The View from Sherlock Peoria
1 . . .
Believing in Sherlock Holmes
Some will tell you that "I believe in Sherlock Holmes" is a meme created following the second season of "Sherlock" on the BBC. And, indeed, it is, in those exact words: A six month old meme, triggered by a Moriartian plot created by a television writer to convince the world of that our fictional detective genius was a fraud.
There's a whole lot of unreality going on there. And yet, "I believe in Sherlock Holmes."
Just another TV fandom lark, like eating Subway sandwiches to support "Chuck" or all that Browncoat energy spent on "Firefly"? Or something touching a much deeper, older resonance in the psyches of a certain portion of the population?
"I believe in Sherlock Holmes."
The truth of the line, actually believing that Sherlock Holmes could possibly be real, and not just a clever invention of fiction, has been with us for over a hundred years. It is the stuff true Sherlockians of made of. The true Baker Street Irregulars, the followers of the master of all detectives, the ones who have always believed . . . they have known that truth since the notion of Sherlock Holmes was first put in their head.
And, quite wonderfully, Steve Thompson, the writer of "The Reichenbach Fall," seems to have taken that longtime element of Sherlock Holmes in our popular culture and used it as a key plot device in this newest iteration of the legend.
There have always been those willing to believe Sherlock Holmes was a fraud, an impossible concoction existing strictly for entertainment value. He solves all those incredible mysteries because they were designed for him to solve them. He's a fantasy figure like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, isn't he? Nobody is that smart!
And yet, Sherlock Holmes's fans have been nailing down his exact position in British history for a hundred years. Where he lived. Who his clients really were. How a swamp adder could climb a rope and drink milk. What was Watson's part in Britain's Afghan campaign. They know Sherlock Holmes must have been real, and have provided the world with volumes upon volumes of documentation to back that claim up.
Even non-Sherlockians, like members of various police forces, have taken his methodologies as inspiration for advancing the very real modern sciences of forensics, criminal profiling (the good kind, not that nasty racial sort), and more.
Sherlock has always been comfort food and inspiration for the more intelligent members of our society, and here's why:
Just as many a modern idiot watches reality TV shows like "Jersey Shore" or "Horders" and feels better about their mental state because "at least I'm not as bad as that," legions of geniuses and near-geniuses have looked upon the example of Sherlock Holmes and went, "I might aspire to be as good as that."
Rather than settle for a comfortable lie, Sherlock Holmes was about finding out the hard truth. The truth is not always easy to take, and a lot of people, especially these days, would like to attack the person speaking a fact, rather than argue with the fact. Whenever one hears "Sherlock Holmes is so rude!" "Sherlock is just so arrogant!" one has to wonder what it is about smart people or truth that the speaker has a problem with. Yes, Sherlock cuts through the social niceties. Yes, he doesn't worry overmuch about collateral emotional damage. But the truths he exposes make the world a better place. A kindly and cuddly Care Bear couldn't do what Sherlock has to do.
Adaptations, like the current "Sherlock" series, do tend to over-emphasize the abruptness of Holmes, the seemingly uncaring side. Reading the original stories, you'll find Holmes does exhibit tenderness and caring toward his clients and witnesses, and behaves much more like a human being that his TV and movie shorthand versions often do. Such is the nature of their mediums, cutting to the chase. But since Holmes is also about cutting to the chase, I think we can forgive them that.
Because when you come right down to it, believing in Sherlock Holmes is a good thing. To say "I believe in Sherlock Holmes" is to say "I believe in the human intellect." "I believe in finding the truth." "I believe in those things that don't require belief that we call 'facts.'"
And that is why, for a hundred years and more, people have allowed a man named Sherlock Holmes to have a certain reality, despite his origins. He certainly seems like someone that does exist, and more importantly, should exist.
Reichenbachs come and Reichenbachs go, like Ragnaroks in a Thor comic book. But that one idea remains with us, whatever the words or actions we choose to express it in.
I believe in Sherlock Holmes.
Your humble correspondent,
Past 2012 Columns