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.