February 4th, 2014

New Tilley Hat

Why I don't like fanfic: Sherlock Holmes Edition

I just finished reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes, and have been watching Elementary on American TV and just saw the third season of the British Sherlock. The Robert Downey Sherlock movies and the vaguely Holmesian House are in the not-too-distant past. A great deal has been written about Sherlock Holmes. Now, it's my turn. A long essay, as befitting pre-social media literature.

First up: The new BBC "Sherlock" series, set in today's world. Quick reaction: No. It's sometimes fun to watch fanboy wet dreams, but fails as a Sherlock Holmes update.

The Sign of the Three was both painful and hilarious. Incredibly bad fanfic, that gets the characters all wrong. Not merely outside canon, but just wrong. I don't mind expanded roles for Mary, Watson's wife, who has a medium part in the novel "The Sign of the Four" and is mentioned (sometimes by the wrong name) in several other stories. I'm not bothered by the greater shift toward Lestrade (one of several Scotland Yard detectives in the stories, and Sherlock's least respected) or Mycroft (who is very, very different physically) or an expanded role for Mrs. Hudson (who's more like Poirot's Miss. Lemon). But this British series is fanfic (which they admit in the commentaries on the DVD). I don't like fanfic. The nod to slash between Holmes and Watson is cringeworthy. Playing with the deerstalker cap is amusing, but you can't get away with such for much.

His Last Bow, the third episode of season three, was similarly awful. Completely at odds with the Conan Doyle canon and not particularly believable outside of it. they did to Mary what they had done to Irene Adler in the second season, and it just doesn't work except as fanfic. Not particularly good fanfic.

The original A. Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories can be divided into two groups: The stories written until he got tired of writing them, and the later stories after he brought Sherlock back from the dead.

Here's my take: Anything after The Final Problem is not canon. I'll accept "The Hound of the Baskervilles", which was written during the interregnum and takes place before the events at Reichenbach Falls..

much more under the cutCollapse )

The updated Holmes stories, set in present times, always have one odd anomaly: No one seems to have read A. Conan Doyle. It's one thing to 'reboot' the series, it's another to pretend that the annals of crime do not contain century-old cases. In many of these shows, I would prefer that they aren't reimaging Sherlock Holmes but do something similar, with a nod to the originals, and just keep going from there.

Still, credit where credit is due: "Elementary" gets a lot wrong, but gets a lot right. Sherlock Holmes sounds more like Sherlock Holmes than usual. The nods to the canon stories are fun but fleeting. Joan Watson is intelligent and adds to the investigations. To be sure, the misses are striking. Jonny Lee Miller is physically wrong for the part. The attempt to introduce Mycroft failed. But for the most part, "Elementary" doesn't try to graft the 1890's onto the 2010's, and the show is closer to "The Mentalist" or "CSI" than any fog-enshrouded Victorian recreation.

So I'll keep watching "Elementary" and even the BBC series if it gets to a fourth year, but my disbelief suspenders are stretched. But I wish modern adaptations would pay closer attention to the canon stories than to the wet dreams of fanboys. There is a reason that people still read Sherlock Holmes and not the "more serious" works of A. Conan Doyle. Please don't throw that away.