Sherlock Holmes: Bending the Canon


I have the honor of getting speaking at Sherlock Holmes: Past and Present conference at the Institute of English Studies in the University of London.

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:
- Male
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.
Capable Performer.
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.”
- Information
“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.”
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:
- Watson
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)
- Humor
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:
- Race
Sherlock doesn’t have to be white. He can be another color without it ruining his character.
- Time
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.
- Action/Mastery
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
BBC’s Sherlock
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?

Friday Favorites: Steampunk Holmes

May I introduce you to:

The beautiful Mycroft Holmes, the stalwart Dr John Watson with a clockwork arm,

and Sherlock Holmes.

That’s right. THE Sherlock Holmes. With a lot of steampunk flair.

Steampunk Holmes

Legacy of the Nautilus

Coming to an iPad near you. 

This story is created by a top-notch, ultra-talented team of transmedia storytellers. It is written by P.C. Martin. Illustrated by the illustrious Daniel Cortes, voiced by Gerald Price, marketed by the wonderful Julie Brannon, and produced by the ultra-talented Richard Monson-Haefel.

When I voiced interest, Richard was cool enough to give me a little interview on the project:

Let’s start with the hard questions: how would you define transmedia, and why are you personally drawn to it?
RMH: “Steampunk Holmes is actually cross-media rather than transmedia. With
transmedia you are telling a single story across multiple channels.
Each channel (book, web site, twitter, call-in, etc.) delivers
different perspectives on the same story.  That’s not what Steampunk
Holmes is all about. Steampunk Holmes is a cross-media story by which
I mean it tells the same story in completion using several different
channels (web book, paper books, audio books, ebook). The primary
difference is that with transmedia you are expected to engage in at
least two of the channels to fully engage the story but in cross-media
you can engage with the channel of your choice to get the whole story.”

Fill in the blank: If I am a fan of ________, then I would love
Steampunk Sherlock.

RMH: “Sherlock Holmes, Steampunk, and/or science fiction.”

What made you want to tell this story?

RMH: “At about the same time in my life I rediscovered my love of Sherlock
Holmes as well as one of my favorite science fiction books, The
Difference Engine, a book that I believe was the most important
influence in launching Steampunk.  Inspired by both it seemed natural
to put them together.”

This is one of the best cross-media/transmedia projects I’ve seen. Actually, scratch that. It is the best. I can’t wait until it comes out!

Until then, follow their news on Facebook, Twitter, or go check out their awesome website by clicking on Sherlock’s goggles:

Tall Tale Tuesday: Truth & Fiction

On Lynn Kelley’s 123rd birthday, her and Napoleon Dynamite invented the cure for cancer. It’s of course rather complicated to explain, I just know it involves cloned cells and llama spit.

Q: Who is the most feared name in pirate history?

A: Blackbeard. (But only because The Dread Pirate Robert’s name was ruined after Wesley mouthed off about how each captain passed down the name)

Bonus question: Who did Wesley elect as the new Dread Pirate Roberts when he went to save Buttercup?

A: Gene Lempp, the guy with his hands on backwards and completely covered in tattoos.

Kathy Owen taught Spiderman how to stop sucking the blood out of the criminals he caught in his webs, she said it was bad for PR.

art by Gabriele Dell’Otto

Amy Stevens (Life from the Trenches) challenged Pippi Longstocking to a horse bench-pressing tournament which lasted for days until Pippi’s pirate papa found a Pegasus that was so heavy that Pippi could only bench press 4 sets and Amy could do 5. Of course, that was only after Amy had eaten her spinach.

Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson officially changed her name to Ivanna Writemore until her novel was finished.

Fairytopia was in danger of being destroyed by Glendora Fudwaters and her toxic morning breath until Susie Lindau created a mouthwash in Glendora Fudwater’s favorite flavor (orange mint) and saved her fairy colony.

Chrystal and Anne of Green Gables were bosom buddies until they took a 18 hour car ride across Canada. Chrystal said Anne got too chatty. And Anne said … well, we don’t know what Anne said as she’s stranded in a gas station somewhere in Alberta.

Robin Hood and his Merry Men were actually shunned by the peasants (even though he truly wanted to do them good), because of their tight, green woolen pants until a milliner named Eden Baylee sewed them some new outfits.

“Why won’t ze peeples let us in their homes?”

“I zink we iz kewl now, ze peeples will luv us, merci, Eden Baylee!”

Sherlock Holmes took one look at JRD Skinner and told him his age, favorite bar, how many children he has, and the last four digits of his social security number. JRD Skinner, never one to be impressed with deductive reasoning, said he could outdo him. Skinner took a DNA sample from Sherlock and a few days later said Sherlock’s father was not who he thought he was. A rather cruel thing to do, but Sherlock never lorded information over another from that day on.

When the time came, the US chose Sarah Palin as a universe embassador representing the world if only she could name all of the continents, a describe exactly what a VP does. She couldn’t do it, as it’s so easy to forget that Africa is actually a continent instead of a country. Fortunately, Tori Nelson accepted the job and is now traveling through the last frontier, going somewhere no man has gone before.

“She does know that VP’s only preside over the Senate on “ceremonial occasions,” right?”

After the last party they went to together, Tiffany A. White stole Holly Golightly’s cat. Holly didn’t even notice.

Malcom Reynolds and Inara were as happy as two bunnies in a burrow until Piper Bayard, the illustrious artists became a boarder on Serenity. They both fell in love with her, and there was more love triangle drama on board that ship than a Telenovela. Jayne adored the passionate drama and was the only one on the ship who was truly happy.

Darlene, the spirit of sleep, knows the exact moment when a sleeping baby is about to wake and so is able to soothe their mind with tranquility and peace and they fall back into a deep sleep. Want to attract her services to your house? Simply leave a bouquet of lavender beside the crib, play a humpback whale call softly out the window, get rid of all yellow ribbons in the house, and tape hot pink lipstick on the side of your house, preferably Maybelline.

Mallard Fillmore’s biggest problem has always been his ego, that’s why when he started working with David Walker and found what a good man looks like he had to eat a few slices of humble pie.

Sonia G. Medeiros is Khal Drogo’s lawyer and let me tell ya, there are a lot of litigation cases when you lead the largest khalasar horde in the DothrakiSea, own a palace in Vaes Dothrak and a nine-towered mansion in Pentos. Khal definitely doesn’t pay Sonia what she deserves.

Percy Jackson has a crush on Marilag Lubag, made evident by the way he lines her walk to school with ice sculptures, instantly refills her water bottle when he sees it depleted, and takes her swimming with his pet dolphins (until they learned she was allergic).

(picture of the first time he saw Marilag)

Do you want your own tall tale? Just leave a comment of any type of color, and in two week’s time you’ll be the STAR in your own tall tale.


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