My Favorite and Mostly Improper Items of Holmesiana: A Letter

Dear Fans of the new Sherlock Holmes movie:

Let me apologize on the behalf of older Sherlock Holmes fandom for the bits of it that have been generating get-off-my-lawn reboot wank, not five days after the release of the movie. The Sherlock Holmes fandom has thrived for over a hundred years and multiple generations, and every generation has its… special snowflakes.

But fortunately, every generation has also produced creative fandom work (though they may not see it that way), from the solidly analytical to the wondrously fanciful. I may not agree with all of them, or even remotely like some of them, but they all occupy a place in my heart, because there wouldn’t be a Sherlock Holmes fandom without constant re-interpretation of the works. Yes, even the fic pastiche where Moriarty is a vampire who falls madly in love with Holmes.1

I present to you the more amusing pieces of Holmesiana I’ve gathered throughout the years. I’ve strived for a varied collection here that is at the very least sometimes accessible, even if it knocks out some of my absolute favorites. Too much of the fandom is out of print; I hope that changes one day, so that reading all the ‘ship wank doesn’t cost £500.

Note: unlike a few older fans, I don’t think any of these—including the canon—are required reading or suchlike. They can all be enjoyed separately, although it’s really quite fun to overlay multiple interpretations.

“Non-fictional” Books and Essays About Holmes

Older parts of Holmes fandom tended more towards essays than fanfiction, but it kinda doesn’t stop a lot of the essays from being, essentially, one step away from fanfiction. And those are the sort I really quite like.

“A Matter of Attention: Holmes and ADD in The Sign of Four”
(Greg Stoddard)

A great essay that smoothes over some of Holmes’ more inconsistent characterization in the books by linking them all with a particular kind of ADD that occurs in some geniuses. This disappeared from the web along with the collapse of Geocities, unfortunately, but can still be found in the Internet Archive (which I’ve linked to above). Of course, not everyone agrees.

Ms. Holmes of Baker Street: The Truth About Sherlock
(C. Alan Bradley, William A. S. Sarjeant)

Stout did indeed write a short article on Watson being a woman, but Bradley and Sarjeant explore the opposite hypothesis, Holmes is a woman, in exquisite detail, with much citation. And of course there’s straight Hwatson ‘shipping. Also includes an anecdote about a Holmes fan who ran across one of the authors and assaulted them with an umbrella because their ideas were too outrageous. No, I don’t think it was Ms. Plunket.

Subcutaneously, My Dear Watson: Sherlock Holmes and the Cocaine Habit
(Jack Tracy, Jim Berkey)

The absolute, conclusive, most thorough (and yet still short) book about Holmes’ addiction to cocaine, doing quite a bit of debunking of some of fandom, and putting it all in a Victorian context . Some of it makes me sad, because I agree with the authors that there is a point where Watson stopped trying, but there is an uplifting ending. No, I don’t know if fandom got back at Tracy/Berkey with an umbrella.

Favorite Pastiches Fanfiction

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
(Nicholas Meyer)

Yes, that Nicholas Meyer. One of the first pastiches with major acclaim and its own official printing, it’s still in print today, which is a lot more than you can say for quite a lot of older Holmes fandom writings. Technically, cocaine addiction doesn’t work like that (it’s more the realm of opium addiction), but for fans of the deep, platonic friendship of Holmes and Watson, and fans of Hwatson, and fans of Watson/Mary2, the first half of this book is still a moving entry. Plus, Watson has to outsmart Holmes. Heh.

The second half has a plot in the style of the Guy Ritchie movie, complete with antique saber duel on the roof of a runaway train in the mountains. The second half also has a moving anti-climax, and it’s probably the only place you’ll get to see one of the more sensational theories about Holmes’ childhood from the rare, and now very expensive, Sherlock Holmes: Ten Literary Studies.

Seven-Per-Cent was also made into a movie, but good luck trying to get the DVD at a price below £100.

By the by, The Canary Trainer is another pastiche by the same author, and is probably some of the best reading for someone with a Hadler addiction, although most of the plot is again in the Ritchie style, and involves the Phantom of the Opera. Actually… it somewhat approaches Van Helsing (the movie) levels of ridiculousness. Er. Just read it for the Hadler bits, okay?

My Dearest Holmes
(Rohase Piercy)

I know that there are quite a few essays and fanfiction out there involving Hwatson, but this is the best and most convincing of them. It’s also one of the few longer pastiches that nails the Watson voice correctly. The approach is an unusual one, as far as Hwatson portrayals are usually concerned. Usually people like the reverse, but this works so very well, and even addresses how the laws that made male homosexual activity a crime in late 19th century Britain would affect a gay Holmes/Watson relationship.

Of just about any pastiche I ever read, it can almost be dropped into the canon as is, and have the result still make cohesive logical sense. My Dearest Holmes is probably why I think Hwatson is the strongest ‘ship, tied with asexual Holmes.

Sub Rosa: A Correspondence by Wire

If you’ve ever looked at the Griffin and Sabina series, you know that it takes the art of storytelling via correspondence to an unusual level, presenting actual visual artifacts rather than just text. Sub Rosa is the same way, and also available online. Whatever ‘ship you ‘ship, this is a wonderful take on events after “The Final Problem”, and even has enough context within so that fans who’ve never read that story still understand what’s going on.

Favorite telegram (well, at least my favorite that can be taken out of context, almost):

RE Doctor: Tell him nothing
RE Belongings: I do not care

Favorite Adaptations

Holmes & Watson: A Play by Lee Shackleford
(Lee Shackleford)

In the canon, Watson never talks much about any anger he had with respect to Holmes letting him grieve over his supposed death for three years. Either Watson is the doormat of the universe (a view that Doyle arguably had); or, if you’re thinking “in-world” (in other words, in terms of “The Game”), Watson simply didn’t talk about it, because it’d make story sales go down.

A lot of fanfiction does center around this rip in the otherwise continuous relationship between Holmes and Watson, because it’s such a glaring defect, and fans just can’t help themselves. This is probably the best adaptation regarding the reconciliation of Holmes and Watson, for both straight and gay Holmes/Watson fans.

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series (DVD)
(Granada; starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke as younger and older John H. Watson)

For the previous generation (that is, the generation before The New Movie), Jeremy Brett’s portrayal is the definitive Holmes: not the cool, calculating machine of previous portrayals, but a lively and neurotic genius. Holmes always considered himself an artist (canon, too), and to me, Brett’s nervous energy is the most fitting.

But if you say that, you’ll run into flamewars with some of the Basil Rathbone generation, still kicking around. Generally I just give up at that point. Like the Circle of Life, every generation has its reboot wank.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Radio Collection) (Audio CD)
(BBC; starring Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes and Michael Williams as John H. Watson)

This is the only adaptation series that managed to cover every single canon story. Often Bert Coules and his writing team have a relatively free hand in their adaptations, but this tends to improve the narrative, not degrade it. Even really awful stories in the canon become decent, even great, which is really quite hard to do. (“The Lion’s Mane” is probably the best demonstration of this.) Like the story team behind House, the writers behind this particular BBC series seem to like yanking the chain of Hwatson fans from time to time (“The Devil’s Foot” is one of the best in this regard). delivers to the US (and probably other countries) if you’ve got an account, by the way. It’s not bad shipping, considering VAT and all that.

By the way, Bert Coules’ site has information about the cast, writers, directors, production assistants and more for each episode. 

Favorite Canon Annotation and Tools

If you’re going to start reading the canon, pull from canon for more history to add to your fanfiction, or maybe engage in flamewars heated discussions with more experienced fans, here are some useful tools.

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (The Novels and The Complete Short Stories)
(Leslie S. Klinger, John Lecarre)

Bar none, the best annotations for the canon EVER. And I do mean EVER. Every public domain illustration, all the text, many annotations and references to the many theories that have passed through the years. And they’re probably the best representation of books that need to be print books, because of their layout. (I say this as a solid fan of ebooks, who otherwise isn’t overly fond of print books.)

If you want just one great copy of the canon, this is the one to get. (I tend to supplement with ebook versions of the canon, which have no annotations, but on the other hand are free and searchable.)

“Problems with the Final Problem”
(James Chase)

What in “The Final Problem” makes so little sense? Here’s the definitive answer.

Also used to be a Geocities site, and is now only available through the Internet Archive. Ah… you probably want to readjust the font size and/or kill the background for this one.

Searching for Sherlock

On the other hand, this is rather better than most searches on ebook readers. I use this one all the time when writing longer Holmes articles, and it even allows you to search within search results. Absolutely a great tool for any Sherlockian or Holmesian.

Next Time… willing, I’ll list some of the more accessible and fun canon stories. Because, despite Neil Gaiman’s riff, “A Study in Emerald”, A Study in Scarlet is not the best place to begin in the Holmes canon. 

But really… you don’t need the original canon to be a Holmes fan.

A Most Improper and Blasphemous Sherlockian


1. I don’t like Moriarty and I generally hate vampires. But on the other hand, plenty of people like Moriarty and vampires. Too bad I can’t find the fic; it’s an old one, and committed to paper, not to an online fanfiction archive, more’s the pity.

2. Wary?

Arachne Jericho writes about science fiction and fantasy, and other topics determined by 1d20, at Spontaneous ∂erivation. She also thinks waaay too much about Sherlock Holmes. She reviews at on a semi-biweekly basis, and enjoys the bitter, bitter tears of Fanatical Canon Purists.


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