Guest Blog -
Sherlock Holmes is always a white guy.
To be fair, that’s how he was written over one hundred years ago, by someone who was also a white guy. White guys, as one might expect, have a long and glorious history in Western literature as both writer and subject. They’re everywhere. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that (hey, some of my best friends are white guys!) but I don’t think I’m alone in thirsting for a deeper taste of the glorious rainbow that is human existence.
Does Sherlock Holmes always have to be a white guy?
Consider another hallowed canon of Western: all of the great Shakespearean heroes were white guys (with the sole exception of Othello, who was normally until modern times played by a white guy in makeup) as well. But that’s beginning to change. In Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, Don Pedro was played by Denzel Washington. In the recent BBC production of Richard II, the Bishop of Carlisle was played by Lucian Msamati (who has played Pericles on stage, by the way). Roles traditionally played by white actors have been played just fine by those of other races, and the world hasn't ended.
What about male roles played by women? Well, in Joss Whedon's new Much Ado About Nothing, Conrade was played by Riki Lindhome. It can be done, and I hope more and more major roles will see that willingness to bend gender. It's not Shakespeare's fault he lived in a time where they thought only white guys had adventures and stories worth telling. Perhaps theater has the advantage because every production is unique; every time a play is staged, it’s a new opportunity to tell the story from a different perspective, in a different tone, and let it be born anew.
Which brings us back to Sherlock Holmes. It’s beloved literature, but not so hallowed as Shakespeare. If Shakespeare can bend into something fresh and new without breaking, why not this as well? And the proof: the television series Elementary, with John Watson turned to Joan Watson and played wonderfully by Lucy Liu. (And Moriarty is a woman as well!) While in some quarters of the internet you'd think the world was about to come to an end, the series is clever, interesting, and has been renewed for a second season.
What about Sherlock Holmes, the Great Detective himself? Why can't it be, 'the Great Detective herself?'
In less enlightened times (or, sadly, in modern day in some dark, terrifying recesses of the internet) perhaps people would have argued that the qualities that made Holmes great as a detective were the purview of white men--intellect, logic, cool rationality. But we know that's not the case. I think what keeps Sherlock Holmes a white guy is the same thing that made some people complain when the Bishop of Carlisle was black--the sheer weight of tradition. But art is supposed to be a living, changing thing. We can appreciate the historical context, but it should also reflect something about who we are today.
And we're finally at a today where Don Pedro can be black, where Conrade can be a woman, and where John Watson can be an Asian-American woman. Some people might not like it, but we're doing it anyway and giving beloved stories new life. So why not? Why not reimagine Sherlock Holmes a woman?
I’ve never been the sort to stop just as that though, and I ran wild with the idea. Captain Ramos isn’t a faithful copy of Holmes, but rather a reimagining of the Great Detective written from my own more modern frame of reference and placed in a steampunk universe full of adventure and intrigue. Captain Ramos is first and foremost, a creature of intellect and logic, fueled by observation, quite similar (I hope) to Sherlock Holmes. I was tired of female investigators (successful as they are) being so often set up with intuition as their primary weapon, as if logic is something only men can do.
I’d recently become fascinated by the punk bit of steampunk; a pirate captain is in a good position to be anti-authoritarian and non-conformist. Perhaps in my own small moment of punk, I wrote the Captain to challenge the established stereotypes from movies and books that I've come to loathe.
The decision to make her Latina (as far as such an identity goes in the strange, alternate America in which she lives) was a subconscious one, I think a contrarian reaction to Latinas being so often stereotyped as "fiery." While there's a lot of life to the good Captain, a lot of humor and even passion, beneath it all she's cool and calculating ice.
I gave her a male sidekick that she would never in a million years have any sort of romantic or sexual interest in because I was so tired of hearing that men and women "can't be friends" and similar nonsense. And I made her part of the LGBTQ family because, well, damnit I'm a bisexual woman and I want to see more bisexual characters.
It’s the 21st century; high time for a glorious rainbow of Great Detectives.
There are currently three ebook novellas out about Captain Ramos: Murder on the Titania, The Ugly Tin Orrery, and The Curious Case of Miss Clementine Nimowitz (and Her Exceedingly Tiny Dog), with two more set to come out this year from Musa Publishing. I hope you'll have even more fun reading them than I had writing them!
All of these books can be found nearly wherever ebooks are sold, but here are the links for direct purchase from Musa!
Murder on the Titania: http://musapublishing.com/index.php?
The Ugly Tin Orrery: http://musapublishing.com/index.php?
The Curious Case of Miss Clementine Nimowitz (and Her Exceedingly Tiny Dog): http://musapublishing.com/index.php?