Now, one of the only things better than gabbing about Sherlock, is gabbing about Sherlock while in London. I swear, Sherlock Holmes fans are the smartest and most attractive of any kinds of fans. Since I don’t have the joy of getting to be there, I’ve put up my notes from my presentation here in hopes that you’ll give me an opinion or two regarding them.
I’m speaking on Bending the Canon.
Which led me to meditate night after night, as I sat on pillows and smoked an ounce of shag, “What makes Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes?”
First of all, I must demand that no judgements be made. Judgements separate souls, and judgements are haughty (as we learn from Sherlock), and since Sherlock Holmes is not our intellectual property, we don’t have the right to say which adaption is right and which adaption is wrong.
You can’t say with your nose in the air, “Oh, I think that adaption is rubbish and you’re cracked for thinking it’s a good, has your mind been melted?”
You may, however, say, “Oh, I think that adaption is rubbish,” because you are entitled to your opinion. You just shouldn’t call anyone names if they disagree with you.
Got it? Okay. Good. No judgements, unless Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ghost presents itself and announces which characteristics MUST be thrown out…we’ll refrain from doing it ourselves
So, what makes Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes? We’ll break his characteristics down into three catagories:
1. Essential Sherlock Holmes
2. Recommended Sherlock Holmes
3. Bending Sherlock Holmes
So let’s begin. What traits must he absolutely possess? Here’s the essential Sherlock Holmes:
I don’t think you can change his gender without changing an innate part of who he is. Change anyone else’s gender in the canon, but don’t change his.
- Ideal Reasoner
He must be able to deduce a chain of events from a single fact.
He must be “the most perfect and observing machine that the world has seen.” (A Scandal in Bohemia)
- He needs a location
I don’t care if it’s London, LA, or Latvia, I think he must have a location that he knows far better than any other. He studies it. He knows the streets, knows the mud on the streets, has memorized the shops and shop owners, he knows its culture and myths, its news and criminals. Sure, he can travel and take cases in other towns, but he absolutely must have a turf.
- Softer Passions
”As a lover, he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.” (A Scandal in Bohemia)
I don’t think he can fall in love with a woman or a man.
For the ideal reasoner, love is grit in a sensitive instrument, a crack in a lens. Let’s not bend him away from that.
Instead (and here is where so many adaptions drop it), let his passions run free through music…
Enthusiastic musician, partial to German rather than Italian or French.
Composer of no ordinary merit.
That’s where he found true happiness.
Red-Headed League: “We’ve done our work, so it’s time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony.”
“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.” (Blue Carbuncle)
Sherlock is a gatherer of information, a collector of data. You cannot lose this without losing him.
In the Five Orange Pips he claims to possess all knowledge which is useful for him in his work.
Watson defined his limits in the Five Orange Pips. Here are his main points of analysis: “Philosophy, astronomy, and politics were marked at zero. Botany variable, geology profound as regards the mud-stains from any region within fifty miles of town, chemistry eccentric, anatomy unsystematic, sensational literature and crime records unique, violin-player, boxer, swordsman, lawyer, and self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco.”
- ABSOLUTELY NO COMMONPLACE CASES
I don’t care if it was a hat accidentally dropped in the street or a King in trouble, Sherlock only takes strange cases.
“He refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic.” (The Speckled Band)
Suggested Sherlock Holmes:
Although important, Watson is not essential to Sherlock’s character. It’s possible to create an adaption without Watson, without breaking Sherlock’s character.
Though of course, Watson is very important. After all, he and Holmes are two halves of the same broken soul.
“It makes a considerable difference to me, having someone with me on whom I can thoroughly rely.” (The Boscombe Valley Mystery)
“Oh, a trusty comrade is always of use; and a chronicler still more so.” (The Man With a Twisted Lip)
- Smoking and meditating.
Sherlock is a thinking man, so he must take time to think.
Smoking can be bent, however. Adaptions can replace it with something else (exercising, throwing a ball, cooking, eating, painting a wall, etc.) but this pattern of meditating on a problem is important to include.
“It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.” (Red-Headed League)
”I reached this one by sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag.” (The Man with the Twisted Lip)
Watson and Holmes are glib speakers, and the canon is witty and sharp. Even during the darkest cases, they exchange jests. You can’t take away humor from them without taking away one of their most endearing and sympathetic qualities.
Sherlock needs proof before deciding anything.
“Explanations founded rather upon conjecture and surmise than on that absolute logical proof which was so dear to him.” (The Five Orange Pips)
”Circumstantial Evidence is a very tricky thing, it may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift…you mind find it pointing to something entirely different.” (The Boscombe Valley Mystery)
Bending Sherlock Holmes:
These are some traits that can and should be bent:
Sherlock doesn’t have to be white. He can be another color without it ruining his character.
Sir Doyle wrote the canon with a tone of immediacy. Anyone reading it during that time could believe that Sherlock was just around the corner, solving crimes. I think the best adaptions keep that tone of immediacy, as if you could hire Sherlock Holmes yourself if you really needed him.
Adaptions don’t have to keep Victorian England in order to keep Sherlock. In fact, I think it’s closer to the canon if they stay current, just as Sir Doyle wrote it.
Sherlock loves to be a part of the action. He wants to be at the scene. He smells, hears, tastes, touches, and sees details.
However, this is not necessary. Sherlock would still be Sherlock even if he were solving cases as an invalid. It would be neat to see adaptions bend this part of him.
“Holmes was transformed when he was hot upon such a scene as this…his nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase, and his mind was so absolutely concentrated upon the matter before him that a question or remark fell unheeded upon his ears.” (The Boscome Valley Mystery)
Sherlock does not encourage visitors, and has only one friend. I think you could bend this character trait, and give him more people he associates with.
Sherlock is a raging success. People on the street know his name, he’s sought after, and he’s only been beaten four times. He is very successful.
Could you take that away from him? Could there be an adaption in which he is a failure, derided, and disrespected as a detective? I believe you could.
Some other traits that can be bent and changed:
-Ability to Read People
-Penchant for Disguises
- Compassion. (some adaption should turn him into a villain)
“I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul.”
- No care for money
How has Sherlock Holmes been bent in the major three adaptions that have come out lately? They each did so many things right. Each adaption is creative and innovative. However, they have also bent his character…
Guy Ritchie’s Holmes
In a sentence, the trait that Ritchie broke in Sherlock Holmes was that he relied on action rather than dialogue.
Two charges against Elementary, in which I believe they bent his character near the breaking point:
1. Their cases are commonplace
2. Sherlock Holmes is in love with Irene Adler
They did so many things right, but I believe they bent Sherlock too far when they made him such a rude bastard to almost everyone he met. In the canon, he was respectful.
What traits do you think are essential to Sherlock Holmes?
What traits are suggested?
What traits can and should be bent?