Boskone: Reinventing Sherlock Holmes

As I’ve been mentioning on my twitter feed (but am now realizing that I forgot to blog about) I am at Boskone 50 this weekend. As New England’s oldest science fiction festival, Boskone annually brings together writers, artists, scientists, and fans of science fiction and related literary fields. I’ll be tweeting (@quantumcowboy) on hashtag #boskone and sending out rapidfire (and largely unedited and unrevised) blog posts whenever I get a chance.

I just hit my first panel and took a break for dinner since I was starving. So here’s my first report from the front.

Reinventing Sherlock Holmes
From Basil Rathbone to Robert Downey Jr. and beyond, how does the dashing Victorian detective keep pace with the changing times? How do the new films and television shows measure up their predecessors as well as to the fictional sleuth who first wound his way into the hearts and minds of the reading public through his unparalleled wit, tenacity, and relentless deduction? What more might be in store for the old boy in the future?
    Joe Siclari (M), Brendan DuBois, Tony Lewis, Vincent O’Neil, Toni L. P. Kelner

Overall a general discussion of fan favorites and how the interpretations of the great detective have changed over time.

DuBois pointed out that one of SH’s unique characteristics is his (“borderline asperger-ish”) obsession with his current task at hand. He referred to Holmes’ famous remark, in which Watson asked him if he didn’t know about the earth revolving around the sun, to which Holmes replied with something to the order of that it didn’t make a difference to him so why should he waste the brain space on it. Made me think: so much of the discourse now (certainly in teaching) is on interdisciplinary knowledge and how each subject study and mode of self-discovery can influence all of the others. “Cross-disciplinary ideas”, “STEAM” (Science Technology Engineering ART and Math), and the nonlinear nature of innovation are examples. I wonder if a single-minded character that relies so heavily on direct, linear logical deduction runs the risk of being seen as archaic in the modern world.

(As an aside, I am now thinking that whole Holmes character kind of assumes an underlying reductionist/deterministic view of the world, which fits perfectly with Victorian times I suppose. I love the BBC show, but in a “real” sense, is a Holmes-like character really credible in a more holistic age?  Or societies with more holistic worldviews than the Western tradition typically has featured?)

Tony Lewis clearly has a huge trove of knowledge on the subject and did have many thought-provoking points. I latched onto a remark he made about “Mary Sue” fan fiction (will need to look this up, but it’s something related to Star Trek and female fans wanting to melt Spock’s cold heart). He seemed to be implying (I’ll assume best intentions and say unintentionally) that women writers’ interpretations of Holmes can be lumped into the same category of mere fantasizing or fan fiction. I was happy to see Toni Kelmer (the only woman on the panel, btw) push back on this and rise to defend and clarify the role of female interpretations of a Victorian classic.

During the Q&A, I asked the panel if a non-Western Holmes could be both credible and authentic. DuBois, Kelmer, and O’Neil responded in the affirmative, but we were close to the end of time and I wasn’t able to press for much in the way of details. DuBois mentioned a character (didn’t catch the name) who channeled Holmes as non-Western character though still with “Victorian sensibilities”. Siclari mentioned that he had heard of Indian interpretations of detective stories and though he had never seen/read them, he knew that they existed. O’Niel followed up with the observation that Holmes’ take on crime was that “the more bizzare the crime, the easier it is to solve – it’s the simple crimes that are the hardest to solve” as a universal statement.

Other interesting topics that came up which I don’t have time to write about right now:

  • Lewis suggested that the three major hero archetypes (unsure of the scope) were: Holmes, King Arthur, and Robin Hood
  • Moriarty as the archetype of the twisted genius, a truly brilliant criminal who is the spider at the center of the web.
  • Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald” (bookmarked for later).
  • The possibility of Sherlock Holmes as a lower class hero instead of the Victorian elite.

More later.



  • Thanks for taking the time to do this! I really had fun on that panel, and it was a good experience to be exposed to so many people, both on the panel and in the audience, who know so much more on this topic than I do.

  • Thanks for your insights as a member of the first Boskone panel I ever attended! As you can see I remain way behind in getting all of my notes up, but still hope to do so gradually. I left with so many new thoughts and and perspectives to consider… I am hoping that by posting these notes to my blog, I can help share the wealth of ideas and extend the discussion.

    I am curious if there is anything that you said or heard on the panel that you’d like to expand on?


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