Guest Blog: Who is Sherlock Holmes?
Guest Blog: Who is Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Kane.
Who is Sherlock Holmes, really? That’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot in the past, particularly in the last few years as I’ve started writing Holmesian fiction myself – and specifically Holmesian Horror. I’ve written four stories featuring Holmes now: ‘The Crimson Mystery’ – which was the first one I tried, but has only recently come out through SST with cover art from legendary Jaws and Empire Strikes Back artist Roger Kastel; ‘The Greatest Mystery’, which appeared in Gaslight Arcanum edited by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec; ‘The Case of the Lost Soul’ – a novelette for Simon Clark’s The Mammoth Book of Sherlock Holmes Abroad, which transports Holmes and Watson to Haiti; and finally my new novel for Solaris, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, which pits our hero against Clive Barker’s most famous villains, the Hellraising Cenobites. In each one my depiction of Holmes has been a little different, as necessitated by the story. In ‘Crimson’ and ‘Greatest Mystery’ I made him question his sanity, while in ‘Lost Soul’ I painted a picture of a slightly older Holmes, thinking about mortality, because of the date of the adventure and because we were dealing with Zombi lore.
My Holmes in Servants is probably the most different, however – not only from my other versions but also from any of the others in fiction or film/TV history. There are elements of those, obviously; I went back, for example, and re-read the Conan Doyles that I’d first come across when reading Clive’s fiction for the first time as well. I wanted my character to be as faithful to the original as possible, you see…to begin with. But what’s happened to him already at the Reichenbach Falls – when he put paid to his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty – has already changed him, and what will happen to him during the course of the novel will inevitably change him again… To say any more would give too much away for those who haven’t read the book yet.
In addition to this, I watched as much Holmes as I could – both film and TV adaptations. Full disclosure, I’ve always been a Jeremy Brett guy; I discovered his Granada adventures at the same time that I came to Hellraiser, so you see the connection has always been there. He’s my definitive Holmes, and you won’t have to look too hard to see his mannerisms in my representation. He’s perfect. Still, I went back and revisited some of his stable mates, too, starting with good old Basil Rathbone. As much as I enjoy his performance I have a problem with how his Watson (Nigel Bruce) is depicted; something my version of the good doctor also takes issue with in Servants. Holmes’ companion was never a bumbling buffoon, there just to make our main protagonist look good. He was an army doctor for Heaven’s sake, a soldier who totally had his head screwed on. Dependable and loyal, it’s just that he doesn’t have Holmes’ intellect and doesn’t see the world in the same way as him. Thank goodness!
Which brings us to the relationship between these two characters, something that also makes Holmes who he is. In so many adaptations Watson plays second fiddle, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s not really until the Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, when André Morell plays Watson to Peter Cushing’s Holmes, that this starts to change – and not really until the Brett series that going back to the Conan Doyle version became more common-place (first with David Burke playing him, then with Edward Hardwicke). The relationship between our crime-fighters – in spite of, or maybe because of how different they are – is actually the bedrock of everything. It’s part of who Sherlock Holmes is, not just a foil for his antics. If you understand how that works, you can not only replicate it – you can also play with it.
Something that more modern adaptations have done in spades, like Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law’s bickering Holmes and Watson in the two Guy Ritchie movies: Sherlock Holmes and A Game of Shadows. Though they’re actually in the present instead of the fog-filled and creepy streets of Victorian London, there’s a similar dynamic between Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss created Sherlock on the BBC. And although Watson has undergone a sex change to become Lucy Liu in Elementary – also set in the present, but transporting our detectives to America now – her exasperation with Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes is always apparent…and vice versa.
My take would have to go beyond that; I’d need to create a sort of fractured relationship that’s built up around a series of misunderstandings. They’re still the Holmes and Watson that we know and love in Servants and yet they’re not – they’re different, and will react differently to the situations they find themselves in. It’s one of the reasons why my favourite Holmes story of all time is The Hound of the Baskervilles. Besides being the most horror-orientated, which will always get my vote – gothic-style mansion out in the middle of nowhere, a curse, a glowing monster dog – this splits up our heroes for a while and watches how they cope. Not only that, we discover that Holmes has done this on purpose – the ramifications of which have never really been dealt with properly… Just as an aside, my favourite ever adaptation of this one is the BBC’s 2002 TV movie starring Richard Roxburgh and Ian Hart as Holmes and Watson, because it embraces its horror roots and also doesn’t shy away from showing Sherlock as an addict; another side of him you have to take into account when asking who he is. It’s something that certainly influenced my version, except I ramped it up to have him pushing his mind and body to the limits… Well, it is a Hellraiser story, after all!
In reading how fellow authors have tackled the characters in their own fiction, from Nicolas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The West End Horror and The Canary Trainer, through to the Titan books by the likes of Guy Adams, James Lovegrove and George Mann, to Anthony Horowitz’s House of Silk, I could see shades of Doyle, Cushing, Baker, Brett and more, not to mention the influence of writers who’ve tackled him previously. But I think that’s the whole point really. Who is Sherlock Holmes? He’s lots of different people in one, an amalgamation of all these, and yet he’s personal to each and every one of us – he certainly is to me. Anyone who writes him is adding to the mix, and all the depictions are as valid as each other. That’s who this man is…
He’s Sherlock Holmes, the World’s Greatest Detective – and he’ll be around a long time after we’re all gone.
Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over sixty books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), Hellbound Hearts and Monsters. His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network television, plus his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequel to RED – Blood RED – and Sherlock Holmes and The Servants of Hell from Solaris. He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan, his family and a black cat called Mina. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.