The Dissecting Room . . . July 1993
Those Other Sherlockians
"Those Other Sherlockians"
When is a Sherlockian not a Sherlockian, but is really more Sherlockian than a lot of Sherlockians?
When it's one of those other Sherlockians. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not trying to point out a schism in the Sherlockian world, separating us all into star-bellied sneetches and plain-bellied sneetches (see, I can make highly intelligent literary references!). But something is happening in the world out there, and it deserves notice.
Once upon a time, Sherlockians seemed (to me, at least) to be a fairly uniform breed. We were readers. Having exhausted the true Canon of sixty tales, we moved on to pastiche after pastiche, hoping for that one glimmer of the real Holmes to satisfy our appetites for more. We wrote our own pastiches, researched articles, and sometimes even produced book-length studies of the master detective. Occasionally at a Sherlockian gathering you met those who had never read any of the stories, but "really liked those Basil Rathbone movies." You'd give these people a conversational sort of pat on the head, and, if they showed no interest in the real Canon, move on.
Along came Jeremy Brett and Granada Television. Suddenly someone was doing Canon-faithful adaptations of Holmes. All of a sudden you were running into Holmes fans who had never read the Canon but knew all of its details. At first I was giving these people the old Rathbone-fan pat on the head, but even then I noticed more of them were making the transition to the literary Canon than their predecessors. Still, it was television — nothing to be taken seriously from a Sherlockian point of view.
Then, over Memorial Day weekend, a friend and I drove up to Mediawest*Con in Lansing, Michigan. Tina Rhea had been telling me about this thing for years and I just had to see it for myself. Mediawest*Con is a wild collection of fandoms, fans of everything from "Star Wars" to "Twelve O'clock High", from vampire novels to Broadway shows. All fill up a hotel and go nuts. I could spend the whole column and more describing it, but it's the Sherlockians I met there that fascinated me.
Yes, there were Sherlockians there. But they weren't the Sherlockians I was used to ... they were Jeremy Brett Sherlockians. What caught me by surprise was that these Brett Sherlockians were as much into their angle on Sherlockiana as any literary Sherlockians. They studied videotapes of the series for inconsistency and details. They published their interpretations of the characters. Someone had even built a replica of the door to 221B over their hotel room door, complete with a hansom cab silhouette along the hallway wall, a silhouette of Holmes beside the door, and a fog machine spewing good old London reek around the edges of the door. I was impressed.
And these Brett Sherlockians didn't ignore the literary Canon — they accepted the Annotated wholeheartedly as supplementary reading material, even comparing costuming of the Granada series with the Baring-Gould chronology.
A highlight of this different sort of Sherlockian weekend was a chance to view a videotape of Granada's version of NOBL, "The Eligible Bachelor." In their move to two-hour episodes, Granada seems to have given up any attempt at Canon-faithful renditions. "The Noble Bachelor" is a fairly simple tale. "The Eligible Bachelor" is a complicated mess of Sherlock Holmes troubled by psychic dreams, a mysterious veiled woman a la Eugenia Render, the study of engineering as an antidote for insanity, a leopard, a murderous fellow in odd sunglasses, and more.
As I watched the Brett Sherlockians watching this sudden veering of their Canon, I couldn't help but think of how the Sherlockians of old must have reacted when things like "The Mazarin Stone" came out (can't wait for Granada to do that one in their new style). It's Sherlock, but it's not quite the Sherlock we've grown to know. The world changes, but really stays the same.
In the end, a Sherlockian is a Sherlockian, no matter how they got here. We're all drawn by the same things — the amazing abilities of Sherlock Holmos, the great friendship between Holmes and Watson, and that whole other time and other place called Victorian London.