Why we love Sherlock
Fandom and Cosplay are not exactly Steampunk but they have strong associations with Steampunk behaviour such as lifestyle adoption and immersion in an alternative world.
Why do Steampunks love Sherlock so much?
There are three main reasons:
- First and foremost Sherlock is an astonishingly long-lived character. From his late Victorian roots to the present day, he has stood the test of time and his less-than-attractive attributes (cocaine addition, tendency to isolate, intellectual superiority) are actually very strongly correlated with our modern world as we all tend to depend more on technology, spend less time with others, and prioritise our ‘thinking’ over our ‘being’. He’s a poster boy for how we live today.
- Second, each Sherlock incarnation has been masterful. From Basil Rathbone to Robert Downey Jr to Benedict Cumberbatch the characterisation of Sherlock has been powerful. Like Dr Who, Sherlock has benefitted from strong actors with idiosyncratic interpretations. The latest version, played by Cumberbatch is deep and shadowed like a true Victorian hero, and the facets of the Sherlock personality that are most attractive to a modern audience are exactly those that fit perfectly with steampunk attitudes such as a strongly personal style of dress, obsessions and hobbies, and a witty outlook that balances dry humour with wordplay.
- Third, the adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective in this latest version is an unapologetic homage to the Victorian era, as well as to the nature of Sherlock Holmes himself. There have been updatings, of course: Dr Watson, Moriarty and Mycroft all have greater prominence in the Moffat adaptations than they ever did in the Conan Doyle canon, but that is as much a difference of genre as a desire to make this an ensemble piece. It’s difficult to put soliloquies on TV, and violin solos even more so! Moffat has pulled off a great coup and the eagerly awaited Christmas Special is likely to thrill Sherlock fans all over again.
There’s something else that makes Sherlock the perfect character for steampunks to invest in - Sherlock Holmes is cerebral. The Victorian Age was famous for many things, but one of the most prominent attributes of the epoch was the intense focus on intellectual endeavour as the key component of progress. Despite the building of empires, construction of thinking engines, wars in Africa and rise of Suffragism (to name but a few) the real focus of the Victorians was on the overwhelming power of intellect to create positive change. This is something that Sherlock epitomises, with his ‘organic computer brain’ and his ability to see linkages that nobody else can, Sherlock is the ideal hero for someone who relishes the complex nature of Victorianism.
And one final reason that Sherlock is a pin-up boy for the steampunk community is that it was Sherlock Holmes who led to the first ever example of fandom writing (and possibly even slash fiction, for all we know!). When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty by causing them to fall to their joint deaths at the Reichenbach Falls his readership refused to accept it. Instead they wrote, and circulated, their own Holmes stories until Conan Doyle capitulated and picked up his pen again. For many steampunk this is emblematic of the making/adapting/subverting that is part of the steampunk ethos.