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Jonathan Sullivan
Professor Haas
Writing 39B
221 JuneMay 2014
The Intellect of Sherlock for a Modern Audience
With modernization comes obvious change. From communication, to transport, to leisure,
and to entertainment, as society progresses in terms of technology, it also changes. The classic
Victorian-era series of Sherlock Holmes is not excluded from this category of update. As the
genre progresses into the future, contemporary creations of Sherlock, predominantly in the form
of television and film, have been updated to match the audience and the historical context of the
time; as a result, it is as popular as ever. As Jerome Delamater writes in his book, Theory and
Practice of Classic Detective Fiction, the detective genre is such a pervasive phenomenon of
the contemporary worldnot only in books but in many other mediathat it is difficult both to
imagine what our culture would be without it and also to understand why this is so (1). Steven
Moffats television series BBCs Sherlock, a contemporary reproduction of the classic Conan
Doyle detective novels, modernizes an essential element of the character of Sherlock his
Intellect and rationality in a way that makes sense to to mesh with the audiences of
contemporary society.
The prodigious Intellect of Sherlock is the defining feature of his character in the novels;
it is his quintessential quality from which most of his other characteristics are formed. Arguably,
the success of the genre, and Doyles detective, hinges upon these qualities of intellect, as,
without it, Sherlock would lack the ability to perform the deductive magic tricks that defines
his character. From the very beginning of The Study in Scarlet, readers are introduced to get a
Comment [JS1]: I added a source that
conferred with my analysis which helps to
strengthen my argument in terms of
credibility from the beginning of the essay
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Comment [JS2]: Although minor, the
changes to my thesis have made it more
specific with regards to topic and description
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mere glimpse of the deductive prowess of a character, who, using logic, deduction, and
observation, is able to determine the origin of Watsons Johns pocket watch. George Panek, in
his book, The Reader and the Detective Story, discusses why Sherlocks intelligence It is easy to
see why this would appeal to audiences, as ; what a reader gets from the detective novel is not
that of listening to a story but of watching a magic trick, which the magician immediately
explains (Dove 3). Without this magic trick of his deductive powers, Sherlock would be a
duller and empty character, which is whyas Doyle developed the storieshe transformed the
somewhat wooden character of the detective when he made Holmes (Panek 92) as he invented
the pocket geniusshap[ing] the genius to [his] down-to-earth values (10). Sherlocks Intellect,
the driving force behind his observational ability, logic, deductive skills, and his many
eccentricities etc.everything that the audience knows him foris what transforms him from
the wooden to the interesting. Furthermore, his character represents a key feature of the
Victorian society in which he was createdthe focus on rationalism. Sherlock Holmes is just as
subject to the times in which he was created as any other character; his rationality is just one
example of this mirror-like reflection of society. In his own words, Detection is, or ought to be,
an exact science and should be treated with the same cold and unemotional mannerthe only
point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to
causes by which I succeeded in unraveling it (Doyle 200). Sherlock, in many ways, can be
compared to a machine cold, calculating, deductive, and lacking emotion; in this, he is the
epitome of reason and the absence of emotion (which is foiled, of course, by Watson and his
excess of emotion/romance). Thus, he can be seen as a symbol of the society in which he was
created in an empire driven by the increasing industrial force and an emphasis on science and
Comment [JS3]: I added a new
description/introduction for the Scholar,
making his work more easy to understand and
in the pattern of the first essay
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Accordingly, BBCs Sherlock adopts and modernizes Sherlocks intellect in order to
make it appealing to a modern audience. This modernization becomes evident in a scene from
the third episode of the third season, His Final Vow,, in which pristine editingin this case
constructing the film from a vast array of techniques from lighting to camera anglein order to
put the viewer in the thoughts of Sherlock. It goes without saying that Doyle could not have
placed readers inside the mind of Sherlock in the same way that the show can through series of
imageswhat is more important to notice, however, more is more important than just the
showing, but rather, how it is shown. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Sherlock finds
himself at the behest of Mary, whom he mistakenly believes will not shoot him. As he is shot,
the music and pace slows, and we zoom in on the red-stain that is beginning to build upon his
shirt as the bullet has pierced into his upper-body. For the next three seconds of real-time (this
portion of the scene takes about two minutes screen time), we get to enter Sherlocks mind
palacea term that is used by Conan Doyle to describe Sherlocks innermost thoughts inside of
his thoughtsand we get a glimpse of just how quickly the magician can think. How the
question that frames this scene is: how are they able to create a sense of being inside of the mind
of Sherlock? The answer rests in one of the essential elements of editing continuity.
Throughout the shots, a continuous line of thought, at least in terms of an objective, is achieved.
Yet, even though the objective of the thought process is achieved, the way the frames, and shots,
are edited together reflect something of a stream-of-consciousness, which, in essence, is chaotic,
symbolically . Think about howrepresenting how the mind works. A humans mind is
continuously connected in a strain of thoughts, yet, within theseis strains comes an are an
eelement of randomness. Without going into the biology behind this, the mind, while focusing on
one particular element, can move to another because of the first element, and so forth
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seemingly, and perhaps indeed, randomly. This particular form of thinking is reflected in the idea
of a stream of consciousness narration, a literary technique developed in early 20
literature. in literature or, a depiction of the wanderings of the mind. Within Holmes mind
palace, the This stream of consciousness is evident in the way that the shots are constructed,
and allows the reader allowing the viewer to relatively naturally see the progression of thought
by Sherlock and to see the delineation of speed at which his mind runs. This chaotic nature is
reflected by the rapid shifting in the sequence of the shots. The viewer is taken from room, to
morgue, to room, to Mycrofts office, to room, to morgue- etc., within a very limited amount of
time; simultaneously, the characters shiftincluding the character of Sherlock between
childhood and adulthood several timesreflecting a fast-moving thought process and stream of
consciousness which is quickly processing everything that it needs to reach its objective. How in
this is there continuity, then? The answer is in, predominantly, that there is order in chaos.
Although the characters and scenes shift, seldom doto both change at the same time;- that is,
there is almost always one element of continuity from the last shot within each location. The
frames, then, have been set such that they reflect a near seamless transition between the two
elements in that they contain a continuous eye line as well as a constant proximity within the
eyelinethat is, the audience sees what Sherlock sees as he sees it.- Although the scene may be
shifting, these elements of continuity within the shots have been edited in a way to create or
order. Tthus, we have order and chaos co-existing; thus, they achieving e a form of stream of
consciousness which allows the viewer to see how quickly Sherlock can use the chaos of his fast-
moving mind to his advantage.
Moreover, the shots in the scene have been edited in a way such that there is a continuity
of lighting within the shots which only further reflects the mind of Sherlock and reflects the
Comment [JS5]: I made the choice to
remove this sentence as, even though I think it
is useful for explaining the topic, is repetitious
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Comment [JS6]: These are more thorough
details using film terminology, per the prompt,
that makes this paragraphs rhetorical analysis
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relation between what is occurring outside and inside of his head. As Sherlock slips close and
closer to death, we see a parallel shift in the lighting of the scenes and the music, or the lack
thereof, that is used. Moving in the ambulance to the hospital, the scene shifts from within his
headtalking to the straight-jacket contained Moriarty (perhaps meant to represent the recessed
pits of the mind of Sherlock)to hospital, and back. As he fades from this world, the music
shifts from a dramatic tone as he is shot to that of a climatic and dark overtonethroughout the
scene, an element of musical continuity is maintained that sets the emotional pace for the
audience. Similarly, tThroughout this sequence, a particular pattern can be seen in the lighting; a
blue haze has settled over the scene. From the more obvious blue of the surgeons coat, to the
heart-beat monitor, the sheetsto the more subtle blue tint within his mind-palace, the lighting
reflects the somber, sterile nature that Sherlock is currently in. The continuity, then, allows the
audience to see the clear parallels between the real-world and Sherlocks mind. Thismind. This
continuity becomes even more apparent through the juxtaposition of death and life sets in the
form of under-exposure (in terms of light) and over-exposure of light. As Sherlocks heartbeat
fades and he falls to the ground in his mind at Moriartys feetthe scene has become dark, the
music dim, the music has passed its climax and has died out, and the and the the lighting an
increasingly dark and hazy brown. The world, and his chances, as his eyes close looking up at
Moriartyreflecting (reflecting inferiority and submission, and in this case also to a symbol
of death), seem dim. It is the continuity of both the fading music and the change in lighting
reflect the life of Sherlock being drained, and ultimately are meant to climatically set the tone for
the viewers emotion and response .
Furthermore, tThis scene, reflecting deathboth in the physical, through the lack of the
heartbeat, and the mental, in the submission to Moriartyis then juxtaposed with his returning
Comment [JS7]: Music reference, added to
strengthen the continuity argument but from
a different angle
Comment [JS8]: Splitting this here allowed
me to go more in depth than I was originally
able to, and I believe it allowed me to
strengthen my analysis
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to life. The parallelism between the scenes, as with his death, similarly reflects his return to
health but in the opposite direction. The most obvious reflection is that as he beats his arm into
the ground, a reverberation goes through his thoughts that, after a jump-cut, is mirrored in the
heart-beat monitor and the music that is used. The music, running simultaneously with the
heartbeat monitor and the action within the scene, increases in intensity, vehemence, and energy
as Sherlock climbs the stairs to life. The viewer cannot help but feel his or her pulse raise a bit
too as heart-pumping energy contained in the music, as the music choice in this scene dictates
the tone for the emotions felt by the audience, as it did in the death sequence. Perhaps less
apparent, however, is the increasing light in the scene. From the dreary and black-pits of death,
the increasing heart-beat and music is paralleled by an increase in the intensity of light that
echoes him getting closer to recovery. Through all of thisthe juxtaposition of life and death,
the parallel light/scene editing, all leads the audience to witness the power of Sherlocks mind. It
becomes evident in this sceneby relating the real-world to Sherlocks mind that Sherlock
almost literally willed himself back to life. It almost seems as if, through this brilliant usage of
parallel editing, that Sherlock is able to accomplish anythingeven defeating deathwith the
power of his mind. Both of these parts construct a modern image of the mindand are then used
to reinforce to the audience a modernized version of the intelligence of Sherlock.
Although the intelligence and rationality of Sherlock are evident within the BBC version,
changes have been made in order to make his character, particularly with his near-romantic
relationships, more universally appealing. More specifically, as evidenced by the Scandal in
Belgravia, Sherlock is capable of putting on a guise of romantic entanglement with Irene Adler.
The scene at his apartment and then the flashback at the end of the episode are essentially the
same scenehowever, different camera angles and perspectives allow the viewer to see
Comment [JS9]: Talking about the music, in
parallel with my first paragraph to give more
interesting in-depth analysis of the scene
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contrasting forms of Sherlock. The first is the romantic Sherlock. Initially, without the aid of
the cameras and the contrasting perspectives offered in the flashback, the audience is meant to
see something that is, perhaps, a mere faade; that is, a Sherlock that can have romantic
attachmentsthis manipulation of plot, of course, or red-herring, is not all that that dissimilar
from the original texts and is another element that could be said to have carried over to the
modern iteration . This, of course, is very much contrary to the original conventions of Sherlock,
as the cold, calculating, and rational machine of the Victorian era. Although he maintains this,
theis seemingly new element of Sherlockthe romanticis contrary to his original characters
specifications, and has been created to match the audience of modern society; a society that
desires such romantic encounters. Whereas romance might not have had much of a place in the
classical stories, as there was only room for his intellect and deduction in the society in which he
was original created, a with a new medium and a new audience, allow for the the re-imagined
stories to add adage a of a romantic layer, and, adds moresubsequently, more intrigue for the
current audience. This layer, however, does not last long. At We see again, at the end of the
episode, the cold-calculating machine that Doyle created once again reappears in his entirity, as
he comments quite dramatically, sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing sideI
always assumed that love was a dangerous disadvantage, thank you for the final proof
(Sherlock). Throughout the scene, the shots are predominantly looking down upon Sherlock, in
close-up form, up looking up at Irene from a medium distance (medium shot); however, this
paradigm shifts when Sherlock says, Because I took your pulse. Immediately, the viewer is
shot to a differently edited scene this time portraying, using a close-up high angle shot, what
really happened. From this point on when viewing Irene, the camera looks down upon her,
while now looking up upon Sherlock, demonstrating the shift in power. Additionally, this shift
Comment [JS10]: An added comment that
qualifies another element that has been
moved to the modern setting
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can also be seen to represent the characteristic shift in the persona of Sherlock. What was once
perceived by the viewer as a hint at possible romance, from a distance (the audience does not
have a clear view of what is really happening), is now seen for what it truly isdeduction, and,
ultimately, Sherlocks superior intelligence, when the close-up is used. Not all is as it seems
although the character of Sherlock has been been adslightly adaptedopted to fit the modern
audience in that it is hoped that his potential proclivity towards romance would give him a
broader appeal, it is ultimately seen that Sherlock is still the rational intellectual that he had been
in the classic texts. In the end, it was not only Irene that is fooled, but the viewer is as well. Just
as the close-up shot has the effect of making Irene look up at him in the power shift, it also
causes a similar effect in the audience as the audience is left, in awe, of the intelligence of
Sherlock that could not be defeated. Although the red-herring that is the layer of romance adds
another flavor to the character of Sherlock, it is just another product of the intelligence and
rationality that define him as a character in both the classic texts and the modern version. Yet,
the adaptation also leaves room for the belief that Sherlock is capable of attachmentthe viewer
has to decide for themselves if they believe this to be the case, adding to Sherlocks appeal.
In the end, it is Sherlocks intelligence that makes him an appealing character. Strip away
his intelligence, and you lose his observational skills, his deduction, his reasoning, and the
magic trick that makes him appealing as a character. Coupled with a modern medium, the
adapted character of Sherlock is able to appeal to a modern audience on a broad scale. Like
Watson, whoin both the modern Steven Moffat adaptation and the classic textsthe audience
is left stunned and in awe of the deductive and intellectual prowess of the great consulting
detective, Sherlock Holmes. As long as the deductive and intellectual characteristic of Sherlock
and be adapted such that it continues to appeal to modern audiences, Sherlock will remain as
Comment [JS11]: A connection back to the
thesis, more thoroughly integrating it with my
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relevant and popular as ever. Coupled with a modern medium, the adapted character of Sherlock
is able to appeal to a modern audience on a broad scale.
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completely re-written to appeal more to the
reader and one that more effectively
concludes the work
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Works Cited
Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Sign of the Four. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2013.
Kindle eBook. Online.
Delameter, Jerome and Ruth Prigozy, eds. Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction.
New York: Praeger, 1997.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet. 2008. Project Gutenberg. Web

Doyle, A. (1892). Adventure 1: A Scandal in Bohemia. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
(Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved May 19, 2014, from

Dove, George N. The Reader and the Detective Story. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling
Green State University Popular Press, 1997. Print.

Panek, Leroy. An Introduction to the Detective Story. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling
Green State University Popular Press, 1987. Print.

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