Sherlock Rules

Of course! But in this case I’m referring to a very interesting afterword I read fairly recently. It’s from Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes novel The House of Silk, which is endorsed by the Conan Doyle estate, and in it Horowitz talks about ten rules which he set himself, in order to stay true to the spirit of the original.

I won’t set out all the rules here – if you want to read them then this edition of The House of Silk is the one to look forbut the first four are ‘No over-the-top action’, ‘No women’, ‘No gay references either overt or implied in the relationship between Holmes and Watson’, and ‘No walk-on appearances by famous people’ (The House of Silk, 2012, pp.400-401).

That got me thinking. I definitely broke rule 4 with the various ‘celebrity cameos’ I included in The Secret Notebook of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve broken rule 1 in A Jar of Thursday, for sure. The BBC series Sherlock (which I love) often has fun with various characters’ assumptions about Holmes and Watson – there goes rule 3. And how many versions of Sherlock have broken the ‘no women’ rule?

I can entirely see why, if you want to stay faithful to the original, you would set yourself some parameters. Horowitz writes of not annoying core enthusiasts, or playing ‘fast and loose’ (p.399), and for his book I see how those rules are appropriate.

But the thing is, despite the ten rules, The House of Silk doesn’t read like a Conan Doyle book. I don’t know if Horowitz wanted it to, mind you, but it just isn’t the same.

It makes me think (stay with me here) about cover versions of songs. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see the point when an artist or band cover a song and it sounds pretty much the same as the original. Yeah, they’ll sell it, I get that, but they had an opportunity to reinterpret the song, to give it their own spin, and they didn’t.

So I’m happy to break a rule or two if that fits with the version of the Holmesiverse that I’m offering. There’s no way, as a 21st-century woman, that I can come at the characters from the same perspective as Conan Doyle, so I figure that I might as well embrace that and enjoy the difference. I doubt I’ll be writing about Sherlock Holmes in space any time soon; but if someone wants to do that (I’m sure someone has already), and people want to read it, then why not?

People who disapprove of any messing with the legend can reread the original stories. There are plenty to enjoy, after all. And to end, I’ll remind you of Conan Doyle’s reply to the actor and playwright William Gillette’s question ‘May I marry Holmes?’: ‘You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him.’

So there! Where do you stand on this one?


The featured image is Rules by Raymond Shobe, and is shared under Creative Commons license 2.0.

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3 thoughts on “Sherlock Rules

  1. Your points are very good. It’s impossible to enter into the mind of a Victorian man and the best you can do will always be informed by your own cultural experience. Therefore, you might as well just have fun, write well and chances are, your readers will have fun and enjoy it. If people don’t like their icon being reconfigured, they needn’t read it. (I’m assuming rule no 2 doesn’t cover Mrs Hudson. Presumably she’s not technically a woman as her focus is perceived to be wholly domestic! Poor Mrs H.)

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  2. Pingback: The Case of the Bechdel Test: women and Sherlock Holmes | Wordster

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