Canon Thursday: Victorian or Not?

Before the BBC/Hartswood Sherlock series, if someone had asked me, I probably would have argued that the Victorian period aspect of Sherlock Holmes was so important that something couldn’t really be Sherlock Holmes without it. Things like House M.D. and Monk were worthy derivatives, but hardly actual stabs at Sherlock Holmes.

Then, in 2010, Steven Moffat and his merry band of incredible actors, writers, and producers messed with my head by making something that is so extremely Holmesian in essence without being at all traditional in setting and period. Admittedly, I’m a convert, and so are scores of my Holmesian friends.

The question is, is it a one-off? Has the BBC successfully liberated Holmes from his time in a way that can be done again, perhaps repeatedly, or are Moffat and co. the only ones who can get away with it? (Here’s looking at you, CBS)

What do YOU think? Let me know in the comments.

Purchase your copy of The Detective and The Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes here (USA) and here (UK), as well as through Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Book Depository (free shipping worldwide).

4 thoughts on “Canon Thursday: Victorian or Not?

  1. Personally I don’t think anyone else could do it as well – messing about with the canon within two or three decades of ACD’s original time seems to have been ok – the Rathbone films were shifted to the 1930s and 40s – but the Americans have just proved that they cannot be trusted to do it in modern day. There’s something quite wrong about a female Watson, esp played by an actress known for being a headstrong, bitchy individual! But Moffat and co got it right – Sherlock’s self-important, self-absorbed attitude is exactly right and modified for the modern age, and John Watson is his voice of reason, without whom he would end up in an asylum! Again, you have to remember, these folk are the same who have revived Dr Who making the Time Lord timeless. There are plenty ‘Holmesian’ characters like Monk, House, Goren in Law&Order CI, but they aren’t HOLMES. Conan Doyle created a cult following which ruined the rest of his writing career (according to him) – Moffat et al may find they have a gift horse that they can’t quite shift in the future… final word, my Holmes has to be Victorian, but Benedict Cumberbatch is a very worthy 21st century incarnation.

  2. One of the most important elements of the Sherlock series that helps connect it to the Victorian is the theme music. It just sounds so wonderfully evocative of hansom cabs and fog-shrouded streets, even when replaced by taxicabs and cleaner air. Next most important is Holmes’ sense of place. Although Holmes is still brilliant wherever you put him, he shines in London because of his knowledge of the city. I hope the CBS Sherlock addresses Holmes learning the ins and outs of a completely foreign city and maybe even his incorrect assumptions of motives based on his understanding of Britishness versus Americanish-ness-ness.

  3. It almost males you want to reconsider the Rathbone series, movies such as “Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror”.

  4. It almost makes you want to reconsider the Rathbone series, movies such as “Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror”. After all, in a way, it was a serious period update as well. Remember that the first two Basil Rathbone movies (The Hound and Adventures) were actually the first two film adaptations that treated the Holmes stories as a period piece. All previous attempts, such as the then popular Ellie Norwood series, were always in a setting that was contemporary with when the film was made.

    The truth is, that we love Holmes for MANY different reasons. The Victorian Era is one of them for most of us, but that is just one aspect of the character. Many Sherlockians I know, for example, like the BBC Sherlock better than the Ritchie movies, which IS set in the “correct” time and place. They would argue that the Ritchie movies change OTHER aspects of Doyle’s Holmes. They might claim these aspects are more important than “time” setting.

    There is no doubt the CBS series will change still other aspects of the character, or, at least, emphasize different aspects, such as Holmes’s drug addiction. Will these changes enhance or detract from those of us looking for our familiar Sherlock Holmes? That remains to be seen.

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