Trading on the name....?

Over the years there have been many versions of Holmes and Watson but is there a point at which the characters are just trading on the name?

Holmes and Watson are two of the most recognisable names in fiction and, as such, pretty much guarantee an audience for anything in which they feature. Yet there must be a point where the differences between the version of the characters you are reading about and the source material get sufficiently far apart to justify the accusation that the writer is simply trading on the name(s) to guarantee interest.
Is animal Sherlock too far?

Where is that point?

Ideally, a story should sell itself on its premise. Yet, with a series, stories invariably sell on the presence of a recurring character (or characters). Sherlock Holmes epitomises this and the same situation later applied to Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, Albert Campion, Endeavour Morse and so on.

When a writer decides to pen a new Holmes and Watson story is it because they really believe the story suits the characters or is it an indication that they lack faith in their story and want to insert famous names to guarantee some readers? Even if the characters bearing those names are somewhat removed from the originals (an idea that Dame Jean Conan Doyle strongly believed in).

Is female Sherlock too far?
Take Arthur Whittaker - he once wrote a Sherlock Holmes story called The Case of the Man Who was Wanted and sent it to Conan Doyle suggesting a collaboration. Conan Doyle understandably refused and bought the idea from Whittaker (but never used it). He suggested that Whittaker create his own characters. Whittaker did so - have you heard of them?

Exactly. Yet he would have been remembered if he'd produced a series of Holmes stories.

So what separates a "true" Holmes and Watson from characters simply trading on the name? Is it gender, ethnicity, character traits, nationality, time period?

Written by Alistair Duncan
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  1. Now I have to say that I haven't seen a movie or TV show that is SHINO (Sherlock Holmes In Name Only), but there are plenty of cinematic treatments that I haven't seen. I've read too many pastiches that traded on the Holmes name while having little or no Sherlockian content. That's why I rarely read pastiche these days.

    But your question elicited a different, though somewhat related, train of thought--when a cinematic treatment of Holmes and Watson ceases to be Sherlockian. I'm, of course thinking of BBC "Sherlock" and how with series three, it has in effect stopped being a modern day update of the Canon, but its own entity. It started as a clever retelling of "A Study in Scarlet" and has morphed into "Moonlighting", where the mystery is secondary to the story of Sherlock and John's relationship. One need only look at the very creative fanfic and fanart to see that Doyle's Canon is a distant thought, if thought of at all--the increasingly irrelevant inspiration for a show that pays "homage" not only to the original river, but the tributary movies and pastiches and even waterways unrelated to Holmes: Mary's identity as a CIA assassin who shots Sherlock in the chest to save his life is lifted directly from William Boyd's James Bond pastiche "Solo". Sorry, did I say "lifted"? Paid tribute to.

    It is a ling way from the Brett-love of the 80s and 90s. Doyle and the Canon were very much apart of that love.

    So a mouse Sherlock? No problem if the source material is honored and respected. I think Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective" is well done. A female Sherlock? I think the world's ready, with the same caveat as above. Ditto for an openly gay Holmes. Laura Miller addressed the issue of an evolving Sherlock Holmes in the May 2014 Harper's, "A Study in Sherlock; How the Character Escaped his Creator". Too bad it's behind a paywall. Interesting article. Your blog, too, raises a lot of issues; too many to be listed in one comment post.

    1. You're welcome to submit a guest post as a follow up if you wish.:-)

    2. BTW did you mean that my blog in general raises issues or just this post?

    3. Your blog is always thought-provoking, but this particular post raises particularly pertinent to Sherlock Holmes, his depiction and the Canon in today's media.