Adaptations can only hurt themselves

One of the arguments occasionally bandied about is that Sherlock Holmes pastiches, fan fiction, screen adaptations etc. can, if not done well, damage Sherlock Holmes as a character. I believe an argument on these lines has been put forward by the Conan Doyle estate in its battle over copyright in the US.

So let’s clear this up once and for all (fingers crossed). It is not possible for any third-party version of Sherlock Holmes to damage the “brand” it can only damage itself.

Pretty poor - but Holmes continues
There are some truly awful pastiches (or more commonly homages) and fan fiction out there - I've waded through quite a lot of them. There are also some pretty dire screen outings. However, it all finds an audience to some extent and the fact is that the only person who was ever capable of ruining Sherlock Holmes was Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s his creation (and remains his creation) and was his to damage. Some might argue that some of his later Holmes stories risked exactly that but, as the author, that was his risk and his alone.

If Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat take leave of their good senses and mess up the new series of Sherlock (and no I'm not suggesting they will – this is merely an example) or the writers of Elementary do likewise (and some clearly think they have) it will only ruin their version of Sherlock Holmes. The original will endure as he has done through countless adaptations on page, stage and screen. History is littered with plenty of awful Holmeses and if you have a bad experience and allow it to put you off the original I would venture to suggest you were never a serious fan in the first place.

Need I go on?
Holmes has endured worse and will do so again but he always comes through it intact.

Written by Alistair Duncan
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  1. Thank goodness for common sense.There is a tendency among some Cumberfans to see "Sherlock" as the brainchild of Steven Moffat based on some old detective stories. When CBS's "Elementary" was announced, it was seen as a ripoff of Moffat, not a continuation of an hundred and twenty year tradition of others appropriating Doyle's creation and genius for their own profit. Moffat himself played into that perception back in March of 2012, when saying of "Elementary", "It isn't a version of our show. They've just decided to go off and do one of their own, having been turned down by us to do an adaptation of our version. So how do you think I feel about it? Annoyed is in there. The bigger problem for us with Elementary is, what if it's terrible? What if it's awful? Then it degrades the brand. If there's this completely unrelated rogue version of Sherlock going around and it's bad, it can be bad for us. I remember there was a legitimate American version made of Coupling, actually adapted from our version. It was terrible and it was a disaster and it did sort of diminish the original. So if there's this completely unrelated rogue version of Sherlock going around and it's bad, it can be bad for us." It's interesting for two reasons: one, he speaks of brand damage and rogue Sherlocks as if the character of Sherlock Holmes was his and as if his was the only legitimate version of Sherlock Holmes. Two, he speaks of the authorized American version of "Coupling" and its diminishing of the original, but glosses over the fact that his "Coupling" was a rogue version of NBC's "Friends". Moffat is annoyed at CBS doing to him what he did to NBC. As the old bumper sticker says, "Karma's A Bitch".

    1. The potential for damage is only there if people don't look beyond the "bad" adaptation and don't understand the history of the character. It's ignorance that does the damage. Nothing else.

  2. Most of those who only look at the bad adaption may have been unlikely to look at the real thing anyway. You are right when you said, 'it's ignorance that does the damage.'
    Neither of the three (RDJ, Elementary, Sherlock) that are actually so discussed right now are going to 'damage' the original. If anything they are helping. Probably more so since all three are being so openly discussed and compared to each other, which is forcing a comparison to the original. A bad adaption will soon be forgotten with very little 'damage'. While a 'good' one will further discussion. That may end up being the blessing of Sherlock taking so long between series. It may be making it's fans seek sources while waiting for it to come back on.
    Thanks for another great post.

  3. While I have not had the pleasure of seeing the Matt Frewer Holmes, I have seen Heston's "The Crucible of Blood" and Moore's "Sherlock Holmes In New York". There are defenders of Frewer on line. I would not call Heston's Holmes poor, but I would call it good either. I had seen "SH in NY" when it was originally broadcast in 1976 and thought it was pretty bad. Last year, I tracked it down on YouTube and watched it for the second time. I still thought it was bad, but there were elements of it that I liked or appreciated. Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee and John Houston play it for laughs, unbeknownst to the rest of the cast--if everyone was in on the joke, it could have gbeen a good parody; if the three principles had played it straight, it may have been held in higher regard. The script is written by a knowledgeable Baring-Gouldian. It is now a guilty pleasure. The point being, no matter how bad one finds an adaptation or pastiche, there will be some else who likes it. To declare that a certain product is destroying the Sherlock Holmes "brand", especially if the declarer is not A.C. Doyle, is foolish. Bad is in the eye of the beholder. Adaptations will stand or fall on their own merit and should be allowed to do so.

  4. Matt Frewer got off to a terrible start in 'Hound.' He did better in 'Sign.' The Royal Scandal, which was a mix of 'Scandal' and 'Bruce Partington' is an excellent film that can stand with the best of Brett. I'm not kidding. It also foreshadowed a less likeable Mycroft (that Gattis fellow seems to have built on that.). The fourth film, 'The Whitechapel Vampire' was a dud and the series ended with a whimper. But to Holmes fans who dismissed Frewer before the third film, they are really missing out on something. - Bob Byrne (won't take my WordPress account)

  5. The great thing about good adaptations it causes people to read the books of the author. Case in point; a family member was recently seen reading Doyle's complete book of stories, I want to borrow it!