top of page

Sherlock Holmes in...The Mystery of Bad Non-Canon Tropes

I have been in the Sherlock fandom since the autumn of 2020. It was a hyperfixation that has proved me well and continued to give me dopamine. Or was it serotonin? I can't remember which, but in shorter words, I love Sherlock Holmes. The movies, the books, watching video games that I never play, and so on. Thanks to the wondrous gift of public domain, I will Lord-willing never lose any Sherlock material.

That said, the non-canon works are a dangerous playing field. Although there are little Sherlock works that I dislike, there are some common themes I read from non-canon stories that I just simply can't get behind. Here are my thoughts on that. In no particular order, here are some tropes in the fandom that I cannot stand. Warning for spoilers.

1) Holmes as a Sex Addict.

Though this isn’t in many non-canon works, mostly in tv shows like Elementary and House, it has been done two times too many. House, alright fine. He’s just inspired by Holmes but he’s not exactly Holmes. But Elementary—I have too many opinions of that show, I’m not even going to get into it.

There is no canon source to suggest Holmes had any interest in anything romantic or lustful, actually the opposite. That’s one of the things that made Holmes so astounding to Watson, was his disinterest in romance or marriage. "Oh but for some ultra-scientific way, it helps his work--" It’s just lazy writing. Goes with the trend of just making up excuses to bring sex into every show they could. Like they thought that’s what would get people interested in it or something, idk. I hate it.

2) Adler, the Temptress

While we're on the topic of putting in unnecessary sex...I think non-canon writers put too much stock into the "scandal" part of A Scandal in Bohemia. Irene was not a scandal because she was a seductress, but because she was a woman who could outwit a king and the greatest detective in London. There was a romantic element, but it was not sexual or disgraceful in the manner of anything other than he was royalty, she was not. I think this is also why modern readers are becoming disillusioned by the Adlock ship, because adaptations make it too much like Batman and Catwoman. (Which is funny because I believe Batman and Catwoman started out inspired by Holmes and Adler, but my point is those characters grew into their own things)

Although I can take the ship or leave it, I feel there needs to be more focus on the intellectual stimulation that draws them together, and less of the sexual tension. It is out-of-character for Holmes to fall for something as cheap as lust. He's had a lifetime to become prideful in that he considers himself above those things. What makes Irene different from any other woman he's met on the job, is they connect on a cerebral level. They both love music and logic. I would either have them work together, or put emphasis on the root of their relationship; his respect for her.

The only thing that remains for the ship is the fact that in the canon, Irene Adler gets married. I have my headcanons for that, but I don't want to spoil anything I may go into later...

3) Fraudulent Holmes

With the exception of Without a Clue with Michael Caine (because that man is a gem and they made it work while still being respectful of the source material...) I don't like adaptations where they act like Holmes just took the credit while other people secretly did the work for him. Like it was some conspiracy. I am including The Irregulars, even though I have only seen like 15 minutes of the show and didn't finish it. But it was hinting at the idea that Holmes and Watson just used the kids to do their dirty work, so they could take all the credit. And then there are books where Mrs. Hudson is secretly the genius or Watson is being taken advantage of, etc. The only time I've seen this done right was Without a Clue because Holmes was hired as an actor and he learns to rise above his faults. The soul of the movie was still in respect to the source material and it showed.

4) Holmes as an Atheist

Why is it such a common trend in fiction for intelligent characters to be atheists and for dim-witted characters to be spiritual, specifically Christian? I see so many non-canon works portraying Watson as the naive Christian holding onto primitive superstition and then Holmes is the logical one throwing sarcastic, insulting remarks towards religion—again, usually Christianity.

Historically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle identified as an atheist and the inspiration for his Holmes was in his mentor Joseph Bell, who identified as a Christian and enjoyed exploring and understanding God’s creation. Ironic, isn't it?

I know not everyone believes in God and that is left to everyone's personal choice. And no, Sherlock Holmes is not an autobiography of Joseph Bell's life. But if you're going to do an atheist Holmes, at the very least, don't use it as an excuse to be disrespectful towards others' beliefs. It is a personal conviction, not what determines if someone is intelligent or not.

5) Holmes is a Madman

(Excuse the photo, I know Granada Holmes was based off the canon works, I just needed a picture that went with the theme)

Now, does Holmes has his flaws? Yes. Do I believe he is without some kind of mental illness? No, he certainly has his issues. What I don't like is the Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer. I know some people really like it, this is just my opinion.

The idea that Holmes hallucinated certain cases or villains because of drug use or mental illness, implying Holmes is so much of a crackhead that he can't do his job, or that he has schizophrenia. Not my Holmes! Just...not my Holmes. I couldn't finish the book just because it offended me too much. I don't like when his personal issues conflict with the work, or there is the twist "there was no real case at all." That's just a me thing, but I don't like it.

6) Sherlock Faces the Supernatural

This kind of ties in with why I don't like the "madman Holmes" trope, but I have seen more than a few books where Sherlock Holmes faces things that science cannot explain. And that is rocky territory for a man of science to step into. Some stories are fine, but the ones I don't like where are when Holmes is considered useless in that situation. Or Sherlock goes mad because he knows he's useless, and he practically gives up. And this isn't about finding religion, but just facing monsters or other worlds. It's not fun seeing your hero so defeated. I am not totally against this trope, but if you're going to do it, I would prefer if it ends with Sherlock rising to the challenge and triumping once again. Unless his opponent is Irene Adler, I like for Holmes to win. And after Hound of the Baskervilles, I believe the fandom has become quite comfortable in the usual, "there is a ghost story but Holmes sheds light on the situation and proves there is a logical reason behind everything." That is what never gets old to me.

In Conclusion...

Writers gonna write. Whatever you want and have the motivation to put into print, who am I to stop you? At the end of the day, people are going to do whatever makes them happy. Sherlock Holmes has been growing and changing for over 200 years, and I am just glad people are still talking about him and he never seems to die.

This has just been a fun little rant on my end because like Watson, I like to blog about Sherlock Holmes. He is such a thought-provoking character and we all have our preferences, these are just mine. What do you think? What are some of your favorite and least favorite adaptations?

7 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page