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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

HOLMES AND FISTICUFFS!

HOLMES AND FISTICUFFS!

IN ANTICIPATION OF THE PUBLICATION OF FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES: WORK CAPITOL, AUTHOR ANDREW SALMON GIVES US A LOOK AT HOLMES' PUGILISTIC SIDE ...

A STRAIGHT LEFT AGAINST A SLOGGING RUFFIAN

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SCIENCE OF DEFENSE

ANDREW SALMON

When the trailer for the first Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film was released, it took less than a nanosecond for the Holmesian world to tremble. The film portrayed everyone's favorite consulting detective as a kick-ass action star, which did not sit well with Holmes traditionalists.

To this day, I'm not quite sure why.

In the original tales, Doyle describes Holmes as an expert in Baritsu, making him a mixed martial artist. He is also described as a crack shot, good with a sword and singlestick fighting. And, yes, Holmes is not just proficient at boxing, but good enough to turn pro according to a former boxer he goes toe to toe with in one of the canonical tales.

For the sake of this piece, we'll concentrate on boxing. In The Sign of Four, Holmes reminds the former boxer, McMurdo, that he had fought an exhibition bout with him at Alison's rooms four years previously – a scene I use to kick off my Fight Card Sherlock Holmes tale – and McMurdo's comment that Holmes could have turned pro if he so desired is not faint praise coming from a former professional fighter well aware of the dangers of the ring. 

Later in the canon, Holmes gets involved in a bar fight in The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist and uses his boxing skills against a slogging ruffian to come out on top. He alludes to having a tooth punched out in the waiting room of Charing-Cross in The Adventure of the Empty House without further explaining the event, which left me free to do so in my tale. 

So where did he acquire his boxing skills? They can't be mastered from a book, can they? The only answer is Holmes mastered them in the ring. His bout with McMurdo simply could not have been his first and last. It's clear Holmes had taken the time to learn how to hit and get hit, developing his skills by applying what he learned.

So what's the problem? Holmes is a tough customer. It's as simple as that. Given his chosen profession, he would have to be able to defend himself, right? My opinion is the naysayers were used to reading Doyle's descriptions of Holmes merely possessing these abilities whereas the new films showed Holmes demonstrating these abilities. 

Holmes as an action star? You betcha! It's how Doyle conceived and portrayed him and holds true for the current incarnations. We got to see Jeremy Brett demonstrate Holmes's boxing skills back in the day and though Benedict Cumberbatch has yet to throw 'em, the Downey films are full of Holmes fights, and even the folks behind Elementary have given us Jonny Lee Miller showing us Holmes working off his frustrations on the heavy bag in a recent episode. 

Holmes is the thinking man's action star. He can still outthink, out deduce and outwit all comers, but he can also put you on your ass if you want to start trouble.

What some view as an added dimension to the character shoe-horned in for a modern audience has been there all along and showing it in the current adaptations helps to round out the character. Of course, it's vital the physical stuff not take over the whole show. Holmes is the smartest guy in fiction and brain must always triumph over brawn. 

Given the countless adaptations of Holmes in every medium imaginable over the decades, seeing Holmes in a new light refreshes the character. The success of shows like Sherlock and Elementary and the Downey films are bringing new fans into the Holmesian world where they will, hopefully, seek out the original tales and the ones that have followed. 

Holmes is king! And I wouldn't try to knock off his crown. Not if you know what's good for you.

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