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...do what you like with him


A recent tweet by the Baker Street Babes directed me to an article/poll on the subject of bringing Sherlock Holmes into abnormal situations. By this I refer to pitting Holmes against ghosts, demons, fairies etc,.

The question is asked “Is it OK for writers to add fantastical elements to Sherlock Holmes?“

Now, from a legal standpoint, the answer is “yes” and it has been done many times. However, it is sometimes the case that people try and almost shut down the argument by pointing to this famous quote by Conan Doyle talking about Holmes:

‘You may marry him or murder him or do whatever you like with him’ (the wording appears slightly different depending on the source you read).

So this settles it doesn’t it? No, not really.

Let’s look at the context in which this famous statement was written. In September 1897 Arthur Conan Doyle was overseeing the final stages of the construction of his new Surrey Home - Undershaw. It had cost him somewhat more than he thought and his cash reserves were running low. He had already asked for an advance from The Strand for his non-Holmes work The Tragedy of the Korosko but was in need of more.

He hit upon the idea of a Sherlock Holmes play and wrote to his mother about the idea and the money it could generate in September 1897. The draft was finished by the end of the year.

William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes
It ultimately found its way to American theatre impresario Charles Frohman who handed it on to his leading actor/playwright William Gillette. Gillette decided the play needed redrafting and while doing so he asked Conan Doyle if he could marry Holmes off. Conan Doyle replied as quoted.

This has been cited by some as evidence of how little Conan Doyle cared about Holmes and hence as carte blanche for all subsequent authors to do what they like. But it is not evidence of lack of care. It is evidence of a need for money. This use of Holmes for cash was repeated in 1910 when Conan Doyle was trying to dig himself out of a financial hole that he had created with his play The House of Temperley. He took the play off and replaced it with a dramatised version of The Speckled Band which went on to great success.

Many years later (c1914) one Arthur Whittaker wrote a Sherlock Holmes story and sent it to Conan Doyle suggesting collaboration. Conan Doyle refused stating that the money he could command for Holmes stories would fall if he entered into collaborations. He settled for buying the idea outright from Whittaker with a view to later reworking it himself (he never did). So, in this case, he was not prepared to let a third-party do whatever they liked.

It is worth noting that the Holmes parodies/plays that appeared during Conan Doyle’s lifetime never took outrageous liberties (with the possible exception of 1893 work Under the Clock) and even Conan Doyle himself never brought Holmes into contact with matters spiritual. This was for the reason that he considered his spiritual work too important to be linked with Holmes. He did however link spiritualism with his other great character Professor Challenger.

So by all means, bring Holmes into space and into contact with demons but don’t make out that Conan Doyle sanctioned it. That you cannot know without a very good medium (which don’t exist).




For more information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .

The Norwood Author is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Waterstones UK, Amazon UK,  Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon Kindle, iBooks for the iPad/iPhone, Kobo Books, Nook.

Close to Holmes is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USABarnes and NobleAmazon UKWaterstones UKAmazon KindleKoboNook  and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.

Eliminate the Impossible is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.

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