If you follow BBC Sherlock fanart, or read its fanfiction very closely, you’ll come to see a recurrent theme: John Watson likes jam.
It tends to be strawberry, it almost always comes in a small jar, and it’s everywhere. It even spread to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. If you want to know what’s-the-what in the Sherlock fandom, you’re going to want to know about jam.
You’ll see it in fanart, like consultingdetective’s “Jawn”.
You’ll see it in fan comics, like coconutpug’s “John Plus Jam“.
You’ll see it in fanfiction:
John returned soon after, plate in hand. “Out of jam,” he explained, taking a bite of his toast then moving over to the fireplace.
The Green Blade, by verityburns
Jars of John’s jam were smashed all over the floor and Sherlock’s chair was duct taped to the ceiling.
John is Evil, by DeeTheVulcanTimeLady
All in all, it had a rather simple beginning: in an adorable webcomic by Harkavagrant (Kate Beaton), lamenting the change in John Watson’s depiction in film.
Posted with permission by Kate Beaton, www.harkavagrant.com
Here’s the context to that literary joke: in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, John Watson is a quick-witted young army doctor, capable of rapid decision making and great bravery. But he isn’t always depicted that way. In fact, he was given a fairly unrecognizable personality almost from the start. The first widely well-received movie series for Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, included fourteen movies, released from 1939 to 1946. Its director, Alfred L. Werker, turned Dr. Watson into a bumbling, unreliable fool in order to put Holmes’ genius into greater relief and provide light-heartedness to the often dark plotlines. Kate Beaton lampoons that change in her hand-drawn comic – but it’s the last two panels, of course, that were destined to spark our viral meme.
Possibly. In season one, episode three, “The Great Game,” John Watson is inspecting railroad tracks as part of his investigation into the death of Andrew West when the attendant mentions “It’s over in a split second – strawberry jam all over the lines.” John replies, “Yeah, speaking of strawberry jam, there’s no blood on the line.” So isn’t that a reference? It seems like a clear shout-out. And it’s such an awkward line, otherwise, right? You’d think it must be jam fan service. And jam has been referenced by a BBC Sherlock actor – we’ll talk about that in a minute.
But here’s the deal: the timing for this one is a bit rough. “The Great Game” aired on August 8, 2010.
Well, that’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. The comic isn’t dated, the tumblr posts that reblog it are generally not dated (and people are still reblogging it, so the best we could do is tell when it must have been published by, and that’s no fun at all). And nobody in the fandom seemed to know.
Couldn’t we just ask Kate Beaton, you say?
Probably. But where’s the arduous research project in that?
And date it, we did.
Here’s how we found out.
Kate Beaton’s tumblr, thinking hey, those are dated, if we can find when she posted her own comic on tumblr, we’ll have an approximate publishing date! And so we followed her tumblr back to January 16 2012, when it sadly ends without our beloved jam post.
But now what? We tried a strange tool made by MIT grads to ‘carbon date’ a website page, but that gave us nothing.
First Idea = Fail. Now it was time for some serious sleuthing.
We went back a few posts on the comic, read her blog, and found this little nugget of information: it’s the 100th year anniversary of Peary’s final expedition to the North Pole. So when did Peary visit the North Pole for the last time? 1909.
So it’s definitely 2009. Before “The Great Game” referenced strawberry jam! But when in 2009?
In the next post – one post before our jam! – Kate Beaton promised to give an interview with Inkblot on “this Thursday the 20th”, leaving that day to be at Vancouver’s ComicCon “this coming weekend”.
Unfortunately, Vancouver’s ComicCon website gave us two dates – September 13th 2009 or November 15th 2009. And both those dates come before “this Thursday the 20th” when she was supposed to be leaving to travel to Canada.
Hark, a vagrant date – There was no Thursday September 20th, 2009. That’s a Sunday. And no Thursday November 20th, 2009 either. That’s a Friday.
But, what about that Inkstuds interview – “this Thursday the 20th”? We couldn’t find it – until we knew it was Thursday the 20th, 2009. Find it we did and the date matched!
Eureka! We found the date!
So apparently Kate Beaton spent a ton of time in Vancouver, to have been leaving Thursday, August 20th, 2009 for a ComicCon on September 13, right around when she published a multi-paneled comic about the changing depiction of John Watson in Sherlock film.
Harkavagrant put out its comic in August or September of 2009, and the meme began to build up steam and cross over from Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories’ fandom into the BBC Sherlock realm.The BBC started production of the first episodes of BBC Sherlock in January of 2010. If the BBC truly had its ear to the ground, it might have found our friendly neighborhood Jam meme in time to shoot “The Great Game” with a strawberry jam shout-out. Given how attentive and reactive to fans the BBC manages to be, it’s possible. We think it’s likely.
We’d like to tip our hat to Martin Freeman (John Watson in BBC Sherlock), for bringing the Jam meme to Middle Earth.
You read that right – Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings’ Middle Earth.
The idea that ‘John Watson likes jam’ has become so pervasive that Martin Freeman referred to it in his recent role as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, pleading with the dwarves “not the jam, please!”. Tumblr of course exploded with fanart, bringing the meme to The Hobbit’s fandom. You can see some of the Hobbit-Sherlock fusions that resulted in Pulvis’ work “Bilbo, Kili and the Jar of Jam” and “Master Hobbit Amuses Master Dwarf” by Lokipitch.
You can see some of the Hobbit-Sherlock fusions that resulted here and here.
Over the last four years the meme has evolved, becoming absorbed in the meme ‘Martin Freeman/John Watson is made of Jam, Kittens, and Rage’ and spawning a spin off meme that Sherlock Holmes likes nutella. You can find some of that building war in MillietheFreak’s Jam Vs Nutella.
So there you have it – all there is to know about John Watson’s jam-packed meme. More than most fans know!
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