So, it is always 1895, as the Sherlockians say – indicating that time is a rather stagnant thing for those who love Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson well. That time neither moves forward, nor backward – and Holmes and Watson are perpetually seated in their chairs in front of a fire at 221B Baker Street. But in reality, the canon manages to encompass a rather broad scope of time and space. Even by examining just the original novels, the reader finds “The Country of the Saints” (STUD), “The Strange Story of Jonathan Small” (SIGN), and “Lodge 341, Vermissa” (VALL). These backwards-reaching passages allow the reader to visit Utah, India, and Pennsylvania, respectively – with each separate episode set several years, even decades, in the past from the moment of their telling. Even The Hound of the Baskervilles features a brief foray into the past – the year 1742 specifically – with the reading of the Baskerville legend.
|Do you think this is going to have future |
consequences? Nah, probably not.
So how does Holmes survive all these shifts through time and space (sometimes “space,” in a very literal, astronomical sense)? The Rathbone-Universal Pictures films opened with an explanatory title card: “Sherlock Holmes, the immortal character of fiction created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is ageless, invincible and unchanging. In solving significant problems of the present day he remains as ever the supreme master of deductive reasoning.” Surely the BBC’s series, “Sherlock,” with its modern Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson equipped with smartphones and Wifi, has more than proven that a fully contemporary adaptation can be done and done well. However, there is a distinct difference between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock using video chat with Martin Freeman’s John Watson – or even Basil Rathbone’s Great Detective and Nigel Bruce’s Dr. Watson traveling via airplane – and a Sherlock Holmes who has been forcibly transported to another century, set against of the backdrop of a digital Big Ben and trying to interact with a cyborg. Are we speaking merely to the issue of success or failure in concept and execution?
But Holmes’s body of knowledge and unique strengths were based as much on his knowledge of his time and place as it was upon anything else. So, to forcibly transplant him into another era – via frozen glacier or ill-timed temporal vortex – is to severely weaken him. Cumberbatch and Rathbone’s versions of Sherlock Holmes are certainly not creatures of 1895 in the way of Jeremy Brett’s Great Detective, but they are creatures of their time and place. Because if nothing else, Sherlock Holmes must be comfortable in his own world in the same way that he is comfortable in his own skin. He must know it in the same way that he knows varieties of tobacco ash, or bicycle tires, or the typefaces of various newspapers. To put him in a world in which he fights to understand basic concepts, tools and interactions, is to cripple the Great Detective in a very fundamental way – to see Sherlock Holmes struggle with the world around him would compromise the authenticity of his observations and the authority of his conclusions. A nineteenth century London would be quite alien to both the Rathbone and Cumberbatch versions of Sherlock Holmes, but their own worlds and spheres of existence were not.
|All right, someone is going to have to bring me |
up to speed here. The "CliffsNotes" version is fine.
In 2009, the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold aired an episode entitled, “The Trials of the Demon,” in which Batman is summoned by Sherlock Holmes into the past to solve a series of inexplicable crimes. Upon first meeting, Holmes is able to accurately deduce Batman’s identity through a series of (humorous) observations. Then with apparently only one observation, Batman is able to likewise deduce Sherlock Holmes’s identity. That observation? “The hat,” Batman says, to which Sherlock Holmes self-consciously adjusts his deerstalker. At the end of the episode, as they say their farewells, Holmes asks Batman to reveal how he really knew his identity. Batman smirks at this question, and finally answers before vanishing:
“Everyone knows who you are. You’re the world’s greatest detective.”
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