On A Game of Shadows and the Real Holmes

As I mentioned a few days ago, I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows on New Year’s Day. Wonderful film, loved it to bits, yadda yadda yadda. 🙂

Well, I followed some Internet discussion of the film, and there seems to be some debate over whether or not Irene Adler died. It happens off screen, Holmes is told that she is dead by Moriarty (she was working with him, she failed him, and she paid for her failure), and thus I thought it was fairly clear. Irene Adler was dead.

Apparently, there’s some debate, and the reasons for Adler’s survival range from “It happened off-screen” to “Rachel McAdams is snazzy-awesome!” But then we have impassioned pleas, like this one from Maxwell House:

Am I the only person that’s just fine with her being dead?

I’m perfectly fine with that; one of the first things we learn about Irene in the Canon is that she is, at the time Watson is writing, dead. The very first paragraph of “A Scandal in Bohemia” ends “And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.” (Emphasis mine.)

My take on the Ritchie films — and it’s an idea that’s been germinating since Sunday when I saw A Game of Shadows — is that Watson’s stories for The Strand are the fictional accounts of Sherlock Holmes’ real adventures, especially since the film ends with Watson writing “The Final Problem” and how Holmes is the “best and wisest man I have ever known.” Watson writes throughout the Canon that he’s redacted this, renamed that, altered details for clarity or discretions, etc., etc, and so there’s always been a question of just how reliable a narrator Watson is. Watson is taken by Holmesians to have been fairly accurate, but Ritchie and Downey, it seems to me, are taking an entirely different tack with the material — their read of the Canon is that Watson cleaned up a lot when he wrote down his accounts, which means he’s not entirely reliable in his descriptions of certain things. Watson’s prose made Holmes more… respectable, shall we say, and Downey captures the real Holmes in all of his manic, unkempt, scruffy glory. 🙂

My view of this film, then, is that it tells the true story of the Reichenbach experience, and that Watson’s published account was a heavily edited, simplified, and streamlined version of the actual events. And thus, when Irene dies, it’s because she was dead in the Canon, and Watson was being truthful when he described her as “late.”

There are pastiche writers that have written novels that have purported to show the real Holmes, but I can’t think of any films that have done so — films generally stick close to the Sidney Paget or William Gillette view of Holmes — and I certainly can’t think of any “real Holmes” that has portrayed Holmes in quite the same ragamuffin way.

Personally, I quite like it. 🙂

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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