tales of mystery and terror

I’ve noticed a contrast between people who still like Sherlock, and people who think it’s changed in a bad way. I think the ones who are disappointed have been surprised, because they assumed Sherlock would follow the all-too-common arc of shows that let the (white) (male) lead be cruel and petty and dismissive, and people find it funny because he’s the hero! He’s soft at heart! He’s a genius, that’s why he’s so mean–no one understands him! That does happen a lot. And if that’s what the show was doing, it’d be awful.

But I believe Sherlock is actually meant to be a show slowly subverting that awful trope of the genius white guy who gets away with everything. Greg Lestrade lays out the show’s character arc in the very first episode: “Sherlock Holmes is a great man. And one day, if we’re very lucky, he’ll be a good one.” BBC Sherlock is the story of how Sherlock becomes a good man.

That’s why in this iteration of Sherlock, John Watson isn’t a sidekick, not just a biographer; he’s the one who keeps Sherlock right. Who teaches him to change his focus from solving the crime to saving the life. Who repeatedly reminds him to think about the effect his words have; who teaches him kindness and respect and self-sacrifice. Slowly, Sherlock changes, from the man who took to heart Mycroft’s idea that love is a dangerous disadvantage, to the man in Season Three who holds the hands of a heartbroken client and shouts at the man who took advantage of her; who (according to John’s blog) takes a case just to get a woman out of a loveless, abusive marriage so she can be with her true love; who cries on the stag night when a client talks about lost love. Who gives his life for love of John. He’s learning to be softhearted; slowly. He’s not all there yet. This next season will change him again.

Some fans of Sherlock think the show’s lost it’s way. They’re the ones who came for the “pissy white dude” show. They loved his snarky, bitter, biting defensive act in Season One. They thought it was funny. By and large, they’re the ones who couldn’t stand Season Three, because he’s changing; we’re seeing him becoming kind, humble, patient, giving. That’s a part of his character that’s still growing, not fully developed, but slowly unfolding–mostly thanks to John.

We have yet to see what they’ll do with his character in Season Four, but they’ve promised to dig into the ghosts of his past, the things that have made him cold, and closed. They gave us a view of their end goal when they created The Abominable Bride, which textually is all about the ways in which Sherlock’s ignored, devalued and dismissed the feelings, contributions, capabilities of the extraordinary women who surround him, and John’s as well, sometimes; and subtextually is about his inability to show emotion, not to be vulnerable and tender; his claim that it’s a choice, a self-improvement and the reality that it’s a wound and a flaw that needs healing. This is a deep subversion of the hard-edged hero trope. This is turning it inside out and upside down; he becomes who he’s meant to be not by being above everyone, but by learning how much he needs them.

And that’s why I also believe that none of the romantic set-up between Sherlock and John was meant as a joke. What they’re writing is, again, a subversion of queerbaiting, no-homo bromance shows. Any moment that the audience could take as a joke (John’s jealousy of Irene and Janine, Sherlock’s jealousy of Mary and Sholto; John being confronted with his feelings at Battersea, Sherlock being faced with his on the dance floor at the wedding) isn’t funny to the characters. A good look at their faces shows it’s perfectly serious to them–and heartbreaking. And as the “jokes” get more and more serious and the relationship between John and Sherlock becomes more deep, more tender, more romantic and self-sacrificing, the casual audience becomes more and more uncomfortable because it isn’t funny any more. Some of them start to fall in love with John and Sherlock’s love; start to see it. Others leave the reviews we’ve all read about how “this isn’t like Sherlock”–“Why does it look like they’re about to kiss?”

Because they are. Gatiss and Andrew Scott are gay; Benedict’s portrayed gay characters multiple times with sensitivity and depth. Martin’s played a gay man before and kissed men onscreen. Moffat’s written two detective couples before, one explicitly a Holmes/Watson pair, who are queer and in love. They wouldn’t bait an audience. They wouldn’t make love between their leads a joke; they’d make it a mystery, a revelation, a tale within the tale. They promised terror and romance and adventure this coming season. “The story of two men and their frankly ridiculous adventures” is what the audience came for, but the bigger story Sherlock promised at the wedding is approaching its climax now.

Some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and other works ebooks available for cheap or even free on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle App. Compiled below are links to find some such books.

(Art- “Mortality and Immortality” by William Michael Harnett)

Sherlock Holmes Novels:

Sherlock Holmes short story Collections:

Professor Challenge Stories:

Other Works and Individual stories from the Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes :

Roots and Beginnings - “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

In which a book created expressly for children contains a perfect, and perfectly adult, nightmare. I read “The Cask of Amontillado,” Poe’s masterpiece of meticulously planned and executed cruelty, in Tales of Mystery and Terror, a collection of several Poe stories abridged for young readers by Marjorie P. Katz and illustrated by the studio of Conan comics veteran Pablo Marcos. That means that someone, or a series of someones, thought it was a good idea to offer elementary schoolers access to a story in which a man avenges an insult by bamboozling a drunk into the catacombs below his house, locking him in chains, walling him up alive while mocking his pleas for mercy, and leaving him to die a slow and agonizing death. Thanks, Scholastic Book Fair!

No, really, thank you, because I can think of few other stories that set my imagination on fire like this one. I think it can do a mostly tender mind good to contemplate the worst-case scenario, a horror without possibility of a happy ending. That’s an emotional black rainbow, a whole spectrum of dark thoughts and behaviors and images impossible to access any other way, and young brains are ravenous brains. I’ll never forget the image above, of desperate Fortunato peering out of a single hole in the wall, a hole about to be filled. Or the jingling of his bells when his captor Montresor drops the torch into the alcove before he walls it up for good. Or his carnival costume, making him look as foolish and ineffectual as Montresor secretly knows him to be. Or Katz’s helpful translations of the story’s Latin phrases: “Nemo me impune lacessit / Let him who would offend me beware!” “In pace recquiescat / Let him rest in peace!” Or Fortunato’s broken, sad laughter when he realizes there’s no escape. Or most especially his desperate plea — “For the love of God, Montresor!” — meeting an answer as cold and blank and impenetrable as that wall — “Yes, for the love of God.”

That’s the moment when you realize what’s truly frightening about being left at the mercy of another person: Their definition of mercy may be wholly alien to your own, rendering your struggles not just fruitless but meaningless. The intensity of these ideas and images is almost sensual – damp stone, muffled screams, work sweat, torchlight, the sound of bells jingling in the dark.