Sherlock Holmes is probably the most famous detective in history, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were not my introduction to the character. I decided to read the original novels and short stories recently because of the BBC TV series “Sherlock.” It shows the detective and his sidekick, John Watson, in modern-day London. Comparing the show with its inspiration reminded me how much I love modern adaptations of classic stories. Bringing together the old and new worlds allows writers to exercise their creativity in ways that are fun for me as a viewer.
Although some of the storylines on “Sherlock” are original, most of them are adapted from the original texts.
That’s where some creative changes come into play. Somehow the writers manage to take story elements from the late 1800s and update them for the today.
CONAN DOYLE’S Sherlock Holmes uses cocaine to keep his mind active when he’s not working on a case and often absent-mindedly plays the violin. BBC’s Sherlock is a former drug addict who also frequently relaxes by playing the violin. Both Watsons are doctors who fought in Afghanistan, although in different wars.
Even Irene Adler, one of the detective’s well-known foils, gets the updated treatment. The original Irene Adler, an opera singer, has an affair with a Bohemian king and hides an incriminating photograph in her home. Today’s Irene Adler is a dominatrix who stores photos of herself with a member of the British royal family on her smart phone.
All of the show’s stories demonstrate why I love re-imaginings of the classics. It forces the writers (and the audience) to think about who favorite characters would be in our world.
THE SAME goes for another series that I watch regularly, “Once Upon A Time.” This show takes familiar fairy tale characters and drops them in the fictional town of Storybrooke, Maine.
For me, the most interesting part of the story is that all the old characters are connected in new ways. Belle falls in love with villain Rumplestiltskin (the “Beast”). Ariel has a run-in with Captain Hook as he plunders the Seven Seas. Mulan battles alongside Sleeping Beauty’s prince and Tinker Bell rebels against the leader of the fairies, Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy.
Once I see it on screen, it seems only natural that Ariel would encounter pirates. Of course all of the fairies know each other. By expanding the traditional lore, the new stories offer a chance to look at the old characters in a new way, which keeps them exciting.
Take the “Once” version of Tinker Bell. The fairy little girls know and love is independent and even a little bit petulant. This can be explained with a back story like that created through a new medium like “Once Upon A Time.”
The television Tink feels stifled by the rules of the fairies and regularly disobeys them until she finally loses her wings. This fits the familiar character perfectly but still gives a new perspective.
THE NEW TAKE on the familiar is probably why these shows, and those like it, are successful. They’re comfortable and safe because we already know we love the characters. But they also challenge the audiences to incorporate new aspects of their favorites’ history.
“Beauty and the Beast” is one of my favorite animated movies, and Belle is one of my favorite characters from my childhood. So it was exciting when she showed up in a new way.
I find that I’m experiencing the same thing in reverse now that I’m reading the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I reached “A Scandal in Bohemia,” I remembered Irene Adler from the television show and I was excited to see a familiar face.
I’m learning more about characters I thought I already knew. As it turns out, many of the references in the new versions, such as Mr. Holmes’ cocaine use and talent on the violin, were lost on me until I began to familiarize myself with their beginnings.
The desire to do that is another exciting by-product of these modern adaptations. Someone like me, who knew vague details about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, might become more interested in the characters’ and stories’ origins and decide to explore something they otherwise wouldn’t.