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It is time to talk about my second favorite sleuth from crime fiction, right after Monsieur Hercule Poirot. He is none other than, Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh Medical School and based in London as a “consulting detective”. His abilities border on the fantastic, mainly due to his famous logical reasoning or Art of Deduction. Holmes also has the ability to adopt almost any disguise, and uses forensic science skills to solve cases.

For the Uninitiated, if such people do exist, Sir Arthur brought Holmes to life in 1887, basing his inspiration on  Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for whom Sir Arthur had worked as a clerk. In some literature, Sir Henry Littlejohn, Chair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, is also cited as an inspiration for Holmes. Littlejohn served as Police Surgeon and Medical Officer of Health of Edinburgh, providing for Doyle a link between medical investigation and the detection of crime. Since 1887 Holmes was featured in four novels and 56 short stories. The first novel, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887 and the second, The Sign of the Four, in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890. The character grew tremendously in popularity with the first series of short stories in The Strand Magazine, beginning with “A Scandal in Bohemia” in 1891; further series of short stories and two novels published in serial form appeared between then and 1927. The stories cover a period from around 1880 up to 1914.

In the stories of Sir Arthur, Holmes resides at 221B Baker Street, as address which is as famous as the catchphrase “Elementary, my dear Watson”. Did you know, this catchphrase is never actually uttered by Holmes in any of the sixty Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur? In the stories, Holmes often remarks that his logical conclusions are “elementary”, in that he considers them to be simple and obvious. He also, on occasion, refers to Dr. Watson as “my dear Watson”. The two fragments, however, never appear together. Holmes speaks the exact phrase in the 1953 short story “The Adventure of the Red Widow” by Conan Doyle’s son Adrian.

This brings us to the fact that Holmes’s character has an enduring popularity that has led to hundreds of works based on the character – both adaptations into other media and original stories. The copyright in all of Conan Doyle’s works expired in the United Kingdom in 1980 and are public domain there. On February 14, 2013, noted Holmes scholar Leslie S. Klinger filed a declaratory judgement suit against the Conan Doyle estate in the Northern District of Illinois, asking that the court acknowledge that the characters of Holmes and Watson are in the public domain, no longer protected by copyright in the U.S. The court ruled in Klinger’s favor on Dec. 23, 2013.

Did you know the Guinness World Records has consistently listed Sherlock Holmes as the “most portrayed movie character” with more than 70 actors playing the part in over 200 films?

The canon of Holmes consisting of the fifty-six short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur has seen many screen adaptations for motion pictures in the silent black and white era and later in sound films. It has been adapted for radio shows, TV Movies etc. The list of actors who have played Holmes is thus, very long. Did you know the only actors to have portrayed Holmes and Watson in adaptations of every Doyle story are Clive Merrison and Michael Williams, who played the detective and the doctor respectively in a BBC Radio 4 series which ran from 1989 until 1998?

There is also the non-canonical Sherlock Holmes works which can be divided into four broad categories; new Sherlock Holmes stories; stories in which Holmes appears in a cameo role; stories about imagined descendants of Sherlock Holmes; and stories inspired by Sherlock Holmes but which do not include Holmes himself. They appear in various media, Print, TV, Radio, Motion Pictures, Animation, Video Games,

The craze for Holmes in new Millennium is fueled in the motion pictures by the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, based on a story by Lionel Wigram and directed by Guy Ritchie, the role of Holmes is performed by Robert Downey, Jr. with Jude Law portraying Watson. It is a reinterpretation which focuses on Holmes’s more anti-social personality traits as an unkempt eccentric with a brilliant analytical mind and formidable martial abilities. Robert Downey Jr. won the Golden Globe Award for his portrayal. Both Downey Jr. and Law returned in the 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

This is closely followed by the BBC One TV series Sherlock, which premiered on 25 July 2010. The series changes the books’ original Victorian setting to the shady and violent present-day London. In the show, Benedict Cumberbatch plays a modern-day version of the detective, with Martin Freeman as Watson.  The show was created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, best known as writers for the BBC television series Doctor Who. Sherlock also uses modern technology, such as texting and blogging, to solve crimes, and in a nod towards changing smoking legislation, he has replaced his pipe with multiple nicotine patches, as London has forbidden smoking in most public areas.

In similar vein Holmes finds another portrayal in Elementary, premiered on 27 September 2012, CBS. It takes place in modern-day New York starring Jonny Lee Miller as the recovering drug addict Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson, the sober companion and later partner. The series was created by Robert Doherty. The series has been well received by critics, who have praised the performances, writing and novel approach to the source material.

In all representations of Holmes, whether by Sir Arthur or the subsequent writers and screenwriters, he has what Watson states as “aversion to women” but “a peculiarly ingratiating way with [them]”. Holmes states, “I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind”; in fact, he finds “the motives of women… so inscrutable…. How can you build on such quicksand? Their most trivial actions may mean volumes;… their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin”. As Doyle remarked to muse Joseph Bell, “Holmes is as inhuman as a Babbage’s calculating machine and just about as likely to fall in love”. This is perhaps the reason I find Holmes a bit of chauvinist and rather inhuman and more of “an automaton, a calculating machine”. Holmes is dismissive of his clients unless they bring an interesting case and loses interest in them after the Problem has been identified. Holmes lacks interest in relationships with women in general, and clients in particular, leading Watson to remark that “there is something positively inhuman in you at times”. And so, he remains my second favorite sleuth in detective/crime fiction.

But as the non-canonical works have grown so has the character of Holmes grown with it, adding little nuances to the seemingly inhuman automaton, which makes him more human to me. In light of some of the monologues that Holmes delivers in the TV series, Sherlock and Elementary one can’t help acknowledging the method of “Holmesian deduction” which appears to consist primarily of drawing inferences based on either straightforward practical principles—which are the result of careful observation. The deductive reasoning applies perfectly to both the study of different kinds of cigar ashes as well as life & relationships. One quote often heard from Holmes is

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

And so Sherlock Holmes lives on even after a century has passed since he was created.




Reference Sources: Wikipedia.


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