Sunday, April 8, 2018

I Am A Sherlockian

Well, if you've been around Sherlockian social media over the past few days, I think you know what this week's blog will be about:

Who is and who isn't a Sherlockian.

The debate started when one Sherlockian said she didn't think people could call themselves fans of Sherlock Holmes if they hadn't read the Canon.  [Edit: As pointed out in the comments, it actually started from a comment in a Facebook group and the above Sherlockian shared her opinion]  As you can imagine, many people social media handled the view of someone who disagrees with them in a mature and pleasant matter.

Just kidding.  Lots of people over-reacted.

But this opinion did open up a dialogue with some good points on both sides and led to the beautiful #IAmASherlockian hashtag on Twitter.

One prominent Sherlockian has said a few times that the philatelic society is not going to be very tolerant of people who show up and insist on talking about milk bottle tops.  After I looked up what 'philatelic' meant (stamp collecting), the analogy made more sense if you are describing a typical Sherlockian society.

(Quick side note: last time I waded into these waters about societies, all Sherlockian societies were lumped together, and the Baker Street Irregulars were seen as a governing body of local clubs.  That is not the case and I only speak for MY view on Sherlockian clubs.)

Sherlockian societies are literary societies that typically talk about a different canonical story at each meeting.  If you are a member of such a group, I firmly believe that you should be familiar with the story being discussed at that group's meeting.  It may be the very first canonical story you've ever read, or you're reading it for the umpteenth time for the meeting, but to be part of a group carries certain expectations.

I say, if you are willing to participate in what the group is doing, come on in!  For those of you just starting out, The John H. Watson Society shared a great sentiment from Joy Clarkson that I feel all Sherlockians should have:

And if reading the stories isn't your thing, then a traditional Sherlockian society probably isn't for you.  My hobby is reading Sherlock Holmes stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle.  If your hobby is fan fiction, Granada tweetalongs, or pastiche, I'm happy we have tangential interests.  We are all interested in an imaginary character and his imaginary best friend solving imaginary crimes.  Let's all take a step back and stop taking things so seriously!

A rule of thumb I try to live by has always been, don't be a dick.  If you and I aren't interested in the same thing, that doesn't allow you to dismiss me or me to dismiss you.  You call yourself what you want, and I will call myself what I want.  Quite frankly, I don't really care what other people call themselves; it doesn't have a big impact on my life. 

Wow, I'm getting awfully preachy here.  In case you are wondering, other good rules to live by include:

Crying is acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.
No home is complete without a proper toolbox.
There has never been a sadness that can't be cured by breakfast food.

This morning, I met with four other local Sherlockians today to finalize plans for Holmes in the Heartland.  All five of us came to the Canon from different entry points and have been there for varying amounts of time.  As I looked around the table, I was thankful to be spending time with such great folks.  I'm sure some of us disagree on plenty outside of the world of Sherlockiana, and probably some within it.  Does it matter if they prefer Cumberbatch to Paget or Brett to fan fiction?  Nope, they're good people and a true benefit to our Sherlockian hobby.

Ashley Polasek summed things up perfectly yesterday, so I'm going to end this week's post with her very wise words:

I don’t usually wade into Sherlockian skirmishes. But the current furor relates to subjects at the heart of my many years of scholarship, so, for what it’s worth, here is why, when it comes to defining the label “Sherlockian”, I am, to coin a term, “Sherlockumenical”.

There is only one Sherlock Holmes: all of them. I emerged as a Sherlockian after fevered consumption of the complete Canon, moving hungrily into adaptations immediately after. I have a terminal degree in the study of... the adaptations. My research systematically builds the argument that iterations of the Holmes character are contextual reinterpretations of a source work, making them all part of a coherent, readable whole. Every part is a component of that ever-expanding, ever-more complex whole.

If you call yourself a Sherlockian—a word that is, itself, defined by the non-essentialist contextualization of a reader to a text—but deny the function of adaptive contextualization to the definition of that text, you are fundamentally misunderstanding literary studies, adaptation studies, and participatory culture studies.

In short, there is not a real Holmes and a series of other, lesser, secondary versions. There is only one Holmes. It encompasses and, indeed, supports broad, mutating, evolving, even mutually exclusive readings.

If you are a fan of one or more of those readings, you are a Sherlockian.

And if you understand this, you, too, are Sherlockumenical.



  1. Hi Rob! Curly here from The Baker Street Babes and creator of the #IAmASherlockian hashtag and shenanigans.

    Our posts and the hashtag weren't created in reaction to the post you reference, but instead an incident in a Sherlockian Facebook group where a new member who was an Elementary fan said they had never read the canon and were essentially shamed and bullied by multiple other members to the point they left the group.

    The other post, as I understand it, was a coincidently ill-timed ppst that further added to the already emotiinally charged argument and discussion happening.

    Just wanted to clear that up!

  2. "...don't be a dick." I love it! Yes, as an avid consumer of all things Sherlock Holmes, whose love of the great detective began when my father read me "A Study in Scarlet" while I was lying in bed with chickenpox at age 11, I have to say that the tempests in teapots generated when someone likes something other than canon (or when someone prefers one uncanonical Holmes over another) are very tiring, especially when they result in horrible name calling and threats of violence. It startled me when someone I didn't know attacked me viciously for a flip comment I made about Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayal. I always thought that admirers of Holmes would be civilized and restrained. I was sad to find that that wasn't so. Anyway, great post.