Sherlockian Interpretations of Johnlock

Curator's Note

Sherlock Holmes community holds different views in how it interacts with the Canon written by Arthur Conan Doyle, how it accepts pastiche written by paid authors, and how it reacts to fan fiction written by community members. While many recognize and enjoy exploring different aspects of the canon and fandom, a schism can be felt when debating the possibilities of a romantic relationship between the two main characters.

Referred to as Johnlock by fans who support the theory that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are in fact lovers, this idea can generate intrigue and even heated discussion at its most combative within the community. Many of the more established, and often older, Sherlockians consider themselves to be part of a literary society. As such, they see the canon of Sherlock Holmes—with Sherlock and John as friends—taking precedence over any other reading. More liberal parts of the community consider the canon to be malleable, and often have much stronger leanings towards or support for the LGBTQ+ community. Some of them consider themselves to be shippers of Johnlock. Hundreds of them have written over 50,000 pieces of fan fiction and created many pieces of fan art to support their ship.

A vocal minority of these shippers were upset with the producers of the BBC production Sherlock for not portraying this relationship on-screen, pointing to several nods towards the LGBTQ+ community in the show and the orientation of the co-producer. This issue resurfaced when Martin Freeman, who portrayed Watson in Sherlock, indicated that this controversy was a reason why he did not enjoy making season 4.

While one might assume that this minority did not mean to harm the show’s production, this issue has caused some community members to disparage shipping. To some Sherlockians, the mere mention of a relationship is verboten. To other fans in the community, especially newcomers and LGBTQ+ folks, this reaction can be interpreted as a dog whistle. To move forward, community members need to question issues of engagement, representation, adaptation, and fandom, resisting the kind of gatekeeping that could close off their community.

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