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The View from Sherlock Peoria
No. 499, January 22, 2012

The "Sherlock" Bomb

Now that stage two of what one might call "Operation: Cumberbatch" has had a very successful launch, one might start to wonder about its effects on Sherlockian fan culture. The idea of a modern incarnation of Sherlock Holmes has been resisted or seen as a novelty item (cryogenic Sherlocks, anyone?) for so long that the final proof a a fully-functioning present-day Sherlock . . . and an incredibly popular one at that . . . is like discovering a new law of nature.

BBC's "Sherlock" series was a grand experiment, and its results are undeniable: Sherlock Holmes can survive as a modern. His spirit, personality, career, and entire being are not trapped forever in Victorian amber, like D'Artagnan in his seventeenth century genie bottle. Holmes, like James Bond, can now move forward in time, original literary source fixed, but with a legend that can inspire without "oh, that worked then, but now is different . . ."

It's a great, great thing. I think.

Because it kind of results in a real problem for classic Sherlockian study, the art of researching Holmes's place in actual history. It kind of lessens the motivation to create a 221B reproduction room in one's house. And it really, really makes you not as keen on the copious amounts of pastiche on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble.

I was at the bookstore this week, with some giftcard cash to burn off, and as I scanned the shelves in the mystery section, looking over Sherlock Holmes title after Sherlock Holmes title, I realized that what I really wanted to read was a pastiche of a sort-of Benedict Cumberbatch incarnation of Holmes. Something fresh, something that wasn't dragging around all the Victorian trappings like Jacob Marley's chains.

As CBS television will soon be attempting to prove, a modern Sherlock Holmes isn't strictly the intellectual property of the BBC. Sure, they've got their own twists on it, but I'd think that any decent author could take the basic Holmes skeleton and flesh it out in an fun manner. In fact, one of those short story collections should try a motif of a Sherlock Holmes set in every decade since the Victorian period. Leaving Canonical Holmes behind allows for much more play with the character, choosing which details are vital and which can be upgraded or changed entirely, because once you've made the big change of moving him to a different era, all the rest is trivial.

As with any character who has delighted fans, we'll probably see some fan fiction first, amateur tales of the BBC Sherlock. Like the Jeremy Brett days, I would expect them to be largely written by the female of the species and focus more on situations where Holmes and Watson declare their love for each other than actual ingenious plot twists. Of course, fandom has evolved a bit since then, so things might surprise an old fanboy like me. It's happening all the time these days.

BBC's "Sherlock" is, as they say, "the bomb," and it's fallout is not to be underestimated.

Your humble correspondent,
Brad Keefauver

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Past 2012 Columns

January 1, 2012
A League (Out)
Of Her Own

January 8, 2012
Why I Hate PBS

January 15, 2012
'Tis Done

January 22, 2012
The Sherlock Bomb