Netflix's newest film Enola Holmes combines three actors from some of the streamer's most prominent shows as the Holmes family: Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) plays the titular Enola, Henry Cavill (The Witcher) plays Sherlock, and Sam Claflin (Peaky Blinders) plays Mycroft. But fans who have read at least a few of the original stories about Sherlock (or more realistically, watched Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock) might have a few questions. Mycroft Holmes is a character who regularly appears in the Sherlock Holmes stories. But Enola seems to have come out of nowhere. So, was Enola Holmes in the Sherlock books? She's someone Arthur Conan Doyle couldn't have even begun to imagine.
The original Sherlock Holmes stories weren't novels when Doyle started publishing them in 1887. Instead, they were short stories or medium-length novellas that appeared in magazines and periodicals like Beeton's Christmas Annual and the Strand Magazine.
These were male detective fiction stories, written for men, by men. Women rarely appeared in any Holmes stories, other than as mysterious clients — and Holmes' long-suffering housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, of course. Dr. Watson, Holmes' faithful companion, falls in love with one of these clients, Mary, but she promptly disappears after he marries her. Sherlock does sort of fall for a woman named Irene Adler, but like Mary, she's a one-and-done character, never to be seen again. Sherlock even gets "engaged" at one point, to a conveniently absent woman who disappears quickly once the pretense is dropped.
There are no significant children characters in the books whatsoever; supposedly, Watson has kids, but they barely rate a mention.
So, where does Enola come from? Sherlock Holmes is old enough that the source material and the characters are out of copyright. (That's how come there are so many adaptations floating around.) It also means other writers can use Sherlock Holmes and his companions in their stories without fear of retribution.
One such writer, Nancy Springer, is an American novelist of fantasy and fiction. She created the Enola Holmes character as a new angle on the Sherlock myth, with his "heretofore unknown little sister" as the central character. There are six books in all, starting with 2006's The Case of the Missing Marquess and ending with 2010's The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye.
In Springer's telling, Enola is the real talent in the family, one who's been shut out due to the anti-women attitudes of the 1890s. Sherlock and Mycroft slowly learn to become more open-minded about Enola's talents and wind up with a grudging admiration for their little sister.
It's a savvy way to make the Sherlock stories more accessible to a new generation of readers who expect a more enlightened attitude.
Enola Holmes arrives on Netflix on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.