Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective of the late 19th and early 20th century, created by British author and physician Arthur Conan Doyle. He is famous for his prowess at using logic and careful observation to solve cases.

Sherlock Holmes describes himself as a "consulting detective", which means that he is brought into cases that have proven too difficult for other investigators; we are told that he is often able to solve a problem without leaving home (although this aspect is somewhat lost in the stories themselves, which focus on the more interesting cases which often do require him to do actual legwork). He specializes in solving unusual cases using his extraordinary powers of observation and "deduction" which he often likes to demonstrate to new clients by noting his educated guesses as to their personal details and recent activities (see below).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle credits the inception of Holmes on his teacher at the medical school of Edinburgh University, the gifted surgeon and forensic detective Joseph Bell, forensic science being a new type of science at the time. However, some years later Bell wrote to Conan Doyle: "you are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it" (Baring-Gould, p. 8). The 'Sherlock Holmes' name was derived from a pair of cricketers – however some early notes give his name as Sherrinford Holmes. "Holmes" was named after Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom Conan Doyle admired, and an English cricketer named Sherlock.

It is a popular myth that Sherlock Holmes gave rise to the entire genre of murder mystery fiction; in reality, the detective genre was alive before Holmes, if not one which followed a logical progression to the solution. Many fictional detectives have imitated Holmes' logical methods and followed in his footsteps, in many different ways. Some of the more popular fictional detectives to continue Holmes' legacy include Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen, Perry Mason, Columbo, Dick Tracy, and even the comic book superhero Batman. Modern variants might be the NBC TV series Law and Order: Criminal Intent and the USA Network's show Monk. Monk even replicates the Holmesian style of "quiet analysis", during which no one speaks to the character while he works. Also, Monk has an older brother, who, like Holmes, is a bit more able but less interested in crime (See also Detective fiction).



Sherlock Holmes (right) and Dr. Watson, by
Sherlock Holmes (right) and Dr. Watson, by Sidney Paget

Holmes was said to have lived from 1881 at 221B Baker Street, London (an upper-storey flat at 221 Baker Street; in early notes it was described as Upper Baker Street), where he spent many of his professional years with his only friend Dr. John H. Watson, with whom he shared rooms for some time, before Watson's marriage (1890). The residence was maintained by the landlady Mrs. Hudson.

In many of the stories Holmes is assisted by the practical Watson, who is not only Holmes's friend but his chronicler (his "Boswell"). Most of Holmes' stories are told as reports, by Watson, of Holmes' solutions to actual crimes; in some later stories, Holmes criticises Watson for his writings, usually because of Watson's decision to tell them as exciting stories rather than as objective and detailed reports. In an early plot outline, Doyle apparently intended for the role of Watson to be filled by two junior detectives named Sandifer and Phillip; who would write one another concerning the details of the case.

Holmes also has an older brother, Mycroft Holmes, who appears in three stories—"The Greek Interpreter", "The Final Problem", and "The Bruce-Partington Plans"—and is mentioned in a number of others, including "The Empty House".

In three stories, including The Sign of Four, he is assisted by a group of street children or urchins he calls the Baker Street Irregulars.

In the very first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, something of Holmes's background is given. On March 4, 1881 he is presented as an independent student of chemistry with a variety of very curious side-interests, almost all of which turn out to be single-mindedly bent toward making Holmes superior at solving crimes. In another early Holmes story, "The Gloria Scott", more background on what caused Holmes to become a detective is presented: a college friend's father complimented him very highly on his deductive skills.

In A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson makes an evaluation of Sherlock's skills:

"Sherlock Holmes–his limits"

  1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
  2. " " Philosophy.—Nil.
  3. " " Astronomy.—Nil.
  4. " " Politics.—Feeble.
  5. " " Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
  6. Knowledge of Geology.—Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
  7. Knowledge of Chemistry.—Profound.
  8. " " Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
  9. " " Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
  10. Plays the violin well.
  11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
  12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

For all of his knowledge, he is imparted with an IQ of 190 (explicitly revealed).

Later stories make clear, however, that the above list is misleading, and that Holmes—who has just met Watson—is pulling Watson's leg. Two examples: Despite Holmes' supposed ignorance of politics, in "A Scandal in Bohemia" he immediately recognizes the true identity of the supposed Count von Kramm. Regarding non-sensational literature, Holmes' speech is replete with references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and even Goethe.

Holmes is also a competent cryptanalyst; he relates to Watson that he is "fairly familiar with all forms of secret writing, and am myself the author of a trifling monograph upon the subject in which I analyse one hundred and sixty separate ciphers." One such scheme is solved in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" which uses a series of stick figures, for example:

Dancing men ciphertext

Elsewhere Holmes himself mentions that he has "some knowledge" of baritsu, "the Japanese system of wrestling", by means of which he escaped the death-grip of his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty (who, however, figures in only two of the stories, despite his later reputation).

In this same first story, Doyle presents a comparison between his debuting character and two earlier established and better known at the time fictional detectives: Edgar Allan Poe's Auguste Dupin and Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq. Dupin had first appeared in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", first published in 1841, and Lecoq in "L'Affaire Lerouge" ("The Lerouge Affair") in 1866. The brief discussion between Watson and Holmes about the two characters begins with a comment by Watson:

"You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories."

Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."

"Have you read Gaboriau's works?" I asked. "Does Lecoq come up to your idea of a detective?"

Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically. "Lecoq was a miserable bungler," he said, in an angry voice; "he had only one thing to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me positively ill. The question was how to identify an unknown prisoner. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. Lecoq took six months or so. It might be made a textbook for detectives to teach them what to avoid."

Sherlock seems convinced that he is superior to both of them, while Watson expresses his admiration of the two characters. It has been suggested that this was a way for Doyle to pay some respect to characters by writers who had influenced him, while insisting that his character is an improvement over them.

Holmes' arch-enemy, and popularly-supposed nemesis was Professor James Moriarty ("the Napoleon of Crime") who fell, struggling with Holmes, over the Reichenbach Falls. Conan Doyle intended "The Final Problem", the story in which Holmes and Moriarty fell over the cliff, to be the last that he wrote about Holmes; however the mass of mailings he received demanding that he bring Holmes back convinced him to continue. "The Adventure of the Empty House" had Conan Doyle explaining that only Moriarty fell over the cliff, but Holmes had allowed the world to believe that he too had perished while he dodged the retribution of Moriarty's underlings. Notably, Moriarty never appears directly in the stories; Watson never encounters Moriarty, and so the encounters between Holmes and his nemesis are described by Holmes.

Irene Adler was always referred to by Holmes and his fans as "The Woman". She appeared only in "A Scandal in Bohemia", but she is often thought to be the only woman who broke through Holmes' reserve. In one story, "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", Holmes is engaged to be married, but only with the motivation of gaining information for his case.

He clearly demonstrates particular interest in several of the more charming female clients that come his way (such as Violet Hunter of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", who Watson thought might become more than a client to Holmes). However, the context implies that Holmes found their youth, beauty, and energy (and the cases they bring to him) invigorating, as opposed to an actual romantic interest, as Holmes inevitably "manifested no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems."

If he was able to turn on a certain amount of charm, as indicated by these episodes, there is no indication of a serious or long-term interest apart from the case of Adler. Watson states that Holmes has an "aversion to women" but "a peculiarly ingratiating way with [them]." Holmes stated "I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind." His dislike may have stemmed from the fact he found "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"; this resistance to his deductive processes may have annoyed him.

Watson, on the other hand, has a perhaps justifiable reputation as a ladies' man: he spoke favorably of some women and actually married one, Mary Morstan of The Sign of Four (and another following Mary's death (1892), according to Holmes, and possibly one more according to some interpretations of the text).

However Holmes is not at all a stuffy strait-laced Victorian gentleman; in fact, he describes himself and his habits as "Bohemian". He apparently suffers from bipolar disorder, alternating between days or weeks of listless lassitude and similar periods of intense engagement with a challenging case or with his hobby, experimental chemistry, "extreme exactness and astuteness... [or a] poetic and contemplative mood", "outbursts of passionate energy... followed by reactions of lethargy". Some Holmes researchers, however, believe the symptoms to be closer to those of ADD, since his mood swings have causes and are not completely arbitrary. Modern readers of the Holmes stories are apt to be surprised that he is an occasional user of cocaine, though Watson describes this as Holmes's "only vice". Watson might not have considered as a vice Holmes's habit of smoking (usually a pipe) heavily, nor his tendency to bend the truth and break the law (i.e. lie to the police, conceal evidence, burgle, housebreak, but not, say, murder or rape) when it suited his purposes; in Victorian England these were probably not considered vices as long as they were done by a gentleman for noble purposes. Since a large portion of the plot revolved around doing such things, a modern reader must accept actions which would be out of character for a 'law-abiding' detective living by the standards of a later time.

Holmesian (or Sherlockian) deduction

Missing image
Holmes's pipe, hat, and magnifying glass resting in his living room in London.

"From a drop of water"—Holmes wrote in an essay described in A Study in Scarlet—"a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other." Holmes stories often begin with a bravura display of Holmes' talent for "deduction". It is of some interest to logicians and those interested in logic to try to analyze just what Holmes is doing when he performs his deduction. Holmesian (the British adjective; Americans say "Sherlockian") deduction appears to consist primarily of drawing inferences based on either straightforward practical principles—which are the result of careful inductive study, such as Holmes's study of different kind of cigar ashes—or inference to the best explanation. In many cases, the inference can be modelled either way. In 2002, Holmes was inducted as an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry—the only fictional character so honored—in appreciation of the contributions to forensic investigation.

Holmes's straightforward practical principles are generally of the form, "If p, then q," where "p" is observed evidence and "q" is what the evidence indicates. But there are also, as one may observe in the following example, often some intermediate principles. In "A Scandal in Bohemia", Holmes deduces that Watson had gotten very wet lately and that he had "a most clumsy and careless servant girl". When Watson, in amazement, asks how Holmes knows this, Holmes answers:

It is simplicity itself . . . my eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey.

In this case, we might say Holmes employed several connected principles such as these:

  • If leather on the side of a shoe is scored by several parallel cuts, they were caused by someone who scraped around the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it.

(Of course they could be used to remove anything from the shoe, or by someone wishing to damage the shoe.)

  • If a nineteenth-century London doctor's shoes are scraped to remove crusted mud, the person who so scrapes them is the doctor's servant girl.
  • If someone cuts a shoe while scraping it to remove encrusted mud, that person is clumsy and careless.

(But of course we only gather that mud was scraped off by the information above.)

  • If someone's shoes had encrusted mud on them, that person has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather.

(Which seems a very bad turn of speech. People would be likely to get wet often! Also the mud need not be placed there recently anyway.)

By applying such principles in an obvious way (using repeated applications of modus ponens), Holmes is able to infer from

p: The sides of Watson's shoes are scored by several parallel cuts.


q1: Watson's servant girl is clumsy and careless.


q2: Watson has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather.

But perhaps Holmes is not giving a proper explanation—after all Holmes may be well aware of Watson's servant girl. As Watson is a doctor and it has been raining, it is likely he has been out in the rain.

In other instances of Holmesian deduction, it is more difficult to model his inference as deduction using general principles, and logicians and scientists will readily recognize the method used, instead, as an inductive one—in particular, argument to the best explanation, or, in Charles S. Peirce's terminology, abduction. That Holmes should have called this deduction is entirely plausible, however; in several stories, Holmes is said not to have known anything at all of philosophy, although he quotes Thomas Carlyle.

The instances in which Holmes uses deduction tend to be those where he has amassed a large body of evidence, produced a number of possible explanations of that evidence, and then proceeds to find one explanation that is clearly the best at explaining the evidence. For example, in The Sign of Four, a man is found dead in his room, with a ghastly smile on his face, and with no immediately visible cause of death. From a whole body of background information as well as evidence gathered at and around the scene of the crime, Holmes is able to infer that the murderer is—not the various people that Scotland Yard has in custody (each of them being an alternative explanation)—but rather another person entirely. As Holmes says in the story, "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" This phrase has entered Western popular culture as a catchphrase.

In the latter example, in fact, Holmes's solution of the crime depends both on a series of applications of general principles and argument to the best explanation.

Holmes's success at his brand of deduction, therefore, is due to his mastery of both a huge body of particular knowledge of things like footprints, cigar ashes, and poisons, which he uses to make relatively simple deductive inferences, and the fine art of ordering and weighing different competing explanations of a body of evidence. Holmes is also particularly good at gathering evidence by observation, as well locating and tracking the movements of criminals through the streets of London and environs (in order to produce more evidence)—skills that have little to do with deduction per se, but everything to do with providing the premises for particular Holmesian deductions.

In the stories by Conan Doyle, Holmes often remarked that his logical conclusions were "elementary", in that he considered them to be simple and obvious. However, the complete phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" does not appear in any of the 60 Holmes stories written by Doyle. It does appear at the very end of the 1929 film, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the first Sherlock Holmes sound film.

It should be noted too, that our modern stereotype of police procedure—someone who looks for physical clues, rather than someone who examines opportunity and motive—comes from Holmes.

Readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories have often been surprised to discover that their author, Conan Doyle, was a fervent believer in paranormal phenomena, and that the logical, skeptical character of Holmes was in opposition to his own in many ways.

The word "Sherlock" has entered the language to mean a detective or nosy person; it is also commonly used in American slang to mean a knowledgeable person, as in the sarcastic phrase "No shit, Sherlock", uttered when someone says something obvious.

Man or machine

"So many regard him as a machine rather than a man." Watson describes Holmes a "desiccated calculating machine", "as deficient in human sympathy as he was pre-eminent in intelligence", and states that "all emotions... were abhorrent to his cold, precise, yet admirably balanced mind."

In the era of Charles Babbage, Holmes may have been written as human computer. He treats all he finds as data, information to be interpreted, and does not proceed without all the facts. Like a machine, he does not have a social life and he does not seem to eat or even sleep (even when he is ill).

However, there are complications for this theory. Although a computer could possibly come with the idea of getting engaged to a woman to gain information from her, it could not come up with a way of doing this (ie convince the woman). A computer would not stoop to disguise or acting as Holmes did. In fact if you consider Holmes's deduction principles above, it seems a very skewed logic. His bipolar nature, skill as a musician and composer, and occasional fondness for showmanship also count against this. While "his cold and proud nature was always adverse... [to] public applause" and "turned away with disdain from popular notoriety" but "for an instant he ceased to be a reasoning machine, and betrayed his human love for admiration and applause... from a friend."

The Canon

Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories about Sherlock Holmes. All were narrated by Dr. Watson, with the exception of two narrated by Holmes himself and two more written in the third person. The stories appeared in magazine serialization, notably in The Strand, over a period of forty years. This was a common form of publication in those days; Charles Dickens wrote in a similar fashion. The stories cover a period from around 1878 up to 1903, with a final case in 1914.

In addition to the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle's "The Lost Special" (1908) features an unnamed 'amateur reasoner' clearly intended to be identified as Holmes by his readers. His explanation for a baffling disappearance, argued in Holmes' characteristic style, turns out to be quite wrong - evidently Conan Doyle was not above poking fun at his own hero. Another short story by Conan Doyle using the same idea is "The Man with the Watches." Another example of Conan Doyle's humor is "How Watson Learned the Trick" (1924), a parody of the frequent Watson-Holmes breakfast table scenes. Another parody by Conan Doyle is "The Field Bazaar"; he also wrote other material, especially plays, featuring Holmes.


Short stories

The following are organized by collection.

Frequently, "The Adventure of ..." is dropped from some story titles in current-day anthologies. However, in their original appearance in The Strand, this is how the titles were given in many cases.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Contains stories published 18911892 with original illustrations by Sidney Paget.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Contains stories published 18921893 with original illustrations by Sidney Paget.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Contains stories published 19031904 with original illustrations by Sidney Paget.

His Last Bow

Contains stories published 19081913, 1917.

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

Contains stories published 19211927.

Lists of favorite stories

There are two famous lists of favorite stories: that of Conan Doyle himself, in 1927, and that of the Baker Street Journal in 1959.

Conan Doyle's list:

  1. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
  2. The Red-Headed League
  3. The Adventure of the Dancing Men
  4. The Final Problem
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Adventure of the Empty House
  7. The Five Orange Pips
  8. The Adventure of the Second Stain
  9. The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
  10. The Priory School
  11. The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual
  12. The Adventure of the Reigate Squire

The Baker Street Journal's list:

  1. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
  2. The Red-Headed League
  3. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
  4. The Adventure of Silver Blaze
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual
  7. The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
  8. The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
  9. The Adventure of the Dancing Men
  10. The Adventure of the Empty House

"The Hiatus"

Holmes fans refer to the period from 1891 to 1894—the time between Holmes's disappearance and presumed death in The Final Problem and his reappearance in The Adventure of the Empty House—as "the Great Hiatus". It is notable, though, that one later story (The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge) is described as taking place in 1892.

For Conan Doyle, writing the stories, the period was ten years long. Conan Doyle, wanting to devote more time to his historical novels, killed off Holmes in The Final Problem, which appeared in print in 1893. After resisting public pressure for eight years, Conan Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, which appeared in 1901, setting it before Holmes's "death". The public, while pleased with the story, were not satisfied with a posthumous Holmes, and so Conan Doyle resuscitated Holmes two years later. Many have speculated on Conan Doyle's motives for bringing Holmes back to life, notably writer-director Nicholas Meyer, who wrote an essay on the subject in the 1970s, but the actual motives are not known, other than the obvious: publishers offered to pay generously. For whatever reason, Conan Doyle continued to write Holmes stories for a quarter-century more.

Some writers have come up with alternate explanations for the hiatus. In Meyer's novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, the hiatus was explained as a secret sabbatical that Holmes indulged in for those years, while he requested Watson to write a fictitious account claiming he had died.

John Kendrick Bangs, creator of Bangsian fantasy, wrote a book in 1897 called Pursuit of the House-Boat (a sequel to his A House-Boat on the Styx, in which the souls of famous dead people start up a club in Hades). In it, the house-boat (which was hijacked at the end of A House-Boat on the Styx by Captain Kidd) is tracked down by the members of the club with the aid of none other than Sherlock Holmes—who is indeed dead.

In his memoirs Conan Doyle quotes a reader, who judged the later stories inferior to the earlier ones, to the effect that when Holmes went over the Reichenbach Falls, he may not have been killed, but he was never quite the same man after.

The differences in the pre and post Hiatus Holmes has in fact created speculation among those who play 'The Game' (making believe Sherlock Holmes was a historical person). Among the more interesting and plauseable theories: The later Holmes was in fact an imposter perhaps even Professor Moriarty, the later stories were fictions created to fill other writers pockets (this is often used to deal with the stories which supposedly are written by Holmes himself), and Holmes and Professor Moriarty were in fact a variation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


The stories were very popular as adaptations for the stage, and later film, and still later television. The Universal Sherlock Holmes (1995) by Ronald B. DeWaal lists over 25,000 Holmes-related productions and products.


The actor most associated with Holmes on stage was William Gillette, who wrote, directed, and starred in a popular play about Holmes from 1899 (filmed in 1916), while the stories were still being published. His version of Holmes, dressed in deerstalker hat and Inverness cape and smoking a large curved pipe, contributed much to the popular image of the character. (There are occasional hints of the deerstalker hat in Paget's original illustrations for The Strand, but it is by no means a regular accoutrement. Doyle's text is even vaguer, referring only to a travelling cap with earflaps in the passages with the relevant illustrations. He is also described as smoking several different types of pipe, varying pipes with his mood.)

A number of plays, a musical and a ballet have been written around Holmes.


Sherlock Holmes is the single most frequently filmed fictional character with almost 200 film appearances to date. Only Dracula comes close to matching his record.

The first known film featuring Holmes is Sherlock Holmes Baffled, a one-reel film running less than a minute, made by the American Edison company in 1900. Many similar films were made in the early years of the twentieth century, most notably the 13 one- and two-reel films produced by the Norwegian Nordisk Film Company between 1908 and 1911. In 1911 the American Biograph company produced a series of 11 short comedies based on the Holmes character with Mack Sennett (later of Keystone Cops fame) in the title role.

The next significant cycle of Holmes films were produced by the Stoll Films company in Britain. Between 1921 and 1923 they produced a total of 47 two-reelers, all featuring noted West End actor Eille Norwood in the lead with Hubert Willis as Watson.

Many other films loosely based on Sherlock Holmes stories have been released.

Basil Rathbone as Holmes

Rathbone's career as Holmes began with The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, both made by 20th Century Fox and released in 1939 - the first Holmes films to be set in Victorian, rather than contemporary, times. These were followed by a series of 12 films (and a cameo appearance in the 1943 comedy Crazy House) produced by Universal from 1942 to 1946, set in the present and frequently pitting Holmes against Nazi agents. Although only the first of Rathbone's films was based directly on material by Conan Doyle, many fans feel that his portrayal most faithfully captures the Holmes of the original stories, due in part to his resemblance to Sidney Paget's original Strand illustrations.

As well as his film performances, Rathbone has played Holmes in 219 radio performances, on television and on the stage. One of these, a record of The Red-Headed League, was sampled 19 years after his death to provide the voice of Holmes for the 1986 Disney animated film, The Great Mouse Detective.[1] (

Nigel Bruce played Watson to Rathbone's Holmes, playing the man as a bumbler and somewhat foolish, which is contrary to Doyle's depiction (although, as supposed chronicler, it is unlikely Watson would have dwelt over-much on his own deficiencies).


One famous radio appearance starred Orson Welles as Sherlock Holmes in an adaptation of one of William Gillette's plays. This was broadcast in September of 1938 as part of the "Mercury Theater on the Air" series on CBS Radio.

Throughout the early 1940s on American Radio, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce performed as Holmes and Watson, respectively, in several series of canonical and original Sherlock Holmes stories. When Rathbone finally departed the role before the 1947 season, Tom Conway played Sherlock Holmes opposite Nigel Bruce for one season. After a change of networks, there were two more pairings: John Stanley as Holmes and Alfred Shirley as Watson in 1947-1948 and John Stanley and Ian Martin in 1948-1949.

John Gielgud played Holmes for BBC radio in the 1950s, with Ralph Richardson as Watson. Gielgud's brother, Val Gielgud, appeared in one of the episodes, perhaps inevitably, as Mycroft Holmes. As this series was co-produced by the American Broadcasting Company, known American actors also appeared, such as Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty in The Adventure of the Final Problem.

There have been many other radio adaptations (over 750 in English), including a more recent BBC Radio 4 run featuring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson. Together, the two actors completed radio adaptations of every story in the canon between 1989 and 1998. A new series consisting of original stories written exclusively by Bert Coules was then commissioned, but following Williams' death from cancer in 2001, he was replaced by Andrew Sachs. The complete canonical run is available on CD and audio tape. Four of the five original stories transmitted in 2002 are also available on audio cassette, and four of the five original stories transmitted in 2004 are also available on CD.


Missing image
Jeremy Brett in the role of Sherlock Holmes.

There have been many television adaptations of the better-known Sherlock Holmes tales, notably The Hound of the Baskervilles, over the years. Many aficionados consider the Granada Television adaptation from 1984, with Jeremy Brett as Holmes, as the most faithful depiction of the stories ever produced. Initially with David Burke and subsequently Edward Hardwicke as a capable Watson, all but 19 of the Conan Doyle stories were filmed before the premature death of Jeremy Brett from a heart attack in 1995. Between 1984 to 1994, 36 episodes and four films were produced over six series. Many regard Brett's performance as a near-perfect portrayal of Holmes, although his portrayal of Holmes as neurotic and somewhat arrogant, masterly as it is, is seen by many as being at odds with Doyle's descriptions of Holmes as more suave and congenial. Brett and Hardwicke reprised their roles as Holmes and Watson in 1988-89 in a West End stage play, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, written by Jeremy Paul (the secret being that Holmes had "invented" Moriarty as a challenge to his investigative ability).

Sherlock Holmes was played by Commander Data (Brent Spiner) on two episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation.

An animated series, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, brings Holmes into the future through the marvels of science.

Other actors

Other people who have played Sherlock Holmes in film, television, stage, or radio include:

Holmesian speculation

A popular pastime among fans of Sherlock Holmes is to pretend that Holmes and Watson were real people, and Arthur Conan Doyle merely Watson's "literary agent", and to attempt to "discover" new facts about them, either from clues in the stories or by combining the stories with historical fact.

One influential player of the historical-Holmes game was William S. Baring-Gould, whose works on the subject included The Chronological Holmes, an attempt to lay out in chronological order all the events alluded to in the Sherlock Holmes stories; Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (1962), an influential "biography" of Holmes; and Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street, a "biography" of Rex Stout's detective character Nero Wolfe which popularised the theory that Wolfe was "really" the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. Stout's own tongue-in-cheek contribution to the field was the theory that Watson was a woman. Baring-Gould also edited The Annotated Sherlock Holmes (1967), which combines in two volumes the complete canon and a hundred thousand words of additional explanation and illustration drawn from the Holmesian literature. Dorothy Sayers, creator of the detective Lord Peter Wimsey, also wrote several essays on Holmesian speculation, later published in Unpopular Opinions, including an interesting discussion of Watson's middle name.

In 2005 The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes was published, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Holmes (on the most insubstantial evidence often given as January 6, 1854) and "reflect the spectrum of views on Sherlockian controversies" rather than "Baring-Gould's personal theories."

The Holmes family

One particularly rich area of "research" is the "uncovering" of details about Holmes's family history and early life, of which almost nothing is said in Conan Doyle's stories. In "The Greek Interpreter" Watson states: "I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his early life." But in that story, as well as introducing his brother, Holmes mentions the only facts about his family that are in any of the stories - "My ancestors were country squires... my grandmother... was the sister of Vernet, the French artist." Beyond this all familial statements are speculation. For example, there is a certain belief that his mother was named Violet, based on Conan Doyle's fondness for the name and the four strong Violets in the canon.

It is clear from references to "the university" in The Gloria Scott, The Musgrave Ritual, and to some degree The Adventure of the Three Students, that Holmes attended Oxford or Cambridge, although the question of which one remains a topic of eternal debate (Baring-Gould believed textual evidence indicated that Holmes attended both).

The most influential "biography" of Holmes is Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by Baring-Gould. Faced with Holmes's reticence about his family background and early life, Baring-Gould invented one for him. According to Baring-Gould, Sherlock Holmes was born in Yorkshire, the youngest of three sons of Siger Holmes and Violet Sherrinford. The middle brother, Mycroft, appears in the canon, but the eldest, Sherrinford Holmes, was invented by Baring-Gould to free Mycroft and Sherlock from the obligation of following Siger as a country squire. (In reality, "Sherrinford Holmes" was one of the names Arthur Conan Doyle considered for his hero before settling on Sherlock.) Siger Holmes's name is derived from The Adventure of the Empty House, in which Sherlock spends some time pretending to be a Norwegian mountaineer called Sigerson. (This hardly qualifies as a clue about the name of Sherlock's father, but in the absence of any genuine clues it was the best Baring-Gould had to work with.)

Sherrinford had a significant role in the Doctor Who crossover novel All Consuming Fire by Andy Lane, which also featured a cameo by Siger.

Some other versions of Sherlock's parentage:

The Holmes family and the Wold Newton family

Based originally on the writings of Philip Jos Farmer, the concept of the Wold Newton family is the construction of a giant genealogical tree which connects many fictional characters to each other and to a number of historical figures. Additions to this tree are based on the writings of the original creators, pastiche writers, and "Wold Newton scholars". Sherlock Holmes has been one of the central characters of this tree. The Holmes family ( and its various generations have been the subject of many Wold Newton articles. Sherlock himself has been described as born as William Sherlock Scott Holmes on January 6, 1854 to Siger Holmes and his wife Violet Rutherford. One of eight siblings, including Mycroft. The descendants of those siblings include many other characters. Sherlock himself has been given as the father of at least eight children, including Nero Wolfe. Sherlock is also an ancestor of Star Trek's Spock through Amanda Grayson.

Authors of new (i.e. Non-Doyle) Sherlock Holmes stories

Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald", in the multi-author collection Shadows Over Baker Street, won the 2004 Hugo for Best Short Story.

Related media

In 1924, comedian Buster Keaton made Sherlock, Jr.

Disney's The Great Mouse Detective (1986), also known as Basil of Baker Street, was a relatively successful theatrical feature animated film based on the books of Eve Titus, featuring a miniature subworld of London with mice, rats and cats in the lead roles, with the title character being a mouse who lives in 221B Baker St and models his own detective career on Holmes.

The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, is the story of grand-niece of Sherlock Holmes, Shirley, lives in Canada and solves crime after local crime with the assistance of her boyfriend, Bo Sawchuk, and meeting opposition from Molly Hardy.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, a Sherlock Holmes mystery was one of the programs on the Enterprise-D's holodeck. In the episode Elementary, Dear Data, Data, after memorizing all of the Sherlock Holmes books, is challenged to use deduction in an original mystery created by Dr. Pulaski. However, the program goes awry and Moriarty (played by Daniel Davis) kidnaps Dr. Pulaski and takes over the ship's computer. In a later episode, Ship in a Bottle, the holodeck Moriarty again takes control of the ship, insisting that a way be found for him to experience life beyond the confines of the holodeck. The first Holmes-based episode was produced with the understanding that Sherlock Holmes was public domain, but a protest from the Doyle estate indicated otherwise (and, it is rumored, prevented a plan for Data-as-Holmes to become a recurring character).

Sherlock Holmes is also an inspiration for the Japanese anime, Case Closed (Detective Conan in Japan), where the main character, Jimmy Kudo (Shin'ichi Kudo), takes his pseudonym, Conan Edogawa, from two detective fiction authors, Edogawa Rampo and Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is extremely popular in Japan.

Sherlock is one of many fictional characters borrowed by Kim Newman's alternate-history novel Anno Dracula, although only as an off-stage presence and never actually named; Mycroft and Moriarty (the latter also unnamed) play significant roles in this story, and Inspector Lestrade also makes an appearance.

Similarly, several characters from the canon appear in Alan Moore's comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which various characters from Victorian fiction are recruited to serve the interests of an alternate-history British Empire. Holmes himself appears only in a flashback during the first series, as he is still presumed dead. Mycroft has a more substantial role in the second series. References in the series suggest Sherlock was a member of an earlier iteration of the League. Moriarty also figures into the first series and the film adaptation.

Sherlock Hemlock is a muppet character based on Sherlock Holmes, who appears on the American children's program Sesame Street.

Sherlock Holmes also inspired Satyajit Ray, an Indian film maker, to create the character Pradosh Mitter. Mitter, affectionately called Feluda, was immensely popular in Bengal. Feluda used the method of deduction to solve his cases, most of which were set in Calcutta. Ray even made some movies with Feluda as hero, including "Sonar Kella" (The Golden Fortress). Additionally, the Bengali writer Saradindu Bandyopadhyay also had a detective named "Byomkesh Bakshi", which had a distinct resemblance to Doyle's Holmes. This was later developed into a television series that was aired in Doordarshan, India's premier TV channel during those times, in the early 1990's. The series featuring Rajat Kapoor as the lead actor playing the part of Byomkesh Bakshi, telecast on the Doordarshan inspired a lot of Indians to read the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle . There exists a society of devoted Indian Sherlockians who have formed the Sherlock Holmes Society of India .

Computer game company Infocom released an interactive fiction game, Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels, in 1988. The plot revolves around Moriarty's theft of the Crown Jewels days before the celebration of Victoria's Golden Jubilee; Holmes rightly senses that a trap has been set for him and allows Watson to investigate the case.

ICOM Simulations released Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, a multimedia adventure game for PCs in 1991 and later for the Sega CD system. One of the earliest multimedia titles, it was to become a series of three games, each with three cases. A collected edition followed in 1993.

The game developers Frogwares created the title Secret of the Silver Earring, marketed as "Inspired by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and distributed by Ubisoft in 2004.

Mario Party Advance, a video game released in 2005, includes a character named Shroomlock, a mushroom version of Sherlock Holmes.

Also, an episode of the highly popular 'CSI: Las Vegas' featured an entire episode circling around the death of a man who held 'mystery nights' with a group of friends in which they roleplayed as Holmes characters and solved invented crimes; his home was an exact replica of Sherlock Holmes' 221B Baker Street apartment complex, and he emulated everything Holmes did in the books - from his smoking, to his cocaine addiction. The episode was called 'Who Shot Sherlock'.


  • Baring-Gould, William S. The Annotated Sherlock Holmes Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, NY. ISBN 0-517-502917
  • Klinger, Leslie S. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY. ISBN 0-393-05916-2

See also

External links


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