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 clichéd 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.