Mark Gatiss is a class act. The Sherlockcreator and star (he plays Mycroft Holmes in the BBC/PBS series) responded to a recent opinion piece in The Guardian titled “Sherlock is slowly and perversely morphing into Bond. This cannot stand” with a poem.
The Guardian published the poem in its entirety, as well as providing some Holmesian context for Gatiss’ method of response. Apparently, Sherlock Holmesauthor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once responded to criticism with his own poem, published in the London Opinion in 1912. Sometimes, it’s hard not to marvel at the long, rich history of Sherlock Holmes.
In the poem, Gatiss, who penned the script for Sherlockseason four premiere “The Six Thatchers,” counters critic Ralph Jones’ argument that Sherlockhas abandoned the more cerebral themes of its first two seasons for Bond-like action by pointing to moments in Conan Doyle’s works in which Holmes demonstrated his considerable fighting skills. Gatiss writes:
Here is a critic who says with low blowSherlock’s no brain-box but become double-O.Says the Baker St boy is no man of action –whilst ignoring the stories that could have put him in traction.
The Solitary Cyclist sees boxing on show,The Gloria Scott and The Sign of the Fo’The Empty House too sees a mention, in time, of Mathews,who knocked out poor Sherlock’s canine.
As for arts martial, there’s surely a cluein the misspelled wrestle Doyle called baritsu.In hurling Moriarty over the torrentdid Sherlock find violence strange and abhorrent?
In shooting down pygmies and Hounds from hellDid Sherlock on Victorian niceties dwell?When Gruner’s men got him was Holmes quite compliantOr did he give good account for The Illustrious Client?
There’s no need to invoke in yarns that still thrill,Her Majesty’s Secret Servant with licence to killFrom Rathbone through Brett to Cumberbatch dandyWith his fists Mr Holmes has always been handy.
Though I admire Gatiss’ method for countering Jones’ op-ed, I can’t help but agree with Jones. In fact, The Guardian writer directly addresses Gatiss’ point, i.e. Sherlock Holmes’ canon fighting skills, in his essay. He writes:
Arthur Conan Doyle tells us in his short stories that Holmes has considerable athletic abilities, but chooses to keep these skills – boxing, bartitsu and singlestick – a titillating prospect: a stockinged leg poking out from behind a curtain. Because the most scintillating thing about Holmes is his mind, his displays of physical prowess ought to be rationed. Conan Doyle wanted his protagonist to rise above the cheap thrills of the penny dreadful. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss should be aware that their protagonist is at risk of suffering the fate Conan Doyle swerved.
As Jones points out, Sherlockisn’t just in danger of perhaps becoming unfaithful to the tone of Conan Doyle canon, but, perhaps more perilously, in danger of being unfaithful to the show it once was. (Arguably, that ship has already sailed.)
Audiences didn’t fall in love with Sherlock solelyfor the ways in which it was or wasn’t like Holmesian canon. They fell in love with it for its unique brand of storytelling, a narrative style that emphasized logic over action and grounded character work over the more surreal emotional drama that tends to come with spy stories.
For our own review of the Sherlockseason four premiere, head over here.
If you’re interested, here is Conan Doyle’s poem, a response to critic Arthur Guiterman’s critique that Sherlock Holmes should not put down other fictional detectives when Conan Doyle owes so much to them. Conan Doyle points out that his character’s criticism of his fellow fictional detectives points to his own vanity rather than to the author’s perspective on the work of his detective writer predecessors and contemporaries.
Check it out…
Sure there are times when one cries with acidity, ‘Where are the limits of human stupidity?’ Here is a critic who says as a platitude That I am guilty because ‘in gratitude Sherlock, the sleuth-hound, with motives ulterior, Sneers at Poe’s Dupin as ‘very inferior.’ Have you not learned, my esteemed communicator, That the created is not the creator? As the creator I’ve praised to satiety Poe’s Monsieur Dupin, his skill and variety, And have admitted that in my detective work I owe to my model a deal of selective work. But is it not on the verge of inanity To put down to me my creation’s crude vanity? He, the created, would scoff and would sneer, Where I, the creator, would bow and revere. So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle: The doll and its maker are never identical.
Do you agree with Gatiss’ defense of Sherlock’s more action-oriented fourth season? Sound off in the comments below…