So, it all started before the BBC “Sherlock” series even aired, but now, post-CBS “Elementary,” it’s gone wild, viral among Sherlock Holmes fans. What am I talking about? I’m talking about That Conversation, the one in which Mr. or Ms. So-and-So says, “I don’t like ___, It’s just not really Sherlock Holmes.”
The funny thing about it is, you could replace that blank line with virtually anything that isn’t part of the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. One totally purist fan might replace it with classic pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer (with anything further from the original not even warranting notice), while another doesn’t feel like the line has been crossed until we get to “Elementary,” the new CBS series. I have met both types of Holmesian, along with most everything in between.
I’m not immune to this (nor do I think anyone needs to be, really). I enjoy a very wide variety of Holmes-related media, including the Robert Downey Junior films and Professor Tracy Revels’s fantasy-based pastiches, but I draw the line at “Elementary” because it just doesn’t ring true for me as a Holmes-based story.
On both sides of my line, I find other Sherlockians. Some feel that the BBC series is too modern and out of context. Others think more Holmes is always good Holmes and feel that “Elementary” is great fun.
Who’s right? Well, that’s a funny thing. It’s easy to parrot the acceptable answer, which is that we’re all right because it’s a matter of taste. Do we really feel that way, though? I strongly believe “Elementary” misses some important marks; other Sherlockians feel that the Robert Downey Junior films are beyond the pale because of their tendency toward parody. Additional possibilities of this sort are practically endless.
So, yes, it is a matter of taste, but it’s more than that. It’s also about why we watch or read or listen. Someone who enjoys “Elementary” is clearly enjoying it for a reason that doesn’t show up on my radar. I get a kick out of “Game of Shadows” for reasons that don’t tickle a great many of my fellow Holmes fans. My point is, it’s not as if we all sit down to watch with the same idea of the Sherlock Holmes canon in our minds and the same desire for what we’ll see, and then come out with wildly different opinions. It starts way before that, with our life experiences, what we enjoy in media, and how the original stories filter through our consciousness.
As a BA in professional communication, I studied at length about the concept of mental maps. In this case, Sherlock Holmes is a territory. What you or I see and feel when we read about him is what is known as our own mental map, which is in no way identical to the actual territory. It’s colored in all sorts of ways by our individual ways of thinking.
Are we ever going to agree on who is “right” about what is and isn’t “Sherlock Holmesy” enough? No, we’re not, because the black line on my mental map that demarcates the land called “Sherlock Holmes” is no doubt different from yours. And that’s ok.
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