Confessions of a Literary Snob

I confess to being just a little bit of a literary snob. I have known this ever since one of my friends brought up the new “trend” in fiction—taking classics, altering them to include “monsters,” and mass marketing them. She made the grave error of confessing that she loved Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. A few days later, I saw a copy of Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters and through a wave of increasing nausea, read the back cover, something about Colonel Brandon being an octopus-man… but the real kicker was entering Barnes & Noble one day and seeing an entire display of books featuring Abraham Lincoln as a “vampire slayer.” My brother had to drag me out of the store before I caused a scene.

“You’re no fun,” accused one friend when I expressed my frustration with the new “trend.” “You need to lighten up!”

I glared in the direction of the computer screen (fortunately, this conversation did not transpire in person) and said, “I’m not lightening up.”

While I do have a sense of humor and am amused that an author has combined affection for classics with zombies, vampires, and sea monsters… it does not sit especially well with me out of respect for the original author. Most of the time, slightly altered adaptations of classic literature do not “bother” me, because I know it is difficult to bring everything in a novel to the screen. (It would be darn near impossible to depict Anna Karenina as Tolstoy wrote it, but for the most part, certain of the films have gotten it right—except for the ones that overly vilify the husband.) I can even be particularly lenient if I believe the filmmakers have attempted to keep the characters as true to the originals as possible.

… and then… there is Sherlock Holmes. This is where the “literary snob” kicks in. I was fourteen years old when I first discovered Holmes. I had graduated from Nancy Drew to bigger and better things. The Great Detective had me hooked from the start. I adored him. I read and reread his stories. I remember all sorts of neat little nuances about him. The Persian slipper he keeps tobacco in. The pearl-handled jackknife that “affixes” correspondence to the mantle. His distinct, arrogant, superior attitude which frustrates the authorities and bemuses Watson (and the reader). In retrospect, I can see part of my affection for him resulted from us having similar personality types, but at the time in my eyes he was fabulous. He still is fabulous.

I had a notion of what he looked like, sounded like, and how he would react in any situation. I had immense respect for his intellect and single-mindedness. I read The Hound of the Baskervilles a dozen times, anticipating with great enthusiasm the moment he would finally arrive. Then I started watching film adaptations and… why were none of the many Holmes depicted on screen my Holmes? I lost count of the number of times he has fallen in love. He has also almost drowned in bogs, ducked bullets, engaged in fist fights, clobbered bad guys, and not figured out a diabolical plot until it was too late. Even the much-lauded Jeremy Brett did not quite fit the bill since as he got older ill health robbed him of his sharp features and deepened his voice.

Last Christmas, I heard the “lighten up” speech a second time when I expressed contempt for the trailer for the “new” Sherlock Holmes. Holmes cracking jokes, Holmes being punched in the face, Holmes fighting with Watson, Holmes being kissed by a woman… wait, what?!? I knew I would hate it, and I did. Not because of the plot, or the actors but because the screenwriters altered Holmes too much for me to forgive them. This Holmes is arrogant but not in a likable way, and is constantly bickering with Watson. It’s not a good-natured arguing either, but one that undermines their status as friends.

Now, one could argue that most films get it wrong. A classic example is the old black and white Basil Rathbone films from the 30’s and 40’s. In an attempt to inject humor into the story, Watson is transformed into a bumbling idiot, but at least Holmes is presented properly. Rathbone depicts him as flawed but likable, a tad arrogant but charming, distant but understanding toward women, and above all, intelligent. And even if Watson is likely to make foolish errors, their friendship is evident, a fondness for one another that is straight out of the books. It is not a puritan’s Holmes and Watson, but I make an exception because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s vision for Holmes is presented accurately. (Not so for Watson, sadly! In fact, to date there has been no adaptation in my mind that does them both justice.)

In October, Masterpiece Theatre is bring Sherlock to the small screen. This Holmes is set in the modern world. He blogs. He uses a cell phone. My British friends have told me that he’s pretty much the same old Holmes, just with Internet Access. I’m glad to hear that he won’t be kissing any women or falling for any foolish schemes anytime soon. But whether or not the end result will make me smile or frown relies on if they make me believe this Holmes is the “real” Holmes, or if in my mind, he’s just another imposter. ♥

* Minor note… since writing this editorial, I have seen the series and it’s brilliant. I LOVE it.

16 Replies to “Confessions of a Literary Snob”

  1. Naomi — well, if you ever change your mind, I will be here! 😉

    this-is-the-sea: I do agree, although that has gotten me called a snob on occasion, since I have a minimal sense of humor when it comes to the monster mash-ups… and Guy Richie getting his mitts on my beloved Holmes! =P

    “Without a Clue” is FABULOUS. I think I forgive it because it's not intended to be the “real” Holmes. I usually laugh so hard over it I wind up in tears.

    BBC's Sherlock is brilliant. It may be the most faithful presentation in terms of the characters that I have ever seen — so thank you for sharing the article. I loved the line about the new series “casting a long shadow” over the sequel to the film. I'm glad SOMETHING can!

  2. Your comments about being a literary snob rung true with me- but honestly, I don't see it as snobbishness or needing to 'lighten up' so much as not wanting writers to tailor or completely rewrite a famous character for their own reasons (so often, the almighty buck!). You got me thinking about “Without A Clue”- have you ever seen it? It's Holmes/Watson non-canon insanity at it's cleverest and best, and as protective as I am of my beloved Holmes, I've never once watched it and cringed. And as far as BBC's Sherlock, my jaw never once left the floor! I'm glad you enjoyed it too!

    I wanted to send along an article to you about the series, written from an interesting perspective- the author was a naysayer of the series until he saw it, and it offers some interesting insights. 🙂
    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/the-ideal-holmes-show-benedict-cumberbatch-is-a-revelation-as-supersleuth-sherlock-holmes-2049982.html

  3. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you! I really appreciate the compliment of your question. I always greatly admired your website and the talent that occupied it. 🙂 I actually wrote a review on your website and posted it here:

    http://treasuriesofjoy.blogspot.com/

    But I am afraid that at the moment, I have so many things going at once there is no way I could write for something else. I am having a hard enough time keeping up with my own blogs! 😛 Again, thank you for asking. It made my day. 🙂

    And thank you also for perusing my blog! I hope you enjoyed it. 🙂

  4. It's nice to meet you — glad you stopped in and are reading along. (And of course, it's always nice to meet another Sherlock Holmes fan who hated the new movie — I am usually outnumbered on that.)

    Ronald Howard! I own that set and it's a fun watch now and again. He particularly reminds me of his brother at times. (Unfortunately, Watson is frequently treated as an idiot… poor Watson.)

    The new series is quite true to the characters — Holmes is his usual preoccupied, rude self, and Watson is very quick on his feet and smart, although still trailing Holmes about like an indignant puppy dog, complaining about his bad habits, of which there are many. I hope you enjoy it.

    Reading through your blog, if you are ever of a mind, I'm always looking for new reviewers at http://www.charitysplace.com. 🙂

  5. Thank you for this blog post. It was very interesting and I am with you 100%. If anything is going to turn me off of a movie or a book adaptation, it will be misrepresentation of a famous literary character. Of all literary heroes, my favorites are Jesus and Sherlock Holmes. In that order, in case you're wondering. I am a complete purist when it comes to those two characters.

    I hate the new Holmes movie. Even though I must begrudgingly admit to appreciating the production quality, the way they changed Holmes was unforgivable.

    My favorite actor who played Holmes was Ronald Howard. I thought he did a fair job of it and the stories, although there were some faults, were interesting and well told. They did make Watson too stupid though.

    I am glad to hear that the new Sherlock Holmes television series is good. I love Benedict in Amazing Grace so I was hoping he would fill Holmes' shoes painlessly!

    I just discovered your blog but I have high hopes of continued perusing. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Bravo and cheers.

  6. I agree…the rest of the cast was ghastly. And even Emmy had trouble in the higher areas of some of the songs (I'm wondering if that was even her singing the end part of the title song).

    I agree completely…the core “group” of people who would want to see a Phantom movie would be Phantom phans…so why not cater to them? Oh, well.

    GASP! The farewell tour??? No!!! And before I can get a chance to get to NY (or anywhere in a thousand-mile radius playing it) to see it. Such is always my luck. 😉

  7. Alexandra — I'm pretty much sure that most original Phantom fans share the same train of thought. (Ironically, the people who had never seen the original usually love the movie — and the people who have seen the original think the movie is garbage!) So you are certainly not alone in that regard.

    Actually, almost none of the actors could sing except Emmy and the guy who played Raoul. Everyone else was ghastly. I think they should have gotten the Broadway actors to do it. It's Phantom of the Opera. It's a limited market anyway, you may as well cater to the fans rather than try and lure in the unassuming public with a handful of known actors. Meh. Major missed opportunity.

    (Did you hear the show is on its farewell tour in the US? I was Not Pleased.)

  8. (doing the Snoopy happy dance)

    Are you sure you haven't been reading my mind? Those were ALL the reasons I hated Gerard. 😉

    And yes…out of curiosity later on I looked up the PONR scene on YouTube to find out how “bad” the deformity was…I was thinking what with the amazing stuff they do with makeup that it would be awesome (in a horrible way, of course)…and whew! What a letdown!

    And I read your review on the Sherlock series…I'm intrigued!

  9. The first episode, “A Study in Pink,” includes a LOT of “A Study in Scarlet,” just with a twist — Holmes is indeed beating corpses in the morgue with a riding crop — he draws conclusions about Watson's “brother” from his cell phone (instead of a pocket watch), etc. Watson doesn't seen him whacking the corpse, no, but he turns up about two minutes later. Their first meeting is quite funny. One thing I like about the series is — it has a LOT of original moments from the short stories and books in it, just with a modernized twist. I thought it would take me forever to get used to it, but I warmed up to the concept pretty fast. 🙂

    Anyway — I think it starts Oct 9th? I'll remind you. 🙂

  10. Wow. That trailer was not what I expected for some reason. My brain must still be in the 1890s Holmes, LoL. I think I'd have to watch an episode or two to get the real gist of it. When does it air?

    I do love that they used the beating a corpse bit from “A Study in Scarlet.” That moment, right there, helps define the character of Sherlock Holmes for Watson. I hope Watson is in that scene!

  11. Carissa — yep, seen that one too. I have yet to read one of those butchered classics (I did recently pick up “Android Karenina” just to try one out) but there's something WRONG about them. (Have you seen the “Little Women” they have out with VAMPIRES in it?!?)

    Hmm… well, I'm a bit prejudiced now, but I think Benedict makes a terrific Holmes. He's the closest to the original character that I have ever seen — unfortunately, the writing for Brett's series took dramatic departures in later seasons.

    [Trailer for the new series on PBS… I wanted to show you a clip but couldn't find the one I liked the best, and the others were a bit too spoilery.]

  12. Here's another book you'll despise. In the same vein as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” there's also one called “Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter.” *bleh* I get the shivers every time I shelve them. They're not based off classics so that is a slight improvement, but just barely.

    You know I love Jeremy Brett, even when he aged so dreadfully (poor soul). But I keep hoping that someone will come along that is really and truly Holmes. I enjoyed the new film immensely, but I have a hard time connecting him to Holmes at all. I just don't know if there is someone out there for an accurate Holmes, at least not right now. Maybe sometime in the near future we'll get lucky.

    I'm looking forward to this new series though! “Sherlock” sounds intriguing.

  13. Ruth — I hope you enjoy the new series. I think you will, Benedict makes a fine Sherlock Holmes!

    Mel — Moffat is a genius. He's modernized and updated Holmes without losing the essence of the originals. Where the monster mash-ups are concerned, however… I don't know whether to laugh or cry, it's just that horrible.

    Alexandra — Gerard Butler is a TERRIBLE Erik. As you pointed out, he cannot sing to save his life and that's, um, kind of IMPORTANT in “Phantom of the Opera.” Plus, his appearance is completely wrong — and if you didn't finish, you missed out on another enormous insult/mistake — seeing his face. Erik is supposed to have this horrible, deformed face, right? So we see him without the mask and I kid you not, my best friend leaned over to me and whispered, “That's it? That bad sunburn is IT??”

    So. Um. You're not alone in disliking his Phantom, or in thinking they botched that opportunity big time. Broadway show, all the way.

    “Bleak House” is genius.

    Everyone: thanks for commenting. =)

  14. Ah…see, that's how I feel about Gerard Butler's Phantom. Everyone loves him, but I cannot, cannot, *cannot* stand him! His portrayal was *so* different from *the real Phantom* (Michael Crawford ;-)) that it was impossible for me to finish the film – and I'm about as big of a POTO fan as you can get. I mean, the guy couldn't sing, requirement #1 for the Phantom! Anyway.

    I can be an enormous literary snob, too…Dickens adaptations are always hard for me to be happy with, but I was very happy with Bleak House. 😉

    And I find the modern Holmes idea to be intriguing, if nothing else. And I can't stand the Zombies. 😉

  15. I'm a huge fan of Steven Moffat's writing and was so excited when I found out his new Sherlock Holmes was going to be on Mystery. I can be a literary snob too(English major here), but I find the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies type books more amusing than anything. I've never actually read one, but I like to laugh at the covers and the book blurbs.

  16. You've seen the new Sherlock series? I am so incredibly jealous!! I can't wait till that starts on Masterpiece Mystery in October! My favorite Holmes is Jeremy Brett.

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