Sherlock Holmes and the Leap of Faith : The Forces of Fandom and Convergence in Adaptations of the Holmes and Watson Stories

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The past few years have been a period of renewed and intensified interest in the ever-popular characters and stories of Holmes and Watson, a trend no doubt influenced by the Guy Ritchie film franchise, starring Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law, and the modern reimagining of the partnership in the BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. This interest is set to climax in early 2012, with the second Holmes movie, A Game of Shadows, on general release, and the second series of Sherlock being screened in the UK.

What this essay sets out to do is to think the unthinkable regarding Conan Doyle’s creations: to argue that Sherlock Holmes fandom has gone on for so long and acquired so many dimensions and traditions that it has developed some of the characteristics of institutionalised religion.

What follows from this thought-experiment, then, are three suggestions. The first is that the recent film and television adaptations, Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock, can be usefully seen, not as more or less ‘truthful’ or ‘correct’ adaptations, but as comparable to the difference in the interpretation of faith between, say, the Church of England and more radical evangelism. A secondary suggestion is that it might be as instructive to compare these two Sherlocks, not with other adaptations of the Holmes and Watson universe, but with film adaptations of the Gospels and the controversies which accompanied them. Thirdly, I want to suggest that the logics of fandom and convergence are in some senses at odds with each other. If fandom is about preserving what is felt to be pure, true and distinctive about a given mythology or ‘universe’, then convergence is about developing new markets, media platforms, and types of interactivity. Thus, as the case of Holmes and Watson demonstrates, given enough time, the ‘universes’ of fan fiction –as if responding to laws of motion or evolution - will begin to collapse into one another, creating inevitably impure hybrids: Holmes meets Jekyll, Holmes meets the Ripper, Holmes meets Dracula, Holmes is Oscar Wilde...

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-171
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Early online date24 Sept 2012
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013

Bibliographical note

© The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press. Self-archiving of publisher's PDF not supported by the publisher.


  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Gospels
  • Withnail and I
  • fan fiction
  • Doctor Who
  • Adaptation

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