When presented with the thrilling challenge of writing an article, especially the first in an on-going series(!), there is always one thing that is universally a very good idea; write about something you know and like; it will make life a bit easier and from there it will be an adventure. So I looked around and thought, what is out there for a geeky actress book worm who loves to laugh and think to write about in pop culture? After posing the question to a fellow coworker (thanks Matthew!) I had an answer: Sherlock Holmes! Specifically the evolution of this iconic character in pop culture from his conception to the current date. Let us begin with the original stories…
Sherlock Holmes was introduced to readers as the main character in novels and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Told from the point of view of Holmes’ close friend and flat mate Dr John Watson, a war veteran and private physician, who sometimes accompanies Holmes on his adventures, the stories are about the various cases Holmes has undertaken as a consulting detective. The first Holmes adventure to be printed was A Study in Scarlet, a novel, published in 1887. Fun Fact: A Study in Scarlet was the first detective story to have the magnifying glass as a crime solving instrument.
In this story Watson has just returned from the wars in the Middle East. Having sustained an injury he is forced to retire and, through a mutual friend, meets Holmes who is looking for someone to split the rent of a certain 221B Baker Street flat (Been there! Yes the place exists!) Watson finds Holmes fascinating and cannot help but notice the almost constant stream of visitors Holmes receives. Holmes reveals that he is a consulting detective and invites Watson to go on a murder investigation with him so he may see his methods first hand. When they arrive at the scene of the crime with two members of Scotland Yard they find a male corpse, blood in the room but no injury on the body, papers stating the victim was in London with a friend, and written in blood above the body “RACHE” which means revenge in German.
Now don’t worry; no spoilers here. You’ll just have to read it to find out what happens. Suffice it to say, Holmes solves the murder plus the subsequent murder of the first victim’s companion. The real fun though is trying to figure out how Holmes figures it out! In these stories he relies almost completely on observation and when that isn’t enough disguise, a few well placed homeless men and grocers boys as spies, the occasional false add in the paper, and his vast knowledge of the most bizarre things serves to do the trick. Anyway, even though Holmes is the one who brings Lady Justice her due, Scotland Yard is given all the credit. Holmes is not concerned by it but Watson insists that he write it down and publish the adventure. When Homes refuses Watson takes it upon himself. The rest is literary history.
After that first book the super sleuth and the good doctor return in The Strand Magazine in the short stories. Between the years 1891-1892 there were 12 stories published collected together as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Further collections were called The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow, and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes and the other novel titles were The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles (my favorite), and The Valley of Fear.
Holmes was so popular that when Doyle killed him off, public outcry was so severe that he brought the famous sleuth back. My father, the man who introduced me to the character, always told me that Doyle resented his character for taking over his life. Still he continued to deliver and Holmes’s “life” endured for years culminating in a total of 56 short stories and the four books. Since then Holmes has appeared as a character in many books, graphic novels, and even comics either in his original tales or in new ones. In fact Holmes is so great he cannot be kept on paper…
NEXT WEEK: Holmes Continued (That’s Part II – The Plays and Radio Dramas)