's Murder by Decree took the same subject matter (Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper), but made it far darker in tone, featured a kinder, gentler detective and featured a plot filled with conspiracy and deception (ala Watergate).

The ever-changing face of the detective extends to the modern day. The Sherlock Holmes name has cashed in on highly successful action films (see the two Guy Ritchie-directed movies) and modern updates. Of course, for a modern version of the canon, the facets of Holmes' personality has changed dramatically, making him far more distant and unsocial. Sherlock even made an inevitable comparison to Star Trek's Mr. Spock. And don't even get me started on the antisocial behaviour of Dr. Gregory House, expertly played by Hugh Laurie, who is (by creator David Shore's own admission) an obvious Sherlock Holmes homage.

So, Sherlock Holmes has become an at-first unlikable anti-hero for the modern age. Okay, fine. There is nothing wrong with that. Holmes of the canon was no angel, so all we have done is extrapolated this fact. But, by extrapolating this one characteristic, I daresay we lose sight of the detective's other characteristics. Sherlock Holmes has become less of the literary creation that he was at one time and more of a staple in the modern world. It is likely that more people today would recognise the scarf and coat made famous by Sherlock than the deerstalker hat and Inverness cape. Interestingly, when you search 'Sherlock Holmes' in Google Images, the first three results are of Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch respectively, each one conspicuously lacking the famous piece of headgear. Whereas if one is to conduct a similar Google Images search simply for 'detective' the deerstalker, pipe and even a few silhouettes of the great detective are among the first results.

After watching the much-beloved Russian Sherlock Holmes series starring Vasily Livanov, I was interested in trying the new Russian series which had received a number of different reviews. As I wrote near the top of this post, that new series is available on YouTube, complete with English subtitles since my knowledge of the Russian language is almost nonexistent. Anyhow, as I began watching, I became aware that this series too was taking a page from Sherlock and Elementary's books - Holmes was presented as a far more distant individual, and taking a leaf from the playbook of Guy Ritchie presented the detective as a disheveled, sloppy man sporting a five o'clock shadow and a bad case of bedhead. This was the final straw for me - Sherlock Holmes was quite a different person than he had ever been before.

If you are yelling at me through your computers saying, "Just be happy," I can understand, but I don't want you to come away from this thinking I'm fed-up with the Sherlockian community and will be taking my collection with me to some remote cave to live out my life as a hermit. I am happy with the Sherlock Holmes world. I thought that Sherlock Season Three was good, even if I'm at odds with many people elsewhere, and I continue to find one or two morsels in Elementary. Also, if there's ever going to be a third Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, rest assured I'll be there, popcorn in hand, eagerly munching and enjoying every minute of it.

Nevertheless, I do find some things which set me off. Discussions over whether Sherlock Holmes would ever shoot a man in cold blood coming from people who have never delved into the canon infuriate me, and don't - I repeat DO NOT - get me started on Johnlock. I suppose I'm more of a traditional Holmes fan than I ever realised. Perhaps I should change this blog's title to 'Musings from the Conservative Sherlockian.' On second thought, that's a bad idea. All the same, I'm reminded of Doyle's words in His Last Bow: An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes: "There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared." Could that East Wind be the emergence of a new future to Sherlock Holmes? I suppose only time shall tell.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog though it would be better if you would have mentioned more of the episodesame than fighting with your self about the actors but just by asking how many people have read this blog ? Sorry run on sentences hate them, but I always have a lot to say .I'm always the one who didn't say much in till the time comes. Then I have a long and fast answer and explanation.

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