Why is Sherlock suddenly sexy?
“Sherlock Holmes” and “smoldering hot piece of man flesh” are not concepts that easily go together—at least not until recently. Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s Sherlock), Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary on CBS) and Robert Downey Jr. (The Sherlock Holmes movies) are certainly more appealing than the classic renditions of the great detective. The question is—why this sudden urge to turn Sherlock from a literary icon into a matinee idol?
Naturally, audiences are going to prefer a handsome Holmes to the alternative, but I think the attraction goes beyond packaging. Popular heroes aren’t the simple, square-jawed nice guys of old, and Holmes presents a welcome challenge. He’s brilliant, unorthodox, and decidedly eccentric. But despite Sherlock’s sometimes chaotic nature, he represents order. He’s all about science and reason—and above all certainty. He may occasionally ignore the law, but he promises justice in a world sadly short of ethics or answers. We know that once he’s on a case, he’ll make things right.
In this way, Sherlock is a cut above everyone else, although somewhere along the way he pays an unspecified price for that superpower. Conan Doyle reveals little about his early life, but Holmes emerges a romantically-averse isolationist with a drug habit. Put into modern pop culture terms, he’s a damaged bad boy crime-fighter just different enough to be interesting. With such a ready-made wounded hero on their hands, present-day filmmakers can hardly be blamed for recasting the character in that light. He fits current tastes surprisingly well.
So it’s no wonder audiences are going wild for Sherlock. He’s the smartest guy in the room. He’s quirky but possesses a sterling sense of fair play. He has table manners and good grammar and can still dust it up in the boxing ring.
And—best of all—he clearly needs rescuing by someone besides the long-suffering Watson.
And this is the point where the wise director steps away and leaves the rest to imagination. The starry-eyed could be forgiven for suspecting that, like Mr. Spock, Holmes hides a volcano of untapped passion beneath his icy rationality. With Watson as his foil, we know he’s capable of affection. With Irene Adler in his past, we know he’s vulnerable. All it takes is a woman smart and daring enough to slip past his guard and pull the thorn from his proverbial paw. As possible love stories go, it’s a no-brainer—but it’s also an ending best left to speculation.
We love the fact that Holmes is himself an unsolved mystery. We can pull him into our century with ease—upgrade his haircut and give him a cell phone—but he remains elusive. Holmes’s role as self-sabotaging champion of justice resonates today more strongly than ever, and yet we never learn what made him who he is. He remains a tantalizing and unsolvable puzzle—and we can’t help ourselves from trying to figure him out.
An award-winning author of both historical and urban-fantasy romance, Emma Jane Holloway has an honors degree in English literature. Writing as Sharon Ashwood, she won the RITA award for paranormal romance for the third book of her Dark Forgotten series. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is owned by the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness.
In Holloway’s The Baskerville Affair trilogy, Sherlock Holmes is the uncle of the heroine, Evelina Cooper—who is following in his footsteps, ready to break every rule to see justice done (and causing polite chaos along the way). And what is the Baskerville Affair, you might ask? It has something to do with bad dogs in Dartmoor, but why stop there? We have a prince, automatons, sorcerers, sundry pirates, talking mice, a large mechanical caterpillar, castles, ballrooms and murder. And, yes, Holmes and Watson take their turn upon the stage. What type of stories are these? They are one part mystery, two parts adventure and a pinch of romance.
The second book in the trilogy, A Study in Darkness, is on sale now.