Is Sherlock Holmes, by which I mean the written Holmes, on the decline? Yes it may seem a silly question but, if the internet can be taken as indicative, the answer must be yes.
The younger generation is where the societies of the future should be populated from and they increasingly exist (and coordinate) online. A mere glance at this world clearly demonstrates one thing – and that is that screen adaptations (and what the casts of said adaptations are up to) are talked about a lot and the original written Holmes barely at all.
Go to the more "traditional" society and the situation is the reverse. If I glance at any of the copies of The Sherlock Holmes Journal in my possession the articles are all pretty much about the written Holmes or something connected to him (even if that connection occasionally borders on the esoteric). Significantly less space is given over to any of the screen adaptations and usually it is just after an episode or series has aired.
So this is the basic difference. The printed society journal is more about the written Holmes and the on-line "journal" (be it a blog or mailing list or Twitter account) is increasingly focused on the screen Holmes.
I see an analogy (perhaps tenuous) with the world of publishing. Go back only ten years (or maybe less) and conventional publishers pretty much controlled where books were going. Now, with the advent of e-books and easy self-publishing routes, traditional publishers are being seen as less and less relevant. People who want to get out there now have a choice.
In a similar fashion, traditional Sherlockian societies used to be the main means by which fans of Sherlock Holmes gathered and communicated and their agendas revolved very much around the written Holmes and related matters. Now people have a choice and many are increasingly focusing on the screen, rather than written, Holmes and are doing so by sticking to the internet and avoiding the more formal societies.
Can this gap be bridged? I’ve seen younger people (under 25yrs) turn up to events organised by The Sherlock Holmes Society of London but I’ve rarely seen the same faces twice. I strongly suspect that many of them (not all) have turned up expecting something that revolved around the screen Holmes and have, instead, found themselves surrounded by people more enamoured with the Holmes of the page. The result is that they don’t (or rarely) come back.
If the traditional society model is to survive it needs to attract new blood. However, must it change itself significantly to do so and at what cost? Society members who are not wedded to any particular adaptation are not going to rush to embrace events that are focussed on BBC Sherlock or Elementary at the expense of events concerning the written Holmes. If a society moves too far in its efforts to capture the interest of new Sherlockians will it end up alienating its existing membership? Furthermore, if societies start embracing screen Holmeses at the expense of the written one will we start to lose (albeit slowly) the written Holmes or at least lose the ability to tell the original apart from any of the screen/stage adaptations? Artists and actors have already given the world of Sherlock Holmes items that many people assume were part of Conan Doyle’s original image. The deerstalker was given to us by the artist Sidney Paget not Conan Doyle. The curved pipe was given to us by stage actor William Gillette. Both of these items now form part of the iconic Holmes image yet neither was part of the Holmes conceived by Doyle.
|In the rush to embrace the new will we forget the old?|
For this reason as much as anything else I think it is important that traditional societies keep reminding us of the original Holmes and we do need new people to pick up this baton. If the younger generation of Holmes fans really love the character they will stand ready to receive this baton. After all, the prettiest flower still needs its roots in order to survive.
Written by Alistair DuncanBuy my books here