Some classic characters are reincarnated for different generations, genres and audiences. Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein — even President Lincoln, are reinterpreted and re-imagined periodically. Really good characters can withstand these reinventions. Weaker personalities — based on fiction or fact — don’t hold up as well.
A few years ago — when literary/horror mash-ups were hot — I read a book about Queen Victoria as a vampire hunter. Because I’d read a historically accurate (or relatively accurate) biography, I had fun with the author’s paranormal interpretations of the real life royal household machinations around the young bride who would turn out to have a long reign and become an important monarch. It was a silly book, but it was fun.
Not being attached to Victoria, no doubt, enabled me to go with the flow.
When Abraham Lincoln as a zombie hunter surfaced, I couldn’t handle it — I dislike zombies and it wasn’t MY Lincoln. My Lincoln? Most Americans have a Lincoln. It could be the humble Henry Fonda of the 1939 “Young Mr. Lincoln” or simply the sad, burdened President during the country’s most challenging time in dozens of movies, books and TV shows. There’s also the psychological Lincoln — the man who sang, wrote poetic letters and, apparently, suffered from periodic depressions. That’s a popular contemporary Lincoln — popular outside the zombie-hunting genre.
Sherlock Holmes is the perfect mirror character, reflecting back the needs, ideals and emotional temperature of the time. The Basil Rathbone Sherlock in the old British movies started with films based on Sir Arthur Canon Doyle’s stories and morphed into heroic Nazi spy hunter. The tenor of the times required a super-smart, intellectual hero and Sherlock was transformed.
By the mid-1970s Sherlock Holmes was a cocaine addict sent by Watson to see Sigmund Freud in “The Seven Percent Solution.” (Book & Movie) Right now we have three Sherlocks — all mirrors of one aspect of contemporary society or another. There’s the brilliant and ruthless sociopath played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC series; the brilliant and obsessive recovering addict played by Johnny Lee Miller in “Elementary”; and the brilliant hedonist played by Robert Downey Jr. in movies with more action and physical violence in one frame than all of Doyle’s stories combined.
Who is YOUR Sherlock? And what about YOUR Dracula? What is your Cinderella like? How wicked is your Wicked Witch?