So I recently discovered the BBC show Sherlock. It’s based, obviously, on Sherlock Holmes, but aside from the first Robert Downey Jr movie I know him only as name/character; I’ve never read the books or watched other adaptations. I’d heard of the show first, I think, through Cassandra Clare’s Tumblr blog where she occasionally reblogs Sherlock gifs, and was aware of her enthusiasm, but I’d never felt motivated enough to check it out. Then when I was last at my mom’s, she’d gotten the DVD of the first season from her sister and we watched the first episode.

Well, I was intrigued enough to search out the rest of the season and watch it, and then, when the final episode ended on a MONUMENTAL CLIFFHANGER, track down the second season. Each season is only three 90-minute episodes; I’ve watched four of the six so far, and I’m totally, utterly smitten with the show and, in particular, Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock. (I also enjoyed this exchange between Clare and her husband; that was roughly the reaction I got from D about it, too.)

I’m not one to develop fangirl crushes very often. The last time I couldn’t stop thinking about something I’d seen was for the movie Avatar (Dec 2009), and the last character was Ezio Auditore of the video game Assassin’s Creed II (Nov 2009). I downloaded a promotional image of Ezio and set it as my desktop background. With Avatar, I found some YouTube clips and played them almost daily for a while. Interestingly, though, it’s always fictional characters; I’ve never done this for an actor.

It got me thinking about what it is about the characters I fangirl over, and this one in particular, that I find so attractive. I think part of it is physical, of course; Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock falls very squarely into my "type", from the moderately-long, dark hair to the tall, slim body and angular face. But there’re lots of actors/characters who’d fit that that don’t sweep me away. So the other part is clearly the personality and other character traits. And the one thing they all seem to have in common is that they’re very confident, self-assured people who largely don’t care too much about what others think of them. They also usually have a sharp wit and sarcastic sense of humour. And they’re all exceptionally good at what they do; in the case of BBC’s Sherlock, that’s his ability to deduce information, of course, but also he’s got an ease (and success) in a fight that suggests some skill. (The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure if I met Sherlock myself in person I wouldn’t actually like him all that much because he can be so clinical with his interactions that he seems cold; and I’d lack the time spent with him over four 90-minute shows to know his character better.)

Strangely, it’s not a character type I’ve encountered much in books. Typically when a novel character is self-assured with a sarcastic wit he tends to come across as a bit of an ass. The only one from a book that I can think of who I’ve felt did it perfectly is Lord Vetinari of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Also, I wonder if there’s a tiny bit of that personality that gets lost in the translation to text, the various mannerisms and facial expressions that can’t be adequately shown simply by saying "He grinned," or even "His mouth pulled up at the corner." Think Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. There’s no way a written version of him would be nearly so charismatic.

I would so much love to write a character like the BBC Sherlock, but not only do I think it would be difficult to create on the page, I think it would be even more of a challenge for me: witty has never been one of my strengths. When I write witty, I feel as often as not it comes across either flat or makes the character look like an ass, rather than clever. So I leave it to other people, and I’m quite happy to enjoy their creations.

And now I’m going to hit ‘post’ then go watch one of my favourite scenes for a fourteenth time…


4 responses to “Fangirling

  1. You should try Stargate: Atlantis. You might like Col. Sheppard.
    In novels, I think Tyrion Lannister is a good example of that self-assured and witty character. Or, at least, poised and with a good understanding of self. Also Ranger in a very different (quieter) way. The key thing about both Lord Vetinari and Ranger is that you always get the impression that they know more and are thinking more than they’re saying. Adds to the mystery since you also don’t know their pasts or what they’re capable of. Me, I like the somewhat mysterious characters. ;) Quiet, not because they’re shy, but because they’re observing, analyzing, and not feeling the need to announce their opinions to anyone. I think there are advantages to doing that in writing over doing it in movies – you get a lot more out of, say, Tyrion’s character in the books than you do in the show. And the acting can be perfect because you can describe precisely the look you’re trying to get across – e.g. if you say he smiles mischievously, everyone sees it, but if an actor smiles mischievously, some viewers might see mischievous and some might see conniving and some might see smirking. But I think Vetinari and Ranger are characters of a different sort of class than Sherlock because they’re designed to be sort of infallible. That’s not exactly the word I’m looking for, but… You don’t ever see them do undignified things. You don’t know about their childhood or times they’ve been hurt. You never see them vulnerable. But they’re not your main protagonists, and you’re not supposed to empathize with them the same way. For characters like Sherlock, and real-life people like that, it’s the moments of vulnerability that make you care about them and give you an emotional foothold. Same for your average strong protagonist, I guess. Even some of the mysterious ones. Like El Mariachi in Desperado. He shoots people and gets shot and knifed and you expect him to be strong for that kind of thing, but then he’s protecting some kid and falling in love with a woman and that’s what you’re rooting for him for. (Fun movie, see that too if you haven’t. ;)) Anyway… ramble ramble…

    • You always leave such long and thoughtful replies, I end up putting off answering because I know I’ll probably want to say something long and thoughtful back. Or at least long. ;)

      I’d completely forgotten about Ranger, but that’s a good point. It’s been so long since I’ve read those books. I definitely agree about the mysterious, I can be totally swept away by the mysterious character thing… but it has to be done right. Sometimes authors try to make a character mysterious, and all they achieve is annoyingly opaque and deflective. It’s a tough line to walk. Fortunately, annoyingly opaque and deflective can be its own perfectly valid character (just harder to fall in love with).

      And definitely true about it being the moments of vulnerability that make you care about the otherwise strong and capable protagonists like Sherlock, etc. I guess because it makes them relateable? Human, too? As I watched the series of Sherlock my favourite moments were definitely the ones where Sherlock lets his guard down just a little and shows how he cares about his best friend, John.

      As for Tyrion… I guess I’m not far enough in the series to have a full understanding of his character yet. I’m still just halfway through reading book 2 (though I’ve finished watching book 2 in tv form). Must return to that…

  2. Hi Seab, I loved reading and agreeing with all of your thoughts on Sherlock. The second season was one of the best things I’ve seen on television all year and I had the same reaction to ‘The Fall’ that you did (cry and then watch it again). I can’t think of many written characters like Sherlock either, but I’d love to come across one! I’ve really enjoyed catching up on your blog and reading about your writing experiences.

    • Thanks, Chels! I knew you and your mom were both big fans of the series. I don’t watch a lot of tv, so it’s not hard for Sherlock to be the best tv show I’ve watched all year. ;) Can’t wait till season three – I’m fine with 3-episode seasons, I just wish there wasn’t such a gap between them! *Especially* if they’re going to keep ending on cliffhangers like that.

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