There’s no denying it: in the past few years, Sherlock Holmes has gathered up so much momentum that he’s blasted out into orbit. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and Steve Moffat & Mark Gatiss’s Sherlock became cultural phenomena overnight. The Arthur Conan Doyle Estate authorized Anthony Horowitz to write a new addition to the Canon. And now, with the advent of e-book publishing, there are more Sherlockian pastiches than ever.
Plus, his adventures just won’t stop being fantastic. He fights alleged witchcraft, faces off the Queen of Fairies, remains in combat with Dracula, fires off texts on his mobile… When you get right down to it, Sherlock Holmes is a very big action hero.
There’s also a pervasive idea that one must reimagine the stories to get a Sherlock Holmes fit for the modern audience. After all, we’re a culture that’s been inundated with a Hollywood mindset. Two generations have grown up with Star Wars… and Star Wars’ fast pacing. Modern novels reflect that fast-paced mindset. Allow a film or a novel to ramble… and you run a definite risk of losing your audience.
What does that mean for the Great Detective? Guy Ritchie & Co. believed it means that you have to amp up the action, lose the “stuffiness” of the insidious iconic image—in their own words, “Reinvent Sherlock Holmes.” Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss dreamt up a Sherlock Holmes set in modern London that would be as heavily influenced by the present day as the Canon was by its own era.
I’m not saying that either idea is actually wrong. I’m not here to say that.
The fact remains that neither adaptation of Sherlock Holmes sticks very closely to the source material. In fact, very few adaptations have. Furthermore, out of the many dozens of actors that have portrayed the Great Detective since the 1890s, only Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett, and Clive Merrison have actually portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the original stories (barring the numerous versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles).
So why don’t we ever get a fresh retelling of the Canon on screen? Did Granada raise the bar too high, or do people just want to do their own thing with Holmes? And why don’t we ever get a fresh retelling of the Canon in print?
A harder question to ask, I know. But with so many details that Sir ACD, ironically, messed up—including entire plot points and devices—one would think that some brave soul would try to tackle the Canon without going so far as to alienate the stories from the original material.
Now, to be entirely fair, I do know of two people who have done so. Michael Hardwick’s The Revenge of the Hound takes place in 1902, uses the story “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax,” and serves to settle such points as Watson’s Edwardian marriage, Holmes’s refusal of knighthood, and his retirement. Marcia Wilson, known better to those of us on FF.N as aragonite, has her own cycle of books (only the “prequel,” You Buy Bones, published thus far) centered on Lestrade, his fellow Yarders, and Watson that fills in quite a lot of blanks in the Moriarty/Great Hiatus story arc in the Canon. Best of all, these two authors are magnificently faithful to the original stories.
And that’s where yours truly is working hard to be. You’ve seen me bandy around the terms “epic” and “saga” in conjunction with my series-in-progress, Deliver Us from Evil. I’ve also billed it as historical suspense/thriller, because these books are in no way actual mysteries. It’s the influence of Hollywood rearing its head, but it’s Hollywood with a distinct twist—I’m not veering away from the source material. In fact, I’m in bed with it.
Deliver Us from Evil, Book I: Mortality starts out with the beginning of the Culverton Smith Case. We meet Victor Savage, we watch him die, we watch Holmes himself fall prey to Smith’s cunning. We get that awful conversation between Holmes and Smith from Holmes’s point-of-view. And then we find out that Smith was being backed by Moriarty.
Behold—Mortality’s tie-in to the events of “The Final Problem.” At the outset of the novel, Holmes and Watson are less than seven months away from Reichenbach. Book II will cover Reichenbach and hopefully clear up some problems with the original story. Books III and IV will go into the trials and tribulations of Holmes, Watson, and Scotland Yard during the Great Hiatus. Book V will deliver a modified “Empty House” as well as a clearing-up of the mysterious figure known as Colonel Moriarty.
In regards to what I’m doing with Deliver Us from Evil, I like to think of Sherlock Holmes himself as an antique watch. The watch needs some dusting, some polish, has some parts that don’t work and need replacing… Sherlock Holmes is like that. He just needs a little TLC to shine brighter than ever—in his original glory. No steampunk tales or 21st century retellings need apply to make Sherlock Holmes an action hero… or antihero, as the case may be.
There’s a reason why Sherlock Holmes has endured, why millions have loved him for one hundred and twenty years. There’s nothing wrong with falling in love with Rathbone’s WWII-era Holmes, RDJ’s steampunk Holmes, Cumberbatch’s modern Holmes… but understand that you’re not falling in love with the original. Because the original awaits adventure in a sitting room that’s gaslit and protected from Victorian smog…
Because the original lives in a world that is, for the most part, always 1895. And that, dear reader, is where Sherlock Holmes’s greatest adventures will always be.