My Tips on Teaching a Course on Sherlockian Adaptations by Mimi Okabe




This list, although it is by no means comprehensive, is based off a recent second-year, special topics course that I taught at the University of Alberta entitled, “Sherlock Holmes & the Transcultural Imagination.” As the name indicates, this course focused on various cultural adaptations (film, TV shows, anime and manga) of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Of course, one of the challenges of developing such a course was in narrowing down which texts to teach. My inner child told me “well, why not all of ’em?!” and if I had a year, or better yet two to three years then, perhaps, I could assign all 56 short stories and four novels! Alas, for a course that spanned but a mere four months, I had to make some strategic cuts. Here are some of my tips to (hopefully) make the process easier for you:


1) Selects texts that speak to your course objectives. This might be obvious, but in the sheer excitement of designing your ideal course, you might get sidetracked. The texts chosen for my class were organized thematically. It was important for me that students could make thematic connections between (cultural) texts and compare them to Doyle’s original works. As much as this was a course about Sherlock Holmes, it was also about the ways in which the vestige of the British empire (manifest in the figure of the Victorian sleuth) are challenged and renegotiated by cultural detectives from around the world.


2) Tailor the reading list to what you know, but at the same time don’t be afraid to take some risks. Since my research interest lies in the field of Japanese detective fiction, but more specifically adaptions of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in the medium of manga, I was naturally inclined to dedicate a portion of the class to an exploration of Japanese works by authors such as Edogawa Rampo and Okamoto Kido. I also included Sherlock Hound, and this course could not have been completed without Aoyama Gosho’s Detective Conan (hands down one of the most interesting detective/mystery manga and perhaps the most self-conscious).


However, I also wanted to weave in other cultural adaptations to expand the scope of this course. When I came across Byomkesh Bakshi, (the Bengali truth seeker), I was both excited and reluctant. Not much as been published on Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s works, let alone Dibakar Banerjee’s cinematic adaption in North America, which we watched in class, but I found Byomkesh to fit nicely within the course’s thematic context of post-colonialism/subaltern detective.
Often, especially in academia, we equate expertise of knowledge with good teaching, but it’s not always the case. The delivery of information and strong facilitation of discussion, I find, is far more engaging and productive in the learning experience (for both students and instructors) than just being a delegator. I may not be an expert in Bengali detective fiction, but I found some commonalities between it and Japanese detective fiction, particularly in terms of how the Sherlockian detective is appropriated across cultures to address its own political agenda and, often, nationalist sentiments. Using this knowledge as a point of departure raises a kind of cultural awareness that enabled students to appreciate and understand the historical and “literary” significance of non-English works.

3) Select “landmark” texts

Perhaps this is a subjective matter, but what I mean by this is to choose several texts that have laid out some of the foundational tropes, conventions and qualities of classic detective fiction, and/or highlight the universe of Sherlock Holmes. Before asking students to read adaptations of Doyle’s works, it’s important that they have some fundamental knowledge about the Sherlockian canon and of detective fiction. For example, I used “The Speckled Band” to introduce one of Doyle’s locked-room mysteries and “The Dancing Men” as an example of his first Cipher mystery. While thematically speaking, you can focus on how both stories illustrate the problematic representation of the criminal Other, both the locked-room mystery and the cipher mystery were not invented by Doyle, but were inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. Even if you decide to organize your reading list thematically, it should also make chronological sense regarding the genre’s literary development. I included Poe’s “The Purloined Letters,” and the first lecture was dedicated to an overview of detective fiction, in general, to situate the course content. In other words, provide breadth of knowledge as well as depth of knowledge (to the best of your ability).

You can also refer to Doyle’s list of favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, or ask your local Sherlockian society for advice.

For those who have taught Sherlock Holmes, or are huge fans of his works, tell me, which texts are a must? Rank them from 1 (most important) to 7 (least important).


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