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YESTERDAY, ENOLA HOLMES was introduced as the teenage sibling of Sherlock and Mycroft. Today in Part 2, wouldn’t you know lawyers get involved.
Enola and the Courts. Non-Canonical tales have been offered by other writers, the best of which preserve elements of the Canon and atmosphere of London’s fog-shrouded gaslit Victorian era. Many of these Sherlockian pastiches are aided by the copyright-free nature of earlier portions of the Canon. For details on copyright, see “Pass the Pastiches, Please” here at SimanaitisSays.
A key date in this is 95 years after first publication, implying that stories in the Canon published since 1925 remain under copyright. Holmes publication dates range from 1887 to 1927; most of the Canon is now in the public domain. The Enola Holmes tales and the 2020 Netflix film get caught up in this for two reasons, one laudatory, the other merely litigious.
To my eye, Nancy Springer’s The Case of the Missing Marquess sets a fine pastiche example: Her Canonical references are respectful and entertaining. Her recreation of the Victorian atmosphere is exemplary, given from the entertaining viewpoint of 14-year-old Enola.
Lawyer Slime. The lawsuit arises from portrayal of Enola’s brother Sherlock. As described by Wikipedia, “On June 23, 2020, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought a lawsuit in New Mexico against, among others, Nancy Springer, Legendary Pictures, PCMA Productions, and Netflix, citing both copyright and trademark infringement.” The lawsuit claims that Sherlock presented a more human side in the final ten adventures, stories that were published after 1922. Thus, the lawsuit contends, the more emotional sides of Holmes remain under copyright.
Geez. Several counterexamples follow.
Was the Early Holmes Really Without Passion? What about his relationship with Irene Adler? In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” published in 1891, Watson says, “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.”
True, Watson continues, “It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind.”
Watson doth protest too much, methinks.
Indeed, as described in Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1, Dean Theodore C. Blegen wrote a most relevant essay “These Were Hidden Fires, Indeed!”
Dean Blegen wrote of Holmes’ emotions: “They fill much of his life. They dictate many of his characteristic actions. He is a far cry from intellect frozen in unemotional ice…. He is flesh and blood. He is a man of mood. He is a man of emotions.”
I suspect there are yet other examples putting paid to the Doyle Estate claim of when Holmes first displayed human emotions. Wikipedia notes, “On October 30, 2020, lawyers for the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, saying the estate was unfairly attempting to prevent the fair use of characters that are ‘undeniably in the public domain.’ ”
Is the Doyle Estate acting all too much like a mercenary literary agent? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020
Jeremy Brett’s performances as Holmes (as you described in an earlier column) got me hooked, and in addition to getting the DVDs, I also picked up an inexpensive book of collected stories, which I later figured out wasn’t a complete set. Thanks, Dennis, for helping me understand why — aside from the full novels, the gaps were still under copyright.
I recently discovered some of the Sherlock tales I was missing, while scanning the free books available through Apple for my iPad. I’d rather read a real book, but considering the pandemic and the price, opting for electrons instead of ink is inarguable. I’m sure other platforms like Kindle have similar discounts on classic literature.