Another New Sherlock Holmes

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?


  1. LOL… I must really have hated that Lincoln book… I turned the vampires into zombie. Laughing at myself right now. I like most monsters, but not all and apparently some mash-ups make me lose my mind.

  2. I really like all the different versions of Sherlock holmes. Sadly, because of how the cbs app works I have only seen a couple episodes from the first season and it hasn’t come to Netflix yet.

    What troubles me more than these new visions is the age of remakes. We have so many movies that are being remade of stories that are not that old to begin with. Aside from the spiderman franchise and batman franchise we have a new fantastic four coming up now. By the sound of it their sole purpose of doing this is to create a more diverse fantastic four. Sure that’s great and all but let’s look at this for what it really is… A ploy for yet more money in the guise of civil pandering.

    • Candy Korman

      As virtually every movie sequel or remake of a familiar and popular film happens because there’s a potential money-making hook, it’s all the same to me. I can honestly say that I’m peculiarly unattached to Spiderman, Batman and most of the big franchises that began in comic books. My dad didn’t want us reading comic books and I never caught the bug. That being said, I’ve seen a few and dad’s inoculations seem to have held steady. I just can’t work up a head of steam about new incarnations of Xmen, et. al. I know I’m in the minority here and I bow to your superior knowledge about the pandering. Sometimes the trailers’ ploys are too much for me.

      That may be why I am so attached to and so passionate about the reincarnations of what I consider classic characters — Dracula, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Alice from Wonderland fame and the rest … Some of the literary treatments and reinventions of these icons are stupendous. Others make me shiver in anger or despair. But they all seem to be used as mirrors to reflect back on current issues. Like good science fiction that plays on contemporary society trends, these characters become new and relevant in these sometimes wacky reinventions.

      • I love how our literature is a reflection of our thoughts and society. One thing that always amazes me is when new readers explore classics from previous generations without taking their self imposed blinders off. The ideas shared in literature is a time capsule of sorts that shows the trials and tribulations of that age.

        This might be why I enjoy many of these classics as well as their new interpretations most of the time. We are able to see the changes in our own society. W

        It is interesting to note that comic books like much of science fiction have been derided as something for only non-serious contemplation. But by their very nature they explore tough social commentary in ways that many in society refuse to.

        • Candy Korman

          You are right! Comic books have historically been, like science fiction, good turf for social commentary. That wasn’t my dad’s objections, I think he just wanted us to read books. My own lack of interest is less explicable. I’m not sure about why…. A personal mystery.

          • Sorry didn’t intend that against you or your father, but rather, society in general. The view of fanciful imaginings leaves a dark stain that many refuse to explore.

            You have found a different path to explore such musings. It works for you.

          • Candy Korman

            No offense taken and he would have enjoyed a spirited debate with you on the subject. We used to argue about art, punctuation, fashion and literature all the time. Dad could be intolerant, but his opinions were always original.

  3. I should probably add… The folks at Marvel and Disney already have a great series that shows the fight for human rights and diversity with the xmen. They can also add this in with all their new movies coming up. The fact that they are remaking a fairly recent series to add this in tells us they are only shooting for money.

  4. Pardon me… that is quite the exchange you and Jon have going on 😉 I didn’t even attempt to read the Lincoln Vampire Slayer book because I had to quit reading the Pride and Prejudice Zombie mash-up. So many of the re-makes just don’t strike me as being particularly clever. I wasn’t a fan of comic books at all until I had to teach the Odyssey and Arthurian Lore. The hero cycle can be applied to the shape of many of the comic character’s stories, so after students got their fill of the classics, the final project asked them to link Batman or some other character to the expectations for a the hero’s journey. Many reluctant readers love comic books.

    • Candy Korman

      Using comic books to examine the hero’s journey — brilliant! Maybe my dad knew that comic books were good for reluctant readers and, since we were enthusiastic readers, kept them at bay? Too late to ask him. Oh, well…

      The Pride & Prejudice/Zombie mash-up was too much. I barely made it passed the first page — in the bookstore. Although I’ve often pondered the impact of Mr. Darcy on 21st Century romance. Now, he’s a character worth updating/exploring in new incarnations. Jane Austen’s comedies of manners from a different era had, at the heart, great insights into real life relationships. Darcy’s recognition that he loves her and that she is NOT the woman he should marry and his revised recognition that he truly loves her is fun. But the other half of the equation — her gradual understanding of her own feelings is universal.

      Who/what would Darcy be now? A CEO’s son or, perhaps, a senator? Um… something to think about.

  5. I read the Sherlock Holmes books as a teen, and I’m sure I watched the Basil Rathbone Sherlock as well – as TV re-runs – but MY Sherlock is most definitely Mr Cumberbatch. Some portrayals just resonate. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      I think the Cumberbatch incarnation is perfect for right now — a reflection of the kind of detective we want in the 21st century. When I posted the ‘Who is your Sherlock’ question on Facebook, I heard from Jeremy Bret fans. His Sherlock is faithful to the original stories and without the sentimentality of the Basil Rathbone that we all grew up with on television. Benedict Cumberbatch is revolutionary the way Nicol Williamson was in “The Seven Percent Solution” back in the 1970s. I didn’t connect with that incarnation. Was I too young for it? Maybe.

      Just to be clear, the actors are one factor in the reincarnations of Sherlock Holmes, the writers, directors, designers, etc. are all re-conceiving Sherlocks. The look of each one — the costume choices, the atmosphere of his home/office and the surrounding/supporting characters are also part of each new Sherlock.

      Dracula has undergone so many reincarnations it’s almost impossible to count the Counts! Any thoughts on favorites? A couple of years ago, I read “Dracula Rekindled” by Xander Buchan and I was scared of & surprised by an updated version of Bram Stoker’s original that is faithful to the spirit of the original. Yes, the Count reaches out to his minions on Twitter but the characters honor the originals. Very interesting!