Welcome! Like the book of the same name, this blog is an eclectic collection of Sherlockian scribblings based on more than a half-century of reading Sherlock Holmes. Please add your own thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanAndriacco and on my Facebook fan page at Dan Andriacco Mysteries. You might also be interested in my Amazon Author Page. My books are also available at Barnes & Noble and in all main electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the iPad.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Sky Is Not Falling

Matt Laffey, of the always interesting always1895.net blog, recently called my attention to an interesting article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, "Wither Holmes?" by Nicholas Meyer.

Mr. Laffey's reaction to this piece was, well, strong: "I feel like I just had a ‘Network Moment’ based on how worked-up Meyer’s essay just made me. Wish Dr Watson was around to give me some brandy to calm my nerves!"

In the absence of Dr. Watson, Dr. Dan is here to administer a virtual brandy and say "Stay Calm!"

But let's start at the beginning. Mr. Meyer, best known to Sherlockians as the author of three novel-length Holmes pastiches, delivers a strong critique of film and TV adaptations of the Canon. "Each age gets the Sherlock Holmes it deserves," he states at the beginning. 

One of his examples is rather puzzling: "Nicole Williamson gave us the drug-addicted Holmes." Well, yes, that was in The Seven Per-Cent Solution, from a screenplay co-authored by Mr. Meyer and based on his pastiche of the same title. Is he engaging in self-criticism here? 

"Which brings us to the dilemma of Holmes in a postliterate age, and the larger question of how one adapts literature for the movies, for an audience that has never read the original," he writes. Why is that a question? A good adaptation has never assumed that the audience read the book, even in a literate age.

Meyer goes on to say:
I am clearly in the minority when I say that, although Downey's Holmes is not completely implausible, everything that surrounds him is unrelated to the genuine Sherlock — and this is nothing new: Rathbone's Holmes faced the same conundrum.

There is clearly the perceived logic on the part of filmmakers and financiers that Holmes must be "updated" for a modern audience, a crowd that clearly suffers from attention deficit disorder, who cannot tolerate a shot that lasts more than four seconds, who has no use or interest in narrative coherence, merely an appetite for action and eye candy, regardless of logic, and — not unrelated — suffers from a reluctance to cease texting during the movie.
. . . For the current generation, Holmes is an action superhero on a par with Batman. Granted, he no longer sports the clich├ęd deerstalker and Inverness; Holmes is now a sort of superhero beatnik.
All of this is so obviously true, I don't know why it would be controversial. The question is how one should react to it. I hope I can talk Matt Laffey off the ledge, where he seems ready to jump. 

Mr. Laffey's concern is certainly understandable to a traditionalist such as myself. He is worried about the naively optimistic embrace of new visions of Holmes, "which in turn slowly succumbs to and even approves of that great Culture-destroying pestilence known as 'watering down' -- watering/dumbing down the intellectual, the cerebral and, most devastatingly, the source (i.e., the Canon)."

Here's my virtual brandy: The Canon cannot be watered down! The Canon is the Canon and nothing changes that! It has survived Nigel Bruce, Raymond Massey, and even Dudley Moore. Some years ago, Elmore Leonard was asked about the movie adaptations of his novels. His response was that no matter what disasters are perpetrated by the film versions, that can't hurt his books. That seems eminently sensible to me.

Meanwhile, just today, I received a Facebook message from a a young mother who first discovered Sherlock Holmes though BBC Sherlock. She wrote: "I thought about you the other day because I'm well on my way to finishing reading the whole Holmes canon. It's been an awesome trip!"

And it always will be, no matter what happens to Holmes on the big screen or the small screen.


  1. Well said Dan, absolutely wonderful. I actually receive people's stories in my inbox quite often. I have to say that it seems to me that the new generation (who is easily bored) is running to the Canon to get their 'Sherlock' fix. This to me is success in every way. Running to the Canon is always a wonderful idea. Thanks for the great article!

  2. The canon will always live. These new re-imagings are just the way people "play" with Doyle's "toys." It's nothing to get alarmist about. If every generation didn't have a Sherlock, then the canon would become just another forgotten piece of Victorian literature, instead of being passed on from generation to generation to be 'discovered' again and again.

  3. After years of trying to read Conan Doyle's stories and failing to get into them, I saw the first Downey, Jr "Sherlock Holmes" film. I fell in love with the characters of Holmes and Watson, as portrayed by Downey, Jr and Law, and was inspired to try the original Canon one more time. I have now worked my way through over half of the original Conan Doyle stories (I'm in the middle of "The Return of Sherlock Holmes") and have fallen in complete and utter love with Conan Doyle's characters, setting, and the style of the stories themselves.

    I've learned to love the Canon characters, as well as a myriad of the film adaptations (Rathbone has become my favorite), each on their own merits. There's room in my heart for Downey's Holmes as well as for Conan Doyle's Canon character, and I remain grateful to the former for giving me the latter.

    Great article. :)

  4. You remind me of the true story of an author (which one escapes me at the moment) being interviewed in his home about a movie adaptation of one of his more famous characters. The interviewer asks, "Does it bother you, what they have done to your books?" His response was, "They haven't done ANYTHING to my books." He pauses and waves his hand at a bookshelf containing his written work. "See? There they are."

  5. It's nice to know that a modern Sherlock Holmes representation got a young person to pick up the actual Canon, and not just dive into fanfic. If they do, that's great. At least they are reading about The Duo, but they have to go back The Bible, the truth, the way...The Canon.
    And I agree that it is safe. Any kind of lousy interpretation or pastiche will never bring it to its knees. It has held strong for 100+ years and will forever.
    Oh, and I love your blog. Keep up the good work.

  6. I couldn't agree more, Dr. Dan! No modern adaptation can really hurt the classic Canon. It is what it is, was, and ever shall be: THE Sherlock Holmes Canon, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It seems that in this case, the cliche "all press is good press" really applies, as newer (even the sadly more watered-down versions) seem to only drive more traffic to the books, from my humble observation. As an educator, I talk to young people all the time who first encountered Holmes through either the BBC's "Sherlock," or the Downey movies. Usually, when they find out how many buried homages to the Canon exist in even the lesser adaptations, they run right to the books to discover them all. These days, it's tough to get students motivated to read. When I was the age of the children of which I speak, Nancy Drew WAS my (female) "Holmes" and I began to 'solve mysteries' around the school, at the age of eight. That's the way it went, then. We were inspired by something we read much more often than something we watched, and it incited us to act. These days, it seems the kids watch something, and it (if we're lucky) might inspire them to act; in this case, to read. Here's hoping. Wonderful post, great points, and I look forward to reading more. Thanks, Dr. Dan! :) ~ Elena Kitzantides, M.Ed.

  7. These comments are heartening in their tolerance and clear perspective on the complimentary benefits accruing to Canon and non-Canonical works. Larry here nutshells the crux. I would just add that Shakespearian drama survives and is made new flesh again and again in just this manner.
    Works based. however loosely, upon such writers is testament to their literary powers. Where else in literature does one encounter characters like Moriarty and Irene Adler who appear once in person in a single short story - and achieve World-wide recognition and astounding engagement well over a century later? Doyle is a better writer than I thought when I read and loved him as a schoolboy.