Sherlock Holmes, “Mormons”, and Canon

The only other “And Philosophy” essay of mine that mentions the Church is in Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy, though I don’t discuss the obvious thing: the second half of “A Study in Scarlet” where evil Mormons use Danites to terrorize women in marriages with lecherous older men (incidentally, when a young’un, I read a version of “A Study in Scarlet” that cut out the “Mormon” bits as unnecessary, and – at the time – I didn’t even notice they were missing; it wasn’t until much later in life I found out about the evil Mormon/Danite section).

Rather, I mentioned (in passing) our Church as a group with a (theoretically) open canon of scripture, whereas Sherlock Holmes has a (basically) closed canon.

Of course, even when a canon is “closed” that doesn’t mean it’s totally determined; there are always those pesky soft edges.  What to do with the two Doyle stories that appear in French editions of “The Complete Works” but are omitted from English editions because it’s not clear the “well known investigator” mentioned (but otherwise nameless) in both tales is Sherlock?

Or what about the several stories about Sherlock such as “How Watson Learned the Trick” – written by and published during Doyle’s lifetime yet were never admitted to the “canon” (to say nothing of the stories written by his son, which were intended to serve as new canon but were never accepted by the readers).

Of course, things “outside” the canon influence our perceptions of canon.  Holmes likely rarely wore a deerstalker cap, but actor William Gillette portrayed Holmes with one, so that’s how we picture him now.

However, think of our tradition.  While we revere Joseph Smith, not everything he wrote or said is “canonized.”  Some sections of the D&C are smaller sections of longer letters or discourses.  So, like how not all of Doyle’s Sherlock writings are considered “canon”, we have a similar issue, where not all writing attributed to an authoritative prophet are canon either.

While one might say the big difference is that in Holmesian canon, the readers/fans/experts determine canon, whereas in our Church the leadership does.  But the lines there are, of course, not so clearly defined.  Many things became canon due to popularity, so that the leadership merely reflected popular will. On the other hand, there are times when leadership imposed canon on something, but it took a while to “take” (so to speak) or not take amongst the laity.  And these dynamics play out whether we’re talking about the LDS tradition, Sherlock Holmes, or even Star Wars (after Disney bought it, Disney declared everything up to that point except the movies non-canon – but some things from the old canon were so popular they’ve found their way back in despite that).

And, to bring it back to the LDS connection and Holmes, the most fascinating of Holmesian “apocryphal” texts is when Doyle, before Holmes proved popular, wrote a play in three acts called “Angel of Darkness” – starring Doctor Watson battling evil Mormon Danites in America and finding love along the way.  While some Holmesian experts have tried to save the latter half of “A Study in Scarlet” (as it is clearly wildly exaggerated at best and outright false at worst) as either “true in the Holmes universe” or “the murder’s self-serving lies as told to Watson who wouldn’t know any better”, no one tries to figure out how this play might fit into the canon.  Like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, it’s just too wildly contradictory to the rest of the accepted canon to work.

Draw whatever lessons from all that you want to.

6 comments for “Sherlock Holmes, “Mormons”, and Canon

  1. I hope that Ivan Wolfe knows that Sherlock Holmes is not real.

    Just a figment of some guys imagination.

  2. To An Undiscerning Critic
    by Arthur Conan Doyle, in London Opinion (28 december 1912)

    Sure there are times when one cries with acidity,
    ‘Where are the limits of human stupidity?’
    Here is a critic who says as a platitude
    That I am guilty because ‘in gratitude
    Sherlock, the sleuth-hound, with motives ulterior,
    Sneers at Poe’s Dupin as “very inferior”.’
    Have you not learned, my esteemed communicator,
    That the created is not the creator?
    As the creator I’ve praised to satiety
    Poe’s Monsieur Dupin, his skill and variety,
    And have admitted that in my detective work
    I owe to my model a deal of selective work.
    But is it not on the verge of inanity
    To put down to me my creation’s crude vanity?
    He, the created, would scoff and would sneer,
    Where I, the creator, would bow and revere.
    So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle:
    The doll and its maker are never identical.

  3. Chloe, your statement seems to assume a position that God has spelled out very clearly which written works are supposed to be taken as the Word of God (aka, Canon). But I don’t think that’s true. For example, let’s take the Song of Solomon. It’s in our standards works. Yet if we go to the Bible Dictionary (which is included in the book, so is that part of canon too?) it says that the Songs of Solomon are not inspired writings. So is it canon? We even have in the Book of Mormon (canon) that errors and intentional alterations will be made to the record of the Jews (Bible). Yet even with knowing that uninspired corruptions and alterations have made it into the Bible we still consider it canon. So I find writings to be more than just the figment of some guys imagination to be fuzzy and have some pesky soft edges.

  4. Jader3rd you are so right.

    What you say is important and I think Ivan Wolfe did a great job in this article.

    I was going to come back and try and clean up my messy comment but you Jader3rd did a fatastic job fixing my awful mess.

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