Holmesian v. Sherlockian

When you say the word “fandom” to someone, they’re usually going to think one of five things:

  1. I’m totally a *insert fandom here* fan! *Pairing* is my OTP! (One True Pairing – the pair of characters in a particular fandom that is nearest and dearest to your heart) 
  2. That’s just something bored teenagers who like Harry Potter do on the internet. 
  3. Isn’t that, like, Transformers porn? (if you didn’t know explicit Transformers fanfiction exists, I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry. A horrible, awful person exposed me to it years ago and I still haven’t forgiven her for it. She knows who she is. I’m not judging, by the way, just offering the warning. Also? Do a Google search for your favorite childhood cartoon at your own risk.) 
  4. That’s a hobby for obsessive nerds that started because someone wanted Kirk and Spock to get it on, I think. 
  5. Fan-what? 

(All based on actual responses I have gotten from people exposed to casual use of the word.)

Full disclosure – I cut my online fandom teeth in the Rysher “Highlander: the Series” forums back in the days before Yahoo ruined Geocities and when IRC chat rooms were where it was at. I remember trolling Livejournal and Fanfiction.net for all the good fanfiction. I was a bystander, not a participant, in the shipping wars in Harry Potter and the Great Rose vs. Martha Debate (and I wasn’t even into Doctor Who at the time). Yes, I am possibly one of those “you kids and your tumblr get off my damn lawn” people the youngins complain about on the interwebs.

Most people, if they don’t fall into category five, anyway, operate under the assumption that, whatever it is, it’s a fairly modern invention and the internet may somehow be to blame. But the thing is? Fandom’s been around a lot longer than that. In fact, Sherlock Holmes fandom has been alive and well pretty much since Doyle started serializing Holmes and Watson’s adventures in The Strand. And, like all fandoms that have been around more than a minute, it’s always had its issues. Nothing demonstrates the longevity or the ridiculousness of those issues better than the “Holmesian v. Sherlockian” divide.

Once upon a time, not too long after Holmes burst forth from Doyle’s skull ala Athena, fully formed and ready to roll, people who considered themselves learned fans of the Great Detective called themselves Holmesians. Well, people in Britain, anyway. Doyle’s American fans were referred to as Sherlockians. In the late 19th Century and most of the 20th, this was the basic gist of the divide; geography. Local Baker Street aficionados – like William Gillette, for example – were the former. Mark Twain, across the sea writing and publishing Holmesian pastiche set in the States, was the latter. It was just that simple. And, heading into the later part of the 20th Century, Sherlockian became a much more catch-all term for Sherlock Holmes fans in general.

Now, though, the two terms have taken on a bit more of a contentious context. While fans of the canon – especially those who like to consider their involvement more intellectual and analytical despite geographic location – still lay claim to Holmesian, Sherlockian’s become a much different word. It started when fans of BBC’s “Sherlock” began using the term to describe the fandom specifically surrounding the show. In the UK especially, Sherlockian translates as “those who appreciate the television show.” On a broader scale, it’s come to be associated with someone who comes at their Holmes from the screen adaptions – “Sherlock,” “Elementary,” the Ritchie-verse movies. And therein lies the contention. There are those who consider the newly converted, the fans brought in by Cumberbatch or Miller or Downey, jr., to be lesser. Their enjoyment and interest is less valid, their opinions even more so.

Exclusion and elitism is a real thing here. People who have been in the “fandom” – and I’m sure they likely object to the term, too; they “play the game,” damn it – consider Sherlockians to be interlopers and trespassers into their world. These aren’t “real” fans. They haven’t poured through the texts to study Holmes’ methods or suss out all Doyle’s tiny little references and clues. They quote Moffat or Ritchie’s version of the characters, not the “real” thing. They have no “street cred”, no voice, no right to a place at the table.

Sure, this concept isn’t new or necessarily unique to the Sherlock Holmes fan community. Any fandom that’s big enough, popular enough, or long-running enough has had to deal with exclusion and fannish classicism. Every group has that segment of people who go around wearing the “We Were Here First” badge a bit too proudly, or make sure everyone knows how many times they’ve watched all the movies or episodes or read all the books. The difference is, this isn’t just about internet bullies and Big Name Fans singling out the newbies and chasing them out of the yard. This becomes more an issue of a group perceived as just a bunch of old white dudes telling a fanbase that is heavily made up of young, female fans that they aren’t welcome, specifically because of their age or their gender or the assumptions to be made based on both; that because of those things, their opinions and thoughts and appreciation are invalid; that they don’t belong.

None of this is news to anyone who has been in online Sherlock Holmes fandom for more than five minutes. My decrying it isn’t new, either. Lots of people have had this discussion before. So why bring it up? Mainly as a springboard to discuss my own experience and the importance of finding your people, even in a sea of judgmental sharks.

I haven’t really dipped my toe into Sherlock online fandom.  I follow a few tumblrs.  I listen to the Baker Street Babes podcast.  Previous experience has me reluctant to dive back into waters I used to swim in like a pro.  I’ve very much remained an outside observer this time around.  And then, “Holmes on the Range” happened.

“Holmes on the Range” is the kind of group that those staid and starched arbiters of traditional Holmes appreciation would probably despise. We don’t get together and drink high-end Scotch in our deerstalkers – which aren’t even canon! – discussing the importance of Holmes’ choice of dressing gown in “The Blue Carbuncle” or the socio-political meanings therein. The basic purpose of our meetings is an excuse for this group of wonderful, silly, intelligent women I know to get together, eat good food, drink fantastic cocktails, and watch things related to Sherlock Holmes. That’s pretty much it. As a concept, it began brewing in my brain after a collection of people from my local NaNoWriMo group decided to get together to see “The Abominable Bride” while it was in theaters. It was so much fun I thought, hey, maybe we could do this again, but in my living room, with alochol and less innocent bystanders.  Others agreed.
 I made a Facebook group, invited everyone local I thought would enjoy it, and we negotiated out first get together.

Thus far, our blasphemous formula has included the first season of the BBC series, a relevant episode of Veggie Tales (“Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler,” in case you’re curious), and “Elementary, Dear Data” from Star Trek: the Next Generation. There’s been discussion of adding things like episodes of “House,” the Ritchie-verse movies, “Elementary,” and a certain Asylum Films movie adaption. Generally, there is also pre-meeting “homework” – a story (or two) from the canon that relates to the episode we’re watching. Discussion ensues, of course. Sometimes, it’s even relevant discussion. What it always is, though, is fun.

We all come at Sherlock from different perspectives. Some of us have read the canon before, maybe years ago, and got back into things because of the BBC series. Some of us never read a single story before we started but have seen associated media. And some of us study the canon, write pastiche about the characters, and decided six months ago that it would be super fun to re-read it all and blog about it in a year.   Some of us are casual fans who don’t care about shipping; others have deep and extensive thoughts on the true definition of Sherlock and John’s affection towards each other (#teamjohnlock!).  Some of us love Sherlock; others of us are more Watsonites.  We have all the bases covered, you might say.

We aren’t a traditional Holmesian society – ones registered with the Baker Street Irregulars get to call themselves scions and be all fancy about it – and that’s awesome. If we were? That would also be awesome. It’s not the purpose of the group that determines whether it is or not, or how serious it takes itself, or how long any of the members have been into the canon, or even whether all of the members are.  What makes it awesome are the people. HotR is made up of some of my favorite people on the planet and that is why I love it.  

And that’s kind of the point of fandom. Find something you dig, then find people out there who share your joy of it and appreciate how you choose to celebrate it. Cherish those people, because if you’re very lucky you’ll find amongst them some very good friends that your life would be rather dull and dreary without.

Go out and find your fannish bliss. And for God’s sake, don’t judge how other people choose to find theirs. Even if it involves intergalactic robots that can change into automobiles falling in love with humans.

7 thoughts on “Holmesian v. Sherlockian

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