Edited by Tom Ue and Jonathan Cranfield
Fan Phenomena Series
Bristol: Intellect Books, 2014
Paperback. 153 p. ISBN 978-1783202058. £15.50
Reviewed by Malcah Effron
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland (Ohio)
Despite its title, Tom Ue and Jonathan Cranfield’s edited collection Sherlock Holmes does not investigate the famed late nineteenth-century serial written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As is appropriate for a book in the Fan Phenomena series published by Intellect, Ue and Cranfield’s collection takes as its primary texts the fan behavior, especially the fan fiction produced around the late Victorian detective. The editors highlight how Conan Doyle himself authorized the figure’s adaptation in different cultural contexts, citing the author’s famed comment to the playwright William Gillette “do what you like with him” . Situating their collection as public embrace of this authorial permission, the types of chapters in the collection epitomize fan production, as they not only include academic articles but also statements from and interviews with producers of Holmes fan fiction. Each section of the book incorporates essays alongside interviews, providing material of interest to a diverse readership ranging from print culture scholars to Holmes fans.
Comprising the majority of the collection (two-thirds of the essays and about half the collection), the critical essays range from chapters that engage with the popularity of the form, like Tom Ue’s “Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare” to the criteria for marketability, like Russell Merritt’s “Holmes and the Snake Skin Suits.” Others pay attention to how icons like Sherlock Holmes can be appropriated and reinterpreted to communicate values intrinsic in the society producing the adaptations rather than the source texts, like Luke Benjamin Kuhns’s “Doyle or Death? An Investigation into the World of Pastiche” and Benjamin Poore’s “Getting Level with the King-Devil : Moriarty, Modernity and Conspiracy.” Some of the strongest scholarly arguments in the collection provide useful understandings of fan experience in addition to illuminating the historical and ideological work of the fan cultures evolving around Conan Doyle’s creation. Two exemplars of this good work are Jonathan Cranfield’s “Sherlock Holmes, Fan Culture and Fan Letters” and Noel Brown’s “Sherlock Holmes in the Twenty-Second Century: Rebranding Holmes for a Child Audience.” Cranfield describes the fan culture during the life of Arthur Conan Doyle, paying particular attention to how fans can blur the lines between reality and fiction, treating the fictional character as a person in the real world. Brown’s article looks at how fictional characters are appropriated, recreated, and remarketed in new ideological contexts, counting on later audiences’ familiarity with the brand (the name Sherlock Holmes), but not with the product. Brown explores how ITV and Fox used the association of the detective with the notion of ‘problem-solving’ to create cartoons that met the 1990s’ ideological emphasis on ‘educational’ programming for children. Together, while the critical chapters tend to address primary texts that might only be well-known by ‘cult’ followings, the aggregate description of fan behavior calls attention to the force of the figure of Sherlock Holmes that exceeds the confines of the Conan Doyle canon.
The author statements are self-reflective pieces by the authors of Sherlock Holmes adaptations. These chapters, Jonathan Barnes’s “On Writing New Adventures on Audio” and Shane Peacock’s “The Creation of ‘The Boy Sherlock Holmes’,” outline the inspirations and challenges involved in the production of Sherlock Holmes adaptations for radio and into children’s novels. These chapters will be of particular interest for scholars interested in the process of art production and especially for fans of all things Sherlock.
Fans of all things Sherlock will be particularly delighted in the chapters described in the table of contents as “Fan Appreciations.” These appreciations consist of interviews with the authors and artists who have produced a variety of Sherlock Holmes adaptations across various media. These include the artists responsible for The House of Silk, Steampunk Sherlock, The Young Sherlock Holmes Adventures, Sherlock Holmes : Year One, and Dead Man’s Land. These interviews are written as dramatic dialogues between either Ue or Cranfield and the interviewee. The two editors have very distinct interview styles. Cranfield’s conversations focus more heavily on the primary texts and the themes and symbols used in them, whereas Ue adheres very closely to the concept of “appreciation,” praising and congratulating as much as he asks about motivations and processes. When required, the interviewers have indicated whether or not there are any spoilers, in case readers are encountering the adaptation for the first time.
While the primary interest of the edited collection is in its chapters, the book’s production is unique enough to merit comment. The table of contents is the first signal of the attention to production, as it is not presented in simple linear fashion. Rather, the “Fan Appreciation” sections are set out in boxes with lines drawn into the listed chapters to locate them in the book. This formatting indicates that these sections should be read differently than typical chapters in an edited collection and perhaps calls into question whether they should, in fact, be considered chapters. Additionally, sections are created within the book by a stylized epigram from a canonical (Conan Doyle’s) Sherlock Holmes story. Lastly as the bibliographies for each chapter are titled “Go Further,” the book overtly claims that it is clearly designed to whet the fan’s appetite for further explorations of Sherlock Holmes. The art of this book, both in terms of the pieces selected for inclusion and their physical arrangement foregrounds the collection’s participation in a series focused on understanding how certain figures become icons that work in the public consciousness.
The best pieces in the book clearly articulate positions on fan culture while documenting the phenomenon as illustrated through the figure of Sherlock Holmes, exploring the variety of communities into which the popular detective has been appropriated. By using the thoughts of both scholars and artists, the collection highlights the authors’ and editors’ participation in the fan community that they study. This collection seems particularly suited for non-academic audiences, especially Sherlock Holmes fans, but some of the academic chapters might be particularly of interest to scholars of print culture or fan phenomena.
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