Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why is Sherlock still so popular?

As a young, inexperienced and often bored reader, I picked up a few of Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels but was not that impressed with them. Was it because of his writing style? More than likely. But I did grow fond of the character of Sherlock after watching a couple of the old B&W movies featuring Basil Rathbone as the super-sleuth. I thought Basil portrayed the "real" Sherlock rather well even though Basil's version was nowhere near the conflicted main character of Conan-Doyle's novels.

Recently, my interest in the British Ubermensch was rekindled because of the Robert Downey Jr. movie. And just a few weekss ago the American TV series "Elementary," a favorite show of an employee of the MFA in Freeburg, added even more fuel to that fire.

So what does this have to do with The Land of Betrovia? Edelin in last book of the trilogy rises above (or might it best to say "sinks below"?) the role of common thief to something more insidious. And as I finish up and then revise Ahnak: Edelin's Revelation, I have been thinking about attaching some of Holmes' idiosyncracies to Edelin. But hasn't that already been done via TV shows like House, Monk and even Star Trek (just gotta see Mr. Spock as an iteration of the master detective!)? But I don't plan to turn Edelin into a super-sleuth; instead, I want to present him as a young man who has a keen eye for detail and the utilizes those details for his ever-darkening purposes.

Now, on to the main thrust of this blogpost! What do some Writers Cafe indie-authors think of Sherlock Holmes?  

"Is Sherlock Holmes so popular because he is the world's best known detective, is it the new ELEMENTARY TV series? My favorite is 'Jack the Ripper versus Sherlock Holmes.' With 6 illustrations. The historically accurate treatment of Jack the Ripper and his crimes, and his interaction with Sherlock Holmes, make this IMHO a very striking book."

"Mind, you I like Sherlock Holmes. I watch Elementary, but like it despite what they did to the characters. I'd have liked them better if they weren't specifically Sherlock and Watson. Probably more disappointed, because I love the BBC version of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman."

"I am especially fond of what they did with Dr. Watson's (Martin Freeman's) character in the BBC iteration. Not so toothless as before. I can hardly wait to see what they do with the whole multiple-wives confusion."

"I attribute the enduring popularity of Sherlock Holmes to the tireless efforts of the pro-drug-legalization masses, of course."

"Sherlock Holmes is the perfect flawed hero. I'm loving Elementary. I love how Watson is needed to keep Holmes on an even keel (as even as is possible) but she uses her medical knowledge and brains too. And I love that Holmes uses his brain, certainly, but he can kick butt too."

"I adore (and might even have a crush on) Holmes. The original works are wonderful. They were nothing like I thought they would be, nor, frankly was Holmes or Watson. I've yet to read a pastiche that can hold a candle to the original. I did enjoy the first few Laurie King books, but she lost me somewhere along the way."

"Big Sherlock fan here, especially the BBC version. I listen to a podcast called Great Detectives of Old Time Radio and they have a huge collection of Sherlock Holmes mystery radio show episodes that I enjoy listening to."

"I haven't seen Elementary but I'm a huge fan of the BBC's Sherlock. It helps that I love the actors playing Sherlock and Watson. But I don't think either show has much to do with Sherlock Holmes' popularity, since it was preexisting. As a kid I watched the black and white movies with Bazil Rathbone portraying Sherlock and as a teen I watched the made-for-TV versions with Jeremy Brett, who I think played the part closest to the books.  Since I've crushed on every Sherlock portrayal I've ever seen, I'm pretty sure it's something about the character himself as Doyle wrote him. Possibly his remoteness. It's a quality he shares with Star Trek's Spock, who I also liked, so I think that's it."

"Sherlock Holmes fits nicely into the trickster archetype, and tricksters have been alluring throughout recorded literature. The trickster character is a character who is smooth, untouchable, and emotionally manipulative. This person knows more than everyone else around him or her, knows everyone’s secrets, and is willing to use those secrets to further his or her own aims. Sometimes a villain, sometimes a hero, but always intriguing."

"Personally, to me, CBS' Elementary is garbage and bears more resemblance to CSI: New York than to Sherlock Holmes. Heck, The Mentalist has better TV writers! If one must bring Holmes into the modern era that way, at least do it right and keep him the world's brightest detective, in the style of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' reinvention on BBC, Sherlock, which is a completely brilliant update and features the my absolute favorite Holmes actor of all time, Benedict Cumberbatch. (Of course, I will always have a soft spot for my first Holmes actor, Basil Rathbone, who defined the role for me as an impressionable kid on late night, old-time movies. The movies were not that true to Conan Doyle, but hey... that was who I became accustomed to as Holmes growing up in the 1970s and into the 1980s.) I personally was never a big fan of Jeremy Brett, which I know is blasphemy to some, who absolutely worship him and consider him the ONLY actor worthy of playing Holmes. But his adaptations were very dark and morose, I thought -- overly serious and, for me, never captured the "fun" of Sherlock Holmes' adventures. Also, I don't consider Robert Downey Jr to be Holmes anymore than I consider Jonny Lee Miller to be Holmes. But at least Downey Jr's Holmes-like creation is fun to watch. Miller's looks like he could be outwitted by James Roday's Shawn Spencer on USA Network's PSYCH."

"It is certainly nothing to do with Elementary. I have not found a Sherlock Holmes fan yet who has anything but contempt for Elementary. After the weeks of hype leading to the release of the show they all started to watch it, but few finished watching it. I felt sorry for Lucy Liu and the potential damage to her career. The Brits are the only ones who can do a modern Sherlock."

"It is the characters first and foremost that draws me to it. Doyle brought Holmes to life. He is instantly recognizable all over the world and has been for over 100 years. Few other writers have managed that trick. It's also the setting for me. I was raised on Doyle, Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson and I love that historical period they covered in their work. It's also the time period I've come to prefer for my own writing and I can see me settling in there for a long time to come."

"Holmes is popular, like some people said already, because he's a trickster. There are all these new shows like Suits, White Collar, Burn Notice, that all basically build on Holmes' character type.
He's that guy that knows it all. He's never beaten (except that one time, and we don't talk about that).
Even Monk is Holmes minus cool and plus obsessive disorders. He's just a really good character!"

"Only problem with that theory is that the original Holmes isn't any of those things. House MD is, and the BBC Holmes is a little that way, but the original Holmes doesn't manipulate people. Emotionally, he's aloof without being wholly indifferent to others. He's just extremely--even pathologically--intellectual, which is probably a big part of the attraction."

"I will say that I loved House. I could sometimes just hear the pitch to the network in my head, 'Sherlock Holmes as a doctor!'. Like Miami Vice with 'MTV Cops'."

"Sherlock Holmes was my gateway into literature, and to this day some of my favorite stories. I remember being enthralled at how effortlessly Holmes was able to deduce so much by simply looking over an individual. As a kid I started trying to employ the same method on the people around me. And it worked to a much lesser degree. I would look at other kids and try to sum up some details about their lives from what they wore and how they acted. As I got older, I realized it also helps to listen to what they're saying. To this day I still subconsciously employ the same methods. I note wedding rings, what type of watch their wearing, if they're tan, etc. But the reason I think writers love Sherlock Holmes so much is that he is the ultimate observer, which as a writer, you want to be. If we are going to tell a story, it's the details that sells the idea. A good writer needs to show, not tell. And so saying that the attractive, wealthy, young woman drank her coffee lazily is nowhere as good as saying the woman dangled her Gucci shoe from her foot while occasionally sipping her latte, causing a constant distraction for the male barista (please excuse the poor writing example, hopefully you get my point). I would think all writers start to turn into a bit of a Sherlock Holmes themselves over time. And as for other media; my deep love for Sherlock Holmes has turned me into a pretentious purist. I don't watch Elementary, I did enjoy the Guy Ritchie films, but I just pretend they are about someone else, but I absolutely love Sherlock on the BBC. Brilliant modern day adaptions and incredible acting. The Series 2 finale was one of the best episodes of television I've ever seen. I'm happy for the success of the cast, but I hope they return soon. Anyway, that's my 2 cents on why I think Sherlock Holmes is so popular, especially to writers."

"I feel that people in general like Holmes (and his descendants like House) because they represent the purest kind of competence porn. People like to watch people being good at their jobs. It's comforting in a way."

"I've liked that part of the modern treatments. I disliked the portrayals I saw/read as a child, mostly because they portrayed Watson as a helpless idiot. As an adult, it finally dawned on me that he's not supposed to be anything of the sort. If ACD had wanted that, he wouldn't have cast him as a doctor. Watson is supposed to be a person of above-average intelligence, who only 'looks' stupid when he's standing next to Holmes. His military experience is also supposed to make him kind of a bad*ss.
Someone mentioned in this thread that Watson is sort of needed to "ground" Holmes, and I find that premise intriguing. It has a nice symmetry with Moran (who plays Watson to Moriarity), who also had military experience. Maybe evil geniuses also have need of 'grounding' by their Watsons? The points seem to be that intelligence and creativity are very different things; that true geniuses possess both, and no one should neglect one at the expense of the other. The use of medical knowledge as an indicator of intelligence, and military experience as an indicator of courage and practical common sense, may be an oversimplification but it's as clear as it can be."

"I'm a long-time Holmes fan, and I enjoy Elementary. I had serious doubts about Lucy Liu as Watson, but she's grown on me quite a bit. (Damage to her career? I was thinking she would bring down the quality of the show!) I don't think "Elementary" is perfect, although in some ways I think it's a truer depiction of Holmes than the BBC version, but then again, I don't think 'Sherlock' is the epitome of Holmes lore that some consider it, either.  There are concepts of both shows I enjoy, and some things I'd change about each, but since they're two different shows I see no reason why both can't co-exist. As for why Holmes is still popular, I think he represents the embodiment of how many of us wish ourselves to be: someone who notices the smallest detail, someone who can puzzle out the most obscure mysteries, and, as someone mentioned, someone who's always 'the smartest person in the room.' I think by nature humans are fascinated by that kind of mystery-solving ability, and that's Holmes' trademark. Regarding other interpretations of Holmes, I think Rathbone was a bit overdone as Holmes, and the inane story lines they had him act out totally ruined the Holmes image (imo). As an actor, and as for the actual productions, I loved Jeremy Brett because his version of Holmes solved the actual Doyle stories, so you know the material was good.  None of this 'Holmes meets the Nazis' shlock.  As for the Robert Downey Jr., that one seemed to have too much occult in it for me.  Even if it wasn't real (in the movie) I didn't like that the story 'went there.' It was much too dark of a movie for my taste."

"I was thinking that I find Holmes dull and kind of stilted...and my next thought was, I dislike him about as much as I dislike James Bond! Both of them bore the hell out of me. Bond isn't stilted, but he seems slimy. You know the 'roll your eyes' feeling? They both bring that out in me. I DO like characters that can be emotionally manipulative and use that for their own advantage. I just don't happen to like either of these. Neither does my husband. I wonder why we both find them so dull that we actually fall asleep watching a movie about them or reading them."


  1. Interesting comments. I confess I have only watched one or two episodes of Elementary and I wasn't really impressed. Not sure why because it's getting raves from fans.

    That said, I disagree with your assessment of Janes Bond. Granted, some consider him a sexist pig (or slimy as you said), but you have to admit...the guys playing the part are hot! Just saw the most recent installment 'Skyfall' and loved it. Daniel Craig is NOT my favorite Bond man...love Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan best.

  2. Hey there Karen!

    My thoughts about Sherlock, etc. are the introduction to this blogpost.
    The opinions about James Bond are from another indie writer who patronizes the Writers Cafe.

    Thanks for reading my blog!