Term Paper: Transmedia Characters Sherlock Holmes

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Sherlock Holmes

While any character could in theory be transmedial, in practice there are certain features about a fictional character that makes it more likely he or she will reoccur across media. All of these potential features are too many and varied to discuss here, but it is possible to focus on one character in order to see how particular character features make him especially conducive to transmedia appearances. Specifically, the character of Sherlock Holmes is particularly to suited to transmediality thanks to his serialized origins, the fact that observation and liminal technological interest and use are constituent parts of his character, and the ease with which his original story was retconned following the character's apparent death. By examining the character of Sherlock Holmes in three Conan Doyle stories alongside some of his appearances in film, television, comic books, and videogames, one is able to see how these three character features are deployed across genres in order to recreate the essential qualities of Sherlock Holmes regardless of time or place.

Before addressing some of Sherlock Holmes' transmedia appearances in detail, it will be helpful to outline the three features of the character that make him especially amenable to transmediality. This list is not exhaustive, as one could likely uncover a number of detail that expand it, but it does include the most obvious features of Holmes' publication history, characterization, and fictional biography that allow him to appear across so many different media and within so many different contexts with relative ease. Pointing out these features in general first will make it much easier to notice them later, when Holmes' more recent transmedial appearances are discussed. In turn, one will be able to begin understanding why Sherlock Holmes, as opposed to other fictional characters, has proven so popular and time-tested, because it will be possible to see the specific elements of Holmes' character that mark him out as a character particularly suited to a transmedial existence.

The first thing about Sherlock Holmes' character that lends itself to transmediality is the fact that Holmes, as originally written, was serialized in a line of short stories and novels. This serial publication history is meaningful for the transmediality of the character, because it means that he does not have a single, definitive narrative, but rather exists across a wide variety of smaller narratives, even within his own official canon. While these stories agree with each other in general, they also leave open room for new additions to the character, a fact that served Conan Doyle well when he was writing the stories as well as new authors contributing to the legacy of Sherlock Holmes. As will be seen, the narrative gaps left open by this serialized publication history make it easier for other creators to insert their own contributions into Holmes' biography, because the space offered by these gaps allows for interpretation, recombination, and exploration above and beyond what was included in the original character.

As a serialized character, Holmes' fictional biography almost calls out for a transmedia existence, because there are enough gaps and mysteries in that biography that one could easily suggest new stories without ever really running up against the existing ones. Instead of providing hard limits, the existing stories provide new authors with a kind of thematic and character framework that they can adapt and mutate as they see fit. Because Holmes' story is already broken up into so many different pieces, adding more pieces to this story by way of transmedia appearances is fairly easy, and much more easy than for characters whose narratives are traditionally bound up in a single, definitive text. The character of Holmes then is not defined by a singular, consistent narrative, but rather is sketched by a number of shorter stories that provide a rough picture but ultimately leave the details to minds of the readers and whatever other creators come along to appropriate the character. This room for liberty and exploration helps set the stage for Holmes' existence as a transmedial character, because it provides a kind of nebulous linking space between these new explorations of his character and the original stories written by Conan Doyle.

In addition to his original publication history, there are certain character traits that help Sherlock Holmes function as a transmedia character. In particular, his powers of observation coupled with his abiding interest in the newest technologies and methods of disguise ensure that Holmes can fit in practically any context, regardless of place or time. Holmes' powers of disguise and deception are practically legendary within the original short stories and novels, to the point that he often hides in plain sight. For example, in "The Man with the Twisted Lip," he is able to reveal himself to Watson in an instant before turning "his face half round once to the company once more, subsid[ing] into a doddering, loose-lipped senility" (Conan Doyle, "The Man with the Twister Lip" 2). Furthermore, when he returns from the dead in "The Adventure of the Empty House," Holmes comes disguised as a "strange old book collector, his sharp, wizened face peering out from a frame of white hair" (Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Empty House" 5). This innate ability to blend in makes Holmes capable of blending in anywhere, and not just opium dens and book shops, because his tendency to disguise himself stems from his desire to adopt the most cutting-edge and up-to-date methods of crime fighting and investigation. As will be seen in the most recent iterations of Holmes' character, this desire to use the newest technologies make it so that Holmes can be transplanted to practically any time and place while still feeling relevant.

One can make the leap from being a master of disguise in Victorian England to becoming a transmedia character because Holmes' interest in disguises goes beyond mere theatricality and demonstrates a deep commitment to new technologies and tools. Holmes is not merely smart and observant, because he augments his powers of observation and intellect with whatever technological developments he can. This devotion to integrating new technologies into his identity and person is important because it means that Holmes is a kind of cyborg in the sense that the word is used by bioethicist and critic Donna Haraway. Haraway writes that "cyborg anthropology attempts to refigure provocatively the border relations among specific humans, other organisms, and machines," and one can easily see how this could relate to description of Holmes when one considers his own use of technology and cross-organism "border relations" (Haraway, Modest-Witness@Second-Millenium 52). This is because Holmes'; disguises are not merely ornamentation, but rather help him become different characters, and furthermore, because he is not limited by his own intellect, but rather manages to expand his powers outward in web of human connections that serve to blur the border between individual and community action, something that will only become more relevant as Holmes makes his way towards the Internet age.

Holmes does not simply wear disguises, he uses them to become different people, and in doing so he integrates these disguises into his own persona, thus effectively incorporating this technology into his own person like a cyborg. Furthermore, although he is extremely intelligent and gifted, he almost never relies solely upon his own powers, and instead augments his powers of observation and deduction by including other people, such as Dr. Watson, Lestrade, and the Baker Street Irregulars. By expanding his own network of observational and deductive connections to include these other people, Holmes is also blending the lines separating individual organisms in order to more effectively crack cases. This phenomena will become especially important when discussing transmedia appearances that locate Holmes in a contemporary context, because the introduction of the Internet into these stories serves as a more obvious demonstration of Holmes' cyborg-like qualities. Essentially, the Internet allows Holmes to integrate himself into the web of human connections directly, so that he is able to expand his own observational skills to include anyone else connected to the social Internet. Always at the cutting-edge, Holmes is the perfect character to exploit the interconnectedness of contemporary society for the cause of justice.

Finally, in addition to Holmes' serialized publication history and his cyborg-like interest in technology and observation, the fact that he essentially came back from the dead makes him a prime character for transmedia appearances. In the short story "The Final Problem," Conan Doyle ostensibly killed Holmes by having him topple over the edge of a waterfall with his nemesis professor Moriarty, "locked in other's arms" (Conan Doyle "The Final Problem" 19). However, following fan reactions, Conan Doyle eventually decide to bring the character back, and he did so in the aforementioned "The Adventure of the Empty House." The decision to bring Holmes back from the dead, and thus make faking his death a constituent part of the character's biography, has had an important impact on the characters subsequent appearances because it introduces a mutability to the Holmes mythos that makes it especially easy to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Transmedia Characters Sherlock Holmes.  (2013, April 30).  Retrieved April 21, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/transmedia-characters-sherlock-holmes/8226222

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"Transmedia Characters Sherlock Holmes."  Essaytown.com.  April 30, 2013.  Accessed April 21, 2019.
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