Fan phenomena: Sherlock Holmes, edited by Tom Ue and Jonathan Cranfield

Ellen Burton Harrington

University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Fan fiction; Film; TV

Harrington, Ellen Burton. 2017. Fan Phenomena: Sherlock Holmes, edited by Tom Ue and Jonathan Cranfield [book review]. In "Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game," edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23.

Tom Ue and Jonathan Cranfield, editors. Fan phenomena: Sherlock Holmes. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2014, paperback, $28.50 (164p) ISBN 9781783202058.

[1] Did Holmes read Hamlet? Of course, as an educated Victorian man, Arthur Conan Doyle himself partook in the fan culture of his time, and this volume begins with Tom Ue's essay on Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes as fans—of Shakespeare. This scholarly essay opens up a slender and diverse volume, which roams from literary and historical analysis to perspectives on audience and authorship to interviews with writers currently producing Holmes stories in various formats for the marketplace. Given the brevity of this installment in the Fan Phenomena series and the necessary limitation on the range of approaches to Sherlock Holmes it can consider in this medium, such an anthology must be mostly a launching point for contemplating aspects of contemporary fan culture. Intriguingly, Tom Ue and Jonathan Cranfield's volume invites us to consider the "figure of Holmes, laced with nostalgia" as the "most enduring model" for the kind of creative participation that represents the new model for fan culture (6). Yet Fan Phenomena: Sherlock Holmes feels a bit scattered; the various works within it are somewhat uneven in quality and provide little cross-commentary or framing as scaffolding for the reader.

[2] The volume is structured to some extent by the three denser analytic essays, which fall at its beginning, middle, and end. Considering the myriad ways in which Shakespeare's plays structure and influence the canon, directly and through the novels of George Meredith, Ue's essay reminds readers of the Victorians' fascination with Shakespeare and with the familiar conspiracy theory that Francis Bacon was the true author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Thus, Conan Doyle himself was engaged with issues of canon legitimacy and authorship as he wrote the Holmes stories. Writing about Holmes fan culture later in the volume, Jonathan Cranfield's essay considers early Holmes fan letters in relation to the "coming multiverse of Sherlockian fan phenomena," our contemporary world in which fan culture is courted (67). Cranfield's reading considers the ways that the meticulous aspects of the early fan culture function as a form of play that anticipates our current interactive and often commercialized fan culture, down to the ways in which the fans' desire created the economic pressure that caused Conan Doyle to resuscitate Holmes. The volume ends with Benjamin Poore's thoughtful essay on Moriarty and conspiracy as he notes that Conan Doyle's sudden introduction of Moriarty as the vehicle for killing Holmes causes the reader's "deductive apparatus [to be] smashed to pieces on the rocks of Moriarty" (137). Poore considers the seductiveness of conspiracy theories in relation to the modern condition—our meaningless lives thus buttressed by an excess of meaning—the tendency of recent versions of Moriarty to stoke fear via chaos and the intertextual playfulness of many of the concurrent adaptations currently being produced.

[3] Russell Merritt's "Holmes and the Snake Skin Suits" and Noel Brown's "Sherlock Holmes in the Twenty-second Century" focus on the historical and creative context for quite different kinds of television adaptations. The fast-paced prose of Merritt's cultural history of the rapid 1950s conversion of the Holmes films to television shows deliberately pulls us into an investigative account of a significant shift in how the Holmes stories were told and how fans were able to see them. Butchering the Rathbone-Bruce films into shorter shows that could be watched on a very small screen, and thus eliminating dark scenes and long shots, enabled them to make the transition from the cinema to the television just as studios were quietly making such content available to television stations to avoid conflict with theaters. These TV shows repurposed from Rathbone films created a specific version of Sherlock Holmes to which other Holmes shows reacted. Noel Brown's essay examines the adaptation of Holmes for the children's television market in the futuristic world of a 22nd-century version of Holmes in which he is branded for the juvenile market. Inhabiting a future world of potentially threatening technology, this younger version of Holmes loses his antiheroic and decadent qualities, a handsome 20-something detective sparring with a recurring villain in the specific formulaic structure that resembles other kids' shows like Sesame Street and Scooby-Doo.

[4] Three brief essays are written from the perspective of writers of pastiche: Luke Benjamen Kuhns's essay "Doyle or Death?" initially promises to assess various adaptations as it considers a range of styles, yet it draws back from staking strong claims or making specific critiques, instead withdrawing into a generalized, upbeat perspective on the field. Jonathan Barnes's essay delves into his experience writing Holmes adventures specifically for audio in which highly canonical works require loving and precise detail, following prescribed "rules" to achieve an interpretation that closely resembles the original. Shane Peacock considers how his experiences as a Holmes fan and his authorial choices inform his creation of "The Boy Sherlock Holmes," which nods to both the canon and to Sherlockians, as he hypothesizes what kinds of childhood experiences in Victorian London would have shaped the adult Holmes.

[5] These eight essays in Fan Phenomena: Sherlock Holmes are interspersed with five "Fan Appreciation" interviews with writers who recently produced or are currently working on Holmes adaptations in an interesting array of media. These include Anthony Horowitz, who wrote the "authorized" novel The House of Silk (2011); Ellie Ann Soderstrom, the producer of the interactive book Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus (2012), adapted from the print version by P. C. Martin; three members of the team behind the graphic novel The Young Sherlock Holmes Adventures (2014); Scott Beatty, who co-wrote the graphic novel Sherlock Holmes: Year One (2011); and the novelist Robert Ryan, author of Dead Man's Land (2013). While these authors are clearly fans of Holmes, their personal and to some extent commercial investment in their Holmes adaptations means that these interviews do not function primarily as "appreciation" in the way that their works might. The interviews themselves often wind up being more informational than revelatory as the subjects introduce readers to their adaptations and, perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the subjects seem to be unwilling to explore the critical ramifications of their interpretations.

[6] On the whole, this slim volume's lively variety in assembling so many kinds of meditations on Holmes means it is stretched rather thin, leaving the reader longing for a more nuanced consideration of the implications of, for instance, the choices made in certain kinds of adaptations. In comparison with the analytic essays, some of the other material only skims the surface, avoiding a consideration of the political resonances beginning with Conan Doyle to which later interpretations must react, if only by omission. The minimal editorial apparatus means that the reader is left to sift through the meanings of, say, the plethora of mentions of Moriarty, without the pleasure of a guide to that mysterious professor who resurfaces in our own times as an "agent of chaos" (138).