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A Sherlock Holmes Day Roundtable Chat

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May 22 2024 marks Arthur Conan Doyle’s 165th birthday and is celebrated as Sherlock Holmes Day! We’ve got a lot of Holmes lovers in the Press (including yours truly), so we thought – let’s talk detective! The people who joined in on the round table chat are: Zel Howland, Nina Waters, E. C., Maggie Page, May Barros, Rascal Hartley, Shadaras, boneturtle and an anonymous contributor

1. What is your personal opinion on Sherlock Holmes?

Zel Howland: I /love/ Sherlock Holmes! My dad is a big Sherlock Holmes fan and bought the complete works for me and my older brother, and I have very clear memories of burying myself in the nice hardcover edition of A Study in Scarlet while the rest of the house watched TV. Reading, watching, or listening to any Holmes story or adaptation to this day brings to mind that specific sense memory of the book, the wood of my desk and chair, the smell of some soap I had spilled… very evocative, and that’s before I even start on how fascinating I find the characters and plots!

Anonymous: I read an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories back in the day and it rewired my brain. I’m not fond of mystery stories at all – I don’t really enjoy competing with the protagonist to figure things out – but I do like driven, complicated characters with complicated and sometimes toxic relationships. And Sherlock Holmes is a delightfully complicated character, and his bond with John Watson has been giving people something to chew over for [over a century]. Beyond that, it’s fun how many angles Doyle approached the mystery formula from. Even though I’m not a mystery fan at all, I still got carried along in Watson’s excitement and empathized with Holmes in the rare occasion he was stumped or fooled. And that central relationship anchored things in a very human way that a lot of mystery novels, even those inspired by Holmes, just don’t.

Then I watched BBC’s Sherlock. And the movies that came out about the same time. And the old Granada series. I got really fascinated with all the ways that different people had retold the same stories and the same characters, updating them or failing to do so, and watching the evolution of Sherlock Holmes in media has been a hobby of mine ever since. Video games, anime, comic books, and of course literature – he’s everywhere. It’s fantastic.

Nina Waters: I’ve loved Holmes since I was a kid; I grew up on Basil of Baker Street, then I read the original Holmes stories, then started watching adaptations, especially the Granada Holmes.

E. C.: Same, re: loving Holmes for basically as long as I can remember.

Maggie Page: I’m in the midst of a years-long obsession with all things Sherlock Holmes. I adore him. After reading a chunk of the canon, I became fascinated with the divide between the cultural concept of Holmes and what I saw on the page. He’s a richer character than the tropes inspired by him.

May Barros: I like his stories, it was one of his stories that I read when I was trying to get proficient with the English language (it’s not my native language). An aunt gifted me a book of his stories in English and I read it all.

2. Has Sherlock Holmes influenced you or your writing in some way? How?

Zel Howland: Starting on Sherlock Holmes so early in my life /definitely/ had a huge impact of my taste in fiction and my writing down the line. Even as we’re talking about this I’m working on the outline for a new mystery novel that began as a riff on Agatha Christie, but has quickly devolved into something much closer to Hound of the Baskervilles.

Rascal Hartley: I got the Barnes and Noble compendium of all the stories back in junior high and blazed through them. I secretly fancied myself in love with Irene Adler but the specific story that had the most impact on me was The Adventure of the Dancing Men, specifically the cipher and reading how Holmes solved it. It gave me a love of codes and ciphers and languages that has rather stuck with me to this day (and also, his explanation of the most common letters in order has helped me win many games of hangman, lol)

Nina Waters: I dressed as Irene Adler for Halloween circa 2005…

E. C.: Half-formed thought:  Sherlock Holmes and the many iterations of how his stories are told and re-told and expanded by other writers probably paved the way for how I think about fan fiction.  Laurie King’s Holmes books are an example of straddling the line between pastiche and fanfic.

May Barros: I mean, his stories taught me English in a sense. If I’m writing in this language today, it is in part because of him.

Maggie Page: Examining these differences [between the concept of Holmes and what I saw on the page], comparing portrayals, and diving into meta-analyses has developed into a hobby that’s inspired me to read and annotate the complete works as well as giving me aspirations of writing my own version of Holmes someday. To that end, I’ve learned more about queer culture in the Victorian era than I ever imagined I’d know, but that’s been fun too.

3. What impact do you think Sherlock Holmes had on culture?

Zel Howland: It is honestly hard to overstate how culturally significant Sherlock Holmes has been. From being a milestone in fannish history where popular acclaim brought the character back from the dead to the countless adaptations that have graced the pages, the radio, and the screen, down to the very formulas that we use for the mystery genre itself. Dame Agatha Christie might be the mother of the murder mystery, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the DNA.

Shadaras: I feel like Holmes is one of those characters who just permeates culture? I didn’t grow up reading Holmes, but I knew about Holmes and could understand a lot of references because there are so many stories based on it -whether they’re direct adaptations (like BBC Sherlock, the Guy Ritchie films, or Elementary) or more indirect inspired-by stories (like House). The whole concept of a consulting detective comes from Holmes, as I understand it, and I think that concept helps shape/structure a lot of procedural mystery stories in the modern day even if they don’t otherwise draw from Holmes.

Nina Waters: Some of the earliest “fanfictions” I can remember reading were anthologies of Holmes stories written in modern times. Societally, I feel like even giving a concise description of influence would be futile, that’s a dissertation topic right there, because it’s such a cultural pillar.

Maggie Page: Sherlock Holmes has had an immense impact on culture, so it’s difficult to touch on succinctly.  You can find traces of Holmes everywhere; he’s even the origin of the usage of “canon” to refer to any official body of work.

May Barros: I do not think, I know. Sherlock Holmes was such a success when Doyle was writing that several people tried to adapt his stories into other mediums even when Doyle was alive, Doyle even suggested people published their “fanfics” as original stories with the character names changed (source: FIC by Anne Jamison)

4. What is your favorite adaptation of Sherlock Holmes and what do you love about it?

boneturtle: My favorite Sherlock Holmes adaptation is the Goalhanger podcast Sherlock & Co.!  It is a delightfully character-driven adaptation of the Sherlock stories, with the premise that John Watson is a modern-day podcaster instead of a writer. From the opening monologue: “My name is Dr. John Watson, once of the British Army Northumberland Fusilier Regiment, now a true crime podcaster based in Central London.” Oh my gosh, just thinking about it makes me smile. Not only are the stories genuinely gripping, it’s also such a fun spoof on the current true-crime podcast obsession.

Zel Howland: Is it cheap to say House M.D.? If we’re talking about more literal adaptations, I definitely have to say CBS’s Elementary. While it certainly isn’t perfect, Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu bring so much to the table as Holmes and Watson, and I really can never say no to a procedural show.

Anonymous: Bit of a tangent, but I think my overall favourite mystery series is Umineko: When They Cry. However, Umineko isn’t so much a mystery story as a story about mysteries and the people they affect. And the reasons I like it so much boil down to it being a very human story about intense, toxic relationships and the struggle to understand driven, complicated characters. In other words, I like Umineko because I like Sherlock Holmes. Like I said, it rewired my brain.

Shadaras: Relatedly, I’d love to rec Katherine Addison’s The Angel of the Crows, which has an end note that talks about how it started out as BBC Sherlock wingfic (but in the original Holmes era) and then became a whole novel of its own with plots riffing off the original Holmes stories. It’s a fantastic novel, highly recommend if you enjoy urban fantasy and/or Holmes-inspired stories!

Maggie Page: 4 – If a loose adaptation will suffice, The Mentalist is my favorite show. The dynamic between the Holmes/Watson analogues, Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon, is the best part, naturally. Jane’s characterization (as someone playful, gentle, protective, fierce, sometimes harsh, and much more) feels truer to canon than many direct adaptations. The wonderful ensemble cast is a huge bonus. And the hook of the overarching plot reeled me in completely. Spinning theories about Red John was one of my first immersive fandom experiences, and I loved every minute.

May Barros: I love Elementary. I love Lucy Liu as Watson and the show’s interpretation of Sherlock just hits right for me as a caring neurodivergent rich man who’s doing his best but is not always understood

Nina Waters: The Granada Holmes (…) is my favorite version along with Elementary and The Great Mouse Detective.

E. C.: Jeremy Brett is definitely my favorite Holmes, because he managed to convey the analytical brilliance and focus and dismissiveness, but with a base of kindness that I think gets lost in some portrayals.  That’s why I also like Jonny Miller’s version in Elementary (I also think this is one of the best portrayals of addiction and recovery, and also of a truly healthy platonic love and mutual respect between male/female leads, I’ve ever seen on a network show).

boneturtle: Another great “Sherlock” adaptation that has almost nothing to do with the original story other than the name is the c-drama “Maiden Holmes,” starring a female detective hiding her gender to be able to work with the police in ancient China and ultimately uncover the truth about the reason her family was killed when she was young. It’s ridiculously wholesome and has really strong plotting and character development, but might not be worth including in the post just because it’s such a loose adaptation.

Anonymous: I don’t think Case Closed/Detective Conan by Gosho Aoyama is actually a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, but the shadow of Holmes and the “great detective” genre hang really thick over the series. The characters are iconic, the mysteries are clever and emotionally affecting, and the pacing is so abysmal that it’s often joked that the series is composed of episodic side stories with occasional moments of plot. And it’s still one of the greatest manga of all time.

I do want to recommend The Great Ace Attorney. It’s a visual novel, that should count as a book, right? And its take on Sherlock Holmes – I mean, Herlock Sholmes – as a goofy airhead who’s none the less both genuinely brilliant and deeply affected by Victorian-era politics separating him from his Watson is interesting. Ace Attorney as a franchise is good at swinging between dramatic storytelling and goofy nonsense, and playing Sherlock as a comedic character first and foremost without downplaying his intelligence and observation skills is a neat concept. Herlock Sholmes is arguably too observant – he sees everything and has difficulty figuring out what’s important to the case at hand, which is why he needs a partner to help him focus.