Are we in danger of Holmesian overkill?

As CBS enter the ring with Elementary, I can’t help but wonder whether we really need another modern-day Holmes?

There was a time, post-Granada series, when Sherlock Holmes was descending fast into obscurity.  Mainstream media had no interest in further adaptations and Holmes got lost under a pile of modern, sophisticated crime dramas such as CSI and The Mentalist.  Only a loyal band of admirers really appreciated the genius of Conan Doyle and kept things alive by reading pastiche, writing articles and joining appreciation societies.

Now, the same channel who brought us The Mentalist have decided to step into the fray and follow the lead set by BBC’s Sherlock.  They are bringing out a pilot of a new (arguably) Sherlock Holmes series set in modern-day New York and starring Jonny Lee Miller.  Suddenly, the world has gone Sherlock Holmes mad.

As I have written a novel involving the character of Holmes, I really should be pleased.  After all, the more of a buzz there is around the character, the more chances I have of achieving sales.  I started the book hoping to get everyone talking about Sherlock Holmes again but in the seven years it took to create, along came a blockbuster film, a brilliant BBC series and now there is a second film and shiny new American drama.  It’s a seismic change really – at least you could say I have good instincts when it comes to spotting the next big thing.

The question I’m pondering is – if they/we were to be completely honest, do Holmes fans prefer Holmes to remain a bit ‘niche’, like a secret only we know about, a fine wine which only an expert can appreciate?  Are we a bit possessive of him really, not happy about sharing him with people who may have never read the original stories and will never do so?

I’m in two minds.  Part of me thinks it’s great that being a Holmes fan isn’t something you have to hide away like an embarrassing little secret any more.  New readers are turning to Conan Doyle’s stories and books are flying off the shelves.  Writers like me are seeing increased sales and reaping the benefits of this new interest.  So why do I still feel uneasy about it?

BBC Sherlock doesn’t make me feel uneasy.  Its’ stylised, unusual formatting means that it has achieved the perfect balance between being popular but still retaining the feel of something niche and cult-classic.  It’s not a sell-out.  It’s slick, clever, brave and different – a perfect tribute to the spirit of the original stories.  But for me, the Guy Ritchie films feel like a bit of a cash-in rather than  something made with a true love and understanding of the source material.  And the CBS effort just feels like a blatant rip-off of Sherlock to me – Oh look, a bandwagon they cried, let’s jump aboard!

I am a panellist on the forthcoming MX Publishing Great Sherlock Holmes Debate taking place on the 18th March.  Unsurprisingly, I am on Team Sherlock and will be debating about whether this or the Guy Ritchie films has done the most for the long-term legacy of Holmes.  Incidentally, do watch this hilarious trailer for the debate made by the team behind the No Place Like Holmes website – the bit about Benedict Cumberbatch is especially funny.

I’m all fired up to extol the merits of Sherlock and I’m sure the debate will throw up many interesting arguments on both sides, but the real question is not about what we’ve already had – it’s about what on earth should come next?

Tell me what you think by using the comment box below.

My novel Barefoot on Baker Street has now been published. Here are some of the ways you can purchase it.

You can order my book in America here.

You can purchase the American Kindle version here

You can order my book in the UK here.

You can purchase the UK Kindle version here.

About barefootonbakerstreet

Author and senior recruitment manager from Shropshire
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11 Responses to Are we in danger of Holmesian overkill?

  1. Amy Thomas says:

    I feel the same way. Having a movie franchise and a tv series is pushing it. Another tv series is a bit silly. There’s no way it’s not going to face harsh comparison and be seen as the less-achieving younger sibling. I can’t help thinking of the US series of Life on Mars and other unfortunate remakes. I’m sorry to see a fine actor like Jonny Lee Miller in the middle of it.

    • Life on Mars is a good comparison to make because that too has the cult-classic feel of Sherlock – something very difficult to re-create. They are ‘of the moment’ and once done, the formula cannot simply be repeated.

  2. The Greek 'e' says:

    Although it’s good to have others who appreciate Holmes as a result of this recent boom in Holmes-related activity, I think that a) yes, I am possessive of Holmes and get annoyed at all these new ‘fans’ who have never read the canon etc. etc. — I mean, I was a Holmes fan whilst Holmes was unfamous; I’ve stuck by him my whole life! — and b) I think that as these films etc. are only loosely based adaptations, many of the people brought in to the Holmes world don’t appreciate the real Holmes but one/both of these two reincarnations. For some reason I dislike Holmes and Watson being referred to everywhere as ‘Sherlock’ and ‘John’, and it’s suspicious how all the people I used to rave about Holmes to years ago instead of giving me a glazed look of boredom are now ‘fans’ of ‘Sherlock’ and only know the TV series and the films and don’t appreciate the true Holmes. I find they think Moriarty’s name is Jim (technically right I SUPPOSE) and that Molly actually exists. hrrumph. But having said that, I am glad to have others who actually recognise Holmes’ name and don’t think he’s a leprechaun or something (I think this last is to do with Sherlock sounding a bit like shamrock.. but hey!)

    • Just like you, I have been a Holmes fan since childhood and stood by him even when no-one else seemed to care very much. I can’t believe how much things have changed, it’s all happened so quickly too. When I started my novel no-one was talking about Holmes, let alone these new incarnations of Sherlock, John and Molly Hooper. I felt like I was being brave, a bit of a pioneer creating a novel which involved the character of Holmes and felt sure I would have to self-publish because no publisher would take on such an ‘old fashioned’ character. Luckily I did get a publisher and Barefoot emerged into a completely different world Holmes-wise than the one at the start of its creation. Yes, it’s great to be able to ‘come out’ as a Holmes fan but I do think it’s all gone too far – CBS is simply over-kill.

  3. Joanna says:

    Personally I feel it is the best thing ever. I think a smaller fanbase, though dedicated, sometimes has problems with possessiveness and control. And, because I do not often fit the mold of a “proper fan” (I’m a slasher fangirl, hello!) a bigger fandom has more opportunities for me to find other like-minded fans, and with them we can create our own little fandom niche where we can be happiest. Of course, a bigger fandom with bunches of people going, “Well I think this!” and “I’m gonna do this!” is bound to have some factions that just irritate the crap outta you because they are liking the show/book/movie WRONG, DAMMIT. And here on the internet they have actually found people who agree with them, ARRRGH. And you can read it because it is public, IS THERE NO END TO THEIR BLASPHEMY. And then you go and complain to the fandom niche that agrees with you. So there’s lots of opportunity for drama… not that smaller fandoms don’t have that, but… anyway.

    I do remember that back in high school I didn’t really understand this whole “sell out” concept, and this was high school, this was important, life-or-death stuff, right? I still don’t get it. Somehow, by some sort of Sherlockian deduction, they know where the line between creativity and profiteering lay and when an artist they had never met had crossed it. But it’s like magic to me!

    • I see you’re point – I do come across as a bit of a ‘Holmes snob’ at times which is hypocritical really as I have pushed the boundaries so much in my own novel. I do try to be open minded about all the new interpretations and enjoy interacting with new fans but still can’t help being a bit possessive at times. I did so many hours of detailed research when creating my novel and tried so very hard to respect the canon whilst adding in my own characters and events. I guess I just get frustraited when other writers seem to get away without doing this – especially when it just feels like a money-making exercise, i.e. Guy Ritchie and his blockbusting films. But perhaps you are right, and I am being a bit too harsh.

  4. mala says:

    I am willing to buy any of these variations if they inspire the viewers to read the original or at the very least get interested in the original. Truth is most of them don’t. Without that it is just making a joke out of the original, not that anyone cares, it has enough muscle to stand its own ground and will always will.

  5. I hope you are right, but I do worry that with all these new interpretations, younger generations will forget there ever was an ‘original’ Sherlock Holmes who inspired all these modern characters.

    • The Greek 'e' says:

      This is true to an extent, but as a member of the so called ‘younger generation’ I think that this hype will all die down in a few years and there have always been some, like me, who do know and love the true Holmes of the canon and will stick by Holmes for the rest of their lives, regardless of what adaptations are or aren’t being produced at the time. All I know is that the Holmes I admire is the canonical Holmes, not either of these modern variations of his character.

  6. Katie. says:

    Hello :)
    I’m fourteen, and I am terribly ashamed to say that I’m not a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan… I mean, I probably will be, because unless I die under 24, I will have spent the majority of my life as a Holmes fan, but I never read the books until after watching the BBC interpretation.
    Just saying now, THEY ARE AWESOME. Analytical and intelligent and yet somehow extraordinarily readable, they don’t leave the reader feeling stupid, which I feel is a breathtaking achievement. There is not really anything about those books that I don’t love. Of course I don’t need to gush, you all know it better than I do.
    I tend to get irritated at the fans sometimes, it’s true, because fans of BBC Sherlock get very silly , and angry over nothing sometimes, and I know that it will make me sound awful, but there are a hell of a lot of stupid people too. God knows, BBC Sherlock fans have done some INCREDIBLY stupid things. I’m really not very tolerant of stupid people, perhaps that’s why I’m more of a fandom observer than participant. I don’t really belong with those fans, I belong with these ones.
    I want to be having educated conversations about the nature of the books as well as the shows, and I want to be able to talk to people who will rationally accept and discuss flaws in any and all interpretations.
    What kills me is that I can’t really do that. The people I wish I could be friends with don’t really want to take me in as a fellow fan, because I’m young and I’m not a lifelong fan.
    So I didn’t read the books before I saw the shows. I’m always going to regret that, but I can never change it. It’s been done.
    So I’m going to stay grateful that these interpretation exist, because otherwise I’d never have gotten into the awesome that is Sherlock Holmes, but I guess I shall also be staying a little bitter, because being labelled as… sort of a… brainless sellout is something that I am now stuck with.

    • Hi Katie, thank you for your heartfelt and detailed comments. Please don’t think you are regarded as a ‘brainless sellout’ just because you saw the TV show before discovering the joy of the original stories. The most important thing is that you DID discover the stories and appreciated their wonderful qualities. Just because you are still only young doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taken seriously as a fan – it is clear from what you have written that you are a serious fan with valuable thoughts and ideas to share. I think it’s fantastic when someone watches Sherlock or the Warner Brothers films and then explores the stories that started everything – even more so when the reader then understands that nothing which has come since can compete with the genius of the canon. I think it’s just upsetting for ‘lifelong’ Holmes fans when people only watch the shows and don’t try reading the original source material – the new versions should be like a tribute, not a replacement. Some people don’t seem to understand that Holmes started out as a character in print.

      If you enjoy analsys of the Conan Doyle stories, take a look back through my blogs and find my ’56 Stories in 56 Days’ series. To celebrate the launch of my novel last year I started reading and reviewing one Holmes story every day until I had covered all 56. It was an epic challenge!

      Thanks again for adding your comments to the site, great to hear from a young fan who clearly appreciates what Holmes is all about. Charlotte

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